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

Lil hinn mill-larinġ ta’ Rosianne Cutajar

Mela issa kulħadd jaf li Rosianne Cutajar marret tqassam il-larinġ. Mal-larinġ hemm ir-ritratt tagħha, għax il-larinġ tqassam b’messaġġ politiku!

Wieħed jista’ jargumenta, u b’daqshekk? Mela l-larinġ ta’ Rosianne ser jinfluwenza kif ser jivvutaw in-nies? Intendi li naqbel. Imma fl-istess ħin it-tqassim tal-larinġ hu simoliku ta’ kif il-vulnerabbli huma trattati minn uħud mill-politiċi.

Anke l-azzjoni ta’ Repubblika għaldaqstant inqisha bħala waħda simbolika. L-ewwel azzjoni minn sensiela li inevitabilment ser iseħħu matul il-kampanja elettorali li ġejja.

Għax il-problema reali mhux il-larinġ ta’ Rosianne jew il-flixkun tal-inbid ta’ Konrad inkella ir-roly poly ta’ Silvio.

Tul kull kampanja elettorali nisimgħu stejjer tal-biki.

Hemm min infurmani dwar kandidati li ħallsu kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma ta’ xi kostitwenti. Hemm min qassam xi fridge jew washing machine.

L-infieq ta’ uħud fl-elezzjonijet hu astronomiku. Imur lil hinn minn dak permissibli.

Il-messaġġ ta’ Repubblika mhux dwar il-larinġ ta’ Rosianne, iżda dwar l-abbuż fl-infieq fil-kampanja elettorali.

Reforming a two-party Parliament

Malta’s electoral system has, over the years, been transformed into a duopoly. Discrimination is inbuilt into electoral legislation in order to effectively ensure that Parliament remains a two-party affair. It is discrimination by design. It is not accidental but specifically intended.

Our electoral system (STV: Single Transferable Vote) started off being applied in 1921 as one focused on the individual candidate, generally ignoring the political parties. Over the years a number of important changes shifted the focus of the STV from the individual candidate to the political party.

The first such change was carried out prior to the 1976 general elections: the electoral ballot paper was then redesigned such that same party candidates started being grouped together with a colour code identifying the different political parties. This was a radical change as up to that point, for over fifty years, all candidates in an electoral district were listed alphabetically. Up till that point it was a common occurrence for votes to switch from one party to the other in successive counts as the semi-literate voter, would not always distinguish between one party candidate and the candidates from other parties. As a result, many a parliamentary seat was lost or switched allegiance over the years.

The second change took place in 1987 and was fine-tuned in subsequent years. It started off as a reaction to the impact of jerrymandering of electoral districts, specifically the 1981 general election result. Originally it was designed as a constitutional guarantee for majority rule, ensuring that whichever political party surpassed the 50 per cent vote count it would be guaranteed a majority of parliamentary seats. Subsequently it was developed into a formula for ensuring proportionality between first count votes and parliamentary seats. There is however an important condition attached: this is only applicable if just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third one gains just one seat, no proportionality is guaranteed, except in one specific instant: when a political party obtains in excess of the 50 per cent mark it is still guaranteed a majority of Parliamentary seats. Our Constitution expects that the rest have to lump it.

The third change is in the pipeline. It involves an additional adjustment: a gender balance mechanism. A maximum of twelve parliamentary seats will be added to the total to represent the under-represented gender! Yes, you have guessed: they will be split equally between the duopoly. In addition, the seats will not be available for distribution the moment a third political party makes it into parliament.

Let me be very clear. Proportionality between votes cast and parliamentary seats won is essential. Likewise, it is essential to address the gender imbalance in our parliament. However, both adjustments can be done fairly, without any discrimination, and importantly without increasing the size of Parliament astronomically as will inevitably happen at the next general election if only two political parties make it to Parliament. In fact, it is perfectly possible not to have any increase in size of Parliament at all if the appropriate changes are carried out!

Over the years the political party which I lead has made several proposals on these matters. The latest proposal was made in the context of the public consultation on addressing gender imbalance in Parliament. Even then we emphasised that tinkering with the electoral system and adding top-ups would not solve anything. A complete overhaul of the system is required. Instead, the “gender balance reform” ended up advocating “as little as possible disruption of the electoral system”. Government and Opposition agreed to reinforce the existing discrimination in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, our proposals have been ignored once more and we have no choice but to resort to our Courts to address a blatantly discriminatory electoral system imposed on us by Labour and Nationalist Members of Parliament. On such matters they always agree.

In such circumstances fragmentation of the political spectrum is the worst possible option for those who want to emphasise a specific point. Those who end up playing the “independent” are pawns of the duopoly, unwittingly reinforcing the two-party system. They end up siphoning votes and thereby deliberately weakening a potential third voice which can make it to Parliament. The merger between AD and PD in the past months is the appropriate antidote in such circumstances.

Instead of focusing on minor differences it would be appropriate if all of us give more weight to the overall picture. It is an uphill struggle, but we should not be deterred!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 30 May 2021

L-abort: nippruvaw niddiskutu bil-kalma

Id-dibattitu dwar l-abort hu wieħed emottiv. L-insulti u t-tgħajjir li għaddejjin huma bla limitu. Huwa f’din l-atmosfera li qed issir id-diskussjoni. Ċerti nies ma jitgħallmu qatt.

Id-dibattitu huwa ibbażat fuq l-istess punt fundamentali tad-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju: fil-pajjiż jirrenja l-pluraliżmu etiku. Jiġifieri jeżistu valuri kuntrastanti. Kuntrasti li ilhom jinbnew ftit ftit tul is-snin imma li ġew moħbija mil-lenti pubblika. Id-diskussjoni kienet waħda ipprojibita. Ma saritx minħabba l-biża’ minn soċjetà intolleranti, frott tal-fundamentaliżmu li għixna fih għal ħafna snin. Is-soċjetà tagħna illum żviluppat f’soċjetà lajka li immanifestat ruħha fir-referendum dwar id-divorzju u fl-aċċettazzjoni tad-drittijiet LGBTIQ.

Mhux kull abort hu xorta. Mhuwiex ġustifikat li taqbad l-“agħar każ ta’ abort” u tuża lilu bħala eżempju.

Il-kampanja kontra l-abort hi iffukata fuq abort bla limitu li ma jeżisti kważi mkien. Fuq l-iktar każ estrem, kontinwament jinbena argument li jappella għall-emozzjonijiet flok għar-raġuni. Argument li jbezza’ lil uħud imma li ma jikkonvinċix lill-kotra li kapaċi taħseb b’moħħa.

Il-kampanja favur id-dritt tal-għażla (pro-choice) min-naħa l-oħra tagħmlu l-argument li mara għandha dritt li tagħżel dak li trid, x’ħin trid u bla ma jindaħlilha ħadd. Dan jinkludi dritt li tagħżel jekk u meta tidħol għal abort. Argument neoliberali fejn il-libertà individwali m’għandhiex limiti.

Id-dibattitu hu kuntrast bejn dawn iż-żewġ estremi. Id-djalogu min-naħa l-oħra taf twasslek x’imkien ieħor li jkun aċċettat abort f’każijiet limitati fejn is-sens komun jgħidlek li dan hu ġustifikat. L-argumenti emottivi dan kollu jinjorawh u allura jimminaw d-diskussjoni matura li tant neħtieġu f’dan il-pajjiż. Il-pajjiż ma jeħtiegx l-abort bħala stil ta’ ħajja imma l-abort bħala rimedju f’ċirkustanzi straordinarji.

F’Malta l-abort isir. Jagħmluh n-nisa li jixtru pilloli online u jeħduhom mingħajr ma jikkonsultaw tabib, bil-kumplikazzjonijiet kollha possibli. Ma teżistix statistika dwar kemm minnhom jidħlu l-isptar bħala riżultat ta’ dan.

L-abort isir ukoll fl-isptar Mater Dei f’ċirkustanzi fejn tittieħed azzjoni biex tkun imħarsa l-ħajja ta’ nisa tqal li jiffaċċjaw kumplikazzjonijiet fit-tqala. Riċentment kellna l-polemika dwar t-tqala magħrufa bħala “ectopic”, jiġifieri meta l-bajda ffertilizzata teħel f’tubu intern fil-mara. Dan it-tubu (Fallopian tube) hu żgħir u jekk ma tittieħed l-ebda ażżjoni jinfaqa’ u jipperikola l-ħajja tal-mara tqila.

Il-kura li tingħata f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hi mediċina li taqla’ l-bajda iffertilizzata minn mat-tubu u tarmiha. Jekk dan idum ma jseħħ jikber il-periklu u tkun meħtieġa operazzjoni. Fiż-żewġ każi dan hu abort li bħalu jsiru numru kull sena f’Mater Dei. Imma ħadd ma jgħid xejn, għax kulħadd jaċċetta li dan hu intervent meħtieġ, anke jekk il-liġi tqis din is-sitwazzjoni bħala illegali.

Hu ċar li l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta, fil-parti l-kbira taċċetta l-abort meta dan hu meħtieġ biex iħares il-ħajja tal-mara. Meta tiddiskuti bosta jaslu biex jaċċettaw li l-abort f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu tollerabbli.

Hemm ċirkustanzi oħra fejn l-abort hu inqas kontroversjali. Qed nirreferi għal meta jsir abort f’kaz ta’ stupru jew f’każ ta’ inċest. Fejn it-tqala hi sfurzata, bi vjolenza, hu ġustifikat li jsir abort preferibilment fil-fażi l-iktar kmieni possibli tat-tqala. Mara li għaddiet minn vjolenza ma tistax issib il-liġi bojja lesta biex tikkastigha, għax inkella tispiċċa soġġetta għal vjolenza doppja.

Xi żmien ilu ktibt artiklu fejn kont ikkumentajt dwar il-fatt li hawn min fil-fażi inizjali tat-tqala jagħmel xi testijiet u jekk minnhom jirriżulta xi difetti fil-fetu, il-mara tirrikorri għal abort. Dan mhux aċċettabbli. Imma mhux biżżejjed li ngħidu hekk. Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu lil min jagħmel din l-għażla u nistaqsu jekk parti mir-raġuni hijiex soċjetà li ma tindukrax biżżejjed familji li jgħaddu minn sitwazzjonijiet ta’ disabililtà. Minkejja li sar progress kbir xorta għad hawn nuqqas enormi kemm ta’ komprensjoni kif ukoll ta’ għajnuna iffukata lejn min għandu bżonnha.

Xi kultant naqraw b’min jirrikorri għal abort għax it-tqala u t-twelid jitqiesu xkiel għall-iżvilupp tal-karriera! Hemm soluzzjonijiet diversi għal dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi, minn edukazzjoni aħjar dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva għal sens ikbar ta’ responsabbilta’ mhux biss tal-mara imma wkoll tar-raġel.

L-aħħar eżempju huwa fejn issir għażla favur l-abort minħabba l-faqar. Jintqal li hawn każi fejn il-mezzi ta’ familja huma tant ristretti li ma jifilħux għal wild ieħor. Anke hawn hemm soluzzjonijiet li minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ dibattitu pubbliku ftit li xejn jiġu esplorati. Irridu nindirizzaw l-għerq tal-faqar u mhux il-konsegwenzi tiegħu. Inkella nibqgħu fejn konna. Anke hawn in-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva hu enormi.

Mhux in-nisa biss jeħtieġilhom jitgħallmu iktar imma anke l-irġiel għandhom ħtieġa kbira għal dan: uħud jeħtieġu doża iktar qawwija ta’ rispett u sens ta’ responsabbiltà.

Id-dekriminalizzazzjoni, almenu f’ċerta aspetti, hi parti essenzjali mit-tibdil meħtieġ. L-ebda mara m’għandha tkun soġġetta għal passi kriminali għax ħadet il-pilloli li waslulha bil-posta inkella għax irrikorriet b’xi mod għall-abort wara vjolenza li taqqlitha. Il-mara li tagħmel abort hi ukoll vittma hi stess u teħtieġ l-għajnuna u mhux is-swat tal-liġi.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-proposta ta’ Marlene Farrugia iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha ser isservi biex taċċellera d-dibattitu pubbliku. Imma jkolli ngħid li saret ftit bil-għaġġla u hija nieqsa minn preparazzjoni pubblika dwarha.

Neħtieġu dibattitu kalm għax hu b’hekk biss li nistgħu nifhmu iktar lil xulxin. Dan hu dibattitu li mhux ser jispiċċa fi ftit ġranet iżda ser idum. Jekk ma nagħmluħx bil-kalma ma nkunu wasalna mkien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’Mejju 2021

The abortion debate

The abortion debate is very emotional. Many insults are flying around. Some, unfortunately never learn.

The basic premise underlying the abortion debate is identical to that of the divorce debate: ethical pluralism reigns. Meaning that different values and attitudes co-exist. It is a clash of values that has been building up over a number of years, far away from the public eye.  Discussion has been continuously postponed due to the fear generated by an intolerant society founded on fundamentalism. A lay society has in the meantime developed and manifested itself clearly in the divorce referendum and subsequent acceptance of LGBTIQ rights.

It is incorrect to select “the worst” type of abortion and presenting it as the prototype

The “pro-life” campaign against abortion is focusing on “abortion on demand” which practically does not exist anywhere and presenting this as the prototype.  On this basis the campaign propagates an emotionally charged message instead of appealing to a reasoned approach. A message aimed at instilling extreme fear even though it is not the least convincing.

The pro-choice campaign on the other hand argues that a woman has the right to determine her choices without interference from anyone. This includes the right to determine if and when to have an abortion. This is a neo-liberal attitude which considers that there are no limits to individual liberty.

The debate is a contrast between these two extremes. Dialogue, on the other hand, leads you elsewhere, considering the exceptional circumstances in which an abortion may be justified. The emotional arguments ignore all this thereby undermining the mature discussion which this country has a right to. The country does not require abortion as a lifestyle: rather it is required as a remedy in extraordinary circumstances.

Abortion is practised in Malta. It is practised by women who purchase abortion pills online which they take without medical direction. All sorts of medical complications arise.  No statistics are available as to the number of those who require hospitalisation as a result.

Abortion is carried out at Mater Dei Hospital in circumstances to safeguard the life of women who face serious complications at some point in their pregnancy.  Recently the press highlighted the controversy on ectopic pregnancies, that is when a fertilised ovum is lodged in the female Fallopian tube. If left untreated this leads to a rupture of the said tube thereby placing the life of the pregnant woman in extreme danger.  

The medicine administered in such cases serves to dislodge the fertilised ovum which is subsequently discharged. If there is a delay in administering the medicine, or if this is ineffective, a physical intervention (surgery) would be essential.  In both circumstances this is an abortion which is carried out a number of times annually in the state hospital. However, no one ever complains as it is considered by all as a necessary and essential intervention, even if the law considers this as an illegal situation.

It is clear to all that public opinion in Malta generally accepts abortion when this is carried out to address the danger to the life of a pregnant woman.. At the end of the day in these circumstances abortion is tolerated.  

There are other circumstances when abortion is acceptable. I refer to cases of rape or incest. When a pregnancy is the result of violence, an abortion, preferably in the earliest possible stages of a pregnancy is acceptable.  A woman who has been subjected to violence should find comfort in the law otherwise she would be subject to violence for a second time.

Some time back I had written an article about tests being carried out in order to identify specific abnormalities in the foetus. In such cases depending on the results of the tests, abortions are being carried out.

This selectivity is definitely unacceptable. However, one must look beyond this and try to understand the underlying reasons for such choices. One would immediately understand that the prospective parent/s are making a forceful statement that notwithstanding existing help they feel that they are not able to shoulder the burden of the indicated disability. Notwithstanding the substantial progress registered over the years there are still substantial gaps. Parents feel this much more than anyone else. 

Occasionally we read about abortion resorted to in order not to endanger career development.  There are alternatives to such a course of action starting from education on reproductive health which ought to instil a greater sense of responsibility in both man and woman.

Poverty is another situation which may lead to opting for an abortion. It has been asserted that in circumstances of poverty a woman may opt for an abortion. Alternatives exist even in such circumstances: these have however been ignored.   It is poverty which has to be addressed and not its consequences.  Even in these circumstances the impact of a lack of education on reproductive health is glaring.  

Providing adequate reproductive health education would in the long run lead to less abortions.  This is required not just by women but also by men who generally require a greater sense of responsibility.

Decriminalisation is central to the change required. No woman should be subject to criminal action for making use of abortion pills which she receives through the post or for opting for an abortion after being violently impregnated. Women who opt for abortion are themselves victims who should find full protection of the law and not be criminalised.

In the light of the above the proposals put forward by Marlene Farrugia earlier this week will aid the development of the public debate.  Unfortunately matters were done somewhat in a hurry as the public was not prepared for these developments. But maybe shocking the public was part of the strategy!

We require a calm debate as this is the only manner in which we can clearly understand each other’s arguments. This is a debate that will not be over in a few days.  Being rational and calm is the least we can do.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 May 2021

Xejn ma jsir b’xejn

Ir-rapport dwar ir-Reżidenza tal-Anzjani San Vinċenż, li ħafna drabi nirreferu għaliha bħala l-Imgieret, ippubblikat il-ġimgħa l-oħra mill-Awditur Ġenerali hu wieħed twil. Jista’, iżda faċilment jinġabar f’sentenza waħda: meta tagħmel dak li jaqbel, addio governanza tajba!

L-ewwel reazzjoni tal-Ministru politikament responsabbli minn din il-froġa kienet li l-Awditur Ġenerali mhux interessat fl-anzjani! Qalilna ukoll li hu, l-Ministru, ma ndaħalx. Mid-dehra l-Onorevoli Ministru ma jafx li għandu resposabbiltà li “jindaħal” u jagħti direzzjoni. Direzzjoni favur it-tisħiħ kontinwu tal-governanza tajba fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Flimkien mal-Ministru Falzon iridu jerfgħu ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika l-Ministru Justyne Caruana u l-ex-Segretarju Parlamentari Anthony Agius Decelis. It-tnejn li huma kienuresponsabbli għall-anzjani bħala Segretarji Parlamentari u allura għandhom sehem fil-ħolqien ta’ din il-froġa.

Li ma tagħmel xejn, għax ma tagħtix kaz inkella għax tiġi taqa’ u tqum hu nuqqas. Nuqqas kbir li l-politiċi jridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għalih.  Politiċi serji u ta’ stoffa jirreżenjaw f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi. Jiena naħseb li ma hu ser jirreżenja ħadd.

Bħas-soltu l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela jipprova jmewwet l-affarijiet. Qalilna li kien żball li l-każ ma telax għall-approvazzjoni tal-Kabinett. Bħal dak li qallu li deċiżjoni tal-Kabinett kienet ser iddawwar froġa f’deċiżjoni tajba!  Il-Ministru Falzon qalilna waħda aħjar: ma hemm xejn ħażin f’din id-deċiżjoni, qal Falzon. Azzarda jgħid ukoll li jidhirlu li l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu jikkoreġi uħud mill-konklużjonijiet tiegħu.

Meta f’Malta l-istituzzjonijiet jaħdmu, sfortunatament ikollhom jiffaċċjaw dawn ir-reazzjonijiet tal-politiċi. Dawn huma kollha ostakli għat-twettieq tal-governanza tajba.   

Jippruvaw kontinwament inaqqsu is-sinifikat tal-konklużjonijiet tal-Awditur Ġenerali billi jgħidu li, forsi, kull ma hemm huma “xi żbalji żgħar proċedurali”! Dawn huma attentati biex jimminaw l-istituzzjonijiet li jaħdmu.

Meta l-Awditur Ġenerali jgħid li l-kien hemm ksur tar-regoli tax-xiri pubbliku ma kienx qed jitkellem fuq xi proċeduri żgħar li ma ġewx osservati. Anke meta jgħid li d-deċiżjoni kienet waħda illegali, kien ċar daqs il-kristall.

Kelliema għall-Gvern jemfasizzaw li din id-deċiżjoni wasslet għal investiment sostanzjali li ġie b’xejn. Anke hawn l-Awditur Ġenerali hu ċarissimu Ma hemm xejn b’xejn, jgħidilna. Juża dan il-kliem preċiż fir-rapport tiegħu: “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free”.

L-Awditur Ġenerali kellu kliem iebes anke għad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti talli dan ma ħax prewkazzjonijiet billi pprovda gwida ċara. Dan kien meħtieġ essenzjali minħabba l-konsiderazzjoni tal-hekk imsejjaħ investiment addizzjonali bla ħlas! In-nuqqas ta’ gwida ċara min-naħa tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti, sostna l-Awditur Ġenerali, jesponi lill-proġett għall-ħafna riskji.

Id-deċiżjoni waslu għaliha permezz ta’ negozjati ma’ min għamel l-offerti. Dan jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali imur kontra dak li jipprovdu r-regolamenti dwar ix-xiri pubbliku.  Kien possibli, jkompli jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali li l-istess servizz jinkiseb mingħand operaturi ekonomiċi oħra u allura is-sistema tal-offerti kompetittivi kienet l-għażla addattata li sfortunatament ġiet skartata.

Dan hu każ ieħor ta’ falliment fit-twettieq ta’ governanza tajba minkejja l-mod kif jipprova jpinġi l-każ il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela. Hemm lezzjoni waħda ċara: xejn ma jiġi b’xejn. Il-kont kollu jitħallas mit-taxxi li jħallsu uħud minna.

Qed jingħad fil-media li saret laqgħa bejn il-pulizija u l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Hu tal-biki li qed jingħad li “f’dan l-istadju” mhemmx ħtieġa ta’ investigazzjoni mill-pulizija.

Qed nittama li l-pulizija ma jdumux ma jindunaw li hu neċessarju li issir l-investigazzjoni tagħhom b’mod immedjat.

Mela mill-iżbalji tal-passat ma tgħallmu xejn?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Mejju 2021

Nothing is ever secured for free

The St Vincent de Paul Residence report published last week by the National Audit Office (NAO) is quite long. It can however be described by one sentence: this is what happens when political expediency overrides good governance.

The first reaction of the Minister politically responsible for this whole mess is quite indicative. Minister Michael Falzon was reported as stating that “the lives of the elderly not NAO’s concern”. He furthermore emphasised that there was no political interference from his end. The Honourable Minister is apparently not aware that holders of political office are there to give direction, including political direction leading to and entrenching good governance. Together with Minister Michael Falzon the political responsibility should be shouldered by Minister Justyne Caruana and former Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis, both of whom were at different points in time Parliamentary Secretaries responsible for the elderly and consequently co-creators of this mess.

Failure to act is an act of omission. This is the basic point at issue.

The Prime Minister, as usual, sought to minimise these gross governance failures by stating that in this specific case it was a mistake not to seek the approval of Cabinet. As if the approval of Cabinet would have ever transformed such a deal into an acceptable one. Minister Falzon went one better: there is nothing wrong in the deal, he said. He even had the cheek to suggest that the NAO should issue a correction on some of its findings!

Whenever the institutions do function, they are unfortunately stonewalled by holders of political office. These are the major obstructions encountered on the road to good governance. 

There is an attempt to downplay the significance of the NAO findings into a need “to improve procedures”. Such attempts have to be seen for what they really are: undermining the institutions which function.

When the NAO suggests that the deal is an infringement of procurement rules and does not represent value for money it was not speaking about some minor procedural infringement. The fact that the NAO even concludes that the deal should be deemed invalid is quite damning.

Government spokespersons speak of the deal with glee pointing out that substantial investment was obtained “for free”.  “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free” is the blunt reply of the NAO.

The NAO also took the Director of Contracts to task for not taking the necessary precautions through legal safeguards and guidance. These were deemed essential in respect of the additional investment required “at no cost” to government and forming part of the deal examined. This, stated the NAO, gave rise to serious risks in the execution of the project.

The deal under the spotlight makes use of what is known as a “negotiated procedure”. This, emphasises the NAO, was applied in breach of the Public Procurement Regulations. The NAO underlined that the services sought could easily have been provided by other economic operators thereby necessitating the use of the competitive tendering procedures and not a negotiated procedure.

This is yet another case of a failure in good governance notwithstanding the attempts at its minimisation by the Prime Minister Robert Abela. There is one basic lesson to be learnt: there are no free lunches available! The bills are invariably paid through the taxes which a number of us pay!

It has been reported that a meeting was held between the NAO and the police. It is flabbergasting to note that a spokesperson for the police has stated that “at this stage a police investigation is not required.” 

I look forward to the stage when a police investigation is considered necessary!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 May 2021

Rent reform is long overdue

Over the years, successive governments have refrained from carrying out essential far-reaching changes to rent legislation.

The emergency which justified the original restrictive legislation was instead made more restrictive over the years. Court decisions from Valletta to Strasbourg denouncing the current state of play have been piling up. The rent reforms of 1995 and 2008 cannot be discarded, however they were not followed up. They were appropriate small first steps but too much time elapsed with no adequate follow-up action. Successive governments have been reluctant to disturb a hornet’s nest hoping that somehow time will solve the matter.

It is within this context that Government’s proposal to carry out a root and branch reform of the 9,700 remaining pre-1995 tenancies is thus a responsible and courageous political move. Through it government will be shouldering the accumulated shortcomings of all its predecessors, red and blue, which have generally ignored the matter over the years. The Greens in Malta have over the years actively campaigned on this specific issue: justice for the landlords must be carried out together with adequate protection of vulnerable tenants.

At the time of writing the statements made by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Social Accommodation Minister Roderick Galdes have not been followed up with the publication of the specific legal texts which will implement the policy declarations made.

The proposals as described so far, are, in my view acceptable in principle. It is however expected that when the detailed legislative proposals are published, these are accompanied by studies carried out, including costings. An essential healthy public debate needs to be adequately buttressed by well-researched background information.

The proposal as spelled out by Abela and Galdes is based on two fundamental points. It seeks to tread the difficult path of protecting both tenants and landlords.

Tenant protection will be achieved through ensuring that vulnerable tenants will at all times have access to a home, be it their current one or, in some cases, possible alternatives provided through access to social accommodation. This is essentially a transitory provision applicable to the identified 9,700 pre-1995 tenancies and is undoubtedly a restrictive condition on landlords. It is however of central importance. It is to be counterbalanced by a mechanism which determines a more reasonable determination of rental income which will be coughed up by the state in part or in whole depending on the vulnerability of the tenant. It is also a mechanism which over the past years has generally been accepted by the Courts as constituting a fair and reasonable rental income.

Of fundamental importance in the proposal as communicated so far is the manner of determination of the payable rent. This will not be left completely to the whims of market forces as it will be capped at 2 per cent of the property’s value. This signifies that, hopefully, some lessons have been learnt from the fallout resulting from the complete liberalisation of the post-1995 rental market.   

The proposal will be addressing an accumulated social problem with a substantial financial outlay consisting of millions of euros annually.

So far, the rent payable in respect of pre-1995 tenancies have been subsidised by the landlords who, in a number of cases are themselves in need of help! It is appropriate that this support is shouldered by the whole community, through the state, who now steps forward to shoulder the problem in the spirit of national solidarity.

So far most have acknowledged that pre-1995 tenancies are a tough challenge. What matters, now, is that we face this challenge head-on. It cannot be postponed any further.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 March 2021