Monday, April 30, 2018

Publication of paper on Digital Activism, Physical Activism and Malta's Front Harsien ODZ

My research article 'Digital Activism, Physical Activism - Malta's Front Harsien ODZ' has been published in peer-reviewed journal Contention - The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest. 

This article analyzes the interaction between the digital (online) and physical (offline) activism of Front Harsien ODZ, a Maltese environmental movement organization. It looks into how Front activists perceive these forms of activism and verifies how important each form is to the organization. Consequently, the research presented herein is operationalized through interviews with Front activists and through participant observation from an insider’s point of view. This article concludes that activists within Front Harsien ODZ feel that they are part of a social network. The organization’s recruitment, mobilization and activism techniques are at once digital and physical. Most Front activists were already part of preexisting social networks before joining the Front, and the new Front network made good use of Malta’s political opportunity structures, including the Zonqor controversy; Malta’s small size; and the country’s vibrant media landscape.

The pensions myopia - Michael Briguglio

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Times of Malta, 30 April 2018

The Labour government is banking on the influx of foreign workers to finance Malta’s pension system. This is the same system which is using revenue from today’s social security contributors to pay today’s pensioners and which will therefore require tomorrow’s social security contributors to pay tomorrow’s pensioners, unless sustainable reform takes place.
In the meantime, Malta is undergoing the process of an ageing population, which means that in the future there will be comparatively less workers available to finance the increasing number of pensioners. The difference between the two demographic groups decrease if more women and foreign workers enter the labour market and/or if the pensionable age is increased.
As things stand, an increasing number of women and foreigners are entering Malta’s labour market, and I would not expect any political party to say it will increase the pensionable age in an electoral programme. It is only reasonable to expect that more women enter the labour market, and here one hopes that a corresponding number of men get more involved in caring duties in addition to employment.
But I do not think that one can make safe predictions on the influx of foreign workers. The current influx is taking place due to Malta’s current economic conditions, and any economist knows that economies are subject to different cycles and turns. For example, if demand for property construction decreases, there would be less of a demand for foreign workers to be employed in this sector.
Let us look at current figures related to this matter. The number of social security contributors in Malta, which includes both Maltese and foreign workers, has increased by 38,105 between 2012 and 2016, an increase of 23 per cent. A corresponding 31 per cent increase has taken place in national insurance contributions, from €194 million to a staggering €255 million.
It is unclear how much of this is paid by foreign workers, whether EU or third-country nationals, but it is safe to assume that their contribution has increased significantly.
If we go back seven years, government’s pension consultants had shown how pension sustainability was in doubt due to a smaller future workforce, a lower fertility rate, and higher longevity.  They had suggested the importation of skilled workers, the linking of retirement to life expectancy and the introduction of a second pillar pension.
The latter is a compulsory scheme through which workers have an extra insurance scheme which cannot be used by government for other expenditure. Labour market participants could top up contributory pensions through extra savings that help guarantee a better pension upon retirement age.
In my view, such a scheme could be made more socially just if the government would then assist those who cannot participate in such a scheme due to genuine socio-economic reasons.
In the meantime, there was a change of government and a new pensions strategy was published in 2015. Second pillar pensions were written off and more emphasis was made on the increase of female and foreign workers in the labour market.
In line with my argument above, I think that the government’s avoidance of second pillar pensions is myopic, in that its vision is excessively dependent on current economic realities and on electoral cycles.
The Labour government also banks on third pillar voluntary private pension schemes. There is nothing wrong with such schemes, but they have two main problems.
In the first instance they are more likely to attract and reward high-income earners to invest in personal pensions. Secondly, many people do not invest in such long-term considerations, thus opting out of such schemes. The pensions system requires a caring government if sustainability and the common good are major social goals.
Unfortunately, the government does not seem to be considering less favourable future economic scenarios which could result in less foreign workers contributing to the pensions scheme.
It would be more prudent to consider the increase in pensions by foreign workers as a windfall and not as a sustainable revenue stream to finance pensions. Pensions reform may not be the sexiest topic on the agenda, but we are in it together and a national consensus on the matter is needed sooner rather than later.

[Watch] The Malta energy bills trick - Michael Briguglio

In my fortnightly vlog in The Malta Independent I bring up a number of questions in relation to ARMS billing methods which are resulting in higher energy bills.

You may watch the vlog by clicking on this link: 

You may also wish to read this:
Am I being overcharged in my utility bill?
Click here:

Is-surrogacy jrendi l-mara oggett - Michael Briguglio

Hekk kif il-Gvern bihsiebu jbiddel il-ligi tal-IVF, tajjeb li ninnutaw li l-gvern irid jintroduci s-surrogacy f’Malta.

Jien ghandi riservi qawwijin ghas-surrogacy, u hawnhekk naqbel ma’ bosta hsibijiet li jvarjaw minn dik feminista ghal dik kattolika. F’bosta pajjizi Ewropej is-surrogacy hi illegali, u f’xi pajjizi hi permessa s-surrogacy ‘altruista’. Il-Parlament Ewropew talab lill-pajjizi msiehba fl-UE biex ma jippermettux is-surrgacy.

Fl-opinjoni tieghi, is-surrogacy irendi l-gisem tal-mara oggett li jista’ jigi sfruttat u komodifikat. Il-mara ssir fabbrika, ma tistax tissejjah ‘omm’ u d-drittijiet tal-wild huma pratikament inezistenti. L-ewwel jigi il-klient. Dan l-argument jghodd ukoll ghas-surrgacy ‘altruista’.

Kif nistghu qatt inkunu nafu li surrogacy tkun verament ‘altruista’, li ma saret l-ebda pressjoni socjali fuq il-mara u li m’hemmx flus klandestini involuti? Il-Gvern ghamel ricerka biex jara min huma dawk li jintuza gisimhom ghas-surrogacy? Qieghed jikkunsidra l-possibilita’ li dawn in-nisa jista’ jkollhom inqas poter socjali mill-klienti taghhom?

U x’jigri jekk is-surrogacy ma jmurx skond il-pjan? Nghidu ahna jekk l-omm tkun trid izzomm it-tarbija, jew jekk il-klienti ma jridux it-tarbija. Jew jekk jinqala xi mard?

Ma nistax nemmen kif gvern li jsejjah lilu nnifsu feminista qieghed jinjora kwistjonijiet etici u qed jipprova jevita diskussjoni infurmata u matura.

Iktar ma jmur iktar qed nersqu lejn gvern bla ruh, ‘a soulless state’, fejn il-politika tal-gvern trendi kollox prodott ghall-isfruttar. Il-gisem uman ser jizdied mal-lista fejn diga’ nsibu c-cittadinazna, l-ambjent u l-art pubblika.

Jehtieg li attivisti, politici u esperti fix-xjenzi medici u socjali izidu l-pressjoni biex il-Gvern ma jkomplix ghaddej b’din il-politika ta’ komodifikazzjoni tal-gisem uman.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 29 ta' April 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

The IVF, surrogacy debate - Michael Briguglio

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Times of Malta 23 April 2018

The ongoing news concerning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia represents a huge taint on Malta’s governance. The way the government is acting is more in sync with that of illiberal democracies in Hungary, Poland and Turkey, where institutional autonomy is being dismantled to protect political oligarchs.
Amid this dark cloud over democracy, Joseph Muscat’s government is trying to rush through legislation and avoiding thorough public debate and scrutiny. IVF and surrogacy are the most recent examples.
The government is stating that in vitro fertilisation (IVF) will be accessible to more than just different-sex couples; infertile couples will have increased chances to conceive a child. Consequently, embryo freezing will be permitted, prospective parents can have extra embryos frozen for five years and these may be consequently given up for adoption.
The proposed law will also allow sperm and egg donations, as well as surrogacy. As things currently stand, surrogacy is illegal, and doctors involved in IVF or embryo transfer can be subjected to a fine ranging from €5,000 to €15,000 and a maximum three-year prison sentence. The surrogate mother’s punishment is decreased by one or two degrees.
The proposed law will keep such punishments in place for surrogacy against payment, but it can allow ‘altruistic’ surrogacy. In turn, this part of the law will be subject to ‘public consultation’ and a legal notice.
Judging by this government’s standards for consultation, my hopes aren’t too high.
Pierre Schembri Wismayer, a professor who was involved in the drafting of the existing IVF legislation is dubbing the proposed changes “chilling”, “irresponsible” and “as tantamount to a document prepared over the weekend by somebody high on energy drinks” (April 15).
He raised concern over the possible ‘blackmail’ of couples applying for IVF treatment to give away their own embryos for adoption if they are not required. He also raised concern that embryologists would select the best two embryos out of the permitted five for IVF treatment for a higher chance of success.
In his words, “the rest, which will be frozen, will in actual fact be less healthy embryos. This will further reduce the chance of these embryos being adopted”. 
He also raised concern about contradictions in the proposed text and lack of safeguards, which are not surprising in a country with poor checks and balances. This could have implications in areas such as children’s rights and health. 
I augur that other experts in the medical and social sciences speak up on the proposed legislation. Irrespective of one’s ideological and ethical positions on IVF, surrogacy and related issues on the Malta parliamentary agenda, I believe that broad, informed, non-banalised and comprehensive debates are required within the public sphere before laws are rushed through.
I, for one, have strong ethical reservations on surrogacy, and this view is shared by a wide range of ideologies ranging from feminism to Catholicism. In many European countries it is banned, while some others permit the so-called ‘altruistic’ model. The European Parliament has called on States to ban it.
In my reading surrogacy legitimises the commodification of the body through exploitation and abuse. The woman’s womb becomes a factory, the mother cannot be called ‘mum’ and the rights of the child are practically inexistent. The client comes first. This argument even holds for ‘altruistic’ surrogacy.
Indeed, how would we know if such surrogacy is really altruistic, that no pressure has taken place and that no money is being paid in a clandestine way? And why is the government assuming that no-cost surrogacy is not exploitative? Is the government consulting research on the demographics of surrogate mothers?
Does it look into the possibilities that the latter may have less social power than their clients?
The plot thickens. What if the surrogacy doesn’t go according to plan and the prospective child does not fulfill the expectations of the clients?
To me it is inconceivable that the same government that calls itself feminist is practically brushing aside ethical concerns and avoiding informed debate on such matters. We are moving towards a soulless State where the government’s niche products involve the commodification of everything.
The human body is the latest addition to citizenship, nature and public land.

Michelle Obama u Malta - Michael Briguglio

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Michelle Obama dan l-ahhar ghamlet analogija interessanti ferm dwar id-differenzi bejn l-eks President Amerikan Barack Obama u l-President attwali Donald Trump.

Obama qalet hekk: “Nahseb qed naraw x’jigri meta thalli kollox ghaddej. Ghal tmien snin, meta Barack kien president, wiehed kien ihossu li hemm ‘genitur tajjeb’ id-dar: Genitur responsabbli, dak li jghidlek biex tiekol il-karrotti u biex torqod x’certu hin. Illum ghandna l-genitur l-iehor. Dak li jahseb li qed niehdu gost, ghax issa nistghu nieklu l-helu l-gurnata kollha, nibqghu imqajmin sa x’hin irridu u ma nsegwux regoli”.

Kliem Michelle Obama huwa tassew applikabbli ghal Malta.

Il-Gvernijiet Nazzjonalisti bejn l-1987 u l-2013 ma kienux perfetti, izda gabu tibdil importanti fil-pajjiz bhad-demokrazija liberali, il-liberta’ ta’ l-espressjoni, il-pluralimzu tax-xandir u tas-socjeta’ civili, l-eliminazzjoni tal-vjolenza mill-apparat ta’ l-istat, zvilupp ekonomiku u socjali, shubija fl-Unjoni Ewropea u shubija fl-Ewro. Meta kien hemm maltemp ekonomiku globali wara l-krizi tal-2008, Malta zammet sod u baqghet mixja.

Kemm Eddie Fenech Adami kif ukoll Lawrence Gonzi kemm il-darba hadu decizzjonijiet importanti u rrikonciljaw interessi differenti billi poggew il-gid komuni fuq quddiem. U avolja kienu konservattivi fuq kwistjonijiet bhad-divorzju u d-drittijiet LGBTIQ, li kieku ma kienux huma li fethu l-bibien ghall-liberta’, kien ikun ferm iktar difficli li wara jinfethu t-twieqi ghal dawn id-drittijiet.

Kien hemm oqsma bhall-ambjent li kien jixirqilhom iktar importanza, izda pajjizna kien qed jara titjib f’certi oqsma permezz ta’ regoli frott ta’ shubija fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Ejja nqabblu dan kollu mal-Gvern Laburista ta’ Joseph Muscat. Huwa veru li l-ekonomija qed tikber, izda l-istess tikber iz-zaqq meta wiehed jiekol hafna helu. Il-mudell ekonomiku ta’ Muscat hu bbazat fuq bejgh tal-passaporti, zvilupp bla razan, u l-kummercjalizazzjoni tal-gid komuni. Is-sostenibilita’ ta’ dan il-mudell fuq medda ta’ snin hu wiehed dubjuz, iktar u iktar meta ma jidhirx li hemm pjan ghal difersifikazzjoni.

Il-Gvern Laburista qieghed jatwa politika ta’ xejn m’hu xejn f’oqsma bhall-ambjent, is-sahha u t-trasport. Il-governanza dghajfa qed tagevola l-korruzzjoni u kbarat li ma jsegwux ir-regoli qed jigu ippremjati. Sa dan it-tant Joseph Muscat jipprova jisseduci lill-poplu biex jippartecipa f’prattici simili.

Ta’ min wiehed jomghod sew kliem bhal ta’ Michelle Obama. Jaghmlu sew dawk li jitkellmu dwar kif il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat qed ibiddel il-pajjiz f’wiehed fejn kollox ghandu prezz u fejn ma jippurtaniex mill-konsegwenzi ta’ politika li ma tharisx fit-tul. Sewwa jaghmlu dawk li ma jiskrux sakra li jkollha konsegwenzi koroh l-ghada.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 23 ta' April 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Malta llum bejn politika socjali u l-progett Daphne - Michael Briguglio

Nixtieq nitkellem dwar xi realtajiet u inugwaljanzi socjali f’pajjizna illum.

Tajjeb inzommu f’mohhna li l-inguwaljanza socjali jista’ jkollha forom varji. Jista’ jkollha x’taqsam ma’ fatturi ekonomici, ma’ pregudizzji, ma’ diskriminazzjoni u ma eskluzjoni socjali ta’ gruppi varji.

Jekk niehdu d-dinja tax-xoghol bhala ezempju, naraw li f’pajjizna hemm realtajiet kontrastanti ferm. Filwaqt li l-ekonomija qed tikber u l-qghad u l-istatistka tal-faqar juru tnaqqis, hemm madwar 30% tal-‘working age population’ li m’humiex qed jahdmu f’impjieg formali. Fost dawn hemm 7,000 zghazugh li mhux qed jirregistraw ghax-xoghol jew jattendu xi facilita edukattiva.

Hemm ukoll bosta haddiema li qed jesperjenzaw zminijiet iebsa. Huma hafna l-haddiema b’pagi baxxi u/jew b’kundizzjonijiet hziena li ma jistghux ilahhqu ma’ l-gholi tal-hajja u li ma jistghux jitolbu ghal pagi iktar gholjin. Dan minhabba ragunijiet bhal dik li f’xi setturi jistghu jinstabu haddiema ohrajn minflokhom li lesti jahdmu ghal pagi iktar baxxi u ghal kundizzjonijiet inferjuri.  B’hekk jinholoq ciklu ta’ sfruttar u kompetizzjoni ingusta bejn il-haddiema.

Hemm ukoll bosta fatturi kulturali u socjali li qed iwasslu ghal inugwaljanzi li hafna drabi jahmdu kontra n-nisa fuq il-post tax-xoghol. Politika li verament trid l-ugwaljanza f’dan il-qasam tizgura li n-nisa ikollhom l-istess stima, appogg, pagi u kundizzjonijiet li ghandhom l-irgiel fuq il-post tax-xoghol. Politika ekwa titkellem ukoll dwar ir-responsabilitajiet ta’ l-irgiel fil-familja u mat-tfal.

Ta’ min iqis ukoll li f’pajjizna huwa stmat li l-ekonomija mohbija (underground economy) hija pjuttost kbira (25% tal-prodott gross domestiku). Hemm diversi ragunijiet li jispjegaw l-ezistenza ta’ xoghol mhux dikjarat. Fosthom hemm l-ezistenza xoghol prekarju b’kundizzjonijiet ta’ sfruttar li donnhom qed jaharbu mill-attenzjoni ta’ l-awtoritajiet.

Ta’ min isemmi kwistjonijiet ohra relatati ma’ l-eskluzzjoni socjali. Fost dawn hemm is-solitudni. Paradoss ta’ zminijietna hu li filwaqt li l-bliet u l-irhuha qed jikbru,  is-socjeta’ qed tkun karattierzzata ukoll minn nuqqas ta’ sens ta’ komunita’, individwalizazzjoni f’oqsma varji tal-hajja u nies li jhossuhom wahidhom qalb il-folla.

Ghalhekk huwa importanti li l-politika socjali tipprovva ssahhah il-komunitajiet fis-socjeta’. Dawn jistghu ikunu komunitajiet lokali, fuq il-post tax-xoghol u fl-edukazzjoni,  u jistghu ikunu ukoll komunitajiet ta’ persuni b’esperjenzi, gosti jew kulturi simili. Investiment ikbar fil-kunsilli lokali, fl-ghaqdiet non-governattivi u f’inizjattivi edukattivi, socjali u kulturali jistghu jghinu f’dawn ir-rigward.

F’socjeta’ fejn il-partiti politici ghandhom prezenza kbira f’oqsma varji tal-hajja, huwa importanti li tigi valorizzata  politika li temfasizza kemm il-kapital socjali, u mhux wahda li tisfrutta lil bniedem peress ta’ processi fejn il-vot jispicca arma biex nikkompettu ma’ xulxin ghall-privileggi. Tajjeb ukoll li l-politika tippromwovi bilanc ta’ drittijiet u dmirijiet, biex b’hekk l-individwu ikun verament parti mis-socjeta’ ta’ madwaru.

Ghalhekk, oppozizzjoni b’sahhitha ghandha d-dmir li titkellem f’isem dawk li qed jesperjenzaw inugwaljanza frott ta’ politika ta’ Gvern li kemm il-darba qieghed iwarrab ir-ruh socjali.

Il-fatt li l-Gvern Laburista irid idahhal ligijiet bhal dik tas-surrogacy juru li minkejja d-diskors li hu feminista u liberali, fil-verita’ huwa favur politika li tmur kontra d-dinjita’ tal-persuna.

Nitxtieq nitkellem ukoll dwar kwistjoni ohra li qieghda fuq fomm kulhadd: L-ahbarijiet li hargu mid Daphne Project:  konsorzzju ta’ 45 gurnalist minn gazzetti kbar minn 18-il pajjiz.

Huwa car iktar minn qatt qabel li l-pozizzjonijiet ta’ Keith Schembri u Konrad Mizzi m’ghadhomx tenibli u ghalhekk ghandhom jitnehhew mill-karigi taghhom ta' ministru u Kap tal-Ufficcju tal-Prim Ministru. Ir-revelazzjonijiet mid-Daphne Project izidu aktar evidenza mal-illegalitajiet tal-Panama Papers.

Iktar ma’ l-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat jibqa jiddefendi lill-Schembri u Mizzi, iktar qed isahhahh il-kultura’ ta’ xejn m’hu xejn, il-kultura’ ta’ l-impunita fejn hemm ligi ghall-Allat u ligi ghall-annimali.

Jidher li l-triumvirat ta’ Muscat, Schembri u Mizzi iridu jzommu l-poter akkost ta’ kollox u ghalhekk ghandna noqoghdu attendi sabiex niddefendu l-kisbiet demokratici li akkwistajna tul is-snin.

Ghalhekk naghlaq biex nappella biex ikun hemm unita’ milll-forzi kollha ta’ rieda tajba sabiex insalvaw il-pajjiz mill-iktar tmexxija korrotta li qatt kellu.

Il-poter ta’ Muscat m’huwiex etern, u ahna ser nibqghu infakkruh b’dan il-fatt permezz tal-vuci, tal-kitba u ta’ l-attivizmu taghna.  

Diskors, 22 ta' April 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Daphne, 6 months on - Michael Briguglio

6 months have passed since the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

She remains alive among those who long for Malta to be a normal liberal democracy, in line with what we voted for in the referendum for EU accession 15 years ago. She remains alive among those who are standing up to be counted for free speech through their activism, journalism and participation in civil society.

In the meantime 45 journalists from top media houses in 15 countries have teamed up to form the #DaphneProject . Their revelations so far have confirmed the facts published by Daphne Caruana Galizia on Panama Papers and give the Police no choice but to investigate allegations related to her brutal murder.

As part of the global partnership to bring about justice for Daphne, Civil Society Network will keep stepping up its activism for good governance. We are also showing that good governance has a strong impact on our everyday lives, whether through utility bills, protection of the environment, quality of life and meritocracy. We are on the side of journalists and activists campaigning for freedom of speech.

As an EU member state Malta is increasingly resembling other rogue states which are deviating from the European spirit of freedom of expression and liberal democracy.

Our Prime Minister Joseph Muscat may present his best smile on international television when he speaks about whistleblowers and rule of law. Yet he refuses to give whistleblower status to Maria Efimova and Jonathan Ferris and he keeps defending his Chief of Staff and Ministers despite the grave cases of corruption and bad governance.

Muscat parades himself as being progressive, liberal and feminist. Yet this seems to be so only when the interests of oligarchs are not effected. His party’s recent parliamentary vote against legislative reforms to protect Maltese journalists and media houses from SLAPP is a case in point. Along the same lines, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici is clearly more willing to protect Henley and Partners and Pilatus Bank than Maltese journalists.

The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was a stark warning to those of us active against corruption. But other techniques may also be used to silence critics. Labour does this through its policies of seduction, sanctioning and surveillance.

In this regard, academics and artists may depend on government funds for contracts, consultancy, expositions and so forth. There is nothing wrong in this itself, but if such funding conditions condition free speech then we should be asking important questions.

For example, to what extent is partisan loyalty required to win contracts? To what degree do artists and academics sanction themselves? What happens if an academic or artist who depends on government funds speaks up on such matters?

I salute academics and artists who refuse government funding precisely so that their free speech and expression are not affected. Their expressions and opinions on censorship are not dependent on who is in government and what they personally obtain. But this only shows what a sorry state our country is in.

As regards civil society and the media, Labour clearly rewards those which support it directly or indirectly, and largely ignores others unless their pressure is so significant that the government would have to concede some inches. Associations are witnessing the dismemberment of procedures and the appointment of party apparatchiks on decision-making bodies, putting party interests before the common good.

In the meantime, an army of Labour trolls harass people on the social media, sometimes even exposing government critics publicly. The ultimate aim of this strategy is to intimidate them, to show them that they are being watched and tracked.

Government is everywhere. It is the hand that feeds us and slaps us. But in the final instance, power is in our hands, as we may choose not to be seduced by the Muscat regime. We will keep up our activism even if Muscat is watching us and wants us to shut up.

Monday, April 16, 2018

[WATCH] 6 months later, questions remain - Michael Briguglio

Six months after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, questions still remain and they still need to be answered. In a vlog for The Malta Independent, I highlight the concern that surrounds the assassination while Prime Minister Joseph Muscat boasts of a liberal country.

You may watch the vlog here. 

Front for censorship - Michael Briguglio

Image result for mark camilleri malta labour
Times of Malta, 16 April 2018

Labour parades as being progressive, liberal and feminist. Yet it seems to be so only whenthe interests of oligarchs are not affected.
Its recent parliamentary vote against legislative reforms to protect Maltese journalists and media houses from SLAPP is a case in point.
The Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is being used by Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners to stop journalists from doing their job. Readers needn’t be reminded about the controversies surrounding these companies. Through SLAPP, international court cases could cripple journalists due to hefty legal costs, often leaving the same journalists with no option but to withdraw their writings.
Hence, in Malta we are allowed to offend religion, but we are not protected from investigating Pilatus Bank or Henley & Partners. In the meantime, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici is clearly more willing to protect these two companies than Maltese journalists.
This is hardly surprising given Labour’s deficit in governance. What is perhaps more disappointing is the silence of the so-called ‘Front Against Censorship’. 
This Front is led by Mark Camilleri and was very vocal prior to the 2013 general election. Camilleri canvassed for Bonnici in the respective electoral campaign and after Labour’s victory Camilleri was appointed chairman of the National Book Council.
Before the 2017 general election, Camilleri was quoted by the Malta Independent (May 29) that he will vote for Labour’s Helena Dalli and would give his second preference to the Green Party. He also said that Simon Busuttil is more corrupt that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. Needless to say, after Labour’s successive victory Camilleri retained his post as chairman of the National Book Council.
In the meantime, the priorities of the Front Against Censorship seemed to change under Labour administrations. Its current silence on SLAPP and on threats to press freedom are a case in point. I would have expected a demonstration by the Front during last week’s parliamentary session on SLAPP. Perhaps Camilleri had very long working hours within the book council.
Interestingly, the Front Against Censorship has also used censorship tactics itself. I myself experienced this when I was banned from its Facebook discussion group by Camilleri himself some months ago.
I posted about threats to musicians who were going to play in a concert and about the censorship tactics being used against Jonathan Ferris who, to date has not been given whistle-blower status, despite Labour’s boasting about whistleblower legislation.
We can now safely say that the Front Against Censorship is led by a person whose credentials against censorship are inconsistent and untenable. But I guess its up to the Front’s members (whoever they are) to look into this, given that he does not seem to get it.
Labour’s support of SLAPP attempts against journalists has also been faced by silence by quite other conspicuous participants of Malta’s public sphere.
In a normal democracy, the artistic community would be up in arms about this. Some artists have spoken up, some others could not be bothered and yet others seem to be afraid to do so.  The same can be said for Malta’s intellectual community.
Fear of speaking up should not be taken lightly. I appreciate that various academics and artists depend on government funds for contracts, consultancy, expositions and so forth.
There is nothing wrong in this itself, but if such funding conditions free speech then we should be asking important questions.
For example, to what extent is partisan loyalty required to win contracts? Which seductive and sanctioning tactics are used by government to influence free speech? To what degree do artists and academics sanction themselves? What happens if an academic or artist who depends on government funds speaks up on such matters?
One should also mention academics and artists who refuse government funding precisely so that their free speech and expression are not affected. Unlike the Mark Camilleris of our world, their expressions and opinions on censorship are not dependent on who is in government and what they personally obtain. 
Hats off to them.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ekonomija dipendenti fuq il-permessi - Michael Briguglio

Kif tahdem il-politika ta’ l-izvilupp f’Malta? Nistghu nghidu li hemm relazzjoni ta’ dipendenza bejn il-gvern u l-izvilupputari kbar.

L-izviluppaturi jipprovdu tkabbir ekonomiku u incentivi ohra. Il-Gvern jappoggja l-izvilupp permess ta’ permessi, infrastruttura, legizlazzjoni u fatturi ohra. Din ir-relazzjoni hi prodott ta’ rabta ideologika ma’ zvilupp permess ta’ sfruttar ta’ l-art.

L-Awtorita’ ta’ l-Ippjanar hi rapprezentanta important tal-Gvern f’dan ir-rigward. Izda tajjeb ninnutaw li mhux qed nitkellmu dwar istituzzjoni monolitika li dejjem tiddeciedi bl-istess mod. Minflok, ninnutaw li d-decizzjonijiet huma ta’ sikwiet influenzati minn antagonizmi bejn interessi differenti, fejn certi ilhna huma iktar b’sahhithom minn ohra.

Hemm bosta ezempji li juru li l-moviment ambjentalista fis-socjeta’ civili kellu impatti sostanzjali u rnexxielu jwaqqaf jew inaqqas certu zvilupp. Ezempji ricenti jinkludu ir-rebha kontra zvilupp massiv f’wied ghomor u t-tnaqqis ta’ l-art ODZ li ser tittiehed fiz-Zonqor. Nittamaw li din ta’ l-ahhar titnaqqas ghal kollox u b’hekk ghandna nibqghu vigilanti u attivi biex insalvaw iz-Zonqor.

Meta l-moviment ambjentalista jkollu l-appogg ta’ partit politiku kbir jew ta’ elementi fi  hdanu, dan generalment jaghti spinta kbira lejn rizultat konkret.

Izda tajjeb naraw ukoll kif il-politika tal-gvern Laburista qed tipprova tintensifika l-izvilupp billi tesseduci lil kulhadd sabiex isir zviluppatur.

Qed nesperjenzaw intensifikazzjoni tar-relazzjoni bejn il-gvern u zviluppaturi kbar, u l-ezempji ricenti ta’ Townsquare f’Tas-Sliema u l-ITS f’San Giljan u Pembroke juruna x’ghandna nistennew f’postijiet ohra fis-snin li gejjin.

Izda l-Gvern Laburista qed jipprova jbiegh holma lill-pubbliku kollu permezz ta’ weghdi elettorali, politika dghajfa li tipperemetti zvilupp kbir jew zghir u li qed iwassal ghal kostruzzjoni bla razan kemm urban kif ukoll rurali.

Il-bejgh tal-passaporti u l-importazzjoni ta’ haddiema barranin qed jipprovdu suq ghal dawn il-propjetajiet, u hekk kif il-prezzjiet tal-kirjiet u tal-bejgh qed ikunu wisq gholjin ghal persuni li ghandhom dhul baxx.

Il-politika ta’ sorveljanza permezz ta’ micro-management tal-Gvern Laburista taghti l-permessi lil min joffri lealta politika u tkun iebsa ma' min hu meqjus avversarju politiku anke jekk kollox ikun skond ir-regoli.

Izda kemm hu sostenibbli dan il-mudell ekonomiku fuq medda itwal ta’ zmien? Hemm argumenti varji li wiehed ghandu jqis. Dawn jinkludu l-pressjoni politika tal-moviment ambjentalista fis-socjeta’ civili u l-alleati tieghu, l-impatti ambjentali u fuq it-traffiku, u t-tnaqqis fid-domanda jekk jonqsu l-barranin li qed jigu jghuxi Mata.

Sa dan it-tant l-impatt kumulattiv fuq il-bliet, l-irhula u l-pajsagg rurali qed jikber, u pajjizna qed isir wisq dipendenti fuq qasam ekonomiku wiehed. Jekk u meta dan jibda’ jmajna, l-impatt ekonomiku jaf ikollu riperkussjonijiet iebsa ferm.

Ghalhekk, f’pajjizna illum ir-relazzjoni bejn zviluppaturi u l-Gvern intensifikat favur zvilulpp iperattiv. Iktar ma jkun hemm koalizzjonijiet wiesgha kontra dan, ahjar. Tajjeb ukoll li nharsu lejn ekonomija sostenibbli u diversifikata, u mhux fuq ekonomija li hu wisq dipendenti fuq settur wiehed.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 15-4-18

Monday, April 09, 2018

Sociology of planning policy - Michael Briguglio

Image result for construction malta
Times of Malta, 9 April 2018

Back in 1998, my Bachelor’s dissertation in sociology analysed the development of Portomaso. My research concluded that a symbiotic relationship exists between the State and big developers.
In this regard, developers provide economic growth and other incentives. The State provides policy and operational support. I argued that the relationship is fed by an ideological commitment to such development through the exploitation of land. The Planning Authority is the State’s major representative in this regard.
Since then, Malta has witnessed endless examples of the relationship between the State and big developers. At the same time, however, it has also been shown that the State is not merely a monolithic structure that always decides the same way. It is more of a condensation of conflicts which take place, albeit characterised by some interests and ideological orientations which are stronger than others.
Indeed, there were examples where the environmental movement had substantive impacts and managed to stop or reduce certain development. Subsequent sociological studies by myself, including my doctoral dissertation in 2013, and others such as Patrick Galea, Jeremy Boissevain and Caroline Gatt analysed various case studies in this regard.
To mention a few successful campaigns, these include the failed proposals for a golf course in Rabat, a cement plant in Siġġiewi and a car park and shopping complex in Qui-si-sana, Sliema. More recently, the development of an old people’s home in Wied Għomor was defeated and the planned ODZ footprint of the so-called American University of Malta was reduced.
The support of any of the two major political parties – or elements within them – to the environmental movement usually aid the chances of victory.
Therefore, even though the Planning Authority under successive governments has tended to favour big developers, one cannot simply conclude that this is a one-way process. The environment is political, and different outcomes can result.
In this article I want to take the argument further. I believe that under the current Labour government, the relationship between the State and big developers has intensified and is being accompanied by a style of governance that seduces everyone to become a developer himself.
I don’t think readers of this article need much convincing about the intensification of the State’s relationship with big developers. Townsquare and ITS are but two recent examples of the Labour government’s favouring of mega projects, and more are yet to come.
What is more fascinating is how Labour is selling a Maltese dream to the public. Its lax development policies and its rubberstamping of various proposals, big and small, are major contributors to Malta’s current economic growth, whether through the development of high-rises or the odd extra storey to one’s house.
The selling of passports and the importation of foreign workers provide markets for such properties, the prices of which are becoming prohibitive for lower-income earners. Labour’s micro-political surveillance techniques demand voter loyalty, and those who are deemed to be political opponents are given a hard time by the Planning Authority.
It is doubtful whether such an economic model can keep sustaining itself over a long period for various reasons. These include political pressure by the environmental movement and its allies, environmental and traffic impacts, and drop in demand should the influx of foreign workers subside.  Yet, as Sandro Chetcuti once said, “make hay while the sun shines”, and the expanding class of big and small developers is obliging.
Labour’s economic model is also likely to be sustained by pre-electoral promises and commitments for development. Whether these are characterised by corrupt deals is difficult to prove, but the impacts on the environment are the same.
Again, one can refer to mega projects but also to smaller ones which are slowly but surely resulting in cumulative impacts on Malta’s urban and rural landscapes.
We can therefore conclude that now there is a relationship between the State and developers, big and small for hyper development. This requires stronger opposition than ever before, and the wider the coalitions the better.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Ix-xibka tal-gvern - Michael Briguglio

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Meta nanalizzaw kif jopera l-gvern Laburista, tajjeb li ma niffukawx biss fuq dak li jghid Joseph Muscat jew fuq dak li naraw fil-mezzi tax-xandir. Tajjeb ukoll li ma niffukawx biss fuq statistika u cifri.

Mhux qed nghid li dawn m’humiex fatturi important, anzi. Izda analizi olistika ghandha tindaga ukoll dwar il-mod kif il-gvern huwa prezenti f’oqsma socjali varji fil-hajja ta’ kuljum. Dawn jinkludu l-familija, hbiberiji, ir-religjon, is-socjeta’ civili, il-professjonijiet, ix-xandir, l-edukazzjoni, l-amministrazzjoni u oqsma ohra.

Tajjeb naraw ukoll jekk id-drittijiet ta’ l-individwu humiex rispettati, jekk hemm arrangamenti bilancjati bejn l-istutuzzjonijiet u jekk il-gvern huwiex jimmonopolizza l-poter f’livelli varji bhall-politika nazzjonali u dik lokali.

F’dan ir-rigward, nixtieq nirreferi ghall-istrategija tal-Partit Laburista ta’ micro-targeting, jigiferi li jkollu kuntatt, interazzjoni u sorveljanza kontinwa tal-votanti permezz ta’ metodi li jsiru kemm wicc imb’wicc kif ukoll fuq il-media socjali.

Nafu kif il-Partit Laburista huza din l-istrategija b’mod aggressiv qabel l-elezzjoni tal-2013 permezz ta’ weghdi ta’ kull xorta u qabel l-elezzjoni tal-2017 permezz ta’ l-uzu ta’ l-apparat ta’ l-istat, per ezempju billi impjega hafna nies fis-settur pubbliku u hareg hafna permessi ghal zvilupp. Ma nkunx sorpriz jekk qabel l-elezzjoni generali li jmiss, id-dhul mill-bejgh tal-passaporti jintuza ghal verzjoni iktar b’sahhitha ta’ dak li sehh qabel l-elezzjoni tal-2017.

B’hekk, il-Gvern Laburista dghajjef il-politika ta’ l-ippjanar biex jigi agevolat l-izvilupp u biex eluf ta’ nies jaqilghu lira tajba anke jekk dan jista’ jkun ta’ detriment ghas-socjeta’ fuq medda itwal ta’ zmien f’oqsma bhat-trasport, il-komunita’, l-ambjent u l-ekonomija. Familji li m’humiex fl-isfera Laburista jigu imhajjra jivvutaw lill-partit jekk jinghataw permess jew pjacir u jigu kkastigati jekk ikunu meqjusa bhala kritici pubblici tal-gvern.

Il-Gvern Laburista jippremja lill-organizazzjonijiet tas-socjeta’ civili u tal-media jekk dawn jappoggjawh, u jinjora lill-ohrajn hlief jekk il-pressjoni taghhom tkun verament effettiva. Assocjazzjonijiet qed jaraw kif proceduri stabiliti qed jitnehhew u kif partitarji Laburisti qed jitpoggew fuq kumitati pubblici mhux ghax haqqhom izda ghax ipoggu l-interess elettorali tal-partit qabel il-gid komuni. Qed ikun hemm sorvejlanza u supervizjoni kontinwa sabiex il-magna elettorali Laburista tkun efficjenti fit-triq elettorali.

Immigranti li qed ifittxu hajja ahjar f’Malta qed jigu skrutinizzati u mdahhla fis-sistema ta’ patrunagg. Jigu integrati fis-socjeta’ bil-patt u l-kundizzjoni li jkunu leali lejn il-Labour.

Gudikanti fil-qrati issa ghandhom assistenti maghhom li gew imdahhla fuq position of trust. Dan effettivament ifisser li dawn ta’ l-ewwel qed jigu sorveljati minn dawn ta’ l-ahhar. U dawn ta’ l-ahhar huma leali lejn il-politici li appuntawhom.

Sa dan it-tant hemm bosta partitarji -  dawk li illum jissejhu trolls - li huma kontinwament attivi fuq il-media socjali permezz ta’ fastidju u bbulijar ta’ kritici. Dan jahdem ghad-detriment tal-espressjoni hielsa.

Persuni leali ghat-triumverat ta’ Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat u Konrad Mizzi qed jitpoggew f’pozizzjonijiet strategici fejn jigu diskussi u decizi il-bejgh ta’ assi pubblici u kuntratti pubblici u sa dan it-tant l-Awditur Generali qed jigi mifqugh b’investigazzjonijiet insinjifikanti sabiex ma jkollux hin u rizorsi adekwati biex jinvestiga skandli kbar bhal bejgh ta’ sptarijiet pubblici.

Il-Gvern huwa kullimkien. Irid igibna dipendenti fuq is-sahha tal-Ministri. Qed idghajjef il-kunsilli lokali, l-istituzzjonijiet u s-socjeta’ civili. L-istess id li titmaghna hi l-istess id li ssawwatna. Izda ma jistax jisraqilna l-hsieb hieles hlief jekk inhalluh. Ghadna fic-cans li npoggu l-gid komuni qabel il-politika bla ruh.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 8 ta' April 2018..

Monday, April 02, 2018

The atomisation of Malta - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta - 2 April 2018

Writing after World War II, political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote about the perils of totalitarianism. She argued that its essential feature was the atomisation of society, where intermediate associations are destroyed or usurped by the state. She was referring to basic social ties and structures such as families, friendship, religion, civil society organisations, professions, media, universities and the like.
Arendt was referring to totalitarian experiences under dictators such as Hitler and Stalin, but her writing proved to be prophetic on future totalitarian regimes around the world.
Pluralists like Arendt argued that the basic foundations of a democratic society included individual rights, balanced institutional arrangements with appropriate checks and balances and decentralised systems of government.
Can we say that Malta is facing atomisation? On paper we are a liberal democratic society, but the modes of governance under Joseph Muscat do point towards the process I am referring to.
One main feature of Labour’s electoral strategy is micro-targeting of voters through face-to-face and online methods. We all know how this was used aggressively before the 2013 general election through all sorts of promises and before the 2017 general election through the power of incumbency, and I would not be surprised if the government uses funds from the sale of passports to fund a hyper-version of the same power of incumbency before the next general election.
Labour also banked on laissez-faire construction practices, promising to enrich thousands but ignoring the cumulative and longer term impacts on the social fabric, transport, environment and the economy. Families who are not within the Labour orbit and would like legitimate permits are either seduced to vote red or are punished should they dare criticise the regime.
As regards civil society and the media, Labour clearly rewards those which support it directly or indirectly, and largely ignores others unless their pressure is so significant that the government would have to concede some inches. Associations are witnessing the dismemberment of procedures and the appointment of party apparatchiks on decision-making bodies, putting party interests before the common good.
Authorities are being led and staffed by Labour loyalists, and the management of the most mundane practices is supervised to ensure the electoral machine is fed. Within such a labyrinth, the individual may feel helpless and overpowered.
Migrants seeking a better life in Malta are scrutinised and micromanaged to be inserted within the system of patronage. As the practice goes, I will provide you with opportunities if you give me your vote.
Judges have been assigned judicial assistants on a position of trust basis, which effectively means that the former are being watched by appointees loyal to their political masters. How’s that for institutional autonomy?
The University of Malta, a bastion of free thinking, is risking take over by the government through a politically appointed board of governors which limits the power of the rector.  A Mintoffian takeover of the University, if you like.
In the meantime, an army of Labour trolls harass people on the social media, sometimes even exposing government critics publicly. The ultimate aim of this strategy is to intimidate them, to show them that they are being watched and tracked.
Key members of the Schembri-Muscat-Mizzi triumvirate are placed in strategic positions which oversee and decide on the sale of public assets, public procurement and contracts. In the meantime the Auditor General is being flooded by insignificant queries to investigate so as to elbow out more important investigations such as the Vitals scandal. By the time the latter would have been investigated, it may be too late.
Government is everywhere. It is the hand that feeds us and slaps us. The process of atomisation is taking place. Will it be too late once a critical mass realises the impacts of this malaise? The power is in our hands, as we may choose not to be seduced by the Muscat regime. We may choose to put the greater good before instant gratification.