The resignation of David Thake

The resignation of David Thake is a positive step.  It takes courage to admit to having acted incorrectly and shoulder the political responsibility for your actions. There are others who should follow in his footsteps. Parliament, as a result would be a much better place.

The fact that the tax misdemeanours of the companies owned by David Thake were revealed through media leaks does not make the case any less serious. It however adds another worrying dimension to the saga: institutional breach of ethics, this time by the tax authorities. The Minister for Finance Clyde Caruana is politically responsible for this. He has to act fast to address the matter.

Registered editors already have a right to request income tax returns of sitting MPs. This right should be extended to VAT returns, not only those submitted personally by sitting MPs but also by companies in which they have a controlling interest. This would do away with selective leaking of damaging tax information which generally targets those who those close to government seek to damage or destroy!

It has been established that the two companies owned by David Thake, namely Vanilla Telecoms Limited and Maltashopper Limited have collected Value Added Tax due on their services and retained the tax collected for a long period of time. His companies, stated David Thake, had a problem with their cash flow and thus they were not in a position to pay up the taxes they had collected.

Vanilla Telecoms Limited owes the exchequer €270,000 while Maltashopper Limited owes another €550,000. This is a substantial sum which has been collected from taxpayers through VAT and includes fines and interest due for non-payment.

There are serious doubts as to whether Thake’s claim that he was simply applying the Covid-19 tax deferral scheme is correct.

Given that most of the pending VAT dues of Thake’s companies date back to substantially before the outbreak of Covid-19 Thake has yet to explain as to why it took him so much time to address the cash flow problems of his companies. He has shed too many crocodile tears in emphasising that faced with cash flow problems he opted to pay his employees rather than the VAT office. His delay in acting to address his cash flow problems has the specific consequence of endangering the livelihood of the very employees, which he is so keen to protect!

It is not correct to describe David Thake as a tax evader. It is unfair to compare him to Bernard Grech, his party leader, who was investigated for tax evasion over the years and opted to pay up on the eve of the PN leadership contest.

In view of the fact that Thake’s companies have yet to submit their accounts it is not yet clear as to the actual cause of his cashflow problems.

The point at issue is whether it is right for David Thake to bankroll his companies through the taxes they have collected as economic operators. The fact that there are others who do likewise, and maybe worse, is no consolation!  He was a member of parliament elected on a good governance platform. The mismatch between his behaviour and his stated beliefs cannot be clearer than this.  This is no minor administrative omission as David Thake emphasised when he announced his resignation.

Its fine to preach good governance. Putting this into practice is a completely different matter. Thake’s resignation, even though he took some time to decide that he should resign, puts some sense back into local politics. Thake’s resignation is a positive contribution to improve standards. Ian Castaldi Paris and Rosianne Cutajar should be next.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 January 2022

Is-Sena it-Tajba

Nawgura s-Sena t-Tajba lil kulħadd.

Għal bosta mhux diffiċli li s-sena li ġejja tkun aħjar minn dik li ser tintemm fis-siegħat li ġejjin.

Kienet sena li iffaċċjajna diversi diffikultajiet, individwalment u bħala pajjiż. Il-pandemija tefgħetna lura. Mhux lilna biss, imma lil kulħadd.

Diversi kellhom jiffaċċjaw il-Covid. Uħud laqtithom ħażin. Hemm min bata ħafna. Ftit inqas minn 500 mietu ħtija tal-virus.

Il-vaċċinazzjoni, li issa ilha għaddejja madwar sena, għamlet differenza kbira għal kulħadd. Lil min hu b’saħħtu żieditlu l-protezzjoni. Għad-dgħajfa u għall-vulnerabbli ħolqot difiża imprezzabbli. Bil-booster iktar.

Kull min ħa l-vaċċin, l-ewwel u qabel kollox, qed jipproteġi lilu innifsu. Imma ukoll, qiegħed jipproteġi ukoll lil ta’ madwaru.

Nittamaw li matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin il-pandemija tbatti biex ilkoll kemm aħna jkunilna possibli li nerġgħu nibdew ġejjin fuq saqajna.

Nawgura s-sena t-tajba lil kulħadd.

Grazzi lill-ħaddiema fis-settur tas-saħħa

Ilum f’Jum il-Milied waqt li bosta minna miġburin fl-irdoss ta’ djarna mal-familja, tajjeb li niftakru fil-ħaddiema fis-settur tas-saħħa.

Dawn għaddejjin dejjem, f’kull ċirkustanza, jagħtu s-servizz tagħhom, bi tmissina, biex iħarsuna.

Fiċ-ċirkustanżi tal-lum, fost oħrajn, bil-pandemija fl-aqwa tagħha, anke llum għaddejjin bis-servizz biex il-vaċċin jilħaq lil kulħadd.

Kontinwament iduru b’dawk morda u jgħinu lill-bqija biex ma jimirdux, jew ta’l-inqas biex dan ikun evitat.

Grazzi.

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Malta: it-theddida mit-tibdil fil-klima

Malta hi waħda mid-diversi gżejjer li huma vulnerabbli għat-tibdil fil-klima.  Malta mhiex vulnerabbli daqs il-gżejjer Maldives, li huma fost l-iktar pajjiżi ċatti. Għandhom għoli medju ta’ 150 ċentimetru il-fuq minn livell il-baħar bl-iktar punt għoli jkun 5.10 metri.  Fil-mument li bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima jibda jogħla l-livell tal-baħar il-gżejjer Maldives ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jisparixxu taħt l-ilma. Il-gżejjer Maldives huma destinazzjoni turistika popolari fl-Oċejan Indjan. 

Jekk dak miftiehem fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi fl-2015 jitwettaq u ż-żieda fit-temperatura medja globali ma taqbizx il-1.5 grad Celsius fuq dik pre-industrijali, xorta jkollna niffaċċjaw għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ta’ madwar 50 ċentimetru. Min-naħa l-oħra jekk iż-żieda fit-temperatura tkun bejn il-1.5 u 2 gradi Celsius iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tista’ twassal anke sa tlett metri.  L-impatti ta’ dan ikunu katastrofiċi u jiddependi minn kemm idub silġ u kemm dan idum biex idub

Ir-rapport tal-IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) li ħareġ nhar it-tnejn, jemfasizza li jekk l-emissjonijiet serra mhux ser ikunu indirizzati sewwa u jonqsu b’mod sostanzjali l-istima hi ta’ żieda medja fit-temperatura globali ta’  2.7 gradi Celsius sal- 2100 liema żieda twassal għal tibdil mhux żgħir fil-livell tal-baħar.

Il-pass li jmiss nittamaw li jsir f’Novembru li ġej fi Glasgow fl-Iskozja fejn rappresentanti tad-dinja kollha jiltaqgħu biex jippruvaw isibu soluzzjoni li tkun kapaċi twettaq il-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit ta’ Pariġi fl-2015.  

Ir-rapport tal-IPCC jgħidilna li huwa ċar li bir-ritmu presenti tal-emissjonijiet tal-gassijiet serra, iz-żieda ta’  1.5 gradi Celsius fit-temperatura medja tista’ tintlaħaq anke sal-2030, ferm qabel mistenni. Huwa biss bħala riżultat ta’ tnaqqis immedjat ta’ dawn l-emissjonijiet li jistgħu jonqsu l-impatti li diġa qed naraw madwarna: żieda qawwija fit-temperaturi, maltempati iktar spissi u b’qilla li dejjem tiżdied, xixfa fit-tul f’inħawi u għargħar f’oħrajn ……………  Irridu niffaċċjaw ħafna iktar minn dan kollu, flimkien ma żieda fil-livell tal-baħar u dan sakemm naddottaw stil ta’ ħajja li tirrispetta lin-natura.  

Jekk irridu insibu tarf tal-ħerba kbira li qed takkumula, u l-gwaj kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima li hemm lest għalina, irridu nibdew naħdmu man-natura u mhux kontriha.  Dan hu l-iskop tad-dibattitu dwar il-mira ta’ karbonju zero (carbon neutrality): li innaqqsu l-emissjionijiet malajr kemm jista’ jkun biex il-ħsara li saret tibda tkun imsewwija u fuq perjodu ta’ żmien forsi tkun rimedjata ukoll, anke jekk in parti. Imma hu essenzjali li kulħadd jagħti sehmu. Ma nistgħux nippretendu li ħaddieħor joħroġ għonqu u li aħna nibqgħu gallarija, qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Il-vulnerabilità tal-gżejjer Maltin għandha minnha innifisha tikkonvinċina mhux biss biex niċċaqalqu aħna, imma biex inċaqilqgħu lil ħadddieħor ukoll.

Biex nilħqu din il-mira jeħtiġilna li naddattaw l-imġieba tagħna u l-istil ta’ ħajjitna ma’ dak li turina u tgħidilna n-natura: b’mod speċifiku jeħtieġilna ekonomija li tirrispetta lin-natura u taħdem mal-forzi ekoloġiċi, mhux kontrihom.  

It-turiżmu u t-trasport huma żewġ oqsma ta’ ħidmietna, bħala pajjiż, li jeħtieġilhom li jkunu mmansati. Qed jagħmlu wisq ħsara u huma fost il-kontributuri ewlenin għall-impatti Maltin fuq il-klima.

Meta nibdew nindirizzaw it-turiżmu, wara snin twal li kulħadd fittex li jaħleb din il-baqra ekonomika, ser ikun hemm min iweġġa’. Ilna ngħidu li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għat-tlett miljun turist li ġew fl-2019, il-parti l-kbira minnhom bl-ajru. L-impatti kumulattivi tagħhom huma sostanzjali, mhux biss fuq l-ambjent lokali imma ukoll fuq dak reġjonali u globali. Issa hu l-aħjar mument li jibda’ dan il-proċess ta’ tibdil fil-qasam tat-turiżmu, aħna u nirkupraw bil-mod mill-impatti tal-ħerba li ħalliet warajha l-COVID-19.

M’għandniex nibqgħu bl-attitudni ta’ qiesu ma ġara xejn (business-as-usual) imma għandna nibdew minn issa nimmiraw biex jonqos it-turiżmu tal-massa u fl-istess ħin jiżdied it-turiżmu ta’ kwalità u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk jonqsu n-numri kbar ta’ turisti li għamlu tant ħsara.  L-impatti soċjali jkunu ferm inqas  jekk nitgħallmu ftit minn dak li ġarrabna bħala riżultat tal-pandemija COVID-19. Ikun utli jekk nifhmu li l-ħeġġa ta’ uħud għall-mudell low-cost iħallina mwaħħlin fil-problema fejn qegħdin issa.  

Huwa ukoll essenzjali li nindirizzaw ukoll it-trasport bil-karozzi privati. Ilkoll nifhmu li f’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna, imkien m’hu l-bogħod. L-istrateġija nazzjonali tat-trasport innifisha fil-fatt temfasizza dan il-punt għax tgħidilna li fil-gżejjer Maltin madwar 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati huma għal distanzi qosra li jdumu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta.  Għal dawn id-distanzi l-qosra hemm bosta alternattivi sostenibbli. Lil hinn mid-distanzi l-qosra, f’dan il-pajjiż imkien ma hu l-bogħod! Trasport pubbliku organizzat b’mod effiċjenti jista’ jindirizza kważi b’mod assolut il-kontribut tat-trasport f’Malta għat-tibdil fil-klima.

Biex tieħu deċiżjoni dwar il-passi meħtieġa ħalli tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima trid il-kuraġġ għax kull deċiżjoni hi iebsa. Mhux ser inkun kritiku tal-inizjattiva ta’ ġnien li ma jiġġenerax emissjonijiet (carbon neutral public garden) jew tal-għajnuna biex ikunu nkoraġġiti “bjut ħodor”.  Imma għandu jingħad li dawn l-inizjattivi huma insinifikanti ħdejn dak meħtieġ li jsir biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima.  

Malta hi vulnerabbli. L-għoli ta’ livell il-baħar, anke jekk ikun l-inqas mill-istimi li qed isiru fir-rapport tal-IPCC ikun ta’ dannu għall-infrastruttura kostali. Joħloq ukoll bosta problemi għal dawk li jgħixu fil-lokalitajiet madwar il-kosta. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nipposponu id-deċiżjonijiet biex dawn forsi jittieħdu għada flok illum. Għandna responsalliltà etika jekk il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri: din il-pjaneta, imsejħa d-dinja qed nieħdu ħsiebha biex wara ngħadduha lilhom f’kundizzjoni aħjar milli ta’ qabilna għaddewha lilna.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 15 t’Awwissu 2021

Malta’s climate-change vulnerability

Malta is one of many climate-vulnerable islands.  Malta is not as vulnerable as the Maldives, which has an average altitude of 150 centimetres above sea-level and a highest natural point of 5.10 metres, as a result of which it is the world’s lowest lying country. Most of the Maldives will disappear once sea-level rise takes over. The Maldives is a touristic destination in the Indian Ocean. 

If the Paris 2015 Climate Summit target of restraining temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial age temperature is achieved, we will still face a sea level rise of around 50 centimetres. If on the other hand this target is exceeded but the temperature rise is still below 2 degrees Celsius the sea level rise will be close to three metres.

The current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, emphasises the IPCC report issued last Monday, if unchecked, points to an estimated 2.7-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100 which increase could signify a substantial rise in sea level.

Where do we go from here? It is the answer which level headed climate diplomats will seek to hammer out in Glasgow this coming November, and in the preparatory meetings leading thereto.

It is clear that at the present emission rate of greenhouse gases, the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold could be reached as soon as 2030. Only immediate reduction of emissions will reduce the impacts which are already evident all around us: excessive increase in temperature extremes, increased frequency of intensive storms, prolonged drought in areas and floods in others. We will have to face more of this together with a sea-level rise until such time that we can reduce it through adopting climate friendly policies and lifestyles.

We need to work in tandem with nature if we expect to stand a chance in mitigating the havoc which awaits us. This is the objective of the carbon neutrality debate: reducing emissions in order that the damage done to date is contained the soonest and hopefully reversed, even if partially. In this process everyone must do his bit. We should not wait for others to act and expect that we are exempted from doing anything.

Our vulnerability as an island should be convincing enough that it is in our interest that we not only take action ourselves but also that we convince others about it. 

In order to reach this objective, we need to align our behaviour with what nature expects: the specific requirement is to have a climate friendly economy. Tourism and transport are two areas of activity which need to be cut down in size as they are among the major contributors of the Maltese islands to climate change.

Tackling tourism adequately will be painful. We must however realise once and for all that having 3 million tourists annually, most of them flying over, is not on. Their cumulative impacts are substantial not just on the local environment but even on a regional and global level. Now is the time to do it when we are in the process of recovering from the COVID-19 devastation. We should not aim for business-as-usual but should opt specifically against mass tourism and in favour of quality tourism at a much-reduced level. It would be less painful if we learn the COVID-19 lessons and ensure that tourism is more climate friendly.  In this respect if we keep on encouraging low-fare policies we will continue the process of digging our own grave.

Addressing land transport is also imperative. In a small country such as ours it should be obvious that everywhere is within easy reach. The Transport Strategy in fact clearly points out that over 50 per cent of car trips in the Maltese islands are for short distances of a duration of less than 15 minutes. There are better alternatives to using private cars for such very short distances. Beyond short distances, nowhere on the islands is so far away. Public transport when efficiently organised could go a long way to solving the contribution of transport to climate change.

Tackling climate change requires the courage to take tough decisions. I will not be critical of the initiative to have a carbon neutral public garden or making available grants and subsidies to encourage roof gardens! Such initiatives are however insignificant when viewed in context of what needs to be done. 

Malta is very vulnerable. A sea-level rise, even if this is at the lower end of what is being estimated, would seriously jeopardise our coastal infrastructure. It would also create havoc in a number of coastal settlements. We cannot keep postponing decisions into the future.  We have an ethical responsibility towards future generations: the planet we have in trust should be in better shape when they take over. The longer we take to decide on the action required, the more painful the consequences.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 August 2021

Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

Jaqaw il-Covid attiv wara l-5pm?

Illum, f’Malta, tħabbru tnaqqis ta’ miżuri kontra l-Covid.

Fost oħrajn ir-restoranti ser ikunu jistgħu jiftħu sal-5 ta’ wara nofsinnhar.

Ħadd ma qalilna għaliex sal-5pm. Għaliex mhux sas-1pm jew sal-11pm? Kif waslu ghaliha din?

Jaqaw il-virus tal-Covid, f’Malta jibda jaħdem wara l-5pm?

Jista’ xi ħadd jispjegalna x’inhuma dawn ir-ragunijiet xjentifiċi li jiġġustifikaw li r-restoranti jiftħu sal-5pm u mhux inqas jew iktar?

Ftit iktar serjetà tagħmel il-ġid! Ikun għaqli li ma tippruvawx tinqdew bix-xjenza biex tiġġustifikaw l-arbitrarjetà

A post-Covid future

It is too simplistic to state that the surge in Covid-19 new cases is the unique responsibility of more efficient strains of the virus. The efficient virus was without doubt, for quite some time, assisted by a practically inexistent enforcement. Until last week, substantial gatherings around a number of bar outlets were definitely not monitored with any strain of virus present having a practically free rein. The high Covid infection rate is also a consequence of all this.

The virus is thus not just more efficient, it has also encountered a lax enforcement which together with Covid-19 fatigue have made its proliferation much easier. Matters were also not made easier as a result of over-optimism and back-to-normal-soon messages. These messages together with the denigration of warnings on the potential impact of additional waves of virus infection has led us to the current state of play.

It is only thanks to the hard work of the medical personnel that matters are not much worse. One only hopes that lessons are learnt and that errors of judgement are not repeated. In the prevailing circumstances, the only permissible errors are those made on the side of caution.

The financial support which government has provided to a number of sectors, which support has been increased and extended, has certainly been helpful in the short term. While prioritising the health of all we can also use this down-time to plan for the future, a post-Covid future.

The vaccination programme is a reasonable source of optimism even though the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible yet.

Nobody contests that even as a result of Covid-19, the economy is in tatters, not just the Maltese economy, but possibly the world economy! The national debate should, at this point in time, be focused on how we ought to proceed into the future. Do we rebuild the past or do we take this unique opportunity to reshape the future?

The education of future generations has been dealt a severe blow as at the end of this Covid-phase at least two years of formal education will have been wiped out. Online education has certainly been of considerable help even though it is no substitute to the direct contact between our educators and students. This applies to all levels of education but more importantly at the primary and secondary school levels. It would be indeed unfortunate if anyone of the most vulnerable goes below the educational radar, as a result of Covid.  

Recovery will definitely not be easy.

A positive aspect of the tools utilised to cope with Covid was the increased reliance on digitalisation in general and tele-working in particular. We will definitely need to discuss the implications of this in considerable depth in the debate on the post-Covid future as both rights and duties in this area are not sufficiently clear yet.

Covid, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) is a direct result of the mistreatment of nature. It is specifically the consequence of the human assault on biodiversity.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

Covid has shown that nature runs roughshod over an economy which is disrespectful to the ecology and eco-systems. Nature always has the final word. Can we possibly learn the lesson this time?

In the coming weeks when hopefully matters are clearer it would be opportune if we embark on planning the future, together. Our future requires a green plan which is both fair and sustainable: A Green New Deal. A future which does not repeat past errors but which instead seeks a healthy re-establishment of the links between man and nature. Too much damage has been caused over the years through the rupture of our links with nature in an effort to conquer and domesticate it. The future does not lie in man’s violent control of nature but rather through working in partnership with it.

After all this is what sustainability is all about.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 March 2021

A minimum income for a decent living

Within the European Union structures a debate has commenced on adequate minimum wages throughout the Union. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had stated on her appointment that she would be proposing a legal instrument to ensure that every worker in the Union has a fair minimum wage.

The consultation process within the EU was launched over one year ago. As a result, a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages has been finalised together with a number of supporting documents, including a 240 page long extensive impact assessment

In an explanatory memorandum published by the EU together with the text of the proposed Directive it is emphasised that “in the majority of EU Member States with national statutory minimum wages, minimum wages are too low vis-à-vis other wages or to provide a decent living even if they have increased in recent years.” In its impact assessment, the EU Commission calculated that an increase of national minimum wages according to the double decency threshold (60% of the median and 50% of the average wage) would improve the wages of around 25 million workers in Europe.

Malta is one such state with a low minimum wage which does not suffice, in particular, for vulnerable categories. A Caritas study published last Friday once more identifies short-comings of the minimum wage in Malta, when this is the only source of income for a number of vulnerable households.

The Caritas study entitled “A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living 2020” follows previous studies published by Caritas in 2012 and 2016 as a result of which detailed research illustrates how the basic needs of vulnerable households, cannot be addressed if these households are dependent on one minimum wage as their only source of income.

The latest Caritas study concludes that a household comprising two adults and two children require €13947 annually as a minimum for a decent living, while if the household consists of a lone parent and two children this requirement drops to €11038. This is well below the 2021 statutory minimum wage which is currently €181.08 per week even if one also takes into consideration the June and December statutory bonus. On the other hand, the requirements of a household consisting of an elderly couple adds up to €8157 annually, concludes the Caritas study. This last figure, which is manageable, is however qualified in the Caritas report in that it may vary substantially due to the myriad of costs specific to the lifestyle and health status of the elderly.

The above excludes cases where the minimum wage earner needs to fork out expenses for a privately rented dwelling, in which case subsistence is practically impossible. The Caritas 2020 report emphasises that impact of the rent due “can dramatically affect the financial circumstances and quality of life of low-income households”.

The agreement signed by government with the social partners in 2017 as a result of which after one year in receipt of a minimum wage there are mandatory increases of €3 per week and an additional €3 per week after the second year, was a step forward and without doubt lessens the burdens of minimum wage earners. But this is certainly not enough. An overhaul of the method of calculation of the minimum wage is essential as this has to be reflective of real and actual needs. It has to be capable of sustaining a dignified living.

The recent news that the Maltese government is among the EU Member states which are objecting to EU legislation that would set up a framework regulating the minimum wage is worrying as the Maltese Government has been reluctant to take steps ensuring that the minimum wage is revised periodically to reflect actual needs. ADPD has long been advocating for this revision. However, the Labour government has repeatedly indicated that it was more interested in helping the wealthy get even wealthier. It was more interested in defending the crooks in its midst.

Our society needs to guarantee a basic income for all which is sufficient for a decent living. A number of countries are carrying out trials to identify the best way forward in this respect. The Universal Basic Income or UBI is being tested in a number of countries through pilot projects.

There is much to learn not just from these pilot projects. Malta’s Covid-19 wage supplement, for example, was a worthy initiative which merits further consideration. If properly applied it can form the basis of a long-term initiative to guarantee a minimum income for all. Obviously, it is easier said than done but we need to start some long-term planning which addresses the need to guarantee a minimum income for all thereby ensuring that all have access to sufficient resources to live a dignified life. This is the next step for the welfare state.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 February 2021