Kultura ta’ dipendenza

Il-baġit għall-2023 li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana ippreżenta lill-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn għandu jkun deskritt bħala wieħed li jsaħħaħ kultura ta’ dipendenza.  Il-Gvern jagħmel użu mit-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet biex jilħaq dan l-iskop! Id-dipendenza fuq il-Gvern, taħt il-Labour hi oġġettiv  inkoraġġit. Is-sitwazzjoni minn baġit għall-ieħor tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar.

Dan hu forsi l-iktar ċar mill-mod kif il-Gvern imexxi l-quddiem il-politika tiegħu dwar il-pagi. Żviluppat differenza kbira bejn id-daqs tal-paga minima u kemm verament teħtieġ biex tgħix. Il-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza din id-differenza billi jqassam iċ-ċekkijiet. Issa ħoloq COLA ġdida biex jgħin lill-vulnerabbli u dan flimkien ma numru ta’ sussidji li uħud minnhom mhux neċessarji inkella huma ta’ ħsara.

 Il-ħolqien ta’ dan il-benefiċċju ġdid għall-persuni vulnerabbli (80,000 skond il-Ministru) li ma jistgħux ilaħħqu mal-ħajja, hu pass pożittiv. Il-vulnerabbli jeħtieġu l-għajnuna, imma jeħtieġu ferm iktar minn ċekk ta’ madwar €300 li ser jitqassam fi żmien il-Milied. Kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-Gvern iffoka fuq il-problema reali u indirizza din il-probema bis-serjetà. Issa ilu żmien ikaxkar saqajh.

Il-problema reali hi li l-paga minima hi baxxa ħafna: hi ferm il-bogħod minn paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Gvern wara l-ieħor għamel ħiltu biex din il-problema jevitha. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-benefiċċji soċjali, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma marbuta mal-paga minima u huma rifless tagħha. Paga minima diċenti awtomatikament teffettwa l-benefiċċji soċjali li riżultat ta’ hekk jitjiebu sostanzjalment, bi dritt.

Tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin tlett rapporti tal-Caritas analizzaw din il-materja fil-fond. L-aħħar rapport, li nħareġ fl-2021, kien ikkonkluda li hemm diskrepanza ta’ 40 fil-mija bejn il-paga minima u dak meħtieġ biex wieħed jgħix b’mod diċenti. Dan jammonta għal diskrepanza ta’ madwar €4,000 fis-sena. Din hi l-problema rejali!

Sakemm nibqgħu bil-paga minima baxxa daqshekk, it-tqassim fuq stil tar-rigali tal-Milied (Father Christmas) ser jibqgħu jsiru biex jitnaqqas il-piz minn fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli. Xi drabi ir-rigali ta’ Father Christmas ma jkunux limitati għall-vulnerabbli imma qed jinfirxu ma kulħadd. Hekk ġara biċ-ċekkijiet ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni, u l-hekk imsejħa rifużjoni tat-taxxa!

Flok din id-dipendenza fuq dan it-tqassim, ikun iktar xieraq li l-paga minima tiżdied u issir paga li tista’ tgħix biha.  Dan jista’ jsir billi l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li fuqu tkun ikkalkulata l-paga minima jkun aġġornat regolarment. Dan jelimina l-ħtieġa tat-tqassim ta’ cekkijiet ta’ kull xorta fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi għax il-paga raġjonevoli tkun ir-regola: ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa tal-benvolenza politika tal-Gvern, la fi żmien il-baġit u l-anqas, fi żmien ta’ elezzjoni ġenerali kif, b’mod abbużiv diġa sar.

B’żieda ma’ dan it-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet bi pjaċir, flok pagi ġusti bi dritt, tajbin biex wieħed jgħix bihom, il-Gvern qiegħed ukoll japplika numru ta’ sussidji li huma mfasslin b’mod żbaljat.

Is-sussidji tal-petrol u d-dijżil huma żejda. Iż-żieda internazzjonali fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil, li huma madwar id-doppju ta’ dak li qed inħallsu Malta, hi opportunità unika li f’idejn kapaċi tista’ tikkoreġi l-iżbalji li għamel il-Gvern fil-konfront tal-problema tagħna tad-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata.

Flok is-sussidji fuq il-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil ikun aħjar kieku ninvestu fl-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku. Din hi opportunità unika li, f’idejn min jifhem tista’, fit-tul, twassal għal tibdil fl-imġieba tan-nies favur użu iktar tat-trasport pubbliku u użu inqas tal-karozzi privati.  L-introduzzjoni ta’ transport pubbliku b’xejn għal kulħadd mill-bidu ta’ dan ix-xahar kien pass primatur: l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku kellu jkun indirizzat ferm qabel ma ttieħed dan il-pass importanti.

Li tkun indirizzat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati hu oġġettiv politiku li l-Gvern stess ippropona fil-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport. Il-Gvern qiegħed jinjora l-pjan tiegħu stess.

Min-naħa l-oħra hu xieraq li l-konsum bażiku tal-ilma u l-elettriku fir-residenzi tagħna jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma hu żball li is-sussidju japplika ukoll għall-konsum kollu ta’ kulħadd. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk setturi differenti tal-ekonomija jkollhom aċċess għal għajnuna mfassla għall-ħtiġijiet tagħhom sakemm iddum il-kriżi kurrenti.   Dan jista’ jagħti protezzjoni ferm ikbar kemm lill-impiegi kif ukoll lill-ekonomija. Fuq kollox b’dan il-mod jista’ jkun evitat li jkun issussidjat il-ħela u l-abbuż fl-użu tal-ilma u l-elettriku.

Ma hemmx ħtieġa li nsaħħu kultura ta’ dipendenza fil-forma ta’ tqassim ta’ ċekkijiet inkella b’sussidji mhux meħtieġa.  Huwa tajjeb li l-vulnerabbli jkunu mgħejjuna. Imma li tinbena u tissaħħaħ kultura ta’ dependenza bħala riżultat ta’ politika skaduta dwar il-pagi hi xi ħaġa ferm differenti. Dan jagħmel ħsara lit-tessut soċjali tal-pajjiż u għandu jinġieb fit-tmiem l-iktar kmieni possibli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 30 t’Ottubru 2022

A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Climate change requires behavioural change

Climate change is nature’s reaction to the cumulative impacts it has sustained as a result of human  behaviourover the years. Long periods of drought or intensive rainfall leading to flooding, longer periods of sunshine, extremes of temperature are all too familiar nowadays.

It has been emphasised time and again that we need to achieve carbon neutrality at the earliest. This signifies that the amount of carbon emissions resulting from our activities must be less than the carbon being stored in the various carbon sinks.

We must address each and every one of our activities as the carbon emissions from all of them, added up, will bring us closer to or further away from our targets.

Addressing climate change is a political issue. It involves policy decisions. If we intend to address climate change these political decisions should be complimentary and contribute to achieving the goal of mitigating climate change as well as addressing its causes.

The decision to substitute the Delimara power station running on heavy fuel oil with one using natural gas has contributed substantially to reducing Malta’s carbon emissions.

On the other hand, the current policy of encouraging the use of fuel guzzling cars and yachts pulls in the opposite direction. Increasing the capacity of our roads and planning new yacht marinas is not a positive contribution to addressing climate change. Yet it goes on, one decision after the other.

The decision to start the long road towards electrification of our roads was not linked with a decision to have a moratorium on new fuel stations. Why does current policy encourage new fuel stations when their operational days are clearly numbered?

It would be pertinent to point once more to the Transport Master Plan which emphasises that around 50 per cent of trips made with private cars in Malta are for short distances, taking up less than 15 minutes. Yet local and regional sustainable mobility is not encouraged. A behavioural change in our mobility patterns at a local and regional level could remove a substantial number of cars from our roads. Why is this not actively encouraged?

Transport policy is unfortunately not climate friendly. This needs to change the soonest if we are to make any headway in addressing climate change.

The carbon neutrality of our buildings is also of crucial importance in our climate change strategy. I have repeatedly emphasised the need of entrenching solar rights thereby ensuring that solar energy can be generated in more buildings. In addition, planning policy should establish that individual carbon neutral buildings have all the energy required for the use of the particular buildings generated on site. This would of necessity limit buildings to dimensions whose energy needs can be catered for through solar energy generated on site. This would limit building heights and substantially reduce the construction of penthouses.  Land use planning can contribute substantially to climate change mitigation!

The basic problem with climate change issues is that the link between our behaviour and the carbon cycle is not obvious or visible to the untrained eye. This makes it easier for those who seek to avoid or reduce the uptake of actions mitigating climate change.

We owe it to future generations to do all we can to address the accumulated impacts on the climate. Taming the present can ensure that there is a future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 January 2022

Tibdil fil-klima u l-aċċess għax-xemx

Huwa essenzjali li nnaqqsu l-gassijiet serra jekk irridu nindirizzaw b’mod effettiv it-tindil fil-klima. F’Pariġi, fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li kien meħtieġ illi t-temperatura globali ma kelliex tiżdied iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius biex ikun possibli li l-bidla fil-klima tkun taħt kontroll.   Tlett xhur ilu, f’Awwissu, l-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tal-Ġnus Magħuda (IPCC) infurmana li ż-żieda fit-temperatura diġa qabżet il-grad Celsius, u li din qed tkompli tiżdied.  

L-impatt ta’ dan jidher fil-maltemp estrem li qed niffaċċjaw kontinwament. Bħall-għargħar fi Sqallija u l- Calabria iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa u fil-Ġermanja u pajjiżi oħra iktar kmieni.  Il-ħerba li qed tiżviluppa hi enormi. Jekk ma nieħdux passi deċiżivi, dak li qed naraw mhu xejn ħdejn dak li ser jiġri.

Huwa kruċjali li l-ekonomija tagħna tkun waħda li ma tkunx dipendenti mill-karbonju, jekk irridu naslu biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-qalba tal-power station ta’ Delimara minn waħda li taħdem fuq iż-żejt maħmuġ (heavy fuel oil) għal waħda li taħdem fuq il-gass kien pass tajjeb li jħares il-quddiem, pass li aħna bħala partit dejjem appoġġajna. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed. L-użu tal-gass hu fih innifsu pass ta’ transizzjoni.   Li jkollna l-parti l-kbira tal-elettriku (jew kollu!) iġġenerat minn sorsi rinovabbli jkun ħafna aħjar milli nagħmlu użu mill-idroġenu – li qed jissemma bħala l-fuel tal-futur!

Neħtieġu iżda li ntejbu is-sistema nazzjonali tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku biex ikun possibli li z-zoni residenzjali jikkontribwixxu iktar fl-isforz nazzjonali biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija rinovabbli.  Investiment f’sistema ta’ distribuzzjoni iktar effiċjenti hi kruċjali. F’dan għadna lura, għax mhiex prijorità.

Id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx għandu jissaħħaħ. Ma jistax ikun li dan id-dritt jibqa’ dipendenti fuq proċess tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art insensittiv u żvilupp bl-addoċċ. Iż-żieda fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini meta kienu approvati l-pjani lokali tal-2006 wassal għal impatt negattiv f’enerġija rinovabbli li ntilfet. Hu prezz li għadna nħallsu u ser nibqgħu nħallsu għall-futur immedjat. Għax baqa’ ftit biex neħilsu minn dan il-piż.

Li ninvestu iktar fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mix-xemx jirrendi. Huwa ukoll sostenibbli meta nħarsu fit-tul. Jelimina ukoll id-dipendenza fuq it-tieni interconnector minn Sqallija li dwaru l-Gvern qiegħed iħejji l-pjanijiet tiegħu. 

Bħalissa l-prezz tal-enerġija fl-Ewropa sploda. Dan wassal biex l-użu tal-enerġija permezz tal-interconnector eżistenti bejn Malta u Sqallija ġie ristrett.

Bħala riżultat tal-qalba tat-trasport bl-art minn karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petol jew dijżil għall-elettriku, id-domanda għall-elettriku ser tiżdied skond kemm jiżdiedu l-karozzi tal-elettriku.  Nistgħu nlaħħqu ma’ din id-domanda mingħajr ma nkunu dipendenti fuq is-swieq enerġetiċi kontinentali?

Jekk jirnexxielna nżidu b’mod sostanzjali l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli nistgħu bla dubju nindirizzaw parti minn din iż-żieda fid-domanda għall-enerġija. Il-bqija hu possibli li nindirizzawha billi ninkuraġixxu bidla fil-mobilità tagħna.

L-informazzjoni bażika dwar dan diġa nafu biha. Qegħda fil-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati tagħna huma għal vjaġġi qosra, li jdumu inqas minn kwarta. 

Il-politika tal-Gvern kif imfissra fl-aħħar baġit ser tintroduċi transport pubbliku b’xejn minn Ottubru 2022. Dan jeħtieġ ftit iktar attenzjoni, għax il-prezz li nħallsu għat-trasport tal-linja qatt ma kien l-ostaklu għall-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Hi l-effiċjenza u l-frekwenza tiegħu li jeħtieġu titjib. Jekk dan ikun indirizzat jista’ jagħmel id-differenza sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dan hu x’joffri l-futur: nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima permezz tal-politika tat-trasport u l-ippjanar aħjar fil-qasam tal-enerġija. Fuq kollox billi nħarsu id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx. 

In-natura tipprovdilna soluzzjonijiet sostenibbli għall-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li neħtieġu. Jiddependi minnha jekk ngħarfux nagħmlu użu minnhom sewwa!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 31 t’Ottubru 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary if we are to address climate change effectively. In Paris, in 2015, it was agreed by all that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential if we are to address climate change adequately.  Three months ago, in August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) informed us that this increase was already 1.09 degrees Celsius, and rising.

The impacts of this increase are manifested in the extreme weather which we are currently witnessing, such as the floods all over Sicily and Calabria earlier this week, and in many other countries earlier. The resulting devastation is shocking. It will however get much worse very soon if we do not act decisively.

Having policies encouraging a low-carbon economy is crucial if we are to adequately address climate change.

Obviously solar rights must be entrenched: they should no longer be at the mercy of unbridled development and an insensitive land use planning process. The increase in permissible building heights introduced when the 2006 lot of local plans was approved had a heavy price-tag in renewable energy sacrificed. We are still paying this price and it will be quite some time before we recover from this irresponsible impact.

Switching over electricity generation at Delimara from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to one running on natural gas was a step in the right direction which greens always supported. It is however not enough. Natural gas is a transitional fuel.  Having most or all of our electricity generated from renewable sources would be a much better option, even better than making use of hydrogen, which is being considered as a future fuel. We need however to upgrade the national electricity distribution grid in order that it would be possible for residential areas to contribute much more to the national effort in renewable energy generation. Investing in an efficient distribution system is crucial. Yet it lags behind. It is not part of the priorities in hand.

Investing heavily in the generation of solar energy is more rewarding. It is also sustainable in the long term.  It would also do away with being dependent on a second energy interconnector with the Sicilian mainland, as government is currently planning.

Currently energy prices on mainland Europe are on a steep rise. This has resulted in a policy of restricting the use of the existing energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily.

As a result of the electrification of land transport, the demand for electricity is bound to increase in proportion to the uptake of electric cars. Can we cope with this increase in demand without being at the mercy of the mainland energy markets?

If we go for a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy, we can definitely address part of the shortfall. The rest can also be addressed by actively encouraging a behavioural change in our mobility patterns.

The relative basic information is contained in the Transport Masterplan which points out that 50 per cent of the trips we make with our private vehicles are for short trips having a very short duration of under fifteen minutes.

Government policy as accounted for in the last budget will introduce free public transport as of October 2022. This needs fine-tuning, as existing fares have never been an obstacle to use public transport. It is the frequency and efficiency of the service which deters use. If this is adequately addressed it could be a gamechanger in increasing the attractiveness of public transport and consequently its increased use.

This is the possible future linking climate change and transport policy through adequate energy planning and the entrenchment of our solar rights.

Nature provides sustainable solutions for most of our needs. It is up to us to use them properly!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021