The Times 1/10/04
Sometimes I wonder which party is in government. Green pressure before the
2003 election put the issue of rent law reform firmly on the political
agenda but neither of the other political parties dared squeak about it in
fear of losing a handful of votes. After the election the PN recognised the
effect of Green pressure and in the President's speech at the opening of
Parliament rent reform was listed along with many other matters as one of
this government's targets.
Just over one year later the Prime Minister has ruled out any change. He
covered his tracks in a futile cat and mouse game with the opposition
inviting the Leader of the Opposition to give a guarantee that the MLP would
not resort to housing requisitions if it ever comes to office. No politician
would ever give any such guarantee and the Prime Minister knows it.
No government, not even a PN government, will ever give up its residual
powers. In extremis it may be necessary to resort to requisition once more.
What if the next Labour government faces a national emergency such as an
earthquake? It would also be absurd to ask the MLP to promise not to abuse
its legal powers. If it is likely to do so what would any promise be worth?
Asking the opposition to give guarantees that cannot possibly be given or
which would be patently worthless if given is just a game, a way to secure
an excuse for the PN government to do nothing once more.
Labour solved the dilemma by choosing paralysis. By saying nothing it does
not confess that it recognises the urgency for reform and retains the
loyalty of legally protected squatters and opportunistic tenants as well as
the support of those who deserve assistance. Labour landlords are expendable
in the MLP's calculation.
The PN thesis is that the PN tried to reform the rent laws by liberalising
rental contracts made on or after 1995. It has not worked. One of every four
properties still lies vacant and the culture reversal towards home rental
cannot begin. It is claimed that because landlords are afraid that a future
Labour government would resort to requisitions they are reluctant to enter
into rental agreements.
This is simply an excuse. None of this has any bearing on the removal of the
inheritance of leases. If the government had a shadow of a spine it could
tomorrow amend the law to make it impossible to pass on a lease of a
property to one's heirs. In this madhouse it is not the owners' heirs who
effectively inherit the property but the tenants'.
The Prime Minister does not care. He is happy to play cat and mouse with the
opposition and do absolutely nothing. Having made an unequivocal statement
that he does not intend to lift a finger on the issue, he imagines that the
matter will die down once more and disappear.
In reviving our rent reform campaign last year we called for an all party,
all stakeholder discussion to address this major challenge. We looked
forward to cooperation, to detailed data collection regarding the myriad
situations created by the patchwork of legislation complicating the issue
for the past 50 years. We hoped that our rivals would recognise how serious
the situation is. Now it is clear that they prefer playing games.
The Greens are not waiting for the nothingness of the PN and the MLP. In
raising the issue we have bent over backwards to obtain their cooperation.
Now it is clear that they have left the issue in our lap assuming that
because they have kept us out of Parliament we will not be able to address
such matters. They have miscalculated.
We are now free to act unilaterally and to have the law abrogated in part or
as a whole by legal means. Nobody needs to be in Parliament to invoke the
Referendum Act which gives ordinary citizens rights over Parliament. We have
tried consensus and we have been rejected. We are now free to show the
thousands of people who have suffered unspeakable injustice for 50 years
that they need not look to the other parties for relief. The understandable
call by some columnists to keep the issue non-partisan has been rejected by
the government and the opposition: they have chosen to keep abusing a
significant part of the population in their self-centred tug-of-war. We are
about to see what the answer will be.
We would have preferred to have a discussion in order to ensure a deliberate
and calculated change which would avoid any hardship to tenants unable to
cope in a liberalised market. Now we will be obliged to achieve an
abrogation of the existing laws in order to bring the other parties to the
legal drawing board. We can and we will.
There are many tens of thousands of properties subject to controlled rents.
Each boasts a bevy of outraged owners. They are about to discover that they
are not a negligible minority. It is more than possible to repeat the
achievement of the alliance opposing the cement plant development, the
Mnajdra landfill or the Verdala golf course development. Only this time it
will be far more focused with tens of thousands of people signing up to
claim their rights.
On the issue of rent reform there are thousands of people who have been
slapped in the face by this government and insolently neglected by the
opposition. They are many thousands of reds, blues and greens who have had
it to here with being cheated by their own government. They can and they
will change the law whether the parties in Parliament like it or not.
On this issue they can ally themselves with the Greens because it is the
Greens alone who are willing to do anything at all about their plight. There
are many thousands more who are disgusted by the situation without having a
personal interest in the matter as tenants or as landlords. They can be
expected to give their support also.
This is not about supporting the Greens. It is the Greens working for
everybody regardless of political belief once more. It is another
cross-party alliance. It is transversal politics breaking up the stereotypes
and breathing new life into our democracy, into our economy, into our social
relationships and into our environment. It is about solidarity, social
justice and commonsense. It is a rejection of stagnation.
Stand up and be counted: get in touch.
Dr Vassallo is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party.