Fabian Demicoli

Plastic Bags- A success story marred by Government bureaucracy

 "One thing that stuns foreigners visiting Malta is the success we, the smallest state in the EU, have achieved on the plastic bags issue. Foreigners do not believe what they see: we in Malta have practically abolished the use of plastic bags in retail. GRTU suffered a lot of flak from many who ought to know better for the courageous stand we took on this issue. We defended our people but we also sought to achieve what is good for the country. An environmental commitment is not just marching in the streets holding green banners. We must put action in process in spite of criticism.

That's what GRTU did. But once again the work we put in is being jeopardised by bureaucrats playing the nasty game of procrastination leading to stagnation. And of course, as usual we get the blame!" Says Vince Farrugia Director General GRTU on the plastic bags issue.

The plastic bags issue was started off when in the 2009 pre-Budget document Government said that it "intends to revise its policy on plastic bags. Various options are being assessed to reduce the need for plastic bags… Either, for the bag to be sold across the counter; or for Government to impose a ban on the use of plastic bags other than those that are made from either degradable or a biodegradable material".

Following talks with the GRTU the only amicable solution that could be found was for retailers to be paid for the stock they still had and deliver them for recycling at the appropriate facility. Then, following a claim for refund, the VAT department would analyse claim by claim and clear for refund by the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs. This claim mechanism started some 17 months ago and the first refunds were issued just before last Christmas, 8 months after placing the claim. From then onwards a very slow continuation of clearances of claims were issued but the issue has now stagnated.

GRTU has been trying to get through the responsible persons at the VAT department by emailing them and phoning them but still the issue is kept pending week after week. 88 claims are still pending and they are growing impatient of calling us and receiving the same answer over and over again, that we are awaiting a meeting or a clearance from the VAT department.

GRTU has now written to the Commissioner for VAT Mr. Joe Sammut and the Permanent Secretary Mr. Alfred Camilleri at the Ministry for Finance in the hope to unblock the issue at the earliest. GRTU will be taking further steps next week.

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