Kultura ta’ dipendenza

Il-baġit għall-2023 li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana ippreżenta lill-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn għandu jkun deskritt bħala wieħed li jsaħħaħ kultura ta’ dipendenza.  Il-Gvern jagħmel użu mit-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet biex jilħaq dan l-iskop! Id-dipendenza fuq il-Gvern, taħt il-Labour hi oġġettiv  inkoraġġit. Is-sitwazzjoni minn baġit għall-ieħor tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar.

Dan hu forsi l-iktar ċar mill-mod kif il-Gvern imexxi l-quddiem il-politika tiegħu dwar il-pagi. Żviluppat differenza kbira bejn id-daqs tal-paga minima u kemm verament teħtieġ biex tgħix. Il-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza din id-differenza billi jqassam iċ-ċekkijiet. Issa ħoloq COLA ġdida biex jgħin lill-vulnerabbli u dan flimkien ma numru ta’ sussidji li uħud minnhom mhux neċessarji inkella huma ta’ ħsara.

 Il-ħolqien ta’ dan il-benefiċċju ġdid għall-persuni vulnerabbli (80,000 skond il-Ministru) li ma jistgħux ilaħħqu mal-ħajja, hu pass pożittiv. Il-vulnerabbli jeħtieġu l-għajnuna, imma jeħtieġu ferm iktar minn ċekk ta’ madwar €300 li ser jitqassam fi żmien il-Milied. Kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-Gvern iffoka fuq il-problema reali u indirizza din il-probema bis-serjetà. Issa ilu żmien ikaxkar saqajh.

Il-problema reali hi li l-paga minima hi baxxa ħafna: hi ferm il-bogħod minn paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Gvern wara l-ieħor għamel ħiltu biex din il-problema jevitha. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-benefiċċji soċjali, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma marbuta mal-paga minima u huma rifless tagħha. Paga minima diċenti awtomatikament teffettwa l-benefiċċji soċjali li riżultat ta’ hekk jitjiebu sostanzjalment, bi dritt.

Tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin tlett rapporti tal-Caritas analizzaw din il-materja fil-fond. L-aħħar rapport, li nħareġ fl-2021, kien ikkonkluda li hemm diskrepanza ta’ 40 fil-mija bejn il-paga minima u dak meħtieġ biex wieħed jgħix b’mod diċenti. Dan jammonta għal diskrepanza ta’ madwar €4,000 fis-sena. Din hi l-problema rejali!

Sakemm nibqgħu bil-paga minima baxxa daqshekk, it-tqassim fuq stil tar-rigali tal-Milied (Father Christmas) ser jibqgħu jsiru biex jitnaqqas il-piz minn fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli. Xi drabi ir-rigali ta’ Father Christmas ma jkunux limitati għall-vulnerabbli imma qed jinfirxu ma kulħadd. Hekk ġara biċ-ċekkijiet ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni, u l-hekk imsejħa rifużjoni tat-taxxa!

Flok din id-dipendenza fuq dan it-tqassim, ikun iktar xieraq li l-paga minima tiżdied u issir paga li tista’ tgħix biha.  Dan jista’ jsir billi l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li fuqu tkun ikkalkulata l-paga minima jkun aġġornat regolarment. Dan jelimina l-ħtieġa tat-tqassim ta’ cekkijiet ta’ kull xorta fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi għax il-paga raġjonevoli tkun ir-regola: ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa tal-benvolenza politika tal-Gvern, la fi żmien il-baġit u l-anqas, fi żmien ta’ elezzjoni ġenerali kif, b’mod abbużiv diġa sar.

B’żieda ma’ dan it-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet bi pjaċir, flok pagi ġusti bi dritt, tajbin biex wieħed jgħix bihom, il-Gvern qiegħed ukoll japplika numru ta’ sussidji li huma mfasslin b’mod żbaljat.

Is-sussidji tal-petrol u d-dijżil huma żejda. Iż-żieda internazzjonali fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil, li huma madwar id-doppju ta’ dak li qed inħallsu Malta, hi opportunità unika li f’idejn kapaċi tista’ tikkoreġi l-iżbalji li għamel il-Gvern fil-konfront tal-problema tagħna tad-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata.

Flok is-sussidji fuq il-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil ikun aħjar kieku ninvestu fl-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku. Din hi opportunità unika li, f’idejn min jifhem tista’, fit-tul, twassal għal tibdil fl-imġieba tan-nies favur użu iktar tat-trasport pubbliku u użu inqas tal-karozzi privati.  L-introduzzjoni ta’ transport pubbliku b’xejn għal kulħadd mill-bidu ta’ dan ix-xahar kien pass primatur: l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku kellu jkun indirizzat ferm qabel ma ttieħed dan il-pass importanti.

Li tkun indirizzat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati hu oġġettiv politiku li l-Gvern stess ippropona fil-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport. Il-Gvern qiegħed jinjora l-pjan tiegħu stess.

Min-naħa l-oħra hu xieraq li l-konsum bażiku tal-ilma u l-elettriku fir-residenzi tagħna jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma hu żball li is-sussidju japplika ukoll għall-konsum kollu ta’ kulħadd. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk setturi differenti tal-ekonomija jkollhom aċċess għal għajnuna mfassla għall-ħtiġijiet tagħhom sakemm iddum il-kriżi kurrenti.   Dan jista’ jagħti protezzjoni ferm ikbar kemm lill-impiegi kif ukoll lill-ekonomija. Fuq kollox b’dan il-mod jista’ jkun evitat li jkun issussidjat il-ħela u l-abbuż fl-użu tal-ilma u l-elettriku.

Ma hemmx ħtieġa li nsaħħu kultura ta’ dipendenza fil-forma ta’ tqassim ta’ ċekkijiet inkella b’sussidji mhux meħtieġa.  Huwa tajjeb li l-vulnerabbli jkunu mgħejjuna. Imma li tinbena u tissaħħaħ kultura ta’ dependenza bħala riżultat ta’ politika skaduta dwar il-pagi hi xi ħaġa ferm differenti. Dan jagħmel ħsara lit-tessut soċjali tal-pajjiż u għandu jinġieb fit-tmiem l-iktar kmieni possibli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 30 t’Ottubru 2022

A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Neħtieġu paga minima suriet in-nies

Hemm min iqis li huwa tajjeb li nħoloq mod ġdid ta’ għajnuna lill-vulnerabbli fil-konfront tal-piz fuqhom tal-inflazzjoni. Imma jkun ferm aħjar kieku nindirizzaw il-problema vera bis-serjetà. Il-Gvernijiet wieħed wara l-ieħor ilhom jonqsu milli jagħmlu dan.

Il-paga minima hi baxxa. Mhiex tajba biex tgħix biha. Teħtieġ li tgħola b’madwar €4,000 fis-sena kif ġie muri repetutament fir-rapporti tal-Caritas, sena wara l-oħra.

Sakemm il-pagi jibqgħu daqshekk baxxi jibqa’ l-ħtieġa tal-għotjiet mill-Gvern ta’ kull sena lil dak u lill-ieħor. Ir-ras iebsa tal-Gvern li ma jirrevedix il-baskett li fuqu hija ikkalkulata il-paga minima hija politika skaduta li qed iżżomm dipendenza tal-pajjiz fuq pagi baxxi u handouts.

Hu dritt li l-pagi jkunu ta’ livell diċenti. Dritt li hu mkasbar mill-Gvernijiet, wieħed wara l-ieħor. Pagi diċenti jnaqqsu l-ħtieġa ta’ politika ta’ Father Christmas. Ma nibqgħux nistennewh jiġi jqassam ir-rigali fil-budget!

Il-Gvern jista’ jagħmel użu aħjar tar-riżorsi tal-pajjiż. Is-sussidji kif qed japplikom il-Gvern jistgħu jkunu ferm aħjar.

Is-sussidji tal-fuel lill-kulħadd hu ħela ta’ riżorsi. Nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr sussidji tal-petrol u tad-dijżil. Dan is-sussidju jista’ faċilment jitnaqqas u dan iwassal għal benefiċċju kbir: inqas karozzi fit-toroq u użu ikbar tat-trasport pubbliku! Li t-trasport pubbliku issa hu b’xejn mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieg ukoll li jkun effiċjenti, li mhux.

Bla dubju, l-konsum bażiku tal-elettriku għad-djar, għandu jibqa’ jkun issussidjat imma l-bqija tas-sussidji għall-elettriku u l-fuels għandhom ikunu studjati aħjar.  Hemm modi aħjar kif il-Gvern jista’ jnaqqas il-piż minn fuq spallejn in-nies. U fl-aħħar ikollu iktar riżorsi għall-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiz.

Corruption: the institutions are not working

Reading through the media court reports on the Qormi murder earlier this week confirms that the Police in Malta can carry out crime investigations assiduously and bring them to their logical conclusions when they are left to carry out their work free from any pressures whatsoever.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said on Police investigations relative to corruption.

Last week, in my article (Phone call from the Ministry: TMIS 4 September 2022) I referred to the cryptic language used in the evidence delivered in Court by the Police Inspector in the car licence corruption case. This, I argued, is conveying the unmistakable message that holders of political office and their hangers-on are dealt with kids gloves by the police investigators, thereby facilitating the development of clientelism into corruption.

During the public protest held last Tuesday against corruption organised by the NGO Repubblika it was once more explained as to how the authorities (that is the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General’s office) have failed to act on the conclusions of the report of the magisterial inquiry into the operations of Pilatus Bank.

Repubblika President, Robert Aquilina, quoting chapter and verse from the magisterial inquiry report, explained how the Courts have instructed the said authorities to take criminal action against various former officials of Pilatus Bank. However only one former official was arraigned. All the others whom the inquiring magistrate pointed out have not been arraigned to account for their actions.

This has led to the unprecedented step of NGO Repubblika challenging the police authorities and the Attorney General in Court for failing to carrying out their duties. The authorities, are not functioning, Robert Aquilina rightfully claimed!

To substantiate his claim, he presented the relevant extracts from the report of the magisterial inquiry on the operations of Pilatus Bank.

To add insult to injury, the magistrate examining the challenge in Court, instead of requesting the police and the Attorney General to explain their “ifs” and “whys” turned on the NGO leadership in order to identify how the magisterial inquiry report came into their possession. Instead of shielding citizens seeking justice, unfortunately, the magistrate is shielding those who are sending out the clear message that, after all, crime pays, if you have friends located in the right places.

Instead of acting against the corrupt the courts are acting against those who are vigilant enough to note that the institutions are failing to carry out their basic duties.

This is the basic message being conveyed. The institutions are not working as they are not taking the necessary action to ensure that justice is done and that our society is defended against corruption. In addition to this blatant breach of trust, the institutions are also obstructing those who, notwithstanding the odds stacked against them are seeking to remedy the situation.

If this was not enough, we have just learnt of a secret agreement between the Azeri company SOCAR and the Maltese government, then represented by Konrad Mizzi. Irrespective of whether this agreement was implemented or not, it is another case of abusive use of Ministerial powers and should be properly investigated.

Faced with all this, nobody can remain passive. This is the tip of the corruption iceberg that has stifled our country and has been doing so for quite some time.

It is no wonder that Malta’s reputation has gone to the dogs!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 September 2022

Telefonata mill-Ministeru

Il-biċċa qerq dwar il-liċenzji tas-sewqan li nkixfet fil-Qorti iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hi inkwetanti ħafna. Dan qed ngħidu in vista tal-informazzjoni sensittiva li dwarha ingħatat biss indikazzjoni żgħira fix-xhieda li instemgħet s’issa fil-Qorti. Id-dettalji dwar dan kollu li jikkonċerna korruzzjoni fl-eżamijiet tejoretiċi dwar is-sewqan, għadhom mhux magħrufa.

S’issa ġew imħarrka tlett irġiel:  wieħed mid-Diretturi u żewġ uffiċjali ta’ Trasport Malta, li wieħed minnhom kien elett bħala kunsillier fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħaż- Żebbuġ f’isem il-Partit Laburista.  

Kien żvelat fil-Qorti li l-akkużati, waqt li kienu interrogati, iġġustifikaw l-azzjonijiet tagħhom billi emfasizzaw li kienu soġġetti għal pressjoni politika kontinwa.  L-uffiċjal anżjan fost dawk akkużati ilmenta li ħassu taħt pressjoni kbira minħabba t-telefonati kontinwi minn diversi Ministeri.

Fix-xhieda mogħtija s’issa l-pulizija żvelat li f’mobile li ġabru sabu “chats diversi ma’ persuni b’rabta ma’ partit politiku”. Ma hemm l-ebda informazzjoni uffiċjali dwar l-identità ta’ dan il-partit politiku. L-unika ħaġa li nista’ ngħid hi li dan il-partit definittivament mhux l- ADPD!

Xi ħadd li kellu aċċess għall-informazzjoni fuq il-mobile maqbud imma, fuq il-media soċjali, indirettament żvela l-għala l-pulizija hi kawta u mhux tiżvela ismijiet ta’ dawk involuti. Jidher li rrealizzaw li l-ismijiet, hekk kif ikunu żvelati jistgħu joħolqu terrimot politiku li bħalu qatt ma rajna.  Skont l-informazzjoni mhux uffiċjali li qed tiċċirkola b’mod elettroniku jidher li ġew identifikati bħala li ħadu sehem f’din il-biċċa qerq taħt investigazzjoni 4 membri attwali tal-Kabinett flimkien ma tnejn oħra li m’għadhomx fil-Kabinett.  Mid-dehra l-parti l-kbira ta’ dawk inkarigati mis-Segretarjat tal-Ministri kif ukoll numru ta’  Membri Parlamentari huma mdeffsa ukoll.

Fl-investigazzjonijiet tagħhom il-Pulizija jidher li f’uffiċċju ta’wieħed mill-akkużati sabu żewġ djarji b’informazzjoni sostanzjali li kienet tikkonsisti f’ismijiet, numri tal-karta tal-identità kif ukoll id-dati ta’ meta dawk li gawdew mill-irregolaritajiet investigati qagħdu għall-eżami tejoretiku għall-liċenzja tas-sewqan.

Wieħed mill-akkużati qed jiddefendieħ il-kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Intern, l-Avukat  Dr Joe Giglio, avukat bi prattika estensiva fil-qasam tal-liġi kriminali.  Mhux etika li membri parlamentari jinvolvu ruħhom f’dawn il-każijiet. Id-difiża ta’ persuni akkużati bl-involviment fil-korruzzjoni mhiex kompatibbli mal-ħidma politika kontra l-istess korruzzjoni. Ma jistax ikun kredibbli jekk jipprova jkollu saqajh fuq iż-żewġ naħat.  Dan qed ixellef sewwa l-kredibilità politika tiegħu. Jidher li mill-kaz tal-Bank Pilatus ma’ tgħallem xejn!

Minn din l-istorja kollha  hemm żewġ punti ta’ importanza.

Għalfejn il-Pulizija joqgħodu lura milli jagħtu informazzjoni fejn ikun hemm il-politiċi involuti? Il-kliem nieqes miċ-ċarezza li intuża mill-Ispettur tal-Pulizija fil-Qorti din il-ġimgħa jwassal dan il-messaġġ. Ma jkunx ferm iktar għaqli li min qiegħed hemm biex iħares il-liġi ma jibqgħax jimxi bl-ingwanti tal-ħarir mal-membri tal-Kabinett?

Imbagħad xi ngħidu għall-irbit li għandhom il-membri parlamentari mal-professjoni jew xogħol tagħhom? Meta ser jinħallu minn dan l-irbit li jxekkilhom fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom? Kif propost repetutament minn ADPD fid-diversi manifesti elettorali, għandna bżonn  Parlament li mill-iktar fis ikun magħmul minn membri li jiddedikaw ħinhom kollu għall-ħidma Parlamentari. Huwa b’dan il-mod biss li l-Parlament jista’ jkun kredibbli u possibilment effettiv.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Settembru 2022

Phone call from the Ministry

The driving licence racket unveiled in Court earlier this week is extremely disturbing. This is being stated in view of the sensitive information indicated in the testimony heard so far in Court but the details of which are still under wraps. The case involves corruption in driving theory tests.

Three men have so far been arraigned: the Director for Land Transport at Transport Malta and two other Transport Malta officers one of whom is a Żebbuġ Local Councillor elected on behalf of the Labour Party.

It was revealed in Court that the accused, when interrogated, had justified their actions by emphasising that they were under constant “political” pressure. The senior among the accused complained that he felt pressured as he was getting continuous calls from various Ministries.

The police have revealed, in the testimony so far, that a mobile phone in their possession has “revealed chats with people linked to a political party”. No further official information is available as to the identity of this political party.  It is definitely not ADPD!

Someone having access to the mobile phone data has however indirectly revealed on social media the reason why the police have been cautious in revealing the names of those involved in this racket. It seems that the Police have realised that these names, once revealed, could cause a political earthquake the likes of which we have never seen. According to the unofficial information circulating online, the names of at least four current members of the Cabinet as well as two former ones have been so far identified as being possibly involved in the racket being investigated. Apparently, most of the Ministries’ Chief of Staff as well as a number of Members of Parliament may also have a finger in the pie.

Apparently in a Transport Malta office used by one of the accused, the police, during their investigations came across two diaries containing substantial information consisting of names, ID card numbers and dates when the persons benefitting from the irregularities under investigation were due to sit for their theoretical driving exams. The persons indicated were apparently “helped” in order to ensure that they were successful.

One of the accused is being defended by the shadow minister for Home Affairs, Dr Joe Giglio, a lawyer with an extensive criminal law practice. It is extremely unethical for members of parliament to involve themselves in such cases. His defence of clients accused with involvement in corruption is incompatible with his political actions against corruption in the political arena. He cannot be credible if he runs with the hares and then tries hunting with the hounds. He is severely denting his own credibility. Apparently, he has not learnt anything from his experiences as the legal advisor of Pilatus Bank.

This racket brings two basic issues to the fore.

Why are the Police (so far) withholding information on the holders of political office involved? The cryptic language used by the Police Inspector in Court this week transmits this basic message. Isn’t it about time that law enforcement does not treat the members of the Cabinet and their hangers-on with kids’ gloves?

When will all members of Parliament cut themselves free from the restraints of their professional practices or their previous employment? As ADPD has repeatedly proposed over the years, we need a full time Parliament as soon as possible.  It is only in this way that parliament can be credible and possibly effective.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 September 2022

Ftit ħsibijiet dwar il-baġit li jmiss

F’dawn il-ġranet, fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi jkun qed isir ix-xogħol preparattiv dwar il-baġit li normalment ikunu imħabbar matul ix-xahar ta’ Ottubru.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, mid-dehra diġa ddeċieda li jagħti l-aħħar irtokki biex ikompli jiffinanzja l-klijenteliżmu fl-Air Malta.  Dan hu proġett fit-tul li l-ħidma dwaru ilha għaddejja fuqu mill-predeċessuri tiegħu. Proġett li jinvolvi iktar miljuni ta’ euro ġejjin mit-taxxi tagħna li ser ikunu moħlija biex jonoraw wegħdiet politiċi li saru matul il-kampanja elettorali tal-elezzjoni ġenerali li għada kif għaddiet. Din hi irregolarità oħra bħat-tqassim tac-ċekkijiet bieb bieb waqt il-kampanja elettorali. Monument “xieraq” għall-klijenteliżmu politiku.

L-għoli tal-ħajja spara l-fuq, bla kontroll. Probabbilment li l-COLA, ż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għall-pagi,salarji u pensjonijiet, li titħabbar bħala parti mill-baġit li jmiss, tkun madwar €10 fil-ġimgħa. Il-Ministru Clyde Caruana diġa qal li din kienet tkun sostanzjalment għola minn hekk kieku l-Gvern ma issussidjax il-petrol/dijsil u l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma.

Hemm ħtieġa li niddiskutu ftit iktar dawn is-sussidji biex ikunu aħjar, iktar effettivi u li jilħqu lil min verament jeħtieġhom. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi attwali hi politika tajba li l-użu bażiku jkun issussidjat, imma mhux għaqli li fuq tul ta’ żmien dan jibqa’ sussidju sħiħ għall-konsum kollu. Għax is-sussidji mhux qed imorru għand il-vulnerabbli biss: min mhux vulnerabbli għandu bżonn inqas tas-sussidji tal-lum.  Is-sussidji jeħtieġ li jkunu ffukati jekk irridu li l-pajjiż ikun ta’ għajnuna utli għall-vulnerabbli. Għax ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż ma jippermettux li nibqgħu sejrin kif aħna fit-tul.

Xi ġranet ilu, s-sussidju fuq il-fuel li jieħdu l-inġenji tal-baħar tneħħa. Dan hu sewwa u seta ġie evitat mill-bidu. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed.  It-tnaqqis gradwali tas-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil mhux biss inaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq u jtejjeb il-kwalità tal-arja, imma fuq kollox jagħmilha possibli li iktar finanzi jkunu allokati għal oqsma oħra li tant jeħtieġu l-attenzjoni.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ għamlet tajjeb li tkellmet dwar ftit iktar ħsieb fuq kif ikunu issussidjati l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma. Anke f’dan il-qasam hu l-użu bażiku li għandu jkun issussidjat. Sussidji iktar minn hekk ifisser li anke l-użu esaġerat tal-elettriku u l-ilma qed ikun issussidjat. Dan hu użu ħażin ta’ fondi pubbliċi lijista’ jkun indirizzat bla diffikultà.

Naqbel perfettament ma’ Josef Bugeja tal-GWU li iż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għandha titħallas kollha lil min jaħdem (u lill-pensjonanti). Il-COLA mhiex, wara kollox, żieda fil-paga imma tipprova tagħmel tajjeb għall-impatt tal-inflazzjoni fuq il-paga, salarju jew pensjoni.

Imma tibqa’ l-ħtieġa ta’ bidla mill-qiegħ dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pagi (incomes policy) biex din tkun dejjem iktar relevanti għaż-żmien li qed ngħixu fih.

Ilna ħafna nitkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa li l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jservu biex fuqhom tinħadem il-paga minima u l-COLA jkun revedut biex ikun assigurat li dan jirrifletti l-ħtiġijiet tal-lum. L-istudji li ippubblikat il-Caritas tul dawn l-aħħar snin jiffukaw eżattament fuq hekk. Minn dawn l-istudji joħroġ ċar li reviżjoni tal-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi jwassal għal żieda inevitabbli ta’ 40 fil-mija fil-paga minima kurrenti. Li dan ikun indirizzat bla iktar dewmien hu essenzjali. Ifisser, skond dawn l-istudji tal-Caritas, li paga minima diċenti għandha tkun ta’ madwar l- €14,000 fis-sena.

L-inflazzjoni  sostanzjali ta’ din is-sena jfisser li l-vulnerabbli fostna għaddejjin minn żmien diffiċli. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi ikun mill-iktar raġjonevoli li l-COLA titħallas darbtejn fis-sena: fl-1 ta’ Lulju u l-1 ta’ Jannar. Dan ma jżidx l-ammont li jitħallas imma billi dan jinqasam fi tnejn, u parti titħallas sitt xhur qabel, inaqqas ħafna l-piz fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli.

Għadna qed nistennew lill-Onorevoli Ministru tal-Finanzi biex iwettaq dak li wiegħed is-sena l-oħra bl-introduzzjoni ta’ mekkaniżmu speċjali li jipproteġi lill-vulnerabbli mill-impatti tal-għoli tal-ħajja. Għadna nistennew, imma l-Onorevoli Ministru jidher li hu iktar ippreokkupat biex jonora l-wegħdiet konnessi mal-klijenteliżmu politiku fl-Air Malta.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 21 t’Awwissu 2022

Some budgetary considerations

In the Finance Ministry this is the time when they gear up to prepare next year’s budget which is normally presented sometime in October.

The Hon Minister for Finance has apparently already decided to proceed with the finishing touches to further finance clientelism in Air Malta. This is a long-term project what they call “works in progress”. It involves more millions of euro in taxpayer’s money down the drain to honour political pledges made during the March 2022 general election. This is another corrupt practice together with the distribution of cheques to every household during the general election campaign. A “fitting” monument to political clientelism.

The cost-of-living is out of control. Most probably that the COLA, the cost-of-living adjustment to wages, salaries and pensions, announced during the budget speech will be around €10 per week. Minister Clyde Caruana states that it could be substantially more if government did not subsidise fuel and electricity bills.

The blanket subsidises of fuel and electricity bills need to be revisited in order that they are more effective in supporting the vulnerable. In the present circumstances it is good policy to subsidise basic use but it does not make sense for a prolonged blanket policy of subsidies. The current subsidies are not going into the pockets of the vulnerable alone. Those who are not amongst the vulnerable can do without most of the current subsidies. Subsidises need to be focused such that they are of help to the most vulnerable. The country does not have the resources to go on in this way for too long a time.

Some days ago, the fuel subsidisation policy was amended in order that the fuelling of pleasure seacraft was at last excluded from further benefitting from the use of subsidised fuel. This is however not enough. The gradual reduction of subsidies of petrol and diesel would not only ease traffic from our roads and improve the quality of our air: they would also make substantial finance available for other areas.

The Chamber of Commerce has also rightfully pointed out that subsidising water and electricity bills across the board needs to be revisited. Even in this area it is basic use which should be subsidised. Subsidising across the board signifies that excessive use is subsidised too. This is a misuse of public funds which we can easily do without.

Josef Bugeja (GWU) is spot on in insisting that the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) should be paid out in full to all employees (and pensioners). It has to be underlined that COLA is not an increase in wages and salaries. It merely makes good for the impact of inflation on wages, salaries and pensions during the past year.

There is however need for a long overdue overhaul of the incomes policy to make it more relevant to this day and age.

It is about time that the basket of goods and services used to compute the minimum wage and the COLA is revised in order to ensure that it reflects todays needs. The Caritas studies throughout the years have made this basic contribution to the debate: revising the basket of goods and services would identify a 40 per cent shortfall in the current minimum wage. The sooner this is addressed the better. On the basis of the Caritas studies, currently a decent minimum wage should be around €14,000 per annum.

The substantial inflation throughout this year signifies that the vulnerable amongst us are passing though a very difficult patch. In such circumstances it would be reasonable to consider having COLA paid twice a year: 1st July and 1st January. This would not increase the amount due but by splitting it in two, and bringing forward part of its payment by six months, would reduce the burden shouldered by the most vulnerable amongst us.

We are still waiting for the Hon Minister of Finance to honour his commitment made this time last year to address the cost-of-living impacts on the vulnerable through some special mechanism. We are still waiting, unfortunately, as the Hon Minister is more preoccupied in servicing clientelism at Air Malta.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 August 2022

Stormwater Management: entrenched incompetence

(photo by author dated 4 October 2018: overflowing sewer at Archbishop Gonzi Square Kalkara)

The Ministry for Public Works and Planning has embarked on another public consultation on stormwater management. I have lost count as to the number of times this exercise has been carried out along the years, directly or indirectly. At the end of the day the authorities continuously develop cold feet as they fail to address the basic issue: enforcement!

The consultation document points to a basic statistic which proves this point: only 36 per cent of dwellings have a water cistern. This notwithstanding that the matter has been codified in our legislation since 1880: that is since the approval of Ordinance I of 1880 by the British colonial government. Before that date most buildings had a water cistern. Everyone was then aware that water in Malta is scarce and all sought to do their part in collecting rainwater. Nowadays no one cares, as long as there is water in the tap!

The consultation document, entitled Green Stormwater Infrastructure Guidance Manual, drawing on Census 2011 information, further points out that it is in the sector of apartment blocks that one finds the largest number of infringements in non-provision of water cisterns. Compliance ranges from 80 per cent in the case of villas to 4 per cent in the case of apartments. On a geographic level it is probably no surprise that Gozo is only 25 per cent compliant!

As is also pointed out by the consultation document the present state of water harvesting is the result of a lack of adequate enforcement. I would emphasise that it is a case of an incompetent, almost inexistent, enforcement. It is very easy to point at developers who try to avoid excavating or constructing water cisterns, reducing his costs and increasing profits. They have a number of accomplices, who ignore this fact and then proceed to certify works as having been completed satisfactorily. In these instances, compliance certificates are issued just the same by the Planning Authority. Likewise, the Water Services Corporation authorises the connection of foul water drains from such developments to the public sewer without generally bothering to ascertain as to where rainwater is being collected or directed.

Rainwater is to be collected in a water cistern which should be fitted with an overflow which directs excess rainwater onto the street. Instead, a number of developments direct all rainwater directly onto the street. At times, unfortunately increasing in frequency, rainwater is disposed of directly into the public sewer.

This is the cause of flooded streets and overflowing sewers with which we are very familiar during and after heavy rainfall.

Enforcement hits hard as non-compliance is widespread. This is the primary reason as to why no government has seriously embarked on tackling this problem. In the past government, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, that is the non-provision of water cisterns, embarked on the drilling of a number of tunnels to facilitate the collection of rainwater and its dumping into the sea. Millions of euros in EU funds were utilised in this exercise, literally money down the drain.  Notwithstanding this misapplication of EU funds, the problem of flooded streets and overflowing sewers is still a common occurrence during and immediately after heavy rainfall.

Having expertly drawn up codes and manuals is generally helpful. It is however no substitute for clear indiscriminate enforcement: no exceptions allowed. It is what we lack. It is the result of clientelism forming an integral part of the philosophy of government and administration. It is a political disease which is not limited to stormwater management but as we all know is spread throughout the public administration.

If those employed to implement our laws, rules and regulations get on with their jobs, the problem of stormwater management would be substantially smaller, and definitely quite manageable!

The basic problem which the consultation document does not discuss is that there is no political will to ensure that simple rules on rainwater harvesting are observed by all. The rest follows.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd July 2022

Regulating lobbying

When Parliament, some years back, approved the Standards in Public Life legislation it did not arrive at any conclusions on the regulation of lobbying. It postponed consideration of this important matter by delegating the matter to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – then still to be appointed. The Commissioner had to draft a set of lobbying guidelines.

It is now almost two years since the publication by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life of a consultation document entitled “Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Maltain which document Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner, outlines his views as to how lobbying should be regulated in Malta.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has requested technical support from the EU’s Directorate General for Structural Reform in the area of “public integrity”. A technical support team from OECD engaged by the EU is currently in Malta to assist and advise the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.  I have had the opportunity of a very fruitful discussion with one of the OECD lobbying experts earlier during the week.

Hopefully in the weeks ahead the Commissioner will be in a position to submit a clear proposal indicating the way ahead for regulating lobbying in Malta.

In his consultation document of two years ago the Commissioner rightly emphasises that due to the particular circumstances of the country, the small size of the country and the population in particular, decision-takers are easily accessible. This leads to the conclusion that there is limited need to regulate the professional lobbyist. Rather, opines the Commissioner, there is a need to address contacts between decision-takers and private individuals who have such easy access.

The Commissioner makes the point that this should be done carefully without obstructing or hindering the direct contact between the politician as decision-taker and the voter at constituency level. This is a valid point but not without its dangers and pitfalls. At constituency level democracy is strengthened. It is also where clientelism is carefully nurtured. This is also a basic characteristic of this small country.

Lobbying is about influencing the decision-taker. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. This is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to politicians, parliamentarians and administrators by those who have an interest in the decisions under consideration.  

Hence the need for lobbying to be transparent and above-board. This is normally done through ensuring that meetings held by holders of political office or senior administrators are well documented and that the resulting minutes and supporting documents are available for public scrutiny.

Formal lobbying would be thus addressed. But that leaves informal lobbying which is the real headache. This can only be regulated if those lobbied are willing to submit themselves to the basic rules of transparency. Self-declarations by those lobbied would in such circumstances be the only way to keep lobbying in check!

This is however not all.

There are more sinister ways through which lobbying is carried out. Well organised sectors of industry and business employ former decision-takers as advisors or in some other high-sounding senior position. This ensures that the “advisor” can share his knowledge and contacts with his “new employer” thereby facilitating the effectiveness of focused lobbying. This practice is normally referred to as “revolving-door recruitment” and is an integral part of the lobbying process which needs regulating the soonest.

There are countless examples of this practice both locally and abroad, in respect of which I have already written various times. This aspect tends to be regulated by establishing a reasonable time-frame during which the former decision-taker or administrator cannot seek employment in areas of economic activity in respect of which he had political or high-level administrative or regulatory responsibilities.

The regulation of lobbying is essential in a democracy. Unregulated, lobbying can, and generally does, develop into corruption.

Lobbying can be a legitimate activity. Adequate regulation of lobbying, properly applied, ensures that it remains within legitimate boundaries.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 November 2021