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

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.

ARMS Utility Bills: Letter to Maltese and EU Authorities


To

The CEO ARMS

The CEO EneMalta

The CEO Water Services Corporation

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority

The Competitions Officer,
The Consumers’ Office,
The Regulator for Energy and Water Services,
The European Commission Representation in Malta 

The European Commissioner for Competition

The European Commissioner for Energy



Dear Sirs, Madams,



In the past years and especially months, the situation with water and electricity billing in Malta has raised concerns about unfair billing practices, abuse of dominance, state-aid, discrimination among consumers and business, and more recently links with offshore business. Individual queries seem to be sending customers and journalists in circles. I am therefore writing to you all together and publicly in the hope of understanding the status and the regulation of the sector.  I will be sharing this letter publicly, as I will be sharing any answers you would care to provide, when and if you would care to provide them.



Billing:

Is it legal for ARMS ltd to reduce the annual quotas foreseen in the legal notice by bulking prior period consumption into shorter billing periods or by rationing the annual quota into discreet short-period quantities?



Is the ARMS billing procedure clear and understandable to Maltese households?

How many billing queries have ARMS ltd received annually since operation?



Threats of cut off:

Do customers have the right to contest a bill without paying interest or risk of cut-off?

How are they to do this?


Loans, interest rates and ad hoc fees:

At what rate is ARMS entitled to charge interest on loan facilities?

Is Arms entitled to create and impose ad hoc fees that are not foreseen in the law (e.g. 13% to revise a bulking error)

Discrimination:

Is ARMS entitled to discriminate between residents on the basis of the type of accommodation they live in (Domestic vs Resident)?

Why do non-residents pay less per unit at higher consumption while residents pay more per unit?

Can ARMS cross-subsidise one group of users by another? 

Is it acceptable that residents are put on different billing periods (2 month vs 6 month) when these result in material differences to the rate applicable?


Ownership and regulation:



Who do Enemalta, the Water Services Corporation belong to?

Who does Arms ltd belong to?

Which entity regulates EneMalta, WSC and ARMS?



Looking forward to your reply,

Dr Michael Briguglio


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Diskors f'Tas-Sliema - Michael Briguglio


Hbieb,

L-ispettru tal-Panama Papers rega’ qiegħed fostna permezz tas-17 Black.

Kos, qegħdin f’sitwazzjoni fejn hu l-aqwa żmien ghall-Keith Schembri u Konrad Mizzi permezz tar-roadmap korrotta tagħhom.

Ejja nqabblu l-miljuni involuti fil-bejgħ ta’ l-assi tal-poplu mal-loqom li qed jingħataw lill-ħaddiema u l-pensjonanti.

Ejja nqabblu s-snin ta’ xogħol u sagriffiċċju li tagħmel persuna ma’ dak li kienu ppjanati li jdaħħlu Schembri u Mizzi kull xahar.

Ejja nqabblu lil dak il-Laburist li qed jistenna li jiġi żgumbrat mill-post fejn joqgħod mal-iffangar ta’ Schembri u Mizzi a skapitu tal-pajjiz u l-partit tagħhom stess.

Biżżejjed inħarsu lejn il-baġit għas-sena d-dieħla.

Il-pensjonant qed jingħata żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja ta’ €2.17 minbarra l-ammont ta’ €2.33 mogħti permezz tal-mekkaniżmu COLA.

Kull pensjonant jaf li din iż-żieda ser tispiċċa fix-xejn mal-ewwel ikla jew ħarġa.

Il-ħaddiem qed jingħata kumpens għall-għoli tal-ħajja ta’ €2.33.

Aħseb ftit x’tista’ tixtri bil-kumpens ta’ kull ġimgħa ta’ €2.33: kważi xejn.

Sa dan it-tant il-gvern qiegħed il-ħin kollu jirrepeti l-mantra li l-mekkaniżmu tal-COLA hi msejsa fuq formula li ilha miftiehma mill-1992.

Tassew li dan kien ftehim storiku bejn il-gvern ta’ dak iż-żmien u l-imsieħba soċjali. Iżda nistenna li gvern li tant hu kburi li hu ‘progressiv’ jisma’ l-appelli kontinwi tal-għaqdiet tal-ħaddiema u l-esperti fix-xjenzi soċjali biex jerġa’ jiżen dan il-mekkaniżmu.

Nuqqas ieħor fil-Baġit għall-2019 huwa x-xogħol prekarju.

Tiftakru fis-snin immedjatament qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013, meta l-prekarjat kien jidher regolarment fl-istrateġija pubbliċitarja ta’ dik li dak iż-żmien kienet l-oppożizzjoni Laburista?  

Fl-2018, din il-kelma donnha għebet b’xi seħer mil-lingwaġġ Laburista.

Min-naħa l-oħra, l-oppożizzjoni Nazzjonalista u organizzazzjonijiet bħall-UĦM – Voice of the Workers kontinwament qiegħdin jitkellmu fuq il-prekarjat.  U l-UĦM għandhom proposta ta’ min ifaħħarha.

Din tikkonsisti mill-introduzzjoni ta’ portal fuq l-internet għall-pajjiż kollu kontra x-xogħol prekarju. Dan ikun magħmul minn informazzjoni li tkun immedjatament disponibbli għall-awtoritajiet, min iħaddem u l-ħaddiema biex jiġi żgurat li l-leġiżlazzjoni tkun qed titħares meta jiġi impjegat ħaddiem.

Il-Baġit għall-2019 jaħrab ukoll minn waħda mill-ikbar sfidi soċjali f’Malta llum: il-kera u x-xiri tal-proprjetà.

Tiftakru ż-żmien meta żagħżugh seta jixtri l-propjeta’ tiegħu?

Imbagħad l-aspettattivi kellhom jiċċeknu għall-appartament iżgħar.

Imbagħad li wieħed jikri appartament.

Imbagħad li jaqsam appartament.

Jew inkella jibqa’ jgħix mal-ġenituri mhux għax irid, iżda minħabba li l-prezzijiet għolew wisq– għax issa saħansitra l-alternattiva hi li taqsam kamra jew sodda.

Għax dik hi l-ħolma tal-llum, fl-aqwa żmien: Li ma tispiċċax tgħix f’kamra maqsuma jew f’garaxx.

Għax iva, issa hemm min saħansitra qed jgħix f’garaxx.

L-iżgumbrament qed jiżdied, u jidher li ser ikompli jiżdied fil-futur qrib.

U l-gvern qed ikompli jkaxkar saqajh biex jgħin lil dawk l-iktar fil-bżonn: dawk li qed jgħixu ħajja prekarja, mimlija anzjeta’ dwar fejn ser jispiċċaw jgħixu fil-futur qrib.

Ara lill-Vitals, lill-Cafe’ Premier, lill-klikka ta’ Konrad u Keith, lill-ħbieb tal-ħbieb, lill-Azerbaijan: Hemmhekk il-Gvern għaġġel kemm felaħ biex jaqdihom. U aħna t-taxpayers inħallsu.

Il-Labour wegħdna road map, living wage, politika nadifa u l-aqwa żmien: Minflok, il-valur tal-paga nieżel l-isfel, il-koruzzjoni hija ferventi u l-ħajja ta’ bosta qed issir iktar prekarja.

Huwa dmir tagħna li niktellmu dwar il-weġgħat tan-nies.

U huwa l-obbligu tagħna li nfassalu l-pjan għal gvern alternattiv.

Grazzi
Diskors, każin PN Tas-Sliema, 18 ta' Novembru 2018 


Nuqqasijiet fil-Baġit – Michael Briguglio



Sa issa, żgur li l-qarrejja kollha ltaqgħu ma’ riklami tal-gvern dwar il-Baġit għall-2019. Sew jekk fil-gazzetti, fuq it-televiżjoni, fuq ir-radju u sew jekk fuq l-internet, donnhom dawn ir-riklami qed iħarsu lejna minflok aħna qed inħarsu lejhom. Wieħed jistaqsi kemm il-gvern qed jonfoq fuq din il-propaganda.

Fit-taħriġ tiegħi bħala soċjologu, tgħallimt li meta nanalizzaw id-diskors, huwa importanti mhux biss li naqraw dak li qed jingħad iżda wkoll li ngħarbluh biċċa biċċa u nidentifikaw fejn hemm nuqqasijiet f’dak id-diskors. Tabilħaqq, nemmen li l-Baġit għall-2019 għandu numru sew ta’ nuqqasijiet. F’dan l-artiklu, ser nenfasizza xi kwistjonijiet marbutin mal-ħtiġijiet u d-drittijiet tal-ħaddiema.

L-ewwel nett, il-Baġit għall-2019 ma jgħid kważi xejn dwar ir-riforma tal-pensjonijiet. Hu veru li l-pensjonanti qed jingħataw żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja ta’ €2.17 minbarra l-ammont ta’ €2.33 mogħti permezz tal-mekkaniżmu COLA. Iżda kull pensjonant jgħidlek li din iż-żieda ser tispiċċa fix-xejn mal-ewwel ikla jew ħarġa.

Sadanittant, qiegħdin ngħixu f’soċjetà li qed issir iktar anzjana, u dan ifisser li l-għadd ta’ persuni eliġibbli għall-pensjoni ta’ l-anzjanita’ x’aktarx jiżdied b’mod sostanzjali fis-snin li ġejjin. Il-gvern qed jagħti xi inċentivi lil dawk li għandhom il-mezzi biex ikollhom pensjonijiet privati iżda ma għandux wisq ideat oħra f’dan il-qasam.

Nemmen li l-gvern kien ikun aktar responsabbli kieku għallinqas qabel li jiddiskuti jekk il-mudell ta’ pensjonijiet fis-seħħ bħalissa huwiex sostenibbli fuq medda twila ta’ żmien. Il-gvern jista’ jaċċerta lil persuni li għandhom inqas minn 45 sena li l-kontribuzzjonijiet tal-bolla tagħhom ser jagħtuhom pensjonijiet deċenti?

B’rabta mal-aġġustamenti għall-għoli tal-ħajja, il-gvern qiegħed il-ħin kollu jirrepeti l-mantra li dawn huma msejsa fuq formula li ilha miftiehma mill-1992. Tassew li dan kien ftehim storiku bejn il-gvern ta’ dak iż-żmien u l-imsieħba soċjali. Iżda nistenna li gvern li tant hu kburi li hu ‘progressiv’ jisma’ l-appelli kontinwi tal-għaqdiet tal-ħaddiema u l-esperti fix-xjenzi soċjali biex jerġa’ jiżen dan il-mekkaniżmu.

Il-basket ta’ prodotti li titqies f’dan il-mekkaniżmu tassew qed tirrappreżenta x-xejriet ta’ konsum tal-lum? Aħseb ftit x’tista’ tixtri bil-kumpens ta’ kull ġimgħa ta’ €2.33: kważi xejn.

Meta naqraw il-materjal pubbliċitarju tal-gvern dwar is-sensiela ta’ inizjattivi baġitarji, għandna naraw ukoll jekk humiex qed jinvestu f’forza tax-xogħol aktar b’saħħitha: forza tax-xogħol mgħammra biex tħabbat wiċċha mal-opportunitajiet u r-riskji fis-soċjetà likwida tal-lum; forza tax-xogħol li għandha l-ħila taffaċċa l-konsegwenzi mhux magħrufa u mhux intenzjonati tat-tfassil tal-politika. B’rabta ma’ dan, il-Baġit għall-2019 ma jgħidx wisq fuq l-importanza ta’ miżuri kwalitattivi bħall-ħtieġa li jittejbu l-ħiliet tal-ħaddiema u li jkollna politika sostenibbli li tiskoraġġixxi t-tluq kmieni mill-iskola. Dan hu saħansitra aktar importanti meta nqisu d-domanda għal ħaddiema b’livell għoli ta’ ħiliet fis-suq tax-xogħol Malti. Ejjew niftakru li setturi bħat-turiżmu m’għadhomx jitqiesu bħala possibilitajiet għal karriera, speċjalment għax sikwit qed ikunu kkaratterizzati minn tellieqa sal-qiegħ permezz ta’ xogħol irħis.

Opportunitajiet ‘aktar ġodda’ bħal dawk fis-settur tat-teknoloġija tal-informazzjoni jeħtieġu wkoll investiment aktar intelliġenti biex l-istudenti u l-ħaddiema jitħeġġu jieħdu opportunitajiet, rispettivament, ta’ studju u ta’ taħriġ.

Nuqqas sinifikanti fid-diskors tal-Baġit għall-2019 huwa x-xogħol prekarju.

Nistieden lill-qarrejja jiftakru fis-snin immedjatament qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013, meta l-prekarjat kien jidher regolarment fl-istrateġija pubbliċitarja ta’ dik li dak iż-żmien kienet l-oppożizzjoni Laburista. Fl-2018, din il-kelma donnha għebet b’xi seħer mil-lingwaġġ Laburista.

Min-naħa l-oħra, organizzazzjonijiet bħall-UĦM – Voice of the Workers kontinwament qiegħdin jitkellmu fuq il-prekarjat, u r-retorika tagħhom hi mirfuda minn proposta ta’ politika ta’ min ifaħħarha.

Din tikkonsisti mill-introduzzjoni ta’ portal fuq l-internet għall-pajjiż kollu kontra x-xogħol prekarju. Dan ikun magħmul mir-rekwiżiti standardizzati għall-kuntratti ta’ xogħol skont il-leġiżlazzjoni attwali u d-data li jkun fih tkun immedjatament disponibbli għall-awtoritajiet, min iħaddem u l-ħaddiema biex jiġi żgurat li l-leġiżlazzjoni tkun qed titħares.

Il-Baġit għall-2019 jaħrab ukoll minn waħda mill-ikbar sfidi soċjali f’Malta llum: il-kera u x-xiri tal-proprjetà. Iżda ser nikteb f’aktar dettall dwar dan f’artiklu ieħor.

 Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 18 ta' Novembru 2018

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Filmat: Gvern li jisraq lill-Kunsilli Lokali - Michael Briguglio



F'dan il-filmat ghal The Malta Independent insaqsi lill-Gvern għalfejn iddeċieda li jieħu 7 miljun Ewro minn 6 kunsilli lokali biex jiffanzja proġett tiegħu.

Tista' tara l-vlog minn dan il-link:

Budgetary Voids - Michael Briguglio

Image result for poverty malta

Times of Malta, 12 November 2018

By now, all readers would have encountered government adverts on Budget 2019. Whether in newspapers, TV, radio or the internet, it seems that these adverts are watching us rather than the other way round. I wonder how much the government is spending on such propaganda.
In my training as a sociologist, I learned that when analysing discourse, it is important not only to read what is said but also to deconstruct this and to identify discursive voids. Indeed, I believe that Budget 2019 has quite a few. In this article I will highlight some issues that deal with workers’ needs and rights.
To begin with, Budget 2019 says next to nothing about pension reform. True, current pensioners are being given a cost of living increase of €2.17 in addition to the €2.33 awarded through the COLA mechanism. But any pensioner would tell you that this increase is likely to be neutralised by breakfast or one’s first outing.
In the meantime, we are living in an ageing society, meaning that the number of old age pensioners is likely to increase substantially in the years to come. The government is offering some incentives to those who can afford private pensions but not much else is on the table.
I believe that the government would have been more responsible had it at least agreed to discuss whether the current pensions model is sustainable in the longer run. Can the government assure people under 45 years of age that their national insurance contributions will give them decent pensions?
As regards cost of living adjustments, the government is constantly repeating the mantra that these are based on an agreed formula that goes back to 1992. True, this was a historic agreement between the government of the time and the social partners. But I would expect a government that prides itself as being ‘progressive’ to take heed of the constant appeal of workers’ trade unions and social scientists to look into its mechanism.
Is the basket of goods within it really representing today’s consumption patterns? Just think of what you can buy with the weekly compensation of €2.33. Yes, next to nothing.
When one reads government PR on the battery of budgetary initiatives, one should also see whether they are investing in a more robust workforce: a workforce that is equipped to encounter the opportunities and risks in today’s liquid society. One that is equipped to encounter the unknowns and unintended consequences of policy making. In this regard, Budget 2019 does not say much on the importance of qualitative measures such as the need to upskill workers and to have sustainable policies that discourage early school-leaving. This is even more important given the demand for skilled workers within the Maltese labour market. Let us keep in mind that sectors such as tourism are not being seen as career options, especially since they are frequently characterised by a race to the bottom through cheap labour. 
‘Newer’ job opportunities such as those within the information technology sector also require smarter investment to encourage students and workers to take up respective studying and training opportunities.
A notable discursive void in Budget 2019 is precarious work.
I invite readers to go back to the immediate years before the 2013 general election, when precariousness was a regular feature in the PR strategy of the then Labour Opposition. In 2018, the term has magically vanished from Labour-speak.
On the other hand, organisations such as UĦM – Voice of the Workers have been consistently speaking on precariousness, and they have backed their rhetoric with a commendable policy proposal.
This consists of the introduction of a nationwide online portal against precarious work. It would consist of standardised work contract requirements as per current legislation and its data would immediately be available to authorities, employers and workers to ensure that legislation is being adhered to. 
Budget 2019 also largely dodges what promises to be the mother of all social challenges in Malta today: rent and the purchase of property. But I will be writing about this in another article.

Monday, November 12, 2018

SATA Bank: Letter to European Commission and European Banking Authority


To: 
Mr Valdis Dombrovskis Vice President responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, European Commission
Ms Vera Jourova Commissioner for Justice, Gender Equality and Customers, European Commission  

Mr Andrea Enria, Chairman, European Banking Authority  

Mr Adam Farkas, Executive Director, European Banking Authority



Subject:  Frozen bank accounts at Satabank Malta

Sliema, 10 November 2018

Dear Commissioners, dear Chairman and Executive Director,

On 20 October the Malta Financial Service Authority (MFSA) by administrative measure effectively froze all accounts at Satabank, a small international bank operating in Malta.[1] The MFSA appointed Ernst and Young (EY) to administer the bank’s assets, and later allowed a controlled release of customer deposits. This has left businesses and workers in Malta unable to access funds, without any prior notice. The MFSA also announced that any balances of electronic money held are not deemed to be eligible deposits covered by the Depositor Compensation Scheme, effectively leaving Satabank customers without any protection.

Many Maltese retail customers had turned to Satabank due to difficulties with setting up bank accounts with the major Maltese banks, including partly public-owned Bank of Valletta (BOV), which still require a high bureaucratic burden to open bank accounts for non-Maltese citizens, in breach of EU law principles of free movement of persons and capitals.

Three weeks have now passed since the freezing of current accounts in Satabank, without any communication to its customers. No timeline has been released by Satabank or MFSA about the steps ahead. Alarm has been raised among others by the Chamber of SMEs (GRTU), which noted that many customers still faced grave financial and cashflow difficulties, particularly in the areas of Msida, Gzira, Sliema and St. Julian’s. Customers are left to fend off for themselves, and many have had to rely on support of families or friends in order to access cash even for their basic living expenses. Small businesses are being hampered from operating, unable to pay ages or rents, and may not be able to submit VAT documents on time. Satabank customers remain unable to open accounts in other major Maltese banks.

In this regard, allow me to ask you:

- what are the Commission and the European Banking Authority doing to ensure that all Satabank customers may regain access to their bank accounts in the shortest possible time, at least for a minimum withdrawal amount in order to cater for their living needs?

- what are the Commission and the European Banking Authority doing to ensure that Maltese banks do not unjustifiably discriminate against non-Maltese EU citizens by requiring them additional administrative burden and taking unreasonably long time to be able to open a bank account?  

- what are the Commission and the European Banking Authority doing to protect the employment rights of Satabank workers?

Kindest regards,

Dr Michael Briguglio