Bejgħ tal-passaporti u l-prinċpju ta’ lealtà fl-Unjoni Ewropea

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-kumitat tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-libertajiet ċivili u l-ġustizzja,  huwa u jiddiskuti rapport dwar il-bejgħ tal-passaporti (jirreferu għalihom bħala golden passports) mill-istati membri, jemfasizza li dan hu oġġezzjonabbli etikament, legalment u ekonomikament u dan apparti li dan joħloq bosta riskji għas-sigurtà.

Tul is-snin, il-Ministri, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra, emfasizzaw li ċ-ċittadinanza, fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, hi materja riżervata għall-istati membri. Hekk hu, imma mhux b’mod assolut. Il-prinċipju ta’ lealtà fit-trattati Ewropej ilewwen il-ħidma tal-istati membri fl-Unjoni. Anke l-oqsma li huma kompetenza nazzjonali għandhom ikunu meqjusa f’dan id-dawl.

Ħadd ma jikkontesta li ċ-ċittadinanza hi kompetenza tal-pajjiżi membri. Hekk għandu jkun. Imma meta nikkunsidraw il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinaza hemm ħafna implikazzjonijiet oħra, ta’ gravità mhux żgħira. It-trattati tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dan jispjegawh bħala obbligu ta’ kooperazzjoni sinċiera  bejn il-pajjiżi membri, obbligu li bosta drabi huwa mfisser bħala l-prinċipju ta’ lejaltà:  lejaltà, jiġifieri bejn il-pajjiżi membri infushom.

Riċentment, l-amministrazzjoni immexxija minn Robert Abela fasslet emendi mhux żgħar għall-proċess li bih tkun akkwistata ċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment. Il-programm (Individual Investor Programme) inbidel ma skema residenzjali li eventwalment tista’ twassal għal ċittadinanza. Għalkemm l-Unjoni Ewropeja kienet infurmat b’dan it-tibdil, is-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għaċ-ċittadinanza, Alex Muscat, indika li ma kien hemm l-ebda rispons mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja.

Il-Parlament Ewropew ser jiddiskuti dan kollu fil-plenarja tiegħu tax-xahar id-dieħel.  L-abbozz tar-rapport, b’numru ndaqqas ta’ emendi, jemfasizza li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment “hemm it-tendenza li jkunu f’dawk l-istati membri li huma l-iktar esposti għal riskji konnessi mas-segretezza finanzjarja, bħall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, l-ħasil tal-flus u l-korruzzjoni.” 

Fost dawk li kisbu ċ-ċittadinanza Maltija b’investiment insibu lil: Anatoly Hurgin, akkużat bi frodi, kuntrabandu u ħasil ta’ flus kemm fl-Istati Uniti kif ukoll fl-Iżrael, Liu Zhongtian, biljunarju involut fl-aluminju, għaddej proċeduri kriminali fl-Istati Uniti dwar evażjoni  ta’ madwar żewġ biljun euro f’tariffi  Amerikani,  Boris Mints, biljunarju ieħor li qiegħed jiffaċċja akkużi dwar frodi fir-Renju Unit,  Pavel Melnikov, ukoll biljunarju li qiegħed ikun investigat fil-Finlandja dwar ħasil ta’ flus u frodi, u Mustafa Abdel-Wadood li ammetta akkuzi dwar frodi fl-Istati Uniti. Dawn ġew identifikati mill-istampa f’Malta bħala lihumafost dawk li xtraw passaport Malti. Ħadd mhu ser jeskludi li hemm iktar, għax dawn it-tip ta’ skemi huma kalamita għal dawn it-tip ta’ nies..

Dawn, u oħrajn, ħadu iċ-ċittadinanza minkejja li suppost li l-applikazzjonijiet tagħhom kienu eżaminati b’reqqa liema bħala!

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-logħob ta’ Bernard Grech li jirrifjuta li jieħu sehem fi proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar il-ħatra ta’ regulatur ġdid għall-iskema ta’ ċittadinanza b’investiment tibgħat messaġġ żbaljat. Regulatur li jkollu l-barka ta’ Bernard Grech mhux ser itejjeb l-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza.

Irrispettivament minn kemm jinbidlu r-regoli dwar l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti, din tibqa’ mhux aċċettabbli fil-prinċipju. Kif jingħad fir-rapport pendenti quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew iċ-ċittadinanza Ewropeja mhiex għall-biegħ.

Ir-rapport quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew jgħid li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment fihom ħafna riskji u mhumiex kompatibbli mal-prinċipju ta’ kooperazzjoni meħtieġa bejn l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan għandhom jispiċċaw sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2025 jgħidilna ir-rapport tal-Parlament Ewropew..

Il-flus jistgħu jkun utli, jgħid Bernard Grech, kieku l-iskemi jkunu trasparenti.  Hi l-istess attitudni li l-PN fil-Gvern daħħal fis-sistema ta’ tassazzjoni meta spiċċa daħħal proposti li jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.  

L-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti  flimkien mal-abbuż kontinwu tas-sovranità tal-pajjiż fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni bit-tnaqqis fir-rati ta’ taxxa għal kumpaniji barranin li b’hekk ġew inkoraġġiti jevadu t-taxxi ta’ pajjiżhom huma uħud mir-raġunijiet li wassluna sal-lista l-griża. Tul dawn l-aħħar xhur imma, l-Ministru tal-Fnanzi beda jċedi u jidher li issa mexjin lejn li naċċettaw rata minima u armonizzat ta’ taxxa.

Bħala partit ilna ninsitu fuq din it-triq. Sfortunatament b’wiċċna minn quddiem nistgħu ngħidu li ghidna ċar u tond kif kienu l-affarijiet. Issa jmiss li tispiċċa l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti ukoll. M’għandniex bżonn li jkunu istituzzjonijiet barranin li jgħidulna x’inhu tajjeb u x’inhu ħażin. Kapaċi, jekk irridu, li dan nagħmluh aħna stess. 

Huma biss membri parlamentari eletti mill-lista tal-kandidati ta’ ADPD li jistgħu jassiguraw li jsir it-tibdil kollu li hu meħtieġ. Bernard Grech u l-PN ma jistgħux ikunu is-soluzzjoni. Huma parti mill-problema.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Frar 2022

Golden passports & the EU’s loyalty principle

Earlier this week, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, when discussing a draft legislative initiative report emphasised that golden passports are objectionable ethically, legally and economically and pose several serious security risks.

Over the years government Ministers, in Malta and elsewhere, have emphasised that issues of citizenship and passports are a national reserved matter, within the European Union.  They are right, but, only to a certain extent. The principle of loyalty in the EU treaties underpins the functioning of the individual member states within the Union. Even the national competencies have to be implemented with this principle in mind.

No one contests that nationality issues are a national competence. They should remain so. There is however much more than state competence at stake. Article 4.3 of the Treaty on the European Union explain this as the principle of sincere cooperation, at times referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European member states.

Recently, the Robert Abela administration has sought to reform the process of acquiring citizenship by investment. The original rules were overhauled. The IIP (Individual Investor Programme) was replaced by a residency scheme which could, eventually lead to acquiring citizenship. The EU was informed of all this and Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, responsible for citizenship has indicated that there has been no feedback on the matter from the EU Commission.

The EU Parliament will discuss the matter in plenary next month. The draft report which, with a multitude of amendments proposed, will be considered, emphasises among other matters that such Citizenship by Investment (CBI) “schemes tend to be located in Member States that are particularly prone to risks related to financial secrecy, such as tax avoidance and money laundering, and corruption.”

Among the new Maltese citizens by investment, one finds: Anatoly Hurgin, charged with fraud, smuggling and money laundering in the US and Israel, Liu Zhongtian, an aluminium billionaire indicted in the US on avoidance of €2 billion in American tariffs, Boris Mints, a billionaire facing fraud charges in the UK, Pavel Melnikov, another billionaire under investigation in Finland for money laundering and tax fraud and Mustafa Abdel-Wadood who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in the United States. These have been identified by the Maltese press. I would not exclude that there are more of them as such schemes are a natural attraction to them. So far they have avoided the radar of public scrutiny.

Quite a collection! All of them were okayed by Malta’s “rigorous due diligence”!

In view of the above, Bernard Grech’s postering through his refusal to engage in consultation on the appointment of a new regulator for golden citizenship sends a wrong message. A regulator acceptable to Bernard Grech will not make the citizenship by investment scheme any better.

The golden passport scheme, irrespective of the tinkering with the rules carried out, is unacceptable in principle. EU citizenship, says the EU Parliament report currently under consideration “is not a commodity that can be marketed or sold and has never been conceived as such by the Treaties.”

European values are not for sale, says the said report: “in the light of the particular risks posed by CBI schemes and their inherent incompatibility with the principle of sincere cooperation, CBI schemes should be phased out fully across the Member States”. The proposal before the EU Parliament is that these should be phased out by 2025.

The money justifies it, says Bernard Grech, if only it were more transparent. It is the same attitude which the PN-led government built into our taxation system, when it introduced measures encouraging tax avoidance.

The golden passport scheme coupled with the continuous abuse of Malta’s tax sovereignty through offering substantial tax discounts to foreign commercial entities, encouraging tax avoidance, are part of the reasons which have led to Malta’s grey-listing. During the last months, Malta’s Finance Minister has finally capitulated and he is now steering the country towards the acceptance of a harmonised minimum tax rate.

Greens have been advocating this course of action for ages. Unfortunately, we can hold our heads high and state: we told you so! The golden passport scheme should be next for the chop. We do not need foreign institutions to tell us what is right or wrong. We can do it ourselves.

Only members of parliament elected from the list of ADPD candidates can ensure that the required overhaul is carried out. Bernard Grech and his PN cannot be the solution. They are part of the problem.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 February 2022

Meta Abela u l-PN kienu jħokku dahar xulxin

Robert Abela hu s-suġġett kurrenti tal-billboards tal-PN. Imma, bħal ma jiġri dejjem, il-kampanja tal-PN fuq il-billboards tgħid biċċa waħda żgħira mill-istorja vera. Tiffoka fuq il-ġid li akkumula Abela permezz tal-kuntratti ta’ xogħol professjonali assoċjat mal-Gvern, speċjalment permezz tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Il-billboard iwassal il-messaġġ politiku li Robert Abela jiġi jaqa’ u jqum u li huwa insensittiv. Jgħidilna li filwaqt li hu għamel żmien jiffanga bi dħul ta’ €17,000 fix-xahar int tikkrepa b’żieda miżera ta’ €1.75 fil-ġimgħa għall-għoli tal-ħajja.

Il-punt bażiku reali, imma, li l-billboard jinjora kompletament hu kif il-PLPN jimmanipulaw il-finanzi tal-pajjiż u l-proċeduri tax-xiri ta’ servizzi biex iżommu lill-ħbieb kuntenti u lill-għedewwa taħt kontroll.

Il-billboard tal-PN, jgħidilna li l-uffiċċju legali ta’ Robert Abela, xi żmien ilu, kellu dħul ta’ mhux inqas minn €17,000 fix-xahar mis-servizz professjonali legali li kien jagħti lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-billboard, imma,  ma jgħidilna xejn dwar kif dan kollu oriġina minn sejħa għal espressjoni ta’ interess u sussegwentement direct order lil George Abela li kienet imbierka mill-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi.   Dan seħħ fi żmien meta Abela ma kienx f’relazzjoni tajba la mal-Partit Laburista u inqas u inqas mat-tmexxija tal-istess partit!

F’sezzjoni tal-media kien irrappurtat li dan kollu beda fl-istess żmien meta George Abela aċċetta l-istedina biex jifforma parti mill-core group, parti mill-proċess preparatorju li kellu jwassal biex Malta tissieħeb fl-Unjoni Ewropea. George Abela ipparteċipa f’dan il-core group minkejja li l-Partit Laburista, li tiegħu sa ftit qabel hu kien Deputy Leader, kien jopponi din il-proposta b’qilla kbira.

Meta George Abela kien nominat u sussegwentement ġie appuntat President tar-Republika mill-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi, ibnu Robert ħa f’idejh it-tmexxija tal-uffiċċju legali ta’ missieru. Huwa u jagħmel dan, avukat ieħor li kien sħab ma’ George Abela spiċċa barra. Jingħad li ma qablux fuq kif ser jaqsmu dak li jdaħħal l-uffiċċju! Ftit wara, dan l-avukat l-ieħor spiċċa CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Min hawn il-quddiem il-familja Abela ma kelliex diffikulta biex tgawdi r-rigal sostanzjali tal-Gvern ta’  Lawrence Gonzi. Il-familja Abela setgħet isserraħ rasha għax fil-mument tal-bżonn il-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi kien hemm għall-għajnuna. Wara kollox, mhux għalhekk qegħdin il-ħbieb?  

Ta’ Abela kienu attentissimi li ħobżhom jieħdu ħsiebu sewwa! Dejjem irnexxielhom!  Biex jaslu iddefendew kull taħwid fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art tul is-snin, kemm dak taħt il-Gvern ta’ Gonzi kif ukoll dak taħt is-suċċessur tiegħu Joseph Muscat.

Tul is-snin id-direct order lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela mhux biss ġie ikkonfermat, talli kiber fl-iskop u fil-ħlas li ġġenera.

Waqt dan kollu kien hemm leħen wieħed kritiku ta’ dak li kien qed jiġri: kien kritiku tad-direct order tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela. Dan kien Joe Mizzi,  l-Membru Parlamentari Laburista mill-Kalkara. Kien qiesu seqer, jaf x’inhu jiġri, għax hu kien ir-rappresentant tal-Opposizzjoni Laburista fuq il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Joe Mizzi dam ftit mhux ħażin biex ħa tweġiba għal dan kollu. Dan seħħ meta tħalla barra minn l-ewwel Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela liema Kabinett tħabbar nhar il-15 ta’ Jannar 2020!  Imma sa dak in-nhar hu kien ilu jappoġġa l-kandidatura ta’ Chris Fearne għat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista.

Din hi l-istorja li l-billboard jaħbi. Storja ta’ kemm meta kien meħtieġ il-familja Abela u l-PN kienu  jħokku dar xulxin!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Frar 2022

Abela’s bread: buttered on both sides!

Robert Abela is the current billboard boy of the PN. The PN’s campaign, all over their billboards, however, only emphasises part of the real story: it is focused on Abela’s wealth generated through government contracts, specifically through the Planning Authority. It makes the political point that Robert Abela does not care. He is insensitive, states the billboard: he gluttons through €17,000 per month; you get a miserly €1.75 per week cost of living increase.

The real basic issue however, conveniently avoided by the billboard, is how the PLPN manipulate the country’s finances and procurement procedures to keep friends happy and foes on a leash.

The PN billboard points to the fact that the legal office of Robert Abela, at a recent point in time, had an income of at least €17,000 per month from legal services rendered to the Planning Authority.  The billboard does not, however, in any way indicate, that the contract was originally the result of an expression of interest and subsequently of a direct order. This was carried out with the compliments of the Lawrence Gonzi led PN government to George Abela, Robert’s father, at a time when the Abelas had very sour relations with the Labour Party and its leadership!

Sections of the media have reported that this lucrative relationship commenced at the same time that George Abela accepted the invitation to take part in the EU accession core group, part of the preparatory process leading to Malta’s accession to the European Union. George Abela participated in this core group notwithstanding that, the Labour Party, of which some time previously he had been deputy leader, was an aggressive opponent of the EU accession proposal. I am informed that additional members of the core group were Harry Vassallo, Lino Briguglio, Joe Saliba and Godfrey Baldacchino.

When George Abela was nominated and appointed President of the Republic by the Gonzi Government, his son Robert took over the running of the law firm. In the process the other lawyer who was a partner in the Abela law firm was immediately squeezed out of the firm. It is rumoured that they disagreed on the distribution of the profits of the law firm. As a result, the other lawyer was offered and he eventually assumed the role as CEO of the Planning Authority. The Abelas consequently had no obstacle to retaining full control of the lucrative gifts of the Lawrence Gonzi government. The Abelas had their mind at rest that at times of need Lawrence Gonzi and his government could always be relied upon. After all that is what friends are for!

The Abelas always sought to have their bread buttered on both sides. They were quite successful in this respect throughout the years. In the process they defended tooth and nail many a planning mess, both those created by the Gonzi government as well as also those created by his successor Joseph Muscat.

The PN direct order to the Abela law firm was confirmed throughout the years and widened in scope. The payments made increased accordingly.

I remember one solitary voice at that time denouncing the lucrative direct order of the Planning Authority to the Abela law firm: it was the Kalkara Labour MP Joe Mizzi. Joe Mizzi knew what was going on from day one: he was the representative of the Labour Party Parliamentary Opposition on the Board of the Planning Authority.

Payback for Joe Mizzi took quite some time to arrive. He was left out of the first Robert Abela Cabinet on the 15 January 2020!  But by then he had also endorsed Chris Fearne in the Labour leadership contest.

This is the real background to the billboard boy’s story!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 February 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

Facing the inevitable

With temperatures on the increase all around us, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published Monday, running into over 4000 pages, underlines that it may get much worse very soon.

The Climate Change 2015 summit in Paris agreed on the need to spare no effort in ensuring that the global temperature did not increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over that recorded in the pre-industrial age. The voluntary targets which the different countries committed to post-Paris are nowhere enough to limit global temperature increases not to exceed the Paris targets. The latest IPCC report states that we are on target to exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius much earlier than expected.

We can feel the excessive heat.  We have seen the raging fires all around the world. We have seen the storms across various parts of Western Europe triggering havoc all around. We have not been spared in the past and await the first major storm of the season, hoping against hope that the resulting floods will not flush damage through our communities.

It will be much worse. We will not be spared

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards, continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end.

Maltese governments have ensured that we do not meet EU targets for renewable energy generation, reducing them by half from 20 per cent to 10 per cent of the energy generated. After a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification way back in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has recently unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling out of our commitments.

A de facto ban on the purchase of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to the electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within 14 years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, unless it is coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

If not coupled with a planned decrease of the number of cars on our roads, electrification of our roads will result in a substantial portion of the renewable energy generated being used for transport. This would further embed our dependence on fossil fuels when we should be moving in a diametrically opposite direction!  

The EU proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel will have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states like Malta it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute substantially to achieving carbon emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably but, so far, it seems the ministry for tourism is still considering a return to business as usual after COVID-19. Can we please smell the coffee?  

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have, so far, avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent, that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

We have a duty to act the soonest to address this climate emergency. The small size of our country does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

published in The Times of Malta : Thursday 12 August 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

L-indifferenza tkompli

Il-media qed tirrapporta li ġew salvati 97 immigrant fiż-żona ta’ salvataġġ Malti. Ġew salvati minn vapur fiż-żona wara li (qed jintqal) li l-awtoritajiet Maltin ma weġbux sejħa għall-għajnuna.

It-Times online qed tirrapporta li l-awtoritajiet Maltin ma jweġbux, inkella li wara li jerfgħu it-telefon jerġgħu jpoġġuh f’post bla ma jwieġbu. Għadu kmieni biex inkunu nafu jekk dan hux minnu jew le.

Hu ċar li l-politika tal-Gvern Malti hi dik ta’ “full-up”. Politika ta’ alabiebiżmu mir-responsabbiltajiet internazzjonali ta’ Malta. Ir-responsabbiltà li nintervjenu u/jew insalvaw lil min ikun f’diffikulta fl-ibħra li għalihom Malta hi responsabbli hi tagħna minħabba l-posizzjoni ġeografika. Ma nistgħux naħarbu minn din ir-responsabbilta. Tgħid x’tgħid l-EU. Tagħmel x’tagħmel l-EU. Anke jekk tibqa’ma tagħmel xejn effettiv, jew kważi.

In-nuqqas ta’ solidarjetà minn pajjiżi oħra hi tat-tkexkix. Mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Hi kundannabbli, imma ma tħollniex mir-responabbiltajiet tagħna.

Ma nistgħux nagħlqu għajnejna għal dak li qed jiġri. Huwa ħażin li l-EU ma tistax tiċċaqlaq għax hi miżmuma milli tagħmel dan minn pajjiżi li għalihom is-solidarjetà hi proċess one-way. Il-ġlieda favur solidarjetà u kontra l-indifferenza tkompli.

Is-solidarjetà mhiex kwarantina.

Waste Management consultations

The Minister for the Environment has informed us that, tomorrow, Monday, he will be publishing a new Waste Management Strategy for public consultation.

The current waste management strategy is up for renewal as it was originally envisaged to cover between 2014 and 2020.

It is indeed unfortunate that the public consultation has been delayed this far. It has also once more been slotted in a festive period, thereby reducing its effectiveness.

One hopes that the strategy being submitted for public consultation, next Monday, will be accompanied by the studies which have been carried out in order to assist in its preparation. We need to understand the motivation for the proposals being made through studies, not through political soundbites. When proposals are buttressed by serious studies it is much easier for them to be accepted.

One such study commissioned some months ago is a waste characterisation study. This study which has presumably been carried out simultaneously in all the regions should identify the composition of our waste by region. There are known to be significant variations in waste generated in the different regions which variations are a reflection of a standard of living which inevitably varies. These variations need to be quantified as they have an important effect on the manner in which the waste management services are impacted.

We also need to be informed as to the results attained so far in the implementation of measures to organise and modernise waste management. I would expect that, for example, the documentation available in the public consultation should be accompanied by the reports drawn up to examine the uptake of organic waste collection from domestic households. 

In my opinion, the experience so far is generally positive. There is however a need for substantial improvement. This applies across the board, not just to the organic waste stream but also to general recycling which so far still lags far behind what is expected.  Recycling is officially at 12 per cent, but most probably, from what I have been informed, it is closer to 8 per cent of the municipal solid waste generated.

On Thursday an online public consultation is scheduled on the Environmental Impact Assessment relative to the proposed Magħtab incinerator, also referred to as the waste to energy facility. Some reports feeding this consultation are unfortunately tainted by conflicts of interest which may eventually result in the invalidation of the whole EIA consultation process.

This is unfortunate as waste management urgently requires more focused attention, not just to attain compliance with EU standards but more importantly because it may eventually translate into a better quality of life for all of us.

We need to minimise the waste that we generate. For example, our supermarkets need to be encouraged to use biodegradable packaging as this would ensure a further increase in the organic waste stream and consequently a further potential reduction in the mixed waste black bag. So far as a result of the introduction of the organic waste collection the black bag content should have reduced by about fifty per cent in content. This can be further reduced with suitable policy initiatives aimed at a reduction of the waste going to landfill.

Incinerating our waste, should not be an encouraged option. 

The shift to a circular economy is an opportunity which we should embrace. It is the time to shift seriously to a sustainable consumption mode. The personal choices we make accumulate in our waste bag which should be reducing gradually in both size of bag and volume of content.

There is still much to do. I sincerely hope that we can achieve much more. This will however only happen if we can tap the good faith of the environmentally conscious among us. It is only at that point that the moderate improvements achieved to date can be transformed into a definite success. We need it, and it can be done.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 December 2020