Letters: 1 November 2015

The pensioner's mirage

Budget day has come and gone and basically pensioners have once again been left in the lurch.

The government has not even had the decency to make a real start by introducing the National Guaranteed Minimum Pension (NGMP) of 60% of the national median income for all. So thousands are at risk of poverty if not already in actual poverty.

Apparently, people in this country suffer from the illusion that our state pension is two-thirds of current pay. This is not so as the artificially low Maximum Pensionable Income (MPI) sets a ceiling for the rate of maximum pension that can be paid.

What Malta has is an MPI established in 1981 and which started being ‘revised’ as from 2004 by the annual COLA increases – representing inflation at the minimum wage level. Today’s MPI of less than €18,000 is totally divorced from current income levels. Naturally there is no such ceiling for the pensions enjoyed by our political masters.

One must also mention the scandalous provision affecting those in receipt of a pension from their ex-employer to which they contributed directly or indirectly. By paying those concerned a social security pension reduced by the amount of service pension, the State is misappropriating a portion of what is legally due and for which contributions have been paid.

It should be no surprise that pensioners are far from happy with this Budget.

Albert J. Tabone, St Julian’s

A double whammy from ARMS

As all of us know, to our chagrin, ARMS sends us six two-monthly bills in the year. Two of these are “actual” electricity bills, where the bottom line is a precise reading whilst the other four are mere estimates. On each of the bills it sends out, ARMS decides whether the customer is entitled to an eco-reduction.

Let us suppose a household has a quota of 100 units every two months. If in any of the two months covered by one of the six bills, consumption exceeds this quota of 100 units, then the household is not entitled to this eco-reduction.

If the billed household consumes less than its quota, or the exact quota itself, it then is entitled to the eco-reduction.

This eco-reduction entitles the household to a 25% reduction on the billed amount. Therein lies the rub.

What right has the billing company, then, on the basis of the four bills that are mere estimates, to decide whether a household is entitled to the eco-reduction or not?

An estimate is an estimate, by any other name. Which is the actual name that the company has given to these four bills of the six sent during its financial twelve months.

Let’s go back to that household with the quota of 100 units every two months, with the quota that entitles the household to the eco-reduction.

What if the company sends an estimated reading (covering two months) showing that consumption was 105 units when in fact it was 99 units? How would the household have known that its precise consumption for the period in question was 99 units? From the smart meter installed.

So in the example just given, the company deems that the household is not entitled to the eco-reduction when in fact the smart meter says otherwise.

To the company, its estimated bill carries more weight than the customer’s actual reading as indicated by the very meter installed by the company itself! The very meter the company christened as “smart”!

But this is not the end of the game ARMS is playing with its customers. Before the company’s managerial shake-up (OK, shake-out) hard on the heels of the March 2013 change in government, eco-reduction was calculated on the basis of the company’s whole twelve months of its financial year. And not on the two months covered by each of the six bills now sent out by the company.

And that is the second whammy.

In the example given, since the family was entitled to a quota of 100 units every two months, then before March 2013 it would have been entitled to 600 units for the whole year. What advantage did the consumer have before March 2013 which was taken away from him after the said managerial shake-out?

The consumer then, not now, had a whole year to monitor the consumption. If in the four winter months consumption exceeded the 200 units (parcelled out to him under the current system) there was the likelihood in the succeeding months to consume less than the quota allotted to him for the whole year.

So, if in the four winter months, the household in the example consumed more than 100 units for each of the two months each of the bills now covers, under the current system the household would lose out twice on being entitled to the eco-reduction.

But in the former system (before the shake-out) the household would lose out on benefitting from the eco-reduction only if it consumed more than 600 units for the whole year, irrespective of its consumption during the period covered by the individual bills it received before year’s end.

What it then would lose on the roundabouts, it would gain on the swings.

As it is now, what one doesn’t gain on the roundabouts, one would lose on the swings.

And that is where the double (barrelled) whammy hits the customer point blank.

Knowing the Spaghetti-Western attitude of the head honchos on any totem pole remotely linked to government since March 2013, I’ll bet my silver bullet ARMS will stick to its guns despite an apparent flouting of consumer-protection law.

Shouldn’t then the consumer-protector Minister Helena Dalli step in to wet ARMS’s powder?

Yes, minister. Hasn’t ARMS in its charming, disarming ways, got us over a barrel (or two), as it rifles our pockets?

Joe Genovese, Birkirkara

A message against animal abuse

With reference to the report ‘Horse-whipper cleared of animal cruelty’ (21 October), there is no excuse for viciously beating a horse, as video evidence shows that Elton Saliba was doing.

The man could have simply walked the horse out of the stall or picked up the child who had apparently wandered into the horse’s space. There is no excuse, either, for the court’s complacent response to this cruelty. I have visited Malta and seen the bone-thin horses mercilessly forced to work on steep hills. A conviction and appropriate sentencing in this case would have sent a strong message that animals deserve to be treated with compassion and respect and that abusing them will not be tolerated.

Ingrid E Newkirk

Managing Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation