Community work, not prison for VAT offenders – President

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca says President’s role in pardons “all but a formality”

People who fail to pay their Value Added Tax payments should not be imprisoned but rather made to do community work, President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca suggested.

“When a VAT offender is jailed, the state will lose their unpaid VAT, as well as an additional €85 a day in maintenance to keep them imprisoned,” Coleiro Preca said. “If they’re made to do community work, they will at least be giving something back to society.”

Recent statistics show that 23 VAT offenders were imprisoned between August 2013 and August 2014.

The President was speaking on Monday night’s edition of Reporter that dealt with the roles of the presidency, such as her ability to grant pardons to convicted criminals. Yet Coleiro Preca insisted that her role in presidential pardons is all but a formality.

“As soon as a petition for a pardon reaches the presidential office, it is immediately sent to the Ministry for Justice where the Attorney General will then provide his recommendations,” she said. “There have been times where I’ve requested those recommendations to be re-considered using a different argument, but at the end of the day, all the president does is sign those petitions.”

However, the President does not believe that her entire role is a mere formality. One of her key constitutional roles is that of chairperson of the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

“The commission allows people who feel that they have been  mistreated by the judicial process to put their claims forward,” Coleiro Preca explained. “It’s a very sensitive commission where judges and lawyers get scrutinized.”

Yet Coleiro Preca, a former social solidarity minister, has often highlighted the social function of the presidency.

“I don’t want to be a president that simply fulfills a strict and statutory function,” she said. “Rather, I want to use my role as a personification of the state to get close to people and encourage children and youths to start speaking from now about their aspirations for their society. I no longer use a podium when addressing child or youth activities as I consider it to be a barrier.”

‘Modern poverty’

The President warned that poverty is still very much a social problem and that some children are still unable to regularly eat basic meals.

“The Malta Community Chest Fund helps these people and gives them food vouchers, but I want to start socially assessing these people, rather than simply giving them hand-outs based on their income,” Coleiro Preca said. “I want to discover and address the causes for their state of poverty. For example, some people will benefit from vocational training courses. We have to stop simply giving them the fish and start giving them rod so that they’ll eventually be able to catch the fish themselves.”

While she praised the budgetary scheme whereby single parents will only receive benefits if they attend vocational training courses, she called for clarification over what will happen to the children of single parents who aren’t mentally capable of finding a job.

“There are single parents, particularly mothers, with mental health problems that render them unable to enter the workfoce,” Coleiro Preca said. “Those families aren’t social parasites and society has a responsibility towards them.”

‘A more transparent Malta Community Chest Fund’

The President said that the Malta Community Chest Fund, which organises the annual Christmas charity telethon l-Istrina, will become more transparent and open to scrutiny after its reformation into a foundation.

She also said that the time has come to discuss the future role of the MCCF.

“We need to discuss whether the MCCF should remain an autonomous extension of the health system or whether to place it in the government’s hands,” she said. “We also need to start encouraging children and youths to get health insurance.”

She added that the MCCF currently spends around €200,000 on chemotherapy and specialized medicines every four weeks and warned that cancer rates are expected to increase by 50% in 2030.

‘The Maltese aren’t racist’

While the President has faced some levels of criticism for her calls for solidarity with irregular immigrants, she said that the Maltese are not a racist population.

“There are a few racists who haven’t received the correct information yet, but the Maltese as a whole have a great hear,” Coleiro Preca said. “In my eyes, people who hate others because they have a different skin colour than them hate humanity. I’m certain that my words will now get twisted into how I’m welcoming people who come to Malta on boats. With all due respect, what I’m trying to do is open people’s eyes and keep them informed.”

“We are living in an unprecedented age whereby one out of every seven people in the world migrate from their birthplace. We will keep pushing for burden sharing within the EU, but on the other hand it wasn’t our choice to be born in a serene and peaceful country. Should we not help those who aren’t as fortunate as us?”  

Current affairs programme Reporter is presented by Saviour Balzan and produced by MediaToday. 

Reporter is aired live every Monday at 9.45pm on TVM 1