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Fresh Fenech insult to ‘Maltese idiots’

When politicians run out of arguments, some of them reach out at anything but the truth. That is what the Nationalists are doing in the mirthless political travesty they have concocted over Labour and the minimum wage.

They are interpreting the Labour leader’s misguided statement that Labour would not increase the minimum wage if elected because that would be irresponsible as meaning that he would withhold statutory COLA increases to minimum wage earners.

Upping the ante, the Nationalist Party is also saying that Labour would freeze all wages and salaries. Stout denials by the Labour side, saying that was all a pack of lies, serve no purpose.

The Nationalists have taken hold of a lie by the scruff of the neck and are shaking it for all they’re worth, trying to deviate attention from what might happen in the House of Representatives, which reconvenes today after an indecent break of three whole months.

Oddly, as in truth, the PN and the Labour Party have a common stance on the minimum wage – the Nationalists not having raised it for all of 23 years – roles are becoming reversed.

It used to be the case that when you called somebody a liar, he would sue you for slander.

Labour is calling the Nationalists liars, which they are in this case, but Lawrence Gonzi does not mind. In fact, it is Joseph Muscat who will be suing the PN for twisting his words beyond recognition.

Such are the games politicians play. It is at worst a sight when they keep the unfunny fun between them. Trouble is when they try to take the public for a ride. That is what the PN is trying to do in this case, including through the mouth of Finance Minister Tonio Fenech.

Mr Fenech is a decent chap and not that bad a minister. But, he does come up with odd statements now and then.

When he was criticised because the Government had appointed an expatriate CEO to help run Air Malta, he replied by asking if he should have appointed some Maltese idiot – xi ċuċ Malti, was the way he put it.

That was rather uncouth but I, for one, thought it was a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment. Not quite so, it seems.

Fenech does appear to think the Maltese people are a bunch of idiots. Asked whether he would raise the minimum wage, he did not commit. He was evasive.

Instead of saying yes or no, he trotted out the incredible statement that he had given minimum wage earners increases totalling €1,000 over the past four years, as if he had done them a great favour.

The figure is correct but it referred to the COLA increases paid out automatically to cover the statistical increase in the cost of living.

That means that the amount did not increase the recipients’ purchasing power and standard of living by a dirty cent, least of all those living on the margins of poverty, like minimum wage earners do on a princely €143 a week after deducting social security contributions.

Fenech obviously thinks that minimum wage earners and most Maltese do not know the meaning of “real” wages – wages after deducting inflation – like he and I do.

He cannot be more mistaken. When it comes to lack of money in one’s pockets, it is not just finance ministers who know the difference between how much you have and how far it will get you.

People know well enough that the €1,000 he referred to did not improve their situation at all.

If anything, many people feel it was not enough. Polling seems to be the mood, and it is still showing, as MaltaToday’s did yesterday, that the PN is still trailing Labour.

Perhaps some enterprising pollster will try to gauge what people think about the statutory wage increases and their true value.

By definition and by fact, they are meant to compensate forinflation. People are not so stupid as to think that that leaves crispy euros in their wallet.

The money had been eroded well before COLA was paid out.

Honesty demands that politicians are frank with the electorate.

Instead, examples like that of Fenech and the €1,000 cost of living adjustment show that some of them do not at all mind trying to fool all of the people, some of the time.

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