The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

Affordable housing, ending cheap labour, retaining IIP scheme among Robert Abela’s priorities

Albert Galea Thursday, 19 December 2019, 16:07 Last update: about 10 months ago

Affordable housing, ending cheap labour, providing free medicine to pensioners, the environment, and retaining the controversial Individual Investor Programme are among PL leadership hopeful Robert Abela’s key priorities.

Speaking in a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Abela started by noting that he is not escaping from the media and has no reason to do so.  That assertion comes after Abela launched his campaign for the Labour Party’s top spot on Wednesday evening but did not invite any media houses, including The Malta Independent, and after he is yet to accept interview requests from several newsrooms including this one.

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Abela spoke of proposals which are “ambitious but doable”, and which held social justice as a central principle.  His manifesto centred on four specific fields; affordable housing, free medicine for pensioners, wages, and the environment.

However, Abela’s answers to journalist’s questions – this was the first time he has faced the independent media since announcing his candidature – after the press conference revealed his views on other key issues such as the position of the Attorney General, the system used for the appointment of the judiciary, and the Individual Investor Programme (IIP).

Housing: Vacant properties at the centre of Abela’s proposal

Abela put vacant properties at the centre of his proposals for affordable housing, explaining that rather than building on virgin land, a new state-led entity would invite owners of vacant property to sell them to the government at market value so that these sites can be refurbished for use as social housing.

His manifesto notes that there were almost 41,232 completely vacant properties in 2011 – equivalent to 130 football pitches of land.

The target would be to reach 4,000 units first with the order of preference being according to the degree of maintenance required – with those requiring the most being of the highest priority. The estimated market value of these 4,000 properties is of €600 million, with refurbishment expected to cost another €260 million.

A bond issue would be made to fund the projects which could then be recouped from the social rent rates paid by the tenants. Abela noted that the rents will not be exorbitant and will be in proportion with the income of the tenant.

Wages: Equal pay for equal work principle, measures against cheap labour will be implemented

Abela expressed his concern about cheap labour and how the government cannot allow a situation where people are living on a sum such as €500 per month.

He explained that the very fact that foreign workers were being brought to Malta and paid very low salaries also put pressure on the salaries of the Maltese, but noted that foreign workers themselves had contributed to the economy and should hence not be restricted.

His manifesto details that the labour market would be safeguarded from unscrupulous employers through a work permit system. It reads that employers will get new or renewed single permits if the salary they pay is comparable to the wages paid in their respective sector, and if the employees are paid by cheque or direct bank transfers.  Failure to provide evidence of the latter will lead to the employer being disqualified from getting foreign labour, the manifesto reads.

Employers will be disbarred from getting new or renewed single permits if they fail to honour working conditions set by law, or are caught employing foreign workers without a permit.

He also committed to implementing the equal pay for equal work principle, like his counterpart Chris Fearne has already committed to doing so.

IIP: We must do everything to preserve IIP scheme - Abela

When quizzed by journalists, Abela noted that everything must be done to preserve the existence of the scheme as it had brought a lot of wealth into the country.

He said that the due diligence surrounding it is already rigid, but that if there is the need for changes for the programme to be retained then they should be done.  He noted that he has no problem in the fact that the names of those who receive a passport through the scheme are not indicated in a separate list, but said that he was open for change on this point if the need is such.

Free medicine for pensioners: Measure would cost €40 million

The second measure in Abela’s manifesto is to provide free medicine for all pensioners, a measure which he calculated would cost around €40 million.

The thinking behind the measure, Abela explained, is because medical costs tend to eat up a significant chunk of people’s pensions, and is a factor behind the fact that 28% of people aged 65 or over are at risk of poverty.

Environment: Commitment for green spaces across the island

With regards to the environment, Abela committed filling every space, open area, and unused public land would be filled with soil and mature trees so to increase the amount of greenery in the country.

 

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