For decades we have ignored unglamorous fundamentals such as these. Our attention to detail is non-existent. Chickens coming home to roost - in the form of traffic jams, lost productivity, being late for work, school, university - take us by surprise. It’s like we don’t understand the science of cause and effect. There’s a disconnection, a collective autism at work here.
Our storm drains / sewage systems aside, we have many other neglected fundamentals. Successive administrations have been negligent in their attention to these for decades.
The private rental market is another disaster long in the making. For decades, we have had swings of draconian rent control followed by a free for all liberalisation of the private rental market. We are on the cusp of another such swing – this time in favour of tenants.
Anyone with any knowledge of the history of the Maltese rental market will marvel at the inability of successive administrations to resolve this once and for all, to learn from mistakes. They will marvel at the lack of courage.
How many times has the private rental market swung from rigid rent control to a complete free for all over its history, without as much as a pause in the middle? How many times has the ECHR ruled against Malta in favour of pre-1995 landlords? What’s stopping the Maltese powers that be raising the pre-1995 rents to something closer to market rents? Why is the political class so reluctant to have some kind of middle ground, some form of rent stabilisation? What of the means testing of people living in social housing – are they in need of social housing today?
Our political class lack courage. They are so scared of losing votes that they don’t do the right thing, without fear or favour. Politicians need to stand up and be counted more. The common good is what they are meant to be looking after. Not themselves or their careers.
As it happens, I am not entirely sure that any gentle rent stabilisation measures are going to be effective if this is what Minister Scicluna announces in the budget next week. We have been on a landlord swing for 22 years now, albeit it is the last 4 years that have seen the explosion in rents. Is it going to be too little too late?
The pity is that if we had some regulation of the rental market over these 22 years, then I believe we wouldn’t be in this predicament.
What is certain is that the status quo is untenable and unsustainable. Minister Scicluna dismissing the 20 % as unimportant and ‘not a crisis’ is living in cloud cuckoo land. For a Minister of Finance to dismiss 87 400 people as unimportant shows a remarkable sangfroid.
The problem may be invisible to him and many others because Malta is a tiny country. Homeless people in Malta will not sleep on the streets because no one is anonymous here like they are in big cities abroad. Instead they will stay with abusive partners - their children witnessing unimaginable abuse and violence. Pensioners will do without food or heating or cooling. Single parents will live in one room In their parents’ homes with their children. Single people in their thirties or forties on the minimum wage or on a low wage will move back to their parents’ home (if that is available) or do without essentials…
And all the while, they live a penny pinching, miserable existence. This in a booming economy.
How many different social problems are we storing up for the future for us to be surprised when these particular chickens come home to roost?