This photograph of Wild Wadi, Dubai by https://www.flickr.com/photos/saudi/ is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer number of worrying national news stories. Stories of ancient trees being chopped down, of a flock of 18 storks being reduced to 1 stork, of an illegal €274 million direct order, of a Maltese company playing a part in the money laundering of the family of the Venezuelan President, of the hate campaign against David Casa and against any number of people who are unhappy with the path Malta is on...
This means that I don’t properly have time to digest the implications of every story. All the time, there is such a jumble of half formed thoughts and ideas in my head. One story that has slowly filtered through to more fully formed thoughts is the story of the 120 or so black people living in a cow shed.
There was outrage expressed at this. There was (probably more) outrage expressed at the killing of a kitten in a cafe in front of customers. However, the shock expressed surprised me.
This didn’t happen in a vacuum. There weren’t cows living in a cow shed, one day and then the next, black migrants. What do we expect if there is a culture in Malta of wanting our cake and wanting to eat it too?
We want people to come and work in Malta because we look down our noses on some jobs but then we complain that there are too many black migrants.
We want the 120 or so black migrants to be removed from the cow shed because it is not dignified enough for them but we are ok with landlords breaking Maltese and EU law when they refuse to rent to them because of the colour of their skin.
We want the 120 or so black migrants to be removed from the cow shed because it is not dignified enough for them but we don’t provide them with a better alternative, so many are now sleeping in fields.
We want to decrease the number of foreigners and yet we’re ok with selling Maltese citizenship to the highest bidder.
We want EU migrants to come to Malta so that we can rent our properties and charge high rents but we then complain that there are far too many foreigners and the Maltese are being priced out of the housing market.
We want to be in the EU but only for what we can get out of it. So, we want to build social housing only for the Maltese, no matter that this is a breach in EU law.
We want to have a Dubai in Malta where the Maltese are at the top of the social hierarchy and everybody else is lower down the hierarchy. No matter that these non Maltese pay as much tax and NI as us. No matter that these non Maltese are less of a financial burden on our state than we are because they were non contributive children needing education and health elsewhere.
There are numerous news stories of an ugly segregation in the Gulf States between locals, white immigrants or 'expats' and immigrant workers. Here's one example: The Fall of Dubai
Is this what we are trying to emulate? Are these our values?
This is what pervades our administrative policy - this apartheid, this institutionalised racism. It's already there, this rationale. Why do you think all tenants struggle in our dysfunctional rental market? What nationality are most tenants?
People really believe they are in the right when they declare that social housing should only be for the Maltese. I can think of no developed country where housing policy would have built in discrimination on the basis of nationality from the get go. Not. A. Single. Developed. Country.
Which brings me to the final thought - have we ever sat down as a country and thought long and hard about what kind of country we wanted our Malta to be? What values did we want to see enshrined in our policy on environment, housing, education, institutions, health systems, foreign policy...?
Or did we just go with the flow when we became independent, paying lip service to a greatly derelicted and derelict Constitution, designed for us by the British? Isn’t it time for a Malta 2.0? Isn’t it time that we have a long conversation about what kind of Malta we want for ourselves and for our children? Which Malta would we CHOOSE to have?
Photo: gildemax - www.commons.wikimedia.org
In 2013, I submitted a petition to the European Parliamentary Committee of Petitions and a complaint to the European Commission with respect to the Arms / tenant scam. I did this soon after it became apparent that Arms was not going to do anything about overcharging tenants as a matter of course. As it happens, neither was the Office of the Ombudsman or the National Audit Office. Impunity reigned and Arms continues to overcharge tenants to this day.
Like a star struck groupie, I felt sure that the EU would come to the rescue of tenants living in Malta. I do have an unfortunate tendency to put everyone and everything high on a pedestal initially, only for them to come tumbling down soon after. Whilst my petition was discussed twice during two sessions of the European Parliamentary Committee of Petitions, and whilst pressure was applied to the Maltese powers that be, five years later and still most tenants are overcharged on their consumption of water and electricity.
This is my last correspondence with the EU on the Arms / tenant scam. I've done all I can. I've exhausted all avenues that I can see.
From: johanna axisa1 <email@example.com>
Sent: 20 August 2018 20:06
Cc:firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Petition 1737/2013; CHAP 2013(2750)
Dear Secretariat of the Parliamentary Committee of Petitions
I am writing to protest - in the strongest possible terms - against the conclusions of the European Commission in their Notice to Members of the 29/6/2018 (please see attached). These are the conclusions of the European Commission:
“The Commission is satisfied with the changes implemented by the Maltese authorities. The additional documents sent by the petitioner in March and November 2017 do not include information which could induce the Commission to change its assessment.”
I would like somebody from the European Commission to explain clearly why the following articles of the TFEU and the Energy Efficiency Directive are not being breached by Malta:
Article 21 of the TFEU
The European Commission states that it is satisfied with the introduction of Arms Form F2: Temporary Recognition of the Tenant in Rented Premises as a solution to the longstanding tenant problem of tenants not being able to access the correct tariff for people living in their primary residences.
Using this new form, tenants, applying to be on the correct tariff for people living in their primary residence, will have to pay a non refundable €50 application fee and a €466 deposit. Homeowners do not incur these charges when they apply to be placed on the correct tariff. In my opinion, this constitutes an indirect discrimination against non Maltese EU nationals because most tenants in Malta are non Maltese. 80% of Maltese citizens are homeowners. This also means that, while the non Maltese EU tenant is living in Malta, they will not be able to have access to the €466 throughout their stay in Malta, which may be permanent.
Most crucially, the Commission has failed to read between the lines. The Commission does not seem to understand that landlords in Malta are extremely reluctant to register their tenants on the Arms bill. Tax evasion on rental income is rife in Malta. How do you think the landlord will feel when the tenant - via Arms Form F2 - registers their presence in the landlord’s so called empty secondary residence against the wishes of their landlord? I know for a fact from my tenant support group of now > 3000 members that many tenants would not consider going down the F2 application route, for this very reason.
Article 12 and Article 169 of the TFEU
Moreover, the discrimination of Arms, the sole, state owned utility billing company, against tenants, when compared to homeowners, is in breach of EU consumer protection law. Homeowners do not have to pay a €466 deposit or a €50 application fee to access the tariff for people living in their primary residence.
Why is this not the default tariff? This would resolve the Arms / tenant scam at a stroke. Why is the default tariff the extortionate secondary residence tariff, misleadingly named the domestic tariff (No. of registered occupants = zero)?
Energy Efficiency Directive
The Maltese rental market is completely unregulated and was completely liberalized in 1995. This means that landlords are free to increase rents by whatever amount they want. As a result there are many tenants from lower socioeconomic groups paying more than 70% of their income on rent. Homelessness is on the increase. These tenants will never be able to afford a €466 deposit or even a non refundable €50 application fee. This will mean that they will continue to be on the extortionate summer residence tariff. This unfair billing system will therefore penalise Maltese tenants from the lower socioeconomic groups because these are least likely to own their own property. At the same time, the multiple property owning landlord (often tax evading) will enjoy the correct tariff for people living in their primary residence as a matter of course.
Tenants who cannot afford the deposit and the €50 application fee and / or who will not want to risk the landlord’s wrath by applying to be placed on the correct tariff via Form F2, will therefore be trapped on the incorrect secondary residence tariff. They will also, therefore, not have access to the Arms bill or to any information on their consumption, because Arms is not able to give a copy of the bill to the tenant, if the tenant is not the account holder. This is in breach of the Energy Efficiency Directive, which stipulates that everybody must have information on their electricity consumption.
Article 102 of the TFEU
Arms is the sole, state owned utility billing company. Therefore, I submit that Arms is abusing of its dominant position and treating tenants less favourably when compared to homeowners. Tenants have no other utility companies to switch their custom to.
Tenants are unable to access the Arms Refund Mechanism via Arms Form H2
Please note that tenants, unlike homeowners, are not able to access the redress mechanism, Arms Form H1 because usually they are not the account holders. This is in further breach of Article 21, Article 12, Article 169 and Article 102 of the TFEU.
On the 17th February, 2016, I forwarded my application for Arms redress (dated the 16/2/2016) to Madame Boulanger of the European Commission (please see attached). There followed an absurd correspondence between Noel Scerri (Arms Legal Counsel) and myself, with the European Commission in copy, in which it was confirmed that any refund owed to us would first go to our ex landlord, the account holder. I would then have to initiate court proceedings in order to get our money back. Needless to say, the Arms overcharge plus my legal costs in the amount of €3801.63 are still unpaid.
The European Commission may be unaware (I cannot see how, but anyway) that the Maltese justice system is not fit for purpose. Most people will not resort to our justice system for justice. People will tell you that our courts only benefit the wrongdoer and not the victim. My own experience of having our tax evading landlord able to apply a precautionary garnishee order on our bank account and my salary, because I dared protest against paying for our consumption of water and electricity on the incorrect tariff, did nothing to reassure me of the effectiveness and fairness of the Maltese justice system.
Incidentally, my original petition of 2013 stated that the overcharge on the secondary residence tariff was 35% higher on the second home tariff for electricity and 60% higher on the second home tariff for water. I have sent the European Commission and the European Parliamentary Committee of Petitions reams of documents and information. Please note that post my 2013 petition, I discovered that the overcharge on Arms bills ranges from 43% to 103%, when compared to the cost on the primary residence tariff. In fact, our overcharge over 35 months was 101% more expensive when compared to the cost on the primary residence tariff.
Questions for the European Commission to ask the Maltese Authorities:
1. How many tenants have used Arms Form F2 Temporary Recognition of Tenant in Rented Premises since its inception?
2. How many tenants have been successful in applying for redress since the inception of Arms Form H1?
3. How many Maltese properties on the summer residence tariff (domestic tariff; No. of registered occupants = zero) show a consumption of water and electricity which belie the ‘zero occupants’ tag?
Finally, I must say that I am extremely disappointed at the way the European Commission has allowed Malta to dictate the terms of any solutions to the problems caused by this abusive billing system.
Having a billing system which is as fair to tenants as it is to homeowners is hardly rocket science. Most tenants in Malta are non Maltese EU nationals so this is definitely the remit of the EU. Instead of adding more complexities, more add on plasters, this billing system needs to be scrapped and a new one must be created. One possible, very simple solution is to make the default tariff the primary residence tariff.
Also, the European Commission does not seem to be able to join the dots. Why does Arms – the sole, state owned utility billing company – take more money from tenants than it should? Is it an honest mistake? Hardly. Arms has known that it takes more money from tenants than it should, ever since the inception of the two tier residential tariff in 2008. It has resisted doing anything about this ever since.
Could it be that Malta uses the EU national as a cash cow? Non Maltese EU nationals are not able to vote in the general elections. Votes are everything in Maltese politics. If you don’t have a vote, then you are not valuable to the Maltese politician. Why does the European Commission continue to humour Arms?
Throughout my 5 year campaign to do something about the Arms / tenant scam, I have kept the members of my tenant support group up to date with all my correspondence to the EU. This group now numbers > 3000 members. They are mostly EU nationals on the incorrect Arms tariff. The ineffectiveness of the EU to resolve this situation is dumbfounding. This will be the last time I will write to the EU regarding this situation. I am now a homeowner – we have lived in our own home for more than 2 years. This Arms / tenant scam does not affect me any more. I would like to tell the tenants in my tenant support group that their problems with extortionate Arms bills are over. This is my primary reason for writing to you, again and again, after the European Commission repeatedly tells you that they are satisfied with Malta’s inadequate tinkering to its billing system. Of course I would also like to have the €3801.63 Arms has stolen from my family back. I would have liked to play a part in making EU member state Malta a better place to live in. But this cannot go on. I cannot continue spending my time writing to you, year after year, with hardly any improvement in the situation.
Moving from the UK to Malta in 2010 opened our eyes to the absolute free for all that is Maltese administrative policy. It was a huge shock to the system. The precautionary garnishee orders were traumatic and were the catalyst to my activism.
Since then I have also petitioned the European Parliamentary Committee of Petitions regarding two other matters: Petition 0852/2015 regarding the lack of recognition of my 15 years' UK teaching experience, and also Petition 03294/2015, regarding the discriminatory annual traffic charge. My family and I have been subjected to living in substandard accommodation of insecure tenure, paying extortionate utility bills and extortionate annual circulation licence car fees. Our household of 5 was expected to live on €300 per month after rent and €150 per month on the incorrect utility tariff. This, when Caritas Malta published a study in 2016 which stipulated that a family of 4 needed €936 per month after rent to live a minimum existence. In other words, we have been penalized for freely moving from the UK to Malta. Freedom of movement? It doesn't exist in Malta.
I understand that currently there are more serious concerns regarding Malta. Does the EU not see, however, that the Arms / tenant scam is symptomatic of a wider array of maladministration issues?
Malta Tenant Support
Do our commentators have to be so binary, so either / or?
Why is it, for example, that the 0 or the 1 which proclaims the absolution of Joseph and Michelle Muscat by the conclusions of the Egrant inquiry, do not modulate their emphatic triumphalism by pointing out that the primary witnesses in the inquiry pro Joseph Muscat are all suspicious, shady characters - some of them even in prison or facing prison sentences?
Or that the inquiry began a year after the Panama Papers revealed the presence of Egrant, Hearnville and Tillgate, set up days after the 2013 PL election victory?
Or that our Prime Minister - the accused - was able to choose the terms of the inquiry? Which may have meant that the magistrate had his hands tied re the scope of the inquiry? For example - why were the terms of the inquiry couched the way they were? Why wasn't it a priority to categorically find out who Egrant belonged to? That would have put paid to any doubts whatsoever. That would have justified the jubilant proclamations of innocence.
Why do these commentators not look at the entire context in which the Egrant inquiry played out?
Why do these commentators not discuss the ramifications of the seven defendants (including our Prime Minister), delaying the start of another inquiry instigated by Simon Busuttil more than a year ago? Not least, the recent appeal of some of the defendants and our Attorney General - our Legal Defender of the Republic - against the judgement of the Constitutional Court in favour of Simon Busuttil, that Judge Mizzi should recuse himself? Incidentally Judge Mizzi reaches retirement age in November 2018, as declared in our Parliament by no other than Justice Minister Owen Bonnici. Why is it so important that Judge Mizzi oversees this inquiry, even when he is about to retire?
It seems to me as though the Maltese toxic disease of political partisanship has infected even our commentators.
Do these think of the responsibility they have towards the greater good of our country? Do they really want to support PEPs like Keith Schembri or Konrad Mizzi who have admitted owning Panama companies Hearnville or Tillville, within days of PL winning the 2013 general election? Who did Egrant belong to? Why isn't the Prime Minister being held accountable for the lack of any action, for the institutional meltdown, even if it has not been verified that Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat?
Do they understand that prime ministers, ministers, PEP all over the world... have resigned for far less, soon after their names were revealed by the Panama Papers?
Is it because they do not understand that political accountability demands a much lower bar for evidence than a court of law? Or is it that they have totally succumbed to the disease of political partisanship to become propaganda mouthpieces of a brazen corruption of our democracy?
The spinning of a universe of alternative explanations is certainly making me feel dizzy. I wonder, is there another Cambridge Analytica in the shadows, advising the government on propaganda techniques? Isn't it chilling that some elements of the fourth pillar of democracy help with the spinning?