Kultura ta’ dipendenza

Il-baġit għall-2023 li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana ippreżenta lill-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn għandu jkun deskritt bħala wieħed li jsaħħaħ kultura ta’ dipendenza.  Il-Gvern jagħmel użu mit-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet biex jilħaq dan l-iskop! Id-dipendenza fuq il-Gvern, taħt il-Labour hi oġġettiv  inkoraġġit. Is-sitwazzjoni minn baġit għall-ieħor tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar.

Dan hu forsi l-iktar ċar mill-mod kif il-Gvern imexxi l-quddiem il-politika tiegħu dwar il-pagi. Żviluppat differenza kbira bejn id-daqs tal-paga minima u kemm verament teħtieġ biex tgħix. Il-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza din id-differenza billi jqassam iċ-ċekkijiet. Issa ħoloq COLA ġdida biex jgħin lill-vulnerabbli u dan flimkien ma numru ta’ sussidji li uħud minnhom mhux neċessarji inkella huma ta’ ħsara.

 Il-ħolqien ta’ dan il-benefiċċju ġdid għall-persuni vulnerabbli (80,000 skond il-Ministru) li ma jistgħux ilaħħqu mal-ħajja, hu pass pożittiv. Il-vulnerabbli jeħtieġu l-għajnuna, imma jeħtieġu ferm iktar minn ċekk ta’ madwar €300 li ser jitqassam fi żmien il-Milied. Kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-Gvern iffoka fuq il-problema reali u indirizza din il-probema bis-serjetà. Issa ilu żmien ikaxkar saqajh.

Il-problema reali hi li l-paga minima hi baxxa ħafna: hi ferm il-bogħod minn paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Gvern wara l-ieħor għamel ħiltu biex din il-problema jevitha. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-benefiċċji soċjali, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma marbuta mal-paga minima u huma rifless tagħha. Paga minima diċenti awtomatikament teffettwa l-benefiċċji soċjali li riżultat ta’ hekk jitjiebu sostanzjalment, bi dritt.

Tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin tlett rapporti tal-Caritas analizzaw din il-materja fil-fond. L-aħħar rapport, li nħareġ fl-2021, kien ikkonkluda li hemm diskrepanza ta’ 40 fil-mija bejn il-paga minima u dak meħtieġ biex wieħed jgħix b’mod diċenti. Dan jammonta għal diskrepanza ta’ madwar €4,000 fis-sena. Din hi l-problema rejali!

Sakemm nibqgħu bil-paga minima baxxa daqshekk, it-tqassim fuq stil tar-rigali tal-Milied (Father Christmas) ser jibqgħu jsiru biex jitnaqqas il-piz minn fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli. Xi drabi ir-rigali ta’ Father Christmas ma jkunux limitati għall-vulnerabbli imma qed jinfirxu ma kulħadd. Hekk ġara biċ-ċekkijiet ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni, u l-hekk imsejħa rifużjoni tat-taxxa!

Flok din id-dipendenza fuq dan it-tqassim, ikun iktar xieraq li l-paga minima tiżdied u issir paga li tista’ tgħix biha.  Dan jista’ jsir billi l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li fuqu tkun ikkalkulata l-paga minima jkun aġġornat regolarment. Dan jelimina l-ħtieġa tat-tqassim ta’ cekkijiet ta’ kull xorta fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi għax il-paga raġjonevoli tkun ir-regola: ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa tal-benvolenza politika tal-Gvern, la fi żmien il-baġit u l-anqas, fi żmien ta’ elezzjoni ġenerali kif, b’mod abbużiv diġa sar.

B’żieda ma’ dan it-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet bi pjaċir, flok pagi ġusti bi dritt, tajbin biex wieħed jgħix bihom, il-Gvern qiegħed ukoll japplika numru ta’ sussidji li huma mfasslin b’mod żbaljat.

Is-sussidji tal-petrol u d-dijżil huma żejda. Iż-żieda internazzjonali fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil, li huma madwar id-doppju ta’ dak li qed inħallsu Malta, hi opportunità unika li f’idejn kapaċi tista’ tikkoreġi l-iżbalji li għamel il-Gvern fil-konfront tal-problema tagħna tad-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata.

Flok is-sussidji fuq il-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil ikun aħjar kieku ninvestu fl-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku. Din hi opportunità unika li, f’idejn min jifhem tista’, fit-tul, twassal għal tibdil fl-imġieba tan-nies favur użu iktar tat-trasport pubbliku u użu inqas tal-karozzi privati.  L-introduzzjoni ta’ transport pubbliku b’xejn għal kulħadd mill-bidu ta’ dan ix-xahar kien pass primatur: l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku kellu jkun indirizzat ferm qabel ma ttieħed dan il-pass importanti.

Li tkun indirizzat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati hu oġġettiv politiku li l-Gvern stess ippropona fil-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport. Il-Gvern qiegħed jinjora l-pjan tiegħu stess.

Min-naħa l-oħra hu xieraq li l-konsum bażiku tal-ilma u l-elettriku fir-residenzi tagħna jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma hu żball li is-sussidju japplika ukoll għall-konsum kollu ta’ kulħadd. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk setturi differenti tal-ekonomija jkollhom aċċess għal għajnuna mfassla għall-ħtiġijiet tagħhom sakemm iddum il-kriżi kurrenti.   Dan jista’ jagħti protezzjoni ferm ikbar kemm lill-impiegi kif ukoll lill-ekonomija. Fuq kollox b’dan il-mod jista’ jkun evitat li jkun issussidjat il-ħela u l-abbuż fl-użu tal-ilma u l-elettriku.

Ma hemmx ħtieġa li nsaħħu kultura ta’ dipendenza fil-forma ta’ tqassim ta’ ċekkijiet inkella b’sussidji mhux meħtieġa.  Huwa tajjeb li l-vulnerabbli jkunu mgħejjuna. Imma li tinbena u tissaħħaħ kultura ta’ dependenza bħala riżultat ta’ politika skaduta dwar il-pagi hi xi ħaġa ferm differenti. Dan jagħmel ħsara lit-tessut soċjali tal-pajjiż u għandu jinġieb fit-tmiem l-iktar kmieni possibli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 30 t’Ottubru 2022

A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Ensuring a guaranteed basic income

The need for a decent basic income is an all-time issue among those who have a social conscience. However, it assumes more importance in times like these, when prices of essential goods are spiralling upwards, almost out of control.

The perennial question is whether the income received by each person through employment (or a pension) should be sufficient or else whether such income derived from employment or a pension should be supplemented through a social wage, when, on its own, it is insufficient for ensuring a decent living.

Various jurisdictions are experimenting with this idea through pilot projects. As a result, they are seeking to reinforce a social net, protecting the vulnerable through ensuring that each is guaranteed a basic income irrespective of his or her circumstances in life. Each person has the right to have the basic means to ensure a decent life.

The basic facts should, by now, be clear to all.

The three Caritas studies published to date have revealed a widening gap between the official minimum wage and three different categories of vulnerable households.

In the case of a household consisting of 2 adults and 2 children this gap is approximately 40 per cent, at 2020 prices. In fairness it has to be clarified that this gap does not include the receipt of social solidarity income, amongst which children allowances and the various forms of supplementary social income which may be applicable to specific circumstances. When this is taken into account, I believe that in most cases the gap is substantially reduced.

The current price rise of essential goods, average close to a 25 per cent rise in a number of cases, (although a number of items have had much steeper price increases) brings to the fore another worry. Cost of living adjustments to wages and pensions are effective at the beginning of the year, and reflect the cost of living of the previous twelve months.

The last statutory cost of living increase has been of €1.75 per week, less than the cost of a cappuccino. During the past years such increases have varied from a €5.82 per week increase in 2010 to a €0.58 per week increase in 2015.

At times this increase is deemed to be too low as was the 2015 COLA adjustment.

It is essential that the basket of goods and services utilised to measure the actual cost of living is updated on a regular basis in order to ensure that the results obtained are realistic and reflect actual needs.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has over the past weeks emphasised that he is considering proposals to introduce a new form of COLA for low-income people. So far, however, nothing has materialised. The Minister has hinted that he is discussing various proposals behind closed doors. Would it not be a much better idea if the discussion is externalised? Everyone of us is interested in the proposals being drafted and discussed.

One possibility which should be considered is not to keep accumulating the cost-of-living dues and carry out adjustments to the minimum wage (and pensions) on the following January. It should be possible to carry out cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage as well as to pensions twice a year, towards the end of June and towards the end of December.  In times of steep price increases, as the present, such an initiative could make a substantial difference to the vulnerable and those on low income.

Ensuring that each has a basic decent income is a basic requirement in the development of the welfare state.

published Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 January 2022

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?

Dom’s legacy

During his lifetime Dom Mintoff  elicited extreme reactions ranging from adulation to extreme spite. Some lit candles in front of his images. In contrast others insisted  for his metaphoric crucifixion during the 1980s mass meetings.

The man certainly had a vision.  As he himself stated one of his priorities was the removal of those cobwebs in which Maltese society was entrapped. Removing these cobwebs finely spun and protected for years on end by conservatives was no mean feat. It is still work in progress.  It certainly required the skills and the stamina of a bulldozer which Dom did not lack.

Unfortunately at times his skills were misapplied. Those same bullying skills which were appropriately applied when confronting the colonising power were certainly out of place when applied against the Maltese population, at least that part of the population which disagreed with his ideas and methods.

Those hovering around him were at times more focused on their interests than on ensuring that he was properly  advised. This certainly showed as the better elements left the ranks of his party. Some went quietly, others with a bang. It is not appropriate at this point to quote chapter and verse. It has been done elsewhere. It is however not appropriate to just sing the praises of the man. He must be remembered in his human form, warts and all.

His political service spanned half a century during which he left his mark. He started off with his predecessor Sir Paul Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state when Labour was first in government after the landslide electoral victory of 1947. In later governments which he led Dom built on Boffa’s foundations widening and deepening the welfare state.

The man found comfort in the company of dictators. In fact he was a frequent visitor to their courts. His friends included Muammar Gaddafi, Nikolai Caucescu, Todor Zhivkov, Kim Il Sung. He was certainly inspired by Gamal Nasser’s Arabic Nationalism  which coincided with his first term as Prime Minister and his resignation in 1958.

The man’s legacy will be determined in the long term when the impact of his negative methods will have subsided. Then history will acknowledge Dom’s contribution to the formation of Malta’s identity as well as to the acceptance of social solidarity as an essential objective of good politics.

originally published at di-ve.com

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

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

 

The politics of sustainable development

published on Sunday 29 June 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 The government is in transit: it has declared that from now on sustainable development will be the cornerstone of its policies. However, it has not yet stated how this will come about. With regard to this issue, it cannot wait five years to implement its proposal. It must be in a position to deliver immediately.

The adoption of sustainable development as the focus of government policy should lead to the logical conclusion that the economy should henceforth no longer be viewed as an objective but rather as a tool: the economy should be at our service, rather than being our master! The point of departure should be the ecosystem of which we form part. The limited capacity of our ecosystem should lead us to adopt ecocentric policies as distinguished from the current anthropocentric ones. This is what sustainability is all about and this is what the adoption of sustainable development, as a policy objective, should lead us to. The transition from the current state of affairs to a sustainable state should hopefully address the causes of our accumulated environmental deficit!

The government is now seeking ways to live up to its declarations in favour of sustainable development, hoping that it would not have to resort to make substantial changes to existing policies. It is however next to impossible to arrest the accumulated and ever-increasing environmental deficit without addressing the policies and attitudes that have caused it. The list is quite long!

In Malta too, mainstream politics is motivated by the instant link between cause and effect. The community almost immediately feels the economic and social effects of policies and administrative decisions. Thus, mainstream politicians are generally quick to react even to a perceived impact on the economy or on the social fabric. The effects of environmental impacts are however generally much

slower, in part due to the resilience of Mother Earth. Hence, for innumerable political generations, environmental impacts were completely ignored or sidelined, as there was a time lag at times of considerable duration between cause and effect. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and further postponement is not possible. Today’s generation will have to shoulder and address the accumulated environmental deficit, hopefully reducing its effect on future generations.

Policy needs to be approached in a holistic manner, focusing simultaneously on social environmental and economic considerations. It is not a question of an artificial balance between the economy, the environment and social policy but of acting correctly, preferably each and every time. A policy, which is economically sound but socially and/or environmentally wobbly, is of no use and should be discarded. The reverse side is already common practice as socially and environmentally sound policies are rarely applied if they do not pass the test of economic viability.

I acknowledge that this is quite a hard nut to crack, as it will require revisiting practically all areas of policy. Some areas will require minor policy adjustments while others will require a complete overhaul. In some areas action has already commenced. In others, action is incomprehensible at this stage given the current prevalent mindset.

The politics of sustainable development is concerned with redirecting economic activity such that this is compatible with ecological and social requirements. The environment, the economy and social needs are thus placed on the same level when decisions are taken. Throughout the years economic decisions have generally taken into consideration their social impacts. As a result, various measures have been introduced to mitigate and/or prevent negative social effects. The politics of social solidarity as developed has assisted in the transition from a free market economy to a social market economy.

The politics of sustainable development is the means leading to the next transition: an ecocentric economy. The environmental impacts of social and economic policy require attention at the drawing board rather than mitigation after they have occurred. In order for this to occur, it is required that instead of facing the effects we direct our energies to tackle the causes. It is for this reason that the Environment Protection Act of 2001 provides in Section 8 for the setting up of a National Sustainability Commission entrusted with the drafting of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development for the Maltese Islands. The Commission has laboured between 2002 and 2006 to produce a draft, which was concluded and presented to Cabinet for approval in December 2006. Cabinet approved it late in 2007.

In the public sector, the government’s adoption of the principles of sustainable development should spur action on three levels – tackling upstream impacts, direct impacts and downstream impacts. This will necessarily filter through to the private sector that will effectively have no choice but to proceed on similar lines. The government would be leading by example.

Some time last year, the government had commenced an exercise which should eventually lead to a system of public sector green purchasing, whereby non-economic criteria are inbuilt into tender documents. This would not only entail conditions of environmental importance, but also ones of social relevance. We have not heard much on developments to date except declarations during the March 2008 election campaign, and some echoes

afterwards that when contracting-out for services, the public sector will be on the look out for the conditions of work of the employees of those who take part in the tendering process. This was stated because a miniscule part of the private sector is being very innovative when it comes to determining the manner of circumventing the acquired rights of its employees. While the government is certainly hitting the right note when it identified the rights of those employed by bidders for public tenders as ripe for scrutiny, I believe that it is well past the stage of declarations. Concrete action is urgently required.

The public sector will properly manage its upstream impacts only if it ensures that all those who supply it with goods and services do so in a manner that is socially just and environmentally responsible.

The direct impacts of the public sector are the most obvious ones. The appointment of Green Leaders in different ministries and authorities was a step in the right direction as it set the foundations for a culture change among public sector employees. It can lead to quick results (known in environmental management as the “low lying fruit”) in areas related to energy and water consumption, use of stationery, other materials and equipment and waste management among others. The appointment of green leaders can thus set the public sector on the road leading to eco-efficiency.

However, an emphasis on the public sector downstream impacts will be that which eventually could make the major difference. The effects on those at the receiving end of the public sector will not only determine “value for money” but also, more importantly, in my view, it will determine whether the public sector is eco-effective.

The first on the list would be public sector employees themselves and the effects of the fixed term contract on their morale and professional conduct. Subsequently, each policy must be examined for its ecological impact while searching for alternative methods of implementation, which would reduce or preferably eliminate its undesirable impacts.

Managing the social and environmental impacts of the public sector is of paramount importance in the path leading to sustainable development. This will involve the individual policies that need to be analysed in detail. Value for money is not the only criterion used to assess whether public monies have been well spent. When this is taken in hand the public sector would have commenced trekking on the long road of sustainable development. The first steps are the most difficult. Translating rhetoric into action is only possible if the original rhetoric is a reflection of an inner conviction.

Only time will tell.