In­stead of cut­ting the price of elec­tric­ity, he’s tax­ing your lip­stick

It looks like elec­tric­ity tar­iffs are no longer even an is­sue for Mus­cat and his men, let alone a big is­sue or even the is­sue of the day.

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

www.daph­necaru­a­na­gal­ This is some­thing on which they fought most of the last elec­toral bat­tle, and so much fuss has been made since, that or­di­nary cit­i­zens and es­pe­cially busi­ness own­ers were fully ex­pect­ing some kind of an­nounce­ment in the Bud­get speech last Mon­day night that those tar­iffs would be cut.

It was the one thing – un­like the strange, new ex­cise tax on scent and lip­stick – that peo­ple re­ally were ex­pect­ing.

In the press con­fer­ence which fol­lowed, the Prime Min­is­ter, faced with ques­tions from the press about this very point, rather rudely said that the Op­po­si­tion leader was a bah­nan for ex­pect­ing elec­tric­ity tar­iffs to be cut.

There isn’t a re­ally pre­cise trans­la­tion for this deroga­tory term: ‘fool’ doesn’t quite cut it, though it’s about the clos­est we’ve got.

When a mini-up­roar fol­lowed – be­cause, let’s face it, it’s been a good 30 years since any of us have heard the Prime Min­is­ter in­sult the Op­po­si­tion leader in pub­lic, which means that for most elec­tors it’s a nov­elty – Mus­cat de­nied do­ing it.

The press then ran sto­ries car­ry­ing a video-clip of him say­ing, loud and clear, what he de­nied say­ing, along­side his de­nial. It wasn’t a good day for the com­mu­ni­ca­tions bosses at the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter, but then per­haps they’re too busy ty­ing them­selves up in knots about the morn­ing-af­ter pill.

Af­ter months of be­ing put un­der pres­sure to do so, by the press, the Op­po­si­tion, the Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of Malta, and the union which rep­re­sents hospi­tal work­ers, the gov­ern­ment has very re­luc­tantly pub­lished the con­tracts it signed with “Vi­tals” – I put the name in quotes be­cause when it ‘won the ten­der’ (no need to ex­plain those par­tic­u­lar com­mas), the com­pany was called Vi­talis and not Vi­tals.

That the con­tracts should be made pub­lic is of the essence, be­cause – shock­ingly, and this is a point which can’t be driven home strongly enough – we don’t ac­tu­ally know who owns the com­pany and never will.

Its ul­ti­mate ben­e­fi­cial owner is con­cealed be­hind nom­i­nees in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands.

And that, of course, will be one of the rea­sons why the gov­ern­ment doesn’t want us to know what kind of deal it struck with The In­vis­i­ble Men who are now, thanks to our usual sus­pect Kon­rad Mizzi, who was Health Min­is­ter at the time, are pop­u­lat­ing their BVI wal­lets with Malta’s state as­sets.

Claudette But­tigieg, the shadow min­is­ter for health, pounced on the doc­u­ments, point­ing out that 60 pages, which means 20% of the lot, were blanked out be­fore pub­li­ca­tion.

She says that the con­tracts should be sub­jected to a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral, be­cause “while the con­tracts have been kept con­cealed for months, the in­di­vid­u­als who ne­go­ti­ated them – Kon­rad Mizzi and Keith Schem­bri – have been found to have se­cret com­pa­nies in Panama”.

Par­lia­ment should now con­sider leg­is­lat­ing to make it a crim­i­nal of­fence, with a stiff penalty and pos­si­bly a jail term, for no­taries to work on con­tracts of debt for usurers.

Usury is it­self a crim­i­nal of­fence, and quite a se­ri­ous one at that, but it is cer­tain no­taries with­out a con­science, and no price to pay for their amoral­ity, who en­able usurers to op­er­ate.

Be­cause it is com­pletely il­le­gal to lend money at ex­tor­tion­ate rates of in­ter­est, the usurer can­not do it in a straight­for­ward man­ner, lend­ing you €5,000 and charg­ing you ex­tor­tion­ate in­ter­est as a per­cent­age of that.

So what the usurer does is get a com­pli­ant no­tary who is in ca­hoots with him to write up a con­tract which says that he has lent you €50,000 when he has only lent you €5,000.

Yes, sick­en­ing, isn’t it. The no­taries, who are more than aware that this is a usurer and his vic­tim be­fore them, go ahead and do it. This has got to be made a crime.

I bring this up be­cause I have just read a news item de­scrib­ing how a no­to­ri­ous and vi­o­lent usurer is un­der pros­e­cu­tion for lend­ing money at ex­tor­tion­ate rates of in­ter­est and col­lect­ing it with vi­o­lence and men­aces.

A wit­ness, his iden­tity pro­tected by court or­der, tes­ti­fied yes­ter­day say­ing that he had bor­rowed €15,000 from the man, and ended up trans­fer­ring own­er­ship of his boat and his home to the usurer to set­tle the crazily ac­cu­mu­lated in­ter­est on that, and be­cause he was vi­o­lently as­saulted when­ever he couldn’t meet his pay­ments with cash.

Usury is a very real and quite con­sid­er­able prob­lem in Malta, to the ex­tent that Car­i­tas pro­vides an ad­vi­sory ser­vice to help those who are in the usurer’s vice-like grip.

But the vic­tims of usury do not make for at­trac­tively hip cam­paigns, like the morn­ing-af­ter pill, which seek to give politi­cians the im­age they seek.

The vic­tims of usury want to be anony­mous, not only be­cause of the shame and pow­er­less­ness they feel but be­cause they are afraid to speak out.

And that al­lows politi­cians to ig­nore them or to see what a very real crime this is.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent Thurs­day 20 Oc­to­ber 2016

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