Mickey Malta

Notes from the zone where 'normal' things don't happen very often

Posts Tagged ‘Economy

Just give us concrete proposals . . . . not fluffy titles

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I'm progressive . . . . even my t-shirt says it

Joseph Muscat is constantly harping about this new movement for progressives and moderates, but to me it seems to be millions of light years away what is considered as being normal in the developed world.

A cursory look at the co-pilot is enough. Anglu Farrugia is the embodiment of anything that is diametrically opposed to progressive AND moderate. He’s an ex long serving cop (can cops ever strike anyone as being moderate or progressive?) and, worse still, he was on the forefront in the Force during the dreadful Mintoff / KMB years. And how can we forget his shenanigans immediately after the electoral was announced in the last election? His reaction was puerile for want of a better word.

The same applies to Alex Sceberras Trigona. His long flirtations with totalitarian regimes in the dreadful ’80s don’t exactly make him an eligible candidate for Mr Progressive or the Nobel Prize for Moderate people.

So if he really wants to gain credibility, Muscat has no other option but to produce a Jason Micallef sequel and replace Farrugia with a decent and truly moderate chap like Gavin Gulia. Ditto for  Sceberras Trigona who has to be replaced by someone who is truly moderate and has no skeletons in the closet.

But the buck doesn’t stop there. That’s just the beginning. Political parties and movements are all about policy. I is the movement’s policy that dictates whether it is truly progressive, not slogans  and self flattery.  Unless Joe Muscat comes up with concrete proposals to be implemented when in government, then this movement is as virtual as my avatar in Second Life.

If Muscat really wants to lead the progressives to the promised land, it is fair to expect that the electoral manifesto in a few years’ time would include the following proposals:

  • the introduction of divorce (a concrete proposal instead of his current gimmick )
  • a legislation in favour of same gender marriages – the formation of a LGBT group is not enough to eradicate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; it’s yet another empyu gimmick
  • the total abolition of censorship on any form of art
  • the total abolition of archaic laws regulating political and religious satire, and carnival attire
  • a legislation that regulates prostitution so as to protect the prostitutes from their pimps, and their clients from an increased risk of STDs
  • the total removal of censorship on media on the basis that whoever wants to broadcast  and/or distribute pornographic material can do so through dedicated channels with the necessary parental control and anti-paedophile procedures in place
  • a law that allows private establishments to apply for special licenses that will make it possible for them to operate as strip clubs – at the moment we have a typical Rocker watered down version of these clubs and it is absolutely ridiculous
  • the decriminalisation of possession of soft drugs for personal use
  • a law that allows for abortion to take place in the following cases: rape; where there is strong scientific evidence that the baby will be born in a vegetative state; where complications caused by the pregnancy endanger the mother’s life
  • the removal of any restrictions on shop opening hours; if the owner of the grocer shop  down the road wants to operate his business on a 24 x 7 basis, then he should be allowed to do so

By the standards of our European cousins, most of the above points are not progressive at all. If anything, they’re moderately progressive. They’re akin to our big achievement of freedom of speech in 1987 when the whole of the developed world had been enjoying this right for decades.

I can write reams about each and every point mentioned above to explain and justify how it is high time to give the inhabitants of this rock a push towards normality. The claim that EU membership is not a la carte should not only be applied to economic principles. There’s a social dimension to it, as it has a direct impact on the way we lead our lives.

It is so easy to come up with slogans and to give yourself fancy titles. I can call myself superman, but that won’t give me the faculty to fly at the speed of light. The essence lies in actions not words.

Written by mickeymalta

23/02/2010 at 14:22

Think blue not red

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BOS is all about creating an uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant

BOS is all about creating an uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant

Minister Tonio Fenech is right in pointing out the lack of creativity in the way we tend to do business. As in many other areas, most of our business activity is based on the herd instinct. As the saying goes: qisna n-naghag ta’ Bendu.

As soon as someone comes up with a formula that seems to work well, be sure that a number of people will do their best to have a big slice (possibly bigger) of the same cake. Ideally, the copycats would want to take over that particular market and drive everyone else in that sector out of business.

I’m sure that many of you remember the mushrooming of grocer shops in the 1980s followed by a pirate video store in every corner later in the decade. During the same period, cinemas were a complete disaster and only a handful of people visited the complex in Valletta. However, as soon as Eden Cinemas redefined the standards and revived the industry, a number of entrepreneurs followed suit. A number of complexes opened around the island, and many others were proposed but thankfully never saw the light of day.

In these last couple of years, wine bars seem to be the recent ‘trend to follow’.  By now, we must have reached the top charts of wine bars per capita when compared to other major cities.

This is all due to lack of innovation and imagination. During the cinema-opening frenzy, I used to say to myself that if I were an entrepreneur trying to compete with Eden Cinemas, the last thing I would invest in would be a cinema complex. Instead, I would target their market segment (youths and families with small children) and offer an alternative product like, for example, an amusement park.

About four years ago, I came across a book called Blue Ocean Strategy which, essentially, advocates this approach. In a small market like ours, we need to think blue not red as even just one outlet or service provider in a particular industry may be enough for such a limited market. We need to compare ourselves to a small county in a European nation. We cannot compare ourselves to London, Rome, Berlin, or Paris.

With our current way of doing things, many businessmen seem to think that they should have the biggest slice and starve all the rest. Instead of achieving this goal, we end up with a huge number of people biting more than they could chew, or eating crumbs and scraps of the cake. This would eventually not be enough to sustain themselves, and they end up closing shop or diversifying. I experienced this myself when I worked for a company that wanted to dominate the whole of Malta and literally put everyone out of business. Not only this did not happen, but the company went bust in a few months. The crash was so spectacular that to-date it’s a textbook case on bankruptcy. Yes, you’ve guessed. I’m talking about Priceclub.

Apart from greed and an “I want it all” attitude, lack of market analyses and market studies also seem to be the main reasons behind unpleasant results. If entrepreneurs do their own research before investing in a new business, we wouldn’t have all these restaurants, wine bars, clothes shops, household shops, cinemas, real estates, radio stations and other ventures.

Instead, we would have a more diversified and a richer market to choose from, with the end result being happier customers, better profits for the investors, and a much wider variety for the consumers to choose from.

Written by mickeymalta

19/05/2009 at 23:37

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May Day sermon on il-haddiem

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Class wars are as useless as the Spice Girls

Class wars are as useless as the Spice Girls

As I drive Melita to her (private) school every day, we are greeted by a scribbling on a wall a few metres away. Someone with a huge chip on his/her shoulder scribbled ‘tfal tas-sinjur, gharaq fqir’ which roughly implies that the children of rich people have no clue about striving to achieve what they want; that everything is made easy for them. Luckily, this graffiti is fading rapidly now.

This sort of proletariat vs bourgeois dialectic is as misguided, outdated and pathetic as any other form of sulking and bitching at other socio economic groups. I am by nature not a huge fan of us and them attitudes. Maybe that’s why Marxism and its theories of class conflict never tickled my interest.

Whoever scribbled this statement on the wall is misguided by his/her envy. What would instigate someone get a spray can, drive to the middle of nowhere and write an obnoxious statement on a wall to send a message to parents driving their kids to school? I think that the answer is the “iss hej, dawk jibghatu t-tfal skola privata ghax ghandhom il-flus, u jien ma nistax! Tac-cajt. Haqq @||@!!!!!” kind of thinking.  Otherwise, that person wouldn’t have bothered to go through all the hassle. It must be the sense of deprivation, the feeling that others have an opportunity that he/she doesn’t have to have created a need to send such a message. On a human level, it is kind of understandable, but on a practical level, this reasoning is completely wrong, and I’ll explain why.

I do not come from a rich family; and neither does Minnie. Our own family cannot be classified as rich, but because I chose to work during my studies (instead of sitting comfortably in the sun waiting for the stipend to be deposited into my bank account), I managed to build a strong CV despite my young age. So far, this made it easier for me to have good jobs with a decent income. My choices – more precisely my sweat – made it possible for me to climb the career ladder, fast.

Admittedly, I also happen to be lucky to come from a family that invested in my upbringing. I owe everything I have, and everything I achieved to my parents who had decided to invest in their kids’ education instead of a beautiful home or a yearly holiday abroad. Although education and schooling themselves play an important role in my formation, it is my parents’ decisions that taught me to prioritise my choices over others.

Don’t be fooled. I am not one to believe that this prioritisation is exclusive to my family. There are other parents who send their children to private schools who share a similar story. Whenever there’s a family event one can see all sorts of different cars parked outside the school: from Fiat Punto to Mercedes, from BMW to Toyota Vitz. I also happen to know a number of parents who send their kids to private schools, and I can vouch for the mix in socio-economic groups in these schools. So, one may ask, how do they afford to send their children to private independent schools? The answer generally lies in the families’ priorities. When we worked out the cost for Melita’s first three years of schooling, it amounted to the same cost of two cigarette packets per day. Hence, a low(er) income family where both parents smoke a pack a day could technically afford to send their child to a private school, at least for the first three years.

If decide to spend money on fags rather than their kid’s education, then there is no reason to feel deprived or disadvantaged. Like our parents before us, Minnie and I decided to send Melita to a private school instead of taking a yearly holiday abroad. It is once again a matter of choices, and we do not envy the families who can afford to send their kids to a private school and take vacations abroad every so often. Good luck to them.

We know other families who seek additional income through part-time jobs (in some cases, the mothers decided to take a full time job instead of staying at home) to fund their child’s schooling. On the other hand, I came across a number of low income earners (through my career) who choose to spend money on their car, jewellery, or their daily visits to the local band/political club. One particular former colleague of mine used to spend over Lm1,000 yearly on his pigeon racing hobby. I don’t know whether he still does it as I haven’t seen him for a while. At that time, he was an average income earner with a gross income of about around Lm60 per week. He had a stay-at-home- wife and two kids who went to the local state school. Once again, here’s another case of someone who chooses to spend money on his hobbies instead of kids’ education or family holiday, or a beautiful home. One is not necessarily better on the other; but the reason why I cite this particular example is that this person was quite bitter about the upper classes. For the record, he was a staunch Mintoffian – maybe that explains his class hatred.

By making these comparisons, I do not want to give the impression that kids who go to private schools are better off than those who go to state or church schools. One may argue that it is better to spend more time with kids rather than working part time jobs to fund their education. I reiterate for the umpteenth time, it’s all a matter of choices.

It’s all about one’s attitude and actions towards a situation that one is unhappy with. This is not necessarily about schools only. The same logic can be applied to anything else like: the choice of clothes, houses, cars, etc . . .

Instead of resenting people who seem to have better opportunities, it would be wise to start off by taking stock about one’s personal choices. Then, it will be the time to map how to reach the desired goal rather than how to bring others ‘down to your level’. If there’s a faster athlete in your race, try to focus on how you can train harder to build a stronger endurance rather than how you’re going to chop his legs off.

Resentment will only make you bitter and pathetic. Hence, my advice is: focus on actions, not feelings.

Written by mickeymalta

01/05/2009 at 11:15

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Some unions are downright stupid

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TEAMWORK - a language that some unions seem too dumb to understand

TEAMWORK - a language that some unions seem too dumb to understand

This is truly an amazing country. Just as people in the industrialised world are thanking their lucky stars that they still have a job, we have two unions nit picking on details that can threaten the stability of the employers they are threatening.

The GWU registered an industrial dispute with ST Microelectronics because the company froze pay increases and bonuses that were promised 3 years ago. Needless to add, this has to be put on context following the Freeport debacle also instituted by the same GWU.

However, the raspberry award goes to the Air Malta Cabin Crew for refusing to operate a Moscow flight last Thursday because they would have exceeded their flying time by . . . . . . . wait for it  . . . . . . . three minutes!!!!!! This caused the national airline a 16-hour delay and a €109,000 bill. Furthermore, The Union of Cabin Crew had warned that it could resort to a full-blown strike after Air Malta said it would be filing a judicial protest against both the union and the five cabin crew. The 16-hour delay caused delays on two other return flights to Manchester and Vienna. Can you believe it?

I’m not supportive of employers who take advantage of the current situation to exploit their employees, but in times like these, when both the airline and the manufacturing industries are going through hell, I would expect the unions to work hand-in-hand with employers to make sure that jobs are safeguarded. Flexibility and goodwill from all parties are prerequisites no one can do without. Instead, we have unions showing downright greed, as they are so out of synch with the current economic situation.

Just speak to people in London and New York. They would give their left hand to secure their job, but our cowboys seem to think otherwise. Exceeding the flying time by three minutes is a big issue, it seems; and freezing an agreement that was reached under a completely different economic scenario is also unacceptable for the Valletta bulldogs.  Unless my memory is playing nasty tricks on me, the last ST made the headlines was a few months ago; and the news didn’t involve expansion or growth. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister themselves were personally negotiating with this company to save hundreds of jobs.

I wrote this already in an earlier comment, and I will repeat it again today: the buzzword in today’s business world is that FLAT IS THE NEW UP. We already have three dangerous precedents – all of which incidentally featured the GWU in a starring role: the Dragonara Casino and the Phoenicia fiascos in the 1980s, and very recently the Sea Malta experience.

I would expect unions to take stock of the current scenario, and make sure that the employers have good succession planning policies and procedures in place; and that employees are receiving adequate training since lifelong learning is a sine-qua-non this day and age. I would expect the unions to offer their support and assistance to employers in cost cutting exercises, to make sure that the profitability is maximised.  Yet, these unions don’t seem to give a toss about longer term solutions. They just want to show their muscle to appease some of their greedy members when, in reality, they should be educating their members.

Well done to the people responsible for this prospective mess. You have now got blood on your hands.

Written by mickeymalta

27/04/2009 at 23:33

Posted in Blog Main Page, Politics

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