SME Chamber

What small businesses want today Paul Abela- President

 I was shocked to hear the Hon Franco Debono statement that business and the economy is second, or lower still, to anything he is saying about democracy and our system of justice. I would have understood that a serious preoccupation would have arisen if the European Court of Justice, the United Nations or our own Constitutional Court had delivered any condemnation or decision that reflected badly on democracy and the rule of law in Malta. Indeed, if that were the case, I would have greatly subscribed to the need for people to revolt.


But the state of democracy in Malta today is not in peril. Definitely not in the mind of the very vast majority of the Maltese and almost the absolute total of the enterprises GRTU represents.  I honestly think it is an insult to all Maltese were we to admit that in Malta we have serious problems with our justice system and with the rule of law or that our democratic institutions are so endangered that we stand better  off  if we were to throw everything else overboard and concentrate  only on the defence of democracy at whatever the price. There was a time in Malta, and not so distant, when we had to do that, and I personally am proud of the role I took then and so is the national organisation I proudly preside on today, GRTU. When the need really arose GRTU was on the forefront to fight for democracy, the rule of law and the right for free trade and the right to have an independent Court of Justice and a Police Force that protected and not threatened people. Who in his right senses can state today that we have a crisis of democracy that is worth throwing everything else overboard?

I deal with government and with public institutions on behalf of GRTU's seven thousand members, who together own more than ten thousand business and employ tens of thousands of Maltese employees. I know that there is much more to be done so that our system is fine tuned to the best of European standards. But I am proud, so proud, of what this country has succeeded to do in a relatively short period of time since we embarked on a programme of liberalisation and social and political development which has seen its climax in the years since we have been members of the European Union. We all admit there is still so much to be done and we are enthusiastic to get things done, but always within the framework of the institutions we have as a result of our adoption of the European model, democratically adopted and within the limits of our capabilities as a small nation state. We in GRTU have transformed ourselves successfully from an organisation that simply grumbles and complains into an effective professional and well organised outfit that not only successfully transmits to the authorities, here in Malta and in Brussels, the views and needs of the small enterprise and self employed sector in Malta's, but also into a strong national organisation that provides constant support and services to our members and that is tireless in the provision of proposals and suggestions for further improvements to our national economic performance and the constant upgrading of our democratic and social support and cohesion systems.

We do make noise and often complain loudly in the media and take drastic action when the need arises or when the arguments around the negotiation table lead nowhere, but we are all the time conscious that what we say in the public, though genuinely in support of the causes we are fighting on to safeguard our members, may have a negative impact on consumers and a serious subtraction of total sales to the sufferance of our own members. That is precisely what happens every time people are confused with an issue or another. It happens before Budget day, it happens each time there is a crisis, real or imagined. People simply withdraw from buying and stick to the essentials. Bars, restaurants, places of entertainment, supermarkets and home stores immediately feel the plunge. Consumer confidence today is so fragile and unpredictable. Politicians and we leaders of constituted bodies and trade unions have to be very careful as to what action and what messages we send to the public. This applies to all, leaders and backbenchers. The media more often than not is ready to jump on the sensational. Most times I believe that journalists are too gullible to bother about the impact of what they highlight. Indeed I suspect that very often certain sections of the media have a hidden agenda of distortion and exaggeration, in spite of the negative impact on business, may be more a design than a coincidence.

The political situation today is an exaggeration and the damage it is already doing to business is incalculable. My people are suffering. Businesses are losing money. Sales are in the doldrums. Of course, the economy and business is a priority. The crisis in the rule of law and to democracy may be big in Dr Franco Debono's mind, but I state categorically, that this is not the case in enterprise owners' minds. Business has enough problems to deal with. We have gone through a pretty tough period over the last 3 years. We as GRTU have argued and even banged on tables and done whatever we could possibly do within the framework of a democratic system where legitimate lobbying is not only permissible but has also the fora where consultation and negotiation occur on a wider agenda than most people care to know, but we always keep the wider economic and social picture in mind. Yes, it's the economy that rules.  There is no crisis either in democracy or in the rule of law. There is no crisis in the economy either. We have problems but with diligence and professional co-operation there are no insurmountable problems. Business owners are carrying a terrible burden. They are moving on, continuing to invest and utilise the support of a number of favourable assistance schemes that we as GRTU have successfully negotiated on their behalf. They are continuing to recruit labour and in spite of the new pressure on Government to further cut its Budget deficit, overall there is business confidence.

We in business do not love people who rock the boat. I don't want to go into the merit of what are the real issues between Dr Franco Debono and Dr Lawrence Gonzi and the Nationalist Party. What interests me is tranquillity and prioritising of what really matters for our businesses and for our employees. Lengthy discussions in Parliament and in the media on political issues and all this hype about instability is bad for business. I am honestly shocked at the number of business owners who express their ingrained fear of change. They simply don't want change and don't want anyone to rock the boat. Politicians cannot continue to talk and pronounce without taking heed of the economic impact of what they say. When I say economic impact it means loss of profits, it means loss of jobs, it means somebody is being made to pay, somebody is made to suffer, because someone else is enjoying his right to say and act irrespective of anything else. This is not correct. The country does not deserve this crisis. Whoever is responsible must reflect deeply and retract. Prudence and diligence must lead.

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