Mhux il-mument biex ikunu mnaqqsa r-restrizzjonijiet.

Il-konferenza stampa ta’ Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Ministru tat-Turiżmu, dalgħodu kienet interessanti. B’dak li ntqal, u in partikolari bil-kundizzjonijiet iebsa imħabbra biex jiftħu numru ta’ stabilimenti, deher ċar l-argumenti qawwija li kien hemm, u ser jibqa’ jkun hemm, li mhux il-mument addattat biex ikunu mnaqqsa r-restrizzjonijiet dwar l-imxija tal-Covid-19.

Probabbilment li ser jiġri bħalma ġara lil tal-ħwienet: dawk li jiftħu jikkonkludu li ma jaqblilhomx.

Ħadd ma jieħu pjaċir li jkun hawn min ibati. Nifhmu għaldaqstant il-pressjoni biex l-iktar kmieni possibli jinfetħu l-bibien biex bil-mod l-ekonomija terġa’ tibda tieħu r-ruħ.

Imma mhux il-mument: la għar-restoranti u l-anqas għall-hairdressers u oħrajn. In-numru ta’ dawk infettati għadhom hem kuljum: il-virus tal-bieraħ għadu hawn illum u għalissa jidher li ser jibqa’ hawn anke għada. Hemm bżonn noqgħodu iktar attenti. Għax qed nissograw li s-sagrifiċċji li għamilna lkoll jiġu ma jiswew xejn. It-twissija tat-tobba li s-sitwazzjoni mhiex stabbli daqs kemm tista’ tidher jeħtieġ li tingħata piz.

It-turiżmu għarkuptejh

It-turiżmu hu ewlieni fost l-oqsma tas-setturi ekonomiċi milquta mill-pandemija Covid-19. Dan japplika iktar għat-turiżmu tal-massa li għadu s’issa settur importanti li fuqu hi dipendenti l-industrija turistika Maltija. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, (flimkien mal- Ministri għat-Turiżmu tal-Italja, Ċipru, Spanja, Franza, l-Portugall, il-Greċja, ir-Rumanija u l-Bulgarija) f’laqgħa virtwali iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fittxet kunsens biex jinħolqu kurituri siguri għat-turiżmu fit-triq lura lejn in-normalità u f’żona ħielsa mill-Covid-19.

Sfortunatament, tal-inqas fl-immedjat, irridu ngħixu mal-virus Covid-19 u l-limitazzjonijiet li ħoloq fuq il-ħajja normali tagħna. It-triq lura lejn in-normalità hi waħda twila. Ir-restrizzjonijiet straordinarji fuq ħajjitna li huma fis-seħħ presentment ma jistgħux jibqgħu għaddejjin b’mod indefinit u dan minkejja li illum huma meħtieġa.

Ir-restrizzjonijiet kważi totali imposti fil-gżejjer Maltin tul il-ġimgħat li għaddew kienu effettivi biex ikunu indirizzati il-biżgħat dwar is-saħħa. Bħala riżultat ta’ dawn ir-restrizzjonijiet, f’Malta, l-mixja tal-virus kienet imrażżna, kif jixhdu l-aħbarijiet ta’ kuljum imxandra mis-Supretendent dwar is-Saħħa Pubblika.

It-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh. Prattikament waqaf, kullimkien madwar id-dinja, anke jekk temporanjament.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropea mit-turiżmu jiddependu qrib is-27 miljun impieg li jiġġeneraw madwar għaxra fil-mija tal-prodott gross nazzjonali. F’Malta u fil-pajjiżi ġirien fin-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, aħna dipendenti iktar mit-turiżmu mill-medja Ewopeja. Ix-xibka tad-dipendenza tal-ekonomija tagħna fuq it-turiżmu hi ferm ikbar minn hekk. It-tbatija kkawżat illum hi għaldaqstant ikbar u r-ritorn għal xi forma ta’ normalità inevitabilment tieħu iktar fit-tul.

Meta ser nirritornaw lura għan-normal? Ċertament li mhux fl-immedjat. Hu ferm dubjuż jekk din ix-xewqa għar-ritorn lejn in-normal magħruf tistax tintlaħaq, anke jekk inħarsu ftit fit-tul. Li hu żgur hu li ma hu ser jinbidel xejn mil-lum għal għada.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministri tat-Turiżmu tal-Unjoni Ewropea iddiskutew inizjattivi biex jinkuraġixxu t-turiżmu intern fl-unjoni nnifisha u dan permezz tal-ħolqien ta’ speċi ta’ passaporti tas-saħħa bejn żoni ħielsa mill-Covid-19. Sakemm tibqa’ fis-seħħ il-miżura dwar iż-żamma ta’ distanza soċjali, l-proposta mhiex waħda realistika, ta’ l-inqas għall-futur immedjat u probabbilment għal bosta xhur wara.

Sfortunatament l-ivvjaġġar b’mod ġenerali, u b’mod partikolari t-turiżmu, għandu l-potenzjal li jservi għat-tixrid tal-pandemija bl-istess mod kif fil-passat kien il-kummerċ li serva biex xtered mard ieħor f’kull rokna tad-dinja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, hu probabbli li t-turiżmu tkun fost l-aħħar mill-attivitajiet ekonomiċi li jibdew t-triq lura għan-normal, u dan wara li l-Covid-19 tkun taħt kontroll effettiv fl-Ewropa b’mod ġenerali.

Kulħadd jifhem u japprezza l-ħeġġa tal-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu biex jonqsu r-restrizzjonijiet fuq l-ivvjaġġar u allura fuq dawk is-setturi li minnhom hi dipendenti l-industrija tat-turiżmu. Sfortunatament, iżda, fil-futur immedjat dan mhux realistiku li jintlaħaq. Hemm dubji kbar anke dwar x’jista’ jseħħ fuq tul ta’ żmien.

L-ekonomija tal-parti l-kbira tan-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, u in partikolari dik tal-pajjiżi Mediterranji, hi dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu u dan billi tipprovdi vaganzi bi prezzijiet raġjonevoli tul is-sena kollha għal dawk ġejjin mit-tramuntana u ċ-ċentru tal-Ewropa f’kuntest ta’ suq Ewropew wieħed. Il-miġja tal-vjaġġi b’irħis mifruxa mal-Ewropa kollha komplew kabbru l-firxa ta’ din ix-xibka ta’ dipendenza.

F’dan il-kuntest huwa ċar li ftit jista’ jsir ippjanar bil-quddiem. Hemm ħaġa waħda li hi ċara: il-futur huwa nċert u t-turiżmu għad ma nafux x’sura ser jieħu fix-xhur u fis-snin li ġejjin. It-tbatija mhux ser tintemm hekk kif nieqfu nistennew. Għax it-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Mejju 2020

Tourism is on its knees

Tourism has been among the hardest hit sectors of the economy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This applies more so to mass tourism which still constitutes an important sector on which Malta’s tourism industry is dependent. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Minister for Tourism, (together with Tourism Ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria) in an online meeting earlier this week advocated the creation of safe corridors, desperately seeking to create a return to normal in a Covid-19 free zone.

Unfortunately, at least in the short term, we have to live with a virus that has overturned ordinary life. The path back to normalcy will take a very long time even though it is clear that the extraordinary restrictions currently enforced cannot go on indefinitely, notwithstanding that today they are clearly a necessity.

The partial lockdown in operation in the Maltese islands for the past weeks has been effective in addressing public health concerns. As a result, in Malta, the spread of the virus has been contained and adequately managed as is evidenced by the daily briefings of the Superintendent of Public Health.

Tourism is however on its knees. It has been practically wiped out, temporarily, everywhere across the globe.

Within the European Union tourism accounts for close to 27 million jobs and around 10 per cent of GDP. In Malta, as well as in other neighbouring Southern European countries, tourism makes a larger contribution to the GDP. The web of dependence of the economy on tourism is larger. The pain is consequently larger and the expected time for recovery will be much longer.

Will we return to normal? Certainly not in the short term. It is even doubtful whether such a return to the “known normal” is achievable in the long term. Definitely any recovery will not occur overnight.

Earlier this week EU Tourism Ministers discussed whether initiatives should be taken to encourage internal tourism within the EU itself through some sort of health passports between areas within the EU which are Covid-19 free. As long as keeping a social distance rule remains in force this is not a realistic option, at least for the foreseeable future, certainly not for a number of months.

Unfortunately, travel in general and tourism in particular has the potential of being the perfect vehicle for the spreading of the pandemic just as trade, in the past, served to spread other pandemics across the globe. Keeping this in mind, most probably tourism would be the last economic activity to be reactivated once Covid-19 is sufficiently under control, at least on the European mainland.

It is understandable that the Ministry for Tourism seeks an early scaling down of the restrictions on travel and consequently on the sectors servicing the tourism industry. It has however to be underlined that this is not realistic to achieve in the short term. It is also dubious as to what lies in store in the long term.

The economy of the greater extent of Southern Europe, and in particular that of Mediterranean countries, is reliant on tourism primarily through providing reasonably priced holidays, not just during the summer months, for citizens of Northern and Central Europe within an EU single market. Low-cost flights throughout the European area further adds to this web of dependence.

Even though in this context it is difficult to plan ahead, one thing is certain: the future is as yet undefined and tourism will never be the same. Recovery will be as painful as the waiting time. Tourism is definitely on its knees.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 May 2020

Investigating Konrad’s MTA contract

It is known that Johann Buttigieg, former Chief Executive at the Planning Authority, was squeezed out of his post by Minister Ian Borg. Johann Buttigieg, however, found an ally in Konrad Mizzi, then Minister for Tourism, who facilitated his employment as the new Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority.

By the time Johann Buttigieg had taken up his new post at the Malta Tourism Authority, Konrad Mizzi had already resigned as Minister. Although Konrad Mizzi had announced his resignation after a Cabinet meeting on the 26 November 2019 it is not clear if he had volunteered to step down or if he had been forced to go. He was reported as having said: “I felt it my duty – in the context of current political circumstances – to resign in loyalty to the people, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister.”

It would be reasonable to assume that Johann Buttigieg returned the favour from Konrad Mizzi when, on 9th December, he signed the contract appointing Konrad Mizzi as a consultant to the Authority – as one of his first decisions as CEO! However, this would not necessarily be a correct assumption. In fact, elsewhere in the press it has been opined that the decision to engage Konrad Mizzi as consultant was taken by Joseph Muscat himself, because after Konrad Mizzi’s resignation he was directly responsible for the Tourism Ministry.

As Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg must shoulder substantial responsibility although it is most probable that he was acting on the instructions of Joseph Muscat. He should by now be aware that illegitimate (and unethical) superior orders can – and should be – ignored.

After Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli announced the rescinding of Konrad Mizzi’s contract she was asked to explain the reasons which justified such a revocation. She was very brief in her reply, saying that there were legal and ethical reasons that justified such a course of action. She was reluctant to state more in order to avoid prejudicing any legal action, should this result.

It is very interesting to note that the Honourable Minister has justified the revocation of the contract on ethical grounds. She is, of course, correct, although she chose not to point fingers. The point at issue then is who acted unethically?

I suggest that there are four persons who acted unethically in this specific case.

Irrespective of what they say, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi resigned in disgrace for a number of reasons, including being the cause of reputational damage to the country through their involvement and/or failure to act on the Panama Papers debacle, as well as a direct result of the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a role, the details of which are still emerging.

Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi are at the top of the list of those who acted unethically as they set in motion the revolving recruitment mechanism as a result of which Konrad Mizzi was parachuted straight into the organisation for which he, as Minister, was politically responsible just two weeks earlier. This is unacceptable in any country that has a minimum degree of adherence to good governance: normally there would be a cooling-off period of some two to three years before such appointments are even considered.

Muscat and Mizzi tried to cash in on the fact that, the rules governing the ethical behaviour of holders of political office are still in their infancy. Dr George Hyzler, recently appointed by Parliament as the first Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is still in the initial phase of his term and has yet to draft some of the appropriate rules.

The same applies to Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority and Chief Executive Johann Buttigieg, who should not have allowed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi to bully them into submission. The recruitment of Mizzi was kept secret as long as was possible due to the fact that, knowledge of its existence would undoubtedly have created further turmoil within the Labour Party, then in the process of electing a successor to the disgraced Joseph Muscat.

Where do we go from here? In my view those acting unethically should shoulder their responsibilities. I have thus requested the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Gavin Gulia and Johann Buttigieg in the matter and consequently to recommend the necessary action required.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 February 2020