Improving waste collection

Waste collection in our towns and villages does not cater for a modern 21st century European island state. It is approximately fifty years out of phase. It has not evolved with time to take into consideration modern day requirements.

The waste collection schedules do not cater for the needs of shift workers, of short-term tenants and small local businesses.

Local government governs at a local level. It takes decisions necessary in order to address the varying requirements of the community which it leads. Our local councils unfortunately do not have such an authority. Government (directly as well as through Wasteserv Malta Limited, the state waste operator) is continuously breathing down their necks such that they cannot plan and carry out waste collection differently and in an efficient manner.

A news item in the Malta Independent on Monday pointed at a proposal of the Local Councils’ Association on an alternative to the door-to-door waste collection in our towns and villages.

Our restricted pavements, as things stand, are during parts of the mornings cluttered with waste bags. In addition, they are also used for restaurant tables and chairs.  Possibly if there is enough space, pavements can also be used for the mobility of pedestrians! Vulnerable persons with different mobility disabilities and parents caring for young children are often at a loss in such situations. They are the first squeezed out of pavements!

It is within this context that the Local Councils’ Association has proposed a gradual shift from a door-to-door waste collection system to one where waste is deposited at specific collection points. The proposal is interesting even though it is not easily applicable in all localities. Specifically in village cores and in urban conservation areas there may not be sufficient space suitable for the development of the necessary infrastructure for the development of waste collection points. Our streets are already cluttered with services: drainage, water, electricity and communications! I believe that it will be slightly difficult to find adequate space for these collection points in some of our streets.

The proposal was submitted to government some months ago in response to the public consultation in hand on the Waste Management Strategy. It entails the identification of 13,000 collection points serving 250,000 households. It is envisaged that each household could possibly be within a 100-metre distance from a waste collection point.

I have discussed this proposal with Local Councils Association President Mario Fava who is very enthusiastic on its workability. Studies detailing the proposal have not to date been carried out locally but the method is practiced in a number of European cities.

Such a collection system could be the source of various benefits in our localities. Top of the list would be cleaner pavements and roads as a result of substantially reduced waste spillage. There would be less traffic congestion and obstruction as a result of not having a waste collection vehicle doing the rounds at a speed of 5 kilometres per hour through the streets of our towns and villages. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from fuel consumption by waste collection vehicles would be substantially reduced. (Electrification of waste collection vehicles could likewise attain the same objective of greenhouse gas emission reduction.)

The next step should be a pilot project in a number of localities as a result of which the required infrastructural improvements should be identified and implemented for a selected number of waste collection points. Such a pilot project should not only consider the workability of the proposed alternative. It should also seek to address how those facing mobility difficulties can cope and what assistance would be required to ensure that they will eventually benefit from the proposed improvement to the waste collection system.

The new waste management strategy is long overdue. I hope that when finalised it will recognise that local councils, both individually as well as through their association are fully capable of planning and delivering the services which our towns and villages require in this day and age. They should not be obstructed from functioning as a local government.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 September 2021

Il-kumpaniji tal-PLPN jeħtieġ li jkunu regolati sewwa

Tal-PLPN, permezz tal-kumpaniji tagħhom tal-media, għandhom jagħtu l-miljuni lill-Kummissarju tal-VAT.  Kif jistgħu qatt ikunu kredibbli meta jitkellmu dwar il-miżuri meħtieġa kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa?  Mhux aħjar li jkunu huma minn tal-ewwel li jħallsu dak dovut u jagħtu l-eżempju?

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa konna infurmati li l-kumpaniji tal-media tal- PL u tal-PN għandhom jagħtu mal-€5 miljuni lill-Kummissarju tal-VAT. Dan l-ammont hu dovut lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta u jirrappreżenta taxxa li nġabret mill-kumpaniji tal-PLPN u nżammet għandhom.  Iż-żamma għandhom da parti tal-kumpaniji tal-PLPN ta’ dawn il- €5 miljuni jfisser li dawn ħadmu uqed jaħdmu bi flus li ma humiex tagħhom, iżda tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. Huwa self moħbi li minnu ibbenefikaw kemm il-PL kif ukoll il-PN. Għalhekk kważi skiet perfett. Fejn jaqblihom iħokku dahar xulxin: malajr jiftehmu bi ftit kliem.

L-għaqdiet tan-negozju għamlu sew li semmgħu leħinhom u lmentaw pubblikament dwar dan it-trattament preferenzjali tal-kumpaniji tal-PLPN dwar il-ħlas tal-VAT li dawn għad għandhom pendenti. Huwa essenzjali li l-mexxejja tal-pajjiż imexxu bl-eżempju. Kif ngħidu, l-kliem iqanqal, imma l-eżempju jkaxkar.  

Il-problema iżda hi ħafna ikbar minn hekk. Xi żmien ilu l-medja kienet ikkummentat dwar il-fatt li tal-PLPN l-anqas il-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma ma kienu qed iħallsu. Il-kontijiet pendenti kienu enormi.  L-aħħar informazzjoni li sibt kienet tindika kontijiet pendenti tal-PLPN u l-kumpaniji tagħhom, flimkien, għall-ammont ta’ madwar  €2,500,000. Diffiċli biex ikollok informazzjoni preċiża u aġġornata minħabba li l-ARMS tqis li din hi materja kunfidenzjali minkejja li hi materja ta’ importanza nazzjonali enormi: għax il-PLPN qed jabbużaw mis-sistema u l-awtoritajiet mhux biss qed iħalluhom imma qed jostruhom.    L- ARMS għandha l-obbligu li tittratta lill-kumpaniji tal-PLPN bl-istess mod li timxi ma’ kumpaniji oħra: trid tassigura ruħha li anke huma jħallsu l-kontijiet fil-ħin!  

Għadni ma semmejtx l-arretrati dwar il-ħlas tal-kontribuzzjoni tas-sigurtà nazzjonali u t-tnaqqis tal-PAYE għat-taxxa tad-dħul tal-impjegati tal-partiti politiċi u tal-kumpaniji tagħhom. Minn dak li ġie indikat fil-passat dawn l-arretrati jistgħu jammontaw għal miljuni kbar, avolja l-ammont eżatt tagħhom mhux magħruf!

Dan ifisser li fil-prattika tal-PLPN għandhom sors ieħor mhux dikjarat ta’ dħul li bih jiffinanzjaw il-ħidma tagħhom: għandhom kreditu fuq it-taxxi u pagamenti oħra dovuti lill-istat u istituzzjonijiet oħra. Self ieħor iffinanzjat minn dawk li jħallsu it-taxxi: self mhux dikjarat li jista’ jammonta għal madwar €10,000,000!

Kull negozju li jkollu jħallas dawn l-ammonti f’taxxa u ħlasijiet oħra jkollu jkollu inkwiet mhux żgħir. Ikun qabad it-triq tal-falliment. Jkun qed jissogra li l-assi tiegħu jittieħdu biex bihom jitħallsu l-kontijiet pendenti. Imma mal-PLPN, qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Dan kollu irridu narawh ukoll fil-kuntest ta’ xi ftehim mistur li niskopru bih minn żmien għal żmien bejn il-partiti l-kbar u x’uħud fin-negozju. L-aħħar każ hu dak tal-abbozz ta’ ftehim bejn il-Labour u Yorgen Fenech liema ftehim kien jipprovdi ħlas ta’ €200,000 għal xi servizzi. Dan bla dubju jfakkarna fil-każ l-ieħor ta’ xi snin ilu bejn il-Grupp dB u l-PN, dwar servizzi ukoll. F’kull kaz wara dawn il-ftehim hemm moħbija donazzjonijiet politiċi “taparsi ħlas għal servizzi”. B’hekk il-partiti l-kbar ikunu qed iduru mar-regolamenti dwar id-donazzjonijiet li jistabilixxu li l-valur kumulattiv ta’ donazzjoni fi flus lil partit politiku ma tistax taqbeż il–limitu ta’ €25,000 minn sors wieħed speċifiku.  

Dan kollu jipponta lejn nuqqas gravi u intenzjonat fit-tfassil tal-leġislazzjoni li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Għidna repetutament li kemm il-PL kif ukoll il-PN kontinwament qed jagħmlu użu mill-kumpaniji tagħhom biex b’mod konvenjenti jevitaw l-obbligi tar-regolamenti finanzjarji.  

Kif wieħed jistenna, l-PLPN jiċħdu dan kollu. L-PL jinsisti li l-kumpaiji tiegħu ma daħlu fl-ebda ftehim ma’ Yorgen Fenech. Il-PN, min-naħa l-oħra jinsisti li m’għandu xejn irregolari. Imma mbagħad it-tnejn li huma ma jimxux mar-regoli. L- accounts ivverifikati tal-kumpaniji tagħhom ilhom snin kbar ma jkunu ppreżentati lill-awtoritajiet skond il-liġi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan ma hemm l-ebda dokumenti li jistgħu jindikaw  jekk u kif il-kumpaniji tal-PLPN humiex verament mexjin sew u b’mod partikolari jekk humiex kontinwament jintużaw biex ikunu evitati ir-regoli dwar id-donazzjonijiet lill-partiti politiċi.

Hemm ħtieġa urġenti li r-regoli li bihom huma rregolati l-kumpaniji tal-partiti politiċi induruhom dawra sew. Dawn il-kumpaniji għandhom ikunu eżaminati fil-kuntest tal-Att tal-2015 dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi.  Rappurtaġġ fil-ħin hu essenzjali biex ikun assigurat li dawn il-kumpaniji ma jibqgħux jintużaw biex tinkiser il-liġi.  

F’dan il-mument il-PLPN u l-kumpaniji tagħhom ikkapparraw self sostanzjali bla ebda awtorizzazzjoni. Dik governanza tajba!

Il-PLPN ma jistgħux isolvuha din. Huma parti integrali mill-problema.

Huma biss Membri Parlamentari eletti minn fost dawk ippreżentati minn ADPD li jistgħu jibdew it-triq tat-tindif tat-taħwid li ħoloq u kattar il-PLPN.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Settembru 2021

Regulating the commercial companies owned by PLPN

PLPN media houses owe millions to the VAT office.  How can PLPN be credible when speaking about measures to bring tax dodging and tax evasion under control? Would it not be more appropriate if they bring their own house in order first?

Earlier this week we were informed that the PL and the PN media houses have a combined unpaid VAT tax bill to the tune of €5 million. This amount is due to the exchequer and represents VAT collected by them and not paid to the state coffers. The retention by the PLPN of this sum of €5 million also signifies that the party media houses are making use of monies due to the national exchequer in their day-to-day workings!  It is an undeclared loan to the benefit of both the PL and the PN. Whenever it suites them, PLPN are in agreement. They are on the same wavelength. They are taking a free ride on the taxpayers back, year-in year-out.

Business is right to publicly complain on the preferential treatment meted out to the PLPN media houses on outstanding VAT payments. It is a reasonable expectation that the country’s leaders should lead by example!

The problem is however much larger than that. Some time back the media alerted us on the PLPN pending water and electricity bills too. The pending amounts due were known to be substantial. The latest available information is of a combined outstanding bill of €2,500,000. Up to date information is difficult to come by as ARMS considers it as a confidential matter, notwithstanding it being a matter of public interest due to its abusive nature.  Is it not about time that ARMS deals with PLPN companies in the same way as it deals with its other customers and ensures that they pay their bills on time?

There are also arrears due for National Insurance contributions and Income Tax deductions for employees of political parties and their companies. It has in the past been indicated that these arrears may run into many million euros even though the precise quantum is not known.

In effect this means that the PLPN have another undeclared source of finance for their day-to-day operations: an interminable credit on taxes and payments due to the state and its various institutions. Another loan financed by taxpayers in the region of around €10,000,000!

This has to be seen within the context of the underhand deals revealed from time to time between PLPN and business. The latest revelation of a possible draft agreement between Labour and Yorgen Fenech through which a €200,000 “deal for services” by the party media was planned, is a case in point. This is reminiscent of the other deal some years back between the dB Group and PN companies also for “services” by the party media. In both cases these deals are intended to disguise effective donations as “payment for services” thereby circumventing the donations regulations which impose an annual cumulative limit of €25,000 for donations to political parties from any one specific source.

Any business owing so much to the exchequer would be in deep trouble, on the inevitable fast track road to bankruptcy. Such a business would also be risking a takeover of its assets to make good for the substantial amounts due. But for the PLPN it seems that there is nothing to worry about!

All this points to a major intended deficiency of the legislation regulating the financing of political parties. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the PL and the PN are continuously using their companies as a convenient front to go around the political party financial regulatory framework.

As expected PLPN are in denial. The PL insists that its companies have not entered into a deal with Yorgen Fenech. The PN on the other hand insist that all is above board. Yet they continuously fail to play by the rules. Audited accounts for their companies have not been presented for many years. As a result, there is no way to verify whether and to what extent the PLPN commercial companies are innocent of the charges that they are being continuously used to circumvent the rules regulating the funding of political parties.

The rules regulating companies owned by political parties should be tightened up. Such companies should be scrutinised within the framework of the Financing of Political Parties Act of 2015. Real-time reporting is essential in order to ensure that such companies are not used any more to circumvent the rules.

As things stand, at this point in time, the PLPN and their commercial companies have appropriated a substantial loan without authorisation. How’s that for good governance? Another contributory factor to grey-listing?

PLPN cannot solve this. They are an integral part of the problem.

Only the election of Green MPs can clean up this PLPN mess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 September 2021

Mina : rovina

Il-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex, għal darba oħra qegħda fl-aħbarijiet.

Waqt konferenza stampa, iktar kmieni matul il-ġimgħa, kelliema tal-PN fissru kif jaħsbuha dwar il-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex. Bħas-soltu jippruvaw jogħġbu liż-żewġ naħat (favur u kontra l-mina), din id-darba bil-proposta ta’ referendum dwar jekk il-mina għandhiex issir jew le.

Kieku kellu jseħħ referendum ta’ din ix-xorta, dan għandu jinvolvi lil kulħadd, u mhux biss lill-Għawdxin. Dan billi l-impatti negattivi tal-mina, jekk isseħħ, ser jolqtu liż-żewġ naħat tal-fliegu: kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  

Mid-dettalji li nafu s’issa dwar il-mina, hu magħruf li f’Malta din ser tibda minn ħdejn l-Għerien, villaġġ ċkejken, villaġġ trogloditiku fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. Kif jixhed ismu dan il-villaġġ hu parzjalment fl-għerien, fejn kienu jgħixu uħud mill-ewwel abitanti f’dawn il-gżejjer. Riżultat tat-tħaffir għall-mina dan il-villaġġ ser jinqered kompletament. F’Għawdex, min-naħa l-oħra, l-mina tibda fl-inħawi Ta’ Kenuna, fil-limiti tan-Nadur b’impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq il-biedja lokali.  

Tajjeb li neżaminaw mill-ġdid uħud mill-argumenti għala mhemmx ħtieġa ta’ mina li kull ma ser iġġib hu rovina.  

Il-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex ser tkun tiddependi mill-karozzi w inġenji oħra li għax jagħmlu użu minnha jħallsu. Biex il-mina tagħmel sens ekonomiku n-numru ta’ karozzi u inġenji li jagħmlu użu mill-mina jrid ikun wieħed sostanzjali.  F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru u li hu pubbliku kien hemm estimu li l-moviment ta’ karozzi u inġenji oħra bejn Malta u Għawdex jiżdied bi tlett darbiet, minn tlett elef kuljum għal disat elef kuljum. L-istudju hu intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options u kien ikkummissjunat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija flimkien ma’ Transport Malta.

Jagħmel sens li l-karozzi li kull jum jiżdiedu fit-toroq Għawdxin jiżiedu bi tlett darbiet? It-toroq Għawdxin jifilħu għal dan? Għandna nissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-arja f’Għawdex ukoll?  Jagħmel sens li nesportaw il-problemi tat-traffiku minn Malta għal Għawdex?  it-tweġiba ovvja għal kull waħda minn dawn il-mistoqsijiet hi: le, dan ma jagħmilx sens. Bosta minna huma konxji li anke illum, it-toroq Għawdxin diġa ma jifilħux għat-traffiku li jiġi minn Malta kuljum.

Is-servizz tal-katamaran (fast-ferry service) li riċentement beda jitħaddem għandu l-potenzjal għal soluzzjoni fit-tul biex tkun indirizzata b’mod raġjonevoli l-mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma dan is-servizz, waħdu, mhux biżżejjed, jeħtieġ li jkun rinfurzat mis-servizz tat-trasport pubbliku kif ukoll minn faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-Imġarr Għawdex.

Mid-dibattitu tul ix-xhur qed tissaħħaħ l-idea li minbarra r-rotta diretta bejn l-Imġarr u l-Port il-Kbir jista’ jkun utli li jkun hemm xi waqfiet. Din hi proposta li tajjeb li tkun ikkunsidrata, imma irridu noqgħodu attenti li din ma tkunx skuża li warajha tinħeba strateġija biex jiżdied l-iżvilupp mal-kosta, b’mod partikolari dawk il-partijiet tal-kosta li għadhom mhux mittiefsa. Ikun tajjeb li nillimitaw ruħna għall-infrastruttura kostali eżistenti.

L-iżvilupp tas-servizz tal-katamaran, b’dan il-mod, mhux biss iwassal għal ħolqa effiċjenti u permanenti bejn il-gżejjer. Iwassal ukoll għal tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  

Il-mina proposta mhiex soluzzjoni, hi problema, iġġib rovina. Nistgħu nsolvu l-problemi ta’ mobilità bis-sens komun. Is-servizz tal-katamaran hi waħda minn dawn is-soluzzjonijiet: issolvi problema illum mingħajr ma tgħabbi l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.  

ippubblikata fuq Illum : 8 t’Awwissu 2021

The Gozo tunnel white elephant

The Gozo tunnel issue is once more on the agenda. It forms part of the Father Christmas politics of the Nationalist and the Labour Party.

At a press conference earlier during the week, spokespersons on behalf of the PN put forward their arguments on the Gozo tunnel, as usual trying to straddle both sides of the debate through a proposal for a referendum as to whether the tunnel should proceed or not!

If such a referendum were to take place it should involve everyone and not just Gozitans, as the proposed tunnel will have considerable (negative) impacts on both sides of the Channel.

The details of the proposed tunnel, as known to date, signify that the tunnel will have a Malta starting point close to the troglodytic hamlet at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa which hamlet would, as a result, be completely obliterated. At Gozo the tunnel will start at Ta’ Kenuna, within the limits of Nadur impacting considerably the agricultural community in the area.

It would be pertinent however to reiterate some of the arguments as to why we do not need another white elephant.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is dependent on cars and other vehicles making use of it, consequently paying the relevant tolls. Maximising such vehicular use is crucial for the proposed tunnel to make any economic sense. One of the studies carried out, which is in the public domain, had estimated that the current daily movements of vehicles between Malta and Gozo should be trebled from 3000 daily movements to 9000 daily movements. The study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options was commissioned by the Gozo Business Chamber together with Transport Malta.

Does it make sense to treble the daily vehicle movements on Gozitan roads? Do Gozitan roads have that capacity? Should we sacrifice air quality in Gozo too? Does it make sense to export traffic problems from Malta to Gozo? The obvious answer to all these questions is a clear no. Most of us are aware that Gozitan roads are already bursting at the seams as a result of the vehicles crossing over at this point in time.

The fast-ferry service, recently commencing operation is the potential long-term solution to having a reasonable and sustainable mobility between the islands. It has however to be buttressed by a more focused public transport service and better port facilities at Mġarr Gozo.

The debate over the months has suggested that in addition to a direct Mġarr-Valletta-Mġarr route one could consider intermediate stops on the coast along the route. This is an option worth considering in some depth. Care should however be taken that this would not increase development along the coast, particularly in those stretches of the coast which are still in an almost natural state. The preference for establishing intermediate stops should go for existing coastal infrastructure which could be improved.

The further development of the fast-ferry service would thus not only lead to a permanent efficient link between the islands, but also to a considerable reduction of cars from our roads on both sides of the Channel.

The proposed tunnel is not a solution, it is a problem. We can solve our mobility problems by opting for common sense solutions. The fast-ferry service is one such solution: it solves today’s problem without burdening future generations.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 August 2021

Il-qrubija bejn il-poter politiku u l-poter tan-negozju wasslu biex nawwru l-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji tal-pajjiż : Silta (5) mill-inkjesta

Kondotta inaċċettabbli tal-Prim Ministru

Għall-Bord il-kondotta tal-allura Prim Ministru f’din iċ-ċirkustanza u l-mod abbużiv kif baqa’ jipproteġi liċ-Chief of Staff tiegħu u jsostnih fil-kariga importanti li kellu fl-amministrazzjoni sakemm ġie arrestat in konnessjoni mal-assassinju, hi inaċċettabbli, kundannabbli u tirrażenta nuqqas gravi w abbuż fl-eżerċizzju tal-funzjonijiet tiegħu bħala kap tal-gvern u garanti talgovernanza tajba. Hawn mhux si tratta ta’ ġudizzju politiku żbaljat li jeżorbita mit-termini ta’ referenza ta’ dan il-Bord. Si tratta fl-agħar ipotesi għal Dr Muscat għall-kopertura, protezzjoni ta’ persuni li allegatament ikkommettew reati gravi. Il-Bord baqa’ żbalordit bir-risposta li ta għad-domanda jekk kienx tkellem mas-Sur Fenech u lis-Sur Schembri dwar 17 Black wara l-assassinju meta bdew joħorġu aktar dettalji dwar min kien is-sid ta’ din il-kumpanija. Dan anke in vista tal-fatt li kienet teżisti ħbiberija u linja ta’ kommunikazzjoni diretta bejniethom anke permezz ta’ WhatsApp li baqgħet anke għal xi żmien meta kien persuna ta’ interess fl-omiċidju. Dr. Muscat wieġeb hekk: “Le. IsSur Fenech qatt ma staqsejtu u qatt ma tkellimt miegħu fuq dan il-punt. Lil Keith Schembri li kien jaqa’ taħti, staqsejtu wara li ħareġ dan kollu u reġa’ qal li kienet kwistjoni ta’ negozju bejniethom it-tnejn u qalli li ma għandha x’taqsam xejn mal-Electorgas”.

Is-Sur Schembri fil-verità jibqa’ jsostni hekk ukoll anke sal-lum. Mhux ilkompitu tal-Bord li jesprimi ruħu fuq x’inhi l-verità f’dan ir-rigward. Il-punt kruċjali hu illi meta saret l-akkuża, xhur qabel l-assassinju, l-Prim Ministru m’għamel xejn meta missu għamel ħafna. Kien bħal minimu obbligat jirrapporta l-allegazzjoni formalment lill-Pulizija b’talba li tinvestigaha b’urġenza jekk xejn għax kienet tista thedded l-istabilità tal-governanza fil-pajjiż. Il-Pulizija dak iż-żmien taħt il-Kummissarju Lawrence Cutajar għamlu ftit li xejn. Ċertament m’għamlux dak li kellhom jagħmlu. Ċertament għamel inqas mill-Kummissarju ta’ qablu Michael Cassar li wara li ġew żvelati ddettalji dwar il-Panama Papers u ġie informa li l-FIAU kienu qed jaħdmu fuqha, fetaħ file bl-isem ta’ ‘Operation Green’. Hu kien irriżenja xi tlett ġimgħat wara li kien irċieva r-rapporti dwar is-Sur Keith Schembri u l-Ministru Mizzi. Lill-Bord tah x’jifhem illi ma felaħx għall-pressjoni li akkużi gravi ta’ din ix-xorta ġabet fuqu. L-istess kif kien għamel Manfred Galdes.

Abbuż ta’ poter li jekk pruvat ibiddel ix-xenarju

Dawn ir-referenzi qsar għaċ-ċirkostanzi tal-Panama Papers u l-kumpanija 17 Black qed isiru f’dan l-istadju mill-Bord għaliex huma indikattivi ta’ kif kien jiġi abbużat l-eżerċizzju tal-poter fl-ogħla livell biex jiġu protetti persuni fil-qalba tal-amministrazzjoni. Huma importanti wkoll għaliex jekk wieħed jikkunsidra illi tnejn mill-persuni involuti kienu jew jista’ jkun li għadhom persuni ta’ interess għall-pulizija fl-investigazzjoni tagħhom tal-omiċidju li ġie ippjanat tul iż-żmien u jekk l-involviment tagħhom jiġi b’xi mod konstatat minn awtorità kompetenti – salvi dejjem il-preżunzjoni tal-innoċenza u d-dritt tagħhom għal smigħ xieraq u ġust – il-kwistjoni ma tibqax biss li jiġi determinat jekk xi att jew ommissjoni illeċitu minn jew fi ħdan xi entità talIStat iffaċilitatx l-assassinju meta kellha tipprevenih. Ix-xenarju jinbidel għal wieħed ta’ parteċipazzjoni attiva ta’ persuni li jikkomponi enti tal-IStat filkommissjoni tad-delitt. Dan apparti, fuq bażi fattwali u mhux issa ipotetika, l-inattività pależi tal-Prim Ministru u tal-entitajiet tal-iStat, fosthom il-Pulizija li għandhom il-funzjoni li jħarsu lis-soċjetà mill-kriminalità u jiggarantixxu l-ordni pubbliku, li jieħdu passi effettivi u fil-ħin kontra persuni ta’ poter fil-politika u fin-negozju, tnissel sens qawwi ta’ impunità, mhux biss fl-istess persuni involuti, imma wkoll f’kullmin kien intenzjonat li jaġixxi biex jipparteċipa f’xi aġir kriminuż. Kif jirriżulta mill-provi dawn fittxew li jkollhom konnessjonijiet fl-ogħla livell ta’ ħbiberija jew interess ma’ min kellu s-setgħa biex ikun jistgħu jaġixxu flassigurazzjoni reali jew perċepita li ser ikunu minnhom protetti. Dawn iċ-ċirkostanzi huma relevanti wkoll għaliex huma prova tanġibbli tażżwieġ li seħħ bejn l-eżerċizzju tal-poter politiku u l-eżerċizzju tal-poter ekonomiku. Żwieġ inċestuż li kien fil-qalba tal-investigazzjonijiet talġurnalista assassinata u li ngħad, ma setax ma kienx il-movent prinċipali talqtil tagħha.

Theddida għall-eżerċizzju tal-poter ekonomiku

Il-Bord konvint kif inhu, illi fuq bażi qawwija ta’ probabbilitajiet jekk mhux ċertezza, l-assassinju tas-Sinjura Caruana Galizia hu inevitabblilment marbut ma’ dawk li hi kienet tqis li huma skandli serji ta’ amministrazzjoni ħażina, riżultat tal-qrubija bejn il-poter politiku u l-poter tan-negozju kbir li wasslu biex nawwru sewwa l-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji tal-pajjiż, hi inevitabbli l-konklużjoni illi l-ġurnalista sabet in-nemesi fatali tagħha fil-politika dikjarata tal-gvern sa minn qabel l-elezzjoni tal-2013, illi hu kien determinat li jkun għal kollox business friendly. Politika li kellha l-għan li tiffavorixxi n-negozju, tinkorraġġixxi s-sħubija tal-gvern mal-investiment privat u tirrealizza proġetti kbar li joħolqu l-ġid.

Ladarba ġiet eskluża t-teżi illi l-omiċidju seta’ seħħ minħabba xi att inkonsult ta’ fanatiżmu politiku partiġġjan – f’dan ir-rigward ma rriżultat l-ebda provi quddiem dan il-Bord – il-fatti rilevanti li rriżultaw kemm qabel u kemm wara l-omiċidju għandhom jiġu ikkunsidrati minn din l-ottika. Il-Bord ripetutament afferma li ma kien hemm xejn oġġezzjonabbli li l-gvern ikollu politika li tkun business-friendly, anzi fi kliem iċ-Chief of Staff Keith Schembri gvern b’‘mentalità tal-business’, sakemm l-eżekuzzjoni ta’ dik il-politika u r-relazzjonijiet bejn l-amministrazzjoni pubblika u negozjanti w investituri jinżammu strettament fil-limiti tal-liġijiet u r-regolamenti applikabbli. Hu f’dan illi l-aġir tal-gvern falla. Hu għaliex il-mentalità ta’ negozjant għandha bħala regola l-mira illi timmassimizza l-profitt fin-negozju, bl-inqas burokrazija, u billi taqta’ għad-dritt ħadet is-sopravvent fuq dik li għandha tkun il-mira ta’ kull gvern li joħloq il-ġid fl-interess tal-komunità b’mod ġust u trasparenti skont il-liġijiet tal-pajjiż, illi ngħata lok għal sitwazzjonijiet li tista’ tgħid kull proġett maġġuri inizjat mill-amministrazzjoni spiċċa kellu dellijiet ta’ irregolaritajiet, abbuż ta’ poter u korruzzjoni. Allegazzjonijiet li jimplikaw li negozjanti involuti f’dawn il-proġetti għamlu jew kienu intenzjonati li jagħmlu qligħ indebitu minn fuq dahar il-poplu anki f’xi okkażjonijiet b’kollużjoni ma’ personaġġi politiċi ewlenin involuti fit-twettieq ta’ proġetti. Il-proġett tal-Electrogas hu wieħed minn dawn il-proġetti li dwaru l-Awditur Ġenerali esprima riservi kbar dwar ir-regolarità tal-proċeduri fit-twettieq talproġett u l-ħarsien tal-liġijiet applikabbli.

(pp 201-6)

The Republic is sick

Following the compilation of evidence in our law courts relative to the multiple cases dealing with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is in itself a detailed continuously developing documentary of the failure of our institutions, the failure of the state.

Daphne’s assassination is also a failure of the police corps to keep a tag on criminal activity.

How could the police corps carry out its duties with officers like Silvio Valletta hibernating deep inside criminal pockets? Silvio Valletta has to date not been prosecuted for his criminal activity which has been the cause of considerable reputational damage and to the effectiveness of the police corps.

Today we know of Valletta’s cavorting with Yorgen Fenech. Valletta was not an ordinary simple cop languishing in some out of the way police station. He practically ran the Police Corps as Deputy Commissioner of Police and represented it on the governing board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).

The fact that this top policeman acted in such a manner is a clear indication of the forma mentis of the contemporary top brass at Floriana Police HQ. An Ombudsman report made public earlier this month on the investigation relative to the complaint of a Police Superintendent has dwelt at some length as to how police officials were selected: loyalty to the boss before loyalty to service was a basic requirement. With police officer selection being carried out on the basis of such a “qualification” it is no surprise that that the Police Corps was compromised for such a long time.

Uncle Silvio was the perfect investment for Yorgen Fenech. For a long time, Silvio Valletta was the key that facilitated access to Yorgen Fenech to all sorts of intelligence. A perfect example which illustrates what it means when we emphasise that the criminal world is many steps ahead of the police force.  In this specific case, for quite a time, the criminal world had the police force on a remote control, through Silvio Valletta.

It is difficult to comprehend how we could ever have an institutional failure of larger proportions.

This did not happen overnight. It is however central to the web of intrigue which developed over the years and leading up the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and beyond.

When Valletta’s conflict of interest as the then husband of a cabinet minister was spotlighted, the resistance to let got was enormous. It had to be a laborious court case which at the end of the day had him removed from coordinating the assassination investigation.

The final report of the public inquiry into Daphne’s assassination has now been published. It does not identify who signed Daphne’s death warrant: that was not its purpose. It does however examine how a state of impunity has developed over time such that her assassination was the direct consequence. It points out how business and politics became intertwined until you could not tell which was which.

The main takeaway from the inquiry report is that the state has been taken over by a Mafia mentality. The state has been hijacked by a cultural mindset that allows and encourages a Mafia attitude to take root and prosper.

Few of the proposals of the inquiry are new to the political debate. Most have been put forward over the years but they were shot down, diluted or had the breaks applied by different governments. Effective whistleblowing is still subject to political strings as has been evidenced over the years. Lobbying regulation is still talked of but not implemented.  The regulation of ethical behaviour has developed into a farce, notwithstanding the efforts of George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

It is about time that the links between business and all branches of the state are transparent. Everything, without any exception, must be above board. This has been on the books for years, yet continuously ignored.

The Maltese state has been severely weakened by those who sought their fast-track enrichment at all costs. It is up to all of us, to stop them in their tracks. The soonest. The state has failed us. The Republic is sick.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 August 2021

Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

It-taħwid fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Qatt ħsibt ftit dwar kif inhu possibli li r-regolatur tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art f’Malta jinsab fl-istat ta’ taħwid li qiegħed? Ħarsu ftit lejn il-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Wieħed mill-akkużati hu Matthew Pace li sa ftit ilu kien membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Spettur tal-Pulizija li kien qed jixhed fil-każ iddeskrivieh bħala professjonist tal-ħasil tal-flus:  a professional money launderer.

Ftit jiftakru li f’Ġunju 2018 kellna aħbar li l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) kienet immultat lil  Matthew Pace is-somma ta’ €38,750 minħabba li ma segwiex il-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus meta kien qed jieħu ħsieb l-investimenti tal-klijent tiegħu Keith Schembri. Dan kien fatt magħruf. Mid-dehra l-Gvern kien kuntent bih, għax ma għamel xejn dwaru. Qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Ikun interessanti nkunu nafu jekk il-konsulent legali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ċertu Dr Robert Abela, ġibitx l-attenzjoni tal-Awtorità dwar il-ħtieġa li taġixxi dwar dan. Jekk le, forsi l-istess Dr Robert Abela bħala l-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat ġibidlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan? Ma smajna xejn dwar dan kollu.  ilkoll kompromessi. Governanza tajba? U mhux hekk tgħid.

Matthew Pace għamel snin membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kien biss wara l-każ ċar ta’ kunflitt ta’interess tiegħu  fil-każ tal-applikazzjoni ta’żvilupp mill-Grupp dB f’Pembroke li kien sfurzat jirreżenja u dan wara pressjoni pubblika minn ambjentalisti. Ngħid li kien “sfurzat” għax wara li l-Qorti annullat il-permess mogħti lill-Grupp dB fuq il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace hu kien għall-ewwel irrifjuta li jwarrab. Kien ippruvat li huwa ħa sehem fil-laqgħat li wasslu għal deċiżjoni dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke, u ivvota favur din l-applikazzjoni.  Fl-istess ħin kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà li kienet qed tbiegħ  partijiet minn dan l-iżvilupp sa minn qabel mal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur, approva din l-applikazzjoni! Dik governanza tajba. Dik imġieba korretta!

Din hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Sfortunatament il-membri l-oħra tal-Bord huma ukoll effettwati minħabba l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom miegħu.  Iridu jgħaddu snin kbar qabel mar-regulatur jirkupra minn dan.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk.

Ambjentalisti skoprew, kważi b’kumbinazzjoni, li c-Chairman attwali tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar  (EPRT) li jisma’ appelli dwar każijiet ta’ ippjanar tal-użu tal-art u oħrajn dwar l-ambjent huwa ukoll impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Presentement qiegħed b’leave bla ħlas mill-impjieg normali tiegħu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bid-dritt li jmur lura għall-impieg normali tiegħu hekk kif tintemm il-ħatra tiegħu bħala Chairperson tat-Tribunal.  

Kif jista’ impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet li jieħu min jimpjegah? Dan imma hu dak li jagħmel kuljum ic-Chairman tal-EPRT.  L-anqas jekk jipprova ma qatt jista’ jkun imparzjali. Imma meta inġibditlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan ma qabilx li s-sitwazzjoni partikolari tiegħu titfa dell fuq l-imparzjalità tiegħu meta jiddeċiedi dwar kazijiet tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Fl-aħħar ser tkun il-Qorti li jkollha tiddeċiedi u l-ħsara li tkun saret sadanittant ser tkun waħda kbira.

It-taħwid, kif qed taraw, hu kbir. B’dawn in-nuqqasijiet etiċi ħadd m’għandu jiskanta li l-proċess dwar l-użu ta’ l-art tilef kull kredibilità.  

A mess by design

Did you ever wonder why it is possible for the land use planning regulator in Malta to be in such a mess? Just take a look at the criminal proceedings currently under way on money laundering. A former Planning Authority Board member, Matthew Pace, is one of the accused. A police inspector, explaining the investigation results has described him as a professional money launderer.

Few may remember that, way back in June 2018, an item in the news had announced that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had fined Matthew Pace the sum of €38,750 for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws when dealing with investments held by a client of his named Keith Schembri. It was public knowledge and government was apparently happy as it did not act about it.

It would be interesting to know if the then legal advisor of the Planning Authority, a certain Dr Robert Abela, had flagged the issue and drawn the attention of the Authority on the need to take action. If not, could the legal advisor to Joseph Muscat, the same Dr Robert Abela, have drawn attention of his then boss to the matter? We have heard nothing about it. As we are by now aware, they are all compromised. Good governance my foot!

Mr Matthew Pace spent years as a member of the Planning Authority Board and it was only after his blatant case of conflict of interest in the dB Pembroke case that he was forced to resign as a result of public pressures by environmentalists. I say he was “forced to resign” as, when the Court annulled the dB Pembroke permit on the basis of Matthew Pace’s conflict of interest, he initially refused to make way. It was proven that he sat in judgement and participated in the decision on the dB Pembroke permit, voting in favour of its approval. Simultaneously he had an interest in an estate agency which was already “selling” units forming part of the dB Pembroke development even before the development permit was approved by the Planning Board with Matthew Pace’s vote in favour! Governance at its best!

This is the Planning Authority. Unfortunately, the other members of the Board are impacted by association. It will be many years before this regulator recovers.

There is more.

Environmentalists have discovered, almost by accident, that the current Chairman of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) while sitting in judgement on appeal cases concerning planning and environmental issues is still an employee of the Planning Authority. He is currently on leave without pay having the right to return to his employment with the Planning Authority when his current term as Chairman of the EPRT expires.

How can an employee of the Planning Authority sit in judgement on the decisions of his employer? Yet this is what the Chairman of the EPRT does every day. He cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impartial even if he tries his very best. Yet whenever he was challenged, he has refused to accept that his specific circumstances render him unsuitable to Chair the EPRT in all cases concerning the Planning Authority. This matter will eventually have to be decided by the Courts with possible considerable consequences.

The mess gets worse every day.

With these ethical failures it is no wonder that the credibility of the land use planning process has gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 March 2021