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

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

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021

Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

Niftħu l-iskejjel ftit ftit

Il-messaġġi konfliġġenti fil-bidu tas-sajf minn politiċi fis-sens li l-Covid-19 kien taħt kontroll huma in parti responsabbli għall-qagħda attwali. Kien in partikolari l-Prim Ministru flimkien mal-Ministru tat-Turiżmu li pubblikament emfasizzaw li issa li l-pandemija kienet taħt kontroll stajna ingawdu is-sajf!

Kienet din l-attitudni irresponsabbli li wasslet biex ġew rilassati b’mod mgħaġġel ir-restrizzjonijiet marbuta mal-Covid-19 meta s-sens komun kien jitlob pass iktar kawt.

Nifhem li l-operaturi ekonomiċi li kienu qed iġorru l-piz kienu kontinwament isusu wara l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu. Imma meta l-Gvern ċeda bagħat l-agħar messaġġ possibli: li r-restrizzjonijiet ma kienux meħtieġa. Meta l-Prim Ministru mbagħad ħafer il-multi li weħlu dawk li abbużaw u kisru l-kundizzjonijiet tal-kwarantina u restrizzjonijiet oħra, għaxxaqha!

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni attwali: fi tmiem is-sajf ir-rata tal-infezzjonijiet tal-Covid-19 hi sfortunatament l-ogħla s’issa f’Malta. Il-106 każ ta’ Covid-19 li irriżultaw nhar l-Erbgħa huma bozza ħamra li qed  itteptep u tgħidilna li l-kontrolli li għanda illum mhux adegwati. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ infurzar aħjar.  

L-ekonomija qalgħet daqqa ta’  ħarta għalkemm is-sussidji u l-għajnuniet li ħareġ il-Gvern bla dubju naqqsu l-impatt tad-daqqa. 

Il-mixja lura lejn in-normalità mhiex waħda faċli. Mhux ser isseħħ mil-lum għal għada. Teħtieġ il-paċenzja min-naħa ta’ kulħadd. Teħtieġ ukoll sens ta’ responsabbiltà billi nsegwu l-prewkazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji, fosthom li nilbsu l-maskri protettivi, mhux biss biex nipproteġu lilna nfusna imma fuq kollox biex nipproteġu lill-oħrajn.

L-argument bħalissa huwa jekk l-iskejjel għandhomx jiftħu jew le. Fin-nofs hemm l-interess tal-edukazzjoni tal-istudenti, il-ħtiega tal-genituri li jaħdmu u s-saħħa kulħadd: fuq quddiem nett dik tal-istudenti kif ukoll tal-għalliema kif ukoll ta’ dawk kollha nvoluti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-iskejjel u tal-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi.

Hemm ħafna argumenti validi għax l-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għandhom jiftħu. Dan minkejja li l-protokolli dwar l-imġieba meħtieġa damu ma ħarġu b’mod li kabbru l-inċertezza ta’ kulħadd.

L-ewwel u qabel kollox hu fl-interess tal-istudenti, kbar u żgħar, li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi jerġgħu jiftħu l-bibien tagħhom. Hemm limitu dwar kemm jista’ jsir tagħlim effettiv b’mod virtwali. It-tagħlim b’mod elettroniku bla dubju jista’ jgħin – hu għodda tajba – imma qatt ma jista’ jissostitwixxi l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliema u l-studenti b’mod partikolari ta’ dawk li għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali tat-tagħlim. F’numru ta’ każi ta’ studenti vulnerabbli l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliem u l-istudent hu l-unika mezz ta’ tagħlim effettiv. Dawn huma fost l-iktar li batew bl-għeluq komplet tal-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi. Il-ħsara li saritilhom mhux faċli li tkun rimedjata. Bħala riżultat tal-għeluq tal-iskejjel, effett dirett tal-Covid-19, hemm numru ta’ tfal li qegħdin fil-periklu li jintilfu għal kollox għas-sistema edukattiva!

L-iskejjel jeħtieġ li jiftħu ukoll għax il-genituri jeħtieġ li huma ukoll imorru għax-xogħol. L-għeluq tal-iskejjel qed iżżomm numru ta’ ġenituri milli jmorru lura għax-xogħol għax inkella ma jibqa’ ħadd biex jieħu ħsieb l-ulied. Niftakru li issa anke in-nanniet huma out of action għax huma fost il-vulnerabbli! Mhuwiex raġjonevoli li nistennew li f’dan il-mument kritiku jerfgħu l-piż in-nanniet, b’periklu għal saħħithom. Fost dawk li qalgħu daqqa kbira bl-egħluq tal-iskejjel hemm il-familji b’genitur wieħed: dawn qed jissograw l-impieg tagħhom ferm iktar minn ħaddieħor.

Mhux kull xogħol hu possibli li jsir bit-telework! Fejn hu possibli dan għandu jibqa’ jsir. Imma kif nafu ilkoll dan mhux possibli dejjem.

Fid-dawl tal-ispluzjoni ta’ każi tal-Covid-19 naħseb li minkejja l-ħtieġa li l-iskejjel jiftħu, m’huwiex prattiku li dawn jiftħu kompletament u dan biex jonqos ir-riskju tal-imxija tal-Covid-19. Huwa l-każ li nesploraw li minflok ma jiftħu kompletament l-iskejjel jiftħu bil-mod biex jerġgħu jibdew jistabilixxu kuntatt (anke jekk wieħed minimu) mal-istudenti u jkun possibli li tkun imħarsa is-saħħa ta’ kulħadd.

Is-soluzzjoni hi li nimxu b’mod gradwali, bil-mod, pass pass. L-istudenti vulnerabbli u dawk fl-etajiet li għandhom dipendenti mill-għalliema għandhom ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jerġgħu jibdew l-iskola għax huma l-iktar li għandhom bżonn!

Dan hu l-unika mod li bih nistgħu naslu. Aħjar pass żgħir il-quddiem, b’kuntatt minimu flok bil-bibien magħluqin.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Settembru 2020

Covid detection and school opening

The conflicting messages in early summer issued by Maltese holders of political office that Covid-19 was under control are partly responsible for the current state of play. Specifically, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism are on record as having publicly stated that matters were under control and that we could now “enjoy summer”.

It is this irresponsible attitude that led to the fast track relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions when a more common-sense approach would have indicated a much slower pace.

One does understand that the economic operators feeling the pinch were lobbying continuously the Tourism authorities. However, when government gave way, it sent the worst possible message: that the restrictions were not required. When the Prime Minister announced an amnesty relative to  fines imposed, he made matters worse.

This is the current state of play: at the end of summer the rate of Covid-19 infections is unfortunately the highest ever in the Maltese islands. The 106 cases identified on Wednesday is a red light warning us that controls in place are not adequate. They need to be tightened up and enforced.

As a result of the Covid-19 restrictions the economy has contracted. The government subsidies and handouts helped substantially to reduce the negative impacts.

The road back to “some version of normal” will be slow and painful. It will definitely take a considerable time, depending on the sector under consideration. It requires caution, patience and a sense of responsibility.

The current Covid-19 agenda is considering whether and when it will be possible to re-open our educational institutions.  This is primarily in the interests of our students as well as of parents whose painfully constructed work/life balance has been destabilised. It is also in the interest of protecting everyone’s health: that of students, teachers, as well as those responsible for the administration of the educational institutions.

There are a multitude of valid arguments as to why all educational institutions should re-open the soonest even though the state authorities were very late in issuing the behaviour protocols, further fuelling unnecessary uncertainty.

It is first and foremost in the interest of most students, young and old, that formal education gets going the soonest. Online learning, while being useful and having many merits, is no substitute for direct face to face contact between student and teacher, especially in the initial stages of education.

In the case of vulnerable students direct contact with the educator is essential. These are the Covid-19 education victims: their future, already in the fringes, has been severely damaged. There is a real risk of the system losing track of them completely thereby impairing severely their future.

Opening schools is also in the interest of working parents. Their active involvement at their place of work is being hampered as long as schools remain closed. Where can they leave their children? Grandparents are out of the question as they are vulnerable too!  Single parents are definitely worse off with closed schools as even their very livelihood is put into question. 

Telework is not necessarily always a solution, even though it is helpful.

The explosive increase in the number of detected Covid-19 cases during this week does not help matters. Coupled with the late availability of the school behavioural protocols this is creating considerable doubt in all stakeholders as to whether the authorities can handle the return back to school.

It may be reasonable to explore whether instead of an across the board return to school, a staggered approach can be implemented with the vulnerable and the dependent students being given priority. This could be the only realistic way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 September 2020

Nejja jew maħruqa?

Il-106 każ ta’ Covid-19 li irriżultaw il-bieraħ huma bozza ħamra li ilha itteptep.

Bla dubju kulħadd xeba’ ġewwa. Huwa ukoll validu l-argument li ma nistgħux nibqgħu bl-ekonomija kważi wieqfa. Imma s-soluzzjoni mhiex qegħda fl-estremi: jew kollox magħluq inkella kollox miftuħ. Nejja jew maħruqa!

Il-mixja lura lejn in-normalità mhiex waħda faċli. Mhux ser isseħħ mil-lum għal għada. Teħtieġ il-paċenzja min-naħa ta’ kulħadd. Teħtieġ ukoll sens ta’ responsabbiltà billi nsegwu l-prewkazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji, fosthom li nilbsu l-maskri protettivi, mhux biss biex nipproteġu lilna nfusna imma fuq kollox biex nipproteġu lill-oħrajn.

L-argument bħalissa huwa jekk l-iskejjel għandhomx jiftħu jew le. Fin-nofs hemm l-interess tal-edukazzjoni tal-istudenti, il-ħtiega tal-genituri li jaħdmu u s-saħħa kulħadd: fuq quddiem nett dik tal-istudenti kif ukoll tal-għalliema kif ukoll ta’ dawk kollha nvoluti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-iskejjel u tal-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi.

Hemm ħafna argumenti validi għax l-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għandhom jiftħu.

L-ewwel u qabel kollox hu fl-interess tal-istudenti, kbar u żgħar, li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi jerġgħu jiftħu l-bibien tagħhom. Hemm limitu dwar kemm jista’ jsir tagħlim effettiv b’mod virtwali. It-tagħlim b’mod elettroniku bla dubju jista’ jgħin – hu għodda tajba – imma qatt ma jista’ jissostitwixxi l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliema u l-studenti. F’numru ta’ każi ta’ studenti vulnerabbli l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliem u l-istudent hu l-unika mezz ta’ tagħlim effettiv. Dawn huma fost l-iktar li batew bl-għeluq komplet tal-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi. Il-ħsara li saritilhom mhux faċli li tkun rimedjata. Bħala riżultat tal-għeluq tal-iskejjel, effett dirett tal-Covid-19, hemm numru ta’ tfal li qegħdin fil-periklu li jintilfu għal kollox għas-sistema edukattiva!

L-iskejjel jeħtieġ li jiftħu ukoll għax il-genituri jeħtieġ li huma ukoll imorru għax-xogħol. L-għeluq tal-iskejjel qed iżżomm numru ta’ ġenituri milli jmorru lura għax-xogħol għax inkella ma jibqa’ ħadd biex jieħu ħsieb l-ulied. Niftakru li issa anke in-nanniet huma out of action għax huma fost il-vulnerabbli! Mhuwiex raġjonevoli li nistennew li f’dan il-mument kritiku jerfgħu l-piż in-nanniet, b’periklu għal saħħithom. 

Mhux kull xogħol hu possibli li jsir bit-telework! Fejn hu possibli dan għandu jibqa’ jsir. Imma kif nafu ilkoll dan mhux possibli dejjem.

Fid-dawl tal-ispluzjoni ta’ każi tal-Covid-19 naħseb li minkejja l-ħtieġa li l-iskejjel jiftħu m’huwiex prattiku li dawn jiftħu kompletament u dan biex jonqos ir-riskju tal-imxija tal-Covid-19. Huwa l-każ li nesploraw li minflok ma jiftħu kompletament l-iskejjel jiftħu bil-mod biex jerġgħu jibdew jistabilixxu kuntatt (anke jekk wieħed minimu) mal-istudenti u jkun possibli li tkun imħarsa is-saħħa ta’ kulħadd.

Is-soluzzjoni hi filli nimxu b’mod gradwali, bil-mod, pass pass. Hu l-unika mod li bih nistgħu naslu. Aħjar pass żgħir il-quddiem, b’kuntatt minimu flok bil-bibien magħluqin.

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020