Letters: 1 February 2015

Pump prices are fuelling consumers’ anger

Until last August I’d been wrestling with this conundrum ever since we adopted the euro: if these small denomination coins have to keep piling up before you can exchange them for anything worthwhile in Malta, how much more worthless must they be in other eurozone countries?

The whole of last August spent in Berlin, in a residential area in former East Berlin, showed how wrong I’d been all along.

At the supermarkets these tiddlywinks of coins did have value. Enough to say that 500gm of yoghurt went for 49 cents, a litre of fresh milk for 69 cents.

And that is the sad story of the Maltese consumer: being short-changed from all directions.

But the deepest cut is the price of fuel. 

We have been told over and over again by MCCAA representatives on the media, that since we are in the EU, there are no price controls. Retail outlets, from the corner grocers to the high street supermarkets to the auto outlets, can fix their own prices.

The MCCAA’s mantra to the local beleaguered consumer has been: shop around. That’s the only way to fix the pricey retailers’ wagon.

But all this free market blarney we the consumers have been having, about there being no such thing as price control, took a Maltese twist when a Rabat filling station undercut the price of diesel by two cents and within hours was forced to reverse the reduction and bring the price in line with Enemed’s.

It’s almost Kafkaesque that a State-owned company, Enemed, seems to be rigging prices against the interests of the average schmuck.

What a message this seems to be sending to private enterprise in dealing with its customers!

This incident of no one being allowed to sell fuel at prices lower than those of the State-owned company reminds me of the first time I went to Germany in the dark days of the ‘80’s.

Being a flag-waving patriot then, I chose the national airline to take me there.  A return ticket would cost Lm218.

I soon forgot my patriotism and said to myself, if I’m going to Germany why not try a German airline?

So I went to the German airline’s offices and was told that a return ticket would cost me... Lm218 (€507).

In those days, €507 was no mean sum.

When I protested, saying that that is what an Air Malta ticket would cost me and that I erroneously expected a fairer deal from a German airline, I was told that the German airline could not sell at prices lower than Air Malta. 

It had to sell at (the State-owned) Air Malta prices, or higher.

Just like fuel prices now.

But for all the dark clouds the ‘80’s in Malta were swathed in, at least then one knew that our lot was to put up with a command economy.

2015 is more sinister. We’re supposed to be in a free market.

I mentioned the ‘80’s when the Lm218 air ticket to Germany was Hobson’s Choice.

In the ‘80’s we had the PL as well as the PN in government.

One can draw one’s conclusion as to which party was in office when I expected Lufthansa to be cheaper but wasn’t allowed to be.

If you happen to be as naïve as I was then, a little nudge won’t be amiss: flip a coin.

If it turns up heads, then it was the PL in office at the time.

Joe Genovese, Birkirkara

I am not a hunter

I ask – once there are those who show so much disgust at the hunting of birds, what is the general feeling about fish suffocating to death after being caught in a net or torn out of the water once hooked? Are meat eaters conscious of the fact that all meat consumed is slaughtered in some way or another before it reaches their plate?

Yet 40,000 people, most of whom have no problem eating meat, signed a petition to ban perfectly legal spring hunting practised by a minority. They did so on the instigation of a political party which played to the tune of a bird conservation society that in principle opposes bird hunting in the hope of persuading a majority.

Claiming this was done since birds should be allowed to breed and not be shot, no one bothers to see what fish are doing before they’re caught, or whether the chicken objects to its eggs being taken, neither do we give animals slaughtered for our convenience a choice or attempt to protect them. It seems only hunting birds requires extraordinary measures to stop rational ordinary laws that govern legal practices from being implemented.

Hypocrites, one would say. But what if such hypocrites exist in other walks of life. What if 40,000 decide to ban fireworks, football on weekends, gay marriages, horses on our roads or any other legal activity they might abhor. Certainly our Abrogative Referendum law as it stands permits this and needs urgent revision unless minorities are of no interest to our elected politicians.

We all rightfully rose in support following the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre not only because innocent lives were taken but primarily because our freedom of expression has been threatened. I am no hunter but when I see a minority sector of Maltese society being abused by what purports to be a majority of the Maltese public I too rise in support, and hope all those that see through years of damaging propaganda upon which our bird lovers thrive and a defunct political party desperately seeking support will do likewise.

On April 11 spring hunting lies in the balance due to some people’s egoism. Are you prepared to see your lifestyle ruined or your legal activity denied due to a weakness in our laws by those prepared to abuse them. From now until April 11, I too am a hunter.

Christopher Piscopo, Birzebbuga

More transparency needed on NGOs’ finances

I think that Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna (FWA) has played a very shabby part in the case against Stephen Camilleri.

Mario Farrugia, FWA CEO, said that his NGO earns its money through “voluntary or corporate donations or sponsorships or gate money, corporate hiring or sale of museum merchandise”.

Well, that’s a lot more than any other NGO benefits from. I had read in some article that Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna controls 40 properties and had declared a €1 million turnover in its audited accounts. Many (if not all?) of its restorations are funded by the government and major sponsors like Bank of Valletta and Vodafone.

Therefore how can FWA justify paying someone they themselves described as “one of their best museum managers” less than a maid? With such an income and staff being paid such paltry sums where is all the money going?

The FWA website gives no information on the Foundation’s committee, statute or earnings. There is no mention of members or where the money goes. This case has raised many questions, someone needs to investigate the answers.

David Spiteri, Birzebbuga

Religion lacks humour

The so-called “monotheistic” religions are antagonistic to each other but at least they have one thing in common: they all lack a sense of humour.  It seems that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad never cracked a joke!

As Alfred North Whitehead observed: “The total absence of humour in the Bible is one of the most singular things in all literature”.

John Guillaumier, St Julian’s