No, normality has not been restored! – Times of Malta opinion piece

This is our Director’s opinion piece for Times of Malta, published on 13 February 2020.


Despite the radical developments in Malta over the past months, it cannot be said that normality has been restored. After weeks of taking to the streets, we at Aditus Foundation welcomed Joseph Muscat’s resignation and Prime Minister Robert Abela’s statements on governance reform.

Yet, it would be foolish to believe or act as if Malta’s institutional shortcomings have miraculously disappeared.

Our democracy is still extremely vulnerable and we are concerned that the gravest threats come from within.

Notwithstanding their shameful activities, Muscat and Konrad Mizzi remain members of Parliament. There, they are able to exercise authority and influence laws that govern every aspect of all our lives and that of our nation.

This is clearly unacceptable and no argument on their political right to those two seats will make us think otherwise.

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We’re welcoming Malta’s accession to the 1954 Statelessness Convention!

We’ve just written to the Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement on the occasion of Malta’s accession to the 1954 Statelessness Convention. This is fantastic news, as Malta was one of the few EU Member States to not have signed any of the statelessness conventions.

For many years, together with our partners at the European Network on Statelessness, we’ve advocated for Malta to step up its efforts on statelessness and tackle the human rights challenges faced by stateless people in Malta, including arbitrary detention, lack of documentation, eternal legal limbo, difficulties marrying and even simple tasks as opening a bank account.

All these issues, as well as related recommendations, are very well-presented in the Statelessness Index, a useful comparative tool on how European countries are protecting stateless persons.

Our next steps are to work closely with the Ministry to ensure that the legal and administrative framework set up to implement the Convention is of the highest possible standards!


We won, Captain Claus-Peter Reisch is a free man!

We had a fabulous morning in Court today! After 18 months in criminal proceedings, NGO rescue Captain Claus-Peter Reisch was finally cleared of all charges brought against him. In its much-awaited judgement, the Court of Criminal Appeal closed Police vs Claus-Peter Reisch (Appeal No. 150/2019) with a 62-page judgement finding Claus-Peter not guilty of sailing into Maltese waters without the appropriate ship registration. Thanks to this judgement, Claus-Peter is now a free man!

Claus-Peter was charged following the rescue at sea of over 200 migrants. In the political impasse that followed the rescue, the Netherlands claimed the MV Lifeline was not flying the Dutch flag, prompting Malta to allow the ship to enter its port and disembark the migrants and to subsequently slapped Claus-Peter with two criminal charges relating to the ship’s registration. In the first judgement, delivered on 14 May 2019, Claus-Peter was cleared of one charge but found guilty of the other. He was fined €10,000. On our advice, he decided to appeal this conviction. A full account of the facts and judicial process may be found here.

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Joint Statement: The EU must stop the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants and refugees

Brussels, 26 July 2019

The criminalisation of solidarity in Europe is soaring. Researchers and civil society have identified at least 49 ongoing cases of investigation and criminal prosecution in 11 Member States involving a total of 158 people in a recent study by the European research platform ReSOMA. The number of individuals criminalised for humanitarian activities has grown tenfold, from 10 people in 2015 to 104 in 2018.

The targets include volunteers, activists, NGOs, crew members of rescue ships, migrants’ family members, and also journalists, mayors and priests. The recent arrest of the Sea Watch 3 captain, Carola Rackete, is just the latest example of how people are being blamed for saving migrants’ lives and providing the humanitarian assistance which Member States are unwilling or unable to provide, despite being obliged to according to international and EU law.

Independent judges have found no sound evidence for convictions in most of these cases. This suggests that prosecutions are often being politically used to deter solidarity and create a hostile environment for migrants. Policing solidarity further involves suspicion, intimidation, harassment and disciplining against civil society, with long-term consequences for the rule of law, democratic accountability, social cohesion, freedom of association and fundamental rights in the EU. These misguided investigations fuel the negative image of migrants as criminals and perpetuate the perception of chaos at Europe’s borders.

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Residential Leases Act: The First Step Forward – Instability and Exorbitant Prices Yet To Be Addressed

Joint Press Statement

A coalition of 20 NGOs active in the social field view the Residential Leases Bill as the first step forward. The NGOs had presented a proposal for rent regulation in February 2018 and reacted to the White Paper on this subject in October 2018. This Bill introduces a much-needed framework with basic rights and obligations on tenants and landlords, and is clearly the result of serious research work and a broad consultation process. However, the Bill very marginally addresses the predominance of short-term contracts that lead to widespread instability, and fails to tackle the most pressing issue of exorbitant rent prices.

The sudden and continuing hike in rent prices is pushing thousands of persons into precariousness, hitting hardest those on low and medium wages and pensions as well as persons in vulnerable situations such as women experiencing domestic violence. Thus, much more will have to be done if Government is to achieve its objective, as set out in the White Paper, of making rent a housing alternative.

The NGOs welcome several provisions of this Bill. We favourably view the obligation on landlords to register contracts that include an inventory and the amount of money deposited, coupled with dissuasive measures against renting without a valid contract. It is also positive that the Housing Authority will be responsible for private residential leases, related enforcement and an adjudicating panel that will speedily decide on minor disputes.

We positively note that tenants will have the right to access utility bills, and that landlords will have to inform the tenant three months before contract expiry whether they intend to renew the lease or otherwise.

The proposed Act would establish a one-year minimum contract period for residential leases. One year is glaringly insufficient to guaranteeing a degree of stability to the tenant, leaving the current situation of short-term contracts more or less unchanged. The coalition of NGOs, when reacting to the White Paper last year, had proposed a three-year minimum in order to start addressing the issue of tenants living precarious lives.

The three-year minimum proposed by the NGOs would be binding on the landlord, with the tenant able to leave the place during the contract period without any penalty on condition they give due notice. Government plans to grant tax credits to landlords who offer contracts that are longer than one year are positive, but this will unfortunately have only a limited effect on incentivising longer-term contracts.

The Act would regulate annual rent-price increases by pegging them to the Property Price Index and capping them at 5%. However, this regulation only applies to increases during contract duration, that is, to those cases where landlords provide contracts that are longer than one year. Unreasonable rent increases, with no limit whatsoever, would still be allowed following the end of the contract period. The coalition of NGOs had proposed that the monthly rent to be paid in any new contract, irrespective of whether it is with the same or a different tenant, should not be higher than 10% of the last monthly rent paid under the previous contract.

This would prevent exorbitant increases in rent-prices following the expiry of contracts. We had also proposed the creation of a Rent Value Index that would enhance public knowledge on the private rental market and lead to a degree of rent-price stabilisation. The Rent Value Index would list rent-value in different areas and for different classes of property according to their size and quality. There would be a rule stating that an initial price should not exceed 10% of the price listed for that particular category within the Rent Value Index. This proposal has not been taken on board.

Besides these points on the principles underpinning the regulation framework, the NGOs also have specific points as feedback regarding some articles, namely:

  • The Bill allows two exceptions to the obligatory one-year minimum contract term. These exceptions apply when i) proof is presented attesting that the lessee is a non-resident worker or student whose stay in Malta will be shorter than six months, or a resident who needs to rent an alternative primary residence for a period of less than six months, and ii) in the case of room rentals. Whilst the first set of exceptions is understandable, the second should be removed. Tenants renting rooms should be afforded the same protection as those renting a whole unit.
  • The Bill states that the landlord has thirty days to register the contract from commencement of the lease. However, the law does not spell out that a contract should be in place from the first day of the lease and, when not, the lease is to be considered a de facto one with the protection afforded to tenants in such leases.

    In the absence of such a provision, landlords who are caught leasing without a contract can simply claim that thirty days from the commencement of lease have not yet passed, and it will be very difficult for the tenant to prove otherwise.
  • The Bill gives the right to the tenant to access their utility bills. The Bill should go further and establish a mechanism whereby the tenant has automatic access to their water and electricity bills.

The coalition of NGOs will continue to push for a rent regulation framework that enhances stability and peace of mind for tenants and landlords, eliminates discrimination and which avoids situations of precariousness, always bearing in mind that adequate housing is a fundamental human right.

Andre Callus, on behalf of the Coalition of NGOs.

To this end, the NGOs will be presenting their reactions and proposals during the Bill’s discussion in the Parliamentary Committee prior to its enactment.


Issued by:

  1. aditus Foundation
  2. African Media Association Malta
  3. Alleanza Kontra il-Faqar
  4. Forum Komunita’ Bormliża
  5. Integra Foundation
  6. Isles of the Left
  7. Koperattiva Kummerċ Ġust
  8. Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement
  9. Malta Humanists Association
  10. Malta Tenant Support
  11. Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl
  12. Moviment Graffitti
  13. Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM)
  14. SOS Malta
  15. Spark 15
  16. The Critical Institute
  17. The Millennium Chapel
  18. Third World Group Malta
  19. Women’s Rights Foundation
  20. Żminijietna – Voice of the Left