Dom: a giant surrounded by pygmies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be dishonest to ignore the above.

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

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

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

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

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

originally published at di-ve.com

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

21st August 2012 : Dom’s legacy

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

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

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

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

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?

Environment Policy and the Budget

The National Environment Policy Issues Paper, launched by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Mario de Marco, on July 27 requested the views of the public on a move towards a taxation system that “penalises pollution rather than jobs”.

When launching the 2011 pre-Budget document on the same day, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech was more clear as to the government’s intentions. Under the heading Tax Shifting, he proposed the shifting of taxes from economic goods to economic bads. The pre-Budget document goes on to say: “In order to incentivise the creation of work by making labour less costly we are proposing the lowering of government-induced employee costs as well as corporate and income taxation.” The pre-Budget document then praises the merits of a carbon tax as a fiscal tool.

It seems that both the minister and the parliamentary secretary have forgotten that taxation does not penalise jobs. It is an instrument for the attainment of social solidarity. That is what the post-1977 Nationalist Party I remember was in favour of. It seems that time has changed the PN. It cannot be anymore described as being “un partito di centro che guarda a sinistra” (a party of the centre that looks to the left), as the old guard, quoting Alcide de Gasperi, justifiably boasted.

The drafters of the documents launched could have consulted the Cabinet-approved National Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands (page 59), which established 2008 for the conclusion of a strategy on environmental taxation. The year 2008 is 32 months away and the strategy on the use of economic instruments to regulate environmental impacts is still not in place. Instead of asking for views of the public they should have drafted the strategy that has been promised but not delivered. It could be a useful guide for the finance minister.

At issue in this debate on tax shifting are points already emphasised during the eco-contribution legislation debate in 2004/05. Which ministry will be in the driving seat of environment taxation policy: Finance or the environment? Will the primary objectives of environment taxation be environmental or fiscal?

The strategy to be adopted and, thus, the specific proposals to be brought forward will depend on whether fiscal policy is used to regulate and reduce environmental impacts or whether the environment will be used to compensate for shortfalls in tax revenue.

After 17 years, the government has woken up to the proposals of a Jacques Delors EU White Paper in 1993 on growth, competitiveness and employment [COM (93) 700 final] who had the argued in favour of taxing environmental impacts and resource use.

In its 2008 electoral manifesto, the PN promised it will reduce income tax in the higher bands. It is now seeking ways to deliver without subjecting the Exchequer to further problems. It is very unfortunate that an inappropriate tool was selected. As a result of the tax shifting proposal, a tax, which is socially progressive (income tax) will be partially substituted with a carbon tax that, viewed on its own, can be socially regressive. The proposal aims to reduce taxation from a band which is paid mostly by companies and those who have a substantial income. To compensate for the resulting shortfall, it will spread the tax-load on everyone without discrimination, irrespective of their means.

Once the government decided on the reduction of the higher band income tax, I understand that it did not have much of a choice. In order to ensure a regular flow of income, which would have to substitute a reduction of the forfeited income tax, it had to select a subject in respect of which (at least, in the short term) demand is largely inelastic to tax-induced price changes.

It would be interesting if any studies on the impacts of the pre-Budget tax-shifting proposal are available. Such studies should clearly demonstrate the two basic flaws of the proposal: first it’s being socially regressive and, secondly, it’s exploiting of the environment as a tax revenue generator without ensuring environmental improvement as a primary objective.

If environmental improvement was a primary objective, the projected tax revenues would not be generated as they would be reduced gradually, in line with environmental improvement.

A carbon tax would force business and industry to address their environmental impacts. However, the impacts of a carbon tax on SMEs and households have to be assessed more carefully before policy declarations are made in view of the limited size of the former and the lack of resources of both. Given that most of Malta’s business is in the SME sector, matters should first be studied in their proper perspective before declarations are made or decisions taken.

There are various alternatives to the government’s proposals. Each one of them must however be tested through studies to ensure that the social and environmental impacts of fiscal policy are either positive or else substantially mitigated.

Studies made must be available at this stage. Otherwise, the discussions on both the National Environment Policy and the pre-Budget document would be just kite flying exercises.

 

published in The Times Saturday, September 4, 2010