Il-ħarsien tal-kosta: ma hemmx rieda politika

Il-kosta Maltija hi taħt assedju. Ilha żmien hekk. Il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-kosta mhiex fenomenu riċenti. Ilha għaddejja s-snin.

L-abbozz ta’ Masterplan għal Paceville, li issa ġie skartat, ma kellu l-ebda skop li jħares il-kosta. Kemm min fassal dan il-pjan kif ukoll it-tmexxija tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, li mexxietu ‘l quddiem, fittxew li jiffaċilitaw il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-kosta. L-abbozz ta’ pjan għal Paceville injora kompletament il-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku, eżatt bħal ma qiegħed iseħħ fir-regolamentazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod ġenerali.

It-titjib li sar fl-2016 fil-leġislazzjoni lokali dwar id-dimanju pubbliku kien eżerċizzju biex jagħti stampa li mhiex minnha. Beda bil-pubblikazzjoni fl-2012 tal-White Paper bit-titlu bombastiku ta’ The Public Domain. Classifying Public Property – Achieving a Qualitative Leap in Protection and Governance.” Iktar tard, il-Parlament approva l-liġi bħala riżultat ta’ mozzjoni mressqa mill-Opposizzjoni. Bla dubju, jeżistu problemi fil-proċess tal-implimentazzjoni, problemi li ser idumu biex tinstabilhom soluzzjoni, sal-mument li ftit li xejn ikun baqa’ x’tipproteġi!

Minkejja l-liġi li ssaħħaħ u taġġorna l-qafas regolatorju għall-governanza tad-dimanju pubbliku, wara tlett snin, is-sitwazzjoni qed tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar. Talbiet li saru mill-għaqdiet ambjentali biex immedjatament jibda l-proċess ta’ implimentazzjoni tqiegħed fil-ġemb għax ma hemm l-ebda rieda politika li l-affarijiet jiċċaqalqu. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ilhom sa minn Ġunju 2016 li issottomettew id-dokumentazzjoni meħtieġa dwar 23 sit mal-kosta biex dawn ikunu protetti. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ilha minn dakinnhar tkaxkar saqajha, attenta li ma tmurx tippreġudika l-interessi tal-iżviluppaturi li hi sservi bi skruplu kbir.

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta tfisser ferm iktar minn tindifa u ġbir ta’ skart mormi. Ifisser li għandna nibdlu l-attitudnijiet tagħna kif ukoll li nduru dawra l-politika żbaljata li l-pajjiż għandu llum. Għandna bżonn urġenti ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika li tkun kapaċi tifhem li hi teżisti biex isservi u biex tħares il-ġid komuni. Sfortunatament, f‘Malta, l-awtoritajiet jagħtu messaġġ ċar li l-viżjoni tagħhom hi li jiffaċilitaw li jkun hawn min ibill subgħajh f’dak li jamministra l-istat Malti.

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta u lil hinn minnha hi meħtieġa biex ikollna governanza tajba, li aħna nieqsa minnha. L-oriġinI ta’ dan fil-liġi Maltija taf il-bidu tagħha għal influwenza mil-liġi Rumana li kienet tqis il-kosta u lil hinn minnha bħala propjetà pubblika biex titgawda minn kulħadd: jiġifieri l-kosta hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Kodiċi Ċivili Malti jinkludi artikli li jikkunsidraw iċ-ċirkustanzi li bħala riżultat tagħhom il-parti l-ġewwa mill-kosta protetta tista’ tasal sa fejn twassal l-ikbar mewġa, u dan jista’ jkun sa ħmistax-il metru ‘l-ġewwa mill-kosta. F’din iz-zona ta’ 15-il metru hemm numru ta’ propjetajiet privati.

Huwa ta’ sfortuna li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tinjora dan kollu meta tkun qed tikkunsidra applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp li għandhom faċċata fuq il-kosta ta’ San Ġiljan. Tliet applikazzjonijiet dwar l-istess sit mal-kosta diġa ġew approvati, bir-raba’ applikazzjoni qed toqrob għal deċiżjoni. Il-propjetà oriġinali kienet ilha żmien mibnija. Tidher fis-survey sheets il-qodma tal-1906. B’żieda ma dan, fis-sit tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hemm survey fotografiku tal-bini minn ġewwa li juri li l-bini mal-kosta faċċata tal-kunvent tal-Karmelitani fil-Balluta, San Ġiljan hu ta’ kostruzzjoni qadima.

L-iżvilupp inkwistjoni ngħata permess fuq art mal-kosta. B’żieda ma dan kif jidher fil-pjanta approvata li qed nippubblika ma dan l-artiklu, jidher ċar li l-binja tibqa’ ħierġa fuq il-baħar. Jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet l-anqas biss tniffset dwar dan.

Xi ħtieġa għandna ta’ konferma li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar mhiex interessata fil-ħarsien tal-kosta? L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar issa għandha kompliċi ġdid, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, li suppost hi l-gwardjan u l-amministratur tal-propjetà pubblika. Jidher li għad baqa’ biex isseħħ il-qabża fil-kwalità imwegħda fil-ħarsien u l-amministrazzjoni tal-propjetà pubblika.

Minflok, qegħdin kontinwament niffaċċjaw inizjattivi ġodda li bihom assi pubbliċi jsiru privati. Il-ħarsien tal-kosta teħtieġ amministrazzjoni serja li jkollha r-rieda politika li taġixxi. Sfortunatament la għandna l-waħda u l-anqas l-oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 14 t’April 2019

 

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Protecting our Coast: no political will in sight

Our coast is under siege. It has been for a number of years and its commercialisation is not a recent phenomenon: this has also been going on for years.

The draft Paceville Masterplan, now dumped, did not envisage the protection of our coast. Its drafters and promoters of it – part of the Planning Authority’s top management -sought to facilitate the coast’s commercialisation, with the result that it ignored the Public Domain legislation, following the lead of planning policy in general.

The 2016 upgrading of local public domain legislation was just an exercise in white-washing that started with the publication of the 2012 White Paper bombastically entitled The Public Domain. Classifying Public Property – Achieving a Qualitative Leap in Protection and Governance. It was subsequently enacted by Parliament as a result of an Opposition private members’ motion.

There are clearly some teething troubles in the implementation process, troubles that will undoubtedly take quite some time to solve, until, that is, there is nothing left to protect.

Notwithstanding the enactment of legislation which reinforced and updated the public domain regulation and governance framework, after almost three years the situation gets worse every day. Requests by environmental NGOs, to proceed rapidly with its implementation have been placed on the back-burner as there is no political will to act. As far back as June 2016, environmental NGOs submitted documented requests relating to 23 coastal sites in order that these be protected in terms of the updated legislation. The Planning Authority has been procrastinating ever since, being as cautious as ever not to prejudice the interests of the development lobby which it scrupulously serves.

Protecting the coastline means much more than physical clean-ups. Basically, what we require is an extensive clean-up of our attitudes and the weeding out of ineffective policies. We urgently require a public administrative set-up that is aware that it exists specifically in order to facilitate the protection of the common good. Unfortunately, most of the time, the authorities in Malta send a clear message that their vison is focused on facilitating the plundering of everything that is administered by the Maltese state.

Protecting the coast and the foreshore is a measure of good governance that has been absent for a very long time. Its origin in Maltese law is influenced by Roman law which considered the coast, as well as the foreshore, to be public property and for the enjoyment of all. Malta’s Civil Code includes legal provisions which consider circumstances as a result of which the foreshore may extend as far inland as the reach of the largest waves, and that could extend as much as 15 metres inland from the coastline. A number of so-called “private” properties lie within this zone.

It is indeed unfortunate that the Planning Authority ignores all this when considering planning applications for the redevelopment of properties abutting onto the coast at St Julian’s. Three applications relating to the same site with an elevation on the coastline have already been approved, while a fourth one is in the pipeline. The old property has been in existence for quite some time. It features in old survey sheets dating to the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, an internal photographic survey available for examination on the Planning Authority’s website clearly indicates clearly that the property along the coast, just in front of the Carmelite Priory in St Julian’s is of old construction.

The development in question has been permitted on a footprint starting along the coastline itself. In addition, as evidenced by the accompanying approved section drawing, planning permission issued by the Planning Authority includes part of the approved structure protruding over the sea. Not even a whimper has been heard from the Lands Authority on the matter.

Do we need any more confirmation that the Planning Authority is not interested in the protection of the coast? The Planning Authority is now joined by a new accomplice, the Lands Authority, the guardian and administrator of public property.

The qualitative leap promised in the protection and governance of public property is nowhere in sight. Instead we are continuously faced with new initiatives transforming public assets into private assets. Protecting our coast requires a serious administration that has the political will to act. Unfortunately we lack both.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 14 April 2019

Ktibt lill-Ombudsman dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex

 

Għadni kif, madwar siegħa ilu tajt ittra lill-Ombudsman biex jiftaħ investigazzjoni dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Il-bieraħ il-Ministru Ian Borg ħabbar li fi żmien sitt xhur oħra ser joħroġ it-tender dwar il-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan għamlu minkejja li l-istudju dwar l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) li dwaru s’issa ġiet konkluża biss il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar it-Terms of Reference għadu bil-kemm beda.

Apparti li dan hu l-ikbar diżrispett lejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi da parti tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika tal-pajjiż, din id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi ukoll indikazzjoni ċara ta’ nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba u twassal il-messaġġ ċar li l-proċess ta’ studju tal-impatti ambjentali hu meqjus bħala wieħed irrelevanti u li qed isir għalxejn għax id-deċiżjonijiet lesti irrispettivament minn dak li jista’ jirriżulta mill-istudji.

Fil-dawl ta’ dan għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika jiena dal-għodu tlabt lill-Ombudsman biex jinvestiga u jieħu dawk il-passi li jidhirlu meħtieġa.

Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Kif nippretendu lin-nies jagħtu kaz u jsegwu il-liġi, jekk il-Ministru b’imġiebtu jiġi jaqa’ u jqum?

Is-sussidjarjetà fil-Kostituzzjoni

 

Nhar il-Ġimgħa delegazzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika iltaqgħet ma’ Silvio Parnis, Segretarju Parlamentari għall-Gvern Lokali, biex miegħu niddiskutu l-White Paper ippubblikata mill-Gvern dwar ir-riforma tal-kunsilli lokali.

Waqt id-diskussjoni għaddejna lil Silvio Parnis l-ideat tagħna dwar din il-White Paper. Għamilna tmien proposti b’dik ewlenija tiffoka dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun aċċettat u implimentat il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà. Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà jeħtieġ li jifforma parti mill-kostituzzjoni biex iservi ta’ linja gwida għall-amminstrazzjoni pubblika tal-pajjiż u allura jħares b’qawwa l-ħidma tal-Gvern lokali u reġjonali.

It-trattati Ewropej diġa għamlu dan il-pass meta addottaw il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà bħala prinċipju bażiku li jirregola r-relazzjonijiet kumplessi bejn l-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej u l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà hu l-iktar żviluppat fl-istati hekk imsejħa Ġermaniċi tal-Ewropa u ċjoè l-Ġermanja, l-Awstrija u l-Iżvizzera, liema pajjiżi għandhom qafas ta’ Gvern lokali u reġjonali b’saħħtu u bħala riżultat ta’ dan ir-responsabbiltajiet u l-poteri huma mifruxa.

L-amministrazzjoni pubblika teħtieġ li tkun l-iktar viċin possibli taċ-ċittadin: min jamministra u jiddeċiedi għandu jkun l-iktar qrib possibli ta’ min hu effettwat mid-deċiżjonijiet. L-eċċezzjonijiet għandhom ikunu rari u altru milli ġustifikati. Jacques Delors, li kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja, hu ikkwota li qal li : is-sussidjarjetà ma tillimitax biss l-intervent ta’ l-ogħla awtorità f’dak li kull persuna jew komunità tista’ tiddeċiedi hi innifisha, imma hi ukoll dover ta’ din l-istess awtorità biex taġixxi b’mod li lil din il-persuna jew komunità tgħinhom biex iwettqu l-ħolm tagħhom.”

Dan jitfa dawl fuq żewġ aspetti tas-sussidjarjetà. L-ewwel li ħlief f’każijiet eċċezzjonali l-ogħla awtorità ma jindaħalx fejn ma jesgħahiex fil-ħidma ta’ awtoritajiet oħra taħtha. It-tieni : l-obbligu li tgħin biex tinkoraġixxi l-kisba tal-awtonomija.

Alternattiva Demokratika qed tipproponi li l-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà jkun aċċettat bħala prinċipju kostituzzjonali li jagħti gwida lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika u dan bħala l-ewwel pass għat-twettieq ta’ proposta radikali oħra: id-diċentralizzazzjoni tal-ħidma operattiva tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika lill-awtoritajiet lokali u reġjonali, bil-Gvern iżomm f’idejh il-funzjonijiet regolatorji. Dan jista’ faċilment jitwettaq fuq il-mudell ta’ Għawdex bid-differenza li jitmexxew minn politiku reġjonali flok minn politiku nazzjonali.

Id-dokument bil-proposti ppubblikat minn Alternattiva Demokratika jittratta diversi temi oħrajn bħalissa ċentrali fid-dibattitu dwar ir-riforma proposta tal-gvern lokali u reġjonali.

Is-servizz ta’ kull kunsillier lokali għandu jkun apprezzat, mhux biss is-servizz li jagħti s-Sindku! Il-proposta li l-uffiċċju tas-Sindku jkun wieħed full-time ma hemmx ħtieġa tagħha. Hemm diversi raġunijiet għal dan. Bħala riżultat ta’ din il-proposta dawk kollha li ma jistgħux jieqfu mill-impieg normali tagħhom ikunu esklużi milli joffru s-servizz tagħhom fil-kariga ta’ Sindku. Dan billi tali proposta teffettwa b’mod qawwi l-possibilità li huma jirrintegraw ruħhom fl-impieg meta jintemmilhom il-perjodu tal-ħatra tagħhom. Bla dubju jinħolqu ukoll kunflitti bla bżonn mas-Segretarju Eżekuttiv li l-liġi illum tikkunsidrah bħala l-uffiċjal amministrattiv ewlieni tal-kunsill lokali.

Flok ma tiffoka fuq is-Sindku r-riforma għandha tinkoraġixxi iktar il-ħidma kolleġjali fil-lokalitajiet tagħna b’mod li twassal għal sehem iktar attiv ta’ kull kunsillier fit-tmexxija tal-lokalitajiet. Il-proposta li qed jagħmel il-Gvern li kull kunsillier jingħata responsabbiltajiet hi tajba. Saret diġa minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-kunsilli lokali li saret fl-2008. Waħedha imma mhiex biżżejjed. Trid tkun segwita minn pass ieħor: li kull kunsillier jingħata onorarju raġjonevoli. Din m’għandiex tkun materja riżervata għas-Sindku.

Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà għandu japplika ukoll biex materji ambjentali jkunu regolati minn dawk li l-iktar jeffettwawhom mill-viċin. Li jkunu nvoluti sewwa l-kunsilli lokali u reġjonali f’dawn id-deċiżjonijiet għandu jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar minn dawk li għandna illum. Imma dwar dan, darb’oħra.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar ir-riforma tal-gvern lokali u reġjonali issa ġiet fit-tmiem. Nistennew il-posizzjoni li ser jieħu l-Gvern dwar in-numru mhux żgħir ta’ proposti li saru. Nittama li jittieħdu bis-serjetà.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 2 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Subsidiarity in the Constitution

 

On Friday, a delegation from Alternattiva Demokratika met Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government Silvio Parnis to discuss the White Paper published by the government concerning the reform of local government.

During the discussion, we handed Mr Silvio Parnis our response to the White Paper, a response that contains eight proposals – the central one focusing on the need to accept and implement the principle of subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity needs to be constitutionally entrenched in order to serve as a guiding light to the country’s public administration and, consequently, protect local and regional government.

The European treaties have already entrenched the principle of subsidiarity as a basic tenet, regulating the complex relationship between European institutions and EU member states.

The principle of subsidiarity, mostly developed in the so-called Germanic states in Europe- namely Germany, Austria and Switzerland – which states have a robust local and regional arrangement, as a result of which responsibilities and the corresponding authority is spread.

Public administration should be as close to the citizen as possible: those administering and making decisions should be as close as possible to those who feel the impact of such decisions. Departure from this basic rule should only occur for reasons of absolute necessity. Former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors is quoted as having stated that subsidiarity is not only a limit on the intervention of a higher authority in the affairs of a person or community that can act itself, it is also a duty of this authority to act in relation to that person or community in such a way as to give it the means to fulfil itself.

This brings to the fore two aspects of subsidiarity. Firstly, that of non-interference by the higher authority in the workings of the lower authority, except in exceptional cases and, secondly, the duty to help – that is help that encourages autonomy.

Alternattiva Demokratika is proposing that the principle of subsidiarity be accepted as a guiding constitutional principle for the public administration as a first step to implementing another radical proposal: the decentralisation of the operational functions of public administration to the regions and local authorities with government retaining the regulatory functions. This can be easily carried out on the Gozo model, although with a regional elected politician replacing the current national politician in charge.

The document published by Alternattiva Demokratika deals with various other matters currently being debated as part of the proposed local and regional government reform.

The service of all elected local councillors should be appreciated, not just that rendered by the Mayor! The proposal to transform the office of Mayor in our localities into a full-time role is uncalled for and a number of reasons come to mind. It would automatically exclude all those who cannot take a sabbatical from their employment as it would have a long-term negative effect on their ability to adequately reintegrate when their mayoral term of office comes to an end. It would also create unnecessary conflict with the Executive Secretary, currently defined by the Local Council legislation as the chief executive of Local Councils.

Instead of singling out the Mayor, the local council reform should encourage a more collegial leadership, with all councillors being more actively involved in the running of the localities. The proposal in the White Paper to codify the duty to assign responsibilities to each elected councillor – a proposal first made by Alternattiva Demokratika and highlighted during the public consultation of 2008 on local council reform, is a good first step. It has to be followed by ensuring that all councillors receive a reasonable honorarium: this should not be a reserved for the Mayor alone.

The principle of subsidiarity should also be applied to regulating environmental issues closer to base. Involving regional and local councils in these decisions could lead to much better decisions than those we currently face. But more about that next time.

The public consultation has now been concluded. We await the reaction of the government to the large number of proposals made. Hopefully, these proposals will be seriously considered.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 December 2018

L-ostaklu tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni hu delitt kontra d-demokrazija

Ir-rapport Annwali tal-Ombudsman għall-2017 li kien ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hu inkwetanti. F’partijiet minnu, nazzarda ngħid li hu ukoll tal-biża’. L-Ombudsman jikkummenta fit-tul dwar “in-nuqqas tal-amministrazzjoni li tipprovdi informazzjoni”.

Josserva żewġ tendenzi ġenerali.

L-ewwel tendenza hi li diversi Dipartimenti tal-Gvern u Ministeri qed isibuha bi tqil biex jiżvelaw informazzjoni importanti. Il-kliem li l-Ombudsman juża’: “Sfortunatament l-amministrazzjoni pubblika – u dan jinkludi ukoll awtoritajiet pubbliċi – jidher li addottaw attitudni ġeneralment negattiva dwar l-obbligu li tkun żvelata informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jinżamm infurmat. Uħud marru fl-estrem li anke qed jirrifjutaw li jipprovdu kemm informazzjoni importanti kif ukoll imformazzjoni vitali li l-pubbliku hu ntitolat għaliha minħabba li din tikkonċerna setturi importanti tal-ħajja ekonomika u soċjali tal-pajjiż.”

It-tieni tendenza hi agħar: diversi ftehimiet li daħal għalihom il-Gvern fihom klawsola li tobbliga li jinżamm is-skiet dwar il-kontenut tal-ftehim. Dak li hu magħruf bħala “non-disclosure clause”. L-Ombudsman jgħidilna li issa hawn “żvilupp riċenti u Inkwetanti permezz ta’ attentat biex jiġi assigurat skiet totali hi l-prattika li torbot lil dawk li magħhom l-amministrazzjoni pubblika jkollha rabta kuntrattwali biex ma tiżvelax informazzjoni fil-kuntratti infushom mingħajr l-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritá pubblika.”

Issa fir-realtá, din il-prattika ma ġietx addottata f’daqqa waħda fl-2017. Kien hemm okkazjonijiet fil-passat meta l-Gvern rabat lil oħrajn inkella aċċetta li jintrabat hu stess li ma tkunx żvelata informazzjoni. Jidher imma li din il-prattika qed iżżid fil-frekwenza. Mhux biss il-kuntratt ta’ Henley and Partners dwar il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza li fih dawn il-provedimenti imma ukoll il-kuntratt dwar il-privatizzazzjoni tal-lotteriji pubbliċi mal-Maltco kif ukoll il-ftehim dwar il-privatizzazzjoni parzjali tas-sistema tas-saħħa mal-Vitals Healthcare inkella l-ftehim mal-Electrogas dwar il-qalba għall-gass tal-impjant tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku f’Delimara.

Kif jista’ jkun li gvern jippretendi li jkun trasparenti u kontabbli meta juża’ jew jippermetti l-użu ta’ strateġiji bħal dawn li jostakolaw li tkun żvelata l-informazzjoni?

L-Ombudsman hu korrett li jipponta subgħajh lejn dan in-nuqqas bażiku ta’ servizz pubbliku li jridha ta’ wieħed ġust, effiċjenti, trasparenti u kontabbli. Jiena naħseb li dan hu daqstant importanti li jimmerita diskussjoni fil-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali – jekk din xi darba issir. Forsi wasal iż-żmien li tkun il-Kostituzzjoni innifisha li tillimita b’mod strett lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika milli tibqa’ tillimita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni b’dan il-mod.

Hu meħtieġ li jkollna s-salvagwardji kontra dan l-abbuż sfaċċat li qiegħed jostakola l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni li għandha f’idejha l-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Is-salvagwardji jistgħu jinkludu l-possibilitá ta’ reviżjoni amministrattiva immedjata li tikkanċella l-ostaklu għall-aċċess kif ukoll passi biex dawk responsabbli biex jostakolaw dan l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni mingħajr raġuni valida ma jitħallewx iktar jeżerċitaw il-funzjonijiet ta’ uffiċċju pubbliku.

L-Ombudsman jispjega fir-rapport tiegħu li l-liġi tagħti lill-uffiċċju tiegħu l-għodda meħtieġa biex ikollu aċċess għall-informazzjoni li jeħtieġ ħalli “jmexxi l-investigazzjonijiet dwar l-ilmenti li jkunu waslu” avolja din l-informazzjoni xi drabi tingħata b’mod imqanżaħ. Iżda l-Ombudsman iqis li għandu jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal tlett ċirkustanzi partikolari “li juru kif ir-rispons negattiv tal-awtoritajiet pubbliċi meta dawn jintalbu informazzjoni qed ixekkel l-Ombudsman u lill-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tiegħu fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom”.

L-ewwel kaz jirrigwarda l-Armata. Ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru għall-Intern u s-Sigurtá Nazzjonali li jgħaddi l-files kollha dwar l-eżerċizzji ta’ promozzjonijiet għall-għola gradi fl-Armata issolva biss wara d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qorti tal-Appell f’Ottubru 2016 liema deċiżjoni ikkonfermat li Ombudsman kellu l-obbligu li jinvestiga l-ilmenti li rċieva.

It-tieni kaz jirrigwarda ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa li jipprovdi l-informazzjoni mitluba mill-Kummissarju għas-Saħħa biex dan jipprovdi il-ftehim sħiħ ma’ Vitals Healthcare dwar il-privatizzazzjoni ta’ sptarijiet f’Malta u Għawdex li kien meħtieġ fl-investigazzjoni dwar jekk l-interessi tal-pazjenti u l-istaff (mediku) kienux adegwatament imħarsa.

It-tielet kaz hu dwar l-ilmenti kontinwa tal-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman (Saħħa, Ippjanar/Ambjent u Edukazzjoni) dwar id-dewmien li qed jirriżulta f’investigazzjonijiet li jkunu jeħtieġu konklużjoni immedjata. Dan minħabba n-nuqqas tas-settur pubbliku li jagħti tweġiba għat-talbiet diversi għal informazzjoni.

L-obbligu tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika li tiffaċilita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jkun infurmat huma bażiċi f’soċjetá demokratika. Attentati biex dan l-aċċess taċ-ċittadin għall-informazzjoni jkun imblukkat b’dan il-mod jimmina l-proċess demokratiku u dan billi ċ-ċittadin qed ikun ostakolat milli jifforma opinjoni fuq kif qed ikun amministrat l-istat. Dan qiegħed ukoll jostakola lil dawk l-istituzzjonijiet fid-dmir li jiddefendu ċ-ċittadin komuni milli jagħmlu xogħolhom.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena nirringrazzja lill- Ombudsman talli qed ikun daqstant ċar fid-difiża tiegħu ta’ dak li hu bażiku f’soċjetá demokratika kif ukoll talli qed isemma’ leħnu b’vuċi ċara kontra dan l-abbuż ta’ poter.

Ippubblikat f’Illum Il-Ħadd : 10 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Obstructing access to information is a crime against democracy

The Ombudsman’s 2017 Annual Report, published earlier this week, is very worrying. At times it makes scary reading. The Ombudsman comments at length on “the failure by the administration to provide information” and points at two general trends.

The first of these is the reluctance of various Government Departments and Ministries to disclose important information. The exact words  from the Ombudsman’s report,  which I quote verbatim, are: “Regrettably the public administration – and this includes public authorities – appears to have adopted a generally negative approach towards its duty to disclose information and the citizen’s right to be informed. Some have gone to extremes by even refusing to provide important and even vital information to which the public was obviously entitled since it concerned important segments of the economic and social life of the country.”

The second trend is even worse: various agreements entered into by government are containing a non-disclosure clause. The Ombudsman states “An even more worrying, recent development that has come to light in an attempt to ensure a total blackout of silence is the practice of binding parties with whom the public administration enters into contractual agreements not to disclose information on the contracts themselves without prior approval from the public authority.”

Now, in fairness, this practice has not been adopted suddenly in 2017. There have been a number of instances in the past where the government bound others, or else accepted to be bound, not to disclose information. Apparently this is now increasing in frequency. It is not just the contract with Henley and Partners on the sale of Maltese citizenship which contains such provisions but also the contract concerning the privatisation of the public lottery system with Maltco, as well as the agreements on the partial privatisation of the Health service with Vitals Healthcare as well as the Electrogas agreements in relation to the Delimara power station changeover to gas.

How can a government claim to be transparent and accountable when it uses or permits the use of the non-disclosure weapon?

The Ombudsman is right to point out this basic deficiency of a public service which pretends that it is fair, efficient, transparent and accountable. I consider that it is also of such importance that it merits discussion in the Constitutional Convention, if this is ever convened. Maybe it is about time that the Constitution should limit very strictly the use by the public administration of non-disclosure as a tool to obstruct the public’s access to information.

Safeguards are required against the abusive use of the non-disclosure of information held by the public administration. Such safeguards could include access to fast track administrative review as well as both publication of the suppressed information and the prohibition from holding public office of those found guilty of blocking the public’s access to information without valid reason.

The Ombudsman explains in his report that the law provides his office with the tools to ensure that it has access to the information it requires “to conduct its investigations into complaints received”, even though this information is at times made available very reluctantly. However, the Ombudsman considers it appropriate to underline three specific instances “that show how the negative response of public authorities to provide information hindered the Ombudsman and his Commissioners in the exercise of their functions”.

The first instance is that concerning the Armed Forces of Malta. The refusal by the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to provide all files relating to promotion exercises in the top echelons of the AFM was only resolved after a definite decision of the Court of Appeal in October 2016, which confirmed that the Ombudsman had a duty to investigate the complaints received.

The second instance is that concerning the refusal of the Ministry of Health to comply with the request of the Commissioner of Health to supply “clean copies” of the agreements with Vitals Healthcare on the privatisation of hospitals in Malta and Gozo which were required in the investigation into whether the interests of patients and staff were being adequately protected.

The third instance is that of repeated complaints in all the reports of the Commissioners attached to the Ombudsman’s office [Health, Planning/Environment and Education] on the resulting delay in investigations which, by their very nature, require an immediate response. These delays are the direct result of the failure of various sectors in the public administration to submitting an expedient reply to requests for information.

The duty of the public administration to disclose information, and the right of the citizen  to be informed, is basic in a democratic society. Attempts to block the essential flow of information to the citizen through non-disclosure tools undermines the democratic process, as it blocks the essential elements required by the citizen in order to form a clear and unbiased opinion on the way in which the state is being administered. Moreover, it obstructs those institutions entrusted with defending the common citizen from carrying out their duty.

On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, I thank the Ombudsman for taking such a clear and unequivocal stand in favour of the basic tenets of democratic rule and against such blatant abuse of authority.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 June 2018

Owen’s latest gimmick

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici explained to the press the measures proposed by the government in order that Parliament will be in a position to examine its political appointees nominated to head various state agencies or institutions as well as those appointed to ambassadorships from outside the civil service.

Naturally, the first reaction to Owen Bonnici’s declaration is that government’s proposal is a positive small first step. However, when the detailed proposal was published, it was clear that this was another gimmick. It is proposed that a Parliamentary Standing Committee will be able to examine potential political appointees through written questions. On the basis of the answers received, and supplementary (written) questions, the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be expected to advise the government on the appointments under consideration.

This is a far cry from what is expected in a modern democracy.

Parliament, either directly or through a standing committee, should not be expected to simply advise. It should decide on the suitability or otherwise of the government nominees. This should be done after the nominees have been examined in a public hearing in the same manner as that of the US Senate Committees or the Parliamentary Committees of various other countries. This can only be done if Parliament reclaims the powers it has ceded to the government over the years.

Parliamentary scrutiny means much more than answering a set of written questions. Examining the nominees to ascertain their suitability for the post they have been nominated goes much further than the superficial examination of their professional competence. It also entails the examination of their past performance in order to ascertain whether they are capable of withstanding political pressure which seeks to sway their judgement in favour of political expediency and consequently influence their behaviour.

Such an exercise cannot be done through written questions but through a viva voce examination where it is not only what is said that matters. Interpreting body language and reactions to unexpected questions or statements is generally more relevant than deciphering boring, long-winded answers that go around in circles and generally avoid providing an answer at all.

During the general election campaign a few months ago, we were told that we needed “Labour-proof institutions”. In reality, government institutions and agencies should be at arms length from the government of the day in all day to day matters. This is done by ensuring that the running of government institutions and agencies is not the prerogative of political cronies but of suitably qualified appointees.

The government proposal is one that ensures that Parliament, through it’s Standing Committees, will not be in a position to carry out any meaningful scrutiny.  Parliament needs to have the authority to block the appointments which it considers to be unsuitable and in order to be able to act in this manner, the government’s proposal needs to be heavily revisited.

It is for this reason that – in the recent general election manifesto (and even in that of the previous general election) – we Greens proposed a much more effective policy: that parliament (or its committees) should have the authority to decide, and not merely advise on, public appointments and that this should be done through a public hearing without limitations.

These are the essential building blocks of a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st October 2017

Green and Clean: Parliament’s role

The general election is being over-shadowed by a web of corruption spun around the Office of the Prime Minister. It has been unravelling for months since the publication of the Panama Papers.

Months of debate has highlighted the need for Parliament to reclaim the authority which, over the years, it has ceded to government. All institutions require continuous Parliamentary oversight: even the civil service needs to be properly monitored by Parliament.

The PN are proposing labour-proof institutions. In reality the institutions need to be PN-proof as well – as both major political parties have had exclusive control of institutions over the years, bending them to their will.

The current mess is the direct result of a two-party system that spread its tentacles through the institutions creating empires with the specific aim of buttressing those in power and protecting them in their time of need. It is a two-party system which, over a 50-year period, has developed a winner takes all mentality, as a result of which only those aligned to the winner are deemed to be able to contribute to the well-being and development of the country. The rest, with few exceptions, have been repeatedly excluded, and it is Malta which, ultimately has lost the utilisation of substantial talent.

This is the background to Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto. Entitled Vote Green – Vote clean, without ignoring other important issues, it focuses on matters of governance in addition to its core environmental proposals.

We have plenty of good laws. The problem is that, many times, the pool of talent from which those who implement such laws are selected is generally limited to those carrying the party card. Successive governments have often preferred the politically loyal to the technically and ethically competent. This has been possible due to the fact that Parliament has abdicated its responsibilities and assigned them to the government.

Parliament should reclaim the authority ceded to government to appoint authorities and it should proceed to screen those nominated through a public hearing by a Parliamentary Committee on the lines practised by the Senate of the United States of America. This screening by Parliament should  be applicable first and foremost to all constitutional authorities, as well as to all authorities set up in terms of law. Likewise, the appointment of Commissioner of Police, the Head of the Armed Forces, the Governor of the Central Bank,  the Head of the Civil Service and ambassadors, as well as all civil service grades from Director up to Permanent Secretary,   should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to ensuring a more serious selection process, this would serve as a safety valve protecting the civil service itself from abusive action on the part of an incoming government as happened in 2013, when the Head of the Civil Service and practically all Permanent Secretaries were removed in the first minutes of a new Labour government.

The recruitment of people of trust on a large scale during the past 4 years has further politicised the civil service. It is a practice that has been on the increase even before March 2013. The engagement of people of trust throughout the wider public service was used as a stratagem to avoid the scrutiny of the Public Service Commission, a constitutional body established specifically to ensure a fair recruitment process. This should cease forthwith, with the engagement of people of trust being limited to the private secretariats of holders of political office.

The Standards in Public Life Act, which ironically was supported by both the PN and the PL, was approved by Parliament shortly before dissolution. It provisions were therefore not implemented. In particular, the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – to be tasked with investigating the behaviour of MPs – has not yet materialised and will have to be addressed by the new Parliament elected on 3 June.

Lobbying is not yet regulated. In fact, its regulation has been postponed as no agreement was reached between the PN and the PL about possible lobbying regulations.

AD considers that the next Parliament will have to address head-on whether Members of Parliament should be full-timers, thus severing all links with profession and/or employment and, as a result, substantially reducing instances of conflict of interest faced by Members of Parliament.

Parliament can, in the next few weeks, assume a central role in re-building the country’s institutions. It is the only way forward to ensure that ethical behaviour in public life is the norm, rather than the exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 May 2017

For sale : access to the decision-taking process

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga has raised another issue as to the extent that revolving door recruitment should be regulated. By revolving door recruitment I am referring to the movement from government service to private sector lobbying and vice-versa of holders of political office as well as of senior civil servants. As a result of such recruitment, an investment is being made in the access to the decision-taking process which is purchased or offered for sale.

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday understandably raised the issue with reference to former Minister John Dalli in the article Revolving doors: John Dalli denies conflict of interest in Lowenbrau deal  (TMIS 22 January). However, the issue is much wider. It is a matter which is of concern in respect of the manner of operation of lobbying which in this country is largely unregulated. It has already happened not just in Mr Dalli’s recruitment with the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited both Mr Dalli as well as current EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

It concerns both holders of political office as well as senior civil servants, including senior officers of authorities exercising executive authority.

There is much to learn from foreign jurisdictions as to the manner in which such recruitment should be regulated. A recent example which made the international headlines was the recruitment by Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission.  An ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Corporate Europe Observatory had then commented that the Barroso recruitment had “catapulted the EU’s revolving door problem onto the political agenda, causing widespread jaw-dropping and reactions of disbelief, making it a symbol of excessive corporate influence at the highest levels of the EU.”  Corporate Europe Observatory had also referred to the recruitment of other former European Commissioners by various corporations and emphasised that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that as a result of this behaviour European politicians are seen to be acting for private interests over the public interest.

This is the real significance of revolving door recruitment:  it needs to be ascertained that the potential abuse by holders of political office of milking public office for private gain is regulated. It is not just another layer of regulation or unnecessary bureaucracy.

The issue is however more complex than the recruitment of holders of political office at the end of their political appointment. It is also of relevance even when such holders of political office are appointed to such office from the private sector as can be ascertained through the current hearings by the US Senate of the Trump administration nominees. It is also applicable to senior civil servants from the wider public sector.

Parliament is currently debating a Standards in Public Life Bill, which at this point in time is pending examination at Committee stage. Unfortunately, revolving door recruitment as well as lobbying have not been considered by the legislator!   Revolving door recruitment is an exercise in selling and purchasing access to the decision-taking process. It is high time that it is placed under a continuous spotlight.

published in The Malta Independent: Wednesday 25 January 2017