Letters: 4 January 2015

The pension reform and the budget

This year’s budget allows insured persons to pay up to a maximum of five years of missing contributions.

Should we say: “How kind,” may I ask? If a person earning an average salary cares to do his math, he will realise that such a reaction is an over-simplification. Indeed, he will discover that the resulting amount will be more than several thousand euros! The conclusion has to be that there are too many persons out there who will wish to pay up their missing contributions but will simply not afford it! Besides, the persons who will afford to pay up missing contributions are most probably the ones who will have no interest in paying up. Why? The answer is simple. Getting a smaller state-pension will make no difference to them at all! 

That pension-related concessions be given to the wrong type of people seems to me to be an inversion of Socialist as well as moral and egalitarian principles. The argument gets even more impelling, when it is recalled that the persons who may need to pay up missing contributions are not necessarily the ones who truly had not paid up in real time. Under the old law, such persons had no missing contributions, or at least their missing contributions would have numbered much less than they do under the Pension Reform! 

In this letter, I hope to explain why, in transitory cases (to be accurate, in cases of persons born between 1952 and 1981), the option of paying up missing contributions tends to constitute daylight robbery rather than social solidarity. 

What is essentially wrong is not the idea of increasing the contribution requirement per se. The crux of the matter is that, as a result of the pension reform, insured persons born between 1952 and 1981 have had to suffer an increase in their contribution requirement that is higher than the increase in their retirement age! Thus, for example, those born between 1952 and 1955 suffer a three-year discrepancy, because they had their contribution requirement increased from 30 to 35 years (by five years) while their retirement age was increased only from 60 to 62 (by two years).

Worse still, persons born between 1961 and 1981 suffer a five-year discrepancy, because they had their contribution requirement increased from 30 to 40 years (by 10 years) while their retirement age was increased only from 60 to 65 (by five years). If the reader asks me: “Why stop at persons born in or after 1982?” the answer is simple enough. Persons born in or after 1982 will have no problem to pay up the required 40 years of contributions when they retire, because they will be retiring at age 65 and they still had not attained 25 years of age when the pension reform was passed by the Maltese Parliament in 2006. 

The dire truth is capable of being expressed on two levels. Firstly, in transitory cases, the 2006 pension reform arbitrarily and artificially threw insured persons backwards in their contribution payments. Indeed, it did this in such a way that, owing to certain discrepancies, certain insured persons would never be able to put the clock back to reverse the backward move! Secondly, the expectation that, in certain transitory cases, the insured person be compelled to pay up “missing” contributions in respect of the period of discrepancy applicable to him (for example, three years in the case of persons born between 1952 and 1955) only makes the injustice worse. Indeed, if the contributions concerned are viewed in the right perspective, namely, as contributions payable in real time, they will not qualify as “missing contributions” at all! The insured person was irreversibly thrown backwards in his contribution payments by mere operation of the law, and not through any personal fault on his part!! 

It is, indeed, a pity that the national authorities, including the Ombudsman, should simply ride roughshod over the transitory problem that is implicit in the pension reform and persist despite the right of option created under the current budget. It is high time that the government take steps to address the dilemma and create appropriate solutions. The government must combine together precepts of social and legal justice as well as common sense. The result should be easy enough to attain, namely, the result that the contribution-conditions applicable to transitory cases must be revised and corrected in line with the need to eliminate the respective discrepancies.

Accordingly, the contribution-condition for persons born between 1952 and 1955 must be reduced from 35 to 32 to eliminate the three-year discrepancy, while the contribution-condition for persons born between 1962 and 1981 must be reduced from 40 to 35 to eliminate the five-year discrepancy. The same principle should apply to all the age categories. Of course, if the insured person has yet other missing contributions over and above those relating to the applicable period of discrepancy, he will have to pay them up in terms of the right of option created under the current budget. 

It is high time that our politicians stop playing to the tune of the masses and assume the responsibilities of true leadership, wherein what should count is not the will of the majority but the common good. 

Dr. Mary Anne Buhagiar, LL.D., LL.M., Ph.D, Bugibba

Here’s what we think a new archbishop requires

A bishop who is concerned about the general well-being of the Maltese people. One for whom those individuals who are struggling to find peace in their busy, stressful lives are just as worrying as the dwindling church attendance.

A bishop whose soul is connected to his body. One who can express himself on matters such as obesity and sport, preservative-laden food, illegal zoos and buildings, and exploited workers, and speak just as eloquently on the importance of prayer. The question of how people can be spiritual if they are disconnected from their bodies and nature around them arises. For the person chosen, every subject dealing with humans and life should be a core subject. 

Someone who can create a sense of unity within the Church. A bishop for whom the issue of smart meters at Armier is not just something for the Interdiocesan Environmental Commission to worry about, but rather a matter for the whole Church to be concerned with. 

A bishop who believes in Malta Kosmopolitana. One who can address the rational and irrational fears of the Maltese in relation to immigration, while always responding with love.  He would ideally be capable of guiding people towards a new Maltese identity; integrating immigrants, foreign workers and EU residents. 

A bishop who can talk about faith in a way that is relevant to today’s world. One who can speak of the protection of the weak embryo threatened by abortion and understands the feelings of a mother facing an unplanned pregnancy. A bishop who is comfortable in the presence of Catholics, atheists, humanists and secular people alike. A bishop who can speak to the different audiences of our liberal democratic society, networking and building bridges. 

A bishop who ensures professionalism is a standard across the numerous Church institutions. Where people who need a fidi tal-maghmudija can get one on-line; where monks in the convent answer the telephone nicely; where parents registering their children in Church schools are not treated as illiterates by having someone fill in the form on their behalf.

A bishop who ensures the Church becomes more financially transparent at all levels. A poor Church, yet one which has the funds to run its own services. Just like the “steward” in the New Testament – “l-amministratur fidil li sid id-dar jafdalu ġidu kollu” – a person who balances qualities of honesty, integrity, transparency, responsibility and accountability.

A bishop who is happy to live his faith in a minority. Maltese practising Catholics of our age are a minority anyway!  He should not try to convert people, but simply give witness of love, allowing people the liberty to be who they wish to be. Just like Mother Teresa, who never preached about Jesus unless she was asked, but who simply demonstrated love through her words and actions.

A bishop who introduces the Church’s best kept secret – Catholic social teaching – in religion classes in schools. This will help to promote a generation of people who can show solidarity towards others, not simply by donating €10, but by taking an active interest in what’s going on around them. This will empower them to become men and women for others, rather than to go on in a live-and-let-live culture. A bishop who is powerful, yet simultaneously weak. He is not an authoritarian bishop who tries to appear the holder of all truth that we are after, but rather one who is happy to simply be a voice among many in, to quote atheist philosopher Jurgen Habermas, a “post-secular society”, yet a powerful voice whose power stems from love. 

A supportive bishop. Starting with those closest to him – the priests and staff working in all religious entities – many of whom are stressed, burnt out and overworked – most of them in silence. Secondly, to the Maltese flock as it faces one change after another.

A bishop who does not propose concrete political solutions, yet sheds light on the application of reason in our daily lives when it comes to politics, economics and the social sphere. This will ensure they are of better quality and more people oriented.  

If you fit the above requirements, please call the nuncio.

Martha Fitz, Christine Rossi, and Suzanne Vella are mothers with an interest in Catholic social teaching