GRTU President – Paul Abela's Speech
Professor Arnold Cassola, first of all I congratulate you for the new responsibilities you are undertaking and I welcome you to GRTU.
The GRTU and Alternattiva Demokratika do not keep frequent contact, but this does not mean that we do not believe in the importance of political parties other than the two major political forces in our country's democratic system. On the contrary, we believe that it is very important that others voice the opinion of minor groups, especially when the two major parties agree on particular issues and their common ground is really fear of losing their voters. The GRTU is not a political party and we do not have any political ties, but we are also a large national force that represents important sectors of the Maltese economy. Unfortunately, although the self-employed and small and medium enterprise owners represent more than 90% of Maltese and Gozitan enterprises, and between them they are the largest employers in Malta, as voters they are regarded as a minor force, though an important one.
The two large parties have a long history of empty promises that are easily forgotten after the self-employed and business owners have cast their electoral vote. This does not mean that the two parties have not worked for the self-employed and the small businesses, indeed this was done always at the instigation of the GRTU. And GRTU is vigilant to ensure that what has been achieved is not easily discarded by those in power.
Currently, we are going through a rough period, regarding matters affecting the sectors we represent. A lot was said in the recent electoral campaign about how the self-employed and small business owners are at the heart of politicians' interests. However, from the first few days of this legislature things already started going wrong. In the GRTU, we are currently keeping back but if the attitude of the two large parties remains one of keeping mute on important issues with the result that everything seems to go when the interests of small businesses are involved, GRTU's anger will have to become manifest.
I will start immediately on the issue regarding the Reform of Rent of Commercial Property. This is the property from which the work and earnings of many of our members emerge. Is it possible that none of you, neither the Alternattiva Demokratika, nor the Nationalist and Labour parties, has thought of looking up the history? Is it possible that nobody has noticed that in most democratic countries, the issue of rent of residential property is legislated separately from that of rent of property used commercially for enterprises? Is it possible that none of you were scandalized as we were that the Government inserted in the White Paper, which primarily deals with the reform of rented residential property just two pages and the handful of proposals that refer to rented commercial properties that affect thousands of business owners, their families and their employees? Does this mean that nobody cares about the tenants, whose income depend on the property from which they work, and that the issue of their security of tenure is of no relevance to the political party currently in Government? And what about the Party in Opposition, and the Alternattiva Demokratika? Is this their attitude too?
The proposals of the Government included in the White Paper are not based on any statistical evidence. Does the Government have no statistics that show how many businesses are going to be affected? Is this the state of affairs we have in our country today? Does it mean that whoever has the majority in parliament even if obtained by a few hundred votes can proceed regardless of the impact of its proposals?
Is it possible that none of today's politicians has taken the initiative to understand that the laws regarding rent of commercial property are an important instrument for the safeguarding of jobs in small enterprises, of the self-employed business owners, their families as well as their employees? Other countries, especially France and Austria, give great value to the livelihood of enterprise owners in rented properties. Why is Malta taking a different approach? Were the promises that the self-employed and the small business owners are at the heart of Maltese politicians, empty?
We have already had the opportunity to express our anger against the unprofessional way the Government is addressing this issue to the Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Lawrence Gonzi, to the Minister for Social Policy, the Honourable John Dalli and the General Secretary of the Nationalist Party, Dr. Paul Borg Olivier. It is absolutely unacceptable for the GRTU that fundamental rights acquired by our predecessors in the GRTU during the 60 year existence of the GRTU existence are now to be washed away as if it they were nothing just because the Nationalist Party has that safeguarding small business owners' rights is no longer relevant and defending major landowners rights is of greater importance to the PM while for the Labour Party silence and non-commitment has suddenly become a major policy stance.
We believe that what was done in 1995 was already faulty as the Government then abandoned many small business owners hiding behind the turmoil of what was for enterprise a very bad year. The Party in Government marched forward in 1995 even though it paid a high political price afterwards. It is clear that now, fresh after an electoral victory, the Government is going to disregard small business owners with the hope that by the next election they will have forgotten all the punishment Government is now proposing for many of them.
An enterprise owner who has rented property has much of his wealth tied up in that enterprise. How can it be that the property owner is now being given the right to kick him out of the premises and effectively requisition his business without compensation at the termination of the lease contract? We are speaking clearly by saying that what is proposed in the White Paper allows the property owner not only to take back the property but also to take everything else. Once the tenants are kicked out the property owner can effectively open the business for himself. Malta has never seen a proposal involving such large theft as this. How can it be that suddenly the owner's right for seizure has become so sacred? Did this right become so sacred when the European Union recognized that the small businesses are the backbone of the European Economy and when a Small Business Act is being drawn up so that European Politicians try to safeguard the small enterprises? I ask, who are the owners who have a great deal of property rented before 1995? May they show their statistics so that we can truly see who is putting the Nationalist Party into Government with their proposal? What is the reason behind all this hurry? Why did they come up with this proposal in the middle of the summer, when everybody's interests are elsewhere? Who, in Malta, is conscious of the fact that the consultation period closes a few days after Santa Marija and that the Government already has the law almost fully planned out? Is this how they are going to lead democracy, with dictatorship of the majority walking over the rights of the minority and mocking the people in the middle of this hot summer? It is obvious that we, the GRTU, believe in an alternative democracy!
Professor Cassola, this is a subject that we would like to have a discussion today because it is of extreme importance to us. We want to discuss our proposals for the MEPA reform. Regarding this subject, we presented concrete proposals to the Government based on extensive research that we carried out. We would also like to have the opportunity on our politics regarding Localities and for the Reform of the Local Councils, about which we also have clear positions.
Above all, we would like to explain to you our work to create Management and Waste Compliance Schemes in the name of our partners. Regarding the environment, we do not simply discuss. We have created a subsidiary company, Green MT, and with great sacrifice and with the involvement of many enterprise owners and after many meetings with our people, with the Authorities and with our friends in the Association of Local Councils, it is with great pride that I say that we have a License from MEPA for the management of electronic and electrical waste (WEEE). These days we also have in our possession the license to carry out the Compliance and Management Waste Scheme for Packaging. What we are doing in Malta in this regard has already been described from high officials from the European Union as best practice which, in the future, Malta should be proud of. We are doing this on our own initiative in full support of the Government and hundreds of enterprise owners and in full collaboration with many mayors, even though other groups, who should know better, have tried to slow us down.
But this is the GRTU Professor Cassola and our issues are studied well. We speak to our people. We have a website and an electronic, interactive publication system to ensure that our decisions are the decisions that enhance the welfare of our members ad our country of which the sectors that we represent are the backbone. When we are decided, we take action. We are not afraid to speak out and we do not budge easily.
I invite you, Professor Cassola to give us your opinion and that of Alternattiva Demokratika. Afterwards, we will give a few minutes for the MEDIA to ask for some clarifications and after that, we will continue with our discussions.