Transport Malta: incompetence or collusion?

Throughout the past days the media has revealed a second-hand car racket as a result of which some of the used cars imported from Japan had their mileage meters tampered with. This in order to indicate that the cars were used much less than they actually were.

A considerable number of consumers have been duped into believing that they were making a deal when in reality they were victims of a fraud in which, inevitably, a number of persons were involved. Reports in the press have detailed the possible way in which the fraud was carried out. A specific garage and a printing press have been mentioned as possible accomplices in carrying out the resulting fraud.

At the time of writing two second-hand car dealers have been identified as being involved in this racket.

Second-hand cars exported from Japan are issued certification by the Japan Export Vehicle Inspection Centre (JEVIC). Such certification details information relative to the second-hand cars exported, which information includes the milage covered by the cars exported. The fraud involved both the physical tampering of the individual car dashboard meter as well as alterations to the accompanying documentation issued by JEVIC, if there is no foul play.

It is pertinent to enquire as to what checks were carried out by the regulator, Transport Malta, before carrying out the registration process of these imported second-hand cars. Apparently, no basic checking of the (falsified) documentation was carried out.

Accessing the JEVIC website reveals that Transport Malta requires odometer certification of passenger and goods vehicles by JEVIC prior to export. This information is also available online. Inputting the car chassis number and other relevant information about a second-hand car imported from Japan reveals electronically the certification details of the said second-hand car which details should correspond to the paper documentation issued by JEVIC.

A press release issue by Transport Malta on the 8 June, three days after the fraud was revealed by the media, advises consumers as to how to check if their second-hand car imported from Japan was tampered with. A seven-step instruction is available, ending with the following: if you have less mileage on your instrument cluster than on your JEVIC certificate, contact your car dealer for an explanation.

At this point in time, after the fraud has been revealed, there are many questions which require a clear answer. Topping the list of such questions is the manner in which Transport Malta carried out its regulatory duties when processing applications for the registering of second-hand cars imported from Japan. Apparently, no checks were carried out to verify the validity of the documentation submitted. If such a check was carried out it would have revealed the discrepancies which have now come to light and maybe some action would have been taken to protect consumers from this fraud.

Who was Transport Malta protecting with its silence?

Logical conclusions can be arrived at. One either concludes that the administrative setup at Transport Malta is incompetent or else that it is in collusion with the odometer tampering process. How is it possible to otherwise overlook such a basic check before proceeding to register imported second-hand cars? It is only now that, caught with its pants down, Transport Malta has published a seven-step instruction on how to check as to whether your imported car has been tampered with!

The Minister for Consumer Protection has exclaimed that these allegations shock “the system”. She even emphasised that there is zero tolerance for such fraudulent behaviour.

It would be much better if the Hon Minister ensures that authorities such as Transport Malta are run properly. At best, to date, those running the authority are downright incompetent, at worst in collusion. “The system” certainly needs to be shocked back on track, behaving normally against fraud and not facilitating it.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday :12 June 2022

Bejgħ tal-passaporti u l-prinċpju ta’ lealtà fl-Unjoni Ewropea

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-kumitat tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-libertajiet ċivili u l-ġustizzja,  huwa u jiddiskuti rapport dwar il-bejgħ tal-passaporti (jirreferu għalihom bħala golden passports) mill-istati membri, jemfasizza li dan hu oġġezzjonabbli etikament, legalment u ekonomikament u dan apparti li dan joħloq bosta riskji għas-sigurtà.

Tul is-snin, il-Ministri, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra, emfasizzaw li ċ-ċittadinanza, fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, hi materja riżervata għall-istati membri. Hekk hu, imma mhux b’mod assolut. Il-prinċipju ta’ lealtà fit-trattati Ewropej ilewwen il-ħidma tal-istati membri fl-Unjoni. Anke l-oqsma li huma kompetenza nazzjonali għandhom ikunu meqjusa f’dan id-dawl.

Ħadd ma jikkontesta li ċ-ċittadinanza hi kompetenza tal-pajjiżi membri. Hekk għandu jkun. Imma meta nikkunsidraw il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinaza hemm ħafna implikazzjonijiet oħra, ta’ gravità mhux żgħira. It-trattati tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dan jispjegawh bħala obbligu ta’ kooperazzjoni sinċiera  bejn il-pajjiżi membri, obbligu li bosta drabi huwa mfisser bħala l-prinċipju ta’ lejaltà:  lejaltà, jiġifieri bejn il-pajjiżi membri infushom.

Riċentment, l-amministrazzjoni immexxija minn Robert Abela fasslet emendi mhux żgħar għall-proċess li bih tkun akkwistata ċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment. Il-programm (Individual Investor Programme) inbidel ma skema residenzjali li eventwalment tista’ twassal għal ċittadinanza. Għalkemm l-Unjoni Ewropeja kienet infurmat b’dan it-tibdil, is-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għaċ-ċittadinanza, Alex Muscat, indika li ma kien hemm l-ebda rispons mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja.

Il-Parlament Ewropew ser jiddiskuti dan kollu fil-plenarja tiegħu tax-xahar id-dieħel.  L-abbozz tar-rapport, b’numru ndaqqas ta’ emendi, jemfasizza li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment “hemm it-tendenza li jkunu f’dawk l-istati membri li huma l-iktar esposti għal riskji konnessi mas-segretezza finanzjarja, bħall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, l-ħasil tal-flus u l-korruzzjoni.” 

Fost dawk li kisbu ċ-ċittadinanza Maltija b’investiment insibu lil: Anatoly Hurgin, akkużat bi frodi, kuntrabandu u ħasil ta’ flus kemm fl-Istati Uniti kif ukoll fl-Iżrael, Liu Zhongtian, biljunarju involut fl-aluminju, għaddej proċeduri kriminali fl-Istati Uniti dwar evażjoni  ta’ madwar żewġ biljun euro f’tariffi  Amerikani,  Boris Mints, biljunarju ieħor li qiegħed jiffaċċja akkużi dwar frodi fir-Renju Unit,  Pavel Melnikov, ukoll biljunarju li qiegħed ikun investigat fil-Finlandja dwar ħasil ta’ flus u frodi, u Mustafa Abdel-Wadood li ammetta akkuzi dwar frodi fl-Istati Uniti. Dawn ġew identifikati mill-istampa f’Malta bħala lihumafost dawk li xtraw passaport Malti. Ħadd mhu ser jeskludi li hemm iktar, għax dawn it-tip ta’ skemi huma kalamita għal dawn it-tip ta’ nies..

Dawn, u oħrajn, ħadu iċ-ċittadinanza minkejja li suppost li l-applikazzjonijiet tagħhom kienu eżaminati b’reqqa liema bħala!

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-logħob ta’ Bernard Grech li jirrifjuta li jieħu sehem fi proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar il-ħatra ta’ regulatur ġdid għall-iskema ta’ ċittadinanza b’investiment tibgħat messaġġ żbaljat. Regulatur li jkollu l-barka ta’ Bernard Grech mhux ser itejjeb l-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza.

Irrispettivament minn kemm jinbidlu r-regoli dwar l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti, din tibqa’ mhux aċċettabbli fil-prinċipju. Kif jingħad fir-rapport pendenti quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew iċ-ċittadinanza Ewropeja mhiex għall-biegħ.

Ir-rapport quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew jgħid li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment fihom ħafna riskji u mhumiex kompatibbli mal-prinċipju ta’ kooperazzjoni meħtieġa bejn l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan għandhom jispiċċaw sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2025 jgħidilna ir-rapport tal-Parlament Ewropew..

Il-flus jistgħu jkun utli, jgħid Bernard Grech, kieku l-iskemi jkunu trasparenti.  Hi l-istess attitudni li l-PN fil-Gvern daħħal fis-sistema ta’ tassazzjoni meta spiċċa daħħal proposti li jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.  

L-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti  flimkien mal-abbuż kontinwu tas-sovranità tal-pajjiż fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni bit-tnaqqis fir-rati ta’ taxxa għal kumpaniji barranin li b’hekk ġew inkoraġġiti jevadu t-taxxi ta’ pajjiżhom huma uħud mir-raġunijiet li wassluna sal-lista l-griża. Tul dawn l-aħħar xhur imma, l-Ministru tal-Fnanzi beda jċedi u jidher li issa mexjin lejn li naċċettaw rata minima u armonizzat ta’ taxxa.

Bħala partit ilna ninsitu fuq din it-triq. Sfortunatament b’wiċċna minn quddiem nistgħu ngħidu li ghidna ċar u tond kif kienu l-affarijiet. Issa jmiss li tispiċċa l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti ukoll. M’għandniex bżonn li jkunu istituzzjonijiet barranin li jgħidulna x’inhu tajjeb u x’inhu ħażin. Kapaċi, jekk irridu, li dan nagħmluh aħna stess. 

Huma biss membri parlamentari eletti mill-lista tal-kandidati ta’ ADPD li jistgħu jassiguraw li jsir it-tibdil kollu li hu meħtieġ. Bernard Grech u l-PN ma jistgħux ikunu is-soluzzjoni. Huma parti mill-problema.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Frar 2022

Golden passports & the EU’s loyalty principle

Earlier this week, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, when discussing a draft legislative initiative report emphasised that golden passports are objectionable ethically, legally and economically and pose several serious security risks.

Over the years government Ministers, in Malta and elsewhere, have emphasised that issues of citizenship and passports are a national reserved matter, within the European Union.  They are right, but, only to a certain extent. The principle of loyalty in the EU treaties underpins the functioning of the individual member states within the Union. Even the national competencies have to be implemented with this principle in mind.

No one contests that nationality issues are a national competence. They should remain so. There is however much more than state competence at stake. Article 4.3 of the Treaty on the European Union explain this as the principle of sincere cooperation, at times referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European member states.

Recently, the Robert Abela administration has sought to reform the process of acquiring citizenship by investment. The original rules were overhauled. The IIP (Individual Investor Programme) was replaced by a residency scheme which could, eventually lead to acquiring citizenship. The EU was informed of all this and Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, responsible for citizenship has indicated that there has been no feedback on the matter from the EU Commission.

The EU Parliament will discuss the matter in plenary next month. The draft report which, with a multitude of amendments proposed, will be considered, emphasises among other matters that such Citizenship by Investment (CBI) “schemes tend to be located in Member States that are particularly prone to risks related to financial secrecy, such as tax avoidance and money laundering, and corruption.”

Among the new Maltese citizens by investment, one finds: Anatoly Hurgin, charged with fraud, smuggling and money laundering in the US and Israel, Liu Zhongtian, an aluminium billionaire indicted in the US on avoidance of €2 billion in American tariffs, Boris Mints, a billionaire facing fraud charges in the UK, Pavel Melnikov, another billionaire under investigation in Finland for money laundering and tax fraud and Mustafa Abdel-Wadood who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in the United States. These have been identified by the Maltese press. I would not exclude that there are more of them as such schemes are a natural attraction to them. So far they have avoided the radar of public scrutiny.

Quite a collection! All of them were okayed by Malta’s “rigorous due diligence”!

In view of the above, Bernard Grech’s postering through his refusal to engage in consultation on the appointment of a new regulator for golden citizenship sends a wrong message. A regulator acceptable to Bernard Grech will not make the citizenship by investment scheme any better.

The golden passport scheme, irrespective of the tinkering with the rules carried out, is unacceptable in principle. EU citizenship, says the EU Parliament report currently under consideration “is not a commodity that can be marketed or sold and has never been conceived as such by the Treaties.”

European values are not for sale, says the said report: “in the light of the particular risks posed by CBI schemes and their inherent incompatibility with the principle of sincere cooperation, CBI schemes should be phased out fully across the Member States”. The proposal before the EU Parliament is that these should be phased out by 2025.

The money justifies it, says Bernard Grech, if only it were more transparent. It is the same attitude which the PN-led government built into our taxation system, when it introduced measures encouraging tax avoidance.

The golden passport scheme coupled with the continuous abuse of Malta’s tax sovereignty through offering substantial tax discounts to foreign commercial entities, encouraging tax avoidance, are part of the reasons which have led to Malta’s grey-listing. During the last months, Malta’s Finance Minister has finally capitulated and he is now steering the country towards the acceptance of a harmonised minimum tax rate.

Greens have been advocating this course of action for ages. Unfortunately, we can hold our heads high and state: we told you so! The golden passport scheme should be next for the chop. We do not need foreign institutions to tell us what is right or wrong. We can do it ourselves.

Only members of parliament elected from the list of ADPD candidates can ensure that the required overhaul is carried out. Bernard Grech and his PN cannot be the solution. They are part of the problem.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 February 2022

Wara Justyne: nistennew issa r-riżenja ta’ Frank Fabri

Ir-riżenja ta’ Justyne kienet inevitabbli.

Setgħet iddum ftit ieħor taħsibha, imma kienet fir-rokna, ma kelliex minn fejn toħroġ.

Din hi t-tieni riżenja bħala riżultat tar-rapporti tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. L-oħra kienet Rosianne Cutajar!

Li tirriżenja darbtejn mill-Kabinett fi 23 xahar, kif għamlet Justyne, naħseb li hu record. Juri li l-ġudizzju ta’ Robert Abela li jagħtiha ċans ieħor kien wieħed żbaljat għall-aħħar.

Ir-riżenja ta’ Justyne mhiex il-konklużjoni. Għad hemm iktar : ir-riżenja ta’ Frank Fabri, Segretarju Permanenti li approva l-kuntratt ta’ sieħeb Justyne, Daniel Bogdanovic, issa hu iktar meħtieġa minn qatt qabel.

Fil-ġlieda għall-governanza tajba, fil-ġlieda kontra l-abbuż u l-korruzzjoni, iċ-ċivil għandu rwol importanti. Is-segretarji permanenti għandhom sehem kruċjali f’din il-ġlieda. Min minnhom jonqos li jaghti sehem mhemmx post għalih. Min jiffaċilita l-ħmieġ għandu jitwarrab minnu fih

Regulating lobbying

When Parliament, some years back, approved the Standards in Public Life legislation it did not arrive at any conclusions on the regulation of lobbying. It postponed consideration of this important matter by delegating the matter to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – then still to be appointed. The Commissioner had to draft a set of lobbying guidelines.

It is now almost two years since the publication by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life of a consultation document entitled “Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Maltain which document Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner, outlines his views as to how lobbying should be regulated in Malta.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has requested technical support from the EU’s Directorate General for Structural Reform in the area of “public integrity”. A technical support team from OECD engaged by the EU is currently in Malta to assist and advise the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.  I have had the opportunity of a very fruitful discussion with one of the OECD lobbying experts earlier during the week.

Hopefully in the weeks ahead the Commissioner will be in a position to submit a clear proposal indicating the way ahead for regulating lobbying in Malta.

In his consultation document of two years ago the Commissioner rightly emphasises that due to the particular circumstances of the country, the small size of the country and the population in particular, decision-takers are easily accessible. This leads to the conclusion that there is limited need to regulate the professional lobbyist. Rather, opines the Commissioner, there is a need to address contacts between decision-takers and private individuals who have such easy access.

The Commissioner makes the point that this should be done carefully without obstructing or hindering the direct contact between the politician as decision-taker and the voter at constituency level. This is a valid point but not without its dangers and pitfalls. At constituency level democracy is strengthened. It is also where clientelism is carefully nurtured. This is also a basic characteristic of this small country.

Lobbying is about influencing the decision-taker. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. This is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to politicians, parliamentarians and administrators by those who have an interest in the decisions under consideration.  

Hence the need for lobbying to be transparent and above-board. This is normally done through ensuring that meetings held by holders of political office or senior administrators are well documented and that the resulting minutes and supporting documents are available for public scrutiny.

Formal lobbying would be thus addressed. But that leaves informal lobbying which is the real headache. This can only be regulated if those lobbied are willing to submit themselves to the basic rules of transparency. Self-declarations by those lobbied would in such circumstances be the only way to keep lobbying in check!

This is however not all.

There are more sinister ways through which lobbying is carried out. Well organised sectors of industry and business employ former decision-takers as advisors or in some other high-sounding senior position. This ensures that the “advisor” can share his knowledge and contacts with his “new employer” thereby facilitating the effectiveness of focused lobbying. This practice is normally referred to as “revolving-door recruitment” and is an integral part of the lobbying process which needs regulating the soonest.

There are countless examples of this practice both locally and abroad, in respect of which I have already written various times. This aspect tends to be regulated by establishing a reasonable time-frame during which the former decision-taker or administrator cannot seek employment in areas of economic activity in respect of which he had political or high-level administrative or regulatory responsibilities.

The regulation of lobbying is essential in a democracy. Unregulated, lobbying can, and generally does, develop into corruption.

Lobbying can be a legitimate activity. Adequate regulation of lobbying, properly applied, ensures that it remains within legitimate boundaries.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 November 2021

Il-kontabilità tan-negozji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi

Illum indirizzajt il-konferenza biennali tal-Malta Institute of Accountants bit-tema: A New Mindset: Reduce. Reuse. Report.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja bħalissa għaddejja diskussjoni dwar Direttiva biex kumpaniji diversi jkollhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu rapporti regolari dwarl-impatti tagħhom fuq is-soċjetà. Dawn ir-rapporti jikkonċernaw dak li jissejjaħ “non-financial reporting” u allura jittrattaw dwar impatti ambjentali, impatti soċjali kif ukoll l-attitudnijiet etiċi fil-kumpanija.

Id-diskussjonijiet għadhom għaddejjin. Hu tajjeb li anke aħna niddiskutu dan kollu u kif ser jeffettwa lilna u lill-kumpaniji li joperaw fil-pajjiż.

Emfasizzajt li hu importanti lil-pajjiż ma jfittix xi eżenzjoni minn din id-direttiva. Huwa importanti ukoll li l-korporazzjonijiet tal-Gvern ukoll ikunu kostretti li jippreżentaw dawn ir-rapporti.

Bħal dejjem hemm problema bl-SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) li waħda waħda jqisu lil-impatt tagħhom hu żgħir imma li meta tgħoddhom flimkien jammonta għal impatt sostanzjali! Dawn ukoll jeħtieġ lijinstab mod kif jirrappurtaw dwarl-impatti tagħhom. Biex jagħmlu dan ikollhom bżonn l-għajnuna tal-Gvern, kemm għajnuna diretta lilhom kif ukoll lill-assoċjazzjonijiet li jgħinuhom.

Ir-rappurtaġġ li ser teżiġi l-Unjoni Ewropeja hu applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju ta’ trasparenza fuq in-negozju ul-industrija. It-trasparenza hi l-bażi li mingħajrha ma jistax ikollna kontabilità vera.

Għandna kull dritt li nkunu nafu x’inhu jiġri anke fil-kumpaniji u fil-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi. Mhux il-politiċi biss għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom: anke l-kumpaniji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi!

Id-diskors kollu taqrah hawn.

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

Mina : rovina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ippubblikata fuq Illum : 8 t’Awwissu 2021

The Gozo tunnel white elephant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 August 2021