(Note: this article appeared in The Times with the following title: A green touch to politics)
The Times 18th January 2013
The role of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party in Malta’s two-month electoral campaign is emerging.
First, it is clear that we are the progressive voice of the campaign. We have clear social, environmental and economic priorities. And we are also speaking for the need of a fair and transparent electoral campaign: on issues such as voting rights of Maltese persons living abroad, the privacy of voters in hospitals and old persons’ homes and the financing of the electoral campaign.
As a non-parliamentary force, our role on environment issues, Malta’s EU accession, the introduction of divorce and other issues was crucial. We gave legitimacy to these issues beyond two-party tribalism. Without such a legitimacy, these issues might have been stuck in a time warp. One can only imagine how more effective we can be if elected to Parliament.
Second, AD is the voice of reason, the party of constructive dialogue and criticism. We react to others’ proposals not by immediately shooting them down or through shallow spin but by engaging with them. Even if we disagree, we give clear reasons why.
In the first days of the campaign, AD launched billboards related to social and civil rights themes, which we feel should be introduced in the next Parliament. Hence, we are proposing an increase in the minimum wage and an extension of rights for persons with disability, including a decent disability pension, which currently amounts to only 55 per cent of the minimum wage.
We are calling for non-discrimination towards LGBT persons and couples, for example through the right to marry, to access to IVF and to adopt children, even as couples.
Such policies are supplemented by a wide range of progressive policies in our manifesto, which call for gender equality, a healthy work-life balance and various civil rights. For example, we are calling for the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use while helping drug victims rather than criminalising them.
The social and civil rights element of AD policy, which it has been emphasising in the first phase of its electoral campaign, is inline with our comprehensive environmental policy. As a party that is free from lobbies, such as big land developers and hunters, we have what it takes in this regard. These range from the abolition of spring hunting to having a sustainable energy policy.
As regards the latter, where Malta remains Europe’s laggard, AD’s response to Labour’s energy proposals was as follows.
We argued that various aspects of Labour’s energy plans are welcome, whereas others are problematic.
The energy mix concept and the proposed shift from heavy fuel oil to gas and renewables is positive, meaning that there is a cross-party consensus on a shift to cleaner energy after years of neglect in Malta’s energy sector.
We also welcome Labour’s stand on progressive utility bills, based on the polluter pays principle. Once again, it is clear that AD’s stand for progressive bills and a shift to gas and renewables has been vindicated because all parties are taking it on board. In Parliament, we will ensure that such policies are implemented.
On the other hand, we are not so optimistic on Labour’s proposed reductions in utility bills and, consequently, we asked the party to back up its costings with scientific studies.
We also deemed Labour as not being realistic on its proposed time frames.
AD insists that the State should play the leading role in the energy sector because overdependence on the private sector could have negative impacts in terms of strategy and costs.
Labour’s energy plans dominated the first part of the electoral campaign but other issues were also on the agenda.
One of these included the PN’s plans for a tunnel to Gozo, which is supported by Labour but on which AD has its reservations on economic and environmental grounds. Indeed, we appealed to both major parties not to promise pie in the sky to voters, especially when the financial repercussions can be massive. Another case in point in this regard is the issue surrounding tax cuts. Malta’s Budget for 2013, which the PN proposed and which the PL is promising to implement, is socially regressive and financially unsustainable because it is estimating a revenue increase despite cutting income tax for those who earn between €19,500 and €60,000.
For such an increase in revenue to take place, the economy must grow at a rate that goes beyond recent trends and which is beyond belief given the global economic situation. Malta’s latest official deficit figures do not augur well in this regard.
Hence, should such tax cuts be approved this could have an effect on public finance through a reduction of public services, more borrowing or compensating tax elsewhere. AD believes that sustainable public finance and comprehensive public services require compensatory funding, which is best achieved through progressive taxation.
In the meantime, AD presented its candidates for the general election. Our candidates cover all electoral districts and represent consistency, responsibility and progressive politics.
Hence, voters who are tired of the two-party system, who feel strongly on progressive issues that other parties are ignoring have the opportunity to have an impact by voting Green.
Michael Briguglio is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika