Meħtieġa: politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman

Id-dibattitu ta’ bħalissa fil-Parlament dwar riforma fil-qasam tad-droga messu ilu li sar.

Il-manifest elettorali tal-partit tiegħi għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal- 2017 kien l-unika wieħed li tkellem b’mod ċar dwar il-ħtieġa li nintroduċu politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman. Il-politika dwar id-droga illum tikkastiga lill-vulnerabbli billi tikkriminalizza l-użu tad-droga. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għandha tkun parti minn viżjoni iktar wiesa’, fit-tul,  bl-iskop li tgħin u mhux li tikkastiga lil min hu vulnerabbli. Dan m’ghandux ikun limitat għall-kannabis, imma għandu japplika għal kull xorta ta’ droga.

Id-dokument konsultattiv ippubblikat f’Marzu li għadda dwar it-tisħiħ tal-qafas legali għall-użu responsabbli tal-kannabis flimkien mad-dibattitu parlamentari li għaddej bħalissa huma pass sinifikanti l-quddiem.

Għandna nifhmu, li, kif ippruvat tul is-snin, il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga ma solva xejn! Kien fl-2011 li l-Kummissjoni Globali dwar il-politika għad-droga, immexxija minn Kofi Anan, ex-Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Maghquda, kienet iddikjarat li l-ġlieda globali kontra d-droga kienet falliet u dan b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi kemm individwalment kif ukoll għas-soċjetà.

Ewlenija fost ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet tal-Kummissjoni globali hemm it-tmiem tal-kriminalizzazzjoni, tal-marġinalizzazzjoni u tal-istigmatizzazzjoni ta’ dawk li jagħmlu użu personali mid-droga mingħajr ma jagħmlu l-ebda ħsara lill-ħaddieħor.

In-numru ta’ vittmi hu wieħed sostanzjali. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ ħajjiet intilfu jew ġew irvinati ħtija ta’ din il-gwerra kontra d-droga.   Isem partikolari li jiġi quddiem għajnejja hu dak ta’  Daniel Holmes li dabbar sentenza sostanzjali ta’ ħabs f’Malta għax kabbar il-pjanti tal-kannabis għall-użu tiegħu.  Ma għamel ħsara lil ħadd, imma spiċċa jerfa’ fuq spallejh sentenza twila ta’ ħabs. Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ inġustizzja kriminali.

Il-proposti li presentement hemm quddiem il-Parlament huma limitati għall-kannabis, avolja fost ir-responsabbiltajiet tal-Awtorità dwar l-Użu Responsabbli tal-Kannabis hu emfasizzat li din l-Awtorità tkun tista’ “tipparteċipa fil-proċess nazzjonali tal-ippjanar dwar il-politika soċjali u l-politika dwar il-mediċini perikolużi”. Hu possibli li l-leġislatur għandu pjani oħra f’moħħu għall-futur, imma dawn, s’issa għadhom mhux magħrufa.

Il-proposta għad-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis tagħmel sens f’kuntest ta’ politika olistika dwar id-droga li ma tibqax tikkonsidra l-użu tad-droga f’kuntest kriminali imma f’kuntest soċjo-mediku. Dan jirrikjedi iktar ħsieb, analiżi kif ukoll studji dwar impatti kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis għandha tkun  ikkunsidrata bħala parti minn politika dwar id-droga koerenti, b’wiċċ uman li tiddikriminalizza l-użu tad-drogi kollha.  

Min jagħmel użu okkażjonali tad-droga m’għandux ikun ikkunsidrata bħala kriminal. Il-vittmi u dawk dipendenti mid-droga għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna permezz ta’ esperti mħarrġa inkluż l-għajnuna medika kemm u kif meħtieġ.  

Il-Portugall mexa f’din it-triq u tul is-snin kellu success konsiderevoli li bħala riżultat tiegħu naqas l-użu ta’ kull tip ta’ droga kif ukoll naqset l-inċidenza tal-HIV.  Irridu nfasslu l-mixja tagħna biex nindirizzaw sewwa b’mod koerenti l-użu tad-droga f’pajjiżna.  

Il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għamlet ħsara ferm iżjed mid-droga innifisha. Ir-riżorsi tal-istat għandhom jintużaw biex intejbu l-ħajjiet tan-nies u mhux biex ikunu ikkastigati dawk li jeħtieġu l-għajnuna tagħna!  Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni u r-regolamentazzjoni tal-kannabis għandha tkun l-ewwel pass f’dan il-proċess.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Novembru 2021

Wanted: a drug policy with a human face

The current debate on drug reform, in parliament, is long overdue.

My party’s electoral platform for the 2017 general election was the only one which clearly and unequivocally spoke in favour of introducing a drug policy with a human face. Current drug policy punishes the vulnerable through the criminalisation of the use of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug use should be part of a long-term vision that aims to help and not punish the vulnerable.  This should not be limited to cannabis but should encompass all drug use.

The White Paper published last March on the strengthening of the legal framework relative to the responsible use of cannabis together with the parliamentary debate currently in progress are welcome first steps in this direction.

It is about time that we realise that, as proven over the years, considering drug use as a crime has not led to any significant result. It was in 2011 that the seminal Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan declared that the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

Foremost among the recommendations of the Global Commission was the end of criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

The number of victims is substantial. Many lives have been lost or ruined as a result of this war on drugs. A specific person which comes to mind is Daniel Holmes who was sentenced to a substantial prison term in Malta for growing his own cannabis plants. He harmed no one, yet he was made to shoulder a heavy prison sentence. This is criminal injustice at its worst.

The proposals currently before Parliament are limited to the consideration of cannabis, even though amongst the functions of the proposed Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis one finds that it may “participate in the national planning process relating to social policy and dangerous drugs policy”. Possibly the legislator has some other plans which, however, are so far not known.

The proposed decriminalisation of cannabis use makes sense within the context of an holistic drugs policy which would shift the emphasis on addressing drug use from one based on criminal law to a socio-medical model. This requires much more thought, analysis and consideration of studies and impact assessments carried out both in Malta and abroad. It cannot remain on its own but needs to form part of a coherent drugs policy with a human face which decriminalises all drug use.

Those who occasionally make use of drugs should not be considered as criminals. Victims and those who become addicted as a result of more than an occasional use of drugs should be offered adequate support, through the assistance of trained social workers as well as medical assistance whenever this is required.

Portugal has followed this path and over the years has had a considerable success in reducing use of heavy drugs and HIV.  We have to design our own path towards addressing the uptake of drugs.

The criminalisation of drug use has ruined more lives than drug use itself. It is about time that we use the resources of the state to improve lives and not to punish those who need our help!  The decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis should be just the first step in such a process.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2021

Improving waste collection

Waste collection in our towns and villages does not cater for a modern 21st century European island state. It is approximately fifty years out of phase. It has not evolved with time to take into consideration modern day requirements.

The waste collection schedules do not cater for the needs of shift workers, of short-term tenants and small local businesses.

Local government governs at a local level. It takes decisions necessary in order to address the varying requirements of the community which it leads. Our local councils unfortunately do not have such an authority. Government (directly as well as through Wasteserv Malta Limited, the state waste operator) is continuously breathing down their necks such that they cannot plan and carry out waste collection differently and in an efficient manner.

A news item in the Malta Independent on Monday pointed at a proposal of the Local Councils’ Association on an alternative to the door-to-door waste collection in our towns and villages.

Our restricted pavements, as things stand, are during parts of the mornings cluttered with waste bags. In addition, they are also used for restaurant tables and chairs.  Possibly if there is enough space, pavements can also be used for the mobility of pedestrians! Vulnerable persons with different mobility disabilities and parents caring for young children are often at a loss in such situations. They are the first squeezed out of pavements!

It is within this context that the Local Councils’ Association has proposed a gradual shift from a door-to-door waste collection system to one where waste is deposited at specific collection points. The proposal is interesting even though it is not easily applicable in all localities. Specifically in village cores and in urban conservation areas there may not be sufficient space suitable for the development of the necessary infrastructure for the development of waste collection points. Our streets are already cluttered with services: drainage, water, electricity and communications! I believe that it will be slightly difficult to find adequate space for these collection points in some of our streets.

The proposal was submitted to government some months ago in response to the public consultation in hand on the Waste Management Strategy. It entails the identification of 13,000 collection points serving 250,000 households. It is envisaged that each household could possibly be within a 100-metre distance from a waste collection point.

I have discussed this proposal with Local Councils Association President Mario Fava who is very enthusiastic on its workability. Studies detailing the proposal have not to date been carried out locally but the method is practiced in a number of European cities.

Such a collection system could be the source of various benefits in our localities. Top of the list would be cleaner pavements and roads as a result of substantially reduced waste spillage. There would be less traffic congestion and obstruction as a result of not having a waste collection vehicle doing the rounds at a speed of 5 kilometres per hour through the streets of our towns and villages. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from fuel consumption by waste collection vehicles would be substantially reduced. (Electrification of waste collection vehicles could likewise attain the same objective of greenhouse gas emission reduction.)

The next step should be a pilot project in a number of localities as a result of which the required infrastructural improvements should be identified and implemented for a selected number of waste collection points. Such a pilot project should not only consider the workability of the proposed alternative. It should also seek to address how those facing mobility difficulties can cope and what assistance would be required to ensure that they will eventually benefit from the proposed improvement to the waste collection system.

The new waste management strategy is long overdue. I hope that when finalised it will recognise that local councils, both individually as well as through their association are fully capable of planning and delivering the services which our towns and villages require in this day and age. They should not be obstructed from functioning as a local government.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 September 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

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

Sharing our responsibilities

lampedusa-letta-e-barroso-contestati

The Lampedusa tragedy was a tragedy waiting to happen. .

Human persons in need of help have been on our doorstep, Europe’s doorstep. The help they sought was not available.

Malta has a government which belongs to that family of political parties, the socialist family, which describes itself as being the champion of the vulnerable and the downtrodden. In migration policy, in just seven months, the Labour Party led government in Malta has failed miserably in living up to its core values.

At this point in time none are more vulnerable than migrants fleeing persecution: in particular Somalis and Eritreans who account for the vast majority of migrants at this doorstep of Europe. The Labour Party in Government is not interested in their plight. It is more interested in a populist discourse to impress its hangers-on. Labour’s populism has diluted its core values  beyond recognition.

Labour’s push-back policy was not implemented due to the timely intervention of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Those who think that  Joseph Muscat’s pushback policy was an exercise in bluff would do well to remember that  when still Leader of the Opposition Joseph Muscat had made statements on the need to suspend Malta’s international obligations if faced with large numbers of boat-people.

Many crocodile tears are currently being shed by those who in the past weeks advocated a hard-line inhumane attitude. Those who advocated push-backs are apparently shocked by what has happened.

Are they?

When we criticise the European Union for tackling immigration inappropriately we are also criticising ourselves as since May 2004 Malta and the Maltese are an integral part of the European Union. Malta forms part of each and every decision-taking structure within the European Union. Together with all the other member states Malta participates whenever a decision is taken.

The European Union needs a common migration policy which recognises that each and every refugee within its borders is its responsibility. The border states like Malta, Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus are shouldering a disproportionate responsibility which must be shared by all  members states.

So far, in the struggle between life and death the European Union (Malta included) has not opted to give adequate assistance to the living. As a result we are collectively responsible for the Lampedusa deaths. It is useless shedding tears for the dead if we did not respect them when they were still alive.

The Lampedusa tragedy was no accident. It is the direct consequence of the fact that on migration there is still a free for all in the European Union. A common policy is required to give flesh to practical solidarity and bury once and for all the culture of indifference.

The Greens in Europe are all in favour of responsibility sharing. That is, the recognition by European Union institutions that once a migrant crosses the EU borders he is its responsibility. Common borders are not just a tool for the payment of customs duties. A humanitarian migration policy is a must in every corner of the European Union. Crossing the border into the European Union should mean moving into an area which respects every human person, with no exceptions being permitted.

A first step would be amending what is known as the Dublin Convention such that the arrival of a migrant within any of the member states would not signify any more that he is restricted to remain in the country of arrival. Such an amendment to the Dublin Convention would facilitate the movement of migrants within the European Union and, consequently, their applying for refugee status, if this is applicable,  within any one of the member states.

This is the official policy of the European Green Party to which policy Alternattiva Demokratika has contributed considerably through constructive engagement with our European partners. The Greens in Europe are the only European Political Party which has fully appreciated the situation which EU border states are facing. Without any stamping of feet or smelling “pushover” coffee the European Green Party is the foremost proposer and supporter of an EU which shoulders its responsibilities through a policy of migration responsibility sharing.

The others just stamp their feet and indulge in inconsequential rhetoric interspaced with crocodile tears.

It is about time that the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party accept that their approach to migration has failed. They should take a leaf from the policy book of the European Greens and seek to convince their partners in the European Union of the need to share responsibility for migration with the border states.

Whether the Lampedusa tragedy will serve as a wake-up call is still to be seen. The comments from Jose Barroso and Cecilia Malmström at Lampedusa on Wednesday are good indications.

Well Muscat can smell that coffee now.

As published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 12 October 2013