Undermining the rule of law

The “rule of law” is a basic democratic principle codified in the laws of democratic countries.

We are all servants of the law in order to be free and in a democracy, the law should apply to one and all without exception. A weak “rule of law” thus results in less and less democracy until one is left with only a free-standing façade.

The law is there to be observed: it should be a constraint on the behaviour of individuals as well as on that of institutions. All individuals ought to be subject to the same laws, whereas institutions are there to protect us all, not just from ourselves but also from all possible attempted abuse of authority by the institutions themselves.

It is within this context that the report of the ad hoc delegation of the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament has to be considered. The report is an illustration of how others see the state of our democracy, even though at points it may be inaccurate.

The delegation’s brief was to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion”.

The observations and conclusions of the delegation in its 36-page report are certainly not edifying. The common thread running through the different pages of the report is that in Malta there are more masters of the law than servants; this is how others see us.

In my opinion they are not far off the mark. The report repeatedly emphasises the point that the law should be observed in both letter and spirit.

The institutions in Malta are very weak. I would add that they are weak by design, in other words they are designed specifically to genuflect when confronted by crude political power. This is reflected both in the type of appointees as well as in the actual set-up of the institutions which are supposedly there to protect us.

The above-mentioned report observes, for example, that none of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) reports on Maltese politically exposed persons (PEPs) were investigated by the Police, notwithstanding the fact that the said reports had been forwarded to them “for any action the Police may consider appropriate”.

Is it too much to expect that the police do their duty in at least investigating? The fact that no such investigation was carried out drives home the clear unequivocal message that for the police, PEPs are not subject to the law like any other person. The EU Parliament report is very clear as to why such investigations are essential. In fact it is stated that: “Persons perceived to be implicated in serious acts of corruption and money- laundering, as a result of Panama Papers revelations and FIAU reports, should not be kept in public office and must be swiftly and formally investigated and brought to justice. Keeping them in office affects the credibility of the Government, fuels the perception of impunity and may result in further damage to State interests by enabling the continuation of criminal activity.”

The question to be asked is: why is this possible? Why do Maltese authorities tend to bend the rules or close an eye here and there?

You may find an indication as to why this is so in two small incidents occurring in Malta this year. These illustrate the forma mentis of the Maltese “authorities”.

The first example is associated with the fireworks factory at Iż-Żebbiegħ. After 30 years in Court the rural community of iż-Żebbiegħ won a civil case as a result of which a permit for a fireworks factory was declared null and void by the Court of Appeal. The government reacted by rushing through Parliament amendments to the Explosives Ordinance. These amendments with approved by Parliament with the full support of the Opposition. As a result, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal, a permit for the fireworks factory can still be issued.

The second example is still “work in progress”. The Court of Appeal has, in the application of rent legislation, decided that the Antoine de Paule Band Club in Paola was in breach of its lease agreement. As a result the Court of Appeal ordered the eviction of the band club from the premises they leased within four months.

The government reacted by publishing proposed amendments to the Civil Code, as a result of which the eviction ordered by the Court of Appeal will be blocked.

These are two examples of the government reacting to decisions of our Courts of Law by moving the goalposts – with the direct involvement of the Opposition. The public reactions to these two cases have been minimal. Maltese public opinion has become immune to such “cheating” and bending of the rules because this method of operation has become an integral part of the way in which our institutions function. The Opposition is an active collaborator in this exercise that undermines the rule of law in Malta.

Is it therefore reasonable to be surprised if this “cheating” and bending of the rules is applied not just in minor matters but in very serious ones too? Moving the goalposts whenever it is politically expedient is, unfortunately, part of the way in which this country has operated to date. It is certainly anything but democratic and most obviously anything but respectful towards the rule of law.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 May 2018

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Il-każini tal-banda: liġi għall-allat u oħra għall-annimali

 

Nhar il-Ġimgħa li għaddiet, fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern, ġie ppubblikat abbozz ta’ liġi li f’parti minnu jitkellem dwar il-każini tal-banda.

Wara li xahar ilu, f’April li għadda, l-Qorti, f’appell deċiż mill-Imħallef Anthony Ellul, iddeċidiet kawża kontra l-każin tal-banda De Paule tar-Raħal Ġdid, il-Gvern permezz tal-Ministru Owen Bonnici kien wiegħed li ser iħares lejn kif jista’ jemenda l-liġi biex iżid il-protezzjoni lill-każini tal-banda. Għalkemm kien tħabbar dakinnhar li l-Opposizzjoni kienet kkonsultata, s’issa mhux magħruf jekk hemmx qbil bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni dwar l-abbozz ippubblikat.

Il-Qorti kienet iddeċidiet li fil-Każin tal-Banda de Paule kienu saru alterazzjonijiet bla awtorizzazzjoni u għaldaqstant skond ma jipprovdi l-kuntratt tal-kirja ordnat li l-każin jingħata lura lis-sidien u dan għax inkisru l-kundizzjonijiet tal-istess kuntratt.

Bl-emendi proposti ser ikun possibli li dan ma jsirx. L-emendi proposti għal-Kodiċi Ċivili jipproponu li (fil-każ tal-każini tal-banda) l-kirja tista’ tibqa’ fis-seħħ jekk fost oħrajn il-kera tiżdied b’għaxar darbiet kif ukoll li tingħata garanzija li l-binja tkun tista’ tiġi restawrata għall-istat oriġinali qabel ma saru l-alterazzjonijiet mhux awtorizzati.

Bla dubju l-emendi huma motivati mill-ħsieb nobbli li tingħata difiża lill-funzjoni soċjali u importanti tal-każini tal-banda fil-komunitá.

Imma hemm problema kbira. Il-Gvern għal darba oħra qed jagħti l-messaġġ li hemm min hu l-fuq mil-liġi. Jiena u inti jekk niksru l-liġi nħallsu l-konsegwenzi. Imma għat-tieni darba għandna min qiegħed jitqiegħed il-fuq mil-liġi.

Ftit ġimgħat ilu kellna lil tal-kmamar tan-nar li wara tletin sena jiksru l-liġi kellhom sentenza kontra tagħhom u l-Gvern bidel il-liġi li tirregola d-distanzi li jridu jinżammu mill-kmamar tan-nar, biex il-bdiewa u l-komunitá rurali taż-Żebbiegħ baqgħu jsaffru l-Aida.

Issa għandna lill-każini tal-banda.

Ir-rispett lejn is-saltna tad-dritt (r-rule of law jiġifieri) tfisser ukoll r-rispett lejn is-sentenzi tal-Qrati tagħna. Tfisser ukoll li l-Gvern ma jagħtix messaġġ li f’ċerti ċirkustanzi ma jkun hemm l-ebda diffikulta li xi ħadd, hu min hu, jitqiegħed il-fuq mil-liġi.

Lil hinn mill-importanza soċjali tal-każini tal-banda il-liġi proposta hi liġi ħażina għax timmina s-saltna tad-dritt.

Hemm modi oħra kif jistgħu jkunu mgħejjuna l-każini tal-banda mingħajr ma tkun imminata s-saltna tad-dritt.

Imma mid-dehra l-Gvern mhux interessat: għax issa drajna li f’dan il-pajjiż għandna liġi għall-allat u oħra għall-annimali, kif kien ibbottja Varist Bartolo!

Il-kosta tagħna lkoll?

paceville-mp-land-use

Il-Masterplan għal Paceville huwa mifrux fuq medda kbira ta’ art. Għax Paceville tmiss ma’ Pembroke, mas-Swieqi u anke ma’ San Ġiljan. Imma għandha ukoll biċċa kosta twila ġmielha, li skond minn fejn tibda tkejjilha tista’ ġġebbed bejn tlieta u erbgħa kilometri.

Il-pjan jgħidilna li ser ikun possibli li tippassiġġa mal-kosta kollha.  Imma r-realtà hi li kosta kollha ta’ Paceville hi mimlija konċessjonijiet  li l-Gvern tul is-snin ta lill-privat għan-negozju, prinċipalment negozju konness mal-baħar jew mal-lukandi.

Waqt il-laqgħa ta’ nhar l-Erbgħa tal-Kumitat Parlamentari tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar, id-Dipartiment tal-Propjetà tal-Gvern ippreżenta pjanta li turi il-propjeta kollha li għandu l-Gvern f’Paceville, biċċa waħda tmiss ma l-oħra. F’xi każi l-pjanta turi bejn 4 metri u 5 metri mill-kosta l-ġewwa li huma riżervati għall-aċċess tal-pubbliku, għalkemm ħafna drabi m’huwiex ċar kif dawn il-passaġġi riżervati għalina lkoll tista’ tasal għalihom.

F’Mejju li għadda b’vot unanimu l-Parlament approva emendi għall Kodiċi Civili li permezz tagħhom ġie ċċarat li l-kosta hi propjetà pubblika. Jiġifieri din hi tagħna lkoll. Mill-inqas sa 15-il metru l-ġewwa minn fejn iħabbat il-baħar. Imma fejn il-mewġ jibqa’ dieħel iktar il-ġewwa, il-15-il metru jiżdiedu ukoll, skond is-saħħa tal-baħar.

Is-serjetà kienet titlob li billi l-ewwel abbozz tal-Master Plan ta’ Paceville ġie ippubblikat għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika bosta ġimgħat wara li l-Parlament esprima ruħu b’mod tant ċar, dan kellu jagħti kaz b’serjeta kbira ta’ dak li ddeċieda l-Parlament.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament dwar il-kosta u l-art ta’ mal-plajja tfisser ħafna iktar minn sempliċi passaġġ fejn jgħaddu n-nies. Imma sfortunatament, il-konsulenti li fasslu l-Master Plan ma fehmu xejn minn dan u minflok ma fittxew kif ser jgħaddu lura lin-nies it-tgawdija ta’ partijiet ikbar mill-kosta qed jipproponulna li jkompli r-renju tal-konkos u l-azzar bi blokki għoljin tletin sular li jistgħu jinbnew viċin tal-kosta.

Issa jew hemm min ma jafx x’inhu jagħmel inkella qed jippruvaw jgħaddu lil kulħadd biż-żmien. Għax jekk il-Parlament qed jaqbel magħna u qiegħed jgħidilna li l-kosta hi tagħna lkoll, kif jiġu dawn il-konsulenti tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jgħidulna li din ser jibqgħu jgawdu minnha l-ftit, biex fiha tibqa’ issir l-adorazzjoni tat-torrijiet?

pubblikat f’Illum : 16 t’Ottubru 2016

Claiming back our coast

portomaso-st-julian-s

 

The  Paceville Master Plan is rightfully subtitled : Malta’s prime coastal location.  However, it considers the coast as a money-spinner and completely ignores Parliament’s decision earlier this year to codify the importance of the coastal area through its inclusion in legislation regulating the public domain.

The Paceville Master Plan issued for public consultation on 26 September was the first opportunity for the Planning Authority, on behalf of the government – which instructs it on policy initiatives – to flesh out the bones of the declarations made in the public domain legislation, approved by Parliament in May. That it did not do so casts considerable doubt as to whether the unanimous approval by Parliament of the public domain legislation is another political gimmick.

The Paceville Master Plan covers a large tract of land bordering Pembroke to the north, Swieqi to the west, St Julian’s to the South and coastal waters to the east.  The Paceville coastline is extensive: it adds up to anything between three and four kilometres, depending on the manner of measurement.

We have been told that the Paceville coastline will be accessible through a passageway that will be created along the coast. As a matter of fact, most of the Paceville coastline is already dotted with commercial development on land which is either public property or else is subject to servitudes in favour of the state. During last Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee, representatives of the Government Property Department presented a drawing indicating all this property along the Paceville coastline. In a number of instances, the drawing submitted indicated passageways of a width varying between four and five metres along the coast which are obviously intended for public access, even though it is not always clear how one would be able to find their points of entry and exit.

Parliament’s approval of amendments to the Civil Code approved in May lays robust legal foundations for the protection of the coast. The government has been entrusted with protect the coast on behalf of future generations, hence it belongs to all of us, in trust, on behalf of those future generations.  The coastal perimeter extends to a minimum of 15 metres from the shoreline. To this, the newly-approved legislation adds the foreshore, which extends as far as the reach of the largest wave – a reach that can be substantial in those parts of the coastline that are exposed to the open sea.

Large sections of the Paceville coastline are developed, but there are still small pockets which are either not developed or else contain development that is not intensive. A proactive Master Plan would have identified this as an opportunity for plotting the way forward in implementing a programme for the protection of the Paceville coast.  Unfortunately, it seems that the consultants to the Planning Authority were not briefed on the matter and as a consequence there is a real danger that this opportunity will be lost.

After the current public consultation is concluded, the Planning Authority will have to examine the comments made and consider the extent to which such comments can and should be taken into consideration in the second draft of the Master Plan.

The Authority should take on board the public domain legislation in respect of the coast and plan for its implementation when it revises the first draft of Paceville Master Plan.  In the short term, this should be done in relation to those areas which are still undeveloped or underdeveloped. I would also expect the Planning Authority to plan for the longer timeframe in respect of those sections of the coastline which are already intensively developed.

This leaves one other basic issue: land reclamation. I feel that, on a policy level, Labour’s land reclamation policy is the marine equivalent of the Nationalist’s widely criticised 2006 rationalisation exercise through which the boundaries of development were irresponsibly extended.  Labour will be extending the limits to development outwards towards the sea whilst the Nationalist-led government extended the said limits towards the countryside.

The proposed Master Plan for Paceville recommends land reclamation off the Dragonara/Portomaso coastline. This is an ill-thought proposal as the area identified for land reclamation will be an extension of possibly the most intensively developed part of the Paceville coast. This proposal should undoubtedly be revisited as commonsense suggests that rather than increasing development in the area, this should, in the long term, be curtailed.

The proposed Paceville Master Plan should be utilised as a planning tool for adequate coastal management. It can, at this point in time, also be the optimum vehicle for translating the public domain legislation into practical policies through which we can start the process of reclaiming the coast for future generations.

This is an opportunity which should not be missed.

published in The Malta Independent : 16 October 2016