01 February 2006

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Business Today

Missing her own deadlines

With the Green Party publishing its first set of proposals on rent reform it’s government’s turn now to deliver

The critique made by the Minister of Social Solidarity on Alternattiva Demokratika’s first set of proposals on rent reform, published last week on this paper, warrant comment. Her comments are those of a politician not used to opposition that makes proposals. Six months ago she was accusing us of not having any proposals. Now she is implying that our proposals are irresponsible. Where are hers, may I ask? Her ministry’s inability to finalise, within her own deadlines, a White Paper on Rent Reform that is now sixteen months in the making, is becoming a source of embarrassment, to a Minister who otherwise remains one of the best performing members of the Cabinet. I hate repeating myself but the deadlines the lady has missed are her own. The sequence of events to date is clear and unequivocal.
In October of 2004, when Alternattiva Demokratika’s raised the rent reform issue we were only reacting to a failed promise, made from “the speech from the throne”, that rent reform should be on the new government’s political and legislative agenda. We decided at the time, that political pressure was needed to force the debate. How right we were! Only four days later, Minister Cristina reacted saying that a reform was in the pipeline. Responsible as we were, and always will remain, AD decided to back off and let government do its job. We believed that this was in the national interest. Clearly it wasn’t. In April 2005, the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity announced it was preparing proposals to change the rent laws which would be presented to the Cabinet by mid-June. Nothing, however was done. Again this was Minister Cristina’s deadline. Seeing that government was asleep on this matter we decided to launch our rent referendum campaign, an effort that raised the status of the rent reform issue. Reacting, in knee-jerk fashion, to our campaign she then promised that in August the Cabinet will be discussing her ministry’s proposals. At the time I had written how sceptical I was that the Cabinet “in the heat of summer” would be discussing a draft White Paper on Rent Reform. How right I was.
In October 2005, we decided to apply more political pressure, having seen that nothing was discussed by Cabinet during the summer. At the time we decided to launch a public consultation exercise to gather the opinions of stakeholders, both landlords and tenants. We received numerous comments from both groups, and used many of their suggestions to finalise our proposals. Minister Cristina reacted, again a few days later, saying that she would be presenting a draft White Paper to Cabinet in December, and would publish the White Paper in January. Another missed deadline.
In the meantime we worked on finalising our proposals. Alternattiva Demokratika has now decided that it would be best to start publishing these, thoroughly convinced that government’s delay on rent reform is strategic and not logistical. Besides we did promise landlords that if, by January, government did not publish its proposals, we would then start to publish ours. Unlike Minister Cristina we make it a point to meet our own deadlines.
Minister Cristina last week was attempting to belittle our efforts by suggesting that we only consulted landlords. Some cheek! Did she ever bother to consult landlords; the stakeholders who are surely the ones who have suffered the greatest loss. The question is highly rhetorical, certainly for the landlords who speak to us.
Minister Cristina has now taken the opportunity to criticise our proposals. I will not rebut any of her accusations apart from the charge of irresponsibility. What, may I ask does she deem irresponsible? That we have advocated a 15% tax regime for rent, coupled with a clamp-down on people who evade such a low tax? Are we irresponsible proposing that, in order to establish that this injustice will someday have a definite end, the inheritance of leases should be abolished except for inheritance between spouses and in other very exceptional circumstances? Is she deeming our proposals irresponsible because we have proposed that commercial leases of property not of a retail nature, such as stores and warehouses, should be liberalised within an eighteen month transition period? Does she deem these proposals, in any way, draconian? If she thinks so, then she surely never has consulted the landlords.
Our campaign continues. Signatures are still being collected. It is now the country that is waiting for government to publish a White Paper that is fair to landlords whilst protecting needy tenants; a point of principle we have always held. However until such time, we will continue applying pressure on government to do what is right, what it has been promising to do. We will continue publishing more proposals in the coming weeks. That is a promise. Her excuses for further delay will not derail us. They only prolong the frustration and pain suffered by a silent minority that both Blues and Reds have ignored for sixty years.

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