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Let them eat Panama

Government studies, NSO figures and scientific studies by Caritas show that the poor are getting poorer.Government studies, NSO figures and scientific studies by Caritas show that the poor are getting poorer.

A few days ago, I watched an interview with Pope Francis on Italian television station TV 2000 and what hit me was the simplicity, yet the sheer significance of what he said in these few phrases: “I ricchi stanno diventando più ricchi; i poveri, più poveri. I ricchi sono pochi, ma i poveri sono tanti!”(The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer. The rich are few, but the poor are many.)

We can all agree with Pope Francis. Charity begins at home.

In Malta, we now have 94,250 people at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

This is the government’s own calculation published by the National Statistics Office. It is an increase of more than 6,000 in the last three years, going by the government’s electoral manifesto which promised to “eradicate” the 88,000 it said were in the same situation before the last general election.

Caritas studied the plight of the poor in Malta in late 2012 and again in 2015. It found that the same basic basket of goods and services (no car, no foreign holidays; only the very basics) bought by a typical low-income family of two parents and two children cost €811 more last year than it did three years before.

But in those three years, wages paid to lower-income groups increased nowhere near €811 a year; weekly increases of 58c and two of €1.75 come to just €212 a year. So those who were already at risk of poverty in 2012 went deeper into poverty by 2015. And those who were just getting by are now in poverty.

What Caritas clearly found was that the real cost of living of the lower income groups increased by 7.6 per cent over those three years, while government’s figures say that between late 2012 and late 2015 inflation was just two per cent. The official rate of inflation is far off the real one.

Government itself studied real wages between August 2015 and last August. It was an interesting exercise published in the Economic Survey with the budget.

It is a study of collective agreements in 189 firms covering 27,818 workers and deposited with government itself by employers and unions. The study says that it’s a representative sample; 28,000 is a very big sample indeed. And this is not a study on what 500 people say in a telephone call by a stranger, but a study on real wages as they were in August 2015 and last August according to 28,000 workers’ own collective agreements.

This study found that most workers’ wages in the medium- and lower-income groups are not keeping up even with official inflation, let alone real inflation. Most workers in the private sector earning medium and lower wages, in the 12 months studied saw a drop in their real wages. And these are unionised workers covered by a collective agreement, not minimum wage earners who don’t even have a collective agreement.

These are government studies, NSO figures and scientific studies by Caritas which show that the poor are getting poorer. And there are Eurostat figures showing, for example, that real average incomes in Malta in the three years to 2015 dropped because the measly increases in wages given by the government did not keep up even with the official rate of inflation.

This is why a number of voluntary organisations in the field of social justice are waging a campaign for a decent minimum wage. But increasing the minimum wage by 3.5 per cent for three years only really keeps minimum wage earners where they are, given the high real rate of inflation.

The GWU has joined Gaffarena and Café Premier in the Labour Establishment feeding off hard-working employees’ wages

While the many poor are getting poorer, a few are becoming rich and richer with big government contracts and a feeding frenzy of government appointments to spectacularly well-paying jobs for the Labour crony élite.

Take as an example the unnecessary ‘private’ power station that will cost €450 million, more than double the €190 million the interconnector cost for the same energy capacity. If this power station were really private, that would be folly on the part of the private investors and they will pay for their folly.

But the costly power station will provide most of our energy at double the price we’re now paying for electricity via the interconnector. That’s why the government’s agreement to buy all the power this ‘private’ power station produces stinks. Someone’s going to laugh all the way to the bank, but it won’t be us.

Take the sale of what was, till 2007, our public health infrastructure – St Luke’s, Karin Grech and the Gozo hospitals – to a company whose owners are unknown and have no experience in health services. This company is fronted by a certain Ram Tumuluri.

Health Minister Chris Fearne says he doesn’t know about the accusations of fraud levelled against Tumuluri. And we taxpayers are still going to pay €55 million a year for the privilege of getting our health services from a private company with no experience.

The latest scandal is that revealed by the Times of Malta concerning the GWU, very much part of the Labour Establishment. The union is getting paid €1,000 a month for each worker in a scheme that strikes the unemployed off the register, with the GWU making a profit while paying these workers €700 which is the minimum monthly wage in Malta.

Can you imagine a workers’ union making money from workers on a minimum wage, which social justice campaigners say is simply not enough?

Yes, only in Malta where a union gets millions while minimum wage earners get poorer.

Those millions will then of course be channelled into Labour propaganda in the union’s own media and well-paid posts for the Labour élite in the union itself.

The GWU has thus joined Gaffarena and Café Premier in the Labour Establishment feeding off hard-working employees’ wages. Politics ought to be concerned mainly with the most vulnerable people and how to improve their quality of life, not with the few making millions of dirty money off these very same needy members of society.

The cynicism with which the cronies of the power élite are becoming millionaires in the corruption of the very fundamental principles and institutions of what should be a modern State is unbelievable.

Take the latest government scandal in the Ministry of Education. A canvasser of Evarist Bartolo, brother to the minister’s permanent secretary, given a position of trust by the minister, is suspected of corruption by the minister himself who passes on the case to the police.

Yet no suspension is forthcoming, the canvasser goes back to his old job, the scandal is hidden from the public, the police investigation lasts a few months already, and we get to know about the scandal only because the press revealed it. And this is a huge scandal.

Has Bartolo caught the Castille and Panama bug of ‘anything goes’? Perhaps not; yet he’s still ensconced in his ministry. He’s also the minister responsible for employment and workers’ rights, so perhaps he’s busy investigating the GWU scandal.

Going by his parliamentary and Facebook tirades against MFSA chairman Joe Bannister, we might yet be surprised.

Someone should certainly investigate the only industry this government has created: the positions-of-trust industry where spectacular salaries are paid as gifts to hundreds of cronies in the Labour Establishment, from incompetent ambassadors and inept chairmanships to corrupt ‘positions of trust’ and the latest scandal at the Gaming Authority doubling its employees since the last general election.

As to the increasingly poor, well, a latter-day Marie Antoinette would say: “Let them eat Panama accounts.”

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