Sociologist, local councillor, activist, drummer from Malta

Monday, January 14, 2013

Michael Briguglio interviewed by Annaliza Borg, the Malta Independent

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AD is not a party of mass meetings but one that stands by its principles and being consistent.

Its leader, Michael Briguglio, said that although small, his party has always been ahead of the other two. While it had been proposing environmental protection, divorce and EU membership since the late 1980s, other parties have only recently started giving importance to such issues.

“AD has helped introduce these principles from outside, let alone if it were in Parliament,” Mr Briguglio said.

It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for divorce and even the EU referendum, to pass were it not for AD. The Private Members Bill on divorce was presented two weeks after AD sent a letter to all MPs, making reference to Irish laws.

AD had also played a crucial role and, in Mr Briguglio’s words, gave legitimacy to the EU issue because the story would have been different had there been two parties against it. The process would have been dented.

The party is standing by its slogan: “Mag─žna Taf Fejn Int’ (You Know Where We Stand) and its team of candidates is focusing on social and environmental issues as well as economic matters and ones which have to do with governance. Fulfilling the first priority of having enough candidates to contest all districts, a number of candidates will be contesting on their home districts since this gives an advantage.

Two candidates are contesting the eighth and ninth districts while three will be contesting the eleventh district and this is a result of the candidates’ hometowns.
Mr Briguglio does not shy away from the fact that AD is trying to get as many votes as possible from every district. It is a known fact that on certain districts it gets more votes than others and as a result, more known candidates are contesting the more important localities.

Discussing candidates, he pointed out it is not easy to convince people to contest and some party activists do not contest elections because they have doubts on the repercussions this would have on their job. The fact that candidates must take unpaid leave, and this would not be possible in all sectors, hinders people in certain professions from contesting.

Notwithstanding that a third of AD’s executive council is made up of women – the highest figures among local political parties – Angele Deguara is the only female candidate for the upcoming election. This again reflects the difficulties people face to contest.

The manifesto will be approved at an extraordinary general meeting on Saturday and it will eventually be communicated to the public.

Same sex marriage will be the next milestone for AD, Mr Briguglio believes, noting that AD is the only party in favour of this. AD’s election to Parliament would put same sex marriage on the agenda.

Appealing to disgruntled voters, the alienated and those who feel tired of the political charade, “should vote AD,” Mr Briguglio said. “An elected candidate will make the difference, as was the case with my election in the Sliema local council and that of Ralph Cassar in Attard”.

An AD candidate can be in coalition with the elected government and they would therefore work on a joint programme. While acknowledging it is very difficult for the Green Party to elect a candidate in the general election, he believes it is not impossible. Voters must use their democratic tool carefully and through this right they can elect an AD candidate and he will work with the government.

The system has worked in Ireland, where the electoral system is similar to ours. It is not the style of European Green Parties to hold the country to ransom as was the case in the past legislature and that between 1996 and 1998. AD would push ahead with its ideas with dialogue.

“We need political parties in Parliament with clear policies, elected on specific programmes and with voters knowing where they stand,” Mr Briguglio said. “It will be suicidal for a small party to constantly threaten the government”.

MPs like Franco Debono and Dom Mintoff in the past did not have their own electoral programme and people did not vote for them to lead to a government downfall.

Rebutting criticism that people don’t want a third party, he reiterated the space for AD is now bigger than before because the two-party system has failed.

Discussing AD’s manifesto, Mr Briguglio explained this is based on a number of issues that have been discussed for months, and some for years. Among its main principles are the abolition of spring hunting and the decriminalization of drugs for personal use.

The latter proposal should be coupled with drug classification since there is a huge difference between smoking marijuana and being a heroin addict. Clearly, addicts need help but the situation is that the real drug barons are out there and small drug users have been jailed.

Mr Briguglio stated this is in line with what Sedqa director has recently publicly stated. Our drug problems are all wrong because the real problem is not being tackled and meanwhile, the reforms taking place are arbitrary because it boils down to decisions from the Attorney General’s office.

The manifesto also emphasizes the rights of disabled people highlighting that the disability benefit, which amounts to 55% of the minimum wage, is too low to encourage independence. While not committing himself to say by how much this should go up, he said studies must be carried out to determine an adequate benefit.

The first hurdle to be overcome is raising the minimum wage – something the two other political parties are postponing. A scientific study has been carried out by Caritas with regard to the minimum wage however, while income tax cuts have been proposed by the government, the indications are that this is not backed by scientific studies.

“The government has simply said the income tax will be lowered and at the same time noted that it will be making more revenue but there must be significant growth of between 4 to 5% for this to happen,” he said. “The projected growth for this year is between 1-2%”.

AD strongly believes that the economy grows if people, especially the low income earners, have more disposable income for consumption. The income tax must be progressive and meanwhile, the minimum wage and disability benefit both need to be revised.

The PL’s stand to raise the minimum wage once economic growth improves is counterproductive in this case, he argued.

Another noteworthy proposal is putting a stop to building irregularities. This includes tackling Armier boathouses because public land should be accessible to all.

“Voting for AD is a vote for change in the style of governance and for stability,” he said. “If you believe in giving priority to social justice, civil rights, environmental justice, sustainable development, ecological modernisation, and, last but not least, the reform in the institutional set-ups for the enhancement of democracy, you know where you stand with the Greens”.

While the presence of AD has been constant for several years in local, general and EP elections, Mr Briguglio highlighted that AD is not on a level playing field with other parties. While invites for participation in debates and programmes has increased, its candidates do not have the same access to particular programmes.

Despite Broadcasting Authority instructions with regard to balance, AD is often excluded from discussion programmes on Net and One and is not treated equally to other parties on certain TVM and TVM 2 programmes. Consequently, it has requested an urgent meeting with the Broadcasting Authority.

Citizens are to have access to what political parties are proposing so that they make informed choices, Mr Briguglio said.

Discussing energy tariffs and the PL’s proposals, Mr Briguglio highlighted that AD welcomes plans for an energy mix and the progressive bill system by which the polluter pays, but is sceptical on a number of issues which he said lead to more questions than answers.

“All studies carried out must be presented because since clear figures have been given, these must be quantified through the studies,” he said.

Comparing the plan to build a new power station, gas storage tanks and converting the BWSC to run on gas with a simple rubbish collection local council tender process, he said even the latter takes time when everything is in order.

“You cannot have a transparent tender process, an environment impact assessment and
construction all carried out within two years in a transparent process,” he argued.

AD assumes it takes a number of years to have a planning procedure filed and approved then construction follows. The process can be delayed with possible appeals, technical difficulties or findings in the studies that need to be carried out.

While Mr Briguglio is in favour of using gas as this is a less polluting fuel, global trends show its prices will go up because global demand, especially as a result of developing economies including China and India.

As a sociologist, he said simple laws of economics clearly show that gas prices will go up and while fluctuations like we witness in the prices of petrol and diesel are possible, he finds it hard to understand how prices can be fixed for 10 years. In the long term, he is certain the price of gas will go up.

At the same time he believes in the need for massive investment in renewables – something the PL is working on. Yet like the PN, the PL is ignoring the water problem.

“The theft from boreholes must effectively be tackled and the island must face the consequence of ignoring this,” he stated. “This is the environmental elephant in the room and if action is not taken, we will end up totally depending on the reverse osmosis as our ground water would no longer be fit for use”.

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