The situation in Malta indicates that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics do not necessarily measure the well-being of the country. GDP measures the economic output of a country and the income generated from this output.
Social scientists know that GDP has several flaws, including that it does not cover non-marketed activity, such as housework and voluntary activities, and that it does not make allowances for environmental degradation. Unfortunately, however, other indicators create more problems than they solve, and so the GDP indicator has not, so far, found a worthy competitor.
However, the situation on the ground in Malta strengthens the argument that while GDP may be increasing, the quality of life may be deteriorating.
There is ample evidence to support this assertion. Let us start by giving a look at the environmental degradation.
Recent official statistics reminded us how Malta tops European levels of built-up areas and pollution, the latter courtesy of one of the oldest car fleets on the continent. Besides, we are now witnessing the massacre of hundreds of trees with government’s blessing.
So, in this regard, we have seen a deterioration not an improvement.
Another area where Malta has experienced a deterioration in the quality of life is the lack of enforcement. The government recently announced that it will clamp down on dust pollution and other construction malpractices, but its inexistent enforcement in other areas, such as car emissions and irregular occupation of tables and chairs on public land does not augur well.
We are also witnessing lack of investment in the infrastructure. Pavements and roads have been left in a bad state, leading to various car accidents on the roads and people getting hurt on the pavements.
The figures produced by the NSO clearly show that the ratio of capital investment, which includes public works, by the government is falling. In this regard, it is positive that the Muscat government will be using EU funds obtained by the Gonzi government to upgrade roads, but implementation is the key.
The long-needed upgrading of the Kappara junction ignored recommendations by stakeholders such as bicycle users, rendering it unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians. The upcoming road agency will not be subject to basic government procedures in terms of accountability, and local councils are being side-lined in the process.
Let’s hope that selection of roadworks will not be based on partisan criteria.
The general policy direction taken by the government on planning and development is also leading to a deterioration in the quality of life. The overdependence on construction, flourishing of petrol station permits on ODZ land, the large number of construction permits with huge cumulative impact on residents’ quality of life, the unplanned high-rise policy and the general lack of proper impact assessments are some examples in this regard.
Hence, Malta is witnessing a lowering of standards in various activities thus undermining the rate of improvements following EU accession.
At the same time cost of living realities such as rent spikes and increase in the prices of basic commodities mean that thousands of people are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.
Surely, this is not the best of times for pensioners, low- income earners and others experiencing precariousness.
Apart from these material affects, there are also moral ones. The increased levels of corruption and the bad example being given by persons close to the Prime Minister that it pays to cheat are bringing about a general social malaise.
Sometimes one has to figure out whether to make hay while the sun shines, whether to join those who can’t be beaten, whether to give up on values such as fairness, equity and meritocracy or whether to do the right thing despite the odds.
Do we want our children to grow up in such a sad social context?
All this shows that an average of seven per cent per annum growth since 2013 has had uneven impact and has made us increasingly dependent on economic sectors that have sustainability challenges.
Social scientists who wish to show that GDP growth does not really translate into quality of life improvements can use Malta as a good case study.