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Asking what could appear a simple question – what if?

Joseph FX Zahra  -  27/07/2016 08:29

It makes sense to ask a simple and innocent question at a time when things seem to be going on smoothly. What would have happened if things had to turn out differently and we would be playing a different game from the one we are playing now? Take this for a simple question. What will happen if event X had to take place in the country? Let us take this example in Malta’s economic sphere.  What will be the impact of this event X on employment, economic growth and our quality of life?

We are living in practical and opportunistic times when ideology is dead and buried and the vacuum that this has left behind has been filled by populism and nationalism across the traditional (now defunct) political lines of left and right. There is no time to stop for reflection as this can easily be considered as weird and a waste of time. Meanwhile, perhaps there is no better time to start thinking about the eventuality of game changing events.

So, we do need to think on “What if?” Scenario planning reflects the risks and perils of different events happening on a national or global level. It answers the question what should we do when such and such an event takes place and how will this impact society and the economy.

Opportunists and pragmatists might have problems to get to grips with this. Sceptics might wonder on how you can predict a coup in Turkey, the surprising result of Brexit, the bloody civil war in Libya, the Nice 4th July terrorist attack. Let us again look at Malta, what happens if the i-gaming industry had to disappear, or tax harmonisation regulation is enforced in Europe, or the euro collapses, or having hostile government in Libya, or a terrorist attack in mid- Summer?

Many were surprised on the apparent lack of preparation for Brexit by the United Kingdom. I am also surprised. During the time I chaired the euro-changeover committee I participated regularly in meetings in Brussels which were attended by the UK representatives. I was impressed at that time with the fact that the Britain, a country which had no intention to join the euro, had planned for the far off possibility of entry in such detail as having a web site ready with all information with only a blank space for the entry date.

Malta needs to do some serious forward thinking. There is still a need for economic restructuring – the public sector is still too big, the infrastructure is still miles away from that of other civilised western countries, the education system is still far from satisfactory, the industrial sector needs a re-think, and the welfare state is definitely unsustainable. We are depending too much on the accelerator of the international business services sector. We need to go beyond vison statements and development policy which are of course necessary, but we also need to take the next step of serious scenario planning. Is it difficult to set up a special unit of great minds from the private and public sectors that will simulate different world scenarios in the future? What if?