People are more important – 49 migrants abandoned at sea an, appeal by 48 NGOs

48 NGOs, including Catholic Voices Malta,  have voiced their heartfelt disappointment at the fact that no action has yet been taken on the stranded Sea-Watch vessel, with 49 migrants having been abandoned for 18 days.   As a united front we have called on the Maltese government to put people before politics and allow the two stranded rescue vessels with 49 migrants onboard to be given shelter in Malta.   As NGOs we met in front of Castille and asked for meeting with PM.

A spokesperson for Sea Watch International, the migrant rescue NGO, said earlier in the day that the psychological wellbeing of the migrants on board its vessel is deteriorating. The migrants have been on board the vessel since 22 December.

As NGOs we stood outside the Office of the Prim Minister at Castille and read our message to the Prime Minister, saying that this was indeed a European problem that requires a European solution but that this same argument cannot be employed in abdication of the nation’s responsibility to save lives.
“The duty is not just a legal one but a moral one. What is more important here? To make a political point or to save lives?”

“This is nothing short of tragic and shameful. It can only mean that we have completely lost our humanity – as a people and a union of States that supposedly upholds the values of solidarity, respect for human rights and human dignity,” Integra Foundation director Maria Pisani said on behalf of all the organisations.

Representatives of the organisation then entered the Prime Minister’s Office in Castille and presented the statement and the request for a meeting with the Prime Minister to one of his spokespersons. They were assured that an answer to their request for a meeting would be given in the coming hours.

Pope Francis on Sunday issued an appeal for effective solidarity by European governments with 49 migrants stranded on two ships which are sheltering from rough seas off Malta. In remarks following the Angelus at St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said: “49 persons rescued from the Mediterranean Sea have been aboard two NGO ships for several days, seeking harbour for disembarkation. I urgently appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity with these people.”

The Maltese Bishops Conference i.e. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, wrote to the  Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, urging European bishops to insist with their governments on action to help these stranded migrants.

The letter said, “Ironically, as we Catholics were celebrating the birth of Our Lord who was rejected at birth, a group of 32 migrants was refused shelter by Europe after being rescued at sea off Libya. They have now been out at sea on a rescue vessel for no less than 13 days, only being allowed to enter Maltese territorial waters yesterday, Wednesday 2nd January, to shelter from a storm.
“A second group of 17 migrants rescued by another NGO vessel has been stranded at sea for five days,” the bishops wrote.   “One can only imagine the added suffering endured by those men, women and children, whose only ‘fault’ is that of fleeing a cruel environment in hope for a better life, one which respects the human dignity we Catholics and Europeans strongly promote as one of our fundamental values.  This situation, which is now in desperate need of action, has prompted us Maltese Bishops to repeatedly appeal to the leaders of our country to express solidarity in a tangible way.”



We are appalled beyond words that, after 18 days of negotiations, 49 men, women and children remain stuck on a boat within sight of the Maltese shore.
In spite of countless calls for solidarity, European Member States have not managed to find a diplomatic solution to the current impasse.

This is nothing short of tragic and shameful. It can only mean that we have completely lost our humanity – as a people and a union of states that supposedly upholds the values of solidarity, respect for human rights and human dignity.

We acknowledge the complex issues this situation raises, and agree that it is a European challenge requiring a European solution. However, this cannot be an excuse to abdicate our own responsibility, as individuals and as a nation, to save lives at any cost. The duty to save lives is not only a legal but also a moral imperative which can never be subjected to political conditions, such as the availability of concrete offers of relocation or the fear of creating a precedent.
At this point, the question we must answer is simple: what is more important, scoring political points, or saving lives?

For us, the undersigned organisations, there can be only one answer: people are more important.

Today we are here to take a stand for life and dignity. We call on Malta to prioritize life and open its doors today.


Ninsabu ixxukjati u bla kliem li, wara 18 il-ġurnata ta’ negozzjati, 49 raġel, mara u tfal għadhom miżmuma fuq dagħjsa ftit il-bogħod mill-art ta’ Malta.
Minkejja talbiet numerużi favur is-solidarjeta’, il-membri ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea għadhom ma rnexxilhomx isibu soluzzjoni diplomatika għall-impass preżenti.
Din hi sitwazzjoni traġika u tal-mistħija. Ifisser b’mod ċar li tlifna kompletament l-umanita’ tagħna – bħala poplu u bħala Unjoni ta’ stati li suppost jiddefendu l-valuri tas-solidarjeta’, tar-rispett tad-drittijiet umani u tad-dinjita’ umana.

Nifhmu li din is-sitwazzjoni tqajjem kwistjonijiet kumplessi, u naqblu li hija sfida Ewropea li tirrikjedi soluzzjoni Ewropea. Madankollu, ma nistgħux nużaw dawn l-argumenti bħala skuża biex nabdikaw ir-responsabilta’ tagħna, bħala individwi u bħala nazzjon, li nsalvaw il-ħajja akkost ta’ kollox. Id-dmir li nsalvaw il-ħajja m’hijiex biss legali imma wkoll dmir morali li qatt ma jista’ jkun sottomess għall-kondizzjonijiet politiċi, bħad-disponibilita ta’ offerti konkreti ta’ rilokazzjoni jew il-biża li jinħoloq preċedent.

F’dan il-punt, il-mistoqsija li rridu nirrispondu hija din: X’inhu l-iktar importanti, li nagħmlu punt politiku jew insalvaw il-ħajja?

Għalina, l-organizzazzjonijiet firmatarji, hemm biss risposta waħda possibli: in-nies huma iktar importanti.

Illum qegħdin hawn biex nieħdu pożizzjoni favur il-ħajja u d-dinjita’. Nagħmlu appell lil Malta biex nagħtu priorita’ lill-ħajja u niftħu l-bibien tagħna illum.


This statement is being issued by: 1. aditus foundation 2. African Media Association Malta 3. agara foundation 4. Allejanza kontra il-Faqar 5. Allied Rainbow Communities 6. Caritas Malta 7. Catholic Voices 8. Christian Life Community (CLC) Malta 9. Department of Gender Studies, University of Malta 10. Department for Inclusion and Access to Learning, University of Malta 11. Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Malta 12. Department of Youth and Community Studies, University of Malta 13. Drachma LGBT 14. Drachma Parents 15. Fondazzjoni Ejjew Ghandi 16. Integra Foundation 17. International Association for Refugees 18. Isles of the Left 19. Jesuit Refugee Service Malta 20. Kopin 21. Kummissjoni Gustizzja u Paci 22. Kunsill Studenti Universitarji 23. LGBTI+ Gozo 24. Malta Catholic Youth Network 25. Malta Chamber of Psychologists 26. Malta Emigrants’ Commission 27. Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement 28. Maltese Association of Social Workers (MASW) 29. Moviment Graffiti 30. Migrants Women’s Association Malta (MWAM) 31. Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, University of Malta 32. Paulo Freire Institute 33. Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta 34. PRISMS 35. Richmond Foundation 36. Salesians of Don Bosco 37. Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali tal-Azzjoni Kattolika Malta 38. Society of Jesus in Malta 39. Solidarity with Migrants Group 40. SOS Malta 41. Spark 15 42. St Jeanne Antide Foundation 43. Studenti Harsien Socjali (SHS) 44. The Critical Institute 45. Troupe 18:45 46. University of Malta Chaplaincy 47. Victim Support Malta 48. Women’s Rights Foundation

‘Nibnu Darna fuq il-Blat’ Rents, affordability and poverty Catholic Voices Malta Colloquium 17th November 2018

Housing, affordability and poverty are becoming more pressing issues, with increasing signs that Malta’s economy is growing asymmetrically. As a result, many families are being marginalised and impoverished because they cannot afford appropriate housing that allows them to live with dignity. This is not only true for vulnerable family units, but also for young couples planning to form new families.

Catholic Voices Malta organised its first public seminar on this topic. This took the form of a Colloquium that will focused on the effect the rapid rise in housing prices and the impact these are having on social cohesion, social justice and families in Malta.

The Colloqium provided the space for a heathy debate amongst those whose interest is to alleviate the difficulties of families living on the margins of society because of lack of provision of social housing the rapid rise in the cost of affordable housing.

Now you can watch all the event on our website and YouTube channel.


Freedom of expression, freedom of religion and X Factor – Tonio Fenech

To be clear from the outset, this issue is not about LBGTIQ people, I respect their choices and God loves us all irrespective of our gender or how we feel.

Facts of the case

However, I was quite perplexed when I read the news that, not one, but two ministries issued a joint statement, to condemn frankly “their own spin”, falsely claiming that a singer on the X Factor programme, Matthew Grech, made some sort of promotion of conversion therapy for gay people.

Excuse my harsh words but factually the ministries’ claim is simply untrue. I personally heard what Matthew Grech said – he talked about a very personal spiritual experience that changed his perception of life and sexuality, and affirmed that God intended sexuality for marriage, which as he emphasised within the Christian context is between a man and a woman and that sex outside marriage is a sin.

I don’t know, maybe what he said was not music to the ears of Minister Dalli and Minister Bonnici, but certainly whatever he said did not justify the disproportionate reaction and the attack that followed on this person through the statement and the social media.

Matthew in no way tried to impose his beliefs, to which he has a fundamental right not only to believe in but also to pronounce publicly. Frankly what he said is not much different to what Pope Francis said on same sex marriage in his Exhortation Amoris Laetitia where in verse 42 he states “We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage.”

So while the State may have decided to do so under the standard of “live and let live”, within the same standard Christians have the right to believe and live differently. When Pink News on the 18th February 2013, reported the intervention of then Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to clarify some public misstatements being made on what the Church teaches on the matter by a devote Catholic, the article said, “The fact is that gay people are called to chaste love as any other person, whether married or single.” Bishop Scicluna maintained that “Gay people are not called to marriage which is the permanent union between one man and one woman open to the gift of parenthood,” but then added, “they are indeed called to chaste friendship and chaste friendship is chaste love.” His words should not be interpreted as an imposition on the general LGBTIQ community, but a pastoral guidance to Catholic LGBTIQ people seeking to live their faith.

Call outs

Secondly, while Matthew Grech never mentioned conversion therapy the ministries still felt the need to introduce what they implied an ethical concept, and that the broadcaster should have somehow made a “call out” on the damage of conversion therapy during the same programme.
If indeed this has become an ethical media principle are we now to expect that expect broadcasters, newspaper editors and the like to “call out” say that “Abortion causes profound psychological harm to the mother and death to the child” whenever someone expresses an opinion in favour of abortion on any form of media? Interesting.

Freedom of speech

Minister Owen Bonnici, as report by the Times on the 12 July 2018, went into great pains to defend Jason Micallef with the Valletta 18 Dutch counterparts who like many in Malta saw as unacceptable the comments he had made on social media on St Patrick’s Day, when he poked fun of Daphne’s last words, before her macabre murder. Bonnici saw no issue with these words and quoting from the article that reported the event he said “I will never ever, even by a whim of thought, do something which conditions the way a person speaks or exercises his freedom of expression.” It seems “I will never ever” no more Minister Bonnici, as you have done with poor Matthew Grech.

Human rights are not for governments to decide who can exercise them and when. Contrary to what Minister Dalli seems to expect we have no obligation to try and understand what “responsible” for her means before we us mortals speak, especially when in Parliament she claims that she has little time for us who argue in favour of free speech. Where is this government going with this? Minister you are so wrong. It is all about Freedom of Speech.

Human Rights actually are there to protect us from those that try to deny us these rights especially governments who want to censor anyone that does not speak from their hymn sheet, and do this by making arbitrary imposition in the name of “responsibility”.

And who may I ask decides what is responsible? Government? Where are those who stood up for Charlie Hebdo, (actually the 12 journalists murdered)? I think we all agree that the satirical magazine was to say the least offensive towards Muslims, Catholics and other people targeted, but I recall everyone even the government was quick to issue statements upholding the right freedom of speech. No talk of “responsibility” then.

This government has gone so far as to remove the vilification of religion from our criminal code. So for this government it is OK to offend Catholics, Muslims and people of whatever belief, but not say anything that affirms the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman because this may confuse 15 or 16 year olds we claim to be so mature that they should be close to or allowed to vote? Are we serious?

Freedom of thought and religion

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declaration is very clear, quote, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. Note the right is not only to believe but also to manifest it publicly.

I hope the poor producers of X Factor caught in this unnecessary cross fire realise that when (as the Times claimed) they accepted to be “forced” by some government official, and to remove Matthew Grech’s interview from their social media channels, they have effectively contravened Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Malta is signatory and which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers“.

I suspect that they are now considering imposing some sort of rules about what a contestant can or cannot say on the TV show, or worse use unfair editing to cut out comments that the might think Minister Dalli and Minister Bonnici would not like, or worse interfere in what contestants actually say if they want it aired, I hope they appreciate that these are all breaches on the participant’s fundamental human rights, that are not granted to us by the Government.

Nobody found objection to the lesbian couple appearing ironically right after Matthew, and telling us of their beliefs and love for one another. Good luck to them, why should anyone be offended with them or with Matthew?

Expressing one’s beliefs should not offend or confuse anyone, even less being accused of untold damage. What an exaggeration!

The separation of State and Church

This government talks a lot about the separation of State and Church, but this does not only mean that the Church should not impose its morals on the State, but also that the State does not impose its morals on the Church and its followers. If the government does not recognise this obligation, it is infringing on the right of religious freedom of each and every one of us.

Minister Dalli is Minister for Equality, the right for equality for each and every one of us and not just one group, including Matthew Grech. She is obliged to protect Matthew, his dignity, rights and freedom to choose whether he wants to remain gay, and not expose him to the ridicule of the social media trolls that are always happy to jump on the bandwagon of the ministers’ unfair comments and bash the individual.

As a person who believes in freedom of speech and the freedom of religion I condemn with the same measure of force those who are trying to silence Matthew Grech.

Je suis Matthew.



This is an article that appeared on the Malta Independent Monday 29th October 2018.

The last homily of Saint Oscar Romero delivered in the mass in which he was assassinated in El Salvador

Homily of Archbishiop Óscar Romero on March 24, 1980 during the mass being offered for the first anniversary of the death of Sara Meardi de Pinto, mother of Jorge Pinto, publisher and editor of El Independiente, a small weekly newspaper.

The Gospel reading was John 12:23-26.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains infertile. But if it dies, it produces a great yield. Those who love their own life lose it; those who hate themselves in this world will be preserved for life eternal. Let whoever wants to serve me, follow me; and my servant will be where I am. Whoever serves me will be rewarded by my Father.

Because of what Jorgito has written in today’s editorial in El Independiente, I have some understanding of his filial emotions on the anniversary of his mother’s death. In particular, I can glimpse her noble spirit, how she placed all of her refined education, her graciousness, at the service of a cause that is so important today: our people’s true liberation.

You have just heard Christ’s Gospel, that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life which history demands of us.

My dear brothers and sisters, I think we should not only pray this evening for the eternal rest of our dear Doña Sarita, but above all we should take up her message, which every Christian ought to give intense life to. Many do not understand, and they think Christianity should not get involved in such things.

But, to the contrary, you have just heard Christ’s Gospel, that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life which history demands of us, that those who would avoid the danger will lose their life, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about because it dies, allows itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by destroying itself does it produce the harvest.

From her place in eternity, Doña Sarita wonderfully confirms the message of the following passage from Vatican II, which I have chosen on her behalf. It says:  We do not know when the earth and humanity will be consummated, nor do we know how the universe will be transformed. This world’s present state, deformed by sin, is to pass away. But God teaches us that He is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice dwells and whose blessedness will fulfil and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, when death has been overcome, God’s children will arise in Christ. What was sown as something weak and corrupt will be clothed with incorruptibility. Charity and its fruits will endure, and all the creatures that God created with human beings in mind will be free of the bondage of futility.

We are warned that it profits one nothing to gain the whole world and lose oneself. Nevertheless, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for perfecting this earth, where the body of the new human family grows, a body that even now is able in some way to foreshadow that new age. And so, to the extent that temporal progress can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of serious concern for the kingdom of God, even though temporal progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

Let us do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding.

For after we have spread the benefits of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom across the earth in the Lord’s Spirit and following his command, we shall rediscover all those good effects of our nature and of our efforts, but clean of every stain, brightened and transfigured. Then Christ will hand over to the Father “an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” [Preface from the Mass of Christ the King]. “On this earth that kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns, its perfection will be accomplished” [Gaudium et Spes, No. 39].

This is the hope that inspires us Christians. We know that every effort to better a society, especially one that is so enmeshed in injustice and in sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God desires, that God demands of us. And when one finds generous people, like Sarita, and her thought incarnated in Jorgito and in all those who work for these ideals—one must try to purify them, of course, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, giving us the assurance that all that we work at on earth, if we nourish it in a Christian hope, will never be a failure. We’ll find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be in what we have worked at here on earth.

I think that to aspire is not without purpose at a time of hope and struggle, on this anniversary. We remember with gratitude that generous woman who was able to sympathize with the concerns of her husband and of her son and of all who work for a better world, and who added her own part, her grain of wheat, in her suffering. Beyond a doubt, this will guarantee that her heavenly reward will be in proportion to that sacrifice and understanding, which many lack at this moment in El Salvador.

I beg you all, dear brothers and sisters, let us look at these matters at this moment in our history with this hope, with this spirit of giving, of sacrifice, and let us do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding. The holy woman we remember today could not do many things directly perhaps, but she could encourage those who can work, could sympathize with their struggle, and above all could pray. Even after her death, she sends a message from eternity that it is worthwhile to labour, because all those longings for justice, peace and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love for God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendours of a crown that is the sure reward of all who labour thus, spreading truth, justice, love and kindness on the earth. It does not remain here, but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for us and given us for our reward.

This holy Mass, the Eucharist, is itself an act of faith. With Christian faith we know that at this moment the wheaten host is changed into the body of the Lord who offered himself for the world’s redemption and in that chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain—like Christ, not for self, but to impart notions of justice and peace to our people.


Let us, then, join together intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer for Doña Sarita and for ourselves.

[At this moment the fatal shot struck Archbishop Romero, and he fell mortally wounded.]



The Property Market addressing the core issues – Tonio Fenech

Recently the PM expressed satisfaction that 80% of the population have become richer thanks to the increase in property prices. Sounded like we should we thankful to this untamed property inflation period this country has gone into. If indeed 80% of families are “richer”, this was thanks to policies of previous Governments from both sides of the House who pushed policies focused on home ownership making normal families owners of their own home at affordable prices and which today have become unaffordable.
Let us also appreciate that if 80% have notionally become richer the remaining 20% significantly and really become poorer, some even homeless.
Also, 80% of the notionally richer 80% (taking the Pareto principle) may own more expensive homes but their wealth has not really increased, as selling you expensive home to buy an alternative home that is equally expensive effectively leaves one neutral not richer.

Not in this statistic are our immediate future families, so called first time buyers looking for a reasonable home, who also are worse off as they cannot afford a reasonable home and make ends meet, as both buying and renting a property has become unaffordable.

The stories that tell the difficulties that young professional couples are facing in acquiring a home and reported by the Times of Malta on the 23 September put another serious concern on the present situation. The young professionals interviewed concluded that it is becoming more affordable to move abroad (avoid completely this over-crowded and over-congested island) then buy an expensive low quality property in Malta. These professionals’ annual income as a couple was claimed to be around Euro 55,000, clearly not on the lower side of the average income, and yet they can’t find a decent apartment. If they can’t make ends meet, what about those first time buyers that average Euro 25,000 to Euro 35,000 a year, indeed the more common? These people are trapped in poverty as going abroad is not really an option.

The untamed rise in housing prices is causing serious economic risks to our country, outpricing ourselves economically, an over-heated economy, and so on. However, there is another risk called brain drain. As cheap labour continues to relentlessly fill vacancies, today even in the professional sphere, accounting, IT, etc. the youth we have educated with our taxes at University, MCAST or ITS are considering leaving this island as with the qualifications they hold they can get better jobs in other EU countries and afford to buy or rent reasonable homes in places that offer a better quality of life.
The market is not fine, there are other consequences beyond the mere buying and selling or renting and the commissions and profits that estate agents and developers make. It’s not fine for the low income earners, the first time buyers, and those becoming poorer.
At the pace of growth in prices, the only hope for average income earners is that this bubble will burst unless Government seriously provides not only social accommodation, but equally important affordable accommodation for first time buyers and other average income families seeking a more adequate home.

Frankly, the MDA’s PPPs proposals are no solution. Why should the Government give free land to the private sector to provide housing units at Euros 400 a month when building such these units through the Housing Authority the contractor can get his fair share of compensation of around €55,000 for a 3-bedroom unit that the family can repay through a home loan that will cost the occupants merely Euro 250 a month for 20 to 25 years. Frankly why should MDA and the likes be given an extra Euro 150 a month for every unit built rather than passing that benefit the families.

The strategy to address the housing challenge is not rent controls, or limiting who buys and sells what and to who as again the MDA proposed when in alluded to some New Zealand model. The real solutions can be found by understanding what made the so called 80% richer, i.e. state run home ownership scheme.

I urge the Government to restart building adequate housing units, that are affordable to average income families and first time buyers and build the units needed for social housing. Only such a policy will tame market prices, as it is market based. Reframing from building housing units and assisting first time buyers to buy from the private sector when there was an oversupply of property and reasonable prices, made sense, but this is not the reality today and so government policies must change accordingly.

Secondly Government needs to address the income disparity that property inflation and the import of cheap labour has caused. Malta’s economy cannot be deemed successful if it remains reliant on cheap labour. We rarely see Maltese waiters because Maltese cannot afford to sustain their family at such pays and therefore they prefer knocking on the Minister’s door for a job. In the meantime, hotels and restaurants boast of ever increasing profits (good luck to them) while paying peanuts in wages because the Government keeps allowing them to fill their staff shortages with foreign workers willing to work for peanuts for a couple of months.

Joseph Muscat when Leader of the Opposition had advocated in favour of the living wage. We are in an economic situation that merits a serious but short discussion. If developers are running this country and making Euro 4 million from every apartment, they should at least be obliged to pay more fair compensation to their workers and also contribute more to the national coffers to attain social justice.

These are the touch decisions that low average and income families, first time buyer and the poor are expecting from this Government, and not a white paper that will propose restrictions on who sells to who and buys from who merely to continue benefiting the big developers that seem to want everyone to buy only from them after ruining the life of everyone around them with their mega towers.

This article appear as an Opinion piece on the Sunday Times of Malta of the 7th October 2018.

Tonio Fenech is the Coordinator of Catholic Voices Malta


Opinion: The property market bubble: a state of denial? Tonio Fenech, Catholic Voices Malta

The message in a recent conference on the property market was that the market is fine, that there is no property bubble, but urged government to do more to help for those who can’t afford today’s prices.

Sign of a bubble?

Kurt Xerri from the University of Malta was reported to have said that there is no bubble “right now” however our over-reliance on foreign buyers vulnerable to external economic realities posed a risk.

Signs of a bubble?

Economist Gordon Cordina made the point that poverty in Malta was masked, because in the past people were able to rent very cheaply. This is no more the reality and therefore poverty is being created. Cordina stated that the risks of implosion (burst of the bubble) is low however depended on whether present economic activity and population expansion, key drivers to property inflation, can be sustained. In simple words, as long the economy does not face a downturn and foreigners keep coming in we are fine as property prices will continue to increase. This means that the poor will become poorer, the low income families will become poor and first time buyers will have to adapt to even more inappropriate dwellings.

I hope we remember the economic principle of what goes up must come down as resources and demand are not infinite.

There are two challenges to the population expansion issue. Firstly we must ask, how much more and at what cost? Congestion, infrastructure, waste, less open spaces, air quality overall poorer quality of life. Which begs the next question, what will we sell?

Secondly, we are today not only importing financial services and online gaming professionals, but even more cheap labour. The property inflation of the past five years is forcing professionals to look elsewhere around the island, from the traditionally sought areas, for more reasonable properties and cheap labour sharing apartments, even rooms to make ends meet. Both these two phenomena are taking up properties that previously targeted average income earners and first time buyers, pushing up prices and making them unaffordable for locals.

Imported cheap labour is a double whammy for Maltese families, as their over-supply is keeping the wages of certain job categories ridiculously low.  They take up jobs that Maltese can’t afford to work in, preferring thus to put pressure on Government to engage them in the public sector. Expecting the Maltese to take up these jobs and decently provide for their families a home and a living is unjust and unrealistic. Growth and Surplus statistics may be great but they are not providing workers with a fair deal, a fair deal that allows them to afford a decent family home.

When house and rental prices are consistently rising at a rate far higher than average income year on year, we are blowing a bubble even if those with a direct interest in the sector want us to believe otherwise.

Gordon Cordina was also reported to have said that overdependence on occupier ownership is not healthy in terms of the optimal use of scarce land resources. “There should be a balance between those who own their home, and those who rent,”. While I can understand the economic theory behind such reasoning, we know that total economically liberalism creates poverty and injustice. Pope Francis reminds us that our economic systems should reflect our moral values that include the fair distribution of wealth and solidarity.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis clearly states that “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

If home ownership was not an integral part of our economic system and equitable method of distributing wealth, the crises we have today we would have faced 10 years ago, the property crises today would be more serious on poor people, low income earners and first time buyers toward whom the Government has an obligation to protect.

Homeownership, our “savings” culture and internalised public debt were the cornerstones of our resilience in the times of worst crises. Past Governments have sought to ensure reasonable housing provision to lower income families through a number of initiatives, some less fair then others. On the rental front, the old rent laws gave unfair protection to the occupier of a property, by paying pittance in rent while guaranteeing life-time occupation. This was nothing else but extortion, and the Government shying from its responsibilities to provide housing by imposing this obligation on property owners. I agree with Cordina, this masked poverty and solved the problem unfairly.

However, past homeownership schemes did create social and affordable housing alternatives, initially by passing land to first time buyers and average income families, and subsequently through the building of thousands of apartments by the Housing Authority to meet social and affordable housing.

This was not masking poverty, this was social justice, and giving a reasonable start to everyone, rather than making families prey to the whims of the housing market. If it is fair that a prime land is granted to a developer for €15m to build a massive project that will sell apartments at €4 to €10 million each, then it is only fair that families are treated by the same generosity if we truly believe in equality and justice which should not stop with civil rights.

Developers did not like Home ownership schemes and protested with Government that these competed unfairly with the private sector. Social and affordable housing is not about market competition but social justice. Many have forgotten that the Maltese economy was built on the principles of a social market economy and not a liberal (capitalist) market economy, where property owners take advantage of their dominant position and while they become richer as rest become poorer.

We are seeing more of this today because unfortunately Government gave in to this pressure and has not built any housing project in the last 5 years and the schemes that offer support are today inadequate.

The comments of Philippa Tabone from Frank Salt in the same conference confirms this. Ms Tabone stated that “Locals can’t afford three bedroom properties in St Julian’s, they look for one bedroom places in the south. They need help, and something has to be done to tackle the situation”.

This is what a total liberal market does, something needs to be done fast.

Tonio Fenech is a member of Catholic Voices Malta

Catholic Voices Malta is a network of Catholics that willing to engage in a dialogue with the Maltese society through debates, programs, seminars, printed and electronic media.

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This article appeared on the Opinion page of the Malta Independent 3rd October 2018.

A Church purified of its sin – by Nadia Delicata

For months I have followed the never-ending drama of child sex abuse by members of the clergy in the Catholic Church. I have read formal reports, divergent opinions, awkward apologies, exasperated calls for justice, and poignant stories of victimhood. I have tried to put myself in the shoes of those suffering in silence; of the faithful indignant and confused; of clergy who feel shame; of perpetrators of abominable acts; of Church leaders responsible to oversee the horror.

It did not take long to realise that my categories were too neat: that abusers could themselves have been victims; that those entrusted to shepherd too often protected the institution over and above their flock; that those rightfully outraged were not just reeling at the disgrace, but maybe also desperate to blame; that some victims had been consumed by anger and could find no solace.

Allegory of Abuses by the Authorities of Church and State, an oil on panel painting by Flemish artist Gillis Mostaert, c. 1570-80.

Allegory of Abuses by the Authorities of Church and State, an oil on panel painting by Flemish artist Gillis Mostaert, c. 1570-80.

I have wondered how an institution that teaches so eloquently about human dignity, that has done so much to improve the living conditions of countless poor, could hide so much rot. I have grappled with how the institution’s structure and relational dynamics created the conditions for systemic abuse of power and for exploiting the most vulnerable. Cynically, I have also mused whether the Catholic institution can survive this onslaught of its own making. But, as a Christian, I trust there is another story hidden in the innards of this tragedy. The real Church is no institution; rather, the systemic annihilation of all ‘institutional’ trappings is the medicine the doctor ordered. The Church as pilgrim people must be cut open, its cancers exposed, its sufferings endured. But the hope remains the constant one of purification – and not just from overt filth, but from the lies that we live as Catholics.

We profess that the Church is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, not that it should be run like a monarchy or a corporation. It is a sweet (and sobering) irony that secular culture, the birth child of ‘Christendom’, teaches ‘the institution’ how to run its affairs with greater transparency and accountability. But the Church must still go beyond all binding human justice to become the body of Christ marked by the gospel.

The Church must atone for abandoning victims in our midst; for allowing the corruption of power to fester; for the structural sinfulness that failed to safeguard the vulnerable or to rein in the strong; for failing in our mission of witness of reconciliation. But in healing and atoning – with a power that is not our own, but of the Spirit – we must nurture new relationships, new ways of coming together, where victim, abuser and enabler face each other and are reconfigured as one body in Christ.

Nor is this a process that will ever be complete, as sin and brokenness remain deep in our individual hearts, and therefore in our relationships. This is why the process of healing must take unique routes for each member and for each diocese of the universal Church – even if in its essence, it remains the painful reckoning with the truth of my guilt, of my wound, of my innocence, of my complicity, in every heart, in every ecclesia, who desires the liberating experience of our being loved in our particular wretchedness.

The last thing we as Church should do is defend each other’s indefensible actions and decisions. But nor should we allow our anger to become resentment, mutual hatred, or indifference. Expulsion, even of the most despicable, is not the logic of the Gospel. Retaliation, even by the most innocent, is not the logic of the Gospel. Rather, the logic of the Gospel is that the Lamb chooses to bear the sin of all, even accepts to be slaughtered for all, to manifest God’s triumph over evil.

This crisis can bring the Church to its senses, as it is stripped naked from all the trappings of worldliness that have made it a scandal to the world. May we re-awaken… humbled, honest and open to be re-conformed to bear witness to the reconciliation that Christ offers.

An inspiring article by Dr. Nadia Delicata a moral theologian and a senior lecturer at the University of Malta’s Faculty of Theology, that speaks of the sentiments of many Catholics in this difficult moment for the Church.

This is an Opinion piece that appeared on the Sunday Times of Malta, September 30, 2018

Becoming waste-wise – Simone Vella Lenicker

World Habitat Day was established in 1985 by the United Nations General Assembly and is commemorated every first Monday of October. Its aim is to focus attention on the state of our towns and cities and to the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It also reminds us that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns.

This year’s theme is Municipal Solid Waste Management, a global issue that affects everyone. The amount of waste produced by individuals is growing daily and often costs local authorities a large proportion of their budget. Poor solid waste collection and disposal can lead to serious health problems, caused by uncontrolled dump sites and waste burning as well as polluted air and water.

A change in public attitudes to minimise waste and stop littering, increased recycling and reusing, sufficient funding and solid waste planning, including adequate landfill sites, can help cities to improve the current state of solid waste management and save money to become ‘waste-wise’.
In 2010, it was estimated that 292 kilos of waste are produced by every person in the world each year.

Compare this to the estimated 483 kilos per capita in the EU member states and a staggering 621 kilos per capita in Malta (Eurostat, 2016). While over 44 per cent of waste is recycled in the EU, less than 10 per cent is recycled in Malta.

These are alarming figures, both because they indicate that the issue of waste is one of the most pressing our country faces today and also as they indicate that, despite a number of nationwide campaigns over the past years, we are still not sufficiently aware of the impact of our individual consumption patterns on this growing problem.

These high levels of waste generation are symptomatic of our ‘throwaway culture’ and, as such, merit a concerted effort by the government to instil changes that can be considered to be significant. The recent announcement that compostable waste will now be collected from households is indeed excellent news, however, this is not enough. We need to look at all other waste streams such as packaging, plastic and household electronic goods as well as issues such as marine litter, to name but a few, if we are truly to achieve any impactful change for the benefit of our society.

Architecture and engineering can contribute greatly to an improved quality of life

UN-Habitat promotes an ‘integrated solid waste management framework’ approach as a solution, which envisages good waste collection services, environmental protection through proper treatment, disposal and resource management as well as cost-effective, affordable and inclusive solutions that also recognise the role of informal and micro-enterprise sectors in achieving high rates of recycling.

Education and awareness activities also have a key role to play and local governments can engage with civil society and advocacy groups to raise public awareness with schools as a possible focus.

The Waste Management Plan for the Maltese islands proposed a strategy for the period 2014-2020. Measures outlined therein have been, or are in the process of being, implemented. Others, however, exist only on paper. It is now high time to review this strategy, to take into account the realities of our current economy, population, consumption patterns, infrastructure stresses and waste disposal sites before we reach a critical point that will take its toll on the quality of life of our citizens.

World Habitat Day is also commemorated by the architectural profession which celebrates World Architecture Day concurrently. In a statement to fellow architects, Thomas Vonier, president of the International Union of Architects, reminds us that “architecture can help our planet face two of its gravest problems – environmental degradation and ever-greater human needs. Architects can help to reverse patterns that destroy heritage, degrade habitat, squander resources and perpetuate social imbalances”.
Architecture and engineering can contribute greatly to an improved quality of life, through the implementation of sustainable development principles.
Being aware of this critical role our profession has in our society is the first step in ensuring that the interventions we carry out today are mindful of their impact on future generations.

I conclude by inviting readers to join the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers in celebrating World Habitat Day, World Architecture Day and European Engineers day (on October 5) and to visit the upcoming exhibition of thesis projects by the latest group of Master graduates from the Faculty for the Built Environment.

The exhibition will be open to the public during Notte Bianca on Saturday and will mark the launch of the second edition of the highly successful Premju Emanuele Luigi Galizia, organised by the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers.

Simone Vella Lenicker is vice-president of the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers and also a speaker for Catholic Voices Malta

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece Monday, October 1, 2018