Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is the budget sustainable? Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta 16 October 2017

Malta’s Budget for 2018 has some good proposals, but these are not enough to counter the growing precariousness and the selling of the country’s common good. The Budget also does not offer an alternative vision to Malta’s growing dependency on economic sectors which may be unsustainable.
The Budget offers some adjustments to workers and pensioners. Apart from the €1.75 weekly cost of living adjustment and €2 weekly increase in pensions, there will be some other refunds and increases and initiatives. The government will also retain its welfare-to-work scheme which encourages people to seek employment rather than being dependent on welfare benefits. I agree with the philosophy behind this scheme, but I also believe that it should be accompanied by more determination to combat precariousness.
Indeed, various work sectors are being characterised by not so good working conditions that affect workers’ quality of life. Besides, the influx of foreign workers is depressing wages and conditions in various sectors.
The influx of foreigners is also resulting in increased demand for rented property, thus pushing prices upwards. The government will be publishing a white paper to tackle the rent market challenges, and it is also offering initiatives and responsibilities to property owners. The government is also extending investment in social housing as well as the first-time property buyer scheme and complement it with a similar scheme for second-time buyers.
A question that immediately comes to mind in this regard is whether the government is willing to introduce measures to ease the pressure on persons living in rented property. Rather than the new middle class promised by Joseph Muscat, Malta is experiencing the expansion of a new precarious class of persons who have to make huge sacrifices to make up for the increase in the price of rent. Why didn’t the government increase assistance to such persons?
As regards traffic, the government is committed to improve Malta’s infrastructure, building new roads and extend initiatives for alternative modes of transport. So far so good. But judging by road construction currently in place, it seems to be the case that pedestrians and cyclists are being treated as inferior species. One would also have expected more ambitious proposals such as putting a metro and new pedestrian/bicycle links on the national agenda.
As regards the environment, there are no proposals to safeguard residents and communities from the negative impacts of overdevelopment. Water management has been politely sidelined from the script.
On the other hand, the government is committing itself to extend waste separation and to revert to the incineration of waste – without hinting which sites are being considered for this. It will also step up fines for littering and dumping. The latter proposal can only be taken seriously if the government steps up enforcement.
The various measures proposed by the government should be analysed within its own financial situation.
In the first eight months of 2017, revenue from taxes increased by €180.7 million and reached €2.3 billion, courtesy of Malta’s economic growth. Non-tax revenue increased by €80.4 million and reached €284.1 million.
On the other hand, total government expenditure increased by €150.9 million and reached €2.553 billion.
Recurrent expenditure increased by  €157.9 million, but this was, in part offset by lower interest on public debt (€5.3 million) and a €1.6 million decrease in capital expenditure. Is this sustainable, particularly when the government’s recruitment of staff also includes the employment of people in return votes rather than real need? The government’s lack of transparency in this regard does not help things.
Of particular interest during the first eight months of 2017 was the €33.6 million increase from ‘Fees of Office’, which mainly refer to Malta’s sale of passports, the Individual Investment Programme. This programme is shrouded in secrecy, with the government doing its best to dodge questions being made by the Opposition, the press and civil society. Will the government explain in detail the revenue expenditure streams related to it?
Last but not least, Budget 2018 does not seem to offer an economic vision away from Malta’s dependency on construction, financial services and the sale of passports. This is a far cry from Joseph Muscat’s talk of putting the economic cycle before the political one.

Il-Housing Socjali fis-Siggiewi: Tajjeb Nistaqsu - Michael Briguglio

Il-Mument 15 ta' Ottubru 2017

Il-Gvern Laburista iddecieda li jizvilppa progett ta’ housing socjali ta’ 84 appartament fis-Siggiewi. Dan l-izvilupp qed iqajjem bosta mistoqsijiet.

Il-mistoqsijiet m’ghandhomx x’jaqsmu ma jekk pajjizna ghandux bzonn housing socjali. Nahseb li kulhadd jaqbel li f’socjeta’ solidali dawk l-iktar batuti ghandhom jinghataw ghajnuna mill-Gvern sabiex ikollhom post dicenti fejn jghixu.

Il-mistoqsijiet li jqajjem il-progrett tas-Siggiewi iktar ghandhom x’jaqmsu mal-metodu li qed juza l-Gvern biex iwettaq il-politika tieghu.

Per ezempju, hem thassib li dan l-izvilupp jista’ jwassal ghal ‘ghetto’ f’nofs komunita’ ezistenti fis-Siggiewi. Zvilupp ta’ dan il-kobor u l-influss ta’ numru kbir ta’ nies f’temp qasir jista’ jkollu numru ta’ konsegwenzi. Dawn jinkludu zieda ta’ traffiku u kongestjoni, izda jistghu jinkludu wkoll zieda ta’ problemi socjali.

Jista’ jkun hemm qasma u stigma bejn residenti godda u antiki, specjalment meta dawn ta’ l-ahhar ma gewx ikkonsultati kif suppost mil-Gvern. Jista’ jkun hemm qasmiet ukoll bejn residenti godda, specjalment jekk dawn ma jkunux jafu lil xulxin u f’daqqa wahda jridu jaddattaw ghal sitwazzjonijiet godda.

Ghalhekk, wiehed isaqsi jekk il-Gvern ikkunsidrax li jizviluppa progetti izghar u alternattivi, li jferrxu lil dawk intitolati ghal dan id-dritt madwar il-pajjiz kollu. Dan jista’ jiffacilita’ il-processi ta’ integrazzjoni u l-impatti fuq residenti ezistenti.

Wiehed isaqsi ukoll jekk il-gvern ghamilx studju ta’ impatt socjali. Dan it-tip ta’ studju jista’ jipprovdi evidenza importanti hafna ghal politika iktar sostenibbli.

Dan l-istudju ikun jista jivverifika l-impatt ta’ l-izvilupp fuq resident ezistenti u prospettivi. Ikun jista’ jistabilixxi profil tal-komunita, jipprovdi djalogu mar-residenti u jevalwa l-impatti ta’  progetti simili ohrajn.

Studju ta’ impatt socjali ikun jista’ ukoll jivverifika alternattivi ghal dan l-izvilupp, impatti varji, u mizuri li jtaffu ghall-izvilupp prospettiv.

Sabiex studju ta’ impatt socjali ikun validu u serju, jehtieg li jsir minn esperti bhal socjologi, ekonomisti u antropologi. Importanti li juza metodi varji sabiex jjgbor u janalizza l-evidenza migbura.

F’dan ir-rigward hemm numru ta’ mistoqsijiet ohra li tajjeb wiehed isaqsi :

Il-Gvern ikkunsidra l-impatt ta’ dan l-izvilupp f’staguni differenti ? Per ezempju ta importanza lis-sena skolastika ?
Il-Gvern ikkunsidra l-impatt fuq residenti minn toroq differenti fil-vicin tal-progett ? Sar xi forma ta’ kuntatt maghhom?

Il-Gvern ikkunsidra l-impatt ta’ zvilupp iehor li qed isir fil-lokalita?

Min huma l-esperti li uza il-Gvern sabiex jippjana u jwettaq dan il-progett ?

Gew stabiliti indikaturi socjali sabiex il-Gvern jevalwa l-impatti tal-progett ?

Il-Gvern ikkunsidra l-impatt ekonomiku fuq residenzi u negozji fil-madwar ?

Il-Gvern ikkunsidra l-impatt fuq l-immanigjar ta’ l-iskart, fuq il-parkegg u fuq is-sahha tar-residenti ?

Il-Gvern ser jikkumpensa lir-residenti tal-madwar jekk isir dan l-izvilupp?

Il-Gvern jeskludi ghal kollox li jikkunsidra alternattivi izghar u iktar imferxin ghal dan il-progett massiv ?

X’konttibut ser jaghti lill-lokalita’ dan l-izvilupp? U x’qed jaghmel il-Gvern biex jiddjaloga b’mod genwin ma dawk affetwati minnu?

Nawgura li l-Kunsill Lokali tas-Siggiewi li qieghed jaghmel hiltu biex jiddefendi l-kwalita’ tal-hajja tar-residenti tas-Siggiewi. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Malta’s governance index - Michael Briguglio

Governance has become a main feature of political discourse in Malta. Power of incumbency, Panama Papers, rule of law and government reforms frequently feature in political commentary. Social scientific analyses of governance are less publicly visible, even though a good number of academics and students in our country are researching this.
Journalists have a wealth of data and analysis that can be obtained from the University of Malta, both online and physically from the Melitensia section. These can enrich the quality of journalistic reports on governance.
Malta’s governance is also periodically reviewed by international think-tanks, including the German Bertelsmann Stiftung. It has just released the sixth edition of its ‘Sustainable governance indicator’ (SGI 2017). This is a cross-national survey of 41 OECD and EU countries that analyses each country’s future viability based on 136 quantitative and qualitative indicators.
Over 100 experts are involved in this study, which is available online. SGI proceeds to publish a global classification of the 41 countries in question. The classification is divided in three parts, based on each country’s policy performance, democracy and governance capacities.
On a global level, SGI refers to major concerns of governments. These include social inequality, climate change, migration, terrorism and the consequences of the economic and financial crisis.
The rise of nationalistic populism and threats to democracy and rule of law are also highlighted.
But let us look at each classification.
The policy performance index is based on economic, social and environmental policies. Sweden, Norway and Switzerland occupy the first three places respectively. Greece is ranked last, just below Turkey and Mexico. Malta stands 25th out of 41 countries.
The democracy index is based on the thorough analysis of each country’s democratic order and the rule of law on which it is based. Sweden, Finland and Norway top the list while Turkey, Hungary and Mexico come last, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey hitting rock bottom.
Malta is in a low 36th position. Only South Korea and Romania divide Malta from the bottom three places. This is worrying indeed and only confirms the need to have strong political pressure on matters such as corruption, appointment of the judiciary and efficiency of the law courts.
The governance index assesses a government’s capacity to steer and implement policies as well as its capacity for institutional learning. Sweden tops the list, followed by Denmark and Norway. Malta occupies a low 29th position. Cyprus comes last, preceded by Romania and Croatia.
SGI states that Malta is making steady but slow progress towards good governance and it highlights positives and negatives in this regard. For example, it refers to the increased scrutiny of the government, the positive role played by the National Audit Office and to social reforms, such as childcare and LGBTIQ rights. It also refers to low unemployment and a decrease in the national debt-to-GDP ratio, as well as Enemalta’s improved financial situation.
On a negative note, SGI refers to challenges in the implementation of good governance such as the Panama Papers scandal and electoral patronage.
It also highlights rampant tax evasion, the financial sustainability of the healthcare system, threats to environmental sustainability and higher rents caused by an increase in the number of foreign workers and passport buyers.
The document also highlights key challenges facing our country. Among others, these include reforming an electoral system that encourages patronage and clientelism, lack of adequate representation of small parties, the need for a strong anti-corruption body and the need to accelerate the country’s integration policy, and the need to professionalise a part-time Parliament that lacks expertise.
The latter challenge is of particular interest. I believe it is high time that Parliament is professionalised. To begin with, parliamentary sessions are held at hours that are not family friendly.
It also does not equip parliamentarians with the necessary professional assistance to research policies and it encourages them to remain dependent on income obtained elsewhere.
A more professional political system can ensure that parliamentarians are equipped to engage better with evidence that benefits policymaking. Perhaps this is an issue that can win cross-party support and which can be fine-tuned to the realities and challenges of Malta as a small-island EU member state.