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.
www.daphnecaruanagalizia.com 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