Pamela Hansen | Sunday, 02 November 2008

Given enough rope...

The main concern on the island right now is how people are going to cope with their utility bills. Everything else is taking a back seat.
It is natural that people are concerned and the employment connection does not seem to be making it easier for people to accept the high tariffs.
The government will phase out the capping on the power surcharge for large enterprises over three years, to give them time to introduce energy reduction systems, but all other consumers are not being given any slack.
Large companies employ a lot of people, hence the government’s action. It is trying to prevent large companies from laying off workers. That seems to be the government’s priority.
But the rest of the consumers are still not taking that decision lightly. The GRTU know that although small companies, their members do not employ a lot of people. Many of them are going to have their backs to the wall and are going to find it hard to survive in the current climate.
It has pledged to take the necessary measures to safeguard its members, including taking the issue to the European Commission. Not that I think they will get much joy there.
Consumers are also going to have a tough time coping and, at least those in jobs with unions, have the General Workers Union (GWU) and the Union Haddiema Maghqudin (UHM) to fight their patch.
The Opposition (MLP) and Alternativa Demokratika are of course giving the government as hard a time as possible, just as the Nationalist Party in Opposition did when Alfred Sant as a Labour Party Prime Minister had tried to increase the utilities bills, with dire results.
Now the new Opposition leader, Joseph Muscat is trying to rally that same kind of reaction and is calling on the country to unite in a national, non-political protest against the new water and electricity tariffs.
As much as people are unhappy with the current situation, for Joseph Muscat to call for a non-political protest in such a politically polarised country is at best naive and at worst plain amateurish. He is after all very young.
People are disgruntled, but few will cross party lines and join ranks with the other side. The Labour Party can however mobilise a large protest with its own supporters, but the Nationalist Party’s (PN) in house political scenario is very different to the one Alfred Sant had to face when he was heading the government. The PN does not have anyone remotely like Mintoff in its midst to stir things up.
The GWU said it would have no problem joining a national protest if all social partners remained united and showed their opposition to the new tariffs. But will the social partners remain united?
The UHM’s general secretary Gejtu Vella said it would exhaust all negotiations round the table before considering taking to the streets.
Now I thought that the social partners were complaining because of the lack of negotiation. However, he did not rule out that the union could join in a protest, saying that the decision would be put to the council.
My feeling is that if the protest had been called by anyone without partisan connections it might work as a national demonstration.
I know that the EU membership saga did manage to bypass the strong partisan divide, but the utility tariffs are not on the same scale, despite the emotional outrage.
A protest called by the MLP leader will only attract supporters and maybe a few stragglers. It is going to be difficult for the UHM to take part in a demonstration called by the MLP. Can you imagine the GWU joining a demo to criticise the MLP?
After all protests are political. Anyone joining such a protest would show that they disapprove of this government’s decision. I might be proved wrong, but so far it seems that the electorate are still giving the PN quite a bit of rope. What use it makes of the rope is up to the PN.

Bull in a china shop
Lawlessness is a problem and a recent case has highlighted this failing and a rather quirky side of small businessmen here.
A 60-year-old man – described as a bus driver in the newspaper report, but as the owner of several buses and an employer by a Times blogger – has claimed in court that he cannot pay his €233 fine and should be sent to prison as he was completely broke and he already owed the bank €30,000.
Now if the man has no money and is in debt that is not a crime, but leaving wrecks in the road and assault are against the law.
He admitted and pleaded guilty to insulting and slightly injuring the husband of the Sta Venera mayor when the latter went over to complain about the messy and dirty state of his garage, including a wreck outside it.
Considering he turned up in court covered in engine oil, it does not look like he can even smarten himself up, let alone his environment.
Maybe his sentence should have included a daily bath and a change of clothes after he cleaned up his garage.
What amazed me was the speed with which the man was arrested. If only all thuggish behaviour is dealt with as speedily we could see a real change in many local people’s behaviour.


Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email