Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

Tibdil tal-klima: miżuri li jeħtieġ li jkunu ġusti

Huwa essenzjali li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality). Ilu żmien ovvju li ekonomija dipendenti fuq iż-żjut mhiex waħda sostenibbli. Il-Konvenzjoni tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar it-Tibdil fil-Klima, fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, fl-2015, kienet fasslet pjan dwar it-triq meħtieġa biex nintlaħqu miri li jħarsu l-klima. Jekk ma nimxux ma’ dan il-pjan, il-futur ifisser biss gwaj.

It-tibdil fil-klima diġa qiegħed magħna.  Madanakollu, l-impatti fuqna jistgħu jkunu ferm agħar minn dak li għaddej bħalissa: temperaturi estremi, nixfa’ kbira f’xi reġjuni u għargħar f’oħrajn. Id-diżastri qed iseħħu quddiem għajnejna kuljum. Il-qagħda għad trid teħżien bosta, qabel ma l-affarijiet (forsi) jaqilbu għall-aħjar.

It-temperatura medja fuq livell globali qed tiżdied. It-temperatura imkejla tvarja minn reġjun għall-ieħor. Fil-Mediterranean, studji riċenti qed jindikaw li qegħdin viċin li naqbżu żieda ta’ grad u nofs Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. L-impatti ta’ dan diġa qed inħossuhom.

Bħala stat gżira, Malta messa li hi fuq quddiem fid-dibattitu globali dwar it-tibdil fil-klima.  Sfortunatament, pajjiżna hu fost dawk il-pajjiżi li kontinwament ikaxkru saqajhom biex jevitaw jew inaqqsu l-azzjoni meħtieġa da parti tagħhom. Il-fatt li aħna żgħar ma jeżentaniex mir-responsabbiltà tagħna lejn il-futur.

Fost l-eżempji ta’ dan hemm ir-resistenza, tul is-snin, biex nagħtu importanza lill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli flimkien mat-tkaxkir tas-saqajn għall-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport.  

Ilkoll niftakru l-insistenza tal-Gvernijiet Maltin mal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja biex il-miri ta’ Malta dwar l-enerġija rinovabbli ma jkunux l-20 fil-mija iffissati mill-Kummissjoni imma jinżlu għal 10 fil-mija tal-enerġija totali ġġenerata.  Bl-istess mod, minkejja li fl-2017 saret dikjarazzjoni politika mill-Gvern favur l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport, wara 4 snin għadna bla pjan u miri ċari. Il-bidla issa ser ikollha isseħħ b’ritmu mgħaġġel u ftit li xejn jidher li bħala pajjiż aħna ippreparati għaliha.

L-Unjoni Ewropeja għadha kemm żvelat pjan bi proposti biex l-emissjonijiet serra jitnaqqsu b’55 fil-mija meta mqabbel ma dawk tal-1990. Dan għandu jseħħ sal-2030, u dan bħala mira intermedja fit-triq lejn emmissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality) sas-sena 2050.

Waħda mill-proposti li qed issir hi li l-enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli ġġenerata fl-Unjoni Ewropeja tkun ta’ 40 fil-mija mill-enerġija kollha użata. Dan ikun ifisser li fi żmien 9 snin Malta jkun jeħtieġilha li timmultiplika b’erbgħa l-enerġija rinovabbli li niġġeneraw fil-pajjiż. Din ser tkun mira iebsa, iktar u iktar meta tieħu kont tal-fatt li tul is-snin il-pajjiż dejjem ipprova jiżloq mill-obbligi tiegħu f’dan il-qasam.

Proposta oħra tal-Unjoni Ewropeja hi li sal-2035 ma jidħlux iktar fis-suq karozzi li jaħdmu bid-dijsil u l-petrol. Din mira li ser ikun meħtieġ li nilħquha fi żmien 14-il sena. Lokalment din mhi ser issolvi xejn jekk ma tkunx imżewġa ma miżuri biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq.

Proposta oħra tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hi dwar l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa fuq il-fjuwil użat milll-vapuri kif ukoll dak użat fl-avjazzjoni. Din il-proposta bla dubju jkollha impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-gżejjer u l-istati periferali Ewropej. Hi proposta li hi motivata mill-fatt li l-Ewropa kontinentali hi moqdija iktar bil-ferrovija, ġeneralment effiċjenti u li hu meqjus li tħalli impatti ambjentali ferm inqas mill-ajruplani.

Bi proposta ta’ din ix-xorta it-turiżmu jintlaqat sewwa. Kemm tkun kbira d-daqqa jiddependi minn kemm tkun kbira taxxa ta’ din ix-xorta.  Malta, il-Greċja u Ċipru diġa qed jgħidu li ma jaqblux ma dan!

Kemm is-settur tal-avjazzjoni kif ukoll dak marittimu huma kontributuri sinifikanti ta’ emissjonijiet serra. Sal-lum dawn iż-żewġ setturi evitaw  li jkunu nklużi fil-miżuri biex inkun mħarsa mit-tibdil fil-klima minħabba lobbying qawwi. Il-proposti tal-Unjoni Ewropeja jekk jidħlu fis-seħħ jibdlu din is-sitwazzjioni, dejjem sakemm il-lobbying jinżamm taħt kontroll!

Uħud diġa iddeskrivew dawn il-proposti (u oħrajn) tal-Unjoni Ewropeja bħala suwiċidju politiku u dan minħabba li l-impatti konsiderevoli tagħhom jistgħu jkunu l-kawża ta’ nkwiet soċjali qalil. Li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjoni żero tal-karbonju hu essenzjali imma rridu nkunu konxji li l-impatti tal-miżuri meħtieġa inevitabilment ser iweġġgħu bosta bihom.  Id-diskussjoni meħtieġa trid tassigura li waqt li jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa bla iktar dewmien, il-vulnerabbli, inkluż dawk bla mezzi jew b’mezzi limitati, għandhom ikunu mħarsa  milli jkunu huma li jħallsu għall-ispiża akkumulata minħabba nuqqas ta’ azzjoni għal snin kbar.

L-ikbar sfida ghal dan il-Patt Aħdar hi li l-bidla meħtieġa teħtieġ li tkun waħda li issir b’ġustizzja. It-trasformazzjoni ekoloġika teħtieġ li tkun soċjalment ġusta. Dan tagħmlu billi tpoġġi lin-nies mhux il-kapital jew il-profitti bħala l-konsiderazzjoni ċentrali tagħha. Il-bidla, iżda trid isseħħ illum qabel għada. Iktar ma ndumu nkaxkru saqajna, iktar ikun għoli l-prezz li jkollna nħallsu.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Lulju 2021

Change must be fair

Achieving carbon neutrality is long overdue. It has long been obvious that an economy that is dependent on fossil fuel is not sustainable. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) at its 2015 Paris summit finally agreed to plot the basic roadmap required. If we do not follow this roadmap, havoc is the name of the future.

Climate change is already here. However, its impacts can be much worse than what we are already experiencing: extremes of temperature, drought in some regions with floods in others. We see the disasters developing almost daily. It will get much worse before it can get any better.

The mean global temperature is rising. The measured increase varies between one region and another. In the Mediterranean, recent studies have indicated that here we are very close to surpassing a 1.5-degree Celsius rise over the pre-industrial age temperature. We can feel the impact already.

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the global climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end. Our size does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

Our slow take-up of renewable energy over the years and the institutional resistance to transport electrification are among the most obvious examples.

We do remember the insistence on the part of Maltese governments with the EU Commission that Malta renewable energy targets should be 10 per cent and not 20 per cent of the energy generated. Likewise, after a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target on the roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling of our commitments over the years.

A de facto ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within fourteen years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, if not coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

The proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel would undoubtedly have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute to achieving emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably by a tax on aviation fuel, dependent on the extent of the taxation rates applied.

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have so far have avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

Some have already described the proposals of the EU Commission as political suicide as their far-reaching impacts could trigger considerable social unrest. Achieving carbon neutrality is essential but the paths selected will be very painful, some more than others. In the ensuing discussion we have to ensure that while the essential decisions are taken without delay the poor and the most vulnerable are shielded from having to pay the accumulated cost of inaction over the years.

The biggest challenge we face is to ensure that the Green Deal is fair. The ecological transformation must be socially just and place people, not profits, as its central consideration. Change must however happen the soonest. The longer we postpone taking action the higher the price we will have to pay.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 July 2021

A minimum income for a decent living

Within the European Union structures a debate has commenced on adequate minimum wages throughout the Union. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had stated on her appointment that she would be proposing a legal instrument to ensure that every worker in the Union has a fair minimum wage.

The consultation process within the EU was launched over one year ago. As a result, a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages has been finalised together with a number of supporting documents, including a 240 page long extensive impact assessment

In an explanatory memorandum published by the EU together with the text of the proposed Directive it is emphasised that “in the majority of EU Member States with national statutory minimum wages, minimum wages are too low vis-à-vis other wages or to provide a decent living even if they have increased in recent years.” In its impact assessment, the EU Commission calculated that an increase of national minimum wages according to the double decency threshold (60% of the median and 50% of the average wage) would improve the wages of around 25 million workers in Europe.

Malta is one such state with a low minimum wage which does not suffice, in particular, for vulnerable categories. A Caritas study published last Friday once more identifies short-comings of the minimum wage in Malta, when this is the only source of income for a number of vulnerable households.

The Caritas study entitled “A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living 2020” follows previous studies published by Caritas in 2012 and 2016 as a result of which detailed research illustrates how the basic needs of vulnerable households, cannot be addressed if these households are dependent on one minimum wage as their only source of income.

The latest Caritas study concludes that a household comprising two adults and two children require €13947 annually as a minimum for a decent living, while if the household consists of a lone parent and two children this requirement drops to €11038. This is well below the 2021 statutory minimum wage which is currently €181.08 per week even if one also takes into consideration the June and December statutory bonus. On the other hand, the requirements of a household consisting of an elderly couple adds up to €8157 annually, concludes the Caritas study. This last figure, which is manageable, is however qualified in the Caritas report in that it may vary substantially due to the myriad of costs specific to the lifestyle and health status of the elderly.

The above excludes cases where the minimum wage earner needs to fork out expenses for a privately rented dwelling, in which case subsistence is practically impossible. The Caritas 2020 report emphasises that impact of the rent due “can dramatically affect the financial circumstances and quality of life of low-income households”.

The agreement signed by government with the social partners in 2017 as a result of which after one year in receipt of a minimum wage there are mandatory increases of €3 per week and an additional €3 per week after the second year, was a step forward and without doubt lessens the burdens of minimum wage earners. But this is certainly not enough. An overhaul of the method of calculation of the minimum wage is essential as this has to be reflective of real and actual needs. It has to be capable of sustaining a dignified living.

The recent news that the Maltese government is among the EU Member states which are objecting to EU legislation that would set up a framework regulating the minimum wage is worrying as the Maltese Government has been reluctant to take steps ensuring that the minimum wage is revised periodically to reflect actual needs. ADPD has long been advocating for this revision. However, the Labour government has repeatedly indicated that it was more interested in helping the wealthy get even wealthier. It was more interested in defending the crooks in its midst.

Our society needs to guarantee a basic income for all which is sufficient for a decent living. A number of countries are carrying out trials to identify the best way forward in this respect. The Universal Basic Income or UBI is being tested in a number of countries through pilot projects.

There is much to learn not just from these pilot projects. Malta’s Covid-19 wage supplement, for example, was a worthy initiative which merits further consideration. If properly applied it can form the basis of a long-term initiative to guarantee a minimum income for all. Obviously, it is easier said than done but we need to start some long-term planning which addresses the need to guarantee a minimum income for all thereby ensuring that all have access to sufficient resources to live a dignified life. This is the next step for the welfare state.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 February 2021

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

Edward Scicluna u l-bajtar tax-xewk

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-President tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea, Ursula von der Leyen, ippreżentat lill-Parlament Ewropew pjan ta’ €750 biljun biex inqumu fuq saqajna. Pjan li jista’ jiġġenera investiment stmat €3.1 triljun fl-ekonomija Ewropea. Permezz ta’ għotjiet flimkien ma’ self, il-Kummissjoni Ewropea qed tfittex li tegħleb l-impatti ekonomiċi negattivi tal-Covid-19 kif ukoll li tagħti bidu għall-azzjoni meħtieġa biex ikun implimentat il-Ftehim l-Aħdar (the Green Deal).

It-triq biex nirkupraw mhiex faċli. Mhux il-każ li mmorru lura għal kif konna. Dak spiċċa. Irridu nimxu l-quddiem lejn normal ġdid. Li nintegraw flimkien il-ħidma biex nirkupraw mill-impatti tal-pandemija flimkien mal-azzjoni meħtieġa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima mhux ser tkun faċli imma hi essenzjali u mhux possibli li tkun posposta. Kif ġie emfasizzat fuq Euroactive nhar l-Erbgħa, it-triq biex nirkupraw tiddependi minn ħafna kundizzjonijiet konnessi mal-ambjent. 25 fil-mija tal-finanzjament propost mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hu fil-fatt marbut ma’ ħidma klimatika.

Edward Scicluna, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, fl-ewwel reazzjoni tiegħu għall-pjan tal-Kummissjoni ikkummenta mħasseb dwar miżuri prattiċi konnessi mal-klima. Bħala gżira ser inweġġgħu ħafna qal, jekk jindirizzaw l-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani u l-vapuri. Il-pjan, qal Edward Scicluna, jixbah lill-bajtar tax-xewk. Scicluna jippreferi li ma jsir xejn ħlief paroli. L-anqas m’hu jieħu pjaċir b’dak li qed jingħad dwar it-tassazzjoni tal-kumpaniji, avolja konxju li m’għadx baqa’ żmien biex fl-Unjoni Ewropea tħajjar kumpaniji jibqgħu jħarbu l-obbligi tagħhom tal-ħlas tat-taxxi.

Hu korrett li jingħad li ser nintlaqtu bil-miżuri dwar il-klima. Hekk għandu jkun, għax il-ħidma tagħna għandha impatt fuq il-klima. Nistgħu imma ninnegozjaw biex dawn l-impatti fuqna jonqsu mingħajr ma nnaqqsu l-impenn (reali) tagħna biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti klimatiċi tal-industrija tal-avjazzjoni u tal-vapuri. Bla ebda dubju dan ser ikun ifisser impatti sostanzjali kemm fuq it-turiżmu kif ukoll fuq il-kummerċ.

Dan ma jistax ikun evitat għax dawn l-industriji għandhom l-obbligu li huma ukoll jġorru fuq spallejhom l-impatti li qed jikkawżaw. Dak hu li wegħdna bħala pajjiż fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima. Wasal il-waqt li nwettqu dak li ġie imwiegħed. Biex niġu fuq saqajna irridu nfasslu l-futur mill-ġdid. Il-ħsara li teħtieg li tissewwa mhiex biss dik ekonomika u ambjentali. Jinħtieġ li tul l-Unjoni Ewropea kollha nibnu s-solidarjetà fuq pedamenti sodi. Dak li Edward Scicluna jqis bħala l-bajtar tax-xewk huma fil-fatt l-għodda bażiċi tas-solidarjetà.

Għax is-solidarjetà hi meħtieġa mhux biss meta aħna bir-raġun kollu nokorbu ma’ kull mewġa ta’ immigranti fl-ibħra Maltin. Is-solidarjetà hi dak li Malta tinjora meta tfittex li tkun attraenti għal min irid jevadi t-taxxi f’pajjiżu: dawk li jħallsu ftit lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta biex jevitaw milli jħallsu l-biljuni band’oħra. Il-politika dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni fl-Unjoni Ewropea hi r-risposta bis-sens għall-politika li tinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa f’Malta, l-Olanda, il-Lussimburgu u l-Irlanda.

L-Oxfam f’rapport ippubblikat fl-2019 u ntitolat “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” temfasizza li “l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu, Malta u l-Olanda huma fost il-pajjiżi li l-iktar jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fid-dinja, b’mod li jagħmluha possibli li kumpaniji kbar jirnexxielhom iħallsu ammont żgħir ta’ taxxa. Per eżempju, ir-regoli internazzjonali tat-taxxa jippermettu lill-Vodafone Group Plc biex jallokkaw kważi 40 fil-mija tal-profitti taxxabbli tagħhom f’Malta u l-Lussimburgu.”

Rajna ukoll rapporti dwar il-BASF, ġgant fl-industrija kimika fil-Ġermanja, li jispjegaw kif din tevadi t-taxxa. Fir-rapport tal-Ħodor Ewropej ippubblikat fl-2016, intitolat “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” kien spjegat kif il-BASF irnexxiela tevadi madwar biljun euro f’taxxa, u minflok ħallset ammonti żgħar bil-kompliċità ta’ Gvernijiet Maltin: ħomor u blu.

Jeħtieġ li l-ewwel u qabel kollox nirkupraw l-imġieba etika tagħna, anke qabel ma nirkupraw ekonomikament u ambjentalment. Ir-riġenerazzjoni tal-valuri tagħna għandha tkun prijorità qabel ma nippruvaw insewwu l-kaxxa ta’ Malta li minnha, bħalissa ħerġin il-flus maħmuġin akkumulati mill-bejgħ tal-passaporti. Flejjes miġburin minn persuni bħall-biljunarju Russu Boris Mints, l-Eġizzjan Mustafa Abdel Wadood, il-biljunarju Ċiniż Liu Zhongtian, in-negozjant Russu Pavel Melenikov u l-Iżraeli Anatoly Hurgin, li irnexxielhom jiżgiċċaw minn eżami suppost rigoruż u ngħataw iċ-ċittadinanza Maltija: però xorta spiċċaw għaddejjin proċeduri kriminali f’diversi pajjiżi oħra primarjament dwar frodi u ħasil tal-flus!

F’dan iż-żmien ta’ ħtieġa l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna spiċċa dipendenti fuq flejjes li oriġinaw minn dawn is-sorsi maħmuġin. Ma tkunx esaġerazzjoni li ngħid li spiċċa dipendenti minn flus li oriġinaw mill-kriminalità.

Fir-reazzjonijiet tagħha għall-proposti tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea Evelyne Huytebroech, waħda miż-żewġ mexxejja tal-Partit tal-Ħodor Ewropej, emfasizzat li din il-proposta flimkien ma dik tal-Parlament Ewropew u l-proposta Franco-Tedeska ilkoll qed jaraw proċess ta’ self komuni. Dan hu pass il-quddiem għas-solidarjetà Ewropea. Għax is-solidarjetà tinbena bil-mod u bit-tbatija. Imma għal Edward Scicluna dan kollu bajtar tax-xewk!

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 31 ta’ Mejju 2020

The recovery plan and Edward Scicluna’s prickly pears

Earlier this week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, presented for the consideration of the European Parliament a recovery plan worth €750 billion but which can unleash an investment estimated at €3.1 trillion in the EU economy. Through a combination of loans and grants the EU Commission seeks to integrate the reversal of the economic downturn resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic together with the action required to implement the Green Deal.

The road to recovery will be tough. It is not the case of going back to normal but of going forward to a new normal. Integrating the recovery from the pandemic impacts with climate change action will not be easy but it is essential and cannot be postponed. As emphasised by Euroactive on Wednesday, the road to recovery has plenty of green strings attached. 25 per cent of the funding proposed by the EU Commission is in fact earmarked for climate action.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, in his first reaction to the recovery plan, voiced concern on practical climate action measures. It hurts, he says, to address air traffic emissions or shipping pollution. As an island this would impact us substantially. The proposed recovery plan is comparable to prickly pears, he stated. He prefers the status quo: all talk and little walk. Edward Scicluna is not amused by rumblings heard on corporate taxation even though he is well aware that the days of attracting corporations seeking tax havens within the EU may well be numbered.

It is correct to state that we will be impacted substantially. We can however negotiate to reduce such impacts without diminishing our commitment to addressing climate change impacts of the airline and shipping industry. This would mean significant impacts on tourism and trade. These however cannot be avoided as climate change impacts have to be internalised: that is they have to be shouldered by the industries generating them. This is what we promised in the Paris Climate Summit. Promises that we must now honour.

Operation recovery must re-design the future. It must not be just an economic recovery or an environmental rebirth. It must also be a recovery of practical solidarity all over the Union. What Edward Scicluna views as prickly pears are in fact instruments of solidarity.

Solidarity is not just what we rightly cry for when immigrants crash through our borders. Solidarity is what we ignore when Malta insists on being attractive to tax evaders: those who pay peanuts to the Maltese exchequer in order to avoid paying billions elsewhere. The issue of tax harmonisation on an EU level is the sensible response to the tax haven fiscal policies of Malta, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Oxfam in its 2019 report entitled “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” emphasises that “Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands are among the most significant tax havens in the world, enabling some of the biggest corporations to pay minimal amounts of tax. For example, currently, international tax rules allow Vodafone Group Plc to allocate nearly 40% of its taxable profits to Malta and Luxembourg.” We have also seen reports on BASF clearly explaining how the German chemical giant avoids paying taxes due. The European Greens report “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published in 2016 had outlined how BASF had successfully avoided close to a billion euros in tax, paying just a small amount thanks to Maltese governments blue and red.

The recovery must be primarily ethical before being economic and environmental. Regenerating our values should be a priority higher on the list than the regeneration of our coffers, currently dishing out dirty money originating from the sale of citizenship schemes. Monies collected from the likes of Russian billionaire Boris Mints, Egyptian national Mustafa Abdel Wadood, Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, Russian businessman Pavel Melenikov and Israeli Anatoly Hurgin, who slipped through what is described as a rigorous due diligence process and gain Maltese citizenship only to be prosecuted in different jurisdictions for various crimes primarily fraud and money laundering.

It is indeed telling that in time of need Finance Minister Edward Scicluna is dependent on monies originating from such dubious sources! It would not be an exaggeration to state that he is dependent on the proceeds of crime.

In her reaction to the EU Commission proposals Evelyne Huytebroech co-Chair of the European Greens emphasised that the EU Commission’s proposal together with the proposals of the EU Parliament and the Franco-German initiative all foresee a mutualised debt instrument: a major breakthrough for European solidarity. Solidarity is constructed slowly and painfully, while Edward Scicluna juggles with his prickly pears.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 May 2020

Solidarity: practising what we preach

In the local political lexicon, at times, the significance of Malta’s EU membership is incorrectly equated to the financial input of the union in the financing of the development of the local infrastructure, both physical and social. The role of the cohesion funds and regional development funds, in their various forms, are, at times perceived as the be-all of Malta’s EU policy!

Solidarity is a founding principle embedded in the European Union Treaties: however, it is not sufficiently reflected in the behaviour of both EU states and EU citizens. Solidarity signifies the existence of a commitment for mutual support in time of need. As most are aware, solidarity is much more than a financial commitment of the stronger members of the union who are net contributors to the EU budget. Beyond financial assistance, unfortunately, solidarity has time and again proven easier said than done for the EU member states.

Solidarity is a two-way process: we speak of the solidarity which we expect of others without giving sufficient attention to the solidarity due from us, in particular to our neighbours. Solidarity due to us is a given, however a multitude of reservations seem to apply to the solidarity which we are expected to deliver to our neighbours in time of need.

The criminalisation of NGOs who save lives (thus filling the gaps created by EU state inaction and dereliction of duty) together with the closure of our ports for humanitarian missions is an affront to the basic principles of solidarity. We should not shift onto NGOs and onto the refugees the failure of the Libyan state to control those who are making a quick buck from the refugees’ plight.

The Covid-19 crisis has once more identified that within the European Union, in time of need, when it really matters, there exists a solidarity deficit. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, has earlier this week publicly apologised to the state of Italy for not helping out at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Addressing the European Parliament, she stated that “too many were not there in time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning”.

Saying sorry is however not enough. A genuine “sorry” needs to be matched by concrete action which changes behaviour, if it has to mean anything at all.

A time of crisis is a time for more Europe. It is a time where the relatively strong should seek the weak to help them out in overcoming the difficulties being faced. In a time of crises no one should beg for help. Solidarity should be forthcoming almost automatically and without any conditions attached.

As we are well aware, this is not news to us, as we have had to bear a lack of solidarity in respect of the impacts of immigration incident on our shores time and again. Together with other EU member states along the extensive borders of the Union, time and again Malta has been left on its own to face the music. There is as yet no general acceptance within the Union that this is an EU problem which requires an EU solution.

In Malta, at times, we fail to understand that the effectiveness of the EU in any specific area is dependent on the reactions from the individual member states.At times, there has been limited agreement on voluntary action to relocate refugees saved from drowning as well as those arriving in Malta on their own or else assisted by NGOs.

So far, the EU has generally been able to agree on one line of action in tackling the influx of refugees: throwing money at the problem. Development aid has also been used with limited success in aiding the rebuilding of those parts of Africa which have collapsed.

Solidarity should be a fundamental value in our operations as a state not just as an EU member state but more so as a state which claims adherence to basic Christian values. Our solidarity is a value which should stand on its own two feet without being conditioned by whether others act appropriately or not. Do unto others what you expect others do to you. Many a times have we heard this said. Isn’t it about time that we practice what we preach?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26th April 2020