Il-Lobbying u l-eżerċizzju tal-poter

Meta niddiskutu l-politika dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying bosta drabi jqum l-argument dwar dawk il-politiċi li hekk kif jispiċċaw mill-politika attiva jingħataw responsabbiltajiet f’azjendi kbar. Din nirreferu għaliha bħala politika tar-“revolving door”, imsemmija għall-dawk il-bibien tal-lukandi li jduru u li hekk kif tidħol fiċ-ċirku tagħhom, malajr tispiċċa ġewwa.

L-eżempju klassiku li jissemma hu l-ingaġġ ta’ Josè Manuel Barroso li sa ħames snin ilu kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea mill-bank multinazzjonali Goldman Sachs. Il-kumitat tal-etika tal-Unjoni Ewropea kien iddeskriva l-imġieba ta’ Barroso bħala waħda li kienet etikament ħażina avolja kien konkluż li ma kien hemm l-ebda ksur tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika.

Imġiba bħal din hi meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-proċess tal-lobbying li jeħtieġ li jkun regolat b’mod adegwat.

F’Malta dawn l-affarijiet nagħmluhom “aħjar” minn hekk għax l-anqas regoli dwar imġieba ta’ din ix-xorta ma għandna! Fost oħrajn, dan huwa riżultat tal-fatt li ma kienx hemm qbil bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni fil-Parlament dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying meta kienet qed tkun diskussa il-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Allura ipposponew id-diskussjoni billi tefgħuha f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler, bl-inkarigu li jkun hu li jabbozza r-regoli proposti dwar il-lobbying f’Malta.

F’Malta dan fil-fatt seħħ ukoll fil-passat riċenti mhux biss meta John Dalli kien ingaġġat mal-Grupp tal-Marsovin imma ukoll meta l-Grupp Corinthia, fi żminijiet differenti, ingaġġa kemm lis-Sur Dalli kif ukoll lill-Karmenu Vella, li għadu kif temm perjodu ta’ ħames snin bħala Kummissarju tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Ma nkisrux regoli minħabba li l-imġiba etika f’dan il-pajjiż hi ġeneralment injorata. Ir-reazzjoni lokali għal dan l-ingaġġ ta’ politiċi ġeneralment kienet: għala le?

Hu loġiku li nikkonkludu li jekk f’Malta niġu naqgħu u nqumu milli nirregolaw kif fid-dinja tan-negozju u l-industrija jingaġġaw malajr politiċi li jkunu għadhom kif spiċċaw mill-ħatra, aħseb u ara kemm ser nagħtu kaz meta nies tan-negozju jiġu ngaġġati huma stess f’posizzjonijiet viċin il-politiċi biex b’hekk jinfluwenzaw u jirregolaw l-aġenda pubblika.

Wara skiet twil, f’wieħed mill-messaġġ qosra, qishom it-talba ta’ filgħodu, li qed jippubblika fuq facebook, Varist Bartolo, qalilna kemm hu perikoluż li nies tan-negożju jkunu viċin iżżejjed tal-poter. Probabbilment li qed jitkellem mill-esperjenza, wara li hu u sħabu fil-Kabinett kienu qed jiffaċċjaw lill-Keith Schembri għal kważi seba’ snin sħaħ fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. U dan mhux l-uniku kaz.

Meta l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ikollu l-ħin biex ifassal regoli dwar il-lobbying, dan kollu, bla dubju, jkun wieħed mill-punti fundamentali li jkunu meħtieġa illi jkunu indirizzati. In konformità ma dak li jiġri band’oħra, probabbilment li jikkonsidra regolament li ma jippermettix li l-qabża mis-settur politiku għal dak kummerċjali jseħħ immedjatament. Dan ikun ifisser li ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jkollhom jistennew bejn sena u nofs u sentejn minn meta tkun ġiet fi tmiemha l-ħidma fis-settur li fiha l-persuna tkun ħadmet l-aħħar. Dan isir bl-intenzjoni li jkun imnaqqas l-impatt negattiv tal-lobbying li inevitabilment jirriżulta u li jkun intrinsikament assoċjat ma dawn it-tip ta’ ħatriet.

Qegħdin tard ukoll biex ikun regolat il-lobbying b’mod ġenerali. Ir-rimedju bażiku kontra l-impatti negattivi tal-lobbying hi t-trasparenza.

Il-lobbying, kemm-il darba jsir sewwa u b’mod etiku m’għandux iwassal għal governanza ħażina. Għax huwa perfettament leġittimu li ċittadin, gruppi ta’ ċittadini, kumpaniji u anke għaqdiet mhux governattivi jfittxu li jinfluwenzaw it-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan isir il-ħin kollu u jinvolvi l-komunikazzjoni ta’ informazzjoni u opinjonijiet jew veduti lill-leġislaturi u lil dawk li jamministraw minn kull min għandu kwalunkwè xorta ta’ interess.

Dan hu perfettament leġittimu għax iżomm lil min jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet infurmat bl-impatti ta’ dak li jkun qiegħed ikun ikkunsidrat. Imma huwa importanti li dan il-lobbying ma jkunx trasformat fi proċess li bħala riżultat tiegħu il-politiku jagħmel il-wisa’ u d-deċiżjonijiet fil-fatt jeħodhom ħaddieħor mid-dinja tal-business.

Il-lobbying jirrikjedi ammont konsiderevoli ta’ transpareza: hu essenzjali li jkun sganċjat mis-segretezza jew kunfidenzjalità artifiċjali. Fejn il-lobbying hu regolat dan isir billi l-laqgħat jew attivitajiet oħra li jservu għall-lobbying jingħataw pubbliċità biex b’hekk ikun possibli li jsir skrutinju mill-opinjoni pubblika. Il-minuti ta’ dan it-tip ta’ laqgħat ikunu pubbliċi kif għandu jkun ukoll kull dokument u studju assoċjat. Għandna d-dritt li nkunu nafu min u kif qed ifittex li jinfluwenza l-proċess tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan jassigura li l-lobbying ma jkunx użat bħala għodda sigrieta biex iħarbat il-proċess demokratiku li bih jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet politiċi.

Din hi waħda mill-problemi ewlenin li tat kontribut biex tixxettel il-kriżi politika preżenti f’Malta: in-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-ħtieġa ta’ mġiba etika korretta f’kull ħin fil-ħajja pubblika. Problema li jeħtieġilna li niffaċċjawha immedjatament.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd ta’ Diċembru 2019

Lobbying and the levers of power

When discussing the politics of lobbying regulation, what is known as the “revolving door” policy is frequently discussed. This is normally understood to mean the accelerated passage of a politician, generally from a senior political role, to a leading role in the corporate world.

The classic example of this was the recruitment by multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission. An EU 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.

Such behaviour is considered to be an integral part of the lobbying process which requires adequate regulation.

In Malta we do it even better than that, because no rules governing such behaviour exist! This is the result of no agreement on lobbying regulation being reached when the Standards in Public Life legislation was discussed by Parliament. As a result, they postponed the discussion and conveniently added the requirement of formulating lobbying rules to the duties of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler.

In Malta it has already happened in the recent past, not just in John Dalli’s recruitment by the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited, at different times, both John Dalli and outgoing EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella. No rules were infringed, bypassed or ignored here as, to put it mildly, regulating ethical behaviour has never been Malta’s strong point. Rather, the local reaction was: why not?

It stands to reason that some would think that if Malta does not regulate the use of “revolving doors” to catapult politicians into the corporate world, why on earth should we regulate it for businessmen intending to do away with the lobbying middlemen and take the levers of power directly into their very hands?

After a long silence, it was very “thoughtful” of Minister of Education Evarist Bartolo to warn us of the perils we face in one of his recent early morning thoughts for the day posted on facebook. Together with his Cabinet colleagues he has had to face Keith Schembri for almost seven years at the Office of the Prime Minister, to name just one such appointment.

When the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life finds time to draft rules regulating lobbying, the issue of “revolving doors” should undoubtedly be high on his list of must dos. In line with lobbying regulations in other jurisdictions he will, hopefully, be proposing a cooling off period as a brake on such appointments. This would mean high-level appointments from the corporate world to the political world (and vice-versa) would need to wait until 18 to 24 months have elapsed between ceasing activity in one sector and entering the other. This is normally intended to dampen the negative lobbying impacts which such appointments lead to. It is inevitable and is intrinsically linked with these types of appointments.

It is also about time for the regulation of lobbying in general. Applying transparency to lobbying is the basic antidote needed.

Lobbying, if done properly and above board, should not lead to bad governance. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.

It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. However, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency: it needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing information on lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The timely publication of minutes, as well as documents and studies relative to meetings held by holders of political office, is essential. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process. This helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect the democratic process leading to political decisions.

This is one of the major issues resulting from the political crisis currently engulfing the Maltese islands: essentially an absence of ethics in the public sphere which should be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 December 2019

Il-Gvern sar agent tal-ispekulazzjoni

X’jiswa’ li nagħmlu l-liġijiet b’ħafna pompa u ftaħir meta l-anqas tilħaq tinxef il-linka li ma jkunux injorati?

Ħafna mill-kritika għall-għoti tal-art lill-Grupp dB ta’ Silvio Debono u issa lill-Grupp Corinthia kienet għax qed iħallsu bil-karawett għal art li tiswa’ miljuni kbar, art li hi tal-pajjiż kollha, għax hi art li hi amministrata mill-Gvern.

Din il-kritika hi ġustifikata kemm fil-konfront tal-Grupp dB kif ukoll fil-konfront tal-Grupp Corinthia, avolja fil-kaz tal-Corinthia l-art diġa kienet f’idejhom.

B’żieda ma dan ser isir ħsara ambjentali kbira. Diġa rajna f’dan il-blog il-ħsara li ser issir bl-approvazzjoni tal-permess tal-Grupp dB.

Issa ma jdumx ma jibda l-proċess tal-applikazzjoni tal-Corinthia. B’żieda mal-ħsara kbira li diġa ser isir bl-applikazzjoni approvata tad-dB (sakemm ma jkunx applikat il-brejk mit-Tribunal tal-Appell) issa ser isir ukoll attakk fuq il-baħar ukoll. Insew li għadhom kemm approvaw fil-Parlament b’vot unanimu  liġi li tipproteġi l-kosta.

Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: il-prijorità tiegħu hi li jinkoraġixxi l-ispekulazzjoni.

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

Il-qerda madwarna, dejjem tikber

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA11067/17 għall-iżvilupp ta’ faċilitá oħra ta’ McDonalds fil-periferija ta’ Ħaż-Żabbar huwa attentat ieħor biex tiġi mnaqqra l-art li nirreferu għaliha bħala ODZ. S’issa nimmaġina li kważi kulħadd jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru Outside (O) the Development (D) Zone (Z). Jiġifieri barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. Dan ifisser li dik l-art, preferibilment m’għandiex tkun żviluppata.

Imma s-sit li ntagħżel biex possibilment ikun żviluppat fuq faċilitá ta’ McDonalds qiegħed f’żona li żviluppat bil-mod fil-passat. Meta l-Pjani Lokali ġew imfassla u ppubblikati tnax-il sena ilu, is-sit fi Triq Salvu Pulis ġewwa Ħaż-Żabbar u l-iżvilupp ta’ madwaru kien definit bħala żona residenzjali rurali (rural settlement): li jfisser li kienet żona residenzjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp imma li m’għandiex titħalla tikber.

Lil hinn mill-lingwaġġ tekniku għandna nagħmlu kull sforz biex art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp tibqa’ mhux sviluppata u li fejn diġa hemm l-iżvilupp, dan ma jikbirx. Il-pjani lokali huma supplimentati minn biżibilju ta’ regoli u linji gwida li sfortunatament, imma ċertament b’mod intenzjonat u ikkalkulat, joħolqu kuntrasti jew kunflitti li jwasslu għall-konklużjoni loġika li kważi kollox hu b’xi mod ġustifikabbli.

Li jkun hemm faċilitá ta’ McDonalds fuq l-art li ntagħżlet f’Ħaż-Żabbar żgur li mhux kompatibbli man-natura residenzjali tal-inħawi. Imma xejn ma nkun sorpriż jekk ikollna ftit akrobazija ta’ livell olimpiku li twassal għall-approvazzjoni tal-applikazzjoni. Il-problema li għandhom numru mhux żgħir ta’ dawk li qed jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi li huma nieqsa minn kull sensibilitá ambjentali jew dwar l-ippjanar (ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art). Din l-insensittivitá hi l-kawża tal-qerda bil-mod tal-kampanja u tal-identitá tal-lokalitajiet residenzjali żgħar bil-konsegwenza tal-ħolqien ta’ uġiegħ soċjali kbir.

Ħarsa anke ħafifa lejn il-lista ta’ dawk il-każijiet li għamlu l-aħbarijiet tagħtina idea tajba ta’ dak li wassal għall-qagħda preżenti. Il-problema bażika hi dawk l-irġiel u n-nisa li ntagħżlu biex jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawk tal-lum m’humiex wisq differenti minn tal-bieraħ: (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet) ġeneralment ma jiswew għal xejn, avolja xi minn daqqiet uħud jippruvaw ikunu raġjonevoli.

Hu rari ħafna li jkun hemm xi deċiżjoni li tkun ser taqbżilhom: pereżempju dik dwar il-pompa tal-petrol u d-dijsil fi Triq is-Salini fil-Magħtab. Ir-regoli dwar kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet huma mfassla biex jassiguraw li meta jkun hemm min jażżarda jaqbes il-linja, b’mod kważi awtomatiku, jiskatta proċess ta’ awto-difiża tas-sistema: il-vot ma jittieħidtx dak il-ħin iżda fis-seduta ta’ wara. Dakinnhar imbagħad ikun possibli li jissejħu r-riżervi (dawk li bosta drabi ma jattendux għal-laqgħat) biex b’hekk fis-siegħa tal-prova jkun hemm kulħadd. Ikun hemm biżżejjed ħin biex dawk li jdumu jew ibatu biex jifhmu jiftħu ftit moħħhom u jikkonvinċu ruħhom. Imbagħad ikun hemm maġġoranza li tista’ tagħmel xogħolha bil-kumditá.

Dan kollu ħoloq ostaklu istituzzjonali doppju kontra l-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Kien speċifikament maħluq għal dan l-iskop minn min kiteb l-Att tal-2016 dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp. B’dan il-mod hemm kontroll istituzzjonali kontra dawk li kapaċi (anke jekk rari jażżardaw) jaħsbu b’moħħhom. Hi l-mewt bil-mod tal-kampanja u l-wirt ambjentali tagħna. Mhux biss f’ Ħaż-Żabbar, iżda madwar il-gżejjer tagħna.

Uħud minn dawk li jgorru u kontinwament jimlew il-gurnali, inkluż dawk elettroniċi, bil-fehmiet tagħhom jeħtieġilhom jikkunsidraw is-sehem tagħhom f’dan kollu. Għandhom jikkunsidraw jekk huma stess ikkontribwewx biex kibret il-froġa billi repetutament eleġġew li dawk li kewsu fil-borma.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum – Il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Frar 2018

Fast food, slow death

Planning application with reference number PA 11067/17 for the development of a new McDonalds outlet on the outskirts of Żabbar is one of the latest attempts to nibble at our ODZ land. As readers are aware, the letters “ODZ” stand for Outside the Development Zone, meaning that the land in question should ideally not be developed at all.

However, the site selected for the possible development of the McDonalds fast food chain outlet lies in an area that has been slowly developed over the years. When the Local Plans were finalised 12 years ago, the site at Salvu Pulis Street in Żabbar and the surrounding development were defined as an ODZ (rural) settlement: meaning that it was an existing residential development outside the development zone that was to be contained and not allowed to spread any further.

Beyond the technical jargon, ODZ land should remain outside the development zone. The Local Plans have been supplemented by a myriad of additional policies and guidelines which unfortunately, but clearly intentionally, create so many policy contrasts and conflicts that it would not be amiss to conclude that practically anything can be justified on the basis of existing policy.

Having a McDonalds outlet in the chosen site at Żabbar is not compatible with the residential nature of the area, but I would not be surprised at all if another planning somersault of Olympic proportions leads to the approval of this application. The problem with most of the decision-takers at the Planning Authority is that they have little, if any, planning or environmental sense. This insensitivity is contributing to the slow and painful death of our countryside as well as that of our small settlements.

Just go slowly through the list of cases which have made it to the front pages of our newspapers and you will get a good idea of what has slowly but surely led to the current state of affairs. The basic problem is the men and women selected to be the decision-makers. The present ones are not much different from the previous ones: (although with some exceptions) generally they are useless. Some of them occasionally try to be reasonable.

Very rarely, a reasonable decision threatens the current order of things and looks likely to slip out: as the recent case on the Magħtab fuel station. The decision-taking rules are designed to trigger an automatic self-defence mechanism against those who dare overstep their brief: the definite decision is postponed to the next sitting. It is then possible to call in the reserves to vote and the habitual absentees turn up, thereby ensuring a full house at the next Board meeting. There is also sufficient time to convince those who may have “misunderstood” matters and dared speak their mind. It is then possible to ensure that the majority falls in line.

This has created an institutional double hurdle against the environment and its protection. It is specifically designed to be so by the author of the 2016 Development Planning Act, clearly intended to introduce an institutional check on those who dare sing from a different hymn sheet from the one available. It is the slow death of our countryside and our environmental heritage – not just at Ħaż-Żabbar, but all over the islands.

Some of those who grumble and fill the comments sections of our newspapers with their views need to consider whether they have contributed to all this by repeatedly electing those who have designed this mess.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 February 2018

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

Revolving doors: John Dalli and beyond

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga is developing further, much beyond its original obvious intent. The new twist is whether, and to what extent, the use of revolving doors by politicians as soon as their political office draws to an end is permissible.

The use of revolving doors is a reference to the practice of some politicians to join the Board of Directors or team of advisors of business/industry in an area which they would have been responsible for regulating when in office.

The practice in the EU and some other countries is to postpone the possible entry of former Commissioners (holders of political office) in the areas they previously regulated by three years. This signifies that former Commissioners (or Ministers) are forbidden (unless they obtain prior clearance) from joining Boards of Directors and/or organisations  of lobbyists for a number of years.  A case in point was the recent Barroso appointment to the Goldman Sachs Board which whilst being considered as being morally reprehensible was not deemed to be a breach of the EU integrity code.  

As far as I am aware, the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending before Malta’s Parliament does not address the issue. The issues to be addressed are various. Primarily, however, it is urgent to establish a cooling-off length of time during which time persons active in public life should not take up posts in the private sector in order to ensure the observance of an ethical benchmark.

John Dallis taking up the post of Chairman of Marsovin is only one example. There are various others amongst which the posts which John Dalli himself as well as Karmenu Vella (present Commissioner and former Minister for Tourism) had taken up with the Corinthia Group in the past.

In fairness the applicability of such an ethical standard should also be considered for top civil servants, who should approach the use of revolving doors with extreme caution.  

A Christmas carol for Jason Azzopardi

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent : Tuesday 27 December 2016