Il-kontabilità tal-banek għall-ħsara ambjentali

Meta niddibattu l-ħsara ambjentali li qed tiżdied kontinwament madwarna nagħmlu tajjeb li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn ir-regolaturi nkompetenti u lejn ir-regħba tal-hekk imsejħa żviluppaturi. Wasal iż-żmien li ma dawn inżidu l-banek, għax huma l-banek li jiffanzjaw il-proġetti ta’ żvilupp u allura huma jagħmlu din il-ħsara possibli. Anke l-banek, għaldaqstant għandhom l-obbligu li jerfgħu ir-responsabbiltà fuq spallejhom għall-ħsara ambjentali li qed isseħħ: huma qed jiffinanzjawha.

Meta neżaminaw ir-rapporti annwali tal-banek lokali ewlenin hu ċar li dawn huma nteressati biss fil- profitti. Kontinwament taparsi jħossu għall ambjent. Dan jagħmluh biss u esklussivament biex jipproteġu r-reputazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-banek ipinġu lilhom infushom bħala li qegħdin hemm biex ikunu ta’ għajnuna. Regolarment iroxxu ftit flus favur numru ta’ kawżi ġusti. Iżda minkejja din is-sensittività  artifiċjali lejn setturi diversi tal-komunità, il-profitt jibqa’ dejjem prijorità fuq il-lejaltà lejn in-nies u lejn il-komunità.

L-attitudni tagħhom lejn proġetti ta’ żvilupp hi indikattiva ta’ dan. Il-banek rarament jindikaw fl-istqarrijiet pubbliċi inkella fir-rapporti tagħhom jekk u kif jagħtu każ ta’ impatti ambjentali u soċjali meta jkunu qed jikkunsidraw li jgħinu biex ikun iffinanzjat xi proġett ta’ żvilupp.  

Fl-aħħar rapport annwali tiegħu, per eżempju, l-HSBC jirreferi għal dawk li jissejħu Equator Principles. Dawn l-Equator Principles huma sett ta’ kriterji miftehma fuq skala internazzjonali bejn banek u istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji. Huma qafas regolatorju volontarju dwar kif l-istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji għandhom jeżaminaw u jagħtu piz lir-riskji soċjali u ambjentali assoċjati ma’ proġetti li jkunu quddiemhom għall-finanzjament.  Jistabilixxu l-kriterji minimi li għandhom ikunu applikati huma u jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet dwar dawn ir-riskji.  Fost affarijiet oħra, dawn l-Equator Principles jitkellmu dwar kif il-banek u l-istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji għandhom jiddjalogaw mal-utenti (stakeholders) dwar azzjoni effettiva biex ikunu ndirizzati ir-riskji ambjentali u soċjali minn proġetti li jkunu quddiemhom għall-finanzjament.

L-HSBC, sal-lum, ma ippubblikax rapporti jew xi tip ta’ informazzjoni oħra dwar il-mod prattiku kif il-bank qed japplika dawn il-prinċipji f’Malta. Għad irridu naraw kif il-bank qed jassigura ruħu li r-riskji ambjentali u soċjali ġew identifikati u ndirizzati u speċifikament kif il-klijenti żviluppaturi tal-bank qed jiddjalogaw mal-utenti (stakeholders).

Fir-rapport annwali tal-Bank of Valletta, min-naħa l-oħra, insibu spjegazzjoni tal-miri tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, deskrizzjoni dwar il-kawżi ġusti appoġġjati mill-bank u rendikont tal-azzjoni mittieħda biex il-friegħi tal-bank ikunu effiċjenti fl-użu tal-enerġija u joperaw b’mod li ma jagħmlux ħsara ambjentali. Ir-rapport jiddeskrivi ukoll is-servizzi tal-bank biex il-klijenti tiegħu ikollhom aċċess aħjar għal finanzi biex jimplementaw diversi miżuri ambjentali. Ir-rapport tal-BoV ma jagħmel l-ebda referenza għall-Equator Principles jew xi qafas regolatorju alternattiv.

Il-Lombard Bank, min-naħa l-oħra, fl-aħħar rapport annwali tiegħu jemfasizza l-attenzjoni tal-management biex jimminimizza l-impatti ambjentali mill-operazzjonijiet tiegħu. Jgħidilna li hu ukoll jgħin kawżi ġusti! L-anqas il-Lombard Bank ma jirreferi għall- Equator Principles jew xi linji gwida oħra dwar x’għandu jsir biex il-klijenti żviluppaturi jkunu sorveljati aħjar mill-bank.

Fuq livell ta’ Unjoni Ewropeja il-Bank Ċentrali Ewropew għadu kif approva dokument b’linja gwida dwar ir-riskji klimatiċi u ambjentali li hu applikabbli għas-settur bankarju kollu fl-Unjoni minn din is-sena. Primarjament dan id-dokument jirrigwarda ir-riskji klimatiċi.

Il-banek għandhom responsabbiltà li jassiguraw illi meta jiffinanzjaw proġetti ta’ żvilupp, il-finanzi li jipprovdu ma jkunux użati biex issir jew biex tkun aċċelerata ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali. Meta din il-ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali sseħħ, ir-responsabbilta m’għandiex tintrefa biss mill-iżviluppatur u mir-regolaturi imma ukoll mill-bank. Għax anke l-bank għandu jkun kontabbli. Wara kollox hu l-bank permezz tal-finanzjament li jipprovdi li jagħmel l-iżvilupp possibli. Kull meta l-banek ikunu kompliċi fi ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali ikollhom huma wkoll jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà. Mingħajr l-involviment tagħhom, wara kollox, il-ħsara ma isseħħx!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Awwissu 2021

Holding banks to account for environmental damage

When discussing the current environmental onslaught developing around us, we rightly focus on incompetent regulators and greedy developers. It is about time that we also address the role of the banks: they make environmental degradation possible as they generally finance the development works which cause the said degradation. As a result, it is about time that banks too shoulder their responsibility for the ever-increasing environmental degradation.

Going through the annual reports of the major local banks it is more than clear that banks are only interested in profits. They engage in continuous greenwashing in order to try and minimise their reputational damage.

The banks portrait themselves as being there to help. They regularly sprinkle some cash to sponsor worthy causes. Notwithstanding this artificial sensitivity towards various sectors of the community, profits always take a priority over people in the banks’ operations.  Financing of development projects are a case in point. Banks rarely indicate in their public statements and reports whether and to what extent they factor in environmental and social considerations when deciding whether to make finance available for any particular development project.

HSBC, for example, refers to the applicability of the Equator Principles in its latest annual report. The Equator Principles are a risk management framework adopted by a number of financial institutions “for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects.” They are intended to provide a minimum standard for due diligence and monitoring to support responsible risk decision-making.  Among other matters the Equator Principles deal with stakeholder engagement and require effective action dealing with environmental and social risks by developers who seek financial facilities from banks.

HSBC has not to date publicly reported on the matter as to the practical manner in which it applies these principles in Malta. We have yet to see how the bank establishes that environmental and social risks have been assessed and specifically the extent to which the bank ensures that proper stakeholder engagement has been carried out by its developer clients!

The Bank of Valletta annual report on the other hand gives us its take on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, describes at some length the worthy causes which it supports and explains the action taken to ensure that its branches are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. It also describes its services which facilitate client access to finance environmentally friendly initiatives. The Bank of Valletta Annual Report does not make any reference to the Equator Principles.

Lombard Bank in its latest annual report emphasises that it takes great care in minimising the environmental impacts of its operations. It also stresses its extensive contributions and initiatives to a number of worthy causes. Lombard Bank does not refer to the Equator Principles or any other benchmark or standard which it applies when dealing with its developer clients.

On an EU level the European Central Bank has very recently approved a “Guide on Climate-Related and Environmental Risks” applicable to the banking sector throughout the European Union as from this year.  As its title indicates it is primarily concerned with climate-related risks.

Banks have a responsibility to ensure that when financing development projects, the finance made available is not utilised to cause or accelerate environmental and/or social damage. Whenever such environmental and/or social damage arises it is not just the developers and the regulators which should shoulder responsibility for the said damage. Even banks should be held to account. They make it possible! Banks should pay the price whenever they are collaborators in the ever-increasing environmental degradation. They make it happen!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 August 2021

Tibdil tal-klima: miżuri li jeħtieġ li jkunu ġusti

Huwa essenzjali li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality). Ilu żmien ovvju li ekonomija dipendenti fuq iż-żjut mhiex waħda sostenibbli. Il-Konvenzjoni tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar it-Tibdil fil-Klima, fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, fl-2015, kienet fasslet pjan dwar it-triq meħtieġa biex nintlaħqu miri li jħarsu l-klima. Jekk ma nimxux ma’ dan il-pjan, il-futur ifisser biss gwaj.

It-tibdil fil-klima diġa qiegħed magħna.  Madanakollu, l-impatti fuqna jistgħu jkunu ferm agħar minn dak li għaddej bħalissa: temperaturi estremi, nixfa’ kbira f’xi reġjuni u għargħar f’oħrajn. Id-diżastri qed iseħħu quddiem għajnejna kuljum. Il-qagħda għad trid teħżien bosta, qabel ma l-affarijiet (forsi) jaqilbu għall-aħjar.

It-temperatura medja fuq livell globali qed tiżdied. It-temperatura imkejla tvarja minn reġjun għall-ieħor. Fil-Mediterranean, studji riċenti qed jindikaw li qegħdin viċin li naqbżu żieda ta’ grad u nofs Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. L-impatti ta’ dan diġa qed inħossuhom.

Bħala stat gżira, Malta messa li hi fuq quddiem fid-dibattitu globali dwar it-tibdil fil-klima.  Sfortunatament, pajjiżna hu fost dawk il-pajjiżi li kontinwament ikaxkru saqajhom biex jevitaw jew inaqqsu l-azzjoni meħtieġa da parti tagħhom. Il-fatt li aħna żgħar ma jeżentaniex mir-responsabbiltà tagħna lejn il-futur.

Fost l-eżempji ta’ dan hemm ir-resistenza, tul is-snin, biex nagħtu importanza lill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli flimkien mat-tkaxkir tas-saqajn għall-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport.  

Ilkoll niftakru l-insistenza tal-Gvernijiet Maltin mal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja biex il-miri ta’ Malta dwar l-enerġija rinovabbli ma jkunux l-20 fil-mija iffissati mill-Kummissjoni imma jinżlu għal 10 fil-mija tal-enerġija totali ġġenerata.  Bl-istess mod, minkejja li fl-2017 saret dikjarazzjoni politika mill-Gvern favur l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport, wara 4 snin għadna bla pjan u miri ċari. Il-bidla issa ser ikollha isseħħ b’ritmu mgħaġġel u ftit li xejn jidher li bħala pajjiż aħna ippreparati għaliha.

L-Unjoni Ewropeja għadha kemm żvelat pjan bi proposti biex l-emissjonijiet serra jitnaqqsu b’55 fil-mija meta mqabbel ma dawk tal-1990. Dan għandu jseħħ sal-2030, u dan bħala mira intermedja fit-triq lejn emmissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality) sas-sena 2050.

Waħda mill-proposti li qed issir hi li l-enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli ġġenerata fl-Unjoni Ewropeja tkun ta’ 40 fil-mija mill-enerġija kollha użata. Dan ikun ifisser li fi żmien 9 snin Malta jkun jeħtieġilha li timmultiplika b’erbgħa l-enerġija rinovabbli li niġġeneraw fil-pajjiż. Din ser tkun mira iebsa, iktar u iktar meta tieħu kont tal-fatt li tul is-snin il-pajjiż dejjem ipprova jiżloq mill-obbligi tiegħu f’dan il-qasam.

Proposta oħra tal-Unjoni Ewropeja hi li sal-2035 ma jidħlux iktar fis-suq karozzi li jaħdmu bid-dijsil u l-petrol. Din mira li ser ikun meħtieġ li nilħquha fi żmien 14-il sena. Lokalment din mhi ser issolvi xejn jekk ma tkunx imżewġa ma miżuri biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq.

Proposta oħra tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hi dwar l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa fuq il-fjuwil użat milll-vapuri kif ukoll dak użat fl-avjazzjoni. Din il-proposta bla dubju jkollha impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-gżejjer u l-istati periferali Ewropej. Hi proposta li hi motivata mill-fatt li l-Ewropa kontinentali hi moqdija iktar bil-ferrovija, ġeneralment effiċjenti u li hu meqjus li tħalli impatti ambjentali ferm inqas mill-ajruplani.

Bi proposta ta’ din ix-xorta it-turiżmu jintlaqat sewwa. Kemm tkun kbira d-daqqa jiddependi minn kemm tkun kbira taxxa ta’ din ix-xorta.  Malta, il-Greċja u Ċipru diġa qed jgħidu li ma jaqblux ma dan!

Kemm is-settur tal-avjazzjoni kif ukoll dak marittimu huma kontributuri sinifikanti ta’ emissjonijiet serra. Sal-lum dawn iż-żewġ setturi evitaw  li jkunu nklużi fil-miżuri biex inkun mħarsa mit-tibdil fil-klima minħabba lobbying qawwi. Il-proposti tal-Unjoni Ewropeja jekk jidħlu fis-seħħ jibdlu din is-sitwazzjioni, dejjem sakemm il-lobbying jinżamm taħt kontroll!

Uħud diġa iddeskrivew dawn il-proposti (u oħrajn) tal-Unjoni Ewropeja bħala suwiċidju politiku u dan minħabba li l-impatti konsiderevoli tagħhom jistgħu jkunu l-kawża ta’ nkwiet soċjali qalil. Li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjoni żero tal-karbonju hu essenzjali imma rridu nkunu konxji li l-impatti tal-miżuri meħtieġa inevitabilment ser iweġġgħu bosta bihom.  Id-diskussjoni meħtieġa trid tassigura li waqt li jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa bla iktar dewmien, il-vulnerabbli, inkluż dawk bla mezzi jew b’mezzi limitati, għandhom ikunu mħarsa  milli jkunu huma li jħallsu għall-ispiża akkumulata minħabba nuqqas ta’ azzjoni għal snin kbar.

L-ikbar sfida ghal dan il-Patt Aħdar hi li l-bidla meħtieġa teħtieġ li tkun waħda li issir b’ġustizzja. It-trasformazzjoni ekoloġika teħtieġ li tkun soċjalment ġusta. Dan tagħmlu billi tpoġġi lin-nies mhux il-kapital jew il-profitti bħala l-konsiderazzjoni ċentrali tagħha. Il-bidla, iżda trid isseħħ illum qabel għada. Iktar ma ndumu nkaxkru saqajna, iktar ikun għoli l-prezz li jkollna nħallsu.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Lulju 2021

Change must be fair

Achieving carbon neutrality is long overdue. It has long been obvious that an economy that is dependent on fossil fuel is not sustainable. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) at its 2015 Paris summit finally agreed to plot the basic roadmap required. If we do not follow this roadmap, havoc is the name of the future.

Climate change is already here. However, its impacts can be much worse than what we are already experiencing: extremes of temperature, drought in some regions with floods in others. We see the disasters developing almost daily. It will get much worse before it can get any better.

The mean global temperature is rising. The measured increase varies between one region and another. In the Mediterranean, recent studies have indicated that here we are very close to surpassing a 1.5-degree Celsius rise over the pre-industrial age temperature. We can feel the impact already.

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the global climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end. Our size does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

Our slow take-up of renewable energy over the years and the institutional resistance to transport electrification are among the most obvious examples.

We do remember the insistence on the part of Maltese governments with the EU Commission that Malta renewable energy targets should be 10 per cent and not 20 per cent of the energy generated. Likewise, after a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target on the roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling of our commitments over the years.

A de facto ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within fourteen years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, if not coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

The proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel would undoubtedly have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute to achieving emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably by a tax on aviation fuel, dependent on the extent of the taxation rates applied.

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have so far have avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

Some have already described the proposals of the EU Commission as political suicide as their far-reaching impacts could trigger considerable social unrest. Achieving carbon neutrality is essential but the paths selected will be very painful, some more than others. In the ensuing discussion we have to ensure that while the essential decisions are taken without delay the poor and the most vulnerable are shielded from having to pay the accumulated cost of inaction over the years.

The biggest challenge we face is to ensure that the Green Deal is fair. The ecological transformation must be socially just and place people, not profits, as its central consideration. Change must however happen the soonest. The longer we postpone taking action the higher the price we will have to pay.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 July 2021

Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Fil-lista l-griża: wara snin ma jsir xejn dwar il-ħasil tal-flus

Ċertament li mhux ġust mal-Maltin li l-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) poġġiet lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża.

Li dħalna fil-lista l-griża hu bla l-iċken dubju ħtija tal-Gvern. L-Opposizzjoni ukoll għandha terfa’ parti mit-tort u dan minħabba li fl-2013 ħalliet warajha istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa. B’istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa l-ħmieġ hu iffaċilitat.

Ilkoll għandna nkunu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lill-Malta fuq il-lista l-griża, minkejja li din id-deċiżjoni kienet mistennija.

Il-kelliema tal-Gvern, matul il-ġimgħa, kienu qed jenfasizzaw li ttieħdu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafa regolatorju. Li ma qalulniex hu li dan sar wara bosta snin ta’ infurzar żero. Li għal snin sħaħ l-awtoritajiet regolatorji bħall-FIAU kellhom fosthom kollaboraturi ta’ kriminali magħrufa, bħal Silvio Valletta, eks-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Ilkoll kemm huma ikkontribwew biex Malta ġiet inkluża fuq il-lista l-griża.

Tiftakru lil Varist Bartolo fuq Hard Talk jispjega għaliex ivvota favur Mizzi u Schembri? Kienet strateġija biex jissopravivi qalilna (strategy for survival) bit-tama li jkun għadu hemm meta tasal il-battalja li jmiss. Jew forsi tiftakru lill-Leo Brincat jispjega meta kien taħt skrutinju fil-Parlament Ewropew in konnessjoni man-nomina tiegħu għall-Qorti tal-Awdituri? Dakinnhar kien qalilna li ma jridx li jispiċċa eroj għal ġurnata biex imbgħad wara jispiċċa fil-baħħ!

Kellna lill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija ma jinvestigax każijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus għal snin sħaħ. Huwa biss reċentement li Kummissarju tal-Pulizija l-ġdid għamel l-investigazzjonijiet u prosekuzzjonijiet possibbli.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Sadanittant saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-Gvern f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se iħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Dawn għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern, bl-appoġġ tal-Oppożizzjoni, matul is-snin żviluppa “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju inkluż li jagħmilha possibbli li Malta tintuża bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun afdata.

Xi ħadd jiftakar iċ-ċirkustanzi li wasslu għar-riżenja ta’ Joseph Cuschieri, CEO tal-Awtorità tas-Serviżżi Finanzjarji (MFSA) wara li ż-żjara tiegħu f’Las Vegas ma Yorgen Fenech ġiet għall-attenzjoni pubblika? Il-vjaġġ kien iffinanzjat minn Yorgen Fenech meta Cuschieri kien għadu jmexxi l-Awtorità tal-Logħob li suppost kienet ir-regolatur tal-casino ta’ Yorgen Fenech.  B’regolaturi bħal dawn, kif jista’ jsir l-infurzar?

Dan l-isfreġju sħiħ fuq Malta kien immexxi direttament minn Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna, eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li ġie ppremjat bil-ħatra tiegħu bħala Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali. Muscat spiċċa. Scicluna għandu bżonn isegwih malajr. Huwa għandu jew jirriżenja jew jitkeċċa minnufih.

Huwa xieraq wkoll li nfakkru li dan it-taħwid kollu kien is-suġġett tal-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia li nqatlet għall-isforzi tagħha biex tinfurmana u tesponi l-elit kriminali. Intilfet il-ħajja ta’ mara, omm u ġurnalista.

Huwa essenzjali li tittieħed azzjoni immedjata biex tibda terġa’ tinbena r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta. Dan għandu jinkludi r-revoka immedjata tal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza u l-għeluq tal-lakuni legali li biddlu lil Malta f’bażi ta’ evazjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 27 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Grey listing: after years of zero enforcement on money laundering

The grey listing announced earlier during the week as a result of a decision by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is definitely not fair on the Maltese people.

The grey list is government’s making. However, the opposition certainly has a finger in the pie too as it is ultimately responsible for the weak institutions which it left in place in 2013. These weak institutions facilitated the current mess.

We should all be saddened by the decision of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) to have Malta on its grey list, even though this course of action was expected.  

Government spokespersons have been emphasising that a lot of regulatory sprucing and reinforcement has been taken in hand.  However, they did not tell us that this has been done after several years of zero enforcement. After years having regulatory authorities such as FIAU staffed by collaborators of known criminals, such as Silvio Valletta, former Deputy Commissioner of Police.

We have had all Labour MPs in Parliament refusing to condemn Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri when their Panama Papers involvement was made public. All of them have contributed to this grey listing. 

Do you remember Evarist Bartolo explaining on Hard Talk why he voted in favour of Mizzi and Schembri? He had a strategy for survival, hoping “to live and fight another day”. Or Leo Brincat’s explanation when being scrutinised by the EU Parliament Budgetary Control Committee prior to his appointment at the European Court of Auditors? Leo Brincat had than stated that he did not want to live as a hero for one day, to be subsequently condemned to the wilderness for the rest of his life!

We have had the Commissioner of Police not investigating money laundering cases for years on end. It is only recently that a new Police Commissioner has made investigations and prosecutions possible.

Unfortunately, the action against money laundering has been late in coming. Considerable damage has resulted in the meantime. Government criminal complicity in all this has seriously damaged the economy and society.  It is those in the lower income levels who will feel most of the impacts of all this. They need our empathy. It is they who need most protection at this point in time.

Government with the support of the opposition has over the years developed a “national consensus” on the financial sector including the setup which makes it possible for international tax evasion to make use of Malta as a base. Together with the sale of citizenship scheme this has further contributed to the erosion of Malta’s reputation as a trustworthy jurisdiction.

Anybody remembers the circumstances which led to the 2018 resignation of the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) CEO Joseph Cuschieri following his Las Vegas trip with Yorgen Fenech becoming public knowledge? The trip had been financed by Fenech when Cuschieri was still the Gaming Authority Chief, supposedly regulating Yorgen Fenech’s casino!

All this mess was directed by Joseph Muscat and Edward Scicluna, former Finance Minister who has been rewarded for his endeavours by his appointment as Governor of the Central Bank. Muscat is gone. Scicluna, politically responsible for ensuring that money-laundering structures were functioning, needs to follow him at the earliest. He should either resign or be dismissed forthwith.

It is also pertinent to point out that all this was the subject of the investigative journalism of Daphne Caruana Galizia who was blown up for her efforts to inform us and expose the criminal elite. We have lost a life: a mother, a wife, a journalist.

Immediate action is essential to start rebuilding Malta’s reputation. This should include the immediate repeal of the sale of citizenship scheme and closing the legal loopholes which have transformed Malta into a tax haven.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 June 2021

Il-lista l-griża: id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Dalgħodu indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar il-kundanna ta’ Malta għal-lista l-griża.

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġ tindifa sħiħa, li għadha ma saritx. Għall perjodu twil il-Gvern Malti injora l-kuxjenza nazzjonali f’Malta stess, inkluż kritika interna tal-fasla tas-sistema finanzjarja ta’ Malta u l-abbużi u l-involviment kriminali ta’ uffiċċjali għolja u ta’ xi politiċi. Kellu jistenna l-kritika tal-barranin biex jiċċaqlaq?

Ninsabu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tagħha, minkejja li din kienet mistennija. Imma ma kienx meħtieġ li jkunu l-istituzzjonijiet barranin li jiġbdulna widnejna li l-affarijiet f’Malta mhumiex mexjin sew.  Aħna stess ilna niġbdu l-attenzjoni li l-affarijiet mhux sejrin sew fis-sistema finanzjarja.

Huwa veru li matul l-aħħar xhur ittieħedu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafas regolatorju kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-kriminalità organizzata. Il-problema però hi li mhux kulħadd hu konvint li dan sar b’konvinzjoni favur tmexxija b’integrità. Għad jeżisti dubju dwar jekk dak li sar hux biss reazzjoni għas-sensittivitajiet tal-komunità internazzjonali. Għax, sfortunatament, drajna wisq għal snin twal b’istituzzjoniiet li ma jaħdmux.

Li f’daqqa waħda l-pulizija bdiet tieħu passi f’kazijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus ma jħassarx il-fatt li għal snin sħaħ il-korp tal-Pulizija kien miżmum milli jaġixxi billi diversi uffiċjali tiegħu kienu fil-but tal-kriminali. Huwa dan li wassal biex għal snin twal kellna infurzar żero. Dak li sa ftit ilu kien biss suspett illum il-ġurnata hu konfermat bl-ismijiet li jaf bihom kulħadd.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Dakinhar il-Parlament messu ta messaġġ qawwi favur is-serjetà. Minflok imma, ħareġ messaġġ favur il-ħmieg.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Laħqet saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-gvern u l-istituzzjonijiet imnawwra f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se jħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern u l-Oppożizzjoni matul is-snin żviluppaw dak li jsejħu “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju li jagħmilha possibbli għall-użu ta’ Malta bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-bejgħ tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun fdata. Ir-reputazzjoni ħażina li sfortunatament għandha Malta illum fuq livell internazzjonali ma ġietx mix-xejn. Żviluppat bħala riżultat tal-fatt li l-Gvern naqas tul is-snin li jimxi sewwa. Il-messaġġ ċar li ngħata kien li l-Gvern kien jipproteġi l-kriminalità.

Il-kliem sabiħ li qed jingħad illum favur il-governanza tajba jikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal tul is-snin passati. Il-Prim Ministru tal-lum Robert Abela dejjem enfasizza li l-Gvern immexxi minnu hu wieħed ta’ kontinwità. Wara kollox Robert Abela kien il-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat u sa ċertu punt irid jerfa’ ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika għas-sitwazzjoni tal-lum.

Ir-responsabbiltà politika għall-qagħda attwali trid tintrefa ukoll mill-Professur Edward Scicluna eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li kellu responsabbiltà politika dwar l-istituzzjonijiet li suppost ħadmu kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Huwa stess preżentement hu soġġett għal investigazzjoni kriminali. Imma flok ma mar jistaħba ngħata premju  għal dak li għamel billi nħatar Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali.

Ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jagħtu messaġġ ċar: li ma hawnx serjetà fit-tmexxija tal-pajjiż. Ikun aħjar jekk flok id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar dak li qed jiġri issir tindifa sħiħa. Tindifa meħtieġa b’urgenza li s’issa għadha ma saritx.

Il-lista l-griża: x’tistenna wara snin ta’ żero infurzar?

Fi stqarrija wara d-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tagħha, iċ-Chairperson ta’ ADPD Carmel Cacopardo qal:

“Ninsabu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni, minkejja li din kienet mistennija.

Matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, il-kelliema tal-Gvern kienu qed jenfasizzaw li ttieħedu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafa regolatorju. Li ma qalulniex hu li dan sar wara bosta snin ta’ infurzar żero. Li għal snin sħaħ l-awtoritajiet regolatorji bħall-FIAU kellhom fosthom kollaboraturi ta’ kriminali magħrufa bħal Silvio Valletta, eks-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers.

Kellna lill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija jirrifjuta li jinvestiga każijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus għal snin sħaħ. Huwa reċentement li Kummissarju tal-Pulizija ġdid għamel l-investigazzjonijiet u prosekuzzjonijiet possibbli.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-gvern f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se jħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Dawn għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern bl-appoġġ tal-Oppożizzjoni matul is-snin żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali dwar is-settur finanzjarju inkluż is-setup li jagħmilha possibbli għall-użu ta’ Malta bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-bejgħ tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għall-erożjoni tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni affidabbli.

Dan l-isfreġju sħiħ fuq Malta kien immexxi direttament minn Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna, eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li ġie ppremjat bil-ħatra tiegħu bħala Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali. Muscat spiċċa. Scicluna għandu bżonn isegwih malajr. Huwa għandu jew jirriżenja jew jitkeċċa minnufih.

Huwa pertinenti wkoll li nfakkru li dan it-taħwid kollu kien is-suġġett tal-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia li nqatlet għall-isforzi tagħha biex tinfurmana u tesponi l-elit kriminali. Tlifna ħajja ta’ mara, omm u ġurnalista.

Huwa essenzjali li tittieħed azzjoni immedjata biex tibda terġa’ tinbena r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta. Dan għandu jinkludi r-revoka immedjata tal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza u l-għeluq tal-lakuni legali li biddlu lil Malta f’bażi ta’ evazjoni tat-taxxa.”