Fishy Business

As the leader of a political party, I am considered as a politically exposed person (PEP) in line with the provisions of EU 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive as transposed into Maltese law. Even members of my immediate family are so considered. Other politicians and their families are in a similar position.

It is held that politically exposed persons (PEPs), by virtue of the position they hold present a higher risk for involvement in money-laundering. There is no practical distinction between PEPs who exercise executive authority and those who have none of it, as yours truly!

The unnecessary, at times repetitive, queries from banks which I and various members of my family receive, are at times very annoying, even though I understand their scope and need if they were to carried out appropriately.  At times however, bank officials are overzealous with small fry, and then look sideways when facing the big fish.

It is unacceptable that while monitoring of persons who pose a minor and insignificant risk for involvement in money-laundering is done (at times), with exaggerated zeal, yet those who not only pose a risk, but actually do it manage to avoid any sort of detection by having the right friends at the right places assisting them in meticulously piloting the waters.

The latest money laundering cases in court this week take us from the fish restaurant to the bank and back again. Investigating the money-laundering trail took the police investigators to Marsaxlokk and Valletta fish restaurants. This investigation is apparently linked to another major money-laundering case: the laundering of monies allegedly resulting from the Libyan diesel smuggling operation.

One of the persons arraigned is a former bank official. He is now retired, as emphasised, after the arraignment, by his former employer the bank.

The point at issue is the trail between the fish restaurant and the bank. In fact, reporting on the testimony at the first sitting in the criminal courts the media emphasised that the prosecuting officer, in explaining the background to the investigation carried out, stated that the former bank official, when still in employment as an official of the bank’s corporate banking unit, had allegedly been of assistance in the money laundering operation currently under review. It has been suggested that such assistance helped the alleged money launderers to avoid detection for quite some time.

The former bank official is no longer in the bank’s employment. In the meantime, he had taken a promotion and is now on the books of the alleged money launderer, a Director of his various companies.

What is the role of the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) in all this? This operation was in motion at the time when the Chief Executive Officer of the MFSA was in cahoots with Yorgen Fenech, currently under the criminal spotlight himself, accused with masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in the Maltese Courts and simultaneously wanted in Sicily as part of a match fixing and illegal betting scandal.

What monitoring do the MFSA and the FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) carry out to ensure that the banks perform their money-laundering regulatory functions diligently?

This week’s police charge sheet seems to indicate that any such monitoring, if at all existent, was very weak and for all intents and purposes ineffective.

The bank official changed his job and moved on from his bank regulatory duties to allegedly managing the laundering of monies generated from the Libyan diesel smuggling operation. This is the logical conclusion drawn from the police charge sheet presented this week on the alleged use of the fish restaurants at Valletta and Marsaxlokk as money-laundering tools.

If the MFSA and FIAU had carried out their duties properly this would not have been possible. This is a clear case where the revolving door recruitment from the regulatory authorities to the money-laundering industry operated under the very noses of the regulatory authorities themselves with no one noticing or bothering about it.

Are the institutions really functioning, as the mess gets bigger every day?

Hopefully the MFSA and the FIAU take decisive action, urgently, for a change.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 April 2021

Bank officials and the revolving door

The money laundering criminal case instituted this morning relative to the possible use of a number of restaurants in the scam is another milestone for the Malta Police.

It is however very worrying as it shows the “revolving door” recruitment with ease which former bank officials use from their regulatory role in the bank to an operational role in the companies they should have kept a watch over. The question which begs an answer is whether the “revolving door” recruitment is payment for services rendered.

It is another lacuna which needs decisive action the soonest. Regulating “revolving door” recruitment is not just an issue for politicians.

Hopefully the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) takes decisive action urgently.

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

A public consultation is currently under way until the 21 October relative to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which examines Wasteserve’s proposal:  the development of a Waste to Energy Facility, to operate in conjunction with other management operations within the so-called Magħtab Environmental Complex.

It is a duty of Wasteserve defined in terms of the EU environmental acquis applicable within Maltese territory to examine the environmental impacts of its proposal within the framework of agreed terms of reference approved by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The detailed reports together with the supporting technical information are then subject to public consultation.

The EIA in respect of the Magħtab incinerator is commissioned by Wasteserve, however it serves to inform the whole decision-taking process. Contrary to the disclaimer by the EIA’s coordinator in the first few pages, the reports forming the EIA are not “for the exclusive use of Wasteserve Malta Limited”. I fail to understand how ERA has accepted to include this disclaimer when it is clear, even from a cursory look at the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations that the EIA is an important document which informs the environmental and land use planning decision-taking process. It is in particular used to inform the public and on its basis a public hearing is organised to take feedback from all interested parties.

The EIA is certainly a public document in respect of which its coordinator has to shoulder responsibility as to its accuracy and reasonableness. Having a disclaimer as that indicated above is certainly not acceptable. ERA should pull up its socks and ensure the deletion of the said disclaimer forthwith.

A cursory look at the Magħtab incinerator EIA, including the technical studies attached reveals the names of a number of experts who have given their input in the formulation of the studies required which studies are then distilled in an appropriate assessment report.

One of these experts is a certain professor Alan Deidun who concurrently with participating in this specific EIA is also a member of the ERA Board, the environmental regulator. He sits on the ERA Board after being nominated by the environmental NGOs as established by legislation.

Professor Alan Deidun is conveniently with one foot on each side of the fence: forming part of the regulatory structure and simultaneously advising the developer, in this case Wasteserve Malta Limited, a government entity. In my book this is the type of conflict of interest which instils a deep sense of distrust of the regulatory authorities. Alan Deidun is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

Can we ever trust “regulators” who, whenever they feel like it, offer their services to those they “regulate”?

Interestingly, one of the documents available for public scrutiny contains a declaration by twenty-one expert contributors to the EIA, each of whom declares that s/he has no conflict of interest: the conflict however being narrowly defined in terms of an interest in the development itself.  The EIA Regulations do not limit “conflict of interest” to an interest in the development but speak of “no conflict of interests”. No wonder even Professor Alan  Deidun signed this declaration!

Regulation 17 of the EIA Regulations of 2017 lays down that those carrying out the EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. How can the regulator be “professional, independent and impartial” when he starts advising those s/he regulates?

It is about time that the environmental NGOs recall Professor Alan Deidun from his role as a member of the ERA Board representing them, as such behaviour is unacceptable in this day and age.

It may be pertinent to point out that very recently, a development permit, in respect of the development of Manoel Island, was withdrawn by the Environment and Planning Tribunal due to the fact that one of the contributors to the EIA had a conflict of interest.

It is about time that regulators understand that their acceptance to sit on decision-taking structures puts limits on their permissible professional activities. Until such time that this basic point is acted upon our authorities cannot be fully trusted. Their behaviour is incinerating trust, fairness and common sense.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

L-impatti tal-Coronavirus: inħarsu l-impiegi kollha

Il-Gvern ħabbar pakkett finanzjarju ta’ €1.8 biljun biex jilqa’ għall-impatti tal-Coronavirus.

Kif ser ikun effettwat il-ħaddiem b’kuntratt bla rabta ta’ numru ta’ siegħat li jaħdem (zero-hours contract), jew dawk f’impieg temporanju, dawk tas-sengħa li jaħdmu għal rashom, inkella n-negozjanti ż-żgħar? Il-pakkett finanzjarju imħabbar, ftit li xejn jaħseb fihom. Allura, minkejja l-merti tiegħu, il-pakkett finanzjarju tal-Gvern mhux tajjeb biżżejjed.

Il-ħaddiem iż-żgħir l-ewwel li jlaqqatha f’kull kriżi. Hu l-impatt fuqhom li għandu jservi ta’ kejl biex inkunu nistgħu niffurmaw opinjoni dwar kemm dan il-pakkett finanzjarju, kif ukoll dawk li għad jistgħu jiġu, huma effettivi.

Ilkoll nieħdu pjaċir b’inizjattivi biex jassiguraw li l-ekonomija u min iħaddimha jiġi fuq saqajh, mhux biss meta tiġi fi tmiemha din il-kriżi iżda ukoll fil-mixja li jeħtieġilna ngħaddu minnha biex nirkupraw. Imma kemm hu sew li noħorġu r-riżorsi tal-pajjiż biex tkun tista’ tirkupra ekonomija li mhiex kapaċi tirrispetta l-iktar dgħajfa fostna?

Il-proposti tal-Gvern biex jilqa’ għall-impatti tal-Coronavirus ma jorbtux lill-operaturi ekonomiċi li jagħmlu użu mill-proposti differenti fil-pakkett milli jħarsu l-impiegi. Is-sensji diġa bdew. Il-ħaddiem iż-żgħir l-ewwel li jlaqqatha. Warajh ilaqqtuha oħrajn.

Il-pakkett tal-Gvern biex jilqa’ għall-effetti tal-Coronavirus jeħtieġ miżuri addizzjonali.

L-għajnuna li ser tingħata għandha tmur lil dawk li sofrew tnaqqis sostanzjali fid-dħul tagħhom meta kkomparat mas-sena li għaddiet. Il-pakkett tal-Gvern huwa iffukat biex jiffaċilita l-likwidità kif ukoll biex jgħin ħalli jkun iggarantit self bankarju. Filwaqt li dawn huma miżuri importanti, f’din il-kriżi hu essenzjali li l-għajnuna tkun iffukata fuq il-pagi tal-ħaddiema. L-għajnuna diretta lill-operaturi ekonomiċi għandha tkun marbuta mal-obbligu tagħhom li jipproteġu l-impiegi. Jekk ma jkunx imħares ix-xogħol m’għandhiex tingħata għajnuna.

Aħna l-Ħodor f’Alternattiva Demokratika mħassba dwar il-ħaddiem iż-żgħir. Hu l-ewwel ma jlaqqatha f’din il-kriżi: huma l-ewwel vittmi tal-Coronavirus. L-għajnuna li dawn jeħtieġu hi fil-forma ta’ dħul minimu garantit tul ix-xhur li ġejjin, kemm iddum il-kriżi. Huma l-iktar vulnerabbli u ħadd mhu jitkellem dwarhom.

Il-kirjiet ta’ residenzi għandhom jiġġeddu awtomatikament sakemm tintemm il-kriżi. Għandu jkun hemm provediment għall-ħarsien minn xoljiment ta’ kuntratti ta’ kera tul il-kriżi. Hemm ħtieġa ukoll li tul il-kriżi l-Gvern jimpenja ruħu iktar biex jassigura illi l-iktar vulnerabbli jkollhom saqaf fuq rashom. Dan għandu jsir dejjem imma b’mod specjali tul il-kriżi.

Aħna l-Ħodor tal-fehma li l-impatt ta’ din il-kriżi fuq l-impiegi turi difetti strutturali fil-qasam soċjali fil-pajjiż. Malta mhux l-unika pajjiż li qed jiffaċċja din il-problema. Huwa importanti li bħal numru ta’ pajjiżi oħra, fosthom l-Isveżja, in-Norveġja, il-belt ta’ Utrecht fl-Olanda, anke f’Malta nidħlu fil-fond u neżaminaw kif jistgħu jaħdmu skemi ta’ dħul minimu garantit li jirreferu għalihom bħala Universal Basic Income u Guaranteed Minimum Income schemes. Ikun għaqli li neżaminaw sewwa dawn it-tip ta’ skemi, għax dawn jistgħu joffrulna tarka tajba meta nkunu iffaċċjati b’dawn il-kriżijiet.

Huwa l-waqt li kulħadd iżomm rasu f’lokha. Il-paroli vojt fil-Parlament tal-Ministru Silvio Schembri iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kien barra minn postu u għamel il-ħsara, minkejja li wara skuża ruħu. Qatt mhi idea tajba li thedded bit-tkeċċija lil dawk li b’ħidmiethom taw kontribut biex il-pajjiż kiber, anke bix-xogħol tagħhom. Meta din il-kriżi tgħaddi jerġgħu jkunu huma, inkella oħrajn bħalhom, li nsibu biex jagħmlu dak ix-xogħol li għalih la hemm Maltin, inkella l-Maltin ma jridux jagħmluh għal raġunijiet diversi. Anke issa stess l-Onor Ministru jista’ jagħti titwila lejn is-servizz tas-saħħa u jara jekk hux possibli li jopera mingħajrhom, flimkien dejjem mal-kollegi Maltin. Flimkien qed jagħtu servizz impekkabbli lil pajjiż.

Ilkoll niftakru kif madwar sena ilu, l-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat kien assoċja l-involviment tal-barranin fid-dinja tax-xogħol f’Malta mal-ġbir taż-żibel. Anke hu, dakinnhar kien għamel apoloġija. Imma sfortunatament il-preġudizzji tiegħu ħallihom warajh fil-Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Marzu 2020

Coronavirus fallout: the need to protect all jobs

Government has announced its financial package which it described as being a €1.8 billion stimulus package. What is in it for a zero-hours contract worker, the casual worker, the freelance tradesman, the small-scale businessman? Nothing at all. Hence notwithstanding its merits, Government’s package is not a suitable package.

Zero-hour contract workers, the casual worker, the freelance tradesmen and the small-scale businessmen are the first casualties in each and every crisis. It is in the assessment of their plight that we can arrive at a conclusion on the suitability or otherwise of this and any other Covid19 recovery package.

We all applaud initiatives to ensure that the economy and its operators can stand back on their feet not just when this crisis is over, but also along the long road to recovery. But, what purpose is there in pumping the nation’s resources to recover an economy which is not capable of respecting the most vulnerable ones amongst us?

Government’s Covid19 package proposals do not seek to bind economic operators making use of the different opportunities in the stimulus package to protect their labour force. Redundancies have already started. Casual workers and zero-hour contract workers are the first casualties. Others will soon follow.

Additional measures are called for in Government’s Covid19 package.

Assistance given to economic operators should only go to those which have suffered a drastic reduction in their income when compared to last year. Government’s package is predominantly focused on assistance in providing guarantees for bank loans as well as in facilitating and ensuring liquidity. While these are important measures, in this crisis, aid focused directed towards wages of workers is essential. Any direct assistance to economic operators should be linked to their duty of protecting jobs. No job protection should equate to no aid.

Greens are concerned about several freelance tradesman, small scale businessmen as well as casual labour and workers on zero-hours contracts. They are bearing the brunt of the very sharp decrease in work opportunities: they are the first victims of Covid19. Aid to these categories should be a guaranteed income scheme for the coming months, throughout the duration of the crisis. These are the categories which are the most vulnerable and which nobody is talking about.

The lease contracts for tenants should be automatically renewed until the crisis is overcome. There should be introduced a special protection from eviction throughout the Coronavirus crisis. There is also a need for a greater commitment by the government to offer adequate and decent housing to the most vulnerable in particular during this time of crisis.

Greens consider that the crisis’ impacts on employment is showing the structural defects the country has in the social field. Malta is not the only country to have to face this problem. It is important that like various other countries, notably Sweden, Norway, and the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, guaranteed income schemes referred to as Universal Basic Income and Guaranteed Minimum Income are discussed in depth in Malta too. It would be wise to start considering such schemes for the future as they could offer a long-term solution.

It is time for level-headedness. Minister Silvio Schembri’s outburst in Parliament earlier this week was uncalled for and damaging, even though he eventually apologised. It is never the time to threaten with expulsion those who have contributed so much to our country and economy. When the crisis is eventually over it will be those whom the Hon Minister threatened with expulsion who will once more plug the gap. Even now, the Hon Minister should take a look at the health service and consider whether it would be possible to operate without the participation of non-Maltese medics and paramedical staff who are performing miracles through their professional service hand-in-hand with their Maltese colleagues.

We do remember that around 12 months ago then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat equated non-Maltese participation in the local labour force with refuse collectors. Though he too eventually apologised, his prejudice unfortunately lingers on in those he left behind in Robert Abela’s Cabinet.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 March 2020

Malta deserves better

Reading through the reports on the testimony of Melvin Theuma – who turned state evidence in the criminal investigation on Daphne Caruana Galzia’s assassination – all of us feel shocked and betrayed.

We are shocked by the ruthlessness displayed and we feel betrayed by Joseph Muscat, who put his faith in a bunch of criminals. Malta certainly deserves better – much better, in fact.

As names of various individuals and their actions were being mentioned in the magistrate’s hall, one lingering question is whether these individuals were aware of how their specific action fitted into the general jigsaw puzzle. In addition, what did the boss know about what was going on around him? Was he kept in the dark by his underlings, or was he given discreet briefings?

As yet there is no answer:suspicions are just suspicions. They will, however, linger on until interrogation marks are resolved. In time, we may get to know more, especially when all the rats have fled the sinking ship.

This nation will not rest until all is known, because our trust has been betrayed.

The facts as to who commissioned the assassination and who carried it out are becoming clearer. It is also being established without a shadow of a doubt that the interrogation rooms at Police Headquarters would have more from the functions of a sieve that the secure place one would expect them to be.

In his testimony, Melvin Theuma shocked quite a few people when he stated that he was aware of the planned police raid at the Marsa potato shed days before it was actually carried out. In fact, he stated that he was instructed by the master-mind to alert those who carried out the assassination to this important matter. He was even aware when Vincent Muscat – il-Koħħu – started spilling the beans.

I find it hard to believe that the police tried to sabotage their own investigations. There were others who may have had an interest in sabotaging these investigations from the sidelines. Most probably they are still around, with a visible silhouette that inconclusively indicates their identity.

Likewise, what is the purpose of tapping phones if the person under observation is alerted? Yorgen Fenech specifically stated in the witness box on Thursday that he was alerted by Keith Schembri to the fact that his electronic communications were being monitored.

This is the background which compelled a helpless Cabinet to demand an answer as to why Keith Schembri, the former Chief of Staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, was not properly investigated. A proper interrogation of Mr Schembri would undoubtedly lead to results if it can be done without Joseph Muscat breathing down the necks of the police force. This is an important reason why Joseph Muscat should resign with immediate effect: to ensure that it is not in any way possible for him to protect his friend Keith Schembri.

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should, however, be aware that they have directly contributed to the development of this crisis, both individually as well as collectively as the Cabinet, because they failed to take decisive action regarding the publication of the Panama Papers. Their failure to act at that point in time was a clear signal that anything goes.

The law should apply to everyone. This, however, is not the case because so far Keith Schembri has been lurking in the shadows for far too long. In a national address last Tuesday, President George Vella implored us to be rational and not emotional in this very difficult time. Malta deserves better. It is what we should strive for.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 December 2019

Discount tat-Times bejn il-Lombard u l-Laiki

F’artiklu dalgħodu t-Times of Malta ħabbru li ftehim għall-biegħ tal-ishma fil-bank Malti Lombard Bank Malta plc li kellu l-bank Ċiprijott magħruf bħala Laiki Bank weħel, u li dawk li ssottomettew offerti għal dan il-bejgħ ta’ kważi 50% tal-ishma tal-bank ma jafux x’inhu jiġri.

Fil-gazzetta stampata, t-Times of Malta qaltilna li dawn l-ishma kellhom valur ta’ €100 miljun filwaqt li meta l-artiklu tqiegħed online dan il-valur niżel għal €50 miljun! Imkien ma hemm spjegazzjoni għal dak li ovvjament hu żball tal-gazzetta.

Il-Laiki Bank li ismu propju hu Cyprus Popular Bank Public Co Limited għandu 49.01% tal-ishma tal-Lombard u ċjoe ftit iktar minn 21.65 miljun sehem. Meta wieħed iqies li l-aħħar bejgħ fil-borza ta’ dawn l-ishma kien bil-prezz ta’ €2.20-il sehem, dawn  għandhom valur ta’ madwar €48 miljun, qabel ma jitqies żieda ta’ premium minħabba li l-bejgħ iwassal għal kontroll tal-bank.

Ikun tajjeb li dan il-bejgħ isir bi trasparenza kif jeżiġu l-liġijiet tal-pajjiż.

L-irċevuta tal-Bank of Vassallo

 

Mela issa nafu li l-Bank of Vassallo ġabar lura flusu. Dawk il-250,000 li kien silef lill-kumpaniji kummerċjali tal-Partit Nazzjonalista. Skond rapport fil-gazzetti tal-lum intqal li dan is-self ilu li tħallas lura minn Awwissu li għadda.

Mhux magħruf jekk tħallsux interessi fuq is-self. Fil-fatt l-aħbar kienet li tħallsu il-250,000. Imkien ma issemmew il-ħlas ta interessi. Probabbilment li dan sar minħabba li ma tħallsux flus. Sissa ħadd għadu ma qal jekk l-interessi tħallsux fxi forma oħra. Fkaz li dan sar ma naħsibx li ser ikun hemm xi irċevuta.

A Christmas carol for Jason Azzopardi

i-am-the-ghost-of-christmas-past

 

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, Jason Azzopardi is haunted with scenes from his past. Scrooge had to deal with the Ghost of Christmas Past while Jason has been spotlighted by the Auditor-General in three separate reports. These deal with issues forming part of the political responsibilities which he shouldered when part of the Lawrence Gonzi Cabinet.

The first report was presented one year ago and dealt with the issuance of encroachment permits on the eve of the 2013 general election.  The Auditor-General then commented on Minister Jason Azzopardi’s intervention in the issuance of encroachment permits, emphasising that his intervention was “unwarranted”.

Pompous as ever, Jason Azzopardi insisted that he acted within the parameters of the law. He was not capable of recognising that he erred. Nor was he publicly chastised in any way by his own political party which has called for everybody’s resignation, except his own.

Two other reports were published by the Auditor-General last week.  Both deal with government land: its acquisition in one case, its transfer in another.

The first report investigates the acquisition of 233, 236 and 237, Republic Street Valletta.  The Auditor-General, in this investigation identified significant shortcomings in the process of negotiation, critically and negatively conditioning Government’s negotiating position. “This serious shortcoming,” states the Auditor-General, “was raised in concerns raised by the Permanent Secretary,” who was over-ruled.

Notwithstanding the corrective measures subsequently taken, the process remained flawed. This, emphasised the Auditor-General, represented a fundamental weakness in the process of negotiation (with HSBC), “effectively limiting Government’s bargaining power”.  Bad governance at its worst!

The second report deals with the investigation on the transfer of land at Ta’ L-Istabal, Qormi.   The Auditor-General concluded that “failure in terms of good governance, to varying degrees, is a recurring theme that emerged” throughout his review of the matter. The Auditor-General also noted “extraordinary haste” when as a result of problems being identified authorisations were obtained and contracts signed in a matter of two days.

The Auditor-General lists a number of public officers as being responsible for the mess created when conditions attached to a contract concerning government property were cancelled illegally without Parliament’s approval in terms of legislation regulating the disposal of government land.

Describing this mess, the Auditor-General states that he “did not find any direct evidence of political pressure exerted in the processes reviewed.” The emphasis obviously is on the words “direct evidence” as reading through the report it is amply clear that a selection of the top brass within the civil service would not act in such blatant defiance of the law unless they had at least tacit approval of the holders of political office to which they were responsible. The civil service officials mentioned by the Auditor-General as being directly responsible are: The Director General, the Notary and the Assistant Director Contracts of the Government Property Division.

The Auditor-General makes this very important consideration: “ …………… an element of political pressure was asserted by the Chair Vassallo Builders Group Ltd, who alleged that Marsovin Ltd had prior agreement with the ‘Minister’ and the GPD. The Director Marsovin Group Ltd negated this allegation, as did the Minister of Finance, the Economy and Investment and the Parliamentary Secretary for Revenues and Land, who indicated that they were not aware of the case at the time. Queried in this respect, the Chair Vassallo Builders Group Ltd indicated no knowledge of who the ‘Minister’ was. While the NAO cannot rule out pressure being exerted by any of the aforementioned, or possibly by other persons who did not come to this Office’s attention, the facts of the case render immediately evident that pressure was in fact exerted to the detriment of Government’s interests.”

Ultimately the responsibility for this mess lies on Jason Azzopardi’s lap. He has a lot of pending explanations. He will obviously not resign as clearly he only pays lip service to good governance.

In addition, this report from the Auditor-General possibly throws some light on another incident: the loan of €250,000 by a certain Nazzareno Vassallo to the PN’s commercial arms on the eve of the 2013 general elections. We were then informed that the loan was of a commercial nature on commercial terms.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. How can anyone believe Jason Azzopardi and his political party preaching adherence to good governance when as recently as 2012 they made a mess on all that they could lay their hands on?

Referring to Joseph Muscat’s gross administrative incompetence and the scandals popping up every other day is no solution. The more we unravel from the past the more clear it becomes that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, each in its own way, as a result of their shady methods of operation, cannot be trusted with the reins of power.

published in The Malta Independent : Tuesday 27 December 2016

The financing of Fawlty Towers

Townsquare.Fawlty Tower

The saga of the Mrieħel and the Townsquare towers is now entering a new phase, with the planning appeal stopwatch due to start ticking shortly –  most probably towards the end of the month. It is known that, so far, Sliema Local Council and a number of environmental NGOs will be appealing against the 4 August decision of the Planning Authority to approve the “Fawlty Towers” at Mrieħel and Townsquare Sliema .

Financing of the projects is next. The banks cannot increase their already substantial exposure to loans that are dependent on building speculation. Consequently, the developers will inevitably have to seek the involvement of private citizens and, possibly, institutional investors. Most probably, the process for financing the projects has already commenced; it will involve the issuing of bonds to the public and will normally be sponsored by a bank and a stock-broking agency.

The bank or banks and stockbrokers sponsoring the bond issue will have to ensure that the bonds are subject to an “appropriateness and suitability testing” subject to such direction as the Malta Financial Services Authority  may consider necessary and suitable. Also, in the light of past local unpleasant experiences, the Authority will undoubtedly be guided by the need to ensure  that prospective investors fully understand the inherent risks of the proposed investments.  It will also ensure that detailed information is published in the form of a suitable prospectus in which the small print is both legible and understandable.

Those who finance the high-rise projects should shoulder responsibility for their impact together with the Planning Authority and the developers. They will potentially make it happen, so they should carry the can. It is important to get this message through: those who will invest in the Gasan and Tumas bonds intended to finance the “Fawlty  Towers”  should receive more than a monetary return on their investment. The moment they sign up they will also assume co-responsibility – with the developers, the Planning Authority, the bank or banks and the sponsoring stockbrokers – for this projected development .

Word is going around on the need to boycott the services and products placed on the market by the Gasan and Tumas Groups. Journalist Jürgen Balzan, writing in Malta Today described these services and products as being wide-ranging (hotels, car-dealerships, gaming, finance and property) which easily impact on the daily life of a substantial number of Maltese citizens. However, such a boycott’s only link with  the “Fawlty  Towers”  would be through the owners.  It would be preferable for a boycott to have a direct link with the offensive action.  In this context, the forthcoming bond issue to finance the “Fawlty  Towers”  presents itself as a suitable opportunity.

A boycott is a non-violent instrument of protest that is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society. The boycotting of the forthcoming bond issue would send a clear message that people will not be complicit in further ruining the  urban fabric of Sliema and ensure that development at Imrieħel is such that the historic landscape is fully respected.

A social impact assessment, if properly carried out, would have revealed the apprehensions of the residents in particular the residents on the Tignè peninsula. But, unfortunately, as stated by Sliema Green Local Councillor Michael Briguglio, the existing policy-making process tends to consider such studies as an irritant rather than as a tool for holistic management and community participation.

We have had some recent converts on the desirability of social impact assessments, such as Professor Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. Prof. Torpiano, in an opinion piece published by the Malta Independent this week, stressed that spatial planning in Malta needs a social-economic dimension. Unfortunately, I do not recollect the professor himself practising these beliefs as the leading architect in the MIDI and Cambridge projects on the Tignè peninsula,  a stone’s throw from Townsquare!

Investing in this bond issue is not another private decision: it will have an enormous impact on the community.

Responsibility for this ever-increasing environmental mess has to be shouldered by quite a few persons in Malta. Even the banks have a very basic responsibility – and not one to be shouldered just by the Directors: the shareholders should also take an interest before decisions are taken and not post-factum.

I understand that the Directors of APS Bank have already taken note of the recent  statements regarding the environment by  Archbishop Charles Scicluna. As such, it stands to reason that APS will (I hope) not be in any way associated with the financing process for the “Fawlty  Towers”.  However, there is no news as yet from the other banks, primarily from the major ones – ie Bank of Valletta and HSBC.

This is a defining moment in environmental action in Malta. It is time for those that matter to stand up to be counted – and the sooner the better.

published by the Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 August 2016