Act on utility bills. Now

If government truly has the well-being of our families at heart, the time of need and the time to act is definitely now

There are many policy areas driven by Labour which can be subjected to long hours of debate. Frankly, government’s energy policy hardly fits among these: stating that it has been an abject failure would probably be a compliment to those behind such “strategies”.

The irony of this all was that back in the electoral campaign of 2013, Malta’s population was tricked into believing that Labour had a roadmap which, in the preferred words of disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi, had already been planned and costed. And really planned and costed it was: a few individuals stood to make millions at the expense of the rest of the population.

For indeed, here we are, at unprecedented times, having to beg to foreign countries of dubious intention, for lower utility rates. This at a time,when the world is experiencing the lowest cost of energy since time immemorial. Oil prices in Europe are hovering around $20-25 dollars a barrel, while in the United States they have gone as far as dropping to negative territory.

Most of us will surely remember when in January 2011, Labour organised waves of protests over “exaggerated” utility bills – bills which were worked out on a price of oil which exceeded $140 dollars, that’s around six or seven times its price today. Gas prices tend to follow oil, and since the (in)famous Electrogas deal was signed, its price has also gone down by a staggering 36%.

Where does this leave us?

We are currently in the second month of a semi-lockdown, forced for the benefit of our health to spend most of our days at home, working from home, coordinating our children’s studies from home, doing everything between those four walls. That automatically means a higher consumption of energy. A recent study in the UK estimated that this has resulted in at least a 15% increase in consumption. That’s on top the troubles faced by many families who have lost their job, are experiencing reduced income, including loss of part-time or any additional work they might have been doing.

Yet, because Labour insisted with forging ahead in a shady deal in selling critical national infrastructure, such as our energy operator Enemalta, to the Chinese, and tying itself to an incredible 18-year commitment with Electrogas (and to add insult to injury, included as an intermediary Azerbaijan’s Socar which siphons off an additional €40 million in commissions for the purchase of gas), the country is losing an eye-popping €91 million a year. A figure almost hard to fathom. That’s the equivalent of some €450 euro for every family in Malta. And when we speak about the “price of corruption” this is precisely that.

Certainly enough, we’re also still paying for a financial structure which caters for the €5,000-a-day Konrad Mizzi and his forever-friend Keith Schembri were caught red-handed planning by The Daphne Project.

While our hands are tied to China, as the finance minister so clearly put it, there is still room for manoeuvre. Government has been promising for years to correct the unfair billing system which are also the subject of pending cases in our courts. Notwithstanding, the argument that our hands are tied, does not hold water. This problem is not the fault of families and businesses. It is government’s problem to solve with its friends in Azerbaijan, China and Electrogas. Until that happens – there are other solutions. Just this week, Edward Scicluna was again ruffling his feathers about surpluses and responsibility in finances.

If our financial position is strong as our minister makes it out to be, then there should be no excuses: it is time to follow the proposal made by the Opposition – and backed by a number of social partners, including the Malta Employers’ Association – to forthwith reduce energy bills by 50% for all households, backdated to 9 March when this crisis blew up.

Our families have been paying high prices for years, because let’s face it, oil prices have not started to go down this year. And since August 2017, the day the Electrogas turbine was switched on, the price of gas has gone done by 36%.

If government truly has the well-being of our families at heart, the time of need and the time to act is definitely now.