Sociologist, Local Councillor, Politician from Malta
MEP Candidate - Partit Nazzjonalista (EPP).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sfidi Socjali u Politici f’Malta

Diskors li ghamilt fil-Konvenzjoni tal-Partit Nazzjonalista, fuq stedina tal-Partit, fil-25 ta' Ottubru 2014

Introduzzjoni

Hemm hafna xi tghid dwar sfidi socjali u politici Maltin fis-snin li gejjin. F’dan il-hin qasir ser nitkellem dwar uhud mill-isfidi li nara, u ser naqsamhom f’tliet kategoriji: Il-Gustizzja Socjali; Is-Sostenibilita’ u d-Demokrazija.

Il-Gustizzja Socjali

Id-drittijiet u liberatijiet civili saru parti mid-diskors dominanti fil-politika Maltija, u ziedu l-awtonomija f’diversi oqsma tal-hajja.

Izda m’ghandniex nilludu ruhna li issa kulhadd sar ugwali. Hemm diversi forom ta’ inugwaljanza, per ezempju fuq bazi ta’ klassi socjali, faqar u eskluzjoni socjali.

Fil-prezent, il-politika socjali Maltija qed taddotta ‘active measures’, jigifieri mizuri li permezz taghhom l-individwu ikun armat ahjar biex jaffacja d-dinja tax-xoghol u fejn jigi nkuraggit jinvesti biex itejjeb is-sitwazzjoni socjali tieghu.

Fl-istess hin qed isir diskors negattiv dwar ‘dipendenza socjali’, fejn donnhom in-nies foqra ghandhom x’jahtu tas-sitwazzjoni taghhom.

F’dan il-kuntest irridu nzommu f’mohhna li l-welfare universali – bhas-servizzi ta’ sahha u edukazzjoni, u bhall-espansjoni ricenti tac-childcare - hafna drabi jipprotegi lill-bosta familji mill-faqar u eskluzzjoni socjali. Jekk dan jidghajjef, jistghu jikbru l-inugwaljanzi socjali.

F’dawn l-ahhar snin il-mudell socjali Malti – li hu nfluenzat minn tahlita ta’ mudelli socjali differenti fl-Ewropa - serva tajjeb bhala tarka ghal bosta nies, f’kuntest fejn il-krizi ekonomika kellha impatti devastanti fuq socjetajiet ohra fin-Nofs in-nhar ta’ l-Ewropa.

Hawnhekk irrid nirrimarka li sistemi ta’ penzjoni volontarji u ddominati mis-settur privat ma jawgurarx tajjeb, ghax jistghu izidu l-inugwaljanzi fit-tielet eta’ permezz ta’ skemi rigressivi, fejn min ihallas l-iktar, ikollu penzjoni iktar gholja, u min ma jiflahx ihallas, jibqa’ lura.

Sostenibilita’

Politika socjali universalista’ tistrieh fuq finanzi sostenibbli u tista’ twassal ghal ekonomija iktar stabbli. Politika fiskali rigressiva u instostenibbli tista’ tipperikola dan kollu.

Bl-istess mod, ekonomija b’sahhitha tistrieh fuq sostenibilita’ ekologika.

Fl-assenza ta’ kwalita’ ambjentali, ta’ arja nadifa, spazji liberi u kampanja f’sahhitha, tonqos il-kwalita’ tal-hajja.
Qeghdin f’sitwazzjoni ta’ sfidi ekologici globali bhat-tibdil fil-klima li jistghu isiru katastrofici jekk ma jkunx hemm politika li timmangija riskji b’mod sostenibbli.

Izda anke fuq livell lokali, kwistjonijiet bhad-dhahen mill-karozzi, fejn donnu addottajna regoli Ewropej izda mhux nimplimentawhom, qed iwasslu ghal zieda fil-mard respiratorju. Iz-zieda fit-traffiku u l-problemi assocjati mat-trasport pubbliku mhux jghinu s-sitwazzjoni.

Sfidi ohrajn bhall-energija sostenibbli, id-difiza ta’ siti pubblici mill-kommodifikazzjoni, il-kostruzzjoni, l-immanigjar ta’ l-iskart u l-ilma ser ikunu fuq quddiem fil-politika ambjentali Maltija fis-snin li gejjin, u dawn ser ikollhom impatt qawwi ekonomiku u socjali.

Dan kollu jista u ghandu jservi ta’ opportunita’ li nharsu lejn ekonomija hadra. Din izzid is-sostenibilita’ u tipprovdi x-xoghol f’setturi u livelli varji.

Sfida ewlenija relatata mas-sostenibilita’ hi jekk ahniex Konsumaturi – li rridu gratifikazzjoni istantanja f’socjeta’ ta’ ixtri u armi; jew Cittadini li nzwegu d-drittijiet mar-responsabilitajiet, anke lejn generazzjonijiet futuri. Nemmen li din hi l-ikbar dilemma fil-politika socjali llum.

Demokrazija

Id-diskors teknokratiku qed jipprova jikkonvincina li il-kwistjonijiet Ii jezistu llum huma biss ta’ natura manigerjali jew teknika, u li l-ideologija mietet. Altru milli mietet l-ideologija, qed naraw li l-ideologija neo-liberali ghandha rwol ewlieni fiz-zieda fl-inugwaljanzi socjali u fil-krizi ambjentali. Bl-istess mod, jista’ jkun hemm vizjonijiet ohra, li jaspiraw ghal bidliet sostanzjali lejn socjeta’ iktar gusta u sostenibbli.

Politika demokratika taghraf il-possibilta’ ta’ direzzjonijiet politici differenti fil-governanza ta’ socjeta’. Taghraf ukoll li d-diversita’ u l-antagonizmi jistghu isahhu d-demokrazija.

Fil-politika hemm pluralita’ ta’ siti socjali fejn isehhu l-antagonizmi, u dawn m’humiex necessarjament monopolizzati mill-partiti. Jezistu ukoll ghaqdiet non-governattivi, li ghandhom rwol importanti li jqajmu kuxjenza u li jahdmu ghal bidliet socjali.

Il-partiti u l-NGOs jistghu jahdmu fi spirtu ta’ djalogu, fejn l-awtonomija ta’ kull naha tigi rispettata, izda fejn jigu ffurmati alleanzi u koalizzjonijiet skond il-htiega.

Avversarji politici ghandhom jigu rispettati ghall-vizjonijiet differenti taghhom. Politika minghajr avversarji hi politika li tmur kontra s-sens demokratiku, ghax tassumi li kulhadd gie assorbit f’kunsens falz, kunsens monolitiku, kunsens li m’hu xejn ghajr monologu ta’ min ghandu s-sahha.

Ghalhekk, it-tishih demokratiku jezigi li l-diversita’, il-pluralizmu, is-socjeta’ civili u l-forom politici differenti jigu ccelebrati.

Konkluzjoni: L-Awtonomija

Naghlaq billi nosserva li qed nghixu f’socjeta’ li fejn l-individwalizazzjoni hija prezenti f’kull qasam tal-hajja.

L-individwi huma dejjem iktar mehtiega jibnu l-hajja rispettiva taghhom, mill-opportunitajiet li jezistu, nghidu ahna fl-edukazzjoni, sal-kundizzjonijiet ta’ prekarjeta’ li qed jnifirxu f’bosta oqsma tal-hajja, mix-xoghol sar-relazzjonijiet.

F’kundizzjoni ta’ individwalizzazzjoni, m’ghandniex ghazla hlief li naghmlu l-ghazliet, kemm il-darba difficli.

L-ghazliet li naghmlu huma influenzati kemm mill-mod kif nirriflettu dwarhom u kif ukoll fil-kundizzjonijiet li nghixu fihom.
Ghalhekk, sfida ewlenija ghall-politika socjali hi kif l-individwalizazzjoni taghti inqas lok ghall-prekarjeta’ u iktar lok ghall- awtonomija.

B’hekk wiehed ikollu kemm jista’ jkun kontroll fuq l-attivitajiet li jixtieq jaghmel fil-kostruzzjoni ta’ l-identita’ tieghi, fl-isferi varji tal-hajja, mill-familja sax-xoghol, mill-hin liberu sal-edukazzjoni.

L-awtonomija ghandha tkun relatata mal-gustizzja socjali u mas-sostenibilita’ f’kuntest demokratiku. Hawnhekk, ikollna verament politika tac-cittadini, u mhux politika tal-konsumaturi.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Energy Roadshow

Yesterday’s Parliamentary Debate on Malta’s energy plans did not result in any significant development on the matter.

On the one hand there were hard-hitting questions from Nationalist members of Parliament and also from Labour’s Marlene Pullicino. The main focus was on Labour’s broken electoral promise to have the new gas plant ready by March 2015.

There were also various questions regarding the financial and contractual aspects of Government’s plans as well as on various factors such as renewable energy, total energy supply and so forth.

On the other hand, Labour maintained its stand on reduced tariffs for households and business and on the general drift of Government’s plans.

It is obvious that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will not resign on the matter, but it is also obvious that the credibility of the Labour

Government received a blow, particularly when this was a flagship theme in Labour’s electoral campaign in 2013.

The lack of transparency on various aspects of Government’s energy plans does not help things, particularly when energy policy is inherently related to management of risk. For example, it is not clear what will happen after 5 years pass from electricity prices. Civil society is in the dark on specific aspects of the renewable energy plans. The talk of Malta as an energy hub is not being substantiated, and the lack of impact assessments adds mystery to the plot.

For all its worth, the delay in the development of a gas power plant may be worth the wait. This would be the case when the Marsa power station is dismantled, when Malta frees itself from oil dependency and if gas and renewable energy provide Malta’s energy requirements through diversified options in terms of provision.

Chinese investment might bring Enemalta back to financial stability, though there is rarely such a thing as a free meal. Possibly such financial outlay might be linked to the talk of Malta as an energy-exporting hub. Alternatively, it might shift Malta’s energy dependency from one source to another.

As far as the electoral term goes, the Labour Government can thus recoup loss of credibility sustained during these past days, though this is also overdetermined by other issues.

In this regard, Labour is performing well in areas concerning civil liberties and policies such as childcare and educational services, and as far as European election results go, Labour solidified its historic 2013 general election victory.

On the other hand it remains to be seen if Labour will deliver on a myriad of promises concerning precarious employment, sustainable finance and public transport, among others.

Labour’s policies – often characterized by conflicting promises - and performance can lead to implosion or to a hegemonic formation. It’s a long road to the next general election.

This blog also appears in Malta Today (24/10/14) as 'Little Transparency About Our Energy Roadshow' - Link: http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/1000000132/little_transparency_about_our_energy_roadshow#.VEoQbBaTDWd

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Environmental Impact and Civil Society Matters

Speech in “MALTA’S EU STORY: HOW TEN YEARS OF EU MEMBERSHIP HAVE CHANGED THE COUNTRY”: JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE - Europa House, St Paul’s Street, Valletta. Friday, 3rd October 2014

Environmental activism in Maltese civil society was already in place prior to Malta’s EU accssion.

During the 1960s, Din l-Art Helwa, Malta Ornithological Society (which eventually became Birdlife Malta), and Society for the Study and Conservation of Nature (which eventually became Nature Trust) were established, mainly emphasising issues related to conservationism and development of land.

During the 1980s Żgħażagħ għall-Ambjent (which eventually became Moviment għall-Ambjent – Friends of the Earth Malta) joined the fray, introducing the discourse of sustainable development in Maltese environmental politics.

In 1989, Malta’s Green Party, Alternattiva Demokratika, was born. This party, which was briefly preceded by the Democratic Party (PDM), helped ensure that the environment became a major political issue in Malta. Its presence in a small number of local councils has been another achievement.

During the 1990s, collaboration and cooperation amongst ENGOs increased.

The militant and socially-oriented NGO Moviment Graffitti joined ranks, and eventually, other NGOs also joined environmental campaigns.

Examples of such alliances included the Front against the Hilton redevelopment project in St Julians and the Front Against the Golf Course, - the latter comprising a broad coalition made up of diverse environmental, social, cultural, religious and political organisations.

The proposed golf course development was refused by MEPA in 2004, but this victory was not connected to Malta’s EU accession.

This historic environmental victory was similar to others which were not related to EU accession. These included alliances against a proposed leisure complex in Munxar in the mid-1990s; against the proposed Siggiewi cement plant and against a proposed landfill near Mnajdra temple. Another proposed development – that of an airstrip in Gozo –has been disappearing and resurfacing from one legislature to another.

In the meantime, Malta joined the EU. In line with the EU acquis, the country introduced legislation related to the environment, in areas which previously had no regulations. This generally led to environmental improvements and structural upgrading, though there were some notable exceptions, such as Malta’s shift to plastic soft-drink bottles.

Upon Malta’s EU accession, new ENGOs, such as Flimkien ghall-Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) and Ramblers’ Association emerged.

EU membership was discursively constructed as being beneficial to Malta’s environment. New lobbying opportunities were created for ENGOs.

In the first years following Malta’s EU accession, ENGOs were mainly active in issues such as development of land and hunting and trapping.

They were rather successful in relation to sensitizing and procedural impacts. These relate to processes such as raising public awareness and in being consulted by State authorities, though the latter leaves much to be desired.

As regards substantive impacts, ENGOs were generally not succesful in environmental issues in which they were active.

For example, as regards development projects, Malta’s EU accession was not deemed as a sufficient source of ENGO empowerment. Indeed, in most instances – for example in the environmentalist struggle against the so called ‘rationalization’ process of land development - the discourse of economic growth and neo-liberal ideology prevailed.

There were specific exceptions to this however – such as the environmentalist victory over the development of a carpark and shopping centre beneath a popular public garden in Sliema - but this had more to do with local and national political considerations.

An area were ENGOs achieved substantive impacts was the climate change, where Malta adopted binding EU targets, which, however, were subsequently not adhered to.

As regards hunting and trapping, environmentalists pressed for Malta’s conformity to the EU birds’ directive. Many believed that EU legislation would effectively result in an end of hunting during the Spring season.

What actually happened was that ENGOs like Birdlife Malta experienced institutionalisation and had considerable access to European institutions, but hunting in Spring remained largely in place. The ambivalent decision of the European Court of Justice on the Maltese case resulted in plural interpretations.

This resulted in further antagonism from the environmental movement, which has collected enough signatures for an abrogative referendum on hunting. Hence, as far as the case of Birdlife shows, institutionalisation of ENGOs does not always render an organisation docile to the State.

Yet the hunting issue also shows that even Europeanized issues are very much subjected to national political antagonisms.

In short, though empowerment of ENGOs was generally enhanced through EU accession, this was an uneven process.

(Note: This was also published in Zminijietna Oct-Dec 2014)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Energy and political gimmicks

So Malta’s new gas plant will be delayed by some months. Should this be a surprise?

During the 2013 general election campaign, when Labour had promised to have a new gas plant running by March 2015, and I had argued together with my Green Party colleagues (I was AD chairperson at the time) that it was practically impossible to have a regulated plant operate in such a short time frame.

Now that the inevitable is hitting the news headlines, everyone is saying that Labour should play the political price for such an electoral ‘gimmick’. True, but surely the issue should not simply be judged on the electoral circus.

Let us put predictable partisan-discourse aside.

I think that if Malta is to wait a few months longer to have a new gas plant as well as increased usage of renewable energy, I would say this would be worth the wait. This would be even more welcome when we finally consign the Marsa power station and oil dependency to the dustbin of history.

The Labour Government is insisting that its promises on utility bills for families and business will remain on track. Whilst lower prices are welcome, this should be coupled with increased sustainability.

As regards the political economy dimension of Malta’s new energy policy, one cannot help note the big business and geo-political relationships of power involved in a symbiotic relationship between the State and economic forces. On the other hand, I disagree with those who are ‘snobbing’ Malta’s relationship with China out of some pseudo-European essentialism. If anything, China is injecting new funds in an erstwhile near bankrupt State energy provider, and is also increasing options to diversify Malta’s energy mix. Malta is not the only EU member state which is in partnership with China on energy. Italy and Denmark are two other recent examples.

Being solely dependent on China may be an unsustainable way forward, but using the same logic, so would dependence on the interconnector from Sicily. Hence, having a diversified energy mix would provide flexibility for Malta’s energy options, and would also add credence to the argument of having Malta act as an energy hub in the Mediterranean.

In any case, increased flexibility, sovereignty and sustainability would take place if more investment takes place in terms of renewable energy. Malta is still Europe’s laggard in this regard, though we are now reading that Malta now has 3% of its energy coming from renewable sources and that the 10% target for EU2020 targets might actually be reached.

The months to come will provide interesting reading. The gas tanker controversy will add spice to the issue, and lack of transparency on various procedures will not help things. But let us not forget that in the final instance, energy sustainability, sovereignty and flexibility are more importance than partisan gimmicks from either side. Let us also not forget that there is no such thing as energy policy without risks. The managing of risks is another matter.