Sociologist from Malta

Monday, March 19, 2018

A post-electoral incinerator - Michael Briguglio

A 5,000-square-metre incinerator with a 70-metre chimney will be developed in Magħtab by 2023. It will gobble up 40 per cent of Malta’s waste and will produce 69,000 mega watt/hour of electricity, electricity from non-recyclable waste.
According to the technical report of British company Frith Resource Management, the technology used for this ‘moving grate combustion’, is the “best, most efficient method of incineration used around the world!” A total €100 million will be invested in the project through a public-private partnership to design, finance and build and its emissions will be covered by the EU industrial emissions directive.
The above is the government’s narrative on its incineration policy. In the meantime, residents in the Magħtab area are concerned that the government has abandoned previous plans and decided to opt for incineration prior to engaging in wide consultation. One major issue is that plastic will be burned in the proposed plant and that this can have negative impacts on people’s health.
Sure,  the government can insist that it is engaging with experts in the field on this matter. Indeed, Environment Minister José Herrera recently told a newspaper that he has informally met experts, various potential investors, NGOs and politicians from all sides of the political sphere. He also said that experts and NGO representatives who form part of his technical committee gave “unanimous” advice that Malta needs a waste-to-energy plant.
Would he courteously bother to publish minutes on such meetings? Can he also inform the public how the representatives of his technical committee were chosen, and which forms of expertise were considered?
Herrera also said that he did not meet the residents’ association as he did not know where the plant was to be placed. Well, what is stopping him from meeting them now? And why not meet representatives of other localities including local councillors, given Malta’s small size?
Local councils’ already limited authority is being gobbled up by an increasingly hungry State that centralises power in the hands of ministers
The minister is also justifying his pro-incineration stance by insisting that Malta is running out of space and time on waste management. Here he has a point, especially since at current rates, Malta’s landfill will be full up in around two years.
But surely, the government’s lack of commitment to various aspects of waste management does not help. Indeed, one can safely say that following Malta’s EU accession, Malta adopted a number of positive waste management initiatives and even though the country was a European laggard, things were improving. But this was not sustained in the past years.
Government-owned Wasteserv has some very dedicated and professional people. But it is also serving as an employment agency especially for workers from ministerial constituencies. Public sector initiatives that were being developed in the past, such as the Green Leaders scheme were abandoned, and green public procurement is way too basic to be taken seriously.
Government action on the three ‘Rs’ – reduce, reuse, recycle – is very poor, and rhetoric on the circular economy is not implemented. Suffice to say that construction waste – which accounts for around 85 per cent of waste in the islands – is not re-used. Business waste is largely unaccounted for.
Huge public institutions and huge areas such as beaches have very rudimental waste management operations. Local councils’ already limited authority is being gobbled up by an increasingly hungry State that centralises power in the hands of ministers.
In short, the government is failing to keep up the momentum on waste management. Should such inefficiency persist, the government’s mantra of ‘there is no alternative’ could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the meantime, the Labour government should be challenged on what it means by a public-private partnership. Will it be another Vitals? Will there be dubious links as is the case with other privatisation projects? Will government commission independent reports regarding pollution and other environmental, economic and social impacts? Do such reports already exist?
Finally, why is the government planning to have the incinerator ready after the next general election and not before it? And why was it announced after last year’s general election?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Voti tad-deheb - Michael Briguglio

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Ftit tal-granet ilu l-Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) ippublikat ivestigazzjonijiet dwar il-bejgh tal-passaporti minn tmien pajjizi fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Bhal ma nafu, dawn l-iskemi gibdu l-attenzjoni tal-Parlament Ewropew u ta’ l-ghaqda internazzjonali Transparency International, li qed jappellaw lill-UE sabiex ikun hemm skrutinju fuq dawn l-iskemi minhabba l-possibilita’ ta’ korruzzjoni, hasil ta’ flus u theddid ghas-sigurta’.

Il-Kummissjoni Ewropea ser tippubblika rapport dwar dan iktar tard din is-sena. Nawgura li dan ma jkunx karatterizzat minn diskors vag u burokratiku z-zejjed li ma jmur imkien.

L-investigazzjoni ta’ l-OCCRP tkopri lil Malta flimkien ma’ s-seba’ pajjizi l-ohra. Tghid li l-ikbar numru ta’ xerrejja ta’ passaporti gejjin mir-Russja u li xerreja ohra gejjin minn pajjizi fosthom l-Arabja Sawdita. 78 fil-mija tal-propjetajiet li inxtraw minn dawn in-nies jinsabu fiz-zona ta’ Tas-Sliema.

S’issa, il-bejgh tal-passaporti minn pajjizna iggenerat iktar minn €850 miljun fl-ekonomija, u hi raguni principali li tispjega kif il-finanzi pubblici qed jirregistraw surpus. Dan ta’ l-ahhar gie kkonfermat mill-Fondi Monetarju Dinji.

Sa’ Dicembru tal-2017, €363 miljun gew depozitati fil-fond nazzjonali li fetah il-gvern ghal zvilupp u affarijiiet socjali. Dan il-fond jircievi 70 fil-mija tad-dhul mill-bejgh tal-passaporti.

Il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat dan l-ahhar habbar li €27 miljun s’issa gew investiti, u rapport iktar ricenti fuq TVM zvela li iktar minn €80 miljun intefqu sa l-ahhar ta’ Jannar. Tajjeb ikun hemm rapport awditjat li jelenka u jivverifika din l-ispiza.

Sa dan it-tant, l-aptit tal-Gvern li jkun dipendenti fuq dan id-dhul ‘facli’ qed jikber. Skond Identity Malta, fil-gimghat li gejjin, ser jigu ppublikati ir-rizultati tal-process ta’ konsultazzjoni biex l-iskema titwessa ghal iktar minn 1,800 applikant.

Jien ktibt lill-Gvern dwar din il-konsultazzjoni u ssuggerejt li din tkun wahda miftuha u wiesgha li tinkludi dibattiti pubblici u deliberazzjoni serja, u mhux 8 mistoqsijiet ikkontrollati li ppublika l-gvern permezz ta’ formula fuq l-internet. Izda ma jidhirx li l-iktar gvern ‘progressiv, trasparenti u feminista’ huwa interessat f’din it-tip ta’ konsultazzjoni.

Tajjeb li l-oppozizzjoni, is-socjeta’ civili u l-istampa ikomplu jiskrutinjaw lill-Gvern dwar il-bejgh tal-passaporti. Per ezempju, qed isir social impact assessment li jivverifika l-impatti ta’ din l-iskema fuq id-demografija u komunitajiet lokali? Il-vizjoni tal-Gvern hi wahda li thares fit-tul jew li tiffoka fuq il-htigijiet ta’ Joseph Muscat u c-cirku ta’ madwaru?

Id-dipendenza fuq il-bejgh tal-passaporti u l-propjeta’ qed taffettwa investiment f’setturi iktar sostenibbli u innovattivi? Il-Gvern Laburista qed jippjana li jonfoq flus iggenerati mill-iskema ghal skopijiet partiggjani fix-xhur ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni generali li jmiss? Il-Partit Laburista qed johloq kostitwenza politika gdida ta’ xerreja ta’ passaporti? Ix-‘xiri’ ta’ voti huwa gustifikat f’demokrazija liberali?

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 18 ta' Marzu 2018.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Those golden votes - Michael Briguglio

Last week the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published investigations it carried out on citizenship – and residence-by-investment schemes, also known as ‘Golden Visa’ or ‘cash-for-citizenship’ programmes – which are available in eight EU countries including Malta.
Such schemes have also captured the attention of the European Parliament and of transnational NGO Transparency International, which is appealing to the EU to pay close attention to such schemes so as to safeguard the bloc’s borders from corruption, dirty money and threats to security.
Indeed, the major concern on this programme by such organisations and institutions is that it makes life too easy for persons involved in organised crime, tax evasion and other illicit activities compared to the life of honest and legitimate business people.
Now this is not to say that all those who buy citizenship are involved in illicit activities. I personally am against this scheme, but I am ready to accept that some people buy citizenship for legitimate reasons. But surely, more transparency on such schemes would be most welcome. Let us hope the European Commission report due to be published this year will not be a mishmash of illegible bureaucratic discourse that goes nowhere.
Let us come back to Malta. The OCCRP investigation suggested that the highest number of buyers are from Russia and that others come from countries including Saudi Arabia. Seventy-eight per cent of properties purchased by citizenship buyers are in the Sliema area. Information is otherwise scarce as the government of Malta is trying to reveal as little information as possible on the purchases.
What we also know is that so far Malta’s Individual Investment Programme has generated more than €850 million for the Maltese economy, and that it is a main reason why the country’s national budget has moved from deficit to surplus. This was also highlighted by the International Monetary Fund.
By December 2017, €363 million from the IIP scheme were deposited into the National Development and Social Fund, which received 70 per cent of IIP contributions.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recently said that €27 million of this amount was invested by December 31, 2017, and that €335 million remained in the balance. More recently, a report by TVM said that over €80 million were spent by the end of January. One expects a comprehensive and audited report which details and verifies such expenditure.
In the meantime, the government’s appetite for being dependent on such easy money is growing. Its consultation process on whether to extend the programme beyond the original promise of 1,800 applicants has closed and results are due to come out in the coming weeks, according to Identity Malta.
I myself wrote to the government about the process and suggested that consultation should also include public debates to enable proper deliberation, and not just eight controlled questions which government suggested through an online form.
The concern of organisations like OCCRP and Transparency International has to do with the governance and transparency aspects of schemes like Malta’s IIP. As a Maltese national, I am also very much concerned about its social, economic and political aspects.
Does the government’s consultation process include a social impact assessment that verifies the longer term impacts of demographic changes on local communities? Is the government’s economic vision tied to its electoral cycles and to the fortunes of Joseph Muscat and his inner circle?
Is Malta becoming too dependent on this scheme and its offshoots such as real estate at the expense of other economic sectors that may be more sustainable? And does the Labour government aim to use funds generated from the scheme to ‘buy’ votes through the power of incumbency in the upcoming general election? Is Labour also creating a new constituency of passport buyers? Are these fair campaigning methods in a liberal democracy?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

L-ghaqda fid-diversita' - Michael Briguglio

Stharrig xjentifiku ta’ gazzetti differenti qed juri bic-car li hemm distakk konsiderevoli bejn il-Partit Laburista u l-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Hemm min sahansitra qed jispekula li tant hemm distakk kbir li Joseph Muscat irid jghaggel bir-riformi kostituzzjonali sabiex eventwalment ikun jista’ jahkem iktar poter taht idejh.

Izda l-istharrig juri ukoll li l-unika alternattiva politika ghall-Gvern Laburista hi dik ta’ Gvern Nazzjonalista, anke jekk il-figuri jaghtu vantagg kbir lill-Partit Laburista. Il-partiti z-zghar huma pratikament invizibbli u dan jikkonferma li meta jikkontestaw wahedhom, dawn il-partiti m’ghandhomx cans jigu eletti fil-parlament.

Jidher li maggoranza kbira tal-poplu Malti tippreferi l-istil ta’ governanza ta’ Joseph Muscat u t-tkabbir ekonomiku minn fatturi ohra bhall-governanza tajba, is-sigurta’, l-ambjent u jekk il-mudell ekonomiku li qabad pajjizna huwiex wiehed sostenibbli. L-istess haseb il-poplu Malti fl-elezzjoni tal-2017.

Dan kollu ghandu jhasseb lil min jixtieq jara Gvern nadif mibni fuq il-governanza tajba. Personalment nemmen li biex dan isehh, jehtieg li jkun hemm iktar ghaqda mill-forzi varji li jezistu fl-oppozizjoni. Dan jehtieg sforz genwin u matur minn kull naha. Inkella ser jibqa jkun hemm lok ghal iktar sahha ghal Joseph Muscat.

Ma nara xejn hazin li fil-Partit Nazzjonalista hemm min hu iktar liberali u min hu iktar konservattiv. Din id-diverista’ kienet tezisti taht Eddie Fenech Adami u din il-koalizzjoni gabet bidliet storici f’pajjizna. Lanqas ma’ nara xejn hazin li gruppi ta’ attivisti ikunu iktar vicin ta’ xulxin jew li hemm ucuh bi stili differenti. Huwa fatt socjologiku li f’kull organizazzjoni ikun hemm dawn l-affarijiet.

Li hu importanti hu li meta jkun hemm decizzjonijiet demokratici dawn jigu accettati minn kulhadd.  Huwa daqstant important li r-rebbieha jizguraw li l-minoranzi jhossuhom parti mill-organizazzjoni, u li l-minoranzi ghandhom jirrispettaw ir-rieda tal-maggoranza. Id-djalogu, l-immanigjar ta’ interessi u vucijiet differenti, u regoli cari huma essenzjali biex dan isehh. Fi ftit kliem, partit irid ikun unversali bizzejjed li jinkorpora fih elementi u identitajiet partikolari li lesti jahmdu flimkien u li jirrispettaw id-diversita’ ta’ bejniethom.

Imporanti ukoll li jkun hemm rispett reciproku bejn l-oppozizzjoni u s-socjeta’ civili. Dan qeghdin narawh f’oqsma bhall-governanza tajba u l-ambjent, izda jehtieg li jkun hemm investiment ikbar dwar dan minn dawk kollha li jixtiequ bidla fit-tmexxija ta’ pajjizna: l-istess tmexxija li qed tahtaf iktar poter taht idejha, li qed izzarma l-istituzzjonijiet u li qed tbiegh il-wirt komuni permezz ta’ politika bla ruh.

L-istharrig jista’ jaqta qalb dawk li jixtiequ jaraw governanza tajba f’pajjizna. Jista’ jwassal ghal settarjanimzu li jaghti iktar sahha lill-Partit Laburista. Izda stharrig ma jistax jipprevedi mumenti storici li jistghu igibu bidliet kbar. U fost dawk li jwiegbu l-istharrig hemm dawk li ma jaghtux opinjoni: Tajjeb li wiehed jinterpeta l-messagg taghhom ukoll.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 11 ta' Marzu 2018.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Towards a one-party system? Michael Briguglio

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Current talk of town is that Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party is so popular that we are heading towards a one-party system. Some are speculating that Labour is heading towards two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would practically guarantee a quasi-monopoly on political power, including constitutional reform.
This conspiracy concludes that Muscat wants a presidential system which thus make him supreme leader after he quits as Prime Minister.
What does evidence tell us? Public social scientific surveys carried out after the 2017 general election show that Labour initially further increased its share of the vote but this difference has narrowed slightly. And as any social scientist worth his mettle would know, the interpretation of surveys also includes the interpretation of gaps, voids and abstentions.
The latest survey in this regard was published by GWU paper It-Torċa on February 25. Its take-home points include that Joseph Muscat is ahead of Adrian Delia by 24 percentage points and that the former enjoys trust by all Labour voters while the latter enjoys trust by 72.5 per cent of Nationalist voters. Thus, Muscat enjoys trust of 47 per cent of respondents while Delia enjoys 23 per cent. A similar survey carried out by Malta Today a few weeks earlier showed that Muscat enjoys 41 per cent trust compared with Delia’s 15 per cent. In this case, Muscat had experienced a drop of nine points while Delia experienced an increase of eight points.
It-Torċa’s survey also found that 47 per cent of respondents would vote Labour while 29 per cent would vote Nationalist. Four per cent were undecided, 12 per cent refused to reply, 6.5 per cent said they would not be voting and 1.5 per cent said they would vote for other parties.
It-Torċa’s pollster Vincent Marmarà, a statistician with an excellent reputation, used a particular scientific research method to interpret the choices of undecideds and non-responders – this is the same method he used for his famous survey before the 2017 general election.
Last Sunday Marmarà’s method concluded that were an election to be held today, 58 per cent would vote Labour, 40 per cent would vote Nationalist and 1.6 per cent would vote for other parties. Comparatively, the last Malta Today survey concluded that 42 per cent would vote Labour, 29 per cent Nationalist and one per cent Alternattiva Demokratika.
The Malta Today survey also showed a non-vote response of 10 per cent and an undecided percentage of 17. These surveys clearly show that a comfortable majority of the population prefers Joseph Muscat and his style of governance to Adrian Delia’s alternative, and they seem to favour economic growth to other policy concerns such as good governance, security, transport, environment and sustainability of the current economic model. Here there is little difference to what the electorate preferred in the 2017 general election, when the Nationalist Party was headed by Simon Busuttil through its Forza Nazzjonali coalition.
However, there is a difference within the Nationalist Party today. Its current leader enjoys a democratic mandate – the most democratic one to date in view of party members’ right to vote – but paradoxically the same leader is experiencing a trust-deficit among some PN activists and voters. To me it is clear that this phenomenon is working to Labour’s advantage and is a major challenge for different sides within the PN camp. This is even clearer when all recent general elections and scientific surveys clearly show that third parties contesting on their own steam remain practically inexistent in Malta’s political map.
Upcoming surveys will confirm or otherwise whether Delia’s small inroads since officially becoming PN leader represent an upward trend and whether this will be sustained. One also has to look into the possible leadership contest within Labour.
The non-voting and non-declared respondents within such surveys could be giving different messages. They might not be trusting the pollsters or they may simply not be bothered to reply. They might also wish to send a message to their respective parties or feel unrepresented by all. Amid such mixed messages, Marmarà’s method provides a reliable interpretation.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Analizi ta' partit - Michael Briguglio

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Jezistu differsi forom ta’ analizi ta’ partit politiku. Tezisti analizi esperta, analizi ibbazata fuq l-esperjenza u anke tahlita tat-tnejn. Din ta’ l-ewwel tinvolvi dixxiplini bhas-socjologija, ix-xjenza politika u l-kommunikazzjoni, u dik ta’ l-ahhar tinkludi esperjenza politika fuq livelli varji.

F’dan l-artiklu nixtieq nipproponi xi kuncetti u metodi li jistghu iservu biex partit politiku janalizza lilu nnifsu.

F’dak li ghandu x’jaqsam ma’ kuncetti, tajjeb li partit jaghraf x’inhi l-identita’ tieghu. X’inhi l-ideologija tal-partit? X’diskors ghandu jintuza fuq kwistjonijiet varji? X’inhuma l-ghanijiet, u x’inhi l-vizjoni? Liema valuri ghandhom jiggwidaw il-partit? Dawn kif jistghu jigu applikati ghal suggetti u kwistjonijiet differenti?

F’socjeta’ pluralista u likwida, u f’socjeta’ ikkaratterizzata minn opportunitajiet, riskji u identitajiet differenti, tajjeb li l-principji ta’ partit ma’ jkunux tant monolitici u rigidi li ma jkunux applikabbli ghall-hajja ta’ kuljum. Tajjeb li jkun hemm djalettika hajja bejn il-principju u r-realtajiet socjali tal-mument, minghajr ma’ partit ibigh ruhu akkost ta’ kollox.

L-analizi ghandha ukoll tiffoka fuq min jirraprezenta il-partit. Ghandha tara min huma l-votanti u l-membri rispettivament, minn fejn gejjin, x’inhu l-profil socjali u demokgrafiku taghhom, x’valuri ghandhom. Partit ghandu jara ghalfejn m’huwiex jappella ghal certi gruppi jew demografiji ta’ nies u jekk ghandux jipprova jappella ghalihom. Fl-istess hin, partit ghandu jara x’inhuma l-valuri l-iktar universali u partikolari fis-socjeta’, u kif dawn jistghu jigu rikonciljati mal-principji tieghu.

Tajjeb ukoll li l-partit jara l-profili tar-rapprezentanti parlamentari u lokali, kif  ukoll ta’ l-ufficjali, impjegati, attivisti u volontiera. Ghandu jara jekk hemmx rapprezentanza xierqa ta’ l-identitajiet varji fis-socjeta’ Maltija u jekk hemmx ‘silenzju’ li qed jigi injorat.  Importanti li l-gruppi, il-fora u l-kazini tal-partit ikunu inklussivi u li jservu bhala pjattaforma ghall-ideat u diskussjoni miftuha.

Partit ghandu ukoll jara kif inhuma l-modi varji ta’ kif jistghu jigu mmobilizzati r-rizorsi tieghu, u kif jista’ jahdem ma’ organizazzjonijiet, vucijiet u media ohra fis-socjeta’ civili. Ghandu jizgura li internament jezisti djalogu u li fazzjonijiet jew klikkek jirrispettaw id-differenzi ta’ bejniethom izda li jahdmu ghall-istess ghan.

Partit ghandu ukoll jara kif ikun prezenti fil-komunita’ kemm fizikament izda wkoll fuq il-media socjali. Dawn jinkludu metodi ta’ komunikazzjoni differenti u specjalizzata.

Tajjeb ukoll li partit jaghmel l-ahjar uzu tal-kuntatti internazzjonali tieghu, mhux biss fuq livell ta’ partit, izda ukoll fuq livelli ohra bhall-think tanks, ricerka, komunikazzjoni, edukazzjoni u stharrig.

Kif ghedt hawn fuq, meta partit janalizza materji bhal dawn ghandu jizgura li jigu ingaggati professjonisti u nies ta’ esperjenza politika. Importanti li jintuzaw metodi varji ta’ analizi bhall-sondaggi, servejs, intervisti ma’ esperti, analizi ta’ diskors, analizi partecipattiva, gruppi ta’ diskussjoni u metodi ohra kwantitattivi u kwalitattivi.

Fis-socjeta’ Maltija, partit li jaspira li jkun fil-gvern m’ghandu l-ebda ghazla hlief li jservi ta’ umbrella li tirrikoncilja bl-ahjar mod identitajiet universali u partikolari tas-socjeta’. Biex partit jaghmel dan, tajjeb li jkollu infrastuttura tajba ta’ analizi, kritika kostruttiva, riflessjoni interna, ftuh u djalogu.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 4 ta' Marzu 2018.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Bitcoin bubbles - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 26 February 2018

Bitcoin and blockchain: two new words that have entered the vocabulary of finance. Malta’s government is aiming to be a bitcoin capital of the world, so it’s about time that we inform ourselves on what this entails.
In short, blockchain is a technology that makes cryptocurrencies possible, and bitcoin is a currently existing cryptocurrency.
The latter is a digital currency which is independent of central banks and central government. Cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible and one’s documentation and assets can be preserved within their digital platforms.
Given that they are not subject to state control, cryptocurrencies cannot be monitored by the police. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they might be attractive to criminals such as money launderers who want to hide their financial transactions and assets.
Indeed, according to Europol, about three to four per cent of the €113 billion in illicit proceeds are currently being laundered through cryptocurrencies. Given that Malta’s reputation is being tainted with corruption, money laundering, sale of passports and sale of the common good, we should be worried.
In this regard, last May Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that his Cabinet would make Malta the “Bitcoin continent of Europe”. In the months that followed, some media stories and commentaries were published regarding high-level meetings and intentions possibly related to this.
In the meantime, Digital Economy Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri recently launched government’s plans for a consultation period on blockchain. Plans include the setting up of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority which will promote Malta as a hub for companies in this sector. How such companies can be regulated is a mystery which needs explanation.
The government has also announced that it will set up a national monitoring technology ethics committee composed of up experts in areas such as law, ethics, science, religion, human rights. Having experts monitor such activities can be fine, but again, it is unclear how government can regulate the sector.
Sure, the government can say that it is embracing the blockchain technology and not bitcoin the cryptocurrency. But the technology will be used by such currencies, which, again, cannot be regulated.
Cryptocurrencies may look attractive to those who like to speculate in finance, even though to me it seems that their only value is based on the idea that someday someone else will buy them. But can they be exchanged for real money? And should government encourage investment in sectors covered by real money, or in sectors that have found safe havens in cryptocurrencies? Will Malta become the global capital of money laundering and similar criminal activities through the government’s plans?
Another problem I see with bitcoin is that it has blind faith in technology, when a more realistic view would suggest that technologies are not neutral, nor are they infallible.
Malta’s public sphere has the duty to ask who is lobbying for the introduction of blockchain. We should know who the Prime Minister and other members of Cabinet have been meeting in this regard, and the government should back up its talk on regulation with clear evidence.
Let us keep in mind that very often policies have both intended and unintended consequences, and this happens even when legislation is watertight. In this case we are speaking of a new area with more questions than answers.
Indeed if things go wrong with blockchain, who will pay for the mess, and what role will Malta’s institutions have to safeguard the public interest? Sounds very much like other policies Malta is currently pursuing: the construction of everywhere, the sale of citizenship for cash, and so forth. They may look good in the short-term, but their sustainability is questionable at best.
I really hope that Malta does not end up with another Vitals or American University of Malta through the bitcoin promise. Surely, there must be other ways to find niches that can sustain our economic and social development.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Is-sahha mentali jixirqilha d-dinjita’ - Michael Briguglio

F’Malta is-sahha mentali ghadha tabu’ socjali, minkejja li qed tkun iktar vizibli fl-isfera pubblika.

Tajjeb nirrikonoxxu li l-media mhux necessarjament tirraprezenta realtajiet socjali differenti, u meta taghmel dan mhux neccessarjament tirraprezenthom b’mod realistiku.

Filwaqt li hu pozittiv li persuni kuragguzi jitkellmu b’mod miftuh dwar il-problemi personali taghhom dwar sahha mentali, huwa daqstant importanti li l-media ma tibbanalizzax dawn l-argumenti izda li tipprova teduka dwar il-bzonn ta’ politika serja u assistenza professjonali. Dan jghodd ghall-partiti politici ukoll. Importanti li jkun hemm politika serja u umana, u mhux wahda sensazzjonalista.

Hemm nies li ma jitkellmux dwar is-sahha mentali ghal bosta ragunijiet, fosthom biza’ ta’ stigma u nuqqas ta’ gharfien. Hemm min jirrifjuta assistenza anke meta din tkun neccessarja. Hemm min m’huwiex konxju li ghandu bzonn assistenza. Fuq livell iktar generali, forsi pajjizna ghadu mhux matur bizzejjed li jiddiskuti l-importanza rispettiva ta’ dixxiplini bhall-psikologija u l-psikjatrija.

L-isptar Monte Karmeli huwa monument li jirraprezenta fallimenti kbar fil-politika dwar is-sahha mentali. Kemm il-darba intuza ghal skopijiet politici permezz ta’ nepotizmu, tpattija u inkompetenza. Dan l-ahhar inqalghu incidenti koroh fosthom suicidju ta’ pazjent li harab mill-isptar.

Il-Kummissarju tas-Sahha John Cachia u unjins li jirraprezentaw haddiema ta’ l-isptar kemm il-darba tkellmu dwar il-problemi kbar li hemm f’Monte Karmeli, izda l-Gvern jidher li mhux qed jaghti wisq importanza ghal din il-kritika gustifikata u kostruttiva.

Il-bini qed jaqa’ bicciet u hemm nuqqas ta’ dinjita’ kemm ghall-pazjenti u l-haddema. Il-kap ezekuttiv ta’ l-isptar m’huwiex kwalifikat fil-qasam u jidher li tpogga hemm minhabba l-lealta’ tieghu lejn il-Partit Laburista.

Tajjeb li l-oppozizzjoni, is-socjeta’ civili u l-istampa ikomplu jsaqsu mistoqsijiet dwar x’inhu jigri f’Monte Karmeli u fil-politika dwar is-sahha mentali. Fost ohrajn, importanti li s-socjeta’ Maltija tkun taf jekk hemmx immanigjar ta’ riskji b’mod professjonali. Jekk is-supervizjoni tal-pazjenti hijiex immanigjata u awditjata kif suppost. Jekk l-irwoli fl-isptar humiex jigu assenjati fuq bazi ta’ kompetenza jew fuq bazi partiggjana. Tajjeb ukoll li l-Gvern jibqa’ jigi mistoqsi dwar in-nuqqas ta’ haddiema fl-isptar u dwar id-drittijiet tal-pazjenti.

Pajjizna ma jistax jibqa’ jittratta is-sahha mentali bhala qasam politiku tat-tieni klassi, u m’ghandniex naccettaw li s-sistema pubblika tas-sahha mentali tkun wahda ta’ kastig, biza’ u nuqqas ta’ dinjita’.

Nibqa’ dizappuntat li dawk li huma responsabbli ghall-politika dwar is-sahha mentali jibqghu jipprokastinaw permezz ta’ diskors burokratiku u skuzi ohra. Il-persuni li ghandhom problem ta’ sahha mentali jixirqilhom ahjar.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 25 ta' Frar 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What's up at Mount Carmel? Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 19 February 2018

Clint Camilleri’s statement about the ‘Mount Carmel’ van paraded during the Nadur carnival was so wrong. Not only because it was in bad taste. And not only because he is the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Animal Rights, but even more so because it unfortunately reflects the state of policymaking in mental health. This is very wrong.
Let us put things into perspective. In Malta, mental health remains a social taboo, so much so that many people do not talk about it and some refuse assistance when it is clearly needed. But policymaking in the field does not help. How many of us, for example, know the difference and the respective importance of psychiatry and psychology? Is education about this reaching all levels of society?
Mount Carmel hospital is a monument to the failure in the field. It has been in a rotten state for many years and has often been used as a dumping ground for nepotism and incompetence. If truth is often stranger than fiction, Mount Carmel may be weirder than some total institutions depicted in novels and films.
The building is falling to pieces. It has recently witnessed escapes and suicide. Workers’ morale is at rock bottom. And it is now led by a chief executive whose only qualification is his loyalty to the party in government. As far as I know his other background, in banking, has nothing to do with mental health.
Well, judging by the government’s appointment of hundreds of loyalists in positions of trust, and judging by the sale of public hospitals and to land speculators, we needn’t be surprised. There is one exception in the area of mental health though: Commissioner John Cachia, whose voice is conspicuous by lack of government support. The exception really proves the rule.
Like so many aspects of the government’s deficit in governance, Mount Carmel qualifies for an independent investigation. Important questions need to be asked. For example, is risk management being carried out thoroughly? How is supervision of patients being managed and audited? Are tasks and roles being assigned according to expertise and competence or according to political criteria? What is being done about staff shortages? What remedies exist for patients and their loved ones in defence of their rights?
It is very sad that while mental health has gained increased attention in the media in the recent years, also thanks to some high-profile people who spoke about their own problems, the issue remains associated with stigma and deficit in governance. It also has to be made clear that when this matter grabs media attention, it is not always for the right reasons.
For example, when certain politicians declare their commitment to the cause, they are rarely taken to task about concrete decisions such as investment in the field, prioritisation by their respective political parties, and so forth. Opening up on an issue is plausible and brave, but this should be followed up by substantive legislation, policies and action.
It is imperative that policymakers are sensitised to research in the field and taken to task about it. Real journalism shouldn’t simply report on the previous job experiences of the new CEO at Mount Carmel: it should ask him concrete questions about mental health evidence, research and policy.
Similarly, raising awareness about mental health should not simply be about snackable and at times banal campaigns on television. Awareness should ensure that different people with different backgrounds are equipped to face the risks, services and challenges associated with mental health issues.
We should be thankful to selfless doctors, nurses and staff who do their utmost for mental health patients, especially when resources are so limited. But on the other hand, we cannot keep accepting a mental health system that looks more like a dystopian hellhole, devoid of basic services and facilities and which mortifies patients rather than empowering them to a better life.
I remain flabbergasted by the fact that those in charge of mental health are not being held accountable for their failures and how the government manages to camouflage the matter with bureaucratic talk and excuses. People with mental health problems deserve much better.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tibdil kostituzzjonali f'pajjiz inqas liberali - Michael Briguglio

Il-Mument, 18 ta' Frar 2018

Fil-letteratura akkademika dwar sistemi politici, kemm il-darba jissemew erba’ tipi ta’ sistemi politici fis-socjetajiet kontemporanji.  Tnejn minnhom huma demokratici, u t-tnejn l-ohra m’humiex.

Is-sistema demokratika-liberali hi dik li tinstab fl-hekk imsejha pajjizi tal-punent. Dawn jinkludu pajjizi bhall-Germanja, l-iStati Uniti, l-Ingilterra, l-Awstralja, l-Italja u ohrajn. Gvern qatt m’ghandu poter assolut minhabba li jezistu provvisti u istituzzjonijiet li jipprotegu d-drittijiet politici, civili u socjali ta’ l-individwu. Il-qrati, l-istampa u s-socjeta’ civili huma awtonomi.

Jezistu pajjizi ohrajn li huma demokratici izda huma illiberali. Dawn jinkludu r-Russja, it-Turkija u l-Venezwela. Hawnhekk jezistu elezzjonijiet, izda kemm il-darba isiru b’mod li jiffavorixxu lill-partit fil-Gvern. Nghidu ahna jigu arrestati esponenti ta’  l-oppozizzjoni, u jigu mxekkla l-liberta’ ta’ l-istampa, u s-socjeta’ civili. Il-qrati jidhru li huma ghodda ta’ l-istat u d-drittijiet tal-minoranzi huma ssagrifikati ghall-omnipotenza ta’ l-istat.

Hemm xebh f’bosta oqsma bejn demokraziji illiberali u pajjizi awtoritarji. Dawn ta’ l-ahhar jinkludu  c-Cina u Kuba fost l-ohrajn. L-ikbar differenza bejn iz-zewg sistemi hi li f’pajjizi awtoritarji l-elezzjonijiet jippermettu partit wiehed biss biex jikkompeti, u l-istat huwa iktar suprem minn dak ta’ demokraziji illiberali.

L-iktar Sistema oppressiva hija dik totalitarja, li tinstab f’pajjizi bhall-Korea ta’ Fuq u l-Eritrea. Hawnhekk kull qasam tal-hajja hi kkontrollata mill-istat u ma tezisti l-ebda forma ta’ liberta’.

Jezistu wkoll modi iktar sofistikati ta’ kif nistghu nanalizzaw sistemi politici, fejn fost l-ohrajn wiehed jista’ jara differenzi anke bejn pajjizi b’sistemi simili ghal ta’ xulxin.

Ezempju tajjeb huwa l-ktieb ‘The State: Past, Present, Future’ (2016), fejn is-socjologu Bob Jessop jipproponi metodu ta’ kif nistghu nanalizzaw sistemi politici. Fost affarijiet ohra jenfasizza li l-istat m’huwiex Sistema statika u monolitika izda huwa l-prodott ta’ relazzjonijiet u kontradizzjonijiet socjali, politici u ekonomici.

F’parti mill-ktieb, Jessop jirreferi ghal kitba ta’ socjologu iehor, Nicos Poulantzas, f’dak li ghandu x’jaqsam ma’ ‘Stati Normali’ u ‘Regimi Eccezzjonali’.

Dawk ta’ l-ewwel jinkludu demokrazija liberali u elezzjonijiet hielsa; it-trasferiment tal-poter b’mod stabbli u skond il-ligi; pluralita’ ta’ ideologiji li huma relattivament indipendenti mill-istat, is-separazzjoni tal-poter, u c-cirkolazzjoni flessibli tal-poter.

Dawk ta’ l-ahhar kultant jissospendu l-elezzjonijiet, m’ghandhomx metodi legali ta’ kif jista’ jigi ttrasferit il-poter, u huma karatterizzati minn ideologija ta’ l-istat u mill-koncentrazzjoni tal-poter.

Kemm Jessop u Poulantzas jirreferu ukoll ghall-‘Statizmu Awtoritarju’, fejn il-partit maggoritarju – anke f’demokrazija liberali - isir il-partit ta’ l-istat u b’hekk il-poter jigi iktar ikkoncentrat.

Din it-tip ta’ analizi politika tista tghinna biex nevalwaw dak li qed jigri f’pajjizna. Formalment, Malta hi demokrazija liberali, u s-shubija fl-UE hi xhieda ta’ dan.  Izda bhal ma qed jigri f’pajjizi bhall-Ungerija u l-Polonja, hemm bosta fatturi li ma jistghux jitqiesu  bhala liberali.

Fost l-ohrajn, dan jinkludi l-fatt li s-separazzjoni tal-poter hija limitata u li l-Partit fil-gvern qed jahtaf kollox taht idejh u qed jipprova jwettaq tibdil strutturali li jista’ jkollhom implikazzjonijiet ghal generazzjonijiet tal-futur.

Ghalhekk, meta nisimghu lill-Prim Ministru Joseph juza diskors popolist dwar tibdil kostituzzjonali, ghandna noqoghdu b’seba’ ghajnejn. Fost affarijiet ohra ghandna nizguraw li kull process ikun verament miftuh u demokratiku, u ma jkunx manipulat mill-partit fil-gvern. Ghandna nizguraw ukoll li jekk isir referendum, dan isir biss wara u jekk ikun hemm qbil ta’  milll-inqas zewg terzi tal-parlament dwar dak li qed jigi propost.

Joseph Muscat qed jghid li mhux ser johrog ghall-elezzjoni li jmiss. Izda din qaluha wkoll politici ohra f’pajjizi mhux daqshekk demokratici. Irrizulta li wara hatfu iktar poter taht idejhom.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Jason Micallef's Valletta - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 12 February 2018

Valletta: the city that won European cultural capital status. The city that was made increasingly accessible through pedestrianisation and other projects. And the same city where people gather to voice their concerns on so many issues.
Judging by the public messages of V18 chairman Jason Micallef, one is led to think that he considers the city to be his personal fiefdom. Indeed, even though Micallef is meant to represent the general public, he is acting in a very divisive and sectarian way, lashing out at all those who he considers to be traitors to his cause.
Needless to say, a chorus of government-sponsored media and keyboard warriors repeat his rants. How many of them have been given positions of trust in the public service?
A recent example of this relates to the proposal of two Labour local councillors to remove the shrine for Daphne Caruana Galizia at Great Siege Square.
In response, the Civil Society Network announced that it will be applying for a permanent memorial to Caruana Galizia. The Labour propaganda machine tried to imply that the proposed memorial would replace the monument where the current shrine is in place, but nothing can be further from the truth.
Such tricks are so cheap: Glenn Bedingfield did something similar a day later when he posted fake news on the doctors’ strike against the Vitals scandal.
Let’s go back to Micallef. When the Daphne memorial proposal was announced, he immediately said that he would oppose this with every means possible, “as V18 chairman and on a personal basis”. He was immediately taken to task by Caruana Galizia’s sister Corinne Vella, who accused him of wasting taxpayers’ money on “vanity projects cluttering up a public square”, but objects to flowers laid in memory of a woman who “held him and his corrupt patrons to account”.
One of these projects must be the Hekk Jgħid il-Malti display. Its creator Joel Saliba said he hoped to provoke the public through the installations. Well, I for one, do not like the installations, but yes, some of them did set me thinking.
The pig, for example, reminded me of Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The three cows reminded me of the Panama Gang where everything is for sale. And the crass depiction of a figure bent over with his head caught in an onion reminded me of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra, where we are sucked into a black hole of endless simulations. One of them could be V18 and Labour’s soulless politics of spectacle and seduction through corruption.
Unfortunately, a number of these installations were vandalised, and Micallef immediately related this to “sick minds who could not stand the progress currently being made in Valletta, from which the whole country would benefit”.
I do not recall Micallef being so angry when Daphne’s shrine was vandalised and when Auberge de Castille was vandalised through holes courtesy of light works.
Let us all hope that the persons behind the Hekk Jgħid il-Malti vandalism are caught by the police. Incidentally, this is one of the best policed areas on the island.
A few days earlier, Micallef also ranted against the Kenniesa projections on Castille, with the words ‘House of impunity’ and ‘Who killed Daphne?’. He said that the group abused democracy and that their protest was a vile, systematic and illegal assault on public monuments by a few dozen people.
How the V18 man can relate freedom of expression to an abuse of democracy baffles me. Indeed, when a city is declared a cultural capital of Europe, one expects an outburst of creativity, critique and expression, and not State-orchestrated propaganda and attacks on freethinkers.
It is very worrying that V18 funds are being used in typical Labour style to seduce participants into silence. This is so similar to Labour’s governing style with regards to non-meritocratic jobs in the public service, quick-fix permits for construction, and all sorts of corruption and favours courtesy of taxpayers’ money.
Respect to those who refuse to be part of the circus.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

L-Ewropa tghir ghal Malta? - Michael Briguglio

Il-Mument, 11 ta' Frar 2018

L-ekonomija ta’ Malta qisha z-zring metaforiku li ma jirrealizzax li t-temperatura ta’ l-ilma tiela bil-mod il-mod. Imbaghad it-temperatura toghla wisq u z-zring imut. Anzi, s-sitwazzjoni ta’ Malta hi aghar, ghax il-Gvern qed jigi mwissi dwar il-korruzzjoni, il-hasil tal-flus u d-dipendenza zejda fuq certi setturi.

Ghandna ghal xiex ninkwetaw dwar il-process ta’ konsultazzjoni li l-Gvern nieda dwar il-bejgh tac-cittadinanza, jew kif inhi maghrufa ufficjalment, l-Individual Investors Programme (IIP). Ejja nzommu f’mohhna li meta habbar l-iskema wara l-elezzjoni tal-2013, Muscat kien wieghed li l-iskema tkun wahda temporanja.

Issa huwa car li l-iskema m’hijiex sempliciment skema fost l-ohrajn fil-politika tal-Gvern. L-iskema hija r-raguna ewlenija ghalfejn pajjizna ghandu surplus fiskali. Dan ifisser li Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna gabu lil pajjizna dipendenti fuq il-bejgh tac-cittadinanza.

Sa dan it-tant jippacifikaw l-opinjoni pubblika billi jisseducu lill-votanti biex jiehdu parti mid-dhul ekonomiku iggenerat mill-iskema. Izda b’hekk il-pajjiz qed isir ivvizzjat fuq politika ghazziena u insostenibbli li ma tistax tibqa’ hemm ghal dejjem. Ir-rizultat ahhari ta’ dan jista’ jgib rovina ekonomika specjalment jekk il-pajjiz ma jiggenerax modi ohrajn u sostenibbli ta’ tkabbir ekonomiku.

Tajjeb ninnutaw li l-Fond Monetarju Internazzjonali (IMF) dan l-ahhar esprima d-dubji dwar l-IIP. Huwa veru li l-IMF innota s-success tal-Gvern fit-tkabbir ekonomiku, izda l-istess IMF qal li d-dhul mill-IIP huwa wiehed volatili u difficli li tbassar, u li l-iskema iggib maghha sfida ghall-aggustement fiskali fit-tul. Gie innotat ukoll li l-influss ta’ barranin qed igib mieghu zieda fil-prezz tal-propjeta’.

L-IMF qal li l-Awtorita’ tas-Servizzi Finanzjarji ghandha bzonn rizorsi adekwati sabiex jigu ssalvagwardjati ir-reputazzjoni u l-intergrita’ tas-settur finanzjarju ta’ Malta. Dan hu l-istess settur li kellu kunsens politiku ghal iktar minn ghoxrin sena u li issa qed jigi mhedded minhabba r-rezistenza tal-Gvern li jiehu azzjoni konkreta dwar il-hasil tal-flus, il-korruzzjoni u skandli bhall-Panama Papers.

Fil-fatt, fi kliem l-IMF, ‘robust implementation and effective enforcement of the Anti-Money Laundering framework is critical given the size of Malta’s financial sector, the fast-growing remote gaming activity, and the high demand for the IIP’.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna wiegeb ghar-rapport tal-IMF permezz ta’ stqarrija trionfalista u injora ghal kollox it-twissijiet imsemmija hawn fuq. Ma nkunx sorpriz jekk il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat izid doza ikbar ta’ trionfalizmu billi jghid li bhall-istati membri ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea, l-IMF qed tghir ghal Malta.

Ejja nzommu f’mohhna li l-ekonomija ta’ Malta ghanda daqs ta’ lokalita normali Ewropea. Fl-ahhar tal-2016 kienet tammonta ghal madwar 12-il biljun Ewro. L-ekonomija ta’ l-UE tammonta ghal 14,825 Billion Ewro.  Apparti min hekk, l-ahhar figuri tal-Eurostat juri li z-zona Ewro qed tesperjenza l-ikbar tkabbir f’ghaxar snin. U ghall-kuntrarju ta’ Malta, il-pajjizi l-ohra m’humiex dipendenti fuq il-bejgh tac-cittadinanza.

Ejja ma nhallux il-propaganda tal-Gvern tipperswadina li l-bqija ta’ l-UE qed tghir ghall-Prim Ministru Muscat. Jekk l-ekonomija ta’ Malta tikkollassa ma nistghux inwehhlu f’pajjizi ohra. L-impatt fuq Malta jaf ikun kbir, izda l-effett fuq l-ekonomija Ewropea ikun minimu. M’huwiex minnu li l-Ewropa kollha qed tistenna lill-Malta biex tigwida lill-pajjizi l-ohra. U jekk il-Gvern ikompli jiftahar b’rixu u jinjora kritika genwina, ikun qed jaghmel disservizz lic-cittadini tal-pajjiz.

Il-bejgh tal-passaporti ma jistax jibqa ghaddej ghal dejjem. U lanqas il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Europe jealous of Malta? - Michael Briguglio

Image result for joseph muscat the best
Times of Malta, 5 February 2018

Malta’s economic policy is like the metaphorical frog which doesn’t realise that the temperature of the water is slowly rising. Then the water gets too hot and the frog dies. Actually Malta’s situation is worse, as the government is actually being warned about money laundering, corruption and overdependence on certain sectors.
We should be very worried about the government’s consultation process about the cash-for-citizenship scheme known as the Individual Investors Programme (IIP). Let us remember that when Joseph Muscat had originally announced the scheme after the 2013 election, he had promised to keep it temporary.
Now the scheme is not simply a one-off programme in the government’s policymaking: it is the main reason why Malta has a fiscal surplus. This means that Muscat and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna are rendering the country dependent on the sale of passports.
They pacify public opinion by seducing voters to take a share of the multiplier effect generated by the scheme. But in the meantime we are becoming addicted to lazy and unsustainable policy that cannot go on forever.
The ultimate result of this could be ruin for all especially if the economy does not generate alternative models of growth.
It is important to note that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently expressed its doubts on Malta’s reliance on the IIP. True, the IMF noted the government’s success in achieving robust economic growth, but it also said that proceeds from IIP are “volatile and difficult to predict”, and that the scheme presents “a challenge for long-term fiscal adjustment”.  It also noted that the influx of foreign workers is fuelling an increase in housing prices.
The IMF also highlighted the need for “adequate resources” within the Malta Financial Services Authority to safeguard the reputation and integrity of Malta’s financial sector. This is the same sector that was subject to political consensus during the past two decades and which is now facing threats due to the government’s obstinate resistance to take concrete action on money laundering, corruption and scandals such as Panama Papers.
Indeed, the IMF added that “robust implementation and effective enforcement of the anti-money laundering framework is critical given the size of Malta’s financial sector, the fast-growing remote gaming activity, and the high demand for the IIP”.
As predicted, Scicluna replied to the IMF with a triumphal statement about what he sees as the government’s over-achievements with regard to its budgetary estimates. All warnings were ignored, meaning that we can only expect business-as-usual from Labour.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Muscat’s government adds further triumphalism by stating that like EU member states, institutions such as the IMF are jealous of Malta’s achievements. I really cannot understand how journalists do not take Muscat to task whenever he resorts to such logic, as if Malta is some street vendor competing with other hawkers around.
Let us keep in mind that Malta’s economy is the size of a European town or small city: At the end of 2016 it was around €12 billion. The EU total reads €14,825 billion. Besides, latest Eurostat figures show that the eurozone grew at its fastest rate in a decade in 2017, and the other countries in question are not fiscally dependent on sale of passports to balance their budgets.
So let us not allow Muscat’s propaganda machine to fool us that the rest of Europe is jealous of his achievements. Should Malta’s current economic model collapse we only have ourselves to blame for this.
The impact on Maltese society may be huge, but the impact on the EU economy would be minute. It is not that all Europe is waiting for Malta to paint the future bright. If Muscat and Scicluna prefer boasting about themselves than looking at troubling trends, they are only doing a disservice to their electors.
The editorial in this newspaper of January 25 couldn’t have put it better: “The government appears to think there is no tomorrow, in ‘making hay while the sun shines’, as some developers are doing. But building speculation would not last forever. Neither do governments, nor passports for sale.”