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MALTATODAY 5 March 2023

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11 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 5 MARCH 2023 Corruption A promise betrayed ONE of the first laws approved by Labour was to remove pre- scription for politicians accused of corruption, which were pre- viously time barred. Yet 10 years down the line no elected politician has been accused of corruption and Malta's ranking in Transparency International's corruption index has slipped from 45th to 54th place. Moreover, Labour elected in 2013 on a promise of greater meritocracy and transparen- cy, has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals often linked to dirty deals involving politicians and big monied in- terests. While allegations of corrup- tion and impunity have domi- nated political discourse since independence, also thanks to an aversion by successive gov- ernments to checks and bal- ances, the Panama papers and the assassination of Daph- ne Caruana Galizia who was haphazardly and prosaically exposing the dirt, inevitably threw the spotlight on Malta. This came at a tremendous reputational cost culminat- ing in the grey listing of the Maltese financial system and a repeated censure by a vast majority in the European par- liament. While this did not in any way dent Labour's elec- toral super majorities in 2017 and 2022, it contributed to political instability which cul- minated in the resignation of Joseph Muscat in 2019 follow- ing the arraignment of Yor- gen Fenech. Muscat's failure to nip the problem in the bud by kicking out Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri after rev- elations that had set up com- panies in Panama days after being elected to office stands out as Labour's mortal sin, whose gravity was magnified tenfold by revelations linking Schembri and Mizzi to Yor- gen Fenech. And while no major corrup- tion scandal has so far rocked the Abela administration,Ab- ela still has to carry the weight of the scandals he inherited from his predecessor as has been the case in the past days following the courts' decision annulling the Vitals deal. Moreover, despite recom- mendations by Greco and OSCE, Malta still lacks a transparency register docu- menting meetings between lobbyists and politicians and a special inquiring magistrate tasked to lead anti-corruption investigations. In the mean- time, no politician has so far been arraigned and accused of corruption allegations. change decade in numbers Population increase since 2012 102,130 NI contributions by foreign workers 2021 €200 million (2012: €30m) Rate of material deprivation in 2021 5.4% (2014: 10.2%) At risk of poverty rate in 2021 16.9% (2014: 15.8%) Minimum wage in 2023 €835/month (2013: €735) Rainbow Index ranking 2022 1st (2013: 18th) Corruption Perceptions Index 2022 54th (2013: 45th) Dwellings approved 2013-22 76,407 (2003-12: 67,625) 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 Building mad Labour's love affair with developers BETWEEN 2013 and 2022 a grand total of 76,407 new dwell- ings were approved by the Plan- ning Authority, 50,302 of which were issued between 2018 and 2022. This means that during Labour's decade in power 9142 more dwellings were approved then in the entire period be- tween 2003 and 2013 when a total of 67625 new dwellings were approved (of which 31,000 were approved between 2005 and 2007 on the eve of euro adoption). While the building boom of the past five years can be attributed to increased rates of economic growth which left more money for people to invest in property in contrast to slump between 2009 and 2012 when only 16761 permits were issued, it was also the result of shifting policy goalposts. Piling up on lo- cal plans approved in 2006 which increased the development zone by an area the size of Siggiewi, were new policies enacting in Labour's first two years in office including a policy annex which translated the height in floors in the local plans to a metric height and a reduction in the minimum height of each floor. Thanks to this underhanded measure many found themselves winning the planning lottery, discovering that they could knock down en- tire buildings and replace them with new 5 storey blocks and thus becoming "sinjuri zghar" (little rich men). Yet there were limits to Labour's pro develop- ment push. Strong opposition to ODZ de- velopments including the Zon- qor university led to a reversal of a policy allowing petrol sta- tions on agricultural land and to a stricter application of a rural policy which was liberally applied in turning piles of rub- ble in to villas between 2015 and 2019. And while the building boom remains an essential peg in the economic growth model, not just in terms of tax revenues but also in accommodating the legions of foreign workers, this comes at an opportunity cost diverting investment in job creation to land specula- tion and a windfall in profits for property developers who also wield the kind of political influence which erodes trust in the institutions. In short Labour finds itself increasingly torn between the frustration of local commu- nities opposing over devel- opment and the need to keep feeding the monsters who are uglifying the country. Public Concerns Exit utility bills enter crime and construction WHILE before 2013 the main concerns registered in successive polls were the cost of living and utility bills, the main concerns under the Labour administrations were traffic, the environment, construction, foreign workers and to a lesser degree corruption. Although COVID and the war in Ukraine have brought back in- flation to the fore as a main con- cern, energy subsidies have so far shielded the population the hike in global energy prices. While concern over utility bills peaked at 50% in February 2010, this concern has disappeared from surveys conducted in the past decade. Moreover, even in the last MT survey people were more concerned with crime (28%) then with inflation (20%) After a dec- ade of Labour in government Malta is perceived as a more crowded, bustling, noisy and dangerous place where post-ma- terialist concerns on the envi- ronment, immigration, quality of life and good governance are still eclipsing bread and butter issues. But the ability to keep concern on living standards at bay depends on the government's ability to sustain subsidies for energy in the coming years.

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