Il-PN, Chris Peregin u l-imparzjalità fix-xandir

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista qed jilmenta dwar l-imparzjalità fix-xandir pubbliku. Anke aħna, ilna ħafna nilmentaw. Mhux illum biss. Ilna għaddejjin biha. Ix-xandir pubbliku, b’mod sfaċċat jew inkella b’mod iktar fin dejjem qeda lill-partit fil-Gvern. Il-Gvern tal-lum u l-Gvern tal-bieraħ!

Il-PN qed jilmenta minkejja li għandu l-istazzjoni tiegħu, kemm tat-TV kif ukoll tar-radju. Hemm il-gazzetti ukoll. Ma dawn żid ukoll xi palata minn xi “indipendenti”. Il-PN qed iħossa, aħseb u ara aħna li m’għandiex TV, radju jew gazzetti.

Il-PN imma għandu opportunità, kieku jrid, biex juri lil kulħadd kif ikun ix-xandir imparzjali. Jekk irid jista’ mil-lum għal għada jittrasforma in-NET, il-101 u l-gazzetti tiegħu f’mezzi fejn l-imparzjalità tirrenja. Minflok għandna propaganda partiġjana li ma tieqaf qatt.

Il-konsulent strateġiku tal-PN, Chris Peregin, xi żmien ilu ukoll kien jitkellem favur l-imparzjalità. Mhux ħafna ilu, iżda biss ftit xhur. Jekk tiftakru kien fetaħ kawża kostituzzjonali biex l-Awtorità tax-Xandir tagħmel dmirha u tara li l-istazzjonjijiet politiċi ukoll iħaddnu l-imparzjalità. In-NET u l-ONE jiġifieri.

Issa suppost li Peregin għandu l-possibilità li jinfluwenza l-mixja tal-PN lejn l-imparzjalità: biex mill-paroli jgħaddi għall-fatti!

Hemm kompetizzjoni ghaddejja bejn liema mill-istazzjonijiet hu l-iktar partiġjan! Kompetizzjoni bejn il-ONE, in-NET u TVM. Għax in-nuqqas tal-imparzjalità tax-xandir pubblika hi mmultiplikata fl-istazzjonijiet politiċi li huma għodda ta’propaganda kontinwa li m’għandux ikun hemm post għalihom f’demokrazija moderna fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Kif għidna fil-konferenza stampa iktar kmieni illum hemm ħtieġa ta’ riforma mill-qiegħ tax-xandir pubbliku li għandu jwassal biex dan ma jibqax ir-responsabbiltà diretta ta’ Ministru iżda għandu jitmexxa b’mod li jkun indipendenti mill-Gvern tal-ġurnata. Dan jgħodd ukoll għar-regolatur (l-Awtorità tax-Xandir) li m’għandux jibqa’ dominat minn ħatriet li jsiru mill-Gvern.

Jeżistu mudelli differenti f’diversi pajjiżi fejn huwa l-Parlament li b’mod responsabbli jassigura li x-xandir pubbliku jkun ta’ servizz lejn il-pajjiz kollu u mhux lejn il-partit fil-Gvern. Dan jista’ jsir biss meta l-Parlament ma jibqax iddominat mill-PLPN izda jkun hemm spazju għal ilħna oħra.

PLPN : parrini tar-rgħiba

Il-pjani lokali huma 7. Il-Pjan Lokali dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kien approvat fl-1995, madwar sentejn wara li twaqqfet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kellhom jgħaddu 7 snin oħra biex ġie approvat pjan lokali ieħor, din id-darba dak għall-Port il-Kbir.  Il-bqija kienu approvati f’daqqa bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Fl-2006 ukoll kien ippubblikat u approvat mill-Parlament dokument ieħor dwar ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, intitolat “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries”.

Kull wieħed minn dawn it-tmien dokumenti huwa wild il-PN fil-Gvern. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fihom huma nieqsa bil-kbira.

B’mod partikulari, d-dokument li ċaqlaq il-linja tal-żvilupp  ġie approvat mill-Parlament b’għaġġla kbira u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra  miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) f’daqqa waħda saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Mill-Opposiżżjoni l-Partit Laburista fil-Parlament ivvota kontra dan iċ-ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, imma, wara, meta tela’ fil-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan kollu. Dan minħabba li l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti kienet waħda partiġjana mhux minħabba xi viżjoni alternattiva.

Il-pjani lokali jeħtieġu reviżjoni immedjata. Id-dokument li jistabilixxi kif kellha tiċċaqlaq il-linja tal-iżvilupp għandu jitħassar u safejn hu possibli dik l-art kollha (ż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru) terġa’ issir art ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  

Fost it-tibdil meħtieġ hemm tnaqqis ġenerali fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini, liema għoli, f’ħafna każi qed itellef lill-komunità residenzjali mid-dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx. Dan qed inaqqas u jostakola l-potenzjal tagħna bħala pajjiż fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli. Dan kollu kien injorat mill-pjani lokali.

Hemm bosta materji oħra fl-erba’ rkejjen tal-pajjiż li jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati mill-ġdid. Kif spjegajt f’artiklu preċedenti l-pjani lokali ma jagħtux każ tal-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li huma stess jipproponu. Din hi materja bażika li teħtieġ attenzjoni kbira għax għandha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Sfortunatament il-pjani lokali ftit li xejn jagħtu każ tal-kwalità tal-ħajja. Jiffokaw fuq is-sodisfazzjon tar-rgħiba.

Għandu jkun hemm kumpens jekk art li illum tista’ tkun żviluppata terġa’ lura fl-ODZ bħala art mhiex tajba għall-iżvilupp?

Xi ġimgħat ilu l-Ministru  Aaron Farrugia responsabbli għall-Ippjanar u l-Ambjent kien qal li kellu l-parir favur id-dritt ta’ kumpens. Konvenjentement l-Onorevoli Ministru injora l-fatt li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta kif ukoll il-Qorti Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem diġa kellhom kaz bħal dan fejn kien hemm talba għal kumpens. Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali irrifjutat it-talba u l-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma ikkunsidratx t-talba f’deċiżjoni fis- 27 September 2011 li fiha iddiskutiet il-parametri legali applikabbli.

Il-kaz huwa dwar il-kumpanija Maltija Trimeg Limited u jikkonċerna 10,891 metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu fil-limiti tal-iżvilupp fl-1989 kif stabilit mill-iskemi temporanji tal-iżvilupp ta’ dakinnhar. Imma fl-1996 din l-art ġiet skedata għal skop ta’ konservazzjoni f’kuntest tal-protezzjoni tal-widien. Fil-Qrati Maltin il-kumpanija Maltija kienet qalet illi li kieku ħarġu l-permessi ta’ żvilupp l-art kien ikollha valur ta’  €11-il miljun. B’daqqa ta’ pinna imma, dan naqas għal  €230,000. Trimeg Limited kienet xtrat din l-art  €140,000.Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta ma aċċettatx dawn l-argumenti. Il-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma bidlet xejn minn dak li qalet il-Qorti Maltija.

Dan hu kaz wieħed biss. Il-ħsieb ġenerali iżda hu li apprezzament tal-ħarsien ambjentali qed jaqbad art fost in-nies illum li huma iktar sensittivi minn qatt qabel dwar dan.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna kumpens għat-tibdil li jkun meħtieġ.

Din hi ġlieda kontinwa mar-rgħiba u l-ispekulazzjoni. Nafu li fil-passat, u għal żmien twil, ir-rgħiba kienet minn fuq. Ir-rgħiba fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kellha żewġ parrini: il-PN u l-PL. Fl-Opposizzjoni jopponu u fil-Gvern jirrumblaw minn fuq kulħadd.  

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL ma jistgħux jindirizzaw din il-mandra fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art għax huma parti mill-problema: il-PLPN ħolquha, kabbruha u iddefendewha. Il-PN beda l-froġa u il-Labour sostniha.

Hu meħtieġ li nibdew paġna ġdida.  Il-linja tal-iżvilupp trid titraġġa lura u l-pjani lokali jeħtieġu tibdil mill-qiegħ. Aħna l-Ħodor biss nistgħu nagħmluh dan, għax aħna m’aħna fil-but ta’ ħadd. L-oħrajn, bil-provi wrew tul is-snin li bejn ir-rgħiba u l-kwalità tal-ħajja dejjem isostnu r-rgħiba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Settembru 2021

PLPN have continuously sponsored greed

The local plans are 7 in number.  The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan was approved in 1995, just two years after the setting up of the Planning Authority. It took another 7 years to approve the next one, the Grand Harbour Local Plan. The rest were approved in one go, in a hurry in the summer of 2006. In 2006 a document entitled “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries” was also published and approved by Parliament.

All eight documents above-mentioned have the PN fingerprints on them. They are certainly not green fingerprints.

The Rationalisation document in particular which was rushed through Parliamentary approval during July 2006 transformed 2 million square metres of land outside the development zone into land which could be considered for development. It shifted the development zone boundaries.

Labour, in Opposition when the rationalisation document was submitted for Parliament’s consideration, voted against its adoption only to embrace it as if it were its own once it was elected into government. Labour’s opposition was not on principle due to some alternative vision. It was pure partisan politics.

The local plans should be revisited the earliest. The rationalisation document should be scrapped and the land it refers to returned to ODZ status wherever this is possible.

Among the revisions considered essential to the local plans is a general reduction in permissible building heights which are interfering with the solar rights of our residential community. This is hampering our potential as a country to generate more renewable energy. This was ignored by the local plans!

There are various other issues spread all over the islands which require revisiting and careful analysis. As explained in a previous article the local plans fail to take into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development which they propose. This is one of the basic matters which should be considered in depth as it has a substantial impact on our quality of life.

Unfortunately, quality of life was considered irrelevant on the local plan drawing board. Only servicing greed was deemed essential.

Would any compensation be due if land currently suitable for development is relegated to ODZ status? Some weeks ago, Planning and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia emphasised that the advice he received was in favour of compensation. Conveniently the Hon Minister failed to point out that the Constitutional Court in Malta and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already dealt with a Maltese similar case requesting compensation. The Constitutional Court shot down the case and the Strasbourg Court considered it as being inadmissible on 27 September 2011 in a decision which discusses at some length the applicable legal parameters.

The case involved the Maltese Company Trimeg Limited and concerned 10,891 square metres of land which was within the limits of development as defined by the Temporary Provisions Schemes of 1989 but was then, in 1996, scheduled for conservation purposes as part of a valley protection zone.  The Maltese Company had previously claimed in the Maltese Courts that the land would have a value of €11 million if development permits were issued but was reduced in value to €230,000 at the stroke of a pen. The land was originally purchased by Trimeg Limited for €140,000.

The Constitutional Court in Malta had not accepted the arguments brought forward and the Strasbourg Court did not change anything from that judgement.

This is obviously just one case. The general train of thought however is that it is not a legitimate expectation to expect that the law does not change in the future. Environmental protection is hopefully on the increase as today’s men and women are nowadays more sensitive on the matter.

It is obviously a continuous tug-of-war with greed and speculation. The dreadful news of the past is that greed has for quite a stretch of time had the upper hand. Greed in land use planning has been alternatively sponsored by the PN and the PL. They oppose it when in opposition but adopt it once in government.

Neither the PN nor the PL can offer solutions to the current land use planning mess as both of them are part of the problem: PLPN created it, encouraged it and defended it. PN created the mess, PL sustained it.

It is time to start a new page. Scrap the rationalisation exercise and radically reform the local plans. Only we, the Greens, can do it, as we are in nobody’s pocket. The others have proven, time and again that they support greed at the expense of our quality of life.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 September 2021

Tonio Fenech u l-froġa tal-2006

Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi, reġa’ tfaċċa, f’attività politika li saret fil-Palazz Verdala biex  jgħidilna kif jaħsibha. Qalilna li bl-ambjent ma tirbaħx elezzjonijiet. Imma huwa bil-permessi (tal-bini), żied jgħid, tirbaħ il-voti!   Bil-qdusija artifiċjali tas-soltu jimplika li l-ħsara ambjentali kienet essenzjali biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet! Għax għal Tonio Fenech kull sagrifiċċju jgħodd sakemm iwassal biex tirbaħ l-elezzjonijiet.

Dan mhu xejn ġdid. Il-problema hi li l-kejl sfortunatament hu biss mil-lum għal għada. S’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul, biex inqiesu sewwa l-impatt li d-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum għandhom fuq għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna. Sfortunatament il-politika f’pajjiż tirraġuna: għada min raħ?

Wara li (flimkien ma oħrajn) Tonio Fenech kien responsabbli mhux biss għall-pjani lokali, imma ukoll għall-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bih żdiedet sew l-art għall-iżvilupp, issa qed jipprova jimpressjona li qed jindem!   Il-proposta tiegħu li jorbot il-pjani lokali fil-Kostituzzjoni toħloq iktar problemi milli diġa inħolqu!

Il-pjani lokali u strumenti oħra li bihom nippjanaw l-użu tal-art neċessarjament ikunu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ tipi. Jistgħu jkunu ċari u preċiżi, bil-konsegwenza li għax rigidi jkun jeħtieġilhom tibdil regolari biex jirriflettu realtajiet u żviluppi ġodda.  Inkella jkunu ġeneriċi u jkun jiddependi mill-interpretazzjoni tagħhom u l-integrità ta’ min iħaddem il-proċess kollu.

Kull possibilità hi dipendenti fuq l-integrità u l-viżjoni ta’ dawk involuti fil-fażijiet differenti li jwasslu sad-deċiżjonijiet.  Ma hemmx spjegazzjoni oħra: qegħdin f’nofs din il-froġa minħabba li Tonio Fenech u sħabu kienu bla viżjoni.  Inżid ngħid li b’mod konxju inkarigaw bil-proċess deċiżjonali numru ta’ persuni li ma kellhomx idea tal-impatt fit-tul ta’ dak li kienu qed jagħmlu. Kien jinteresshom biss mill-impatti immedjati: il-voti u l-elezzjonijiet kienu l-miri ewlenin tagħhom. Ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ġid komuni.

F’dan kollu nifhem li l-integrità tfisser li tkun onest, b’subgħajk dritt, ta’ prinċipju. Kwalitajiet li huma nieqsa mill-pjani lokali.

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art huwa aspett importanti minn dak meħtieġ għall-ħarsien ambjentali: dan mhux konċernat biss mir-realtajiet tal-lum.  Jagħti sura lill-futur u jfassal il-qafas li fih jiżviluppaw il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. F’dan il-kuntest Il-korruzzjoni tal-ambjent biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet billi jitqassmu l-permessi tal-iżvilupp bħall-pastizzi hi l-agħar azzjoni possibli, nieqsa minn kwalunkwe ħjiel ta’ integrità.  Dan hu l-kontribut sinifikanti tat-tim tal-2006 fil-politika Maltija lill-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti u futuri.  Għaddew ħmistax-il sena minn meta Tonio Fenech u ta’ madwaru fl-2006 ħolqu din il-froġa ambjentali. L-impatti illum tad-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ħmistax-il sena ilu huma enormi. Sfortunatament ma hemm ħadd fil-Parlament illum li għandu l-kuraġġ li jibda it-tiswija u t-tindifa bis-serjetà tal-ħsara li ilha takkumula għal 15-il sena.

U issa? Sakemm jibqgħu jiġu eletti l-istess tip ta’ nies fil-Parlament ma hu ser jiġri xejn. Għad għandna bosta  li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ħsara ambjentali, sakemm din tasal wara l-bieb tagħhom.  Huwa biss meta lkoll nirrealizzaw li l-vantaġġi immedjati għall-ftit ifissru tbatija fit-tul għal kulħadd li nkunu nistgħu nagħmlu l-ewwel passi fit-triq tal-fejqan.

Irridu nkunu kapaċi nifhmu kif dak li nagħmlu illum għandu effett fuq is-7 ġenerazzjonijiet li jiġu warajna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh billi nqisu sewwa d-deċiżjonijiet u l-imġieba kollha tagħna. Ma jista’ jkun hemm l-ebda eċċezzjoni.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Tonio Fenech’s class of 2006

Tonio Fenech, former Finance Minister, has been resurrected onto a political platform to share his views in a recent political activity held at Verdala Palace.

The environment, he said, does not win elections. Development permits, on the other hand, win votes, Tonio Fenech emphasised! Tonio Fenech, sanctimoniously as ever, implies that it was essential to systematically ruin the environment, in order to win elections! Sort of, winning elections is an objective in respect of which no sacrifice is to be spared, in his opinion!

We have been there more than once before. Realistically speaking, the problem, in my view is entrenched short-termism and this is applicable not just to environmental politics but rather to a whole spectrum of issues of varying importance. We need to take the long-term view in our decision-making process at all levels and in all matters.

Having been responsible, together with others, for the approval not just of the Local Plans but also for the rationalisation (land use planning) exercise as a result of which extensive land was given up for development, it seems that Tonio Fenech is in atonement mode. However, his proposal of resolving the matter by enshrining Local Plans in the Constitution would create worse problems than those already inflicted upon Maltese society!

Local plans, and other land use planning instruments, necessarily need be one of two types. They could be either very clear and precise, in which case they would require periodic revision to reflect developments and new realities. Alternatively, local plans could be generic in which case much would depend on their interpretation and the integrity of those handling the process.

In each option much is dependent on the integrity and vision of those handling all the different stages of the decision-making process. There are no two ways about it: we are in the present mess due to the lack of vision of Tonio Fenech and his colleagues. I would also add that they consciously entrusted the decision-making process to various persons who had no idea of the long-term impact of what they embarked upon. They had their sights focused on short-term gains: winning votes and elections being among their primary objectives. Consciously they set aside the common good.

In my book integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, being morally upright. Qualities which are definitely missing in the local plans.

Land use planning is an important aspect of environmental stewardship, and it does not deal exclusively with present day realities. It also shapes the future and determines the parameters within which future generations can act. In this respect using a corrupted environment to consciously win elections through dishing out development permits is in my view the worst possible political declaration, devoid of any integrity. This is the significant contribution of the class of 2006 in Maltese politics to the quality of life of present and future generations. It has been fifteen years since Tonio Fenech and his class of 2006 created this environmental mess. The impacts today are enormous. It is unfortunate that no one in parliament has the courage to initiate the process to reverse this 15-year damage.

Where do we go from here? Realistically speaking we cannot go anywhere if the same type keeps making it to Parliament. We have had more than enough of those who ignore environmental blasphemy until it arrives at their doorstep or their street! The moment we realise that short-term gains for the few signify long-term pains for all, we may start registering some progress. We need to realise that the way forward is to be good ancestors to at least the next seven generations: ensuring that we take the long-term view in all our decisions. There is no room for any exception.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 June 2021

Taħt il-lenti

Irridu u ma rridux, Malta hi kontinwament taħt il-lenti  internazzjonali. L-imġieba tagħna bħala pajjiż kontinwament tiġi mqabbla ma dak li hu aċċettat u li fil-fatt isir f’pajjiżi oħra.  Dan bla dubju għandu jservi ta’ xprun għalina lkoll f’dak kollu li nagħmlu.

Kemm jekk hi l-Moneyval, il-GRECO, l-Kummissjoni ta’ Venezja inkella xi istituzzjoni sopranazzjonali oħra, l-argumenti huma sostanzjalment identiċi. Xi drabi huma dwar it-titjib meħtieġ inkella titjib li diġa qiegħed isir.  Sfortunatament, iżda, bosta drabi oħra, l-istorja hi differenti: għax l-imġieba etika tal-istituzzjonijiet tagħna bosta drabi hi ferm il-bogħod minn dak mixtieq.  Dan jinkludi lill-Parliament, li tul is-snin wera li mhux kapaċi jeżiġi l-kontabilità tal-Gvern.  

Mill-ħażin immorru għall-agħar, kontinwament, kif jidher mill-imġieba tal-kumitat Parlamentari inkarigat biex jissorvelja l-implimentazzjoni tal-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika.  B’mod speċifiku l-mod kif aġixxa l-iSpeaker f’uħud minn dawn il-laqgħat hu inaċċettabbli.   

Il-Grupp GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa għadu kif ħareġ rapport ieħor dwar Malta. Il-GRECO hu kumitat fi ħdan il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa li jissorvelja kontra l-korruzzjoni fil-pajjiżi li jiffurmaw il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa.  Dan l-aħħar rapport tal-GRECO hu dwar regoli etiċi konnessi mal-Parlament, mal-ġudikatura u ma’ oqsma oħra relatati.

Hu tal-biki li tisma’ l-kelliema tal-Gvern jilgħaqu lill-GRECO għax, jgħidu, li dan qed ifaħħar lill-Gvern dwar inizjattivi fil-qasam tal-etika pubblika. Ma sar xejn minn dan. Minflok iżda  ġie emfasizzat mill-GRECO li r-riformi f’Malta mexjin bil-mod wisq, qegħdin lura. Qed jitkaxkru is-saqajn.  Dak li qalet il-GRECO.

Fl-istess ħin kellna rapport ieħor mill-Kummissjoni Venezja. Din id-darba dan ir-rapport intalab mill-Gvern stess dwar tibdil li qed ikun ikkunsidrat fil-liġijiet in konnessjoni ma’ multi amministrattivi sostanzjali li qed jimponu diversi awtoritajiet. Il-problema hi dwar il-fatt li dawn l-awtoritajiet mhumiex meqjusa bħala Qorti kif teħtieġ il-Kostituzzjoni Maltija f’ċirkustanzi bħal dawn. Dan minħabba li mhumiex immexxija minn persuna meqjusa imparzjali, bħal ma hu Imħallef jew magistrat. Minflok huma immexxija minn persuni ta’ fiduċja!

Il-Gvern ilu jipprova jilgħab b’emendi differenti li ressaq għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-Parlament. Weħel fl-emendi meħtieġa għall-Kostituzzjoni għax m’għandux l-appoġġ ta’ żewġ terzi tal-Parlament u issa spiċċa dahru mal-ħajt. Ir-rispett lejn is-saltna tad-dritt qatt ma kienet kwalità ewlenija tal-Gvern kif qed jidher ċar fil-mod kif qed jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet! Din mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida li ma konniex nafu biha!

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġibdet l-attenzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis li jkun iktar xieraq jekk il-Gvern Malti josserva t-toroq indikati mill-Kostituzzjoni Maltija flok ma jibqa’ jilgħab bil-liġijiet.  Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tiġbed l-attenzjoni li filwaqt li l-opinjoni tagħha hi kontribut lejn id-diskussjoni pubblika li qed tiżviluppa, hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li fl-aħħar tista’ tiddeċiedi jekk l-għażliet tal-Gvern Malti humiex korretti jew le! Fi ftit kliem qed tgħidlu: x’ġejt tagħmel hawn?

Id-deċiżjoni meħtieġa, tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja hi waħda li trid tittieħed minn Malta u l-awtoritajiet tagħha. Hi ukoll materja ta’ sovranità. Għax hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li tista’ tiddeċiedi dwar jekk l-emendi proposti għall-Att dwar l-Interpretazzjoni jmorrux kontra l-Kostituzzjoni Maltija jew le.

Imma hemm xi ftit posittiv f’dak li ġara ukoll. Il-Gvern Laburista fittex il-parir tal-barranin! Għal darba mhux jeqred bl-indħil barrani!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Under the spotlight

Whether we like it or not, as a country, Malta is continuously under the international spotlight. Our behaviour as a country is continuously compared to what is considered to be the norm, that is what is acceptable elsewhere.

Whether it is Moneyval, GRECO, the Venice Commission or any other supranational institution the arguments are basically identical. At times it is just about improvements which are required or are in hand. Unfortunately, however, many other times it is a completely different matter:  the ethical behaviour of our institutions leave much to be desired. This includes Parliament, which over the years has proven itself to be incapable of holding government to account. It gets worse by the hour as is evidenced by the behaviour of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which oversees the implementation of the Standards in Public Life. Specifically, the behaviour of the Speaker in the proceedings of that committee is, to put it mildly, unacceptable. 

The Council of Europe’s GRECO Group has just issued its Fourth Evaluation Report on Malta. GRECO is the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body. This GRECO report deals with corruption prevention in respect of Members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors in Malta.

It is nauseating to hear government spokespersons eulogising GRECO and emphasising a perceived praise for government “ethical initiatives”. It did nothing of the sort. It rather emphasised, in not so many words, that reforms in hand were moving too slowly and pointing out that they should be speeded up! I see no praise there.

Almost simultaneously we had another Venice Commission report, this time requested by Government, on how to implement changes to our legislation in order to ensure that it is possible for substantial penalties to be charged by a number of administrative authorities. The issue is whether these can be decided by a number of these authorities, staffed by so-called “persons of trust”, or else whether one had to stick to existing constitutional provisions which ensure that it is only a court of law presided by an impartial judge or magistrate that decides such matters.

Government has tried to use many tricks to force Parliament’s hand, clearly indicating that respect for the rule of law is not one of its strong attributes! Nothing new there, one might add.

The Venice Commission has drawn attention of Justice Minister Zammit Lewis that it would be appropriate if his government observes the paths laid down by the Constitution instead of engaging in tinkering with other pieces of legislation. Tactfully the Venice Commission points out that while it is expressing an opinion “contributing to the public discussion” it is Malta’s Constitutional Court which at the end of the day has the authority to decide whether the path on which government has embarked is correct or not!

The Venice Commission aptly threw the ball back in our court. It states in its report that its role “is not to assess whether the reform in question is necessary or appropriate. This decision falls within the sovereignty of the Maltese authorities and people. Further, the question of whether the proposed amendment of the Interpretation Act is compatible with the Constitution of Malta as interpreted by the constitutional case-law is for the Constitutional Court of Malta to decide, eventually.” (Vide para 94 of report)

For a change we have sought (foreign) advice, rather than complain on foreign interference. That is certainly an improvement!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 June 2021

Reforming a two-party Parliament

Malta’s electoral system has, over the years, been transformed into a duopoly. Discrimination is inbuilt into electoral legislation in order to effectively ensure that Parliament remains a two-party affair. It is discrimination by design. It is not accidental but specifically intended.

Our electoral system (STV: Single Transferable Vote) started off being applied in 1921 as one focused on the individual candidate, generally ignoring the political parties. Over the years a number of important changes shifted the focus of the STV from the individual candidate to the political party.

The first such change was carried out prior to the 1976 general elections: the electoral ballot paper was then redesigned such that same party candidates started being grouped together with a colour code identifying the different political parties. This was a radical change as up to that point, for over fifty years, all candidates in an electoral district were listed alphabetically. Up till that point it was a common occurrence for votes to switch from one party to the other in successive counts as the semi-literate voter, would not always distinguish between one party candidate and the candidates from other parties. As a result, many a parliamentary seat was lost or switched allegiance over the years.

The second change took place in 1987 and was fine-tuned in subsequent years. It started off as a reaction to the impact of jerrymandering of electoral districts, specifically the 1981 general election result. Originally it was designed as a constitutional guarantee for majority rule, ensuring that whichever political party surpassed the 50 per cent vote count it would be guaranteed a majority of parliamentary seats. Subsequently it was developed into a formula for ensuring proportionality between first count votes and parliamentary seats. There is however an important condition attached: this is only applicable if just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third one gains just one seat, no proportionality is guaranteed, except in one specific instant: when a political party obtains in excess of the 50 per cent mark it is still guaranteed a majority of Parliamentary seats. Our Constitution expects that the rest have to lump it.

The third change is in the pipeline. It involves an additional adjustment: a gender balance mechanism. A maximum of twelve parliamentary seats will be added to the total to represent the under-represented gender! Yes, you have guessed: they will be split equally between the duopoly. In addition, the seats will not be available for distribution the moment a third political party makes it into parliament.

Let me be very clear. Proportionality between votes cast and parliamentary seats won is essential. Likewise, it is essential to address the gender imbalance in our parliament. However, both adjustments can be done fairly, without any discrimination, and importantly without increasing the size of Parliament astronomically as will inevitably happen at the next general election if only two political parties make it to Parliament. In fact, it is perfectly possible not to have any increase in size of Parliament at all if the appropriate changes are carried out!

Over the years the political party which I lead has made several proposals on these matters. The latest proposal was made in the context of the public consultation on addressing gender imbalance in Parliament. Even then we emphasised that tinkering with the electoral system and adding top-ups would not solve anything. A complete overhaul of the system is required. Instead, the “gender balance reform” ended up advocating “as little as possible disruption of the electoral system”. Government and Opposition agreed to reinforce the existing discrimination in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, our proposals have been ignored once more and we have no choice but to resort to our Courts to address a blatantly discriminatory electoral system imposed on us by Labour and Nationalist Members of Parliament. On such matters they always agree.

In such circumstances fragmentation of the political spectrum is the worst possible option for those who want to emphasise a specific point. Those who end up playing the “independent” are pawns of the duopoly, unwittingly reinforcing the two-party system. They end up siphoning votes and thereby deliberately weakening a potential third voice which can make it to Parliament. The merger between AD and PD in the past months is the appropriate antidote in such circumstances.

Instead of focusing on minor differences it would be appropriate if all of us give more weight to the overall picture. It is an uphill struggle, but we should not be deterred!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 30 May 2021

The last straw

The situation is now unbearable. The discriminatory gender mechanism introduced in the Constitution by consent of the PNPL duopoly is definitely the last straw. The PNPL duopoly have now been at it for quite some time: they are undermining our very democracy.

Some years back they introduced the proportionality adjustment mechanism in the Constitution. They fine-tuned it over the years. Yet it is only applicable when just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third party makes it to parliament the Constitution ceases to guarantee proportionality except to the one party which obtains over fifty per cent of the votes in a general election. All the others are excluded from benefitting from the proportionality adjustment mechanism.

Act XXII of 2021, given the Presidential assent on the 20 April 2021, introduces another adjustment mechanism to general election results. It is a gender adjustment mechanism and is likewise applicable when candidates of two political parties make it to Parliament.

Twelve additional members of Parliament will be added from the under-represented sex. These will “be apportioned equally between the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”. There is no provision for the applicability of the gender adjustment mechanism when parliament is made up of more than two political parties.

Way back in March 2019 government had set up a “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” which was entrusted to draw up proposals on the need to achieve gender balance in parliament. In July of the same year, after an exercise in public consultation, this Technical Committee published its findings and final proposals.

The Technical Committee in its report acknowledges the receipt of a position paper submitted by the Maltese Green Party which emphasised the need of a “broader electoral reform” than the one under consideration. Unfortunately, the Technical Committee failed to engage and discuss the only alternative submitted to its entrenched position. An alternative which could possibly have delivered a solution without creating additional discrimination was ignored completely.

The Technical Committee’s proposal, which was eventually adopted by parliament, adds another layer of discrimination to our electoral laws. To date proportionality is only constitutionally guaranteed to political parties in a two-party parliament.  The second layer of discrimination will likewise guarantee a gender balance only when two political parties are present in parliament.

Encouraging gender balance is an important objective which I and all my colleagues share. It cannot however be the cause of creating further discrimination in our electoral legislation. This was a unique opportunity which could have been utilised by the so-called “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” to eradicate the existent electoral discrimination rather than further strengthen it. As a result, the Technical Committee ended up strengthening the existent parliamentary duopoly.

It is unacceptable that the electoral law treats us differently from the large parties. Equality before the law is supposed to be a basic democratic principle underpinning all legislation.

The electoral system has been treating us unfairly for too long a time. Adding further to this unfairness is definitely the last straw. It is now time to address this unfairness head-on and possibly settle matters once and for all.

With this in mind we are planning to challenge constitutionally the two adjustment electoral mechanisms as both of them are designed to function as discriminatory tools.

It is however possible to have both proportionality and gender balance in our parliament without making use of discriminatory action.

Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver fairness in our electoral system. The Courts are our only remaining hope to address and remove discrimination from electoral legislation.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 April 2021

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021