Wednesday, November 28, 2018

More on the housing challenge - Michael Briguglio

Image result for malta poverty
Times of Malta, 26 November 2018

In my article last week, I explained that while Malta has a high home-ownership rate, the country is also currently experiencing prohibitive housing prices, resulting in an increasing number of evictions, young people who remain living with their parents and persons living in subhuman situations.
At the same time the wages of many people tend to remain depressed and cannot catch up with the increase in housing prices.
I also commended the government for setting the ball rolling through its White Paper on property rentals, but I emphasised that Malta also needs immediate solutions to assist the growing number of people who are facing immediate hardships in their everyday life.
Indeed, a prevalent class structure in Malta seems to be characterised by one’s home ownership or lack of it.
One can argue that Malta’s current housing disparity is collateral damage from a government that ran too fast with its economic policies without a sustainable plan. Opening the doors to runaway economic growth requires planning, as otherwise it would be akin to driving a car without brakes at top speed.
Even if the government had the best of intentions in its economic policy, it was unwise to disregard the possibility of unintended consequences such as the ones mentioned above.
During the recent commendable White Paper seminar co-organised by the Parliamentary Secretariat for Housing at the University of Malta, several questions were asked from the floor which deserve sober analysis and replies from the government.
For example, can all research which was consulted by the authors of the White Paper be published? This is imperative for evaluation by scholarly peers who were not involved in the drafting of the White Paper.
I have no doubts that the authors of the White Paper are qualified and good intentioned, but the policy sphere requires objective peer review of evidence to make sure that what is being analysed is reliable and valid and to highlight possible gaps.
Another question dealt with Malta’s population numbers. Is the White Paper based on real current numbers? Could it be the case that both population numbers as well as numbers of people undergoing housing hardships are bigger than what is officially published?
Incidentally, the recent statement by the National Statistics Office that it miscounted Malta’s population by 20,000 was quite timely.  Again, I do not doubt the rigour of NSO professionals, but I invite the government to also conduct other forms of research – including qualitative - to verify population realities.
Third, the current government mantra is that rent prices have stabilised. Could this be elaborated upon? As this is not what people on the ground tell you.
Fourth, what is the government doing for the increasing number of people who are being evicted and who have no dignified alternative? To these one must add all those who have not yet been evicted but are highly concerned that it will soon be their turn as they simply cannot afford the prohibitive prices they are being told to pay.
Surely, these people are not experiencing the best of times. And from what I am seeing, the Housing Authority does not have enough resources to cope with the influx of such cases, despite the best of intentions of its staff.
Fifth, what is the government doing for the army of young middle-income persons who cannot afford rent and who won’t be given bank loans? Their numbers are hidden in home ownership statistics, but the fact is that they have no option but to keep living with their parents to avoid sub-standard housing such as sharing of rooms.
Another question dealt with price caps on rented property. At face value they might look positive for tenants, but again, they may have unintended consequences.
In such a scenario, property owners may decide to withdraw their property from the rental market, thus reducing supply and consequently increasing prices of properties available on the market, unless new properties enter the market to compensate for such shortages. In this regard, the protection of landlords – not all of whom are rich – is important too.
So, what can be done to assist poor, low- and middle-income earners who do not own property and who are finding it impossible to buy or rent decent housing? I will discuss this in my next article. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Face recognition surveillance: Letter to European Commission and European Data Protection Supervisor

I have just written to 
Mr Julian King, European Commissioner for Security
Ms Vera Jourova, European Commissioner for Justice
Ms Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Society
Mr Giovanni Buttarelli , European Data Protection Supervisor

Re: “Safe City” project for video surveillance and Chinese face recognition technology in Malta
 Dear Commissioners, dear Data Protection Supervisor,
The Government of Malta has confirmed in multiple occasions its plans to introduce video surveillance and face recognition technology (FRT), without any prior public consultation, as a way to prevent crime in densely-populated areas of the country including Marsa and Paceville (“Safe City” project).[1] This would be implemented by the government company Safe City Malta, part of the government’s public-private partnership arm Projects Malta, using artificial intelligence-backed CCTV, able to pick out and identify a face within a crowd, developed by Chinese firm Huawei, which has been criticised for its allegiance to Chinese state intelligence agencies[2], with whom the Maltese government has recently signed two Memorandums of Understanding negotiated by Malta’s special envoy to Asia, Sai Mizzi Lang, wife of Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi.[3]
According to Professor Joseph Cannataci,[4] this project would need to be in line with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the EU Police Directive 2016/680, and the Council of Europe Convention no. 108 on Data Protection (Protocol CETS 223).[5] These legal instruments point to the need for any intrusion within with one's privacy to be envisaged in the law, necessary and proportionate to its aim in a democratic society.
In particular, the GDPR legislation has introduced stringent rules on the use of CCTV and face recognition technology.[6] The Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland has recently noted that there are a number of outstanding issues with the use of facial recognition technology in the EU, particularly in relation to consent, and that compliance of this feature with GDPR is not settled.[7]
The Government of Malta announced that the “Safe City” project will be in line with EU data protection regulation, and is currently discussing it with Malta’s data protection commissioner. The Malta IT Law Association warned the plan amounts to a serious invasion of privacy, and is against Maltese and EU legislation.[8]
It should be noted that the use of invasive technology such as AI/CCTV facial recognition in public spaces may lead as a tool for control and repression of citizens’ liberties, including their right to privacy, to freedom of expression, or to freedom of assembly in case of public protests. Citizens will all be treated as potential criminals or terrorists, fostering self-censorship and corroding democratic life. As noted by the New York Times, “even the perception of surveillance can keep the public in line”.[9]
Based on this, I would like to encourage your services:
- to ask the Government of Malta to publish detailed information about the “Safe City” project, including in order to have a meaningful public consultation on the issue;
- to assess whether Malta has the adequate legislative framework to allow the implementation of the above-described  “Safe City” project;
- to establish whether the “Safe City” project fulfils the requirements of necessity and proportionality and is in line with the the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU Police Directive 2018, also in terms of necessary consent, transparency and information requirements, profiling and right to object.

Kindest regards,
Dr Michael Briguglio

[4] the first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Head of Department of Information Policy & Governance and Deputy Dean for the Faculty of Media & Knowledge Sciences at the University of Malta

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Diskors - Kunsill Ġenerali - Partit Nazzjonalista - Michael Briguglio


Is-sajf li għadda uħud minna żorna l-festi mal-Kap. Kull ġimgħa konna qed immorru niltaqgħu man-nies fil-pjazez tar-raħal u fil-festa tagħhom. 

Uħud minna baqgħu iżuru l-ibliet u l-irħula, ta’ kuljum, fit-toroq u fid-djar tan-nies. 

Bħal ma ngħidu aħna s-soċjologi, qegħdin ‘on the ground’.

Intom, in-nies li ltqajtu magħna, ilqajtuna u fdajtuna bl-istejjer u t-tħassib tal-ħajja ta' kuljum tagħkom filwaqt li aħna smajnikhom.

Għidtulna kif tixtiequ li aħna nagħmlu dak li hu sewwa.

Bħal dak l-arkitett li ltqajt magħha li xogħlha kien li tivverifika li jkun sar żvilupp kif suppost

Kellha kuraġġ biżżejjed li titkellem meta x-xogħol ma sarx sew. 

U ta' dan tawha transfer u kellha titlaq xogħolha maċ-ċivil.

U sorpriżi meta tisimgħu dan? 

Diżappuntati iva, imma daż-żmien m'intomx sorpriżi. 

Għax issa tafu li jekk lanqas biss ikunu onesti magħna fuq sempliċi kont tad-dawl, mela din mhux klikka li tippremja l-onestà.

Din hi klikka li tippremja l-qerq, anki meta l-qerq tagħhom jinkixef bil-provi. 

U f'nofs dil-kultura ta' korruzzjoni, intom xorta tagħżlu li tagħmlu s-sewwa. 

Din tagħlima kbira għalina lkoll.

Għidtulna kemm hi importanti għalikom il-familja. 

Għidtulna nħarsu l-ambjent fil-politika tagħna, u kemm ser tpatti l-familja tagħkom jekk dan ma jsirx.

Bħall-familja li d-dar tagħha nzertat ħdejn produttur illegali tas-siment u jkollha tghix bl-istorbju u t-trab kuljum. 

Qed titlob ħafna dil-familja? 

Sorpriżi li l-liġi mhux qed tiġi infurzata?

Issa ma nistennew xejn aħjar, għax il-klikka qed teqred l-ambjent tagħna, u allura għalfejn ser jimpurtahom?

Fuq kollox, jekk huma stess jagħlqu għajnejhom għall-inġustizzja, għalfejn għandhom jiġġieldu kontriha?

Qsamtu magħna realtà differenti minn dik li jridu juruna huma. 

Bħal dak ir-raġel marid li jgħix m'ommu anzjana. 

Ftit tal-ġranet oħra ser jitkeċċew minn fejn jgħixu, filwaqt li l-klikka ħliet ħames snin mingħajr ma’ bniet blokka waħda tal-housing soċjali.

Xtaqt naqsam magħkom dar-realtajiet li rajt fiż-żjarat tiegħi fid-djar, fit-toroq, fl-irħula tagħna.

Meta nkellem lill-uffiċjali onesti fiċ-ċivil  jidher li ma nkunx qed inħabbat fuq il-bieb it-tajjeb. 

Forsi l-klikka jistennewni mmur iabbat fuq il-bieb tagħhom u ta' sħabhom - dawk li tawhom art pubblika biex jibnu taparsi università fiż-Żonqor.

Jew biex itellghu torri sproporzjonat fuq art pubblika f’Pembroke.

Jew saħansitra biex jipparkjaw tanker korrot fil-bajja ta' Marsaxlokk.

Kieku mort għandhom, kienet tkun storja ohra:

Hemmhekk kont insibu l-aqwa żmien;

Izda jien ippreferejt inkun viċin iż-żgħir minflok.

Ghazilt li nisma' l-qanpiena tan-nies f’Tas-Sliema, fil-Floriana, f’Raħal Ġdid, f’Birżebbuġa, fin-Naxxar u f’tant lokalitajiet oħra.

Ma dortux mal-lewża u għidtulna li rridu nirbhuha l-fiducja taghkom

U hekk għandu jkun.

U hu għalhekk li issa hu l-waqt it-tajjeb biex inkun hawn bhala l-kandidat tagħkom ghall-Parlament Ewropew ma’ sħabi l-oħra.

U għalhekk issa l-waqt biex il-Partit Nazzjonalista jingħaqad f'leħen wieħed. 

Hekk jitlolbu id-demokrazija, ir-rispett u r-rieda tajba.

Irridu nirbħu l-fiduċja tagħkom biex inkunu nistgħu nitkellmu għal dawk kollha, anki dawk Laburisti, li jagħmlu dak li hu sewwa, li qed isofru l-inġustizzja u li mhumiex qed jghixu l-aqwa zmien.

Il-fiduċja li tagħtuna ġġorr magħha responsabbiltà kbira.

Il-gvern għandu kull setgħa li jġib il-bidla izda naqas li jaghmel dan.

Iżda intom għandkom is-setgħa tagħmlu għażla differenti.

U meta taghzlu, meta tafdawna, inweghdkom, inwegħdukom li, kemm f'Malta kif ukoll fl-Unjoni Ewropea mhux ser ngħaddukom biż-żmien.

Ser inkunu l-leħen tagħkom - in-nies ta' rieda tajba.

L-isfida fil-qasam tad-djar – Michael Briguglio

Il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat dan l-aħħar qal li f’Malta 80 fil-mija tan-nies huma sidien tad-dar tagħhom, u ta dan bħala eżempju tas-suċċessi ekonomiċi u soċjali tas-soċjetà tagħna.

Iżda dan l-aħħar iltqajt ukoll ma’ statistika oħra, li tgħid li dejjem qiegħdin jiżdiedu n-nies f’Malta li qed jitkeċċew mill-postijiet li jkunu qed jikru.

Dan tħabbar waqt konferenza dwar il-white paper għar-riforma tal-kera li saret l-Università ta’ Malta, li ġiet organizzata flimkien mas-Segretarju Parlamentari għad-Djar. Hemm ħtieġa kbira li din l-istatistika tiġi elaborata u investigata. Pereżempju, min qiegħed jitkeċċa? Fejn qed imorru jgħixu dawn in-nies wara li jitkeċċew?

Malta teħtieġ ukoll statistika u data kwalitattiva oħra dwar l-isfida fil-qasam tad-djar. Pereżempju, kemm żgħażagħ qed jibqgħu jgħixu mal-ġenituri tagħhom mhux għax iridu iżda frott il-bżonn, minħabba spejjeż projbittivi għall-akkomodazzjoni u d-diffikultà li jissellfu mill-bank? Kemm hawn nies jgħixu f’garaxxijiet? Min huma?

Tabilħaqq, hu ironiku li sa ftit snin ilu l-ħolma ta’ bosta f’Malta kienet li jixtru dar li tirrifletti l-istil ta’ ħajja tagħhom, iżda l-ħolma tal-lum hi li ma jispiċċawx jgħixu f’garaxx jew jaqsmu kamra ma’ xi ħadd. Biex ma nsemmux min qed jaqsam sodod f’appartamenti ffullati.

M’inix ngħid li ma hawnx għadd konsiderevoli ta’ persuni li sejrin relattivament tajjeb. Tabilħaqq, b’riżultat tal-politika tal-gvern Laburista li jillaxka r-regoli tal-ippjanar, ħafna setgħu jibnu sulari żejda fuq il-proprjetà tagħhom u jaqilgħuha tajjeb mill-kera. Lil dawn nixtiqilhom il-ġid, iżda ma nistgħux ninsew it-tbatija tal-bosta li ma għandhomx proprjetà, li qed iħabbtu wiċċhom ma’ diffikultajiet dejjem akbar biex ilaħħqu mal-prezzijiet tal-akkomodazzjoni.

Dan iwassalna għas-suġġett tal-politika dwar id-djar illum. Ħa nkun ċar: nemmen li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Roderick Galdes u l-kap tal-Awtorità tad-Djar Leonid Mackay għandhom l-aqwa intenzjonijiet u qed jagħmlu l-almu tagħhom biex jgħinu lin-nies fid-diffikultajiet marbutin mad-djar. Jien wieħed minn dawk li lesti nikkooperaw magħhom biex ngħinu lill-persuni fil-bżonn.

Iżda ninsab ukoll ferm diżappuntat li fl-“aqwa żmien” Malta hi kkaratterizzata minn għadd kbir ta’ persuni li qed iħabbtu wiċċhom ma’ problemi kbar, u li l-gvern Laburista għadu relattivament lura fil-kostruzzjoni ta’ djar soċjali meta mqabbla mal-għaġla tiegħu biex iwessa’ t-toroq mingħajr permessi tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, biex iħallas lill-Vitals u jagħmel ħafna ftehimiet minn wara l-kwinti, u biex jgħaġġel biex jimplimenta politika korrotta tal-enerġija minn fuq dahar min iħallas it-taxxa.

Dan huwa l-“aqwa żmien” meta r-rata tal-inflazzjoni ta’ Malta qed tiżdied kull xahar, u fejn il-pagi mhumiex jiżdiedu daqs l-għoli tal-ħajja. F’dinja ta’ politika ideali, il-kera għandha tkun madwar 20 fil-mija tad-dħul ta’ persuna. Mur għid dan lill-persuni mill-klassi tal-ħaddiema jew mill-klassi medja li qed jipprovaw jikru post illum il-ġurnata: l-istess nies li ġew imwiegħda paga li tiggarantixxi l-għajxien mill-Partit Laburista meta kien fl-oppożizzjoni.

Tabilħaqq, jien tal-fehma li l-problema tad-djar f’Malta ma tistax tinfired mir-realtà li l-pagi huma ġeneralment baxxi. Il-kera kienet artifiċjalment baxxa għax is-suq kien inattiv għal ħafna snin. Issa qed jerġa’ jieħu l-ħajja bis-saħħa ta’ bidliet leġiżlattivi taħt amministrazzjonijiet differenti u l-influss reċenti ta’ ħaddiema barranin.

Ma għandi xejn kontra dawn il-ħaddiema, iżda studju bażiku tal-ekonomija jgħallimna li żieda fid-domanda għal prodott x’aktarx tgħolli l-prezz jekk il-provvista ma tiżdiedx ukoll.

Għalhekk, għalkemm hi ħaġa tajba li l-gvern fl-aħħar fetaħ id-diskussjoni billi nieda l-white paper dwar il-kera, huwa ċar daqs il-kristall li l-istess gvern għaġġel wisq fil-politika ekonomika tiegħu u ma bassarx il-konsegwenza mhux maħsuba taż-żieda kbira fil-prezzijiet tad-djar.

Il-white paper tikkonċentra fil-biċċa l-kbira tagħha fuq soluzzjonijiet aktar fit-tul, u dawn jistħoqqilhom dibattitu kalm li ma jkunx partiġġjan u, idealment, kunsens. Iżda ejjew niftakru li l-persuni li qed jiffaċċaw tkeċċija mill-post li qed jikru, dawk li qiegħdin jgħixu f’garaxxijiet, u dawk li qed jaqsmu appartamenti, kmamar jew sodod għandhom bżonn soluzzjonijiet immedjati għas-sitwazzjonijiet personali tagħhom.

U jeħtieġ li lanqas ma ninsew lill-adulti li qed jgħixu ma’ membri oħrajn ta’ familthom għax ma jistgħux jagħmlu mod ieħor, it-3,300 applikant għal akkomodazzjoni soċjali u s-600 applikant għal bidla fl-akkomodazzjoni soċjali minħabba l-kundizzjonijiet mhux adegwati li qed jgħixu fihom bħalissa.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The housing challenge - Michael Briguglio

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recently remarked that Malta has an 80 per cent home ownership rate, citing this as an example of the economic and social successes of our society.
But I recently also encountered another statistic, namely that evictions in Malta are on the increase.
This was announced during a conference on the white paper for rent reform at the University of Malta, which was co-organised by the Parliamentary Secretary for Housing. Elaboration and investigation of this statistic are most needed. For example, who is being evicted? Where do such people live after eviction?
Malta also requires other statistics and qualitative data on the housing challenge. For example, how many young people remain living with their parents not out of choice but out of necessity, in view of prohibitive housing costs and unavailable bank loans? How many people are living in garages? Who are they?
Indeed, it is ironic that until a few years ago one’s personal dream was to buy a house reflecting one’s lifestyle, but the dream of today is to be spared living in a garage or in a shared room. Not to mention sharing beds in congested apartments.
This is not to say that a good number of people are doing relatively well. Indeed, Labour’s relaxation of planning policies enabled many to build extra stories on their property and to make good money out of rent. Good luck to them, but we cannot forget the plight of the property-less masses who are facing increasing difficulties to afford housing.
Which takes us to the social housing policy today. Let me be clear: I believe that Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes and housing chief Leonid Mackay have the best of intentions and are doing their best to assist people with housing challenges. I for one am ready to cooperate with them to assist persons in need.
But I am also very disappointed that in the ‘best of times’ Malta is characterised by a multitude of persons who are facing huge problems and that the Labour government is a relative laggard in the construction of social housing compared to its rush to widen roads without PA permits, to pay Vitals and various behind-the-scenes deals, and to rush through a corrupt energy policy courtesy of the tax payer.
This is the ‘best of times’ where Malta’s inflation rate is increasing by the month, and where salaries are not increasing as much as the cost of living. In an ideal policy world, rent should cover about 20 per cent of one’s income. Go tell that to working class and middle-class persons seeking to rent property today: the same people who were promised a living wage by Labour in its opposition years.
Indeed, I believe that Malta’s housing issue cannot be isolated from the reality that wages are generally low. Rents were artificially low because the market was dormant for years. It is now coming alive courtesy of legislative changes under different administrations and the recent influx of foreign workers.
I have nothing against the latter, but basic economics teaches us that an increase in demand for a product will likely increase its price if supply does not increase too.  
Hence, though it is positive that the government finally set the ball rolling through the white paper on rent, it is painfully clear that the same government rushed too fast in its economic policies and did not foresee the unintended consequence of spiralling housing prices.
The white paper focuses mostly on longer-term solutions, and these deserve a sober non-partisan debate and ideally, consensus. But let us keep in mind that persons facing evictions, those living in garages, those sharing apartments, rooms or beds need immediate solutions to their personal situations.
This is not to mention the adults living with other family members as they cannot afford otherwise, the 3,300 applicants for social housing and the 600 applicants for a change in social housing due to inadequate conditions in which they currently live.