Of fishes and maisonettes

Someone who should be an active believer in helping the vulnerable, instead believes that improving benefits is the equivalent of giving out fish. Someone who argues that rents are too high, then rents out a two-bedroom property at 80% of the average wage.

The hypocrisy of the Opposition’s spokespersons never manages to disappoint. We have had so many examples in recent months. On the one hand we have the Opposition attacking the Government on the cost of living, and then the same speakers attacking measures aimed at agreement with importers to lower prices. We had Nationalist Party representatives speaking against overcrowding of foreign workers in apartments, and then come against new regulations aimed at curbing this abuse as they were deemed to hurt the interests of abusive landlords.

Now, the Opposition spokesperson for a better standard of living has come up with an even more flagrant case. In an opinion piece titled ‘Labour’s fishmonger’, Albert Buttigieg came out all guns blazing against the social measures introduced by the 2024 Budget. Once again, another extreme contradiction, as nearly all Opposition speakers have tended to argue that the Budget was indeed a social one which gave a boost to those on low incomes.

In line with the fundamental thinking of the Nationalist Party that austerity is the way to go, Buttigieg argues that the social measures are “handouts” and that they are “reinforcing the ‘tomorrow never comes’ mentality”. He also states that they are a means whereby the person who gives “can exercise control and blackmail”. Implying social benefits are a means to blackmail the vulnerable is surely one of the most extreme statements ever printed on the Times of Malta.

For Buttigieg, measures such as the largest ever increase in the minimum wage and in pensions, are the equivalent of “giving fish” and measures that “reinforce the culture of dependence”. This is the same mentality espoused by Ivan J. Bartolo, the Opposition’s Spokesperson for the economy, who recently argued that the COLA and the rise in the minimum wage were being forced on employers.

Buttigieg states that “Labour has not only opened a massage parlour to massage inflated greedy egos but has also now turned into a fishmonger!”. This type of discourse is incredibly crass and indicative that the Nationalist Party, no matter what Mario De Marco states, remains a party dominated by right wing conservatives.

To argue that improving social benefits is the equivalent of opening a massage parlour and that by doing so Government becomes the equivalent of a fishmonger is the kind of talk more frequently heard in the loony fringes of the Trump movement in the US. No political party with a truly Christian democrat vision would ever allow its spokesperson for a better standard of living to utter such nonsense.

But, there again this is the same person who only recently was advertising a two-bedroom maisonette in Gzira for rent at €1,359, excluding utilities. When faced with questions as to why he was charging such an exorbitant rent, his answer was that the rent could have been even higher and that he had invested money to refurbish it.

Keep in mind that Albert Buttigieg used to be the CEO of the Housing Authority under a Nationalist administration. Back in 2018, he said in an interview that “there are a great number of apartments which are beyond many Maltese people’s pockets”. At the same time the interviewer, from the UĦM Voice of the Workers, had stated that “Albert Buttigieg does not agree that more social housing should be built”. The reason for this was that “according to him, people who are on the social housing list have social problems”. Instead, he wants government to rent property from the private sector.

Here, you have it: the epitome of the GonziPN establishment. Someone who was in charge of social housing but does not believe that Government should build more social housing, as this creates dependence. Someone who should be an active believer in helping the vulnerable but who instead believes that improving benefits is the equivalent of giving out fish. Someone who argues that rents are too high, but who then rents out a two-bedroom property at 80% of the average wage.

His is a philosophy that would bring back Malta to what it was before 2013 – a land of high unemployment, high numbers of people in severe material deprivation, and a stagnant middle class left to its own devices to handle shocks in international energy prices.

One hopes this vision remains an opinion piece in the Times of Malta and never makes it unto the pages of a future Budget – for the benefit of those who need social assistance and the help of the State to get back on their feet.

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