The main problem with the toxic political duopoly is that both PN and PL diehards do not see that they are PN and PL diehards. Even some of the anti-Delia ex PN crowd hark back to the so-called glory PN days and do not see that previous PN administrations were far from perfect. Now I didn’t live in Malta from 1989 to 2010 but you don’t have to look very far to see evidence of this incompetence of PN at best or its malevolence at worst.
The most shocking illustration of this is the number of building collapses on the watch of previous PN administrations. And for the very same reason the recent building collapses happened – the negligence of developers illegally excavating far too close to third party walls. Three people died in two separate building collapses in 2000 and 2004. People were also injured in others.
As if this weren’t bad enough, there then was the scandalous (in)justice experienced by the bereaved Vella family at the hands of our (in)justice system. Nineteen years it took our Criminal and Civil courts to torture the Vella family in a prolonged purgatory. Nineteen years, and still justice was not served. The state, which is ultimately responsible for the functionality or otherwise of our justice system, looks on imperviously. Nineteen years later and we have the collapse of 3 buildings in 2019. Would these have collapsed if our justice system had served proper justice to the Vella family and all other victims in a timely manner? Is this what the more recent victims are going to have to endure?
Of course, there are more signs of PN administration failures. More mundane failures, but still impactful on the lives of ordinary citizens and residents of Malta. Like the Arms billing system. Or the Annual Car Licence fee discrimination. Or the decision to penalise teachers for moving sector. Or a complete free for all private rental market. Or the pre-1995 anti landlord discrimination. Or the 2006 Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries (now that’s a title of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth bulletin if there ever was one). So many more.
The situation today did not create itself out of a vacuum. Yes, the PL administration is completely responsible for the direction it has chosen to take since 2013. It certainly has not made good on its promises of transparency, meritocracy or looking after the environment. It missed a golden opportunity to increase the bar, to show PN how good governance is done. I predict that in the long term PL will definitely suffer the consequences of this.
However, the stark fact remains that PN has not had a post mortem of the reasons for its two successive electoral defeats of 2013 and 2017. It has not accepted its share of responsibility for the current impasse. It persists with the duopoly status quo. PN thinks that, by some miracle, the days of alternation of power from PN to PL and vice versa will return soon. It doesn’t see that that ship sailed a long time ago.
The people gave PL a chance in 2013 when PN failed to impress. Just like PN was discarded, this will also happen to PL. Already you see growing signs of a disgruntlement as the consequences of Joseph Muscat's economic model of choice are increasingly felt.
And then what next? Will the reins of power fall to PN? Heck no. Not in a million years. PN will not have the ability to organise the proverbial in a brewery let alone be an attractive proposition for the electorate to vote them in power ever again. Thus, in my opinion, the days of the PNPL duopoly are numbered.
It therefore follows that a new politics will come into play. Something will be building into the vacuum caused by this endangerment of the political duopoly. The people are key. Somehow, over the decades, PNPL have manipulated and manoeuvred the electorate into feeling loyalty for PN or PL. With the result that each of them has come to complacently expect a sizeable number to defend them to the hilt, no matter what. In this way, we fight each other and are distracted from the maladministration of the day.
The critical voices are increasing. One day soon, a critical mass of people, critical of both PN and PL, will exponentially show how to refuse to play the bipartisan game. Social media is helping to show incontrovertibly how successive administrations take for granted their ability to ignore the well being of the ordinary citizen and resident.
In the meantime, I suppose, we have to endure the last dregs of the duopoly circus. It’s interesting how so few of the politicians seem to be able to see the writing on the wall. Soon, the nakedness of the emperors will no longer be denied.
The journey back from Luqa airport to our home in Birkirkara after a glorious three week holiday in the green and lush Scottish landscape was the dreaded down to earth bang I thought it would be. The stark glare of a noonday July sun on the dense conglomeration of built up Malta was relentless in making sure that I came down to earth as quickly as possible. Hardly a speck of green alleviated the beige and dusty scenery as we made our way home.
For three weeks, I went cold turkey on the angst of living in Malta in 2019. I felt myself healing as the holiday progressed. How to sustain those feelings, I ask myself? How to do my bit and yet keep myself well and productive?
This was also the holiday in which Eric, the kids and I climbed three Scottish mountains: the highest mountain in the UK - Ben Nevis, Cairngorm and - on the last day of our holiday - Ben Vorlich. The kids blithely climbed the mountains with not so much as a murmur of protest. Eric, of course, is a veteran munro bagger. I, on the other hand, was the laggard. From a Physics perspective - and to justify my (poorer) performance, I suppose - I was the one who converted most chemical energy to gravitational potential energy as I pulled my weight upwards a height of 1350 m for Ben Nevis, circa 700 m for Cairngorm and circa 900 m for Ben Vorlich. (Hmmm – an idea to be developed further for a Physics assessment question.)
So, out of all of us, the biggest achievement was mine because I started from a lower base. (Education officials, if you’re reading this – please note what I’ve done here. All of us completed the same task and reached the same outcome but my achievement was greater because I started from a lower base. Maybe you should be more sophisticated with your development of Maltese assessment policy and revise your understanding of what constitutes true ‘assessment is for learning’.)
I apologise for the constant tangents to this blog. It kind of makes my point that whenever I am in Malta I am constantly bombarded by thoughts of unease and malaise at the state of Maltese administrative policy on whichever issue.
Anyhow, to go back to my mountain climbing. As I placed one weary foot followed by another weary foot upward, I diverted myself from the discomfort by building castles in the sky. This whilst literally reaching for the sky.
Throughout my life, I have always dreamed big. Moving to London at the age of 22? No problem. Training to be a teacher when I was a single parent in London? No problem. Moving to Scotland from London? Again no problem.
The seemingly insurmountable problems only began on moving to Malta. But then again, I have to learn to recognise and be encouraged by the small victories I’ve had over the last few years. Of course, I want complete victories. But I have to learn that this will take time and sustained effort against the Maltese war of attrition.
So, back to the castle building. In the last throes of a busy scholastic year, I put the issue of the Maltese government ignoring the NCPE judgement in my favour on the back burner. As I climbed further up the mountain, I explored different options. Firstly, I decided that there was no chance of hell freezing over that I would allow the Maltese government to get away with ignoring the NCPE judgement. Next, I began exploring how I would go about achieving this aim. Successive administrations have banked on the fact that most plaintiffs against the Maltese state will not consider taking the Maltese state to court. The reason is that the financial cost for doing this usually exceeds the sums due. That, plus the prohibitive length of time it would take to come to judgement.
So, if I solve the problem of how I would fund my legal action against the Maltese state and if I accept that it will take a long time, then this would clear the way forward. After all, the NCPE judgement carries a lot of weight in a court of law so my victory is more or less assured. Plus, of course, this is an EU freedom of movement issue and a rule of law issue, so I can update the European Commission and the Council of Europe on the progress made. Plus, long term I will also sue the Maltese government for costs and compensation.
I don’t quite know how to make myself any clearer on this crucial point. Yes, I want my money back. From the state if you will. But actually what drives me forward is that I cannot possibly contemplate allowing the Maltese state to get away with its behaviour. There have been several people over the years who have told me to ‘stop navel gazing’ and ‘to look at the wider picture’ and ‘to work for the good of the country and not my own personal interest’. These people completely miss the point. For decades successive administrations have ridden roughshod over the grievances of thousands of individuals. For decades they have got away with this because few people challenge this behaviour. However, recently a coalition of ngos and local councils successfully appealed the disgraceful db Pembroke project. There have also been other ngos and coalitions recently applying the brakes on a seemingly unstoppable Executive through different legal actions.
My theory is that if people out there see that the Maltese state is not unassailable, the flood gates will open and there will be a deluge of people understanding the power we have when we act as a collective. I do not believe for one minute that tinkering with the PN PL toxic duopoly will achieve this. The key is the people learning that we don’t have to be craven and fearful. That there are other more dignified options in making sure that the politicians understand that they are our public servants.
To build a castle in the sky is defined by the free dictionary as ‘to create dreams, hopes, or plans that are impossible, unrealistic or have very little chance of succeeding’. Like I said, I like to dream big. My recent success at climbing three mountains in as many weeks is a good boost to my confidence in my ability to reach my goals. More importantly, that Scottish three week holiday has taught me a thing or two about perspective and sustainability of effort. The perspective of looking down below from the top of a mountain with my family beside me is simply a beautiful feeling. One to be replicated again and again in more ways than one. I promise.
Dear Ms Maury Pasquier and Mr Omtzigt
I watched with great interest the PACE debate on Mr Omtzigt’s report on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta. I write to you as a last resort. I am a Maltese citizen who returned to Malta with my family in 2010 after a 21 year stay in the UK. I have experienced and witnessed for myself the disastrous state of Maltese governance and rule of law.
The first shock to the system was in August 2013. Our ex landlord took out a precautionary garnishee order on our bank account and my salary when we refused to continue overpaying on the incorrect tariff for people living in their primary residence. Two years of attendance at the Small Claims Court later, it was judged by the Chairperson that just as ignorance of the law was no excuse for the tenant, it was also no excuse for the landlord. The judgement was that both of us shared responsibility for the so called arrears on the Arms (the sole, state owned utility billing company) bill. Please note that the court agreed that we were on the incorrect tariff for people living in their primary residence but the court case was about who had responsibility for the ‘arrears’ on the Arms bill. The legality of the Arms billing system was not the subject of the court case. Neither, please note, was the case thrown out of court and the garnishee orders deemed to be vexatious. So, the outcome of this is that, by implication of the judgement itself, Arms – the sole, state owned utility billing company - was in receipt of an overcharge of €3309.84 that it was not entitled to.
Please also note that this is not a one off occurrence. Most tenants are on the incorrectly applied, extortionate summer residence tariff. Many landlords evade tax on their rental income so do not want the powers that be to know there are rent paying tenants living in their so called empty second properties. Effectively Arms is colluding with tax evading landlords. Of course, my first step was to ask for Arms to recalculate the cost of our consumption of water and electricity on the correct tariff. I copied in the then Minister for Energy, Konrad Mizzi, and the Prime Minister to this request. To no avail.
My second experience of Maltese injustice is still ongoing. In August 2015, I submitted a complaint to the European Commission regarding the underpayment of my salary because of the breach of EU law with regard to my right to EU freedom of movement and treatment equal to that of host nationals. Basically, my 15 years’ UK teaching experience was completely ignored with regard to where I was placed on the Teacher Salary Scale. Effectively I was on the same salary scale as a newly qualified teacher. There followed an extensive correspondence with my union, the MUT; Minister for Education Evarist Bartolo, the Secretariat for Catholic Education, the European Commission and the European Parliament. I was met with brick wall after brick wall as the MUT and MEDE came up with creative ways of denying me justice. To cut a very long story short, my persistence paid off and, thanks to the intervention of the European Commission, in January 2017 I was placed on the correct point of the Teacher Salary Scale with respect to my UK teaching experience. Arrears from September 2013 to December 2016 were also paid.
I insisted that salary arrears from September 2010 to September 2013 were also due to me. The September 2013 MUT / MEDE agreement on EU teacher mobility was quoted to justify the non payment of these arrears. (Yes, against the best interests of their mobile teacher members, the Malta Union of Teachers signed an agreement with the Department of Education in 2013 which stipulated that arrears would only be backdated to September 2013.) I took issue with this and wrote to the European Commission again, who advised me to file a complaint with the Maltese National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE). This entity was the agency responsible for EU freedom of movement disputes. In June 2018, I instructed a lawyer to help me with my case because by now I was wary of any Maltese institution. I was therefore pleasantly surprised and relieved when the NCPE judgement of March 2019 recommended that I be paid the September 2010 to September 2013 arrears. My lawyer wrote to MEDE and asked for these arrears to be paid. Unfortunately to date this has not happened.
In December 2017 and November 2018 I submitted judicial letters to interrupt prescription on my case. The response to these judicial letters by MEDE was that I should refrain from any legal action because I had no case and would therefore waste my money on legal and court costs. The legal costs incurred with regard to the NCPE complaint and the filing of the judicial letters to interrupt prescription amount to circa €4000. The NCPE has recommended that I am paid these arrears, after both sides submitted evidence, and yet MEDE has left me with no choice but to pursue this in court and incur yet more legal and court costs which would probably exceed the amount due to me.
Please note that I am not the only mobile teacher who has suffered this discrimination. Mobile teachers moving sector within Malta or returning to service after taking a career break to have a family pre 2013 or pre 2015 are in the same situation as I am. So, again, this is a systemic injustice and, in a teacher recruitment crisis to top it all.
I have witnessed too many injustices on a daily basis to list them all in this already too long email. However I cannot but mention two other recent injustices.
A few days ago, we received the news that a 49 year old injustice with regard to my late father’s pension had been resolved and that the underpayment of his pension would now go to his heirs. Forty nine years later. How can this be justice? Why was my father denied the full fruits of his labour in his lifetime?
The second injustice I will mention here is far too important not to mention. Recently, three blocks of flats have collapsed or been deemed unsafe because of excavation works next door. Miraculously no one died or was seriously injured.
In 2000, Mrs Vella died after the house she was in collapsed because of excavation works in the neighbouring property. Two other people in the house at the time survived. Twelve years later, the criminal court ordered the two contractors to pay €4000 euro each in damages to the Vella family. Recently a civil court ordered damages of €40000 to be paid. The Vella family received a bill for €9000 in court costs.
The magistrate in the Vella case ruled that the contractors were to blame because they had disregarded the instruction of the architect to leave a mandatory 76 cm gap between the neighbouring house and the excavation.
At least two of the three recent collapses also did not leave a mandatory 76 cm gap between the third party wall and the excavation. Would the victims of these recent collapses have endured the trauma of losing their homes in this way if the damages payable by the contractors then had been much more substantial and more timely than 19 years? Will the victims of the 2019 building collapses endure the same injustice and unfair treatment over the next 19 years?
I must apologize for the length of this email. I will now get to the crucial point. The European Court of Human Rights waives the condition of having to exhaust all national remedies for justice before applying to the ECtHR for some Maltese human rights cases.
I would like to ask whether it would be at all possible for this to automatically happen across the board with regard to all human rights abuses in Malta. Many people in Malta will tell you that only the guilty and the wrong take their grievances to court because the wronged are never served justice. It’s a pretty damning indictment of our justice system. From my own experiences and observations, I cannot but agree.
It is important for me to point out that although my opinion is that the PL government has upped the ante with regard to the dysfunction of our institutions, I consider that both PN and PL are to blame. The examples I have used in this email are of abusive administrative systems that run over successive administrations. Indeed, the injustice endured by my late father began in 1970 under a PN administration, only 6 years after independence.
I look forward to hearing from you. I apologise if I am not meant to contact you so directly in these circumstances. I am only trying to find a way round yet another brick wall put up by the Maltese state against its own citizens and residents.
Please let me know if you need any documentation to support all I have written in this email.
So, in amongst the daily litany of some new scandal or two and the general dysfunction of a failing state, news of collapsing buildings has hit the headlines over the last few weeks. When the first block of flats collapsed, our prime minister and various others were quick to point out - from a very defensive position, I thought - that this event couldn’t be used to characterise the building industry as a whole. Also, third parties were hectored and told that they needed to chase any concerns themselves with a lawyer, an architect, the BRO...
After 9 years of being back in Malta, I don’t think I can ever say any more that I feel angry about a specific situation. I feel angry every day. I have been angry every day for years now. I don’t imagine that being angry is good for your health so I vent on Facebook and write a blog or two to release that anger.
I also can never say now that I am ever surprised or shocked as I learn about some new abusive, perverse administrative system.
I am pretty good at extrapolating. So clearly if we endured abuse as a result of the Maltese utility billing system, the ACL billing system, the discrimination against mobile teachers, the free for all private rental sector..., of course I am not going to be surprised that the rot extends everywhere into all spheres of every day life in Malta.
Did people listening to the prime minister as he swung the responsibility on to the victim think ‘this is not acceptable’? Did people notice this? Or is it that they don’t understand that this is not normal behaviour of a prime minister?
The idea that we shouldn’t worry about the aberration, the minority because it is an aberration or a minority..., - when did this become acceptable? Or has it always been acceptable because people tend to be complacent and smug about how their lives and the lives of their families will always be hunky dory?
Stop making a fuss - It’s only 20% of the population who are tenants. Stop making a fuss - it’s only 3.5% of Teachers of Maths and Maltese who are being treated unfairly. Stop making a fuss - only a few teachers have lost out on tens of thousands of euro in salary payments.
Why do we have a government at all, if this is the case? Is it acceptable for an administration to only look after the majority, the non aberration? Are we happy with having mob rule?
And then - just like that - the prime minister and everyone else changed their tune as the first collapse was followed by another collapse of a Mellieha block of flats and then another collapse in a wall on another Hamrun block of flats.
We also had Janet Walker - one of the victims - who had documented the cracks in the walls, her concern at the shaking of the building. In fact this was a news item on national television on the 10th May. She consulted an architect at her own expense. She followed the warped system as the PM told her to. Where did it get her? Did it stop the wall collapsing? Did it stop her and all the occupants of the block becoming homeless overnight and losing all their belongings in the process?
So the government changed its tune to 'this is now not an aberration, not a minority'. Now many people are living in fear. We’ve got to do something now because this is the majority.
Malta desperately needs administrative systems that work, that make sense, that do not leave anybody by the wayside, especially literally by the wayside.
Nowhere else was this abnormal behaviour of successive administrations more evident than with the story of the Vella family who suffered the trauma of the death of their mother in the collapse of a Sliema block of flats NINETEEN YEARS ago. They’re still in court and they’ve been billed for court costs of 9000 euro. The compensation awarded to them for this unimaginable pain and suffering? The criminal court fined each of the contractors 4000 euro. The civil court case fined the contractors 40 000 euro.
The reason for the collapse of this block of flats NINETEEN YEARS ago? Why, this was attributed to the contractors breaking the law and cutting the foundations without leaving a mandatory two and a half feet away from the third party property.
In the photos of the Mellieha collapse of a few weeks ago you can see there is NO two and a half feet gap between the collapsed building and the excavation.
What stands out for me from over the last few years is that people around th world seem to have lost the art of putting themselves in the shoes of others. Could it be that as these people have become richer, as we have less and less meaningful interactions with each other, the ability to feel empathy with others is being lost? If so, this is dangerous. Not just for the people in trouble. But for everyone. Because life is unpredictable. Who knows when trouble will hit next? If we don't even show solidarity with arbitrary people who overnight have lost their homes and all their belongings in such an arbitrary fashion, will there be anyone left to speak for us when troubles come for us?
I’m aware that, in the grand scheme of things, having your bank account and salary frozen, being overcharged on your utilities by 101% simply because you are not a homeowner, having your salary underpaid by circa €30 000 over 6 years, paying €762 in ACL fees on your car every year instead of circa €200, your family of 5 living on €300 per month after rent and Arms bills on the incorrect tariff (when the 2016 Caritas study indicated that a family of 4 needed an income of €953 per month to live a minimum existence, if the family lived in social housing and paid €18 per month on rent)…, isn’t a matter of life and death. After all, here we all are - homeowners now, situation stabilized.
We - I - could have easily chosen to circumvent all these problems. I could have left teaching and found a job that paid me better money. Enough to pay for the overcharges in the Arms bills, the ACL fees, the rent. Or we could have returned to Scotland. Or we could have given up the fight and become landlords ourselves. Somehow, I couldn’t do this, however. If someone or some entity throws me a gauntlet, I have to accept the challenge.
Sometimes I feel that I am not very good at making the point I want to be making. The point isn’t about our family situation or the situation for tenants or the situation for mobile teachers or the situation of every Arms customer or the situation for migrants moving to Malta with their cars.
The point is that there is something seriously wrong with Malta. There has been for a very long time. I couldn’t care less whether it is PL or PN who is in government. I would say exactly the same thing, no matter who was in government. I’m aware that there is a growing number of non partisan people but unfortunately the majority of people still ascribe to this toxic partisanship that is clouding over the extremely serious issues at the heart of Maltese everyday life. I so wish that they could see through that cloud or better still blast it away with resolve to finally see, to properly see.
From my viewpoint, all the above are linked. All the above are also linked to the ramping up of wrongdoing by the current administration. We gain momentum in our fall to the bottom of this seemingly bottomless pit at an alarming rate.
The failings of our institutions exposed irretrievably. Our justice system - completely without cojones. Watching Konrad Mizzi’s escaping justice is frustrating, for example. The impunity with which ministers, PM chiefs of staff, the managing director of the Times… own opaque financial structures in blacklisted jurisdictions u kollox jgħaddi qisu xejn m’hu xejn (and everything continues as if nothing has happened).
The libel suits of ministers, politicians against the solitary investigative journalist. The precautionary garnishee orders against said journalist. The many attempts at obliterating Daphne Caruana Galizia - financially, personally, reputationally and then - when these attempts didn’t work - her assassination.
The macabre takeover by vested interests of the PA and ERA so that these act completely against their remit, and the wholesale degradation of the Maltese islands continues. It hurts every time I’m on my way to what’s left of the Maltese countryside to see the encroachment of more concrete, of more ill conceived, slapdash pigeon coops, with the adjacent blank wall awaiting more of the same. I’m 52 years old. I remember the Malta of my childhood and the contrast is painful.
So much more I could say about the daily barrage of news stories of abuse and maladministration.
It’s all linked. The Venice Commission report published a few days ago confirms what many have always known. So, where do we go from here? Do we continue to be ostriches, seeing and hearing no evil? Or do we grow up as a nation and tell the political class NO MORE? No outside entity is going to be able to fix this. Not the EU, not the Council of Europe. Only we can fix this.
The full Venice Commission report
William Blake - Malevolence - 1799
Under the Montevideo Convention, these are the 4 conditions for statehood: the prospective state must have a territory, a permanent population - subject to the control of a government, and the capacity to conduct international relations (sovereignty).
Not a very high bar, is it? I suppose, this explains why we have states of varying degree of good governance. Behind every state, there is a history and a serendipity which brought that state to the current state of affairs.
I’ve often wondered how tiny Britannia managed to rule the waves for so long. How did tiny Britain make its language the language of choice in so many countries? France – what impact did the French revolution have on today’s France? What would Britain, France and every single country be like today if the vagaries of fate had been different vagaries of fate?
I think there’s much soul searching to be done on the impact of our history on the current situation in Malta. And yet everyone seems to be oblivious to the need for this to be done. We refuse to learn the lessons begging to be learnt. Instead we look away from ourselves. We apportion blame and ramp up the divide which no longer falls solely on a PN PL fault line. The flailing and the wailing will only delay the inevitable day of reckoning.
Ever since I returned to Malta in 2010, I have been asking myself why I get so exercised about the state of Maltese governance. Why can’t I just shrug my shoulders, ignore the dysfunction and circumvent it all?
I think the answer to this question is that I take the casual malevolence of the malevolent Maltese state personally. I can’t help it. It’s the lack of will of any administration to do things properly, as they should be done. With an eye for the long term, not the next general election. As soon as I set foot again on this infuriating country of mine, the malevolence of the state hit me in the face.
It’s not the fact that I had my prior UK teaching experience ignored when it came to my salary. Or that we had our bank account and my salary frozen when we refused to give the sole, state owned utility billing company money it had no right to. Or that we pay 762 euro per year in Annual Circulation Licence fees on a car worth 2500 euro because we moved to Malta in 2010 and not 2008.
This is only a tiny fraction of the malevolence. Everywhere I look I see evidence of a ‘malavoglia grandissima’.
The broken lines of former beautiful streetscapes, the encroachment of ugly concrete on outside development zones, aluminium replacing the traditional wooden balconies, the craters in the roads, the three storeys becoming four storeys, then five and then high rises, the widening of roads, the lack of any master plan for anything…
The way people are treated. As if they are feudal serfs who have to tug their forelocks at their political lords and masters. Who, in turn, are dancing to the tune of the shady, shadowy puppet master oligarchs.
In properly set up states, the politicians are the true servants and the institutions make sure that there is no oligarchy usurping the power of the state. I’m not saying that things are perfect in other countries, even in well governed countries. But, for goodness’ sake, give me imperfect any day. Just not impossible.
The SATA bank customers. Tenants post 1995. People on minimum wage. Pensioners. People on incapacity benefit. Pre 1995 landlords. Irregular migrants. The foreigner.
The failed institutions, the assassination of an investigative journalist, the impunity with which a minister and the PM’s chief of staff continue in their posts, having set up opaque financial structures in blacklisted jurisdictions within days of PL winning the 2013 General Election. The selling of Maltese citizenship. The sale of our common goods – our hospitals, our energy company, our ODZ land. The corruption.
This malignance is there in the ether of social media with the unbelievable bile and aggression if you so much as dare to criticise the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister. This type of ill will is the hardest to bear. I really couldn’t care less about PN or PL. The problems were there in 2010, under a PN administration too. My salary underpayment, the Arms / tenant scam, the zero regulation of the post 1995 Maltese private rental market, the disastrous two tier annual car licence billing system, the lack of redress for any administrative shortcoming, the turgidly unjust justice system. I encountered all these in 2010 under a PN administration.
Where do we go from here? When will the dead end, infantile name calling stop? Who, what will lead us away from this pervading malevolence?
Deep down, many people believe that there are only two schools of thought, no matter their denial after denial of this belief.
If you are shocked at the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia then you must be a PN supporter, or more accurately, a Busuttillian.
If you are upset at the behaviour of people with the repeated clearing of the shrine in front of the Courts of Justice, then you must be a PN supporter, or more accurately, a Busuttillian.
If you are shocked at the behaviour of this administration towards the memory and family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, then you must be a PN supporter or more accurately a Busuttillian.
On and on it goes, this infantile binary labelling.
I would so love to live in a country where your expression of sorrow and your insistence that justice be served when a journalist is assassinated was the norm.
Long before Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated, I liked neither PN nor PL. I considered both to be to blame for the absolute dysfunction of my native country. When we moved to Malta in 2010 under a PN administration, there were breaches of EU and Maltese constitutional law with regard to my salary, our Arms bills payments, our annual car licence fee payments... There were gaping holes in administrative policy which meant tenants, post 1995, lived precarious lives in substandard, overpriced accommodation of insecure tenure.
Everywhere I looked, everywhere I went, I had doors slammed in my face. The Office of the Ombudsman played house in the Ombudsman's Office but the reality is that the Ombudsman is ineffective and by no means a check and balance on our Executive. The National Audit Office was oblivious to the fact that Arms - the sole, state owned utility billing company - was overcharging tenants as a matter of course. It sent me away with great disdain at the effrontery of my request that it does its job. Currently my complaint re the 3 years' arrears owed to me is with the NCPE. Let me give the NCPE the benefit of the doubt and hope that they will resolve this clear injustice with no prevarication.
People do not see this. They did not leave Malta at the age of 22 and live elsewhere for 21 years. So they do not see that the above behaviour of successive administrations is absolutely not normal. It is SO not normal.
I would so like to have a choice of political parties, all of which do a minimum of good governance, to leave me with a choice of political ideology.
I had that in the UK. I lived my daily life, with my family, without having to worry about the accuracy of the utility bill or the accuracy of my salary payment, or the fairness of the car tax I paid.
I lived my daily life knowing that the Executive was kept in check by rigorous checks and balances. I lived my daily life knowing that the integrity of streetscapes would remain intact. I lived my daily life knowing that the environment was protected from the excesses of developer lobbies. I lived my daily life with consumer protection enshrined in every purchase.
I had the luxury of voting for the political party of the ideology I preferred because all administrations of all the spectrum of ideology were kept in check.
It is SO frustrating to see the way political parties conduct themselves in Malta. They have done this for a long time now. I, for one, cannot wait to see the day when this toxic PNPL duopoly is done with. Forever.
Whilst these primadonnas fight over political reputation, they don't see that their reputations are shredded anyway. But I suppose their arrogance allows them to think that they have managed to get away with the deflection. And I suppose they are right in this regard. They bank on the blind political partisanship to keep them smug and complacent in their positions of office, after they cynically swear on oath that they will serve the public, without fear or favour.
The damage has been done. Why are we allowing them to deflect away to their hearts' content? Why are so many people so blind to this brazen manipulation?
The good of our country comes down to the people. Somehow the people need to see that it is up to us to set the tone, to raise the bar. Somehow we have to persuade people not to think the thoughts they clearly think. Somehow we need to persuade people to not hate the memory of an assassinated journalist, whatever they thought of her writing. Somehow we need to persuade people that when somebody criticises the government, it doesn't mean that they are PN under a PL administration or PL under a PN administration. Usually it means that the person criticising loves Malta like nothing else and is worried about the path Malta is going down.
Somehow we have to achieve this. I want, one day, to be able to say what I think without having to prepare my words beforehand so as not to unconsciously upset that person or this person.
It is difficult in 2018 Malta to have a sensible conversation without feeling like you are in a minefield, avoiding this or that particular mine.
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