25 June 2003

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Toon this week: Good help is hard to find

A question of size

Malta will join the EU as its geographically smallest member next year and while many of us have egos the size of Paris, London and Berlin combined, we will have to start appreciating our limitations.
Malta’s businesses have always been at a disadvantage when compared to those in other countries because of our small market.
A Maltese importer cannot command low prices because only small numbers can be purchased and the best discounts are traditionally reserved for those that make large orders.
These economies of scale have pushed prices up, and tourists visiting Malta tend to find the Islands relatively expensive.
While Malta will have access to a much bigger market come May 2004, questions of distance and volume will still work against us and we will have to be innovative to overcome our disadvantages.
The small size of our population also means that scale works against us and while Malta is the size of a medium sized European town, with EU membership, we are expected to behave like a fully-fledged European country.
One of the problems that small size brings with it is that the level of human resources can never match those of a country with millions to choose from.
Luxembourg also has a small population, but that country has been in the EU from the start and is now extremely familiar with the sort of human resources that are required.
Malta has suffered from a variety of problems in its educational sector so that for many years we had no qualified people in a number of areas. Many Maltese have had to go abroad for qualifications in other fields ­ even veterinary surgeons study abroad ­ and it is virtually impossible for Malta to nurture qualified and competent people in all disciplines. Even Malta’s now much expanded university still fails to offers courses in a variety of disciplines that are common in most larger countries.
The advent of EU membership is going to highlight our limitations in ways they have never been brought to the fore before. In the coming years the government will have to employ thousands of people to ensure Malta becomes EU compliant. If the bungled effort at translating the draft EU constitution is anything to go by, we have not got off to a good start.
We can live with that translation embarrassment, but other areas of responsibility will require an acceptable level of competence if Malta is not to be subject to crippling EU fines.
The importance of training cannot be overemphasised. Malta’s educational institutions need to start preparing its students for future EU posts.
In several other EU accession countries great emphasis was given to courses on how to apply for EU funds, and these countries now find themselves better prepared to exploit EU funding possibilities. Now that Malta is on the way to membership, our educational institutions need to prepare people in earnest for all the diverse jobs that will become available with accession.
EU membership can, and will, turn into a nightmare if Malta is not able to secure the funds it is promised, and lacks the competent people to ensure Malta can comply with all the subtleties of EU laws, regulations and directives.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, 2 Cali House, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail