Local Politics


Alternattiva Demokratika is the only party that addresses the fact that the war on drugs has failed and needs to be re-thought.

Among others we have three main proposals: That personal use is decriminalized, that there is a classification between soft and hard drugs and that cultivation for personal use is considered as personal use and not a separate crime that carries a minimum prison sentence.

Yet, the PNPL ended up talking about drugs anyway. For all the wrong reasons.

In an electoral campaign that is based mostly on scandals involving members of both parties, the PN attacked the PL for having Toni Abela in the knowledge of drugs being taken in a PL club and not reporting it.

The PL attacked back on their newspaper Maltastar.

http://www.maltastar.com/dart/20130226-alleged-drug-abuse-at-pn-club-unreported

From “your party is more corrupt than usour party” the talk of the campaign is changing into “your followers use more drugs than ours”.

2000 votes in one district can elect an AD deputy. A deputy focused on the issues that really affect the Maltese people rather than hiding the skeletons in his closet.

A deputy that will insist all drug users should not be arrested. Not only if they’re his party’s supporters snorting cocaine in the party club’s toilet.

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The first election I followed closely was that of 2008. I had just joined AD and was much greener (pun not intended) back than. I couldn’t, for instance, understand the sceptic look my colleagues gave when electoral promises such as regulating party financing and investing in renewable energy were made.

I only understood later, when the promises failed to materialize.

By now I’ve got much more used to the way Maltese politics is done, the empty promises, the not-so-indirect vote buying and the superficial way issues are addressed by the PNPL in their attempts to please everyone.

Yet, this general election, the first one that I’m contesting has become even more surreal than that. The issues are barely being discussed, even superficially. They’ve literally been given secondary importance.

Instead, the PNPL just ended up competing on which side can unearth most skeletons from the other side’s closet. The PL attack on Austin Gatt and Zaren Vassallo while the PN retaliate on Anglu Farrugia and Toni Abela.

On a positive note, I strongly believe this will be the first election where AD elects at least one candidate in parliament. While the PNPL are playing “the other side is dirtier” game, we’re talking about issues. And more and more Maltese people, especially but definitely not exclusively they younger ones, are realizing this.

While the PNPL are busy throwing as much mud as possible on each other, we’re talking about increasing the minimum wage, equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, regulating party financing, the overdevelopment of our land and rape of our countryside, spring hunting, decriminalizing the personal use of drugs and a dozen other issues that directly affect the life of the Maltese people.

The choice is now yours. 2000 votes in one district can elect an AD candidate.

All has been said and done and Tonio Borg is the new Health Commissioner. He was elected by a democratic vote from MEPs themselves elected by EU citizens. I disagree with his political values especially on immigration and LGBT issues and if I was an MEP I would have voted against him taking the post. I’ll make no secret out it. (That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the good things in Dr Borg, such as the fact that during his entire political career he’s never been tainted with any hint of corruption and his good handling of the Libya crisis)

Some Maltese cheered, not necessarily because they agree with Tonio Borg’s values but due to coming from the backwards insular mentality the PNPL kept this country in. I win you lose. Alee-oo Alee-oo. Nivvota lejber halli nghajjru lil ta Gonzi wara l-elezzjoni! I think you got the dripth.

Pathetic, but it’s not these kind of people that bothered me.

The ones that bothered, I dare say even offended, me are the ones who called us Greens as well as the Liberals and some Socialists “intolerant” for opposing Tonio Borg.

Intolerant?

Commissioners such as Tonio Borg are not elected by EU citizens. They are nominated by a Prime Minister while the MEPs have to decide whether they approve them or not. Yet, like the MEPs and sometimes even more, the Commissioners are going to take political decisions on behalf of the European Union’s citizens.

In other words when they vote for a Commissioner, the MEPs have a duty to represent those who voted for them. Otherwise we can throw EU democracy out of the window – and prove the Eurosceptics right.

And this is exactly what we’ve done. The European Green Party (EGP), in complete agreement with Alternattiva Demokratika, felt that Tonio Borg could never represent the “Green voter”. Thus they voted against his nomination.

And lost. Tonio was voted in by a majority of the MEP’s. And like every democratic party we accepted the defeat. Like every democratic party, the EGP will work with the elected Dr Borg to what they believe is the best for the citizens of the European Union.

What’s intolerant about that?

Alternattiva Demokratika has many times claimed that there only cosmetic difference between the two large parties, hence the term PNPL. On immigration, this couldn’t be more true.

Many have the wrong impression that the PL are the tough guys on immigration while the PN are for tolerance, respect for human rights and Christian values. Bullshit. The only difference is they way they talk about it, the package. The policies are exactly the same.

The only “difference” is that while the PN talk about voluntary burden sharing with the EU, the PL talk about compulsory burden sharing. Once again, this difference is no difference at all for a very simple reason. Burden sharing is EU law and whether it’s voluntary or compulsory isn’t up to Muscat or Gonzi to decide. In fact, all parties in Malta, including AD, support compulsory burden sharing and consider the present scenario as unfair to the border states. But the reality is that many EU countries, already struggling with their own far right problems, will never agree with compulsory burden sharing. (Keep in mind that if such a mechanism is to take place, it would not have to cover only Malta where asylum seekers are a few thousand but also other countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy where they run into millions).

On issues that can actually make a difference for the immigrants and minimize the costs for the Maltese, such as revising detention policy and grant work permits instead of a permit to work, as suggested by AD, the position of the PNPL is exactly the same.

Same thing on the minimum wage controversy. AD is the only party for increasing the minimum wage. Yet, the PN managed to spin it that Muscat is the evil anti-worker pseudo-socialist that wants to freeze the minimum wage. Truth is, the PL are just against increasing it, which is the exact position of the PN.

These two examples, amongst many others, make it clear that unlike most other EU countries that have a variety of parties with different beliefs and ideologies in parliament Malta has less than two. Most of the time it just has one: PNPL.

When Mid-Dlam Ghad-Dawl (MDD) suggested that life sentences should be abolished, all hell broke loose. The organization started to be seen as public enemy No1 of law and order.

During the criticism of MDD, two main arguments continued to resurface. One of that was that a life sentence is a deterrent for serious crime and without it more such crimes will be committed. I don’t see much rational behind this. People who commit crimes of this scale, either premeditate their crime and have absolutely no intention of getting caught (thus whether it’s 20 years or life isn’t much of an issue for them, their attention is on getting away with it completely) or do so in a moment of passion or insanity and disregard consequences entirely.

However, since I haven’t studied criminology, I won’t dwell too much on this. I’d rather leave it to the experts.

My major concern is about the second argument against MDD’s proposal. That is: What about the victims?

It’s very easy to use MDD as a scapegoat to face the wrath of victims of crime and their loved ones, for wanting to abolish life sentences. But let’s be honest here. How are we really treating victims of crime?

Victims of crime, are used and abused by our justice system only to be dumped like shit when not needed anymore. They are the ones who not only have to face the consequences of the crime but also go to court a gazillion times to give their testimony, only for the case to be deferred and to give the evidence next time, and the time after. They many times end up on trial themselves, cross examined by defence attorneys so that their claims lose their value, or the responsibility of the accused is diminished. They are the ones who may fear the accused since the latter cannot be locked up for years until found guilty (thanks to our very efficient justice system some cases get closed more than a decade later).

And then what?

The wasted time and money to go to court, having to relive the crime over and over again, being grilled about something wrong you might have done and having your personal life splattered all over the media for what? A handshake and a goodbye.

AD has frequently suggested that there should be a fund for the victims of crime. Possibly funded by the same fines the criminals pay. Sure, money is not going to bring your loved one back, or make you forget the trauma. But at least, at the very least, you get some compensation.

Yet, what is being discussed in parliament? Whether we should raise the salaries of the judges. People who are partly to blame for this inefficient system that’s causing all this ordeal for the victims.

And please, before you point your fingers to an NGO making a suggestion, imagine if you yourself were the victim. What is the main cause of your suffering (apart from the crime itself)? Our rotten justice system that uses and abuses, or the possibility that the perpetrator might spend 20 years in jail, instead of life?

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

The war on drugs has failed. It isn’t DJ Chaos on Pirate Radio stating it but the Global Commission on Drug Policy. A think tank made up of former presidents of nation states including Switzerland, Brazil and Mexico and Mr Kofi Annan former General Secretary of the UN, amongst others.

http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

The truth, in lay terms is very simple. The profits in the drugs industry are so high that if there is a demand, there will surely be a supply. It is also abundantly clear that fear of getting caught isn’t affecting the demand for drugs.

It is not only academic studies that prove this, but also a little common sense. Why is it that in a country such Malta, where there is no classification between soft and hard drugs, only a very small fraction of cannabis users, use heroin too? Not only are both drugs equally illegal and carry the same penalties but for those whose bodies have not yet developed a tolerance for heroin, (thus needs larger quantities for the same effect) the latter actually cheaper than cannabis. Yet, most choose not to opt for heroin. It’s clear that it’s neither the legal deterrent nor the price that’s keeping these people away from it.

In spite of all this, governments in many European countries (or both government and opposition in countries like Malta) refuse to bulge an inch when they hear the word decriminalization.

Rest assured that the more the argument for decriminalizing drugs surface, the more will the scaremongers get hysterical that Malta will be infested with drugs. I’m sure that before decriminalizing all drugs in Portugal in 2001, there were scaremongers making the same claim. Truth is the exact opposite happened.

That said, it needs to be clear though that there is no quick fix solution for the complex problems caused by drug abuse. Portugal is not drug free. But the drug problem has diminished since decriminalization.

What’s going on in Portugal?

A simple overview shows that since 2001:

Use of cannabis has increased
Use of cocaine didn’t change significantly
Use of heroin has decreased
Total use of drugs has decreased

This is even more positive than it looks at face value. During the past 10 years, drug abuse in most EU countries has increased significantly. The increase in use of cannabis, was in fact in proportion of the increase in use in the EU average. In other words there is no evidence to show that this increase was brought about by decriminalization.

Cocaine is definitely the drug that is most on the increase in Europe, in some countries including Malta, at an alarming rate. Unlike most European countries, cocaine use in Portugal did not significantly increase since 2001 This is even more striking one considers that Portugal is the closest European country to the main cocaine exporter Colombia, and has a lot of historic ties with South American countries.

There are other benefits the Portuguese people have enjoyed since decriminalizing drugs such as a decrease in crime and certain contagious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C.

Decriminalizing drugs in Portugal, one of the most conservative countries in the EU block didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was part of a whole package of admitting that the war on drugs – the way it was being waged – had failed and honestly try to do something about it.

A Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction (CDT) was introduced in every region in the country. Anyone caught with the possession of drugs (calculated as roughly the amount for 10 days of use or less) was no longer arrested. No arrest, criminal record or lawyer fees. Just a mandatory visit to his regional CDT in 72 hours. The CDT has the power to impose sanctions such as fines and community work, but that’s not its main aim.

The main aim of the CDT is to assess whether the individual is just a casual drug user or an addict, and proceed accordingly. The CDT also has the power to refer a person identified as an addict to either residential or non-residential treatment. However, unlike in a Court of law treating the person as a criminal, the CDT considers the addict as a patient and tries to act in his best interest rather than punish him. In fact, though legal advisors also form part of the CDT, it is mainly formed from health care professionals.

This system’s major successes are the following

1) More people in treatment. Being confronted by health care professionals within 72 hours was seen much more likely to lead a person to decide to start facing his drug problem seriously than being in the hands of law enforcement officers whose main aim is to secure a conviction. Which is exactly what happened.

(This was coupled with pumping more financial resources by the Portuguese government into treatment centres)

2) Less people were convicted with drugs, yet those who did were prosecuted for a total of a larger amount of drugs. Since the burden of arresting and convicting people with the personal use of drugs had eased from the criminal justice system, more resources were allocated for drug trafficking.

Classification of Drugs

Most EU countries have a system where punishment for the trafficking (or possession in countries where the personal use is still a criminal offence) of drugs varies significantly between hard and soft drugs. Malta is one of the few exceptions. Importing a Kg of cocaine will carry the same penalty as importing a Kg of cannabis.

This is not only unfair, but also absurd. Hard drugs are, nearly always, more expensive. Even heroin, which a beginner it is usually cheaper than cannabis, becomes horrendously expensive when develops tolerance for it.

When harsh sentences, for soft drugs (such as that of David Holmes who got 10.5 years imprisonment and a 23,000 fine for cultivating cannabis) are compared with equally harsh sentences for trafficking soft drugs, the courts are actually giving a clear message to would be traffickers: Don’t traffic soft drugs. They are much less profitable and if caught you’ll get the same punishment.

This is not speculation but a reality. Though authorities are not admitting it, we have a serious cocaine problem in Malta. Most violent robberies we hear about are committed by people under the influence of cocaine and/or from people needing money to buy more cocaine. This dangerous drug is being presented as a party drug and is abused regularly in places such as weddings and village feasts. Many young people are under the illusion that “it’s not that harmful”. Unlike cannabis users, most of whom use the drug only occasionally and during leisure time, most cocaine users don’t stop there. Many realize that cocaine isn’t just a “recreational party drug” when it’s too late.

The influx of cocaine could not be attributed solely to the lack of classification in our drug laws. The biggest cause is the fact that the cocaine industry (mostly in South America) is booming. Supply has exceeded demand and new marketing strategies are being used. Aside from branding it as a party drug, today’s cocaine is also cheaper.

The lack of classification is just adding insult to injury. It is making the drug more available something which, amongst other things continues to reinforce the idea that it’s just a party drug.

Lets Talk Sense About Drugs

The drugs aren’t coming. They are here and on the increase. Drug addicts are not one-offs, nearly every extended family has one.

Relatives of drug addicts know that they are ill. They’ve seen them vow a million times they won’t use anymore. They saw them flourish in a clean period only to lose all they have gained in a weak moment. They’ve seen them sick, suffering from withdrawals. Above all, they’ve seen them change from energetic youths to withering flowers. Some were lucky. They also watched their loved ones kick off their habit. Enjoying life once again, building again what they had lost.

Others had the misfortune of watching them die, in a vegetative state, or in jail.

Re-thinking the war on drugs will not provide a miracle cure – there isn’t. But as the success story in Portugal has shown, more people will start seeing their loved ones in rehab, and clean. And less people will have to visit their loved ones in prison, where rehabilitation is only a buzzword.

Re-thinking the war on drugs means that we stop calculating our success on just the number of convictions but the impact on people’s lives, because amid increasing convictions drug use and the problems it causes are not getting better but worse, substantially worse.

All it takes is political will. The fact that Malta’s politicians aren’t even addressing the failed war on drugs is either the result of laziness to make some research or cowardice to work towards the much needed change.

According to Dr Chris Said, the cohabitation bill which overtly discriminates against same-sex couples and ignores crucial issues such as taxation, is “based on what the government believes is right and is acceptable to society.”

I beg to differ on the generalization about what is acceptable to society but for the sake of the argument, let’s say he’s right.

So? Does that make discrimination justifiable?

One of the very basics in human rights law and ethics is that minority rights should be respected irrespective of what the majority thinks, as long as fulfilling those rights doesn’t involve denying the rights to others.

It is definitely not the case here. Not-liking-gays-getting-married is NOT a human right. It’s bigotry.

If you’re afraid that same-sex couples getting married is going to affect your own marriage because “it weakens the institution of marriage” is such a twisted way of thinking that maybe you weren’t really suited for marriage in the first place. What the heck are you thinking, that your wife will leave you because Olga and Priscilla next door are going to tie the knot?

Same-sex marriage is about treating equals as equal. It doesn’t interfere on the rights of the majority in any way and those who oppose it are motivated by either bigotry or irrationality.

Needless to say, the PL were quick to point fingers at Chris Said accusing him of “homophobia”. Ironically, Joseph Muscat has already stated clearly he believes marriage is for people of the opposite sex only. In other words he doesn’t consider gay couples as equal either.

Introducing same-sex marriage isn’t just about LGBT rights. It’s also a reflection on whether our government (and opposition) really believe in equality in diversity or whether they consider it as just a slogan.

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