Wanted: a transport policy which makes sense

Everywhere is within reach in the Maltese islands: distances are relatively small. It is, in addition, an established fact, documented in the Transport Masterplan, that 50 per cent of private car trips on our roads take less than fifteen minutes. Do we need to be dependent on private cars for such short distances?

Over the years public transport was neglected. In the absence of suitable public transport, and as a reaction thereto, a pattern of car dependency has inevitably developed. The resulting congested roads are a symptom of this fact rather than being, as suggested in Parliament earlier this week by a government backbencher, the direct consequence of an increase in the country’s standard of living.

There have been improvements in public transport in the last years: these are however insufficient. Having free public transport is a good but pre-mature initiative as public transport has yet to be efficient and reliable. The decision announced last week by Transport Minister to invest in cycle lanes, is welcome, even if it comes a little late in the day.

The heavy investment in road infrastructure over the years has been misdirected as it has focused on the effects instead of on the causes of traffic congestion. The financial resources utilised in the Marsa Road network, the Central Link and elsewhere, will, at the end of the day, prove to be monies down the drain as traffic congestion will build up once more. This is already evident even in these early days. Others have been there before us as is revealed by countless studies carried out all over the world on the link between traffic congestion and improvement of the road infrastructure.

It is only through the provision of alternative means of sustainable mobility that the problematic behavioural pattern we have developed over the years can be addressed. Moving away from car dependency will however be a very slow process if policy makers keep continuously sending conflicting signals.

Making it easier for the car user through more or better roads is no help in solving the problem. It will make matters worse. Likewise, the subsidisation of petrol and diesel is sending a clear message to all that car dependency is not even considered to be a problem.

Three specific factors are currently in play: traffic congestion, fuel cost and the transition to transport electrification. If properly managed, together they can help us move towards a state of sustainable mobility. The transition period is however necessarily painful unless it is properly managed.

Postponement in tackling traffic congestion properly will only make matters worse.

Improvement of road infrastructure has postponed the issue of tackling traffic congestion into the future. Fuel subsidies have added to the problem as they blatantly ignore it. Electrification, unless coupled with a reduction of cars on the road will add acute electricity dependency on foreign sources to our current problems. Energy sovereignty has been problematic for quite some time: it will get worse.

The second electricity interconnector with the Sicilian mainland will worsen our car dependency as a result of linking it with a dependency on electricity generated outside our shores. We know quite well what that signifies whenever the interconnector is out of service, whatever the cause!

We need to go beyond the rhetoric and act before it is too late. It is also possible to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected. This would mean that instead of having across-the-board subsidises, these would be focused on those who really need them. All those who have mobility problems should receive focused assistance to help them overcome the difficulties which could result from a modal shift in transport. We cannot however go on with subsidies for all: it is not sustainable, neither economically, nor environmentally or socially

Land use planning can also be of considerable help if it is focused on the actual needs of the whole community instead of being at the service of the developers. We need to ensure that each community is self-sufficient in respect of its basic needs. This will, on its own, decrease traffic generated by the search for such needs.

The climate change debate is a unique opportunity to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our basic needs are available within easy reach, not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means. Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

All we do is essentially linked. At the end of the day traffic congestion and the related car dependency are a product of our mode of behaviour.  Thinking outside the box, we can tackle it successfully, as a result unchaining ourselves from our car dependency, consequently adjusting to a better sustainable lifestyle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 November 2022

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.

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

Dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx

Id-dritt li jkollna aċċess għax-xemx reġa’ għal darba oħra qed jissemma b’insistenza. Dawk fostna li huma konxji li l-użu tax-xemx għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna jagħmel kemm sens ambjentali kif ukoll sens ekonomiku qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Sfortunatament huma ostakolati mill-politika dwar l-użu tal-art li hi interessata biss biex taqdi lir-rebgħa li, jippruvaw jgħidulna li hi żvilupp.

Li nagħmlu użu mill-enerġija li tiġġenera x-xemx jiddependi minn dak li jkun hemm jostakola l-wasla tar-raġġi tax-xemx meta jkollna ħtieġa tagħhom! Meta l-parti l-kbira tal-pjani lokali kienu approvati fis-sajf tal-2006, kien żdied bil-kbir l-għoli tal-bini permissibli f’diversi lokalitajiet. F’xi każi l-ammont ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew żdiedu minn 2 għal 5, inkluż penthouse. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar fejn jista’ jkun hemm garaxxijiet li jkunu parzjalment taħt il-livell tal-triq (semi-basement). Din il-bidla f’dak li jista’ jinbena effettwat ħafna żoni fejn kien hemm bini b’żewġ sulari.

L-impatt ta’ din il-bidla fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini qiegħed jiżdied biż-żmien għax issa qed isir żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bosta propjetajiet li ilhom ftit ta’ żmien li nbnew. Dan qed joħloq ħafna dellijiet fuq bosta djar residenzjali fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-pannelli fotovoltajċi u l-istallazzjonijiet li jsaħħnu l-ilma bix-xemx (solar water heaters) stallati fuq il-bjut ta’ bosta residenzi issa qegħdin fid-dell għall-ħin twil u ġew ma jiswew xejn. Dawn huma investimenti li għamlu ħafna familji Maltin li ġew issagrifikati fuq l-altar tar-rebgħa tal-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp. Sussidji użati bħala għajnuna biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija mix-xemx, inkluż dawk li oriġinaw minn fondi Ewropej, f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi spiċċaw moħlija.

Dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art bla viżjoni fit-tul. Politika li falliet biex tqis u tindirizza impatti ovvji. B’mod speċifiku hi riżultat li teżamina l-proposta dwar l-għoli permissibli tal-bini fid-dawl tal-proċeduri stabiliti mid-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Din hi direttiva li tfittex li teżamina politika (policy), pjani u programmi biex ikun stabilit u eżaminat l-impatt ambjentali tagħhom.

Dawk minnha li huma familjari ma kif taħdem u ħadmet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jafu li l-Pjani Lokali ġew approvati bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Dan sar l-għaliex iktar dewmien kien ikun ifisser illi dawn il-pjani kienu jkun soġġetti għal eżami dwar l-impatti ambjentali tagħhom skond kif tipprovdi d-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Inevitabilment kien jirriżulta minn dan l-eżami li ż-żieda fil-għoli tal-bini li seta jingħata l-permess kien ser ikollu impatt negattiv fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku mix-xemx, kif fil-fatt qed jiġri llum! Dan l-impatt kien ikollu jkun indirizzat u l-għoli tal-bini kien ikollu jonqos.

Kellna parti mill-Gvern taħdem favur il-ħtieġa li nagħmlu użu mix-xemx biex niġġeneraw enerġija nadifa. Imma kellna parti oħra mill-Gvern li kienet ostaġġ tal-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi li riedu iktar spazju fejn jistgħu jiżviluppaw. Il-bqija nafu x’ġara. Dak l-ispazju issa qed jiġi żviluppat u bħala riżultat spiċċajna bil-pannelli fid-dell fuq il-bjut!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, fil-Parlament, Miriam Dalli, Ministru għall-Enerġija, l-Intrapriża u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fi tweġiba għal mistoqsija parlamentari ta’ Ryan Callus kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Enerġija qalet li l-Gvern għaddej b’konsultazzjonijiet interni dwar dan kollu.

Tant ilna niddiskutu dan kollu li mhux nifhem x’għandha f’moħħha l-Onorevoli Ministru. Fil-fatt ftit hemm possibilitajiet x’jiġu kkunsidrati.

L-iktar possibilità ovvja hi li fejn hu possibli jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli permissibli tal-bini għal dak li kien fl-2006. Dan imma, hu diffiċli biex isir, u kieku kellu jsir immedjatament tasal talba għal kumpens ta’ miljuni ta’ euro.

Hu possibli li jkunu introdotti drittijiet dwar l-aċċess għax-xemx f’bini ġdid. Dan għandu jsir immedjatament. Hu possiblili li jkunu emendati r-regoli tal-ippjanar b’mod li jkun assigurat illi fil-bini ġdid, b’mod partikolari fil-bini ta’ flats, ikun possibli li minn fuq il-bjut tagħhom tkun ġġenerata l-enerġija mix-xemx. Dan għandu jkun biżżejjed u jagħmel tajjeb għall-konsum tal-elettriku fil-blokk tal-flats kollu. Dan ikun ifisser li l-arja ma tinżammx mill-iżviluppatur iżda tkun parti mill-blokk f’idejn is-sidien tal-flats biex fuqha jistallaw pannelli foto-voltajiċi. Dan jassigura li kull blokk ġdid ta’ flats ikun carbon neutral, jiġifieri jiġġenera elettriku mix-xemx daqs kemm ikun ikkunsmat. Il-pannelli b’hekk jieħdu post il-penthouse.

B’hekk nistgħu nibdew bil-mod insewwu l-ħsara li saret.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Frar 2021

Solar rights and planning wrongs

Solar rights are once more in the public debate. The number of those aware that utilising solar energy for our needs makes both environmental and economic sense is on the increase. Unfortunately, they are being obstructed by land use planning policy which is only interested in serving greed, camouflaged as development.

The utilisation of the sun’s energy is dependent on what gets in the way of the sun’s rays when we need them!  When most of the Local Plans were approved way back in summer of 2006, the permissible heights of building development in a multitude of areas were substantially increased. At times this increase was from 2 to 5 floors, including a penthouse level. It is worse where semi-basement garages are permissible. This change was in particular applied in respect of large areas with a previous predominance of two floored terraced houses. 

The impact of this change in the permissible height limitation is increasing in severity with time as the redevelopment of old properties is being gradually taken in hand. This is resulting in the shadowing of an ever-increasing number of residential units in a number of residential areas. As a result, solar water heaters and photo voltaic panels installed on a number of roofs in the past years, are now in the shade for a considerable amount of time and consequently are practically useless. Investments made by a number of our families have been sacrificed on the altar of development greed. Subsidies (including those originating from EU funds) which were utilised to assist the tapping of solar energy in a substantial number of cases have thus been thrown down the drain.

This is the result of myopic land use planning which failed to consider obvious impacts. Specifically, it is the result of the failure to subject the proposed height relaxation planning policies to the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive. The Strategic Environment Assessment Directive seeks to examine policies, plans and programmes in order to ensure that their environmental aspects are effectively considered.

Those of us familiar with the workings of the Planning Authority are aware that most of the Local Plans were rushed through to approval during the summer of 2006. This was done as any further delay would have made them subject to Strategic Environment Assessment procedures which would have inevitably highlighted the impact of height relaxation on the generation of solar energy. As a result, the conflict with the need to have solar energy generated would have been highlighted and most probably addressed.

While one section of government was encouraging one and all on the need to tap the sun’s rays to generate clean and renewable energy, another section, hostage to the development lobby was obstructing this and pushing forward their need for more space to develop! The rest is history. That space is currently being developed today, in the process obstructing the further generation of renewable energy on our rooftops.

In Parliament, earlier this week Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Miriam Dalli in reply to a Parliamentary Question from Ryan Callus, spokesperson for Energy on behalf of the Opposition, stated that government was holding internal discussions on the matter.

The matter has been discussed many times to date so I cannot decipher exactly what Minister Miriam Dalli has in mind. There are in fact very few possible options which can be considered.

The most obvious option is to revise as much as possible the height relaxation carried out in 2006. This will be very difficult to carry out, and, if done, it will be immediately followed-up by a request for compensation running into many millions of euro.

Alternatively, one can seek to introduce solar rights on new buildings without further delay. It is possible that planning policy is amended to ensure that all new properties, in particular blocks of flats, should generate sufficient electricity to cater for the number of units in the new block, thus ensuring carbon neutrality. Such a measure would essentially require that the roof is owned together with the individual units in order that owners of the said units may install photo voltaic panels. Consequently, it would signify that the space which till now has been utilised for the development of penthouses would henceforth be reserved for the generation of renewable energy.

In so doing a history of planning wrongs would commence the long and difficult road of correction.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 February 2021