Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Let's combat fake news - Michael Briguglio

The rise of the social media has changed the news sphere so much that many people get their news primarily from platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.
This has increased the visibility of different news sites, where the reader can pick and choose and interpret according to his values. Readers can also produce news through various forms of technology and media – indeed we are all potential active prosumers and not just passive consumers of news.  
Of course, this does not mean that there is a level playing field in the production and consumption of news: the political economy of news production can never be discarded from the media sphere. Neither can other factors such as technical skills, readability, efficacy, algorithms and media trends. 
What I would like to discuss in this article is the challenge related to the production and consumption of fake news. Here I am not referring to different ideologies, values and perspectives in the interpretation of facts. What I am referring to are news that are plain false. 
To give a basic example: different news sites may give different interpretations and emphases about the action of a politician. But if the politician dies, this fact cannot be faked in the news. Maybe it can be postponed – as is sometimes the case in dictatorial regimes – but death is a fact which nobody can escape.
An inevitable question in this regard is: should we be free to spread fake news, and should it then be up to the reader to believe it or not? 
I believe that free speech must always be situated in a context of responsibility. The question is how the latter can be implemented. For example, legal liabilities and regulations for news platforms, including those that use the social media, could be accompanied by increased investment and cooperation among fact-checking networks. 
Persons who feel aggrieved through fake news should also have more accessible facilities to defend both their reputation as well as the ‘truths’ they believe have been violated. 
I don’t believe that this should result in authoritarian truth-police, but I do have sympathy for persons whose life was shattered courtesy of lies that were spread in the social media. 
As things stand, social media platforms like Facebook offer very few remedies to the victims of fake news. I hope that the recent appointment of former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as head of its global affairs and communications team can help improve things in this regard.  
I also believe that citizens should be equipped to do our part to combat fake news. Civic, ethical and political education should be mainstreamed in the educational system and political actors should form coalitions of trust to combat such dishonest practices.
I also invite readers to look out for fact-checking professional websites that do the job such as Snopes and The Conversation. 
Christina Hagler from the University of Harvard recommends that we also investigate what a news site stands for. Sometimes even basic grammatical characteristics can give a news site away. 
The same can be said as regards lack of references and sources, if the news in question is basically invisible in other sites or if the site in question has a name which is almost identical to that of another legitimate news site. 
Finally, let us not succumb to the illusion that just because some news site is popular it is accurate. 
Sometimes a fake news goes viral, even when there are giveaways that are recognised by attentive and savvy readers. When this happens, I believe that it is our responsibility as active citizens to point this out. 
For it would be a disservice to our civic and democratic responsibilities if we cling to a piece of fake news just because it happens to put our adversaries in bad light. This is like playing a game and not observing the rules. 
Let us not feed the trolls who are hungry for attention through cheap dishonesty. Let us criticise and question each other but let us do this respectfully and honestly.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Former British service pensions: Letter to Minister Michael Falzon

Hon. Minister Dr Michael Falzon LLD, MP
Ministry for the Family, Children's Rights and Social Solidarity​
310, Palazzo Ferreria
Republic Street

Copied to:
Permanent Secretary – Mr Mark Musu'
28th January 2019
Re: Former British service pensions

Dear Minister,

Some 6,000 Maltese pensioners, who were public employees in Malta before 1979,
have since been defrauded of their pension rights due to a 1979 law providing that Maltese
statutory old-age pensions are partly reduced by the sum of service pensions paid for past
services in Malta or abroad. This should be changed.

Instead of receiving a service pension from the Treasury and a Social Security pension,
as they were entitled by contract, the social security pension of these former servicemen
was severely cut (down to around one third), despite them having paid all their all their
National Insurance contributions for over 40 years and also contributed to the Widows
and Orphans Fund. Moreover, these pensioners have never received increases to their
Treasury service pension.

Following the petition brought by Joseph Caruana to the European Parliament in 2006, 
this grossly unfair discrimination had been highlighted by the European Commission as 
in breach of EU social security coordination rules, which cover all pensions based on 
national legislation and prohibit the suspension and reduction of benefits. EU social 
security coordination rules (Regulation EC No 883/2004 and formerly Regulation (EEC) 
No 1408/71) give EU citizens the same rights and obligations as nationals of the country 
where they are covered.

The Commission warned the Maltese government already in 2009 to stop reducing
Maltese old-age pensions by the amount of civil servant pensions received from other
member states. In 2013, it decided to haul Malta before the European Court of Justice,
which the following year in its decision C.12/14 dismissed the case based on technicalities,
leaving the issue in a stalemate.

The discrimination against pensioners receiving British service pensions continues.
It is time for the government of Malta to put an end to this. With the current raise of
cost of living in Malta, providing all pensioners with an adequate and fair pension after
decades of work and social contributions is the bare minimum.

First of all, the Maltese government should request from the British government to explicitly
 declare that British pension schemes fall under the scope of the EU Regulations on social
security coordination.

Second, the Maltese government should apply such EU Regulations to British service
pensions, disapplying the 1979 law, and stop the reduction of pension benefits.

Third, the Maltese government should make use of its budget surplus available to provide
compensations to pensioners whose pensions had been unfairly deducted, at least since the
accession of Malta to the European Union in 2004.

Fourth, the Maltese government should ensure that Treasury service pensioners are also 
given a fair treatment, so as to restore overall equity among all pensioners in Malta.

Respectfully yours,
Dr Michael Briguglio

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Insaħħu l-agrikoltura - Michael Briguglio

L-istatistika reċenti tal-Eurostat mhi inkoraġġanti xejn għas-settur agrikolu. Id-dħul fis-settur naqas b'9.4 fil-mija bejn l-2016 u l-2017, u naqas b'madwar terz mill-2010. Il-Finlandja u s-Slovenja għaddew minn tnaqqis simili għal dak f'Malta, iżda pajjiżi bħall-Ġermanja, il-Lussemburgu, l-Irlanda u l-Litwanja kellhom żidiet impressjonanti li jvarjaw minn 20 sa 35 fil-mija.

Filwaqt li Malta u l-Irlanda huma l-uniċi żewġ stati membri tal-UE fejn il-forza tax-xogħol ma naqsitx tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin, il-forza tax-xogħol agrikola ta' Malta hija t-tielet l-iżgħar fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Barra minn hekk, sitta fil-mija biss tal-bdiewa f'pajjiżna huma nisa - it-tieni l-anqas fl-Unjoni.

Statistika sinifikanti oħra tgħid li Malta kienet wieħed mill-pajjiżi tal-UE bi tnaqqis qawwi fit-tkabbir fl-investiment, bi tnaqqis medju ta' 6.8 fil-mija kull sena mill-2009.

L-organizzazzjoni mhux governattiva ambjentali Friends of the Earth ukoll tagħti data interessanti fir-rapport tagħha AgroKantina u permezz tas-sehem tagħha fil-proġett 'Citizen's CAP' (il-Politika Agrikola Komuni taċ-Ċittadin) ta' Friends of the Earth Europe, appoġġat mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea.

Din id-data turi li hawn 19,000 bidwi, u l-għadd ta' dawk li jaħdmu full-time qiegħed jonqos. Erbgħin fil-mija tal-art ta' Malta bħalissa tista' tiġi kklassifikata bħala art agrikola. Sitta u sebgħin fil-mija tal-azjendi agrikoli Maltin huma mikro-azjendi, jiġiferi ta' daqs ta' inqas minn ettaru.

Tabilħaqq, il-Eurostat ifakkarna li s-sehem ta' azjendi agrikoli żgħar f'Malta huwa l-ogħla fl-istati membri kollha tal-UE (96.5 fil-mija). Dawn ikollhom daqs ta' anqas minn ħames ettari.

Friends of the Earth iżżid li 45 fil-mija tal-art agrikola tintuża għal uċuħ għall-għalf segwiti minn użi oħra bħall-agrikoltura għas-suq (16 fil-mija) u ġonna għall-kċina (12 fil-mija) rispettivament.

Sebgħa u ħamsin fil-mija tal-frott li jitkabbar f'Malta huwa għeneb, segwit mil-larinġ (12 fil-mija) u l-frawli (disgħa fil-mija). L-aktar 'ħaxix' popolari huwa t-tadam (17 fil-mija), segwit mill-patata (15 fil-mija) u oħrajn.

Meta nqisu t-tnaqqis imsemmi, il-kontribut ta' anqas minn tnejn fil-mija tal-prodott gross domestiku u bidliet soċjali oħrajn bħall-firxa urbana ta' Malta, għandna naqtgħu qalbna mill-agrikoltura? Nittama li le.

Jien tal-fehma li l-bdiewa jistħoqqilhom għajnuna u inċentivi sabiex ikollhom aktar setgħa u jgħinu fil-ħarsien tal-pajsaġġ Malti. Is-sħubija ta' Malta fl-UE kellha kemm tippreżenta sfidi kif ukoll tagħti opportunitajiet lis-settur, iżda l-gvern qiegħed jagħti l-importanza mistħoqqa lis-settur? Biex nagħti eżempju wieħed, għaliex twaqqfet ir-riforma tal-pitkalija?

Barra minn hekk, għaliex bosta bdiewa qed ikollhom spejjeż ogħla u anqas qligħ? Għaliex qed jiġu mċaħħda minn forom ta' assigurazzjoni pereżempju kontra bidliet fil-klima? Għaliex sikwit jiġu soġġetti għal kompetizzjoni inġusta u nuqqas ta' konsultazzjoni?

Wieħed mill-punti ta' diffikultà huwa l-fondi tal-UE. Xkiel burokratiku, żminijiet twal ta' stennija u n-nuqqas ta' għoti ta' prijorità lil dan il-qasam mill-gvern sikwit qed iżidu diffikultajiet li jistgħu jiġu evitati għall-bdiewa.

Jekk dawk li jfasslu l-politika jiddeċiedu li jagħtu l-importanza li jistħoqqilha lill-agrikoltura lokali, jistgħu jiġu introdotti għadd ta' riformi.

L-ewwel nett, il-politika tal-ippjanar għandha tħares l-art rurali u tħeġġeġ lill-bdiewa biex jużaw l-art għal skopijiet agrikoli minflok jiġu sfurzati jbigħuha għal użi oħra.

It-tieni, l-għarfien espert u l-għajnuna tekniċi għandhom jgħinu kemm lill-gvern kif ukoll lill-bdiewa fl-aħjar modi ta' applikazzjoni u użu tal-fondi tal-UE u dawk nazzjonali u fl-iżgurar ta' metodi agrikoli sostenibbli.

Il-gvern għandu wkoll iżid it-trasparenza fil-pitkalija, jissimplifika l-proċeduri burokratiċi, iwettaq stħarriġ estensiv tal-art u jagħti lill-bdiewa l-possibbiltà li jkollhom it-titolu legali fuq l-art sabiex ikunu jistgħu japplikaw għal opportunitajiet ta' finanzjament. Il-gvern għand jagħti inċentivi wkoll għall-użu sostenibbli tal-ilma u t-trattament xieraq tal-annimali.

Malta teħtieġ ukoll riformi li jħeġġu l-aċċess tal-bdiewa żgħażagħ għas-suq, u li jsaħħu proċessi ta' politika aktar parteċipatorji biex jinstemgħu l-ilħna tal-bdiewa, l-akkademiċi u s-soċjetà ċivili fil-qasam.

Fuq livell Ewropew, il-Politika Agrikola Komuni (PAK) ukoll teħtieġ riforma. Minn perspettiva Maltija, nemmen li punt importanti li għandu jissemma hu l-ispeċifiċità ta' gżejjer żgħar u azjendi agrikoli żgħar. Dan għandu jitqies fil-proċess ta' politika, għax inkella l-PAK ser tibqa' xxaqleb favur negozji agrikoli kbar.

Huwa veru li l-agrikoltura tirrappreżenta persentaġġ żgħir tal-prodott gross domestiku, iżda l-kontribut strateġiku tagħha għas-soċjetà Maltija huwa imprezzabbli. Dan hu qasam ieħor fejn hemm ħtieġa urġenti ta' kunsens politiku.

 Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 27 ta' Jannar 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Let’s stop the agricultural decline - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 21 January 2019

Recent Eurostat statistics do not provide encouraging reading for Malta’s agricultural sector. Income in the sector declined by 9.4 per cent between 2016 and 2017, and it has fallen by about a third since 2010. Finland and Slovenia had similar declines to Malta’s, but countries such as Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland and Lithuania had impressive rises ranging from 20 to 35 per cent.
While Malta and Ireland are the only two EU member states where the work force has not declined over just more than a decade, Malta’s agricultural workforce is the third lowest in the EU. Besides, only six per cent of farmers in the country are female – the second lowest in the bloc.
Another significant statistic states that Malta was one of the EU countries with strong contractions in investment growth, averaging minus 6.8 per cent yearly since 2009.
Environmental NGO Friends of the Earth also provides interesting data through its AgroKantina report and its participation in the EU Citizen’s Cap Project.
It states that there are 19,000 farmers, and the number of those working full-time is decreasing. Forty per cent of Malta’s land area can currently be classified as agricultural land. Seventy-six per cent of Maltese farms are micro-farms, being less than one hectare in area.
Indeed, Eurostat reminds us that Malta’s share of small farms is the highest of all EU member states (96.5 per cent). They are less than five hectares in area.
Friends of the Earth adds that 45 per cent of agricultural land is used for forage crops followed by other uses such as market agriculture (16 per cent), and kitchen gardens (12 per cent) respectively.
Fifty-seven per cent of fruit grown in Malta are grapes, followed by oranges (12 per cent) and strawberries (nine per cent). The most popular ‘vegetable’ is the tomato (17 per cent), followed by potatoes (15 per cent) and others.
Given the declines in question, the small contribution to Malta’s economy (less than two per cent of GDP), and other social changes such as Malta’s urban sprawl, should we give up on agriculture? I hope not.
I subscribe to the perspective that believes that farmers deserve assistance and incentives so they can empower themselves and help protect Malta’s landscape. Malta’s EU membership was meant to bring about both challenges and opportunities to the sector, but is government giving the sector the importance it deserves? To give one example, why was the pitkali market reform stalled?
Besides, why are many farmers experiencing higher costs and lower profits? Why are they being denied forms of insurance for example against climatic changes? Why are they often subject to unfair competition and lack of consultation?
A sore point relates to EU funds.  Bureaucratic hurdles, long waits and lack of government prioritisation are often adding avoidable difficulties to farmers.
If Maltese policymakers decide to give local agriculture the importance it deserves, various reforms could be introduced.
First, planning policies should protect rural land and encourage farmers to use land for agricultural purposes rather than being constrained to sell it for other use.
Second, technical expertise and assistance should assist both the government and farmers on the best ways to apply and utilise EU and national funds and to ensure sustainable agricultural methods.
The government should also increase transparency at the pitkali, simplify bureaucratic procedures, carry out extensive land surveys and enable farmers to have legal title to land so they can apply for funding opportunities. The government should also incentivise sustainable water use and animal welfare.
Malta also requires reforms which encourage market access for young farmers, and which enhance more participatory policy processes to farmers, scholars and civil society voices in the field.
On a European level, the Common Agricultural Policy also requires reform. From a Maltese perspective, I believe that one important point to mention is the specificity of small islands and small agricultural holdings. These should be factored in the policy process, as otherwise the CAP will keep being tilted in favour of big agro-business.
Agriculture may represent a small percentage of gross domestic product, but its strategic contribution to Maltese society is priceless. This is another area which is crying for political consensus.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

L-għoti ta' art pubblika - Michael Briguglio

Sa issa huwa ċar li l-mudell ekonomiku tal-gvern jiddependi ħafna minn proġetti aċċellerati ta' kostruzzjoni. Dawn jitfgħu l-flus fl-ekonomija, dan iwassal għal tkabbir u ċ-ċiklu politiku tal-gvern jibqa' għaddej.

Iżda dan kollu għandu prezz. L-impatt ambjentali u dak soċjali qed jingħataw importanza sekondarja u hekk ukoll qed jingħata ċ-ċiklu ekonomiku fuq medda itwal ta' żmien. Lil hinn miċ-ċiklu politiku attwali tal-gvern, Malta tista' ssostni ekonomija li taħtaf dejjem aktar art għal proġetti ta' żvilupp spekulattiv? U min iħallas it-taxxa għandu jiffinanzja dan kollu permezz tar-roħs enormi li qed jingħata lil ċerti żviluppaturi tal-art?

Il-proġett ta' żvilupp tal-Corinthia f'San Ġiljan huwa każ ieħor ta' dan. Il-Corinthia hija kumpanija ta' suċċess li hija l-aktar magħrufa għall-kontribut turistiku tagħha lill-ekonomija Maltija u lil hinn minnha. Ta' dan ta' min ifaħħarha, u tal-pjanijiet tagħha għall-ewwel lukanda ta' sitt stilel f'Malta. Iżda peress li l-pjanijiet tagħha jinvolvu art pubblika u l-iżvilupp ta' proprjetà immobbli, nistenna li l-interess pubbliku jingħata prijorità mill-gvern fin-negozjati tiegħu ma' din il-kumpanija privata.

Il-gvern kuntent li l-impatt tal-proprjetà immobbli fuq l-art ikkonċernata hu stmat li ser ikun id-doppju tad-daqs tal-art mibnija għal skopijiet ta' turiżmu? Il-gvern kuntent li qed jagħti roħs ta' €70 miljun lill-Corinthia għall-art ikkonċernata, meta din l-art ingħatat valur ta' €121.7 miljun minn Deloitte?

Il-gvern huwa daqstant ġeneruż man-nies tal-klassi medja u tal-klassi tal-ħaddiema li jħallsu t-taxxa, mal-pensjonanti, u ma' persuni li għandhom ħtieġa urġenti ta' akkomodazzjoni soċjali?

Nixtieq infakkar lill-qarrejja li f'Ottubru li għadda ktibt lill-Kummissjoni Ewropea u lill-Bord ta’ Sorveljanza fuq l-Għajnuna Mogħtija mill-Istat ta' Malta dwar proġett simili ta' żvilupp qrib ta' dan: il-proġett kontroversjali tad-DB f'Pembroke.

L-ittri tiegħi staqsew jekk il-gvern ta' Malta kienx qed iħares il-leġislazzjoni Ewropea u dik Maltija dwar l-għajnuna mill-Istat meta ddeċieda li jbigħ is-sit fejn kien l-Istitut għall-Istudji Turistiċi lill-iżviluppaturi għal €15-il miljun biss, meta l-pjan tal-gvern stess għaż-żona kien ta lill-art valur ta' €8,500 għal kull metru kwadru, li jammonta għal total ta' €204 miljuni għall-art involuta.

Il-Bord ta’ Sorveljanza fuq l-Għajnuna Mogħtija mill-Istat għad irid iwieġeb għall-mistoqsijiet tiegħi. Il-Kummissjoni Ewropea wieġbet, bl-użu ta' lingwaġġ burokratiku li jgħin biex dak li jkun jifhem għaliex tant persuni qed isiru xettiċi dwar il-ħolma Ewropea.

Fi ftit kliem, il-Kummissjoni Ewropea qaltli li ma nistax nistaqsi mistoqsijiet bħal dawn sakemm m'inix kompetitur żvantaġġat. Allura ċ-ċittadini komuni ma għandhom ebda dritt jistaqsu lill-Unjoni Ewropea dwar għajnuna mill-Istat li tinvolvi art pubblika.

Iżda minnufih naħseb f'mistoqsija oħra. Min huma l-kompetituri żvantaġġati? U mhumiex jilmentaw għax huma wkoll ser jiksbu art pubbliku bi prezzijiet imraħħsa, bis-saħħa tal-gvern imma mħallsa minn dawk li jħallsu t-taxxa?

Dawn iż-żewġ proġetti huma l-aktar żewġ eżempji reċenti tar-relazzjoni simbjotika bejn il-gvern u l-iżviluppaturi l-kbar li jiddependu minn xulxin għat-tkabbir ekonomiku u l-appoġġ mill-Istat rispettivament, filwaqt li tiġi injorata kull prijorità oħra.

L-unika differenza hi li din id-darba, il-gvern kien ippospona r-reviżjoni tal-pjan għal Paceville eżatt qabel l-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali wara kritika qawwija mill-pubbliku.

Dak li qed joffri issa huwa agħar: l-għoti ta' art pubblika fuq bażi ad hoc - mingħajr regoli u skont il-bżonn.

Il-gvern ser jgħid lir-residenti mweġġa' li, bis-saħħa ta' dan l-iżvilupp, il-kunsilli lokali ser jingħataw flus mill-qligħ mill-ippjanar: madwar miljun euro fil-każ tal-iżvilupp tal-Corinthia.

Iżda dak li l-gvern forsi għandu jgħid ukoll huwa li minkejja l-bilanċ pożittiv nazzjonali, dan l-aħħar iddeċieda li jieħu €2 miljuni mill-Fond għall-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp mingħand kull wieħed mill-kunsilli lokali ta' San Ġiljan u Tas-Sliema mingħajr anqas biss indenja ruħu jikkonsultahom.

Ma għandix wisq tama li l-gvern ser ibiddel il-mudell ekonomiku tiegħu, iżda nsejjaħ lill-qarrejja biex jagħtu preferenza lill-Malta li jixtiequ meta jgħarblu dawn is-suġġetti.

 Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 20 ta' Jannar 2019