Ensuring a guaranteed basic income

The need for a decent basic income is an all-time issue among those who have a social conscience. However, it assumes more importance in times like these, when prices of essential goods are spiralling upwards, almost out of control.

The perennial question is whether the income received by each person through employment (or a pension) should be sufficient or else whether such income derived from employment or a pension should be supplemented through a social wage, when, on its own, it is insufficient for ensuring a decent living.

Various jurisdictions are experimenting with this idea through pilot projects. As a result, they are seeking to reinforce a social net, protecting the vulnerable through ensuring that each is guaranteed a basic income irrespective of his or her circumstances in life. Each person has the right to have the basic means to ensure a decent life.

The basic facts should, by now, be clear to all.

The three Caritas studies published to date have revealed a widening gap between the official minimum wage and three different categories of vulnerable households.

In the case of a household consisting of 2 adults and 2 children this gap is approximately 40 per cent, at 2020 prices. In fairness it has to be clarified that this gap does not include the receipt of social solidarity income, amongst which children allowances and the various forms of supplementary social income which may be applicable to specific circumstances. When this is taken into account, I believe that in most cases the gap is substantially reduced.

The current price rise of essential goods, average close to a 25 per cent rise in a number of cases, (although a number of items have had much steeper price increases) brings to the fore another worry. Cost of living adjustments to wages and pensions are effective at the beginning of the year, and reflect the cost of living of the previous twelve months.

The last statutory cost of living increase has been of €1.75 per week, less than the cost of a cappuccino. During the past years such increases have varied from a €5.82 per week increase in 2010 to a €0.58 per week increase in 2015.

At times this increase is deemed to be too low as was the 2015 COLA adjustment.

It is essential that the basket of goods and services utilised to measure the actual cost of living is updated on a regular basis in order to ensure that the results obtained are realistic and reflect actual needs.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has over the past weeks emphasised that he is considering proposals to introduce a new form of COLA for low-income people. So far, however, nothing has materialised. The Minister has hinted that he is discussing various proposals behind closed doors. Would it not be a much better idea if the discussion is externalised? Everyone of us is interested in the proposals being drafted and discussed.

One possibility which should be considered is not to keep accumulating the cost-of-living dues and carry out adjustments to the minimum wage (and pensions) on the following January. It should be possible to carry out cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage as well as to pensions twice a year, towards the end of June and towards the end of December.  In times of steep price increases, as the present, such an initiative could make a substantial difference to the vulnerable and those on low income.

Ensuring that each has a basic decent income is a basic requirement in the development of the welfare state.

published Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 January 2022

Dom: a giant surrounded by pygmies

Much has been written in the past days on Dom Mintoff. On his service to the nation. On his values. On his methods. On his achievements.

In what we write we ought to be respectful. Not just to Dom, the man and his memory. We must also respect  ourselves. We must be factual.

We cannot respect the man  if we have no self respect!

His first positive contribution was in the development of the tools of  social solidarity,  determined to ensure that all had access to the basic essentials. He did this initially with Sir Paul Boffa his predecessor as Labour Leader. It was Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state through the introduction of Old Age Pensions and Income Tax to finance them!  Years earlier Boffa had prodded Gerald Strickland through the Compact to construct St Luke’s Hospital.  Boffa has been sidelined in the past 50 years when in reality it was he who should get the credit for founding the welfare state in Malta. Dom built on Boffa’s solid foundations, widening and deepening social services in the process.

His second positive was his determination that independence be translated into Maltese absolute control of the islands and their strategic infrastructure. This contrasted with Borg Olivier’s more gradual approach.  His negotiations shocked the nation as it was the first time that a Maltese politician stood up and spoke what they had in mind. In his last mass meeting before the 1971 general elections, held  at Marsa,  Mintoff had stated in very clear terms what he had in mind. It was time for Britain to pay up or pack up.

Lord Carrington then Defence Secretary in Edward Heath’s Cabinet states in his memoirs that negotiating with Dom was tough business. He realised “that there was also calculation in every Mintoff mood.”  Mintoff’s moods noted Carrington, would alternate “between periods of civilised charm and spasms of strident and hysterical abuse.”

Dom also opened a third front. He rightly felt the need for a separation of Church and State. It was, and still is  an area which requires much attention. It was much worse 50 years ago with an unelected archbishop-prince wielding political power unwittingly aiding  the colonial masters. Divide and rule was the British policy in its colonies. This front has been the cause of various scars (political and social), still not sufficiently healed.  It was violence from unexpected quarters which multiplied the political problems which each government has had to tackle since.

In his endeavours Dom was undoubtedly influenced by his direct experiences.  His witnessing of abject poverty during his childhood, his youth and immediate post war years formed his vision for developing the welfare state which had been painfully plotted by Sir Paul Boffa.

Having a foreign power controlling any square metre of significance on the islands was too much to bear for someone with Dom’s temperament. His father’s employment in the service of Lord Louis Mountbatten undoubtedly added to the significance of it all and to his determination to make a clean sweep.

It would be dishonest to ignore the above.

It would be however similarly dishonest to ignore the fact that his stewardship was also characterised by arrogance and bullying. It was characterised by organs of the state which sought to protect abusive behaviour. The long list of cases wherein Dom’s government and his most trusted Ministers were found guilty of infringing human rights is there for all to see. None of them was ever forced to resign. This is also part of Dom’s contribution to the development of  post 1964 Malta.

Anyone ever tried to identify the number of victims, some with a one way ticket to l-Addolorata Cemetery?

Former Air Malta chairman Albert Mizzi in an interview carried in The Sunday Times on March 25, 2012 stated: “I remember one time when someone mentioned something to him about corruption. He turned to me and said, ‘is it true?’ I replied: ‘That what’s people are saying’. His response was: ‘What can I do if that person has helped me to build up the party? Can I take action against him?’ You see, this is small Malta.”

That is Dom, the giant surrounded by pygmies: those who helped him build his party and then proceeded to squeeze it dry until the pips squealed.

Respecting Dom also means self-respect. Respect  the facts.  When this is done we can give the man his due.

originally published at di-ve.com

On this blog you can read the following additional posts on Dom MINTOFF :

21st August 2012 : Dom’s legacy

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

22nd June 2012 : Dom Mintoff fuq in-Net TV.

5th May 2012 : Dom Mintoff : a political bully.

23rd April 2012 : Thanks O Lord for giving us DOM.

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?

Dom’s legacy

During his lifetime Dom Mintoff  elicited extreme reactions ranging from adulation to extreme spite. Some lit candles in front of his images. In contrast others insisted  for his metaphoric crucifixion during the 1980s mass meetings.

The man certainly had a vision.  As he himself stated one of his priorities was the removal of those cobwebs in which Maltese society was entrapped. Removing these cobwebs finely spun and protected for years on end by conservatives was no mean feat. It is still work in progress.  It certainly required the skills and the stamina of a bulldozer which Dom did not lack.

Unfortunately at times his skills were misapplied. Those same bullying skills which were appropriately applied when confronting the colonising power were certainly out of place when applied against the Maltese population, at least that part of the population which disagreed with his ideas and methods.

Those hovering around him were at times more focused on their interests than on ensuring that he was properly  advised. This certainly showed as the better elements left the ranks of his party. Some went quietly, others with a bang. It is not appropriate at this point to quote chapter and verse. It has been done elsewhere. It is however not appropriate to just sing the praises of the man. He must be remembered in his human form, warts and all.

His political service spanned half a century during which he left his mark. He started off with his predecessor Sir Paul Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state when Labour was first in government after the landslide electoral victory of 1947. In later governments which he led Dom built on Boffa’s foundations widening and deepening the welfare state.

The man found comfort in the company of dictators. In fact he was a frequent visitor to their courts. His friends included Muammar Gaddafi, Nikolai Caucescu, Todor Zhivkov, Kim Il Sung. He was certainly inspired by Gamal Nasser’s Arabic Nationalism  which coincided with his first term as Prime Minister and his resignation in 1958.

The man’s legacy will be determined in the long term when the impact of his negative methods will have subsided. Then history will acknowledge Dom’s contribution to the formation of Malta’s identity as well as to the acceptance of social solidarity as an essential objective of good politics.

originally published at di-ve.com

On this blog you can read the following additional posts on Dom MINTOFF :

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

22nd June 2012 : Dom Mintoff fuq in-Net TV.

5th May 2012 : Dom Mintoff : a political bully.

23rd April 2012 : Thanks O Lord for giving us DOM.

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?

The politics of sustainable development

published on Sunday 29 June 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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 The government is in transit: it has declared that from now on sustainable development will be the cornerstone of its policies. However, it has not yet stated how this will come about. With regard to this issue, it cannot wait five years to implement its proposal. It must be in a position to deliver immediately.

The adoption of sustainable development as the focus of government policy should lead to the logical conclusion that the economy should henceforth no longer be viewed as an objective but rather as a tool: the economy should be at our service, rather than being our master! The point of departure should be the ecosystem of which we form part. The limited capacity of our ecosystem should lead us to adopt ecocentric policies as distinguished from the current anthropocentric ones. This is what sustainability is all about and this is what the adoption of sustainable development, as a policy objective, should lead us to. The transition from the current state of affairs to a sustainable state should hopefully address the causes of our accumulated environmental deficit!

The government is now seeking ways to live up to its declarations in favour of sustainable development, hoping that it would not have to resort to make substantial changes to existing policies. It is however next to impossible to arrest the accumulated and ever-increasing environmental deficit without addressing the policies and attitudes that have caused it. The list is quite long!

In Malta too, mainstream politics is motivated by the instant link between cause and effect. The community almost immediately feels the economic and social effects of policies and administrative decisions. Thus, mainstream politicians are generally quick to react even to a perceived impact on the economy or on the social fabric. The effects of environmental impacts are however generally much

slower, in part due to the resilience of Mother Earth. Hence, for innumerable political generations, environmental impacts were completely ignored or sidelined, as there was a time lag at times of considerable duration between cause and effect. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and further postponement is not possible. Today’s generation will have to shoulder and address the accumulated environmental deficit, hopefully reducing its effect on future generations.

Policy needs to be approached in a holistic manner, focusing simultaneously on social environmental and economic considerations. It is not a question of an artificial balance between the economy, the environment and social policy but of acting correctly, preferably each and every time. A policy, which is economically sound but socially and/or environmentally wobbly, is of no use and should be discarded. The reverse side is already common practice as socially and environmentally sound policies are rarely applied if they do not pass the test of economic viability.

I acknowledge that this is quite a hard nut to crack, as it will require revisiting practically all areas of policy. Some areas will require minor policy adjustments while others will require a complete overhaul. In some areas action has already commenced. In others, action is incomprehensible at this stage given the current prevalent mindset.

The politics of sustainable development is concerned with redirecting economic activity such that this is compatible with ecological and social requirements. The environment, the economy and social needs are thus placed on the same level when decisions are taken. Throughout the years economic decisions have generally taken into consideration their social impacts. As a result, various measures have been introduced to mitigate and/or prevent negative social effects. The politics of social solidarity as developed has assisted in the transition from a free market economy to a social market economy.

The politics of sustainable development is the means leading to the next transition: an ecocentric economy. The environmental impacts of social and economic policy require attention at the drawing board rather than mitigation after they have occurred. In order for this to occur, it is required that instead of facing the effects we direct our energies to tackle the causes. It is for this reason that the Environment Protection Act of 2001 provides in Section 8 for the setting up of a National Sustainability Commission entrusted with the drafting of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development for the Maltese Islands. The Commission has laboured between 2002 and 2006 to produce a draft, which was concluded and presented to Cabinet for approval in December 2006. Cabinet approved it late in 2007.

In the public sector, the government’s adoption of the principles of sustainable development should spur action on three levels – tackling upstream impacts, direct impacts and downstream impacts. This will necessarily filter through to the private sector that will effectively have no choice but to proceed on similar lines. The government would be leading by example.

Some time last year, the government had commenced an exercise which should eventually lead to a system of public sector green purchasing, whereby non-economic criteria are inbuilt into tender documents. This would not only entail conditions of environmental importance, but also ones of social relevance. We have not heard much on developments to date except declarations during the March 2008 election campaign, and some echoes

afterwards that when contracting-out for services, the public sector will be on the look out for the conditions of work of the employees of those who take part in the tendering process. This was stated because a miniscule part of the private sector is being very innovative when it comes to determining the manner of circumventing the acquired rights of its employees. While the government is certainly hitting the right note when it identified the rights of those employed by bidders for public tenders as ripe for scrutiny, I believe that it is well past the stage of declarations. Concrete action is urgently required.

The public sector will properly manage its upstream impacts only if it ensures that all those who supply it with goods and services do so in a manner that is socially just and environmentally responsible.

The direct impacts of the public sector are the most obvious ones. The appointment of Green Leaders in different ministries and authorities was a step in the right direction as it set the foundations for a culture change among public sector employees. It can lead to quick results (known in environmental management as the “low lying fruit”) in areas related to energy and water consumption, use of stationery, other materials and equipment and waste management among others. The appointment of green leaders can thus set the public sector on the road leading to eco-efficiency.

However, an emphasis on the public sector downstream impacts will be that which eventually could make the major difference. The effects on those at the receiving end of the public sector will not only determine “value for money” but also, more importantly, in my view, it will determine whether the public sector is eco-effective.

The first on the list would be public sector employees themselves and the effects of the fixed term contract on their morale and professional conduct. Subsequently, each policy must be examined for its ecological impact while searching for alternative methods of implementation, which would reduce or preferably eliminate its undesirable impacts.

Managing the social and environmental impacts of the public sector is of paramount importance in the path leading to sustainable development. This will involve the individual policies that need to be analysed in detail. Value for money is not the only criterion used to assess whether public monies have been well spent. When this is taken in hand the public sector would have commenced trekking on the long road of sustainable development. The first steps are the most difficult. Translating rhetoric into action is only possible if the original rhetoric is a reflection of an inner conviction.

Only time will tell.