Climate change requires behavioural change

Climate change is nature’s reaction to the cumulative impacts it has sustained as a result of human  behaviourover the years. Long periods of drought or intensive rainfall leading to flooding, longer periods of sunshine, extremes of temperature are all too familiar nowadays.

It has been emphasised time and again that we need to achieve carbon neutrality at the earliest. This signifies that the amount of carbon emissions resulting from our activities must be less than the carbon being stored in the various carbon sinks.

We must address each and every one of our activities as the carbon emissions from all of them, added up, will bring us closer to or further away from our targets.

Addressing climate change is a political issue. It involves policy decisions. If we intend to address climate change these political decisions should be complimentary and contribute to achieving the goal of mitigating climate change as well as addressing its causes.

The decision to substitute the Delimara power station running on heavy fuel oil with one using natural gas has contributed substantially to reducing Malta’s carbon emissions.

On the other hand, the current policy of encouraging the use of fuel guzzling cars and yachts pulls in the opposite direction. Increasing the capacity of our roads and planning new yacht marinas is not a positive contribution to addressing climate change. Yet it goes on, one decision after the other.

The decision to start the long road towards electrification of our roads was not linked with a decision to have a moratorium on new fuel stations. Why does current policy encourage new fuel stations when their operational days are clearly numbered?

It would be pertinent to point once more to the Transport Master Plan which emphasises that around 50 per cent of trips made with private cars in Malta are for short distances, taking up less than 15 minutes. Yet local and regional sustainable mobility is not encouraged. A behavioural change in our mobility patterns at a local and regional level could remove a substantial number of cars from our roads. Why is this not actively encouraged?

Transport policy is unfortunately not climate friendly. This needs to change the soonest if we are to make any headway in addressing climate change.

The carbon neutrality of our buildings is also of crucial importance in our climate change strategy. I have repeatedly emphasised the need of entrenching solar rights thereby ensuring that solar energy can be generated in more buildings. In addition, planning policy should establish that individual carbon neutral buildings have all the energy required for the use of the particular buildings generated on site. This would of necessity limit buildings to dimensions whose energy needs can be catered for through solar energy generated on site. This would limit building heights and substantially reduce the construction of penthouses.  Land use planning can contribute substantially to climate change mitigation!

The basic problem with climate change issues is that the link between our behaviour and the carbon cycle is not obvious or visible to the untrained eye. This makes it easier for those who seek to avoid or reduce the uptake of actions mitigating climate change.

We owe it to future generations to do all we can to address the accumulated impacts on the climate. Taming the present can ensure that there is a future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 January 2022

The resignation of David Thake

The resignation of David Thake is a positive step.  It takes courage to admit to having acted incorrectly and shoulder the political responsibility for your actions. There are others who should follow in his footsteps. Parliament, as a result would be a much better place.

The fact that the tax misdemeanours of the companies owned by David Thake were revealed through media leaks does not make the case any less serious. It however adds another worrying dimension to the saga: institutional breach of ethics, this time by the tax authorities. The Minister for Finance Clyde Caruana is politically responsible for this. He has to act fast to address the matter.

Registered editors already have a right to request income tax returns of sitting MPs. This right should be extended to VAT returns, not only those submitted personally by sitting MPs but also by companies in which they have a controlling interest. This would do away with selective leaking of damaging tax information which generally targets those who those close to government seek to damage or destroy!

It has been established that the two companies owned by David Thake, namely Vanilla Telecoms Limited and Maltashopper Limited have collected Value Added Tax due on their services and retained the tax collected for a long period of time. His companies, stated David Thake, had a problem with their cash flow and thus they were not in a position to pay up the taxes they had collected.

Vanilla Telecoms Limited owes the exchequer €270,000 while Maltashopper Limited owes another €550,000. This is a substantial sum which has been collected from taxpayers through VAT and includes fines and interest due for non-payment.

There are serious doubts as to whether Thake’s claim that he was simply applying the Covid-19 tax deferral scheme is correct.

Given that most of the pending VAT dues of Thake’s companies date back to substantially before the outbreak of Covid-19 Thake has yet to explain as to why it took him so much time to address the cash flow problems of his companies. He has shed too many crocodile tears in emphasising that faced with cash flow problems he opted to pay his employees rather than the VAT office. His delay in acting to address his cash flow problems has the specific consequence of endangering the livelihood of the very employees, which he is so keen to protect!

It is not correct to describe David Thake as a tax evader. It is unfair to compare him to Bernard Grech, his party leader, who was investigated for tax evasion over the years and opted to pay up on the eve of the PN leadership contest.

In view of the fact that Thake’s companies have yet to submit their accounts it is not yet clear as to the actual cause of his cashflow problems.

The point at issue is whether it is right for David Thake to bankroll his companies through the taxes they have collected as economic operators. The fact that there are others who do likewise, and maybe worse, is no consolation!  He was a member of parliament elected on a good governance platform. The mismatch between his behaviour and his stated beliefs cannot be clearer than this.  This is no minor administrative omission as David Thake emphasised when he announced his resignation.

Its fine to preach good governance. Putting this into practice is a completely different matter. Thake’s resignation, even though he took some time to decide that he should resign, puts some sense back into local politics. Thake’s resignation is a positive contribution to improve standards. Ian Castaldi Paris and Rosianne Cutajar should be next.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 January 2022

The golden handshakes must be transparent

It has been reported, in various sections of the press, that Justyne Caruana, former Minister of Education, has received, or will be shortly receiving payment in the region of €30,000 as a result of her ceasing to hold political office. This has occurred after she was forced to resign subsequent to the publication of a damning report from the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life which report concluded that the Ministry of Education, under her political direction, had screwed the exchequer to benefit her “close friend”.

Since 2008 holders of political office who cease to occupy such office have received golden handshakes, substantial sums which some describe as severance pay. The sums disbursed to date are substantial and, over the years, are said to be close to a total of €1,500,000. Holders of political office in receipt of such payments are not just members of Cabinet, as payments have also been made to former Leaders of the Opposition throughout these years.

The applicable criteria are largely unknown. There is no transparency whatsoever in the process.

There is a serious issue of governance.  The Executive is bound to be accountable through ensuring that both the criteria applied as well as the monies disbursed are well known. It is an expenditure from the public purse, so there should be no secrets about it. It is in the public interest to know how the public purse is being managed at all times.

First: the objectives of the payments should be crystal clear. When holders of political office take up their post, generally, they take leave from their current employment or close their private offices if they are professionals. Their job prior to assuming political office may be lost by the time they relinquish office. On the other hand, losing contact with their professional environment will generally place them in a difficult position to reintegrate when their term of political responsibilities draws to an end. 

Hence the objective of these so-called golden handshakes is to compensate for the fact that the holder of political office cannot go back to his/her former job or professional environment. He or she will generally have to start from scratch or almost. Not all cases are identical and hence the criteria drawn up should allow for some leeway. Do they? We do not know as to date these criteria are considered as some state secret!

The objective of the payments made is to ease the transition of the holder of political office back to a normal life.

The second point is to establish who should apply these criteria. From what is known through reports in the media the matter is regulated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), either directly or through the Cabinet office. This is not on.

Ideally the criteria should be applied by an authoritative person or body separate and distinct from the OPM. The OPM has a finger in the pie, generally, in all the circumstances leading to the appointment to political office or to the dismissal therefrom. It should therefore not be in a position of sugaring resignations with promises of generous hand-outs.

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

From what is known, locally, this is established at a month’s salary for every year’s service, subject to a minimum payment of a six-month salary. It is not known whether eligibility is pegged to a minimum period in office.  These payment rates are substantial when compared to those in other jurisdictions. In addition to having smaller payments other jurisdictions subject such benefits to a minimum period in office, generally of not less than one year.

There are also a number of other serious considerations which need to be made. Should loss of political office as a result of an unfavourable election result have the same impact as being dismissed from office or being forced to resign as a result of unethical or unacceptable behaviour?

Specifically, should ending your political appointment in disgrace be rewarded? It should definitely not be so.

These are some of the issues which transparency brings to the fore. We need to discuss them seriously and only then can they be applied ethically and fairly.

It is for these reasons that earlier this week I have requested the Auditor General to investigate the golden handshakes being paid out by the Office of the Prime Minister to former members of the Cabinet. The payments made and the criteria applied should be examined meticulously.

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022

Ħlasijiet kbar: trasparenza xejn

Għadni kif ktibt lill-Awditur Ġenerali fejn talbtu jinvestiga x’inhu jiġri dwar il-ħlasijiet enormi li qed isiru lill-Ministri u Segretarji parlamentari li jispiċċaw mill-ħatra.

Il-kriterji li qed ikunu applikati m’humiex magħrufa. Ma hemm l-ebda trasparenza dwar x’inhu jiġri.

It-talba li bagħatt hi s-segwenti:

“Nikteb biex nitolbok tinvestiga l-ħlas ta’ “golden handshakes” lill-membri tal-Kabinett li jispiċċaw mill-ħatra. Presentment fl-aħbarijiet hemm il-każ ta’ Justyne Caruana imma għad kif kellna ukoll il-ħlasijiet li saru lil Rosianne Cutajar.

Ma hemm l-ebda trasparenza dwar il-ħlasijiet li saru u li qed isiru lill-Ministri u Segretarji Parlamentari, uħud minnhom għal darba tnejn.

Nitolbok għaldaqstant tinvestiga xi kriterji qed ikunu użati biex isiru dawn il-ħlasijiet kif ukoll li teżamina l-ħtieġa li jkunu introdotti mekkaniżmi effettivi ta’ kontroll u verifika dwar dan il-proċess kollu.”

Is-sistema elettorali u l-co-options

Fil-gazzetti u fil-media soċjali bħalissa għaddejja spekulazzjini dwar x’ser jiġri biex jimtela s-siġġu Parlamentari battal wara ir-riżenja tat-Tabib Silvio Grixti, Membru Parlamentari f’isem il-Partit Laburista.

Diġa kelli l-opportunità, kważi sena ilu, nikkummenta fuq il-co-option ta’ Oliver Scicluna, baħbuħ, li flimkien ma oħrajn sab ruħu l-Parlament mibgħajr s’issa qatt ma ikkontesta elezzjoni.

Il-co-options li saru f’din il-leġislatura, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma abbuż tas-sistema. L-unika co-option ġusta kienet dik ta’ Kevin Cutajar li daħal fil-Parlament flok l-MP Għawdxi David Stellini. Imma anke hawn għal ftit għax il-PN mhux lilu ried jippreżenta għall-co-option, imma kellu jbaxxi rasu minħabba rewixxta li kien hemm fil-Partit.

Għal darba oħra ħadd ma tefa in-nomina għall-by-election. Issa “skond ir-regoli” il-partit jagħmel li jrid.

Ilna ngħidu, u dejjem ikun iktar ċar minn qatt qabel li hemm bżonn ta’ tibdila mill-qiegħ tas-sistema elettorali. S’issa, kull ma kellna ftit traqqiegħ ‘l hawn u ‘l hemm. Għall-PLPN is-sistema elettorali hi tal-lastku, tiġġebbed kemm hemm bżonn biex taqdi l-ħtiġijiet tagħhom. It-tnejn li huma ġebbdu kemm felħu fis-sistema sakemm qdiethom. L-unika ħaġa li ma jridux jagħmlu hu t-tibdil meħtieg biex din tkun ġusta.

Is-Sena it-Tajba

Nawgura s-Sena t-Tajba lil kulħadd.

Għal bosta mhux diffiċli li s-sena li ġejja tkun aħjar minn dik li ser tintemm fis-siegħat li ġejjin.

Kienet sena li iffaċċjajna diversi diffikultajiet, individwalment u bħala pajjiż. Il-pandemija tefgħetna lura. Mhux lilna biss, imma lil kulħadd.

Diversi kellhom jiffaċċjaw il-Covid. Uħud laqtithom ħażin. Hemm min bata ħafna. Ftit inqas minn 500 mietu ħtija tal-virus.

Il-vaċċinazzjoni, li issa ilha għaddejja madwar sena, għamlet differenza kbira għal kulħadd. Lil min hu b’saħħtu żieditlu l-protezzjoni. Għad-dgħajfa u għall-vulnerabbli ħolqot difiża imprezzabbli. Bil-booster iktar.

Kull min ħa l-vaċċin, l-ewwel u qabel kollox, qed jipproteġi lilu innifsu. Imma ukoll, qiegħed jipproteġi ukoll lil ta’ madwaru.

Nittamaw li matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin il-pandemija tbatti biex ilkoll kemm aħna jkunilna possibli li nerġgħu nibdew ġejjin fuq saqajna.

Nawgura s-sena t-tajba lil kulħadd.

Ir-raba’ qed isejħilna

Diversi tefgħu għajnejhom fuq art agrikola biex jixtruha. Ma jriduhiex għax għandhom xi interess fl-agrikultura iżda għal diversi raġunijiet oħra. Hemm min iridha għal investiment u hemm min iridha biex fiha jqatta’ l-ħin liberu tiegħu, għall-kwiet, il-bogħod mill-istorbju madwar l-inħawi fejn noqgħodu jew naħdmu.

Dawn, għax jifilħu jħallsu qed jgħollu l-prezz li qed joffru u bi prezz għoli qed jispiċċaw jixtru bosta tmiem raba’ f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta u Għawdex.

Billi bħalissa din it-tip ta’ domanda qed tikber qed jinħoloq suq li fih il-prezz offrut għal art agrikola hu għoli, għax hemm min jiflaħ u jrid iħallas. Dan qed iħajjar sewwa lil min ibiegħ.

Ma hemmx għalfejn ngħidilkom li bosta sidien tar-raba’ jippreferu somma tajba milli l-ftit ċekċik ta’ euro li bħalissa qed idaħħlu mill-qbiela.

Fin-nofs, imma, hemm il-bidwi li l-qbiela li illum iħallas hi baxxa wisq, ftit euro fis-sena. Bla dubju l-qbiela trid tiżdied. Id-diffikultà hi dwar kemm għandha tkun din iż-żieda. Għax ir-raba’ anke jekk fgata bil-kimika, prinċipalment fil-forma ta’ pestiċidi, ftit tista’ tikkompetti ma dawk li għandhom but fond ħafna. Dan apparti l-fatt li l-kimika fir-raba’ teħtieġ li tonqos sewwa, u preferibilment ma tintużax iktar!

Il-biedja ma tirrendix qliegħ biżżejjed biex tagħmel tajjeb għal dawn il-prezzijiet li qed jintalbu. Għal uħud dan ifisser li l-biedja allura għandha tagħmel il-wisa’ għal min jiflaħ iħallas. Il-bdiewa allura, x’ser jiġri minnhom? L-ikel meħtieġ minn artna, min ser jieħu ħsiebu? Ma nistgħux niddependu biss minn ikel impurtat.

Sa ftit ġranet ilu dan kien l-argument li f’każ wara l-ieħor il-Qrati tagħna kienu qed jaċċettaw. Il-każijiet kienu qed jinqatgħu wieħed wara l-ieħor a bażi ta’ din il-liġi tal-ġungla: li min jiflaħ għall-prezz tas-suq għandu d-dritt li jħawwel lil min ma jiflaħx għalih.

Iżda din il-ġimgħa kellna każ interessanti li poġġa l-argumenti li smajna s’issa rashom l-isfel.

F’sentenza mogħtija nhar it-Tlieta li għaddew l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff għamel l-argument favur il-biedja. Argument li rari, jekk qatt, instema’ fl-awli tal-Qrati tagħna. Il-pajjiż, qal l-Imħallef, għandu jħares il-biedja u japprezza iktar dak li tirrendi. Jekk ma nħarsux il-biedja, x’ser nieklu? Il-kummerċ ma’ barra mhux dejjem jipprovdi, biżżejjed jew fil-ħin.  Ma nistgħux nistrieħu fuq il-kummerċ ma’ barra biss. L-art tagħna, jekk tinħadem tista’ tipprovdi, kif ipprovdiet iktar minn biżżejjed fil-passat. Imma jeħtieġ li l-art inħarsuha.

L-imħallef Mintoff għamel tlett osservazzjonijiet importanti.

Fl-1967 il-Parlament Malti, osserva l-Imħallef, approva liġi dwar il-qbiela. Dan għamlu biex iħares l-użu tal-art agrikola, għax anke dakinnhar kien ikkunsidrat li kien hemm il-ħtieġa għal dan il-ħarsien. Dan kien skop leġittimu tal-Parlament Malti.

L-Imħallef kompla josserva li l-istat għandu r-responsabbiltà li jassigura li pajjiż ikollu biżżejjed prodotti tal-ikel għall-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiż. Dan kien rifess tal-qagħda ekonomika u finanzjarja tal-pajjiż.

Ikompli josserva li minkejja l-liberalizzazzjoni tal-kummerċ u l-importazzjoni tal-ikel minn barra, l-istat xorta jibqalu l-obbligu li jassigura ruħu li l-pajjiż ma jkunx jiddependi iżżejjed fuq l-importazzjoni. Jekk dan ma jsirx, l-agrikultura, ftit ftit tispiċċa, darba għal dejjem.

Dan kollu għandu jseħħ f’kuntest ta’ rispett sħih tad-drittijiet fundamentali ta’ kulħadd.

Huwa fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu li jridu nfasslu u niddeċiedu t-triq il-quddiem.

Fid-deċiżjoni tiegħu l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff jemfasizza li l-valur reali tar-raba’ jrid ikun rifless ta’ dak li l-art verament tirrendi. L-argumenti legali li tagħmel il-Qorti huma kumplessi ħafna iktar minn hekk, imma essenzjalment il-Qorti qed tgħid li l-biedja għandha valur fih innifsu u huwa f’dan il-valur li wieħed irid isib is-soluzzjoni għall-problema li għandna quddiemna.

Il-kobba hi mħabbla sewwa u każ wieħed mhux ser isolvi l-biżibilju kawżi li bħalissa deħlin fil-Qrati biex ikunu żgumbrati l-bdiewa minn raba’ li ġieb prezz tajjeb fis-suq tal-propjetà. Apparti dan, hu fatt li l-messaġġ ċar u etiku tal-Imħallef Mintoff idarras lil bosta li l-unika valur li jafu bih u japprezzaw hu il-valur tal-flus.

Din hi l-problema reali li minħabba fiha r-raba’ qed isejħilna. Qed jgħajjat u jokrob, imma ħafna mhux qed jagħtu każ.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Diċembru 2021

Grazzi lill-ħaddiema fis-settur tas-saħħa

Ilum f’Jum il-Milied waqt li bosta minna miġburin fl-irdoss ta’ djarna mal-familja, tajjeb li niftakru fil-ħaddiema fis-settur tas-saħħa.

Dawn għaddejjin dejjem, f’kull ċirkustanza, jagħtu s-servizz tagħhom, bi tmissina, biex iħarsuna.

Fiċ-ċirkustanżi tal-lum, fost oħrajn, bil-pandemija fl-aqwa tagħha, anke llum għaddejjin bis-servizz biex il-vaċċin jilħaq lil kulħadd.

Kontinwament iduru b’dawk morda u jgħinu lill-bqija biex ma jimirdux, jew ta’l-inqas biex dan ikun evitat.

Grazzi.

Il-Milied it-Tajjeb

Illum, Jum il-Milied, hu Jum is-Solidarjetà. Fi ftit kliem hu żmien fejn infittxu iktar mis-soltu li nagħtu l-għajnuna lil min jeħtieġa.

Mhux biss lil ta’ madwarna, imma iktar lil hinn ukoll.

Dan hu is-sinifikat ta’ riflessjoni fuq il-ġrajjiet ta’ 2000 sena ilu meta Betlehem kienet full-up, ma kienx hemm post għal min kellu bżonn saqaf sigur fuq rasu.

Fost affarijiet oħra l-Milied it-Tajjeb ifisser li Malta mhiex bħal Betlehem ta’ 2000 sena ilu, mhiex full-up. Dejjem hemm spazju fejn ngħinu lil min jeħtieġ.

Awguri ghal Milied hieni u sena mimilja risq.