‘Low unemployment does not mean adequate wages’ – Malta Independent interview with Tonio Fenech for Catholic Voices Malta

by Kevin Schembri Orland for Malta Independent , Monday, 4 March 2019,

Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech has issued a warning about Malta’s current economic boom, highlighting that the economy needs better management as while the country registers positive economic growth, a number of negative impacts are also visible and growing.

Recently Fenech, through the group Catholic Voices Malta, highlighted certain concerns about the Maltese economy. Responding to news reports regarding the importation of workers from Turkey to work on construction projects, Fenech asked: “Why are we over-building our country in the name of economic growth and job creation. We are building mega high quality projects as though all the rich people in the world will come to live in Malta, while causing shortages in the housing market that caters for lower to medium income families and first time buyers making prices unaffordable – and the jobs created for whom? Foreign workers paid €800 per month?”

Talking to The Malta Independent on Sunday, Fenech questioned what the impact of Malta’s current economic reality is, which, while having positives such as economic growth, is also having negative impacts.

“Unfortunately, in my opinion, what we are seeing today is an economy growing from sectors which, in themselves, over-expose the country to other pressures. Development was always a component in the country’s economic development. However, injecting a significant pipeline of large projects into the economy which in itself creates economic growth – as construction alone creates such growth – one needs to question what impact this will leave on the economy at large. In order to sustain the economic growth we are seeing in terms of construction, we are simply increasing significant pressure on the need to import labour. We are solving the problem of building all these projects by importing labour which is evidently being brought in at very cheap rates.”

He said that when importing cheap labour to sustain economic growth, in terms of the theory of supply and demand, if supply is meeting demand at a low price, then these low wage levels become the benchmark for the rest of the economy. He said that Maltese workers who aspired to have a better a wage while working in the construction sector are having their ambitions frustrated, “as they will be told they are not needed as workers paid €800 a month could be brought in from abroad to carry out the same work”.

He said that many question why they do not see Maltese working in jobs like construction or in the restaurant industry. “The only reason is that this demand is being satisfied by cheap labour imported from abroad, and the Maltese, aspiring for a better quality of life would most likely be paid even lower than they used to be in those same jobs.”

So in reality, who is benefiting from this economic growth? The country’s economic strategy should have Maltese families as its core focus; in reality, it is not benefiting Maltese workers, but only benefiting the major companies undertaking these major projects, he said.

A second major impact in relation to this reality is the housing required to support imported labour, he said.

“This is a complex situation as we have these mega projects being constructed, not for the average income families, but for foreigners able to purchase or rent at substantially high prices in five-star locations.”

He said that most people coming to Malta for work look to live in more reasonable priced housing. He said he is not just referring to construction workers, but also the much higher paid sectors like the online gaming industry. “We’ve even seen comments from companies in the online gaming sector that the rents are becoming so high that employees they try to bring to Malta are finding it unaffordable. Now everyone knows that the online gaming industry pays good wages. So if these people being paid good wages cannot the rent prices in Malta, what about the families who do not work in the gaming sector?”

“Does this mean we are xenophobic and that we don’t want foreigners? No it doesn’t, any economy needs an element of foreign workers, but when one looks at how an economy evolves, and if the primary purpose is the wellbeing of Maltese families, then we should not take economic measures which overheat the economy and create social problems to families . An economy requires pacing.”

“We are not seeing the pacing of projects and it seems that the authorities have decided to give blanket approvals to massive projects, all coming up at the same time, which in itself is overheating the situation,” he argued.
Asked whether, theoretically, Maltese would go for more well-paid jobs, he said he hopes they will be able to find such jobs, but the rates of say early school leavers is still an issue. “The unemployment rate is low but this does not mean that the level of wages workers are paid is adequate. Unfortunately, with the pricy rise in the property market, people with an average wage are finding it difficult to buy. Even rents are very high. When you talk about paying €1,000 a month for a decent apartment… how many people earn €20,000 to €24,000 a year? There are also many people buying property to rent, and this is also creating an artificial demand. People think that as many foreign workers are coming to Malta, they purchase a property, fix it up and rent it. But this is only sustainable as long as more and more foreign workers continue to come to the islands.” He questioned whether the country’s infrastructure could handle this, and highlighted the environmental impacts such a situation could create.

“At the moment we are attracting a lot of business in the online gaming industry, in blockchain and Fintech, which is all well and good, but they are very volatile industries.”

Asked what could be done in order to minimise the issues he mentioned and the negative impact of the current economic boom, he said there are measures which can be taken, like pacing the projects approval process.
He said that, in terms of the number of foreign workers, the government needs to study the situation in order to ensure that this policy is not having a counter negative impact on housing markets, unreasonable low wage pressures and rights.

“The Prime Minister had said that we need this in order to sustain pensions, but I question this argument as the current party in government, when they were in Opposition, used to say there was no pension issue. So why is this argument being thrown at us as the reason to accept this economic strategy?”

If one looks at what other countries did when it came to importing labour, they were more restrictive, he said. “First of all we have opened our doors to anyone in the world when we are already in the EU. Obviously, contractors would prefer to bring in workers from outside the EU as wages would be lower. If you leave it in the hands of developers and the business community, they will go for the cheapest option as their motivation is, obviously, to maximise profits. That is why we need a government that will balance the drive for profits with other social aspects that meet our economy.
“In reality, with the present economic growth rates wages should also be increasing more meaningfully, because theoretically increased wage demands are met. This is not happening because in terms of cheap labour the sky seems to be the limit, so the demand and supply is distorted. You cannot have an income policy giving a €1 increase per week increase over three years beyond the COLA.”

The benefits of the economy need to be shared and the pressures managed. Even in terms of the number and size of projects we approve each year, they need to be seen in the context of the wider impact on society, Fenech explains. “This is also in the interest of all the developers as at some point supply and demand will kick in, and, if the demand for such apartments does not meet a situation of over-supply, there could be a significant impact. Are we making the mistakes of the countries that crashed before us?”

If you overheat an economy, you could create income disparities and inflation which does not match wage increases, meaning that people effectively become poorer, and that is a problem the property situation is creating, he said. “Who is addressing the issues of medium-income families who cannot afford purchasing their own home? We need affordable housing for people who used to, traditionally, afford such housing. Home ownership needs to remain at the centre of public policy”


Whatever makes money – Newsbook Blogg by Tonio Fenech for Catholic Voices Malta

Yuval Noah Harari a renowned historian and the author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, in his latest book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century states, “Since the global crises of 2008 people all over the world have become increasingly disillusioned with the liberal story.”

“In 1938 people were offered three global stories (fascism, communism and liberalism),

in 1968 just two,

in 1998 a single story prevailed;

in 2018 we are down to zero.

No wonder the liberal elites, who dominated much of the world in recent decades, have entered a state of shock and disorientation”
Sobering words but evidenced by what we see around us, even countries very close to us countries like Italy, France, the UK, Germany, Austria, Hungry, Poland and others, that are coming to terms with the reality of populism built on fear.

Post the 2008 financial crises, Europe saw millions of people lose their jobs, have their benefits cut, losing pensions, homes and what not, they have found themselves to carry the burden of failed banks and States, betrayed by the democracies the promised heaven on earth on the eve of every election.
Malta came out of this crises relatively untouched. However, post the 2008-2012 crises, we have entered into an era of liberal socio-economic policies, following the steps of countries that have had it good for some time but then failed. We seem to be thinking that we can ride on crest of the wave and never falter.

Money has become king, with no regard for sustainability, equality and human dignity. With complete disregard to the principle of common good, we have gone into a form of Government that is completely hands off, applying “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor” as Mark Anthony Falzon eloquently put it on The Times recently and running the economy more like a business, or worse a personal business, then a just State.

We seem to have lost the sense of consciousness needed to recognise the new hardships and the income disparities that today’s economy is creating within our society. The extreme low wage pressures due to the ever increase in foreign cheap workers to satisfy the needs of the property developers, and the high property prices caused by the unbridled economic strategy that we have been told to accept if we want to have a pension. I remember these same people telling us that we had no pension problems and that actually their commitment was to increase pensions to 60% of the median income.

AI, Big Data and Biotechnologies

I fear that as a country we are blindly running after so called new technologies without understanding the human questions that these technologies pose, the ethics that needs to surround them and seem content to assuming that only good can come from out of these technologies. Unfortunately, it seems that the only good that we value is the economic value that we hope these bring.

Will AI benefit humanity, or will our lives be decided by our mobile phones, including what we do, where we go, with whom we stay etc, etc. Will AI take over human freedom, because AI knows better?

Quoting from the same book of Yuval Noah Harari “The technological revolution (AI, Big Data algorithms and bioengineering) might soon push billions of humans out of the job market, and create a massive new useless class, leading to social and political upheavals that no existing ideology knows how to handle”.

Does this mean that AI, big data, bioengineering is intrinsically wrong? Certainly NOT. But they can be very wrong if they are in the wrong hands, as we have seen for example with the abusive use of big data, from companies like Cambridge Analytica that is subject to ongoing criminal investigations for the manipulative use of data and using underhanded operations to discredit politicians.

A neo liberal society with these powerful tools can be very dangerous, it will not just be about building concrete in every corner of our island as long as someone makes money, it will be about that dangers of creating a new useless social class as long as it commercially benefits the few. Stuff that usually leads to revolutions.

With this in mind I think the call of the European Catholic Bishops through their document “Rebuilding community in Europe”, in lieu of the 2019 European elections, takes a deeper meaning. The Bishop state, “The EU is facing important challenges. Digitalisation is not just a crisis, but also a mutation. Taking back control of our lives in the face of digitalisation implies decisions to make economy and finance better serve the people, especially the most vulnerable. Digitalisation has an impact on all and everything we know (the future of work, protection of personal data, the multiple uses of artificial intelligence). For COMECE it is fundamental to preserve the centrality of the human person and an approach based on solid ethical frameworks”.
Unless we put back the human person in the centre of our political discourse we are doomed. Today the focus seems too much “money”, “economic growth”, “finance” at the cost of everything else.

This is a reproduction of the post on Tonio Fenech’s Newsbook Blogg –https://www.newsbook.com.mt/blogg/2019/02/25/whatever-makes-money/?lang=en

Tonio Fenech is a member of Catholic Voices Malta

Press Release: Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency, making the Church the safe place it should be

20th February 2019

Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency – making the Church the safe place it should be

The “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting of Bishops, which will take place in the Vatican, between 21 and 24 February 2019.

Faced with widespread and growing discomfort with revelations of very serious cases of sexual abuse involving members of the clergy, Pope Francis has called a 3-day meeting in the Vatican for Bishops that starts tomorrow the 21st February, 2019. The meeting will discuss the ‘The Protection of Minors in the Church’. The Pope has summoned the highest representatives of the Catholic Church from around the world to give a united response at the universal level. The entire Church must choose to live in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with the ecclesial communities wounded by the scandals. As the Pope has written, ‘If one member suffers, all the members suffer together’. (1 Cor 12:26).

The Church is seeking to send a clear message of its commitment to protect minors, and that this has to be done in a clear and effective manner by the entire community, starting with those in the highest positions of responsibility. More recently, other forms of abuse are coming to light, but all are rooted in the same culture of secrecy, abuse of conscience and abuse of power that are the cancer of clericalism that Pope Francis condemned in his Letter to the People of God issued in August 2018. In it he stated categorically: “to say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to clericalism.” Pope Francis has concretely shown his zero tolerance for abuse by even those in the highest ranks within the Church, most recently by defrocking the ex-Cardinal McCarrick.

Indeed, the theme of the meeting starting tomorrow: ‘Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency’ indicates that the main purpose of the meeting is not to create new procedures, but to undertake a fundamental reform of the quality of leadership in the Church through an internal conversion. In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray for the meeting which he described as “a powerful gesture of pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time.”

The three days of discussion will be devoted to a specific topic: “Responsibility, Accountability, and Transparency”. The 190 participants present in the Vatican Synod Hall will hear three reports a day, three of these by women, and all nine interventions will be followed by a question and answer session. Members of the Organizing Committee will also meet privately with representatives of the victims and survivors’ associations. There will be testimonies from survivors and moments of prayer, at the beginning and end of each day. Pope Francis will open the Meeting with an introductory speech on Thursday morning, and close it on Sunday with a discourse after Mass. A Penitential Liturgy will take place on Saturday afternoon, and will be broadcast live.

Catholic Voices Malta joins Catholic Voices International and indeed, the Universal Church and all people of good will in praying for Pope Francis, our Archbishop Scicluna who is in the team leading the meeting, and all the participating Bishops. This great moment of trail for the Church can be a turning point for its purification.

Information on the Meeting
The official website of the “Protection of Minors in the Church” Meeting is www.pbc2019.org and will remain active even after the Meeting is over, as a “tool for developing future initiatives”.

For any questions, information or follow up you can also contact info@catholicvoices.mt

The Letter to the People of God by Pope Francis can be found: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2018/documents/papa-francesco_20180820_lettera-popolo-didio.html

Reality check for low Sunday Mass attendance. Newsbook Blogg Tonio Fenech

During the past two weeks much has been written about the phenomena of low Sunday mass attendance, what this implies, and possibly who’s to blame. The Humanitarian Association was quick to claim victory for secularism and asserting that Malta is no longer a Catholic country.

While the actions of those who live the Catholic faith are more important that the numbers that go to Church, a proper look at the figures shows a reality quite different of what has been portrayed in general.

The Maltese Archdiocese for the first time, commissioned a Survey to accompany the Census. Some were confused by this and questioned the need. I thought it was well thought. The Census listened to the people coming to Church, the survey sought to listen to the people not coming to Church, equally or possible more important to understand.

The survey carried out by Misco in fact makes some interesting reading. 95% believe in God, something good, showing people still have an openness to the spiritual reality. 92% believe they are Catholic, 7% do not follow any religion while 1% adhere to some other religion. If 95% claim to believe in God, then out of the 7% that do not follow any religion, 1/3 still believe in God, i.e. only 5% of the Maltese population is either atheist or agnostic.

Interestingly these results are not very far from a survey carried out by Malta Today around March 2018, that also found that 93.9% of the Maltese population identified themselves as Catholics. The survey then had also found that 88.8% were against the removal from the Constitution of Catholicism as Malta’s official religion and an even stronger majority was against the removal of the crucifix from public buildings such as schools.

Focusing again on the more recent Misco survey, 93% claim that religion is important to them (66% claiming very important), even if simple maths tells us that not all of these attend mass every Sunday with some actually not attending at all.

Evidently the Maltese Church needs some sole searching to understand why so many believe in God, feel Catholic, see their faith as something important, but do not find Sunday mass as relevant in their journey of faith.

Most Catholics find themselves somewhere in between two extremes. Those who for them Sunday mass observance is the start and end of what it means to be a Catholic, just like ticking the box, or having a membership card, to the other extreme, where I noted many online individual comments to these stories seem to come from, that to be a good Catholic one does not have to go to Church. Only 37% state that one must follow a religion if one believes in God, which possibly explains why the census found that only around 40% attended Sunday Mass on census day.

The survey on the other hand also found that 74% actually go to mass at least once a month, with 50% of the respondents claiming to have attended mass the previous Sunday. Here we find a discrepancy between the census and the survey. The census counted 40% while the survey measured 50%. The survey analysis seeks to explain this by making a mention that there is an element of social desirability bias, i.e. people reply what is expected from them as “good” behaviour. While this may be so, there may be a different reason like people who in a month go to Sunday mass more frequency then once, but not necessarily every Sunday, feel justified to place themselves in the category of regular Church goers rather than occasional.

I also found it very strange that despite all that has been reported, officially by the Church, journalists and various commentators, one important figure seems to have been overlooked. 75% of the respondents claimed to pray daily, 44% of these actually claiming to pray several times a day. This is real hope for our nation.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium starts his Apostolic Exhortation with a fundamental invitation to encounter Jesus in prayer, when he states “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

Professor Mark Anthony Falzon, an anthropologist, in his observations to the Malta Independent of the 3rd February 2019 enforces the understanding that what we are seeing is no necessarily a decline in religious belief but rather a transformation. I quote, “A caveat is in order here, because while that for Sunday Mass attendance is a relatively straightforward statistic which measures practice (you either go or don’t), that for belief in God is an infinitely more complicated one.” In fact, Professor Falzon claims that we are not looking at a decline in religious belief, but rather a change in what people do with their beliefs – a change in religious practice.

This transformation is understandable within a society which is becoming more individualistic, self-sufficient and too busy, losing touch with the beauty of being family, community and shifting towards social media friends, followers and likes.

So why are people not attending? 20% because they do not agree with what the Church or what the priest say, 12% laziness, 12% lack of time, 10% they see Mass not relevant and 10% simply do not they like going to Church.

Indeed 80% have nothing against the Church by are simply not motivated, they are waiting for the Church to give them a reason to go beyond mere rules of observance. They are looking for meaning, a reason to go, in day which like air above the surface of the water, they struggled to reach after a week drowned in the busyness of work, family life, commitments and whatever, and the last thing they want to go to is a place where they sit, detached from those around them, listening to a ritual of prayers and a homily which they struggle or are to sleepy to follow after a Saturday late night (or early morning for some).

Interestingly in the case of the 16 to 24-years age group, there is even more hope and room for outreach then society wants to make us believe.

Disagreement with the Church or the priest is far less significant at 5%, and the real reason is lack of time at 27% and laziness at 22%, if only as parents they find some sort of encouragement, and in the Church provides them the attention, friendships, fun and answers they look for. This should be what mass is all about after all, a meaningful community of friends, in celebration mode, sharing and expressing a joy that comes from understanding what Jesus did and what Jesus still does for us.

I close with the words of Pope Francis in the more recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudate et Exsultate, where he says, “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17), for “the necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved… the effect of charity is joy”. Having received the beautiful gift of God’s word, we embrace it “in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

This is what mass should be all about. Then people will come.

Tonio Fenech is a member of Catholic Voices Malta

This article appeared on Tonio Fenech’s Blogg on Newsbook on the 6th February 2019 https://www.newsbook.com.mt/blogg/2019/02/06/reality-check-for-low-sunday-mass-attendance/?lang=en

The sacrifice of our children at the altar of money – Legalisation of recreational Cannabis, by Tonio Fenech

What next to be sacrificed at the altar of money in our country?

The good name of our country, our environment, whatever we understand by good governance, national objectivity, our values, business integrity, you name it, as long as it makes money, sell or sacrifice it.

Our children will be the biggest victims of the remorseless neoliberal society we are sowing today.

The fast deteriorating environment to fill the pockets of the few, the spiral housing prices that are making the younger generation think more than twice whether to even consider marrying let alone having a family because they cannot afford it, the false belief and comfort that it will always be easy, the disconnect from the spiritual, making the fruits of a moral society like solidarity, ethics, care and concern for the common good and human dignity alien concepts that are perceived more and more as a hindrance to one’s personal achievements and happiness then what we should aspire for. In essence money is fast becoming the only god we worship … until it lasts.
However, the next sacrifice this county is being asked to offer in the name of money will not be a consequence for our own children, the next sacrifice at the altar of money will be our own children.

Hoping that I am wrong, it appears that the mind of this Government is set on the legalisation of Cannabis for recreational use. Yes, you read correctly, for recreational use not the medical use, despite the emphasis Government made last year when legislating in Parliament in the name of creating jobs.

It seems that the big fish around this industry are telling the Government that this is not enough and that if “we want jobs”, then he needs to legislate also for recreational cannabis. Jobs? Do we really need these jobs? Is the Government not saying we are at full employment? Just days ago the Jobs Plus Chief (former ETC) told us that next year we need to import 13,000 more workers to sustain our economy as is. So jobs for who?

The Government concerned with the political back lash on this issue, is trying to dress its proposal as intended for “harm reduction”. Make no mistake about it, recreational cannabis is not about harm reduction but about a billion-dollar industry that wants to make money, to sell to a bigger consumer base. There is big money around this industry, with the reputable magazine Forbes in an article in March 2018, quoting ArcView Market Research and its research partner BDS Analytics, that over the next 10 years, the legal cannabis industry will see spending growth on legal cannabis worldwide hitting $57 billion by 2027. The recreational market will cover 67% of this consumption; while medical marijuana will take up the remaining 33%.

No wonder the big push is for recreational cannabis.

And who is the consumer target for this industry? Irrespective of the educational programs this Government is promising this year, the target will be our children, our young boys and girls, many in the more challenging phase of their life, pressured with exams, facing uncertainties and failings as much as success and fun. At an age more prone to the manipulative advertising campaigns that come like a tsunami and burry any educational campaigns, once cannabis becomes legal and mainstream.

The Government will tell you that it has a mandate because it bunched the proposal in an electoral program that if you look for it over the internet you will not find.

So I looked for what was said in the time of the last electoral campaign and what I found was the Prime Minister being quoted as saying that it was a high time that the country “holds a mature discussion on marijuana”. (Malta Independent 19th July 2017). A mature discussion is a far cry from electoral mandate.

However, the signs are that the Government’s mind is already set to legalise cannabis for recreational use, it’s just how

October last year, days before the Budget Speech, Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia assured everyone that Malta was in no rush to follow Canada’s legalisation of recreational cannabis, but rather she emphasised that this year we should see an information campaign that highlights the dangers of drug use (MaltaToday, 18th October 2018).

To me the conclusion of that article is, we will educate your children to understand the dangers of cannabis but then we will allow the fat cats to tempt our kids into consumption, the polite word, ADDICTION the crude reality. But of recreational cannabis is safe why do we need of an educational campaign? The answer is simple, because it is not safe, one can easily become addicted, lose motivation for life and live and work only for that addiction and eventually when cannabis will not be enough look for the harder drugs that the criminals (who will always be with us) like vultures willingly provide.

Frankly the mind boggles me, we invest so much in our children, not only as parents, but also as a State from our taxes. A sizeable spend in education (not sure is spending it effectively enough, or indeed if enough, but that’s for another article) from the early years of child care, primary, secondary and a Tertiary system that even pays stipends, scholarship for postgrad, EU programs you name it we give it to them. We pass them through so much stress, (that I am completely against, but that we will be subject of another blog), because we want them to achieve. And when they are of age, we want to give them Cannabis … Seriously?

Dump all our love, protection, investment, to fill the pockets of who this predatory industry?

Last week PBS enters the fray, obviously on the instructions of the strategists thinking how to put in this piece of legislation without causing the stir and concern that indeed it should. PBS tries to feed us that it’s all ok by making a morning breakfast discussion, on the use of recreational cannabis.

Tagging the program as representing different views about the subject, we discover that the only two people participated in the debate, John Ellul, the Chairman for the Open Debate on Cannabis Legalisation, who represents no Open Debate or Society but is the Government consultant on the legislation being prepared to legalise cannabis and Graziella Calleja, ReLeaf co-founder, an organisation set up recently to promote the legalisation of cannabis. These “different” opinions in the program “agree”. Surprise, surprise.

As Lovin Malta’s portal reported “High-Ranking Maltese Official Lays Out Early Proposals to Legalise Recreational Cannabis”. The message John Ellul was sending was not the message of an openness to a mature debate that we were promised to have, but of a Government that already has its mind set with an advanced legislative proposal for the legalisation of recreational cannabis.

The program focused on age limits, giving equal access to cannabis users, registry for users and not on explaining the harm cannabis does, rather its effects were played down or not mentioned. The tack is very shrewd, Government is not interested in having a debate on whether or not we should legalise cannabis for recreational use, Government is simply interested in the how with the least political damage possible.

Clearly we are not in for an educational campaign we are in for a brain washing campaign to tell us it ok.

Will we here the views of Caritas, the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine (MAPHM), professionals and their associations like the Psychiatrists, Psychologists and the Sociologists. Are their opinions more important than those of declared lobbyists who have a big financial vested interest?
If the Government wants to talk about harm reduction, then the last thing to do is get in bed with an industry that thrives on creating addictions. Shut the door, throw the keys and send the pushers in jail.

We don’t need FAKE mantras like cannabis is a substance like many others, yes even cocaine, heroin, synthetic drugs, are substances. Re defining terms will not make cannabis less harmful.

I believe the Parliamentary Secretary when she says she is against the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. She is a mother; I cannot think of a loving mother believing otherwise. Once we open the door, it will be difficult to close, industry will always come for more. They already want more.
I hope the Government will take heed of the warnings and positions of Caritas and the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine who have clearly expressed concerns on the legalisation of cannabis.

Let’s put the interests of our children first, there place is not the next sacrifice to the alter of money.

In the next blog I will tackle some of the arguments being made, and seek to understand better there implications.

Tonio Fenech is member of for Catholic Voices Malta

This articles has been reproduced from Tonio Fenech’s Blog on the 24th January 2019


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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

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.