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Beating the Clock to Sustainability – Abigail Mamo

2 Aug 2019 12:00 | Anonymous
The Accountant – Sustainability. Summer 2019 (MIA Publication)
It soon became clear that the country had to step up its efforts to make the most out of the positive economic scenario and the business community rose quickly to this unexpected opportunity. Everyone shifted to top gear in a race against time to fill the gaps and meet the economic demands. 
While other European states were battling problems of unemployment and lack of investment, Malta was booming and became the country with the highest level of economic growth.
As demand grew, businesses, too, needed to immediately increase both their headcount and their operating space. The public administration developed in parallel.
This situation created a significant ripple effect across the country. Foreign workers and their families relocated to Malta increasing an already densely populated island by over 60,000. Space now developed into an issue and the public started to question the relevance of positive economic growth on their own well-being.


A 2018 study conducted by GRTU Malta Chamber of SMEs couldn’t express this concern better. Business owners were surveyed to understand exactly who was doing well in the economy and at which rate, but there were mixed feelings about the sustainability of an economy reliant on tens of thousands of foreign workers. While aware of the need to address the lack of human resources and increased demands, survey participants started to feel that this little island was getting even smaller.
Although we should do everything to continue generating wealth for all, the time has come to think of alternatives that will answer concerns related to sustainability. The change in mindset brought about economic development, but it also shifted our focus. We turned into a high-speed train speeding ahead at the expense of what it was leaving behind and what stood in its way. With everyone concerned with doing more, no one was left to think of challenges ahead. Now, more efforts are necessary for the balance to be restored. 
Social partners have been calling on the government to issue a sustainability plan for the next few years. Economic progress led to more wealth, however, NGOs and interest groups argued that it registered, in fact, regress. Not because the economy itself is showing any signs of regress, but because important aspects of social well-being have fallen back as a result.
A series of corrective measures have started being implemented, among them the Rent reform addressing surging rental prices. While rents will continue to be allowed to increase, they cannot increase by more than what has been established as fair. Increases in rents was putting pressure on a number of families and also wages in general.
Another positive step was the initiative to create a more conscious constructions development culture.
Regression, however, was felt in other areas where solutions are not always as straight forward, many times presenting a double-edged sword. NGOs and interest groups voiced concerns about the environment, traffic, waste, infrastructure, and other matters. 
More work is needed to raise our standard of living and make sure that, once the economy slows down, we will live in a country of high quality and standards that can sustain itself better.
We also need to be careful of the changes we make and their consequences. Investments need to be assessed for their future impact balancing present needs with long term sustainability.
Unless directed, businesses will make the most of what is available to them, so government intervention is necessary to put safeguards in place and guide investment in the most sustainable manner. 
The government acts as watchdog for social well-being and economic progress must coexist with the country’s wellbeing. Everyone is asking what will happen when the economy goes through its natural cycle and slows down. We certainly will not be unable to turn back the clock and reverse the situation. It is time to plan for the future of Malta and Gozo and work towards that vision.
Malta was a high-quality destination for holidaymakers, expats or even retired people. This perception is changing, however, and reputation takes time to rebuild.
These questions are no longer at the back of our minds and should be addressed with an active plan for sustainability.

Abigail Mamo is CEO of GRTU with expertise in business and economic affairs, advocacy and representation.
               
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