The Price of Playing with Authorities

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I heard this news on TVM so the information may be incomplete but the general gist is that the NECC (the authority in charge of the euro changeover) will survive the birth of the new currency in Malta. It seems that it will be transformed into a permanent authority that will be entrusted with ensuring (probably among other things) that prices will not spin out of control as the euro makes Malta it’s home. The announcement came in parallel with that of a reform at the Consumer Division.

Nothing wrong with all that you say. Not quite so. The thing is that the regulation of the market under a competitive environment was already armed with a full compliment of laws and regulations that only needed proper enforcement without political intervention to make it work. The tasks of the NECC under a new guise already existed under previous structures and this is only a maquillage – an exercise in putting on some nice make-up to make a tired looking face look as good as new. Of course it was a photo-op for Minister and friends to traipse around the Birkirkara offices of the NECC but I am sure that it is not the only reason behind this move.

I do not suspect Machiavellian scheming but simple short-sightedness. The euro change needed a booster on the enforcement side. Unfortunately for my former colleagues at the Office of Fair Trading the work performed hitherto by the office is not exactly one that can be trumpeted to the four winds – and I do believe that the fault does not lie entirely on their shoulders. I have written time and again that one of the key changes to the Maltese political landscape will occur when not only are watchdog authorities independent but also when there work is not constantly undermined by Ministerial dictats, legal exceptions and instances were they are forced to turn a blind eye and muffle their bark to a tiny sniffle.

Price control is a thing of the past. Under competition law it’s all about dominant positions and the abuse thereof and the activities of cartels (such as price fixing). The Maltese market is not as small as one would think and efficient application of the law could work wonders for the citizen. The same applies to the Consumer law branch of the Office of Fair Trading. What the country needs is not a proliferation of authorities suitable for ribbon cutting and xinxilli. The law is there. The authority is in place. Let the latter apply the former and problems will be solved. Absorb NECC into the OFT. Put a lawyer at the head of the whole organisation (I will not hide and claim that I would never be interested in such a job, because I always have been and think that it is a fantastic service and satisfying job).

Post Scriptum:

When I re-read this post I see that it might imply that NECC is made up of blue-eyed boys who are getting their reward. As you know by now I type as I think… so rather than retype some parts let me just make this clear. I have no problem with anyone at NECC staff. What I do not agree with is the way this whole business is being handled. The use and abuse of authorities for short-term political gains is ridiculous and can only be harmful to both the economy as well as to consumer confidence.

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2 responses to “The Price of Playing with Authorities

  1. I think most consumers in Malta will tell you where the problems lie; they lie with importers and with the cartels they form and with businesses who know nothing will ever happen. It’s all very well that we have more agencies to protect the consumer – but will these agencies actually have any effect? Or rather, is there ANY political will to enforce such legislation?

    Back in June, my driving instructor raised his fee from Lm 5 to Lm 6 – thus bringing the price to a nice and neat 14 euros. I called the Euro helpline to complain (as I have the right to do). What was done? Absolutely nothing. It’s this attitude which has drained consumer confidence.

  2. Jacques,

    a fantastic post!

    Prosit.

    Under competition law it’s all about dominant positions = I beg to differ. Its all about dominant positions. No competition. No law.

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