Abusive continuity

The distribution of multiple cheques to every household by the Labour Government on the eve of the general election is more than abusing the power of incumbency. Through the said distribution, the power of incumbency is being transformed into a corrupt practice, specifically intended to unduly influence voters.

What, in normal circumstances should be a simple administrative act is being transformed into blatant political propaganda, at public expense, straight into your letterbox. A covering letter signed by Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana says it all. A Banana Republic in all but name!

Why should such handouts be distributed on the eve of elections if not to influence voters?

Even if one were to accept that such handouts are acceptable, it is certainly not in any way justifiable to plan their distribution specifically on the eve of an election. This goes against the basic principles of good governance.

The power of incumbency is the executive power of a government seeking re-election. Incumbents always have an advantage. The manner in which they handle it defines their governance credentials.

This has been a government characterised by bad governance throughout its term in office. Right from the very beginning, on 13 March 2013. I consider the full 9 years as one continuum. This was reinforced by Robert Abela himself who emphasised that his leadership of the Labour Party seeks to continue the “achievements” of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity was his declared mission.

On its first days in office, Labour started off on its Panama tracks. The secret Panama companies set up by Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and someone else, known as the (mysterious) owner of Egrant, went on to rock Labour over the years.

The Electrogas saga and its link to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia intertwined with the Panama debacle.

It is now clearly established that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was directly linked to her investigative journalism. Her investigations led her to identify the governance credentials of various holders of political office and their links with big business. Defining their relationship as being too close for comfort would be a gross understatement.

As emphasised in the investigation report on the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, over the years, a culture of impunity has developed in these islands. This has led to misbehaviour in public office being normalised. It has also led to considerable resistance in the shouldering of political responsibility by holders of political office, whenever they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar! Rosianne Cutajar and Justyne Caruana being the latest examples, as amply proven by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler.

To add insult to injury Cutajar and Caruana were the recipients of generous termination benefits, notwithstanding that their term of political office ended in disgrace. Caruana received terminal benefits twice in the span of a short time, as she established a national record of resigning twice from Robert Abela’s Cabinet!

With this track record one should not have expected otherwise from the Muscat/Abela administration. With the abusive distribution of cheques on the eve of the general election Labour’s current term is approaching a fitting end.

The Labour Party in government has consistently acted abusively. Robert Abela has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity has been ensured, as promised.

published in Malta Today : Sunday 20 March 2022

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

Paga minima diċenti

Nhar it-Tnejn, waqt id-diskors tal-buġit konna infurmati biż-żieda statutorja annwali fil-paga minima. Kif nafu ser tkun żieda ta’ €1.75. Bosta ikkummentaw li dan mhux biżżejjed. Hi r-reazzjoni naturali li nisimgħu kważi kull sena.

Meta żieda fil-paga minima, li nirreferu għaliha bħala żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja, ma tikkorrispondix ma kemm fil-fatt il-ħajja tkun qed togħla jinħolqu bosta problemi għall-persuni u gruppi vulnerabbli.  Meta żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja ma tkunx adegwata, din tiekol ukoll mill-valur tal-pagi li jkunu għola mill-paga minima. Dan iseħħ minħabba li l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jintużaw biex permezz tagħhom titkejjel żieda fl-għoli tal-ħajja ma jkunx għadu jirrifletti r-realtà dwar il-ħtiġijiet bażiċi tan-nies.

Aħna, bħala partit ilna żmien nitkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun aġġornat il-kontenut tal-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li bih titkejjel l-għoli tal-ħajja u tkun determinata l-paga minima. Dan irid ikun aġġornat għaż-żminijiet.  

Il-Caritas f’Malta għamlet diversi studji dwar dan. L-aħħar wieħed li kien ippubblikat f’Diċembru 2020 kien jiffoka fuq tlett kategoriji vulnerabbli bi dħul baxx. Ir-rapport kien intitolat : A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living. Jiena diġa ktibt dwar dan f’dawn il-paġni fi Frar li għadda.  Dwar familja li tikkonsisti f’żewġ adulti u żewġt itfal l-istudju tal-Caritas kien ikkonkluda li bil-prezzijiet tal-2020, bħala minimu, kienu meħtieġa  €14,000 f’sena għal għixien diċenti. Bejn wieħed u ieħor dak hu madwar  €4,000 iktar mill-paga minima attwali. Il-paga minima mhiex paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Min hu bil-paga minima qed jgħix fil-faqar minkejja li jaħdem.  

Qabel ma tħabbar il-buġit iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana, hu parla ħafna dwar proposta li qal li kien qed iħejji biex ikunu ndirizzati l-ħtiġijiet tal-persuni vulnerabbli lil hinn minn dak li tipprovdi l-COLA (Il-mekkaniżmu ta’ aġġustament fil-pagi għall-għoli tal-ħajja).  Imma meta qara l-buġit, minkejja li dam jaqra mhux ħażin, ma qal xejn minn dan. Irid jistudja iktar mal-imsieħba soċjali, qal!

Il-proċess konsultattiv dwar proposta għal direttiva tal-EU dwar paga minima diċenti ilu ftit għaddej. Il-proposta tfittex biex toħloq għodda aċċettabli ħalli bihom tkun tista’ tiġi mkejla kemm għandha tkun il-paga minima f’kull pajjiż individwali tal-EU. Fl-istudju dwar l-impatti ta’ din il-direttiva kien emfasizzat li l-paga minima tkun waħda adegwata meta tkun ġusta fil-konfront tal-pagi ta’ ħaddiema oħrajn u meta tipprovdi għal għixien diċenti.Dan fil-kuntest tal-kundizzjonijiet ekonomiċi tal-pajjiżi individwali.  Il-proposta tal-EU tfisser kif dan jista’ jsir b’għodda statistika.

Malta hi wieħed minn disa’ pajjiżi Ewropej fejn il-paga minima li titħallas skond il-liġi mhiex garanzija kontra r-riskju tal-faqar. Minkejja dan Malta hi wieħed mill-pajjiżi li qed jopponu l-introduzzjoni ta’ direttiva li tindirizza bis-serjetà l-adegwatezza tal-paga minima.

L-istudju tal-Caritas diġa żvela li l-paga minima jonqosha €4,000 fis-sena biex toqrob lejn paga diċenti. Iktar ma ddum ma tittieħed azzjoni din id-differenza iktar ser tikber. Huwa ferm aħjar li tiżdied il-paga kemm hemm bżonn milli jkunu ntrodotti servizzi soċjali addizzjonali biex jagħmlu tajjeb għan-nuqqas.  

Min jaħdem għandu dritt għal paga ġusta: il-paga minima mhiex waħda ġusta. Il-paga minima trid tkun paga li tista’ tgħix biha għax tkun tkopri l-ħtiġijiet bażiċi tal-familja. Għandna bżonn ekonomija sensittiva għall-ħtiġijiet umani.

M’għandniex noqgħodu nistennew soluzzjoni Ewropeja. L-istudju tal-Caritas ilu li wera lil kulħadd ir-realità. Imma  l-Parlament jibqa’ jinjora dan kollu.   Huma biss Membri Parlamentari eletti minn fost dawk ippreżentati minn ADPD li jistgħu jibdew it-triq għal deċizjoni li torbot ħalli l-paga minima tkun waħda li tista’ tgħix biha.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 17 t’ Ottubru 2021

Minimum wage should be a living wage

During the budget speech on Monday, we were informed of the statutory (annual) increase to the minimum wage as of next January. It is a €1.75 increase, as we well know. Many have commented that it is not enough. It is a natural reaction which we hear about almost year in year out.

When an increase in the minimum wage, also referred to as a cost-of-living increase, does not correspond to the actual increase in the cost of living, it creates a lot of problems for vulnerable persons and groups. It also erodes the value of wages currently above the minimum. This occurs because the basket of goods and services used to gauge the cost-of-living increase is out of tune and does not correspond to what is actually occurring on the ground.

Greens have repeatedly insisted on the need to replace the current basket of goods and services used to determine the minimum wage. The contents of such a basket cannot be static as our needs change with time continuously.

Caritas in Malta has carried out various studies in this respect. The latest was carried out and published in December 2020 and focused on three low-income household categories. It is entitled: A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living. I have already written on the matter in these pages (A minimum income for a decent living: 7 February 2021). In respect of a family composed of 2 adults and 2 children, it was concluded, in the Caritas study, that the minimum budget required at 2020 prices was slightly under €14,000. That is approximately €4,000 over and above the actual minimum wage. Those earning a minimum wage are clearly the working poor. The minimum wage is not a living wage

Prior to the budget announced earlier this week Finance Minister Clyde Caruana made many noises on a proposal that, he said, he was planning for the budget speech. The proposal he had in mind would address the needs of vulnerable persons which needs, the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) does not address. However, when push came to shove no such proposal materialised: the Minister declared that together with MCESD he will only study the matter further!

A consultation process on a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages within the EU has been under way for some time. The proposal seeks to determine the manner in which an adequate minimum wage is to be determined. The impact assessment carried out relative to the EU proposals emphasises that “Minimum wages can be considered adequate when they are fair vis-à-vis the wages of other workers and when they provide a decent standard of living, taking into account general economic conditions in the country.” The EU proposal proposes the creation of a “double decency threshold” which would ensure decent minimum wages. This threshold is expressed in terms of the median and average wages in the different member states.

Malta is one of nine European countries where the statutory minimum wage does not protect minimum wage earners against the risk of poverty. Yet Malta is one of the countries which is opposing a mandatory EU Directive addressing the adequacy of the minimum wage!

The Caritas study has already revealed that the gap between the minimum wage and the required level of decency is to the tune of €4,000 per annum. The longer it takes for action to materialise the wider the gap will become.  It is the minimum wage which must increase, not government handouts.

Making work pay? The minimum wage should be a living wage: it should be sufficient for the basic needs of a family, but unfortunately it is not. We need an economy which cares.

We should not wait for an EU solution to our minimum wage problem. The Caritas study has indicated the way forward many moons ago. Yet Parliament keeps ignoring it!  Only Green Members of Parliament can ensure that Parliament addresses this decency gap thereby ensuring that the minimum wage is also living wage.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 October 2021

Technocrats in Cabinet

It is being argued by some that the Prime Minister should have the possibility to appoint technocrats as members of Cabinet.

As things currently stand, there are several posts servicing government departments which should be filled by technocrats but are instead seeing appointment of persons of trust, that is persons who are in the good books of politicians.

How about ensuring that technocrats are appointed where it matters before dreaming of having technocrats in government?

On a final note, we have had three technocrats appointed to Cabinet recently. The first two were responsible for many a mess! I am referring to Edward Scicluna and Konrad Mizzi. The third one, Clyde Caruana is still works in progress!

Lil hinn minn Oliver

Lill-Oliver Scicluna ftit nafu. Segwejtu jaħdem mill-bogħod u għandi rispett u ammirazzjoni lejh bħala persuna kif ukoll għad-dedikazzjoni tiegħu għal dak li jemmen fih.

Il-co-option tiegħu fil-Parlament imma hi abbuż sfaċċjat tas-sistema. Kif kienet abbuż il-co-option ta’ bosta oħrajn: ta’ Adrian Delia, ta’ Bernard Grech, ta’ Miriam Dalli, ta’ Clyde Caruana u anke ta’ Joseph Muscat innifsu fl-2008.

Hu abbuż li ħadd ma ikkontestah sal-lum. Kien hemm mumenti meta dan kien fix-xifer li jsir meta l-Eżekuttiv tal-PN kien iddeċieda li jikkoptja lil Jean Pierre Debono meta irriżenja David Stellini, MP għal Ghawdex.

Dakinnhar, b’mod sfaċċat, l-Eżekuttiv tal-PN kien iddeċieda li jkun co-opted Jean Pierre Debono flok Kevin Cutajar.

Kevin Cutajar kien kandidat fuq Għawdex, imma Jean Pierre kien qed jistenna ringrazzjament talli ċeda is-siġġu tiegħu fuq Ħaż-Żebbuġ biex daħal Adrian Delia fil-Parlament. Delia, ovvjament, ma setax jirringrazzja lil Jean Pierre billi jagħmlu ambaxxatur, bħalma Joseph Muscat kien għamel lil Joseph Cuschieri, anke jekk snin wara!

Kull kandidat ikun urtat jekk wara li jkun aċċetta l-inkonvenjent li jikkontesta elezzjoni u ma jitlax, wara, kif titfaċċa opportunità fid-Distrett tiegħu jitfaċċa xi ħadd minn barra d-distrett biex itellfu anke dik l-opportunità. Il-każ ikun agħar jekk min jitfaċċa l-anqas biss ikun qagħad iħabbel rasu biex jikkontesta elezzjoni. Bħal Oliver, bħal Adrian, bħal Bernard, bħal Clyde u bħal Joseph.

Il-co-options li jsiru b’dan il-mod hu abbuż tas-sistema u għandhom jispiċċaw. Din il-kitba mhiex kritika ta’ Oliver imma tal-partiti li qed jabbużaw mis-sistema.