Sunday 15 September 2019

Dear Government: each of your actions have consequences

This column first appeared in Malta Today

As children one of the first things we are usually taught is that for every action there is a consequence.

You touch a hot stove > you get burned.

You eat too many sweets > you will get cavities

You don’t eat your dinner > no dessert

You misbehave or talk back > no TV and an early bedtime 

You don’t do your homework > you will get detention 

They are the tenets which throughout the course of time, and many generations of parenting, have worked to instil a sense of accountability and ownership for the decisions one takes.  (The fact that many of today’s parents have discarded the above methods because they believed them to be old-fashioned and too strict has also had its consequence, the results of which are all around us in the shape of too many spoilt children and adolescents).

While they may seem like obvious, common sense principles, I think we all need to be reminded of them every once in a while, not least of all the Government, because it often seems to act as if its decisions and policies can be put into place in isolation without taking anything else into consideration. 

Let’s take the headline in The Sunday Times of Malta that of those who were tested for STDs at Mater Dei Hospital’s GU Clinic, 500 men admitted to paying for sex at the Chinese massage parlours which have sprouted up all over the island, in some cases, right next door to people’s homes in residential areas. The fact that a proliferation of massage parlours = an increase in STDs is, on the face of it, something which the authorities should have seen coming.  It’s one of those statements which make you say, “well, no s**t, Sherlock”.  

The report added that, “Up until 2016 there were nearly 200 registered massage parlours on the island. However, figures are not available for the years after that as the government removed licensing requirements for the establishments.”  Is it any wonder that not only have these “massage parlours” become a euphemism for brothels, but that once they were not regulated they have opened up the floodgates for human sex trafficking?  In its eagerness to appear hip and liberal, this Labour Government has confused being progressive with being lawless, and the result is that we now not only have many (exploited) women and middle-aged men becoming infected but we are also facing a real threat to public health, because their wives or girlfriends can be unknowingly and potentially infected as well.  

Other daily news reports provoke a number of similar “no kidding” type of reactions. We were told on Friday that, “Central Bank warns of bigger loans to cover rising property prices” (although a later, revised headline tried to reassure us that, contrary to what the Times had implied, the Central Bank says there is no “imminent danger’ of a financial crisis).  Despite the Central Bank’s reassurances, however, the fact remains that some young couples are having to take on larger, sometimes unsustainable, loans and this is surely something which should have been obvious ever since property prices, as well as a completely unregulated rental market, went haywire.  

The Times reported: “Nearly half of the loans from domestic banks are amounts which are three to five times the total gross income. A comparison to previous years also saw an increase in the share of loans with amounts of between five and six times the person’s gross income. Borrowers are increasingly required to borrow more compared to their income, resulting in higher loan repayments, possibly indicating increasing pockets of vulnerability should there be a downturn,” the Central Bank warned.”  

The subsequent right of reply by the Central Bank downplayed this report, saying, “only some borrowers are taking on larger loans relative to their income” and stressed that the Maltese economy is expected to stay strong.

Rather than go into the semantics, however, all one has to do is look around at what is staring us in the face, and simply listen to what young couples looking to buy their first property are going through.  We are in the paradoxical situation of having a glut of property on the market (with more apartments being built at every street corner as we speak), and not enough people to buy them as they have been priced out of reach for a couple who are just starting out and who earn an average salary.  It is true that in most Western countries, owning your own home when in your 20s and 30s is a pipe dream, and many live their whole lives just renting, however in our culture, the prospect of not buying your own property is unheard of. That is why so many people practically work themselves to death scrapping enough money together to put down the required capital for that first precious home.  That is why some even get to the point of over-extending themselves, borrowing more than they can realistically afford, and not taking into account the possibility that the woman might want to take a career break to enjoy her newborn baby, or that one of them might lose their job, or that something else unforeseen might happen.  It also doesn’t help that high-flying, unrealistic aspirations of wanting to live the life of Riley, when one is nowhere in that league, has placed silly fantasies into many people’s heads: they insist on buying a house, for example, when they can only afford a flat.  And let’s not even get started on the tens of thousands spent on unnecessarily lavish weddings.

Is it any wonder that financial burdens coupled with the stress of juggling work and family life has pushed so many couples over the edge, causing the marriage to hit the rocks within a few short years?  

Even at a time when renting was still affordable, it was just not something which was encouraged – it is better to save up, and put the money towards a monthly mortgage instead, is the advice we were always given.  And yes, it was possible over 30 years ago to rent until you have saved enough money to invest in a property, but with today’s current rental rates, that is impossible. I am told that young married couples today are being forced to live with their parents as used to happen in previous generations.  Owners with property to sell can, of course, attach any price they want to their apartment, penthouse, maisonette, terraced house, house of character or villa, but with less couples in a position to afford these fancy prices, they are facing the prospect of never finding a buyer.  Meanwhile, the rental market, which is demanding preposterous monthly rates in the region of 800 and 1000 Euro monthly is definitely not in the range of ordinary people, which is why landlords have turned this to their advantage by renting apartments by the room to desperate migrants instead.  The recent story of an uninhabitable  apartment block in Bugibba, where the owner was raking in 10k a month (five migrants per room paying 200 Euros each for a bed) is just the latest in a series of shocking stories, the result of a free-for all situation created by this Government.

I have no compunction in saying that I hope every cent of the money being “earned” in this way, is cursed. 

The prospect as it stands today is that if a couple’s parents cannot afford to offer them financial help, or possibly even an apartment, they are facing an uncertain future when it comes to accommodation.  I was told recently that millennials do not care about property ownership or material things, but just want to live for the moment, with no ties or commitment, so that they are free to drift. I don’t know whether this is an attitude which has come about as a reaction to the current global situation (why bother saving? who wants the burden of a 40-year loan?)  or because they have deliberately shunned their parents’ work ethic/priorities in favour of a looser structure. It is all very reminiscent of the 60s hippy movement which came about as a reactionary revolution against the 1950s more conservative generation.  Ultimately, however, even the hippies had to grow up and face the reality of what it means to have responsibilities. 

The truth is that, whether on a national level or in our personal lives, all decisions, big or small, lead to inevitable consequences.  Trying to shirk the inevitability of the consequences or run away from obligations will not make them go away, but is only a stop gap measure until we finally hit a wall.  Whether we can pick ourselves up and get up after hitting that wall, or whether we will just collapse into a heap of self-pity, very much depends on whether we have built enough strength of character somewhere along the way.  

Powered by