Post-Covid Tourism

Tourism is understandably one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, tourism numbers increased substantially as a result of an increased connectivity: the reverse happened the moment that connectivity was restricted or became practically inexistent.

Earlier this week saw the first arrivals at our air and seaports. Slowly, connectivity is being restored. It is expected that tourism will now start a slow recovery. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia-Portelli is on record with a 700,000-tourist target for year end. Malta International Airport CEO had earlier opined that it will take at least two years to recover to pre-pandemic level airport movements.

Will tourism ever recover to the pre-pandemic levels?

There are various estimates of the contribution of tourism to the economy. One such estimate points at a direct contribution of around 5 percent of our economy. However, as a result of its impacts on other sectors the overall contribution rises to around 12 percent. Bars, restaurants, retail trade, events, entertainment and transport (in particular car hire), are heavily dependent on tourism. Specific sectors such as the English language school sector as well as diving are important sectors in the tourism economy.

Much has been stated on the impact of the pandemic on the hotel industry. The providers of non-hotel beds, however, have also been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but they have not featured much in the post-Covid-19 debate. This is a sector which involves a number of small-scale investors and micro-businesses each employing less than ten employees.

UNCTAD, the UN Trade and Development Agency, earlier this week stated that the four-month standstill of the tourism industry due to the pandemic Covid-19 could cost the industry around $1.2 trillion. This estimated cost could more than double, depending on the severity and spread of a second wave of the pandemic.

Jamaica could lose as much as 11 percent of its GDP, Thailand 9 percent, Italy 5 percent. In the EU, the worst impacts are along the Mediterranean coast where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. In addition to Malta, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece are also heavily impacted. Turkey and Tunisia, Mediterranean players in the tourism industry have also been almost at a standstill, after experiencing a substantial expansion of their tourism industry throughout the years.

It is understandable that government through the Malta Tourism Authority is currently focused on getting tourism back on its feet. This is however not enough. We must start discussing a long-term view of the tourism industry.

At the end of 2019 the 2.8 million mark of tourists visiting the Maltese islands had been attained. The point at issue is whether this is sustainable in the long-term. This has been a perennial issue in tourism politics since the days when the numbers were much lower. The debate was and should be whether we should focus more on quality than on quantity.

The advent of low-cost carriers as an essential part of the tourism equation places more emphasis on numbers than on quality. It is a choice which may need to be analysed and revisited. Economic impacts have to be viewed concurrently with environmental impacts. We must remember that tourism has a considerable environmental impact. It is about time that the tourism debate is carried out within the parameters of the Green Deal.

Aeroplane emissions will at some point in time in the near future have to be addressed. Carbon taxes will sooner or later come into play. Unless they are addressed immediately it will be more difficult, if not practically impossible, to address the Paris Climate Change conclusions to which Malta has adhered. At that point it will not be just the tourism industry but our whole lifestyle which will be in for the chop.

The Maltese archipelago, like all islands, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. The coastline will be severely hit by a sea level rise. It may be pertinent to remember that the coast houses practically all of the tourism infrastructure. The longer we ignore this basic fact, the more severe will the impacts be.

By now all of us are aware that Tourism is a very volatile industry: any shock will result in mass redundancies. Tourism is currently way too seasonal, and consequently it only serves to create precarious working conditions.

It is the time to plan ahead: thinking carefully of the social, environmental and economic impacts of all decisions. This is what sustainable development is, after all, about. It is the only way to ensure that the negative impacts of the tourism industry are addressed by us sooner rather than later.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 July 2020

Is-solidarjetà mhiex qegħda fuq kwarantina

Il-kriżi tal-Covid19 tatna affarijiet ġodda biex ninkwetaw dwarhom. Il-problemi l-qodma għadhom magħna, imma issa tilfu l-importanza u l-urġenza tagħhom fid-dawl tal-kriżi kurrenti. Saħħitna, kemm individwalment kif ukoll b’mod kollettiv hi taħt theddida. L-ekonomija wieqfa u xi setturi ambjentali bdew jirpiljaw bil-mod.

Waqt li setturi differenti tal-ħidma tal-pajjiż qed jieqfu jew jiġu mwaqqfa bħala miżura ta’ prewkazzjioni, hu tajjeb li nassiguraw li s-solidarjetà ma tiġix imqegħda fi kwarantina.

Is-solidarjetà bejnietna hi essenzjali mhux biss biex inwieżnu lil xulxin illum, waqt il-kriżi, imma ukoll fi trieqitna biex il-pajjiż jirkupra u jerġa’ jibda jaħdem mill-ġdid. Irridu nifhmu li kulħadd hu importanti: dan jgħodd għal kull persuna mingħajr l-ebda eċċezzjoni. Ħadd ma għandu jkun injorat inkella jitħalla jaqa’ lura. Meta l-kriżi toqrob lejn tmiemha b’dan il-mod inkunu iktar b’saħħitna u fil-mixja tagħna nkunu għarafna napprezzaw aktar u aħjar lil xuxlin.

L-awtorijiajiet tas-saħħa f’Malta aġixxew b’kawtela raġjonevoli meta bdew jippjanaw minn kmieni għall-imxija tal-Covid19. It-tnaqqis gradwali ta’ attività mhux essenzjali, kienet, b’mod ġenerali, ippjanata tajjeb, b’eċċezzjoni waħda. Il-ftuħ tal-istaġun tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ukoll hu waħda mill-attivitajiet mhux essenzjali li ma kienx hemm ħtieġa li jiftaħ. Il-kumitat Ornis kien irresponsabbli li ta parir biex l-istaġun jinfetaħ. Il-Gvern qatt ma messu aċċetta li dan jiftaħ.

Il-komunità tal-kaċċa tilfet opportunità li tippreżenta ruħha f’dawl differenti. Sfortunatament, għal darba oħra ikkonfermat li mhiex kapaċi taġixxi b’mod responsabbli.

Inkunu b’saħħitna jekk ilkoll kemm aħna naġixxu b’mod responsabbli. Għandna nsegwu l-parir li ngħatajna biex preferibilment nibqgħu ġewwa. Mhux il-waqt la għal picnic, la għall-camping u wisq inqas għal mixjiet fil-kampanja inkella għall-kaċċa.

Hu ukoll opportun li nirrealizzaw li r-razziżmu jagħmel ħsara iktar mill-Covid19.

Matul il-ġimgħa ċ-Ċentru Miftuħ ta’ Ħal-Far tqiegħed taħt kwarantina u dan wara li madwar tmien residenti tiegħu kienu identifikati bħala posittivi għall-Covid19. Kienet opportunità oħra li r-razzisti fostna ippruvaw jisfruttaw biex ikesksu. Ftit huma konxji li l-komunità ta’ Ħal-Far hi fost dawk li huma mill-iktar vulnerabbli b’mod partikolari minħabba l-ispazju ffullat li tqegħdu fih. Kif spjegajt fil-blog tiegħi nhar it-Tlieta, tkun deċiżjoni għaqlija kieku din il-komunità ta’ Ħal-Far, waqt li għaddejja l-kriżi kurrenti, tkun tista’ tagħmel użu mill-lukandi li presentement huma vojta u li m’humiex jintużaw. Dan mhux biss ikun fl-interess tagħhom u ta’ saħħithom. Huwa ukoll fl-interess tagħna lkoll li jittieħdu l-passi kollha neċessarji biex tkun ikkontrollata iktar l-imxija tal-Covid19. Il-Gvern għandu l-awtorità kollha biex jieħu deċiżjoni ta’ din ix-xorta għax il-liġi tipprovdi għaliha. Iktar ma issir malajr iktar aħjar għax b’hekk ikun indirizzat wieħed mir-riskji l-kbar li jista’ jwassal għat-tixrid aċċellerat tal-Covid19.

Fuq livell ta’ Unjoni Ewropea id-dibattitu dwar il-ħidma li trid issir wara li tintemm il-kriżi Covid19 għaddej.

Hu fatt li b’mod ġenerali l-Unjoni Ewropeja ma kienitx imħejjija għall-wasla taI-Covid19 u l-emerġenza li rriżultat. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, fl-ewwel ġimgħat la l-Italja u l-anqas Spanja ma sabu l-appoġġ li tant kienu jeħtieġu. Dan wassal biex is-servizzi tas-saħħa f’dawn il-pajjiżi ma setgħux ilaħħqu biex jindirizzaw l-impatti tal-mixja tal-virus u kienu f’xifer il-kollass.

It-telf ta’ kull ħajja hi dejjem okkazjoni ta’ dieqa kbira. Imma meta din tkun frott ta’ nuqqas ta’ preparazzjoni adegwata tkun ukoll riżultat ta’ inkompetenza.

Id-dibattitu illum huwa ukoll dwar liema hi l-aħjar triq il-quddiem. Pajjiżi min-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, ewlenin fosthom l-Italja u Spanja, b’appoġġ tal-Ħodor u s-soċjal demokratiċi fil-grupp S & D, qed jargumentaw favur il-ħruġ ta’ coronabonds mill-Unjoni Ewropeja. Bonds li hu propost li jimmaturaw fit-tul u dan kemm biex jitnaqqsu l-ispejjes biex dawn ikunu amministrati kif ukoll biex ikun assigurat li l-piż jintrefa minn kulħadd.

Qed nikteb l-Erbgħa fil-ghaxija meta jidher li għad ma hemm l-ebda konklużjoni dwar dan kollu. Hi triq, iżda, li għandha twassal għal solidarjetà u mhux għal karità.

Is-solidarjetà mhiex taħt kwarantina. Hi t-triq il-quddiem kemm f’Malta kif ukoll fl-Ewropa. Wara kollox hi parti integrali mid-DNA tagħna.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’April 2020

Solidarity is not on quarantine

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed what we are worrying about. Old problems are still around but their relative importance has been overshadowed by the current crisis. Our health, both individual and collective, is endangered. The economy is at a standstill and specific sectors of the environment are slowly recovering.

As more sections of society grind to a halt on a voluntary or compulsory lockdown, as a precautionary measure, it is important to ensure that solidarity is not placed on quarantine.

Solidarity is essential to support each other, primarily the most vulnerable amongst us. It is also essential both for our survival and for the eventual recovery of the country. In the process we must emphasise that everyone is important and no one is to be left behind or on his/her own. We must ensure that when this crisis is over, we come out of it stronger and wiser.

The health authorities in Malta acted with reasonable caution when they acted early to plan for the COVID-19 outbreak. The gradual reduction of non-essential activity was also generally planned responsibly, with one exception. The opening of the spring hunting season planned for this weekend is uncalled for. The Ornis Committee was irresponsible when it recommended its opening and government should not have accepted its advice.

The hunting community missed an opportunity which could have depicted them in a different light. They confirmed once more that in the hunting leadership’s dictionary the term “responsibility” has no significance.

We will be stronger if all of us act responsibly. We are being advised to preferably remain indoors. It is not the time for picnics, camping, walks in the countryside or hunting.

It is also time to realise that racism is more damaging than COVID-19.

During the week the open centre at Ħal-Far was placed on quarantine after some eight of its residents tested positive for COVID-19. It was a ranting opportunity for the racists among us. Little do they realise that the Ħal-Far community is among the most vulnerable due to the over-crowded space they have been provided with. As I explained on my blog last Tuesday, it would be reasonable at this point to shift the Ħal-Far community to vacant hotels for the duration of the crisis. It is not only in the interest of the Ħal-Far community but also in our own interest so as to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is further contained. Government has the full authority to proceed in this direction through existing legislation. The sooner this is done the better as this would be a very effective measure to contain a high risk area which could get out of hand and accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

On a European Union level the debate on the post-COVID-19 era is in full swing.
The COVID-19 outbreak found the EU inadequately prepared for the resulting emergency. As a result, in the initial weeks, Italy and Spain were not sufficiently supported and consequently their health services were overwhelmed and could not cope with the spread of the virus.

Loss of life is always regrettable. However, when this results from a lack of adequate preparation it is more a case of incompetence.

The current debate is on the best way forward. Southern European countries, primarily Italy and Spain, buttressed by the European Greens and the S & D, are arguing in favour of so-called coronabonds. The issuance would take the form of bonds with a long maturity, thereby alleviating debt servicing costs and burden-sharing among EU Member States. I am writing on Wednesday, when conclusions seem to be still far away. This should however follow a path of solidarity not one of charity.

Solidarity is not on quarantine. Solidarity is the way forward both on a national level as well as on an EU level. It is, after all, an essential element of our DNA.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 April 2020

Ir-razziżmu jagħmel ħsara iktar mill-coronavirus

Illum tħabbar li kellna 52 każ ġdid ta’ coronavirus. L-ebda wieħed minnhom ma oriġina miċ-ċentru miftuħ ta’ Ħal-Far.

Hemm min ilu jrewwaħ mill-bieraħ b’ħanqa razzista. Ilhom jikkummentaw li ser ikollna splużjoni ta’ każijiet minħabba ċ-ċentru miftuħ ta’ Ħal-Far, preżentement taħt kwarantina.

Bla dubju, lil dawk kollha fiċ-ċentru miftuħ irridu nqiesuhom bħala persuni vulnerabbli għal diversi raġunijiet. Ewlenija fosthom li qegħdin iffullati, ħafna persuni f’żona ristretta. Hemm bżonn jittieħdu passi urġenti dwar dan. Sakemm iddum il-kriżi tal-coronavirus il-Gvern jista’ faċilment juża’ uħud mil-lukandi li bħalissa huma vojta għal dan l-iskop! Ikun qed jieħu miżura effettiva biex inaqqas it-tixrid tal-virus. Il-liġi digà tagħti l-poteri kollha Gvern biex dan jista’ jagħmlu immedjatament. Dik tkun solidarjetà ta’ veru. Solidarjetà ta’ insara ta’ veru.

Dawk kollha li bħalissa qed jippostjaw is-santi tar-Redentur u tad-Duluri fuq facebook ikun tajjeb għalihom u għal kulħadd li jirrealizzaw li t-tixrid tal-mibgħeda razzjali tagħmel ħsara iktar mill-coronavirus.

Is-solidarjetá mhiex qegħda kwarantina.

Messaġġi differenti bejn il-Ħamis u l-Ġimgħa

Bejn dak li ntqal fil-konferenza stampa ta’ Chris Fearne il-Ħamis waranofsinnhar u dak li ntqal fl-intervista l-Ġimgħa fil-għaxija minn Robert Abela hemm differenza. Din ma kienitx differenza żgħira u qed tħawwad lin-nies.

Chris Fearne, Ministru tas-Saħħa, qal, u fisser f’ċertu dettall, li madwar 118,000-il persuna kien jeħtieġilhom ma joħorġux mid-dar minħabba li huma vulnerabbli: jiġifieri hu iktar faċli għalihom li jimirdu. Min għax vulnerabbli minħabba l-età u min għax vulnerabbli minħabba l-kundizzjoni ta’ saħħtu minħabba li hu soġġett għal mard kroniku.

Kien imfisser ċar ħafna minn Chris Fearne li biex il-protezzjoni tingħata sewwa kien meħtieġ li anke dawk li joqgħodu fl-istess dar jibqgħu ġewwa huma ukoll. Biex ikun ċar Fearne qal li l-uniku mod biex dan ikun evitat kien li dawk li joqgħodu fl-istess dar issibu x’imkien ieħor fejn joqgħodu b’mod immedjat. Dan biex ikun evitat li min hu dieħel u ħiereġ jeffettwhom ħażin bil-coronavirus. B’hekk tkompli tonqos il-possibiltà tat-tixrid tal-virus.

Issa, sfortunatament, il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela bidel id-diska.

Fl-intervista, waqt l-aħbarijiet tat-tmienja l-bieraħ fil-għaxija, Abela qal li min jaħdem u joqgħod ma persuni ta’ età ikbar minn 65 sena, jista’ jmur għax-xogħol. U li jistgħu joħorġu ukoll biex jixtru. Dan imur kontra dak li qal il-Ministru tas-Saħħa u joħloq il-periklu ta’ infezzjoni għal dawn vulnerabbli.

Id-direttivi, li ghandhom l-iskop illi jnaqqsu l-moviment tan-nies, dejjem ser joħolqu diffikulta. Jekk ser joqgħodu jħawdu n-nies b’messaġġi differenti d-diffikultajiet ser ikunu ħafna ikbar u s-siwi tad-direttivi jonqos drastikament. Ser nispiċċaw li dak kollu li ser jingħad minn issa ‘l quddiem ma hu ser jemmnu jew jagħti kaz tiegħu ħadd, bit-tama li l-għada xi ħadd jgħid xi ħaġa differenti.

Minkejja d-diffikultà li inevitabilment tinħoloq b’kull restrizzjoni li titħabbar, s’issa jidher li t-tixrid tal-virus kien xi ftit jew wisq taħt kontroll. B’din it-taħwida hemm il-periklu li l-affarijiet issa ma jibqgħux hekk.

Għalfejn qed iħawdu in-nies? Sar tant xogħol siewi, jarmuh issa?

L-impatti tal-Coronavirus: inħarsu l-impiegi kollha

Il-Gvern ħabbar pakkett finanzjarju ta’ €1.8 biljun biex jilqa’ għall-impatti tal-Coronavirus.

Kif ser ikun effettwat il-ħaddiem b’kuntratt bla rabta ta’ numru ta’ siegħat li jaħdem (zero-hours contract), jew dawk f’impieg temporanju, dawk tas-sengħa li jaħdmu għal rashom, inkella n-negozjanti ż-żgħar? Il-pakkett finanzjarju imħabbar, ftit li xejn jaħseb fihom. Allura, minkejja l-merti tiegħu, il-pakkett finanzjarju tal-Gvern mhux tajjeb biżżejjed.

Il-ħaddiem iż-żgħir l-ewwel li jlaqqatha f’kull kriżi. Hu l-impatt fuqhom li għandu jservi ta’ kejl biex inkunu nistgħu niffurmaw opinjoni dwar kemm dan il-pakkett finanzjarju, kif ukoll dawk li għad jistgħu jiġu, huma effettivi.

Ilkoll nieħdu pjaċir b’inizjattivi biex jassiguraw li l-ekonomija u min iħaddimha jiġi fuq saqajh, mhux biss meta tiġi fi tmiemha din il-kriżi iżda ukoll fil-mixja li jeħtieġilna ngħaddu minnha biex nirkupraw. Imma kemm hu sew li noħorġu r-riżorsi tal-pajjiż biex tkun tista’ tirkupra ekonomija li mhiex kapaċi tirrispetta l-iktar dgħajfa fostna?

Il-proposti tal-Gvern biex jilqa’ għall-impatti tal-Coronavirus ma jorbtux lill-operaturi ekonomiċi li jagħmlu użu mill-proposti differenti fil-pakkett milli jħarsu l-impiegi. Is-sensji diġa bdew. Il-ħaddiem iż-żgħir l-ewwel li jlaqqatha. Warajh ilaqqtuha oħrajn.

Il-pakkett tal-Gvern biex jilqa’ għall-effetti tal-Coronavirus jeħtieġ miżuri addizzjonali.

L-għajnuna li ser tingħata għandha tmur lil dawk li sofrew tnaqqis sostanzjali fid-dħul tagħhom meta kkomparat mas-sena li għaddiet. Il-pakkett tal-Gvern huwa iffukat biex jiffaċilita l-likwidità kif ukoll biex jgħin ħalli jkun iggarantit self bankarju. Filwaqt li dawn huma miżuri importanti, f’din il-kriżi hu essenzjali li l-għajnuna tkun iffukata fuq il-pagi tal-ħaddiema. L-għajnuna diretta lill-operaturi ekonomiċi għandha tkun marbuta mal-obbligu tagħhom li jipproteġu l-impiegi. Jekk ma jkunx imħares ix-xogħol m’għandhiex tingħata għajnuna.

Aħna l-Ħodor f’Alternattiva Demokratika mħassba dwar il-ħaddiem iż-żgħir. Hu l-ewwel ma jlaqqatha f’din il-kriżi: huma l-ewwel vittmi tal-Coronavirus. L-għajnuna li dawn jeħtieġu hi fil-forma ta’ dħul minimu garantit tul ix-xhur li ġejjin, kemm iddum il-kriżi. Huma l-iktar vulnerabbli u ħadd mhu jitkellem dwarhom.

Il-kirjiet ta’ residenzi għandhom jiġġeddu awtomatikament sakemm tintemm il-kriżi. Għandu jkun hemm provediment għall-ħarsien minn xoljiment ta’ kuntratti ta’ kera tul il-kriżi. Hemm ħtieġa ukoll li tul il-kriżi l-Gvern jimpenja ruħu iktar biex jassigura illi l-iktar vulnerabbli jkollhom saqaf fuq rashom. Dan għandu jsir dejjem imma b’mod specjali tul il-kriżi.

Aħna l-Ħodor tal-fehma li l-impatt ta’ din il-kriżi fuq l-impiegi turi difetti strutturali fil-qasam soċjali fil-pajjiż. Malta mhux l-unika pajjiż li qed jiffaċċja din il-problema. Huwa importanti li bħal numru ta’ pajjiżi oħra, fosthom l-Isveżja, in-Norveġja, il-belt ta’ Utrecht fl-Olanda, anke f’Malta nidħlu fil-fond u neżaminaw kif jistgħu jaħdmu skemi ta’ dħul minimu garantit li jirreferu għalihom bħala Universal Basic Income u Guaranteed Minimum Income schemes. Ikun għaqli li neżaminaw sewwa dawn it-tip ta’ skemi, għax dawn jistgħu joffrulna tarka tajba meta nkunu iffaċċjati b’dawn il-kriżijiet.

Huwa l-waqt li kulħadd iżomm rasu f’lokha. Il-paroli vojt fil-Parlament tal-Ministru Silvio Schembri iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kien barra minn postu u għamel il-ħsara, minkejja li wara skuża ruħu. Qatt mhi idea tajba li thedded bit-tkeċċija lil dawk li b’ħidmiethom taw kontribut biex il-pajjiż kiber, anke bix-xogħol tagħhom. Meta din il-kriżi tgħaddi jerġgħu jkunu huma, inkella oħrajn bħalhom, li nsibu biex jagħmlu dak ix-xogħol li għalih la hemm Maltin, inkella l-Maltin ma jridux jagħmluh għal raġunijiet diversi. Anke issa stess l-Onor Ministru jista’ jagħti titwila lejn is-servizz tas-saħħa u jara jekk hux possibli li jopera mingħajrhom, flimkien dejjem mal-kollegi Maltin. Flimkien qed jagħtu servizz impekkabbli lil pajjiż.

Ilkoll niftakru kif madwar sena ilu, l-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat kien assoċja l-involviment tal-barranin fid-dinja tax-xogħol f’Malta mal-ġbir taż-żibel. Anke hu, dakinnhar kien għamel apoloġija. Imma sfortunatament il-preġudizzji tiegħu ħallihom warajh fil-Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Marzu 2020

Coronavirus fallout: the need to protect all jobs

Government has announced its financial package which it described as being a €1.8 billion stimulus package. What is in it for a zero-hours contract worker, the casual worker, the freelance tradesman, the small-scale businessman? Nothing at all. Hence notwithstanding its merits, Government’s package is not a suitable package.

Zero-hour contract workers, the casual worker, the freelance tradesmen and the small-scale businessmen are the first casualties in each and every crisis. It is in the assessment of their plight that we can arrive at a conclusion on the suitability or otherwise of this and any other Covid19 recovery package.

We all applaud initiatives to ensure that the economy and its operators can stand back on their feet not just when this crisis is over, but also along the long road to recovery. But, what purpose is there in pumping the nation’s resources to recover an economy which is not capable of respecting the most vulnerable ones amongst us?

Government’s Covid19 package proposals do not seek to bind economic operators making use of the different opportunities in the stimulus package to protect their labour force. Redundancies have already started. Casual workers and zero-hour contract workers are the first casualties. Others will soon follow.

Additional measures are called for in Government’s Covid19 package.

Assistance given to economic operators should only go to those which have suffered a drastic reduction in their income when compared to last year. Government’s package is predominantly focused on assistance in providing guarantees for bank loans as well as in facilitating and ensuring liquidity. While these are important measures, in this crisis, aid focused directed towards wages of workers is essential. Any direct assistance to economic operators should be linked to their duty of protecting jobs. No job protection should equate to no aid.

Greens are concerned about several freelance tradesman, small scale businessmen as well as casual labour and workers on zero-hours contracts. They are bearing the brunt of the very sharp decrease in work opportunities: they are the first victims of Covid19. Aid to these categories should be a guaranteed income scheme for the coming months, throughout the duration of the crisis. These are the categories which are the most vulnerable and which nobody is talking about.

The lease contracts for tenants should be automatically renewed until the crisis is overcome. There should be introduced a special protection from eviction throughout the Coronavirus crisis. There is also a need for a greater commitment by the government to offer adequate and decent housing to the most vulnerable in particular during this time of crisis.

Greens consider that the crisis’ impacts on employment is showing the structural defects the country has in the social field. Malta is not the only country to have to face this problem. It is important that like various other countries, notably Sweden, Norway, and the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, guaranteed income schemes referred to as Universal Basic Income and Guaranteed Minimum Income are discussed in depth in Malta too. It would be wise to start considering such schemes for the future as they could offer a long-term solution.

It is time for level-headedness. Minister Silvio Schembri’s outburst in Parliament earlier this week was uncalled for and damaging, even though he eventually apologised. It is never the time to threaten with expulsion those who have contributed so much to our country and economy. When the crisis is eventually over it will be those whom the Hon Minister threatened with expulsion who will once more plug the gap. Even now, the Hon Minister should take a look at the health service and consider whether it would be possible to operate without the participation of non-Maltese medics and paramedical staff who are performing miracles through their professional service hand-in-hand with their Maltese colleagues.

We do remember that around 12 months ago then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat equated non-Maltese participation in the local labour force with refuse collectors. Though he too eventually apologised, his prejudice unfortunately lingers on in those he left behind in Robert Abela’s Cabinet.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 March 2020

Coronavirus: predictions and precautions

The declaration by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, earlier this week, on the possibility that between 60 and 70 per cent of the German population could eventually be infected by the Coronavirus may have shocked quite a few. That could amount to close to 38 million infected persons in Germany alone and possibly a substantial number of deaths.

I understand that Angela Merkel’s projections are a worst case scenario. This would be catastrophic, were it to ever happen. It is for this very reason that health planners in Malta have advised government, which correctly agreed, to combat the virus by playing for time and focusing on slowing its spread as much as possible, thereby reducing its overall impact on Malta and its residents. As a result of this strategy it is unlikely that there will be a large number of infected persons at any one time, thereby giving sufficient time to the health service to nurse those infected back to their normal health. On the other hand, there is a real danger that if this is not achieved the national health service will break down under the resulting strain with the number of deaths spiralling out of control. Hence the need to follow the directions given by the health authorities.

In order that the combat against Coronavirus be successful everyone has an important role to play to obstruct its spreading. At times it will be very inconvenient, but it has to be done. In the absence of a known cure, so far, slowing down the spread of Coronavirus is the only way of ensuring that the numbers infected as well as its impacts are reduced. All of us have to bear part of the brunt. If successful, this will, in the long term save lives. It will also reduce the suffering of those who are most vulnerable through shielding them and consequently reducing their risk of exposure.

The suspension of air and sea traffic to Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland together with compulsory quarantine procedures for all those returning to Malta from affected areas and localities are aimed at containing and preventing the spreading of the Coronavirus. A deep sense of responsibility is essential if the measures in hand are to be effective. In this respect it is shocking to learn, from electronic comments posted by an emergency doctor that some patients were not forthright when replying to questions on their travel history and consequently on identifying their exposure to the risk of being infected. This, it is understood, was being done in order to try and avoid precautionary compulsory quarantine procedures.

At the time of writing 12 cases have been identified and tested positive. What is very worrying is that it was reported that two of the persons identified as being infected did not self-quarantine. They went to their workplace before their attention was drawn on the need to take some sensible action!

Quarantine procedures are an essential tool which the health authorities must use in order to be in a position to arrest the spread of the virus and consequently to save lives as well as to reduce the suffering of all, but primarily of those most vulnerable amongst us.

The elderly and the sick, in particular those subject to a chronic asthma condition – approximately numbering 30,000 in Malta – need effective solidarity which can only be put into effect through the responsible behaviour of all of us. Acting responsibly by following the instructions issued by the health authorities will save lives. Each case of avoidance of quarantine, whenever this is required, will encourage the spread of the virus and consequently may lead to the death of some of the most vulnerable amongst us.

If we follow to the letter the instructions issued, we may avoid more restrictive actions in the coming days.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 March 2020

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi materja li għandha tkun f’idejn il-Prim Ministru minħabba li tmiss ma’ kull qasam tal-politika. Hu interessanti li għal darba oħra r-responsabbiltà politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli reġgħet ġiet lura Kastilja, f’ħoġor il-Ministru Karmenu Abela, li nħatar Ministru fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Sal-lum dan rari seħħ ħlief għall-perjodu qasir li fih Mario Demarco kien Segretarju Parlamentari għat-Turiżmu u l-Ambjent.

Robert Abela mhuwiex l-ewwel Prim Ministru li emfasizza l-ħtieġa li jingħata iktar importanza lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Ħadd minnhom, imma, ma rnexxielu!

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” huwa l-iktar wieħed mit-termini fid-dizzjunarju politiku li huma użati ħazin. Il-lingwaġġ politiku użat kważi qatt ma jasal biex ifisser u jispjega li l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi politika li tħares fit-tul: li kontinwament, huma u jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet, tagħti każ il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

Il-gvernijiet ma jagħtux importanza biżżejjed lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli għax din m’hiex biss dwar illum imma hi ukoll dwar għada. Hi dwar kif il-ħidma tal-lum teħtieġ li issir b’mod li ma jkunx ippreġudikat għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Għada min rah? L-interess ta’ bosta minnhom iwassal sa ħames snin, jiġifieri sal-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Dan hu punt li saħqet dwaru Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norveġiża u soċjalista demokratika li kienet Prim Ministru ta’ pajjiżha. Fir-rapport li hi ħejjiet għall-Ġnus Magħquda snin ilu dwar l-ambjent u l-iżvilupp, intitolat Our Common Future, emfasizzat li “Naġixxu b’dan il-mod għax nafu li mhu ser jiġri xejn: il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri ma jivvutawx; m’għandhomx poter politiku jew finanzjarju; ma jistgħux jeħduha kontra d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna.”

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhix biss dwar l-ambjent: hi dwar kif inħarsu b’mod integrat lejn il-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali. Tfisser li l-ħidma tagħna jeħtieġ li tħares fit-tul u li simultanjament trid tkun kompatibbli man-natura, l-ekonomija, l-iżvilupp uman u l-kultura tagħna.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu dwar kif nistgħu f’kull ħin inkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li aħna mdawrin bih. Il-ħin kollu, u mhux biss meta jaqbel. Tirrikjedi s-sinkronizzazzjoni tal-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-wirt kulturali u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

Fil-qafas globali, kif ukoll Ewropew, il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tfisser ukoll l-implimentazzjoni tal-miri dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli approvati mill-Ġnus Magħquda: 17-il mira imfissra f’169 oġġettiv. Din hi l-Aġenda Globali 2030 li dwarha l-Unjoni Ewropea ħadmet ħafna biex tkun maqbula mill-komunità internazzjonali. Filwaqt li l-Aġenda 2030 hi importanti kollha kemm hi, partijiet minnha għandhom importanza ikbar għalina f’Malta.

Ħu, per eżempju, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma. Hu essenzjali li nifhmu li huwa meħtieġ li r-riżorsa tal-ilma nieħdu ħsiebha sewwa u li l-użu li nagħmlu minnha jkun wieħed sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, sal-lum, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma f’Malta huwa kkaratterizzat minn doża mhux żgħira ta’ inkompetenza. Hemm aċċess kważi bla kontroll għall-ilma tal-pjan filwaqt li kwantità kbira ta’ ilma tax-xita jintrema l-baħar: kemm direttament permezz tal-mini li tħaffru għal dan l-iskop kif ukoll permezz tas-sistema tad-drenaġġ. Ir-regoli dwar il-ġbir u l-ħażna tal-ilma tax-xita applikati mill-awtoritajiet għal bini u żvilupp ġdid ħafna drabi mhumiex osservati. L-awtoritajiet ftit li xejn jagħtu kas.

Il-politika dwar it-transport hi qasam ieħor fejn l-ippjanar li ma jħarisx fit-tul jeħtieġ li jkun sostitwit billi tkun applikata l-politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport, li jibqa’ fis-seħħ sal-2025, jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni tagħna li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta. Dan jindika li inizjattivi biex ikun imrażżan it-traffiku fuq livell lokali u reġjonali jista’ jindirizza b’mod effettiv il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-vantaġġ doppju ta’ titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja fejn din hi l-iktar meħtieġa.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport jgħidilna li f’dan il-qasam, tul is-snin, ftit li xejn ħarisna fit-tul. Dan wassal, jgħidilna l-pjan, għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u bħala riżultat ta’ dan żviluppajna l-inkapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħalma hi dik li tikkonċerna t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati. Min-naħa l-waħda għandna dan il-ħsieb sostenibbli dwar l-ippjanar tat-trasport, imma imbagħad min-naħa l-oħra l-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum u għaddej bi programm ta’ nfieq sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq bl-iskop li tiżdied il-kapaċità tagħhom u bil-konsegwenza li d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi tibqa’ tiżdied.

Dan kollu żejt fil-bażwa għax ġie ippruvat tul is-snin, bi studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi, illi l-iżvilupp tas-sistema tat-toroq ma tnaqqasx il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, imma isservi biss biex il-problema tkun posposta inkella tiċċaqlaq minn żona għall-oħra.

L-affarijiet huma agħar fil-qasam tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Gvernijiet suċċessivi wrew li ma kienux kapaċi jrażżnu l-iżvilupp esaġerat. B’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali t-tmexxija politika tiddeskrivi lilha nnifisha bħal ħbieb tan-negozji (business friendly) inkella, kif smajna din il-ġimgħa ħbieb tas-suq (market friendly) u dan biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata. Qalulna li l-industrija tal-bini tant ħolqot impjiegi li qed tikkontribwixxi b’mod effettiv għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Imma, kif bla dubju nafu lkoll, l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kienet fuq quddiem nett tkattar il-ħsara lill-pajjiż permezz ta’ żvilupp esaġerat bil-pretensjoni li l-ħsara ambjentali ikkawżata minnhom nagħmlu tajjeb għaliha aħna, l-bqija. Sfortunatament, ġew mgħejjuna minn gvernijiet suċċessivi li kontinwament fittxew kif jagħmluhielhom iktar faċli biex igawdu l-frott ta’ ħidmiethom. L-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art kif ipprattikat f’pajjiżna mhux sostenibbli u iktar ma jkun imrażżan malajr, ikun aħjar għal kulħadd.

In-nuqqas tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli tinħass prattikament fl-oqsma kollha. Jeħtieġ li llum qabel għada nħarsu fit-tul f’kull deċiżjoni li tittieħed. Kien pass tajjeb, pass ‘l-quddiem li r-responsabbilta politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli marret lura f’Kastilja, fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Imma dan għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass. Il-bidu, segwit minn hafna iktar passi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Jannar 2020

The politics of sustainable development

The politics of sustainable development is a matter for the Prime Minister’s direct consideration as it is wide-ranging and concerns all areas of policy.

It is quite interesting that once more sustainable development has taken up residence at Castille, being the responsibility of Minister Carmelo Abela, who has been appointed as a Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister. This was very rarely the case to date except in the short period during which Mario de Marco was Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism and the Environment.

Robert Abela is not the first Prime Minister who has emphasised the need to give much more importance to sustainable development. To date, however, none of them has delivered.

Sustainable development is one of the most abused and mis-used terms in the political lexicon. Political discourse continuously fails to project the politics of sustainable development as having a long-term view and continuously factoring future generations in the decision-taking process.

Governments do not give sufficient importance to sustainable development as this is not just about today. It is rather about how today’s activity should not prejudice tomorrow and future generations. This is not sufficiently on the radar of today’s politicians. Their interest, generally, does not span more than five years: that is until the next general election.

This is a point underlined by former Norwegian social democrat Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in her seminal UN Report Our Common Future who emphasised that “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.

The politics of sustainable development is not just a matter of environmental concern: it involves a holistic consideration of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It signifies that our actions must have a long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and our culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times, not just when it suits us. It requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Within a global and EU framework the politics of sustainable development also involves following and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals and the associated 169 targets. This is the global 2030 Agenda to which the European Union contributed substantially. While the whole 2030 Agenda is important, some aspects of it are relatively more important on a local level.

Consider water management, for example. It is imperative that we realise that we need to manage our water resources in a sustainable manner. To date gross incompetence has characterised water management in Malta. Access to the water table is still substantially a free for all, while storm water is mostly dumped into the sea, either directly or through the public sewer system. Rules for rainwater harvesting within the framework of land use planning are more honoured in the breach, without the authorities taking the minimum of enforcement action.

Transport policy is another area where short-term planning needs to give way to the politics of sustainable development. The National Transport Master Plan which runs until 2025 draws our attention that 50 per cent of private car journeys involve trips that are shorter than 15 minutes. This indicates that taking initiatives to reduce vehicular traffic at a local and regional level would be of considerable help in addressing road congestion and improving air quality where it matters most.

The National Transport Master Plan emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.” On the one hand we have this “written” sustainable approach to transport policy, yet on the other hand government has embarked on an unsustainable spending spree of infrastructural development to increase the capacity of our roads, as a result ensuring that car-dependency continues unabated.

Addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network only results in shifting the problem: either physically to another area, or else moving it in time.

The cherry on the cake is land use planning. Successive governments have been unable to restrain overdevelopment.

Sanctimoniously they describe themselves as being business friendly or market friendly to try and justify their lack of adequate action. The building industry, we are repeatedly told, creates so much jobs that it “contributes to the quality of life”.

As we are all well aware the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills. Unfortunately, they have been aided by successive governments who continuously seek ways to make it easier for the industry to plunder their way through. Land use planning is clearly unsustainable and the sooner it is restrained the better for all.

Sustainable development is conspicuous by its absence in practically all areas of policy. The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. Assigning political responsibility for sustainable development to a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister could be a good first step forward. However, there is still a long way to go.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 January 2020