Three and a half years ago, I wrote to the then Arms CEO, James Davis, and copied in the then Minister for Energy, Konrad Mizzi, and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Just in case they were not aware of the Arms/tenant scam (this administration was only elected a few months before), I explained the implications of the Arms billing scheme and how this discriminated against tenants.
Nothing doing. All I had back were inane platitudes of the likes of “Arms doesn’t do refunds”, “You need the signature of the landlord to access the correct tariff for people living in their primary residences”, “Who’s to say that you didn't choose to be on the incorrect tariff”, “We’d need to change the law in order for the tenant to not need the landlord signature”... And other such nonsense.
So, I wrote to the National Audit Office. This sent me away with a flea in my ear.
I submitted a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman. You guessed it - I was told by none other than Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino that the situation was that some tenants absconded without paying the Arms bill. The implication was that this was justifiable reason for all tenants to overpay on the incorrect, summer residence or empty property tariff.
Eric wrote to the Inland Revenue in his capacity as journalist. He wanted to understand why the Inland Revenue turned a blind eye to the rampant tax evasion of landlords. No joy whatsoever. Shutters clamped down tight.
The above Maltese institutions, these so called autonomous Maltese checks and balances - were completely useless. Again, nothing doing.
No concern whatsoever that tenants, with not one property to their name, were paying €5.14 per cubic metre of water as opposed to the €1.40 per cubic metre of water, multiple property owners were paying.
No concern whatsoever that tenants, with not one property to their name, were paying 25 c per unit of electricity as opposed to the 10 c per unit of electricity, multiple property owners were paying. Nor were they concerned that tenants, unlike their landlords, were not eligible for an eco reduction, if their consumption of electricity fell below 1 750 units of electricity per person per year.
I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that my world turned upside down as the penny dropped that the powers that be, and the so called Maltese checks and balances, couldn’t care less if tenants paid 2 to 3 times more than their landlords for their consumption of water and electricity. They couldn’t care one iota.
They also couldn’t care less if landlords got away with not declaring their rental income and committed the criminal offence of tax evasion.
They couldn’t care less that tenants’ access to the correct tariff depended on the landlord’s signature on Arms Form H, which meant that tenants would be even less likely to be on the correct tariff. This, because the landlord didn’t want to leave a paper trail for the tax man to find out that they had rent paying tenants in their so called empty property.
The gist: Tenants pay 2 to 3 times more than their tax evading landlords. And nobody, but nobody, could care less.
I am under no illusion that the lot of poor people will ever be great. But for a tenant to pay so much more than their landlord for their electricity and water? And for the state to turn a blind eye to this? Why aren’t there more people upset by this?
The state stealing from the poor? Gifting the landlord with tax free income?
New Arms Form F2 requires a deposit of €466 and an application fee of €50 in order for the tenant to access the much cheaper tariff for people living in their primary residence, without needing the signature of the landlord. Can you imagine a single parent on €800 per month, forking out €500 per month on rent, ever affording this? Is it okay that they will therefore have to continue overpaying? While their tax evading landlord enjoys the correct tariff without paying any deposit or application fee?
I wonder – all these bureaucrats working in the Maltese civil service, working in the sole, state owned utility billing company, Arms, with their swollen pay packets, living carefree lives of luxury - do these ever stop and think as to what their work should entail? What is the rationale behind the employment of these people?
Is it to allow this travesty to take place?