Reforming Parliament

The Prime Minister has been teasing public opinion for some time as to when Parliament will be dissolved and when we will consequently be proceeding to the next general election.

Robert Abela has been quoted as stating that it will definitely be over by June 2022.

As things stand, at this point in time, it is within the Constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine when Parliament is dissolved and a general election held. This he does by advising the President of the Republic accordingly. It is generally assumed that such decisions are taken in the national interest even though it is amply clear that it is always in the interest of the political party in power. It reinforces the power of incumbency.

Is this right? Should it remain so?

My party has raised this matter in its submissions to the Constitutional Convention which Convention has been pending for a number of years!

It is being proposed that Parliament should be a fixed-term Parliament and that the Prime Minister should have no discretion whatsoever in dissolving Parliament.  In practice both the United States as well as most of continental Europe have fixed-term Parliaments. Even the United Kingdom, some years ago, led by a Liberal-Conservative coalition, introduced legislation for a Parliament having a fixed-term.

Within this context it would be also pertinent to emphasise that a five-year term is a little bit too long. This was not always so. When Malta’s Parliament was originally established in 1921, 100 years ago, it had a three-year life span. The Australian Federal Parliament in this day and age is still elected every three years. The United States House of Representatives on the other hand is elected every two years.

Some could argue that a two- or three-year life span for parliament would be too short. Five years may be right for those governing. It is however too long for those in Opposition! A three-year term could be the right balance.

Parliament also needs fulltime MPs and probably less of them. A fulltime member of parliament would cut off completely all of his/her links with profession and/or employment and as a result substantially reduce instances of conflict of interest when faced with decision taking.

Parliament’s present size of 65 members was determined as a result of the 1974 Constitutional amendments. Since 1987, it is however not a definite size, as it is increased as a result of the constitutional adjustment mechanism for proportionality. It will be increased by a further twelve members if the newly introduced constitutional gender balance requirements are applied.

The next Parliament could be quite large if both the proportionality and gender balance adjustment mechanisms are in use. It could inflate to a size between 77 and 81 members! This is enormous for a country our size.

The electoral system, which the two parties currently in parliament have been tinkering with for ages, provides for proportionality and gender balance only if just two parties are elected into Parliament. If a third party is elected, both the constitutional provisions for proportionality and gender balance will not be activated. There is just one exception and this is relative to the political party which obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes on a national level: in such an instant, irrespective of the number of political parties making it to Parliament the party having an absolute majority of votes is ensured of having the parliamentary seats required for governing.

There are a number of alternative solutions available which make it possible for our Parliament to be both gender-balanced and proportional without any increase in its size. These solutions have however been completely discarded as the “reform” brief was always to change as little as possible. Cosmetic change is the order of the day in Gattopardo style: change which leaves everything the same.

Such is the state of our parliament. It needs a complete overhaul, which is long overdue.  

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 February 2022

Meta Justyne tipprova ddaħħaq

Mela Justyne daħlet il-Qorti u qegħda tattakka l-validità kostituzzjonali tal-liġi li biha qed jiġu regolati l-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika.

Din hi l-liġi li bis-saħħa tagħha ġiet investigate Justyne, u oħrajn, liema liġi s’issa wasslet għal żewġ riżenji ta’membri tal-Kabinett: Justyne u Rosianne.

Justyne qed tgħid li l-liġi toħloq proċeduri li bihom qed jinkisru d-drittijiet tagħha.

Li ma tgħidx Justyne li hi bħala membru parlamentari ivvutat favur din il-liġi. Safejn naf jien ma lissnitx kelma waħda kontra l-liġi jew xi parti tagħha.

Għidilna ftit Justyne: meta tivvota fil-Parlament, taf xi tkun qed tagħmel? Jew qed tipprova iddaħħaq?

Towards a wider cannabis consensus

It has been more than 10 years since the publication of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. One of its main recommendations was to end criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.  

The changes in drug legislation approved by Parliament earlier this week as a result of which the possession of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised was a definite step in the right direction. This does not however signify that all provisions of the approved legislation are satisfactory. It means that the general thrust of the legislation is positive and acceptable. Improvements are however still necessary.

The legislation approved earlier this week is a radical change and as such there is still a reluctance in some quarters and sectors about it. This is understandable. It is however a fact that the decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis for personal use has been generally accepted. This is a reflection of the positive development in our society’s attitudes and should form the basis for the way forward.

The Daniel Holmes case as a result of which the cultivation of a number of cannabis plants for personal use led to a draconian prison sentence is too recent for anyone of us to forget. Until this week, drug legislation was out of tune and not an adequate reflection of what our society is prepared to accept.

The publication of the 24-page White Paper in March 2021 entitled “Towards the strengthening of the legal framework on the responsible use of cannabis” should not be viewed as an end in itself but rather as part of a continuous consultation process with all stakeholders. It has to be borne in mind that notwithstanding the sterling work of the NGO ReLeaf Malta on behalf of cannabis users there are others who, while recognising the urgent need for reform, are however much more cautious and would prefer that the required reforms are more gradual.

Ignoring the rudderless parliamentary Opposition, which does not yet have a clue on the issue, I refer to various proposals on the drug reform legislation which proposals were prepared by a number of NGOs and presented to Parliament.  Parliament was wrong to ignore these proposals and to steamroll ahead, notwithstanding. Such an attitude is not conducive to good governance. Parliament ought to have listened much more before deciding. This applies even if at the end of the day not all of the proposals made by the NGOs would have been taken on board.

At this critical juncture it is imperative that the drug reform is supported by as wide as possible a base. The consensus achieved has to be as wide as possible. This is essential in order to isolate those elements in our society who still believe that the criminalisation of cannabis users should be the rule.

It has been estimated that in 2021 there are around 40,000 consumers of cannabis in Malta. That is the current state of play after 40 years of militarised crackdown on cannabis use in the Maltese Islands. Criminalisation of cannabis users has not yielded any tangible positive results over the years.

The way forward in drug reform is to ensure that possession for personal use can be dealt with differently from trafficking. The legislation which Parliament approved earlier this week does precisely that. It can however be improved by ensuring that there are suitable buffers which protect children and vulnerable persons. This is one of the principal points made by the NGOs, who, to their credit, accept decriminalisation of possession for personal use of cannabis as a positive step forward.

Greens in Malta support the need for drug reform in general and specifically the decriminalisation for personal use relative to cannabis. In fact, the Green Electoral Manifesto for the 2017 General Election was the only electoral platform which presented this as an electoral pledge.

It is indeed unfortunate that Government and Parliament have squandered a unique opportunity at consensus building. It is however still possible at this late hour to remedy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 December 2021

Regulating lobbying

When Parliament, some years back, approved the Standards in Public Life legislation it did not arrive at any conclusions on the regulation of lobbying. It postponed consideration of this important matter by delegating the matter to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – then still to be appointed. The Commissioner had to draft a set of lobbying guidelines.

It is now almost two years since the publication by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life of a consultation document entitled “Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Maltain which document Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner, outlines his views as to how lobbying should be regulated in Malta.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has requested technical support from the EU’s Directorate General for Structural Reform in the area of “public integrity”. A technical support team from OECD engaged by the EU is currently in Malta to assist and advise the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.  I have had the opportunity of a very fruitful discussion with one of the OECD lobbying experts earlier during the week.

Hopefully in the weeks ahead the Commissioner will be in a position to submit a clear proposal indicating the way ahead for regulating lobbying in Malta.

In his consultation document of two years ago the Commissioner rightly emphasises that due to the particular circumstances of the country, the small size of the country and the population in particular, decision-takers are easily accessible. This leads to the conclusion that there is limited need to regulate the professional lobbyist. Rather, opines the Commissioner, there is a need to address contacts between decision-takers and private individuals who have such easy access.

The Commissioner makes the point that this should be done carefully without obstructing or hindering the direct contact between the politician as decision-taker and the voter at constituency level. This is a valid point but not without its dangers and pitfalls. At constituency level democracy is strengthened. It is also where clientelism is carefully nurtured. This is also a basic characteristic of this small country.

Lobbying is about influencing the decision-taker. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. This is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to politicians, parliamentarians and administrators by those who have an interest in the decisions under consideration.  

Hence the need for lobbying to be transparent and above-board. This is normally done through ensuring that meetings held by holders of political office or senior administrators are well documented and that the resulting minutes and supporting documents are available for public scrutiny.

Formal lobbying would be thus addressed. But that leaves informal lobbying which is the real headache. This can only be regulated if those lobbied are willing to submit themselves to the basic rules of transparency. Self-declarations by those lobbied would in such circumstances be the only way to keep lobbying in check!

This is however not all.

There are more sinister ways through which lobbying is carried out. Well organised sectors of industry and business employ former decision-takers as advisors or in some other high-sounding senior position. This ensures that the “advisor” can share his knowledge and contacts with his “new employer” thereby facilitating the effectiveness of focused lobbying. This practice is normally referred to as “revolving-door recruitment” and is an integral part of the lobbying process which needs regulating the soonest.

There are countless examples of this practice both locally and abroad, in respect of which I have already written various times. This aspect tends to be regulated by establishing a reasonable time-frame during which the former decision-taker or administrator cannot seek employment in areas of economic activity in respect of which he had political or high-level administrative or regulatory responsibilities.

The regulation of lobbying is essential in a democracy. Unregulated, lobbying can, and generally does, develop into corruption.

Lobbying can be a legitimate activity. Adequate regulation of lobbying, properly applied, ensures that it remains within legitimate boundaries.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 November 2021

Meħtieġa: politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman

Id-dibattitu ta’ bħalissa fil-Parlament dwar riforma fil-qasam tad-droga messu ilu li sar.

Il-manifest elettorali tal-partit tiegħi għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal- 2017 kien l-unika wieħed li tkellem b’mod ċar dwar il-ħtieġa li nintroduċu politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman. Il-politika dwar id-droga illum tikkastiga lill-vulnerabbli billi tikkriminalizza l-użu tad-droga. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għandha tkun parti minn viżjoni iktar wiesa’, fit-tul,  bl-iskop li tgħin u mhux li tikkastiga lil min hu vulnerabbli. Dan m’ghandux ikun limitat għall-kannabis, imma għandu japplika għal kull xorta ta’ droga.

Id-dokument konsultattiv ippubblikat f’Marzu li għadda dwar it-tisħiħ tal-qafas legali għall-użu responsabbli tal-kannabis flimkien mad-dibattitu parlamentari li għaddej bħalissa huma pass sinifikanti l-quddiem.

Għandna nifhmu, li, kif ippruvat tul is-snin, il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga ma solva xejn! Kien fl-2011 li l-Kummissjoni Globali dwar il-politika għad-droga, immexxija minn Kofi Anan, ex-Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Maghquda, kienet iddikjarat li l-ġlieda globali kontra d-droga kienet falliet u dan b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi kemm individwalment kif ukoll għas-soċjetà.

Ewlenija fost ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet tal-Kummissjoni globali hemm it-tmiem tal-kriminalizzazzjoni, tal-marġinalizzazzjoni u tal-istigmatizzazzjoni ta’ dawk li jagħmlu użu personali mid-droga mingħajr ma jagħmlu l-ebda ħsara lill-ħaddieħor.

In-numru ta’ vittmi hu wieħed sostanzjali. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ ħajjiet intilfu jew ġew irvinati ħtija ta’ din il-gwerra kontra d-droga.   Isem partikolari li jiġi quddiem għajnejja hu dak ta’  Daniel Holmes li dabbar sentenza sostanzjali ta’ ħabs f’Malta għax kabbar il-pjanti tal-kannabis għall-użu tiegħu.  Ma għamel ħsara lil ħadd, imma spiċċa jerfa’ fuq spallejh sentenza twila ta’ ħabs. Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ inġustizzja kriminali.

Il-proposti li presentement hemm quddiem il-Parlament huma limitati għall-kannabis, avolja fost ir-responsabbiltajiet tal-Awtorità dwar l-Użu Responsabbli tal-Kannabis hu emfasizzat li din l-Awtorità tkun tista’ “tipparteċipa fil-proċess nazzjonali tal-ippjanar dwar il-politika soċjali u l-politika dwar il-mediċini perikolużi”. Hu possibli li l-leġislatur għandu pjani oħra f’moħħu għall-futur, imma dawn, s’issa għadhom mhux magħrufa.

Il-proposta għad-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis tagħmel sens f’kuntest ta’ politika olistika dwar id-droga li ma tibqax tikkonsidra l-użu tad-droga f’kuntest kriminali imma f’kuntest soċjo-mediku. Dan jirrikjedi iktar ħsieb, analiżi kif ukoll studji dwar impatti kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis għandha tkun  ikkunsidrata bħala parti minn politika dwar id-droga koerenti, b’wiċċ uman li tiddikriminalizza l-użu tad-drogi kollha.  

Min jagħmel użu okkażjonali tad-droga m’għandux ikun ikkunsidrata bħala kriminal. Il-vittmi u dawk dipendenti mid-droga għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna permezz ta’ esperti mħarrġa inkluż l-għajnuna medika kemm u kif meħtieġ.  

Il-Portugall mexa f’din it-triq u tul is-snin kellu success konsiderevoli li bħala riżultat tiegħu naqas l-użu ta’ kull tip ta’ droga kif ukoll naqset l-inċidenza tal-HIV.  Irridu nfasslu l-mixja tagħna biex nindirizzaw sewwa b’mod koerenti l-użu tad-droga f’pajjiżna.  

Il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għamlet ħsara ferm iżjed mid-droga innifisha. Ir-riżorsi tal-istat għandhom jintużaw biex intejbu l-ħajjiet tan-nies u mhux biex ikunu ikkastigati dawk li jeħtieġu l-għajnuna tagħna!  Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni u r-regolamentazzjoni tal-kannabis għandha tkun l-ewwel pass f’dan il-proċess.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Novembru 2021

Wanted: a drug policy with a human face

The current debate on drug reform, in parliament, is long overdue.

My party’s electoral platform for the 2017 general election was the only one which clearly and unequivocally spoke in favour of introducing a drug policy with a human face. Current drug policy punishes the vulnerable through the criminalisation of the use of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug use should be part of a long-term vision that aims to help and not punish the vulnerable.  This should not be limited to cannabis but should encompass all drug use.

The White Paper published last March on the strengthening of the legal framework relative to the responsible use of cannabis together with the parliamentary debate currently in progress are welcome first steps in this direction.

It is about time that we realise that, as proven over the years, considering drug use as a crime has not led to any significant result. It was in 2011 that the seminal Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan declared that the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

Foremost among the recommendations of the Global Commission was the end of criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

The number of victims is substantial. Many lives have been lost or ruined as a result of this war on drugs. A specific person which comes to mind is Daniel Holmes who was sentenced to a substantial prison term in Malta for growing his own cannabis plants. He harmed no one, yet he was made to shoulder a heavy prison sentence. This is criminal injustice at its worst.

The proposals currently before Parliament are limited to the consideration of cannabis, even though amongst the functions of the proposed Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis one finds that it may “participate in the national planning process relating to social policy and dangerous drugs policy”. Possibly the legislator has some other plans which, however, are so far not known.

The proposed decriminalisation of cannabis use makes sense within the context of an holistic drugs policy which would shift the emphasis on addressing drug use from one based on criminal law to a socio-medical model. This requires much more thought, analysis and consideration of studies and impact assessments carried out both in Malta and abroad. It cannot remain on its own but needs to form part of a coherent drugs policy with a human face which decriminalises all drug use.

Those who occasionally make use of drugs should not be considered as criminals. Victims and those who become addicted as a result of more than an occasional use of drugs should be offered adequate support, through the assistance of trained social workers as well as medical assistance whenever this is required.

Portugal has followed this path and over the years has had a considerable success in reducing use of heavy drugs and HIV.  We have to design our own path towards addressing the uptake of drugs.

The criminalisation of drug use has ruined more lives than drug use itself. It is about time that we use the resources of the state to improve lives and not to punish those who need our help!  The decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis should be just the first step in such a process.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2021

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

PLPN : parrini tar-rgħiba

Il-pjani lokali huma 7. Il-Pjan Lokali dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kien approvat fl-1995, madwar sentejn wara li twaqqfet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kellhom jgħaddu 7 snin oħra biex ġie approvat pjan lokali ieħor, din id-darba dak għall-Port il-Kbir.  Il-bqija kienu approvati f’daqqa bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Fl-2006 ukoll kien ippubblikat u approvat mill-Parlament dokument ieħor dwar ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, intitolat “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries”.

Kull wieħed minn dawn it-tmien dokumenti huwa wild il-PN fil-Gvern. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fihom huma nieqsa bil-kbira.

B’mod partikulari, d-dokument li ċaqlaq il-linja tal-żvilupp  ġie approvat mill-Parlament b’għaġġla kbira u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra  miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) f’daqqa waħda saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Mill-Opposiżżjoni l-Partit Laburista fil-Parlament ivvota kontra dan iċ-ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, imma, wara, meta tela’ fil-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan kollu. Dan minħabba li l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti kienet waħda partiġjana mhux minħabba xi viżjoni alternattiva.

Il-pjani lokali jeħtieġu reviżjoni immedjata. Id-dokument li jistabilixxi kif kellha tiċċaqlaq il-linja tal-iżvilupp għandu jitħassar u safejn hu possibli dik l-art kollha (ż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru) terġa’ issir art ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  

Fost it-tibdil meħtieġ hemm tnaqqis ġenerali fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini, liema għoli, f’ħafna każi qed itellef lill-komunità residenzjali mid-dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx. Dan qed inaqqas u jostakola l-potenzjal tagħna bħala pajjiż fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli. Dan kollu kien injorat mill-pjani lokali.

Hemm bosta materji oħra fl-erba’ rkejjen tal-pajjiż li jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati mill-ġdid. Kif spjegajt f’artiklu preċedenti l-pjani lokali ma jagħtux każ tal-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li huma stess jipproponu. Din hi materja bażika li teħtieġ attenzjoni kbira għax għandha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Sfortunatament il-pjani lokali ftit li xejn jagħtu każ tal-kwalità tal-ħajja. Jiffokaw fuq is-sodisfazzjon tar-rgħiba.

Għandu jkun hemm kumpens jekk art li illum tista’ tkun żviluppata terġa’ lura fl-ODZ bħala art mhiex tajba għall-iżvilupp?

Xi ġimgħat ilu l-Ministru  Aaron Farrugia responsabbli għall-Ippjanar u l-Ambjent kien qal li kellu l-parir favur id-dritt ta’ kumpens. Konvenjentement l-Onorevoli Ministru injora l-fatt li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta kif ukoll il-Qorti Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem diġa kellhom kaz bħal dan fejn kien hemm talba għal kumpens. Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali irrifjutat it-talba u l-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma ikkunsidratx t-talba f’deċiżjoni fis- 27 September 2011 li fiha iddiskutiet il-parametri legali applikabbli.

Il-kaz huwa dwar il-kumpanija Maltija Trimeg Limited u jikkonċerna 10,891 metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu fil-limiti tal-iżvilupp fl-1989 kif stabilit mill-iskemi temporanji tal-iżvilupp ta’ dakinnhar. Imma fl-1996 din l-art ġiet skedata għal skop ta’ konservazzjoni f’kuntest tal-protezzjoni tal-widien. Fil-Qrati Maltin il-kumpanija Maltija kienet qalet illi li kieku ħarġu l-permessi ta’ żvilupp l-art kien ikollha valur ta’  €11-il miljun. B’daqqa ta’ pinna imma, dan naqas għal  €230,000. Trimeg Limited kienet xtrat din l-art  €140,000.Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta ma aċċettatx dawn l-argumenti. Il-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma bidlet xejn minn dak li qalet il-Qorti Maltija.

Dan hu kaz wieħed biss. Il-ħsieb ġenerali iżda hu li apprezzament tal-ħarsien ambjentali qed jaqbad art fost in-nies illum li huma iktar sensittivi minn qatt qabel dwar dan.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna kumpens għat-tibdil li jkun meħtieġ.

Din hi ġlieda kontinwa mar-rgħiba u l-ispekulazzjoni. Nafu li fil-passat, u għal żmien twil, ir-rgħiba kienet minn fuq. Ir-rgħiba fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kellha żewġ parrini: il-PN u l-PL. Fl-Opposizzjoni jopponu u fil-Gvern jirrumblaw minn fuq kulħadd.  

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL ma jistgħux jindirizzaw din il-mandra fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art għax huma parti mill-problema: il-PLPN ħolquha, kabbruha u iddefendewha. Il-PN beda l-froġa u il-Labour sostniha.

Hu meħtieġ li nibdew paġna ġdida.  Il-linja tal-iżvilupp trid titraġġa lura u l-pjani lokali jeħtieġu tibdil mill-qiegħ. Aħna l-Ħodor biss nistgħu nagħmluh dan, għax aħna m’aħna fil-but ta’ ħadd. L-oħrajn, bil-provi wrew tul is-snin li bejn ir-rgħiba u l-kwalità tal-ħajja dejjem isostnu r-rgħiba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Settembru 2021

PLPN have continuously sponsored greed

The local plans are 7 in number.  The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan was approved in 1995, just two years after the setting up of the Planning Authority. It took another 7 years to approve the next one, the Grand Harbour Local Plan. The rest were approved in one go, in a hurry in the summer of 2006. In 2006 a document entitled “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries” was also published and approved by Parliament.

All eight documents above-mentioned have the PN fingerprints on them. They are certainly not green fingerprints.

The Rationalisation document in particular which was rushed through Parliamentary approval during July 2006 transformed 2 million square metres of land outside the development zone into land which could be considered for development. It shifted the development zone boundaries.

Labour, in Opposition when the rationalisation document was submitted for Parliament’s consideration, voted against its adoption only to embrace it as if it were its own once it was elected into government. Labour’s opposition was not on principle due to some alternative vision. It was pure partisan politics.

The local plans should be revisited the earliest. The rationalisation document should be scrapped and the land it refers to returned to ODZ status wherever this is possible.

Among the revisions considered essential to the local plans is a general reduction in permissible building heights which are interfering with the solar rights of our residential community. This is hampering our potential as a country to generate more renewable energy. This was ignored by the local plans!

There are various other issues spread all over the islands which require revisiting and careful analysis. As explained in a previous article the local plans fail to take into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development which they propose. This is one of the basic matters which should be considered in depth as it has a substantial impact on our quality of life.

Unfortunately, quality of life was considered irrelevant on the local plan drawing board. Only servicing greed was deemed essential.

Would any compensation be due if land currently suitable for development is relegated to ODZ status? Some weeks ago, Planning and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia emphasised that the advice he received was in favour of compensation. Conveniently the Hon Minister failed to point out that the Constitutional Court in Malta and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already dealt with a Maltese similar case requesting compensation. The Constitutional Court shot down the case and the Strasbourg Court considered it as being inadmissible on 27 September 2011 in a decision which discusses at some length the applicable legal parameters.

The case involved the Maltese Company Trimeg Limited and concerned 10,891 square metres of land which was within the limits of development as defined by the Temporary Provisions Schemes of 1989 but was then, in 1996, scheduled for conservation purposes as part of a valley protection zone.  The Maltese Company had previously claimed in the Maltese Courts that the land would have a value of €11 million if development permits were issued but was reduced in value to €230,000 at the stroke of a pen. The land was originally purchased by Trimeg Limited for €140,000.

The Constitutional Court in Malta had not accepted the arguments brought forward and the Strasbourg Court did not change anything from that judgement.

This is obviously just one case. The general train of thought however is that it is not a legitimate expectation to expect that the law does not change in the future. Environmental protection is hopefully on the increase as today’s men and women are nowadays more sensitive on the matter.

It is obviously a continuous tug-of-war with greed and speculation. The dreadful news of the past is that greed has for quite a stretch of time had the upper hand. Greed in land use planning has been alternatively sponsored by the PN and the PL. They oppose it when in opposition but adopt it once in government.

Neither the PN nor the PL can offer solutions to the current land use planning mess as both of them are part of the problem: PLPN created it, encouraged it and defended it. PN created the mess, PL sustained it.

It is time to start a new page. Scrap the rationalisation exercise and radically reform the local plans. Only we, the Greens, can do it, as we are in nobody’s pocket. The others have proven, time and again that they support greed at the expense of our quality of life.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 September 2021