Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ

Hawn sinjali u indikazzjonijiet konfliġġenti dwar x’inhu għaddej bejn Malta u l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fuq negozjati dwar kundizzjonijiet li jirregolaw il-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Dak li hu magħruf bħala  Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Il-presenza f’Malta tas-Segretarju tad-Difiża Amerikan  Mark Esper iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa jindika mhux biss li t-taħdidiet huma għaddejjin, imma fuq kollox li huma fi stadju kritiku. Uffiċjalment ħadd ma jaf iktar minn hekk, ħlief dawk li għandhom idejhom fil-borma!

Billi hemm skiet kważi perfett – silenzju stampa – dwar il-materja, hu naturali li bħalissa għaddejja ħafna spekulazzjoni dwar dak li għaddej.

L-Istati Uniti ilha s-snin turi xewqa għal ftehim SOFA mal-Gvern Malti, imma kull Gvern repetutament qagħad lura. L-indikazzjonijiet illum huma  il-possibiltà ta’ insistenza Amerikana għal rabta  bejn ftehim u l-proċess tal- Moneyval dwar l-osservanza ta’ standards internazzjonali li jirregolaw il-ħasil tal-flus.

Kemm ir-rappreżentanti tal-Gvern Malti kif ukoll dawk tal-Gvern Amerikan jiċħdu li hemm din ir-rabta. Imma fin-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni iktar konkreta nistgħu nkunu nafu biss matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin. Jekk il-Gvernijiet humiex ser iħokku dahar xulxin ikun magħruf diplomatikament, kif jiġri ħafna drabi bejn l-istati  fil-maniġġi internazzjinali globali, kontinwament.

Fil-politika internazzjonali m’hemmx ħbieb, hemm biss interessi. Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi kontinwament ifittxu l-aħjar mod kif jaġevolaw dawn l-interessi. L-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika qed tfittex u tħares l-interessi tagħha meta tipprova issib mod kif tasal għal ftehim SOFA li jirregola l-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Din hi l-politika internazzjonali.  

Hu magħruf li Malta tablet l-assistenza tal-Istati Uniti biex tegħleb il-pressjoni internazzjonali dwar il-proċess tal-Moneyval li jirregola jekk il-pajjiż huwiex qiegħed miexi sewwa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus fuq territorju Malti.

Id-diċeriji jindikaw li l-Istati Uniti lesta tgħin, imma għal din l-għajnuna hemm prezz: il-ftehim li ilhom jixtiequ. Din hi opportunità li mhux la kemm terġa’ titfaċċa. Kif nafu: ħadd ma jagħmel xejn għal xejn.

Ftehim SOFA jistabilixxi l-qafas li fih il-militar Amerikan jopera f’pajjiżi barranin. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta jistabilixxi jekk u kif il-liġijiet ta’ Malta japplikawx għall-militar Amerikan u għall-ħidma tagħhom, inkluż kull apparat (inkluż il-flotta navali) li jistgħu jġibu magħhom. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta meta jkun negozjat – jista’ jwassal għal konċessjonijiet u eċċezzjonijiet b’mod li mhux il-liġi Maltija kollha tkun tapplika għall-mistednin tal-Gvern ta’ Robert Abela.

Dan kollu jwassal għal mistoqsija bażika: il-Gvern Malti qed jikkunsidra proposta tal-Istati Uniti li jkun hawn il-militar Amerikan jopera minn teritorju Malti?  Ma għandi l-ebda dubju li ftit huma l-Maltin li jaqblu ma proposta bħal din, jekk teżisti. 

Tul is-snin fil-pajjiż żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali li m’hawnx post għall-militar ta’ pajjiżi barranin fuq artna.  

Nistgħu allura naslu għall-konklużjoni li l-Gvern Malti qed ikun rikattat: Ftehim SOFA jekk trid l-għajnuna dwar il-proċess Moneyval? Sfortunatament ma tantx nistgħu naslu għal konklużjoni differenti.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku (li fi żmien qasir ser jingħaqdu f’partit wieħed) għamlu sejħa biex l-abbozz ta’ ftehim mal-Amerikani jkun ippubblikat immedjatament. Dan hu meħtieġ biex ikun jista’ jsir skrutinju pubbliku: dan hu obbligu demokratiku bażiku.

Nazzarda ngħid li l-idea innifisha tal-ftehim hi oggezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju u dan billi tmur kontra l-prinċipji bażiċi fil-Kostituzzjoni Maltija:  mhux aċċettabbli li jkollna l-miltar ta’ pajjiż ieħor f’artna. Anke d-dettalji tal-ftehim huma inkwetanti: dawn jistgħu jinkludu l-presenza ta’ elementi tas-Sitt Flotta Amerikana bl-elementi nuklejari tagħha, li jkun opposti bil-qawwa mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Jekk Malta, kif inhu xieraq, tirrifjuta ftehim mal-Amerikani, jibqa’ l-pendenza tal-Moneyval  li tista’ twassal għal miżuri li jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-settur finanzjarju f’Malta. Robert Abela xorta jibqgħalu l-obbligu li jħoll l-egħeqiedi li rabtu bihom il-predeċessur tiegħu u ta’ madwaru u dan mingħajr għajnuna Amerikana.  

L-għajnuna Amerikana għandha prezz għoli li Malta m’għandhiex tħallas. Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Ottubru 2020

Our sovereignty is not for sale

Conflicting signals are flying around as to whether, if at all, there is any sign yet of Malta and the US being close to concluding an agreement on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

The presence in Malta of US Defence Secretary Mark Esper is indicative that discussions are ongoing and moreover that they are at a very critical stage. Officially no one knows much more than that, except, that is, for those having a finger in the pie!

As a result of a news blackout on the matter, it is natural that a lot of ongoing speculation as to what is actually being discussed is developing.

A SOFA agreement with Malta has been on the US wish-list for ages: requests being repeatedly declined by successive Maltese governments. Indications point towards a linkage between the US insistence for a SOFA agreement and the developing Moneyval test on complying with money laundering standards. Both the US and the Maltese government representatives flatly deny such a linkage. In the absence of detailed information from both sides, whether such a linkage exists or not will only be clear as matters develop over the coming weeks and months. The possibility of a quid pro quo would only be evident on a diplomatic level, as happens continuously in the games states play globally.

In international politics, states do not have friends, they only have interests: diplomacy seeks to achieve and service these interests. In pursuing a SOFA agreement, the US is seeking its interests. This is the nature of international politics.

It is known that Malta has requested US assistance in the forthcoming Moneyval test. The rumour mill is of the opinion that such assistance will be forthcoming at a price: a SOFA agreement with Malta which has been yearned for by the US for a long time. It seems that this is an opportunity which is not to be missed by the US.

A SOFA is an agreement that generally establishes the framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in a foreign country and spells out how domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction apply toward U.S. personnel in that country. Exceptions and concessions are normally sought and negotiated.

This begs a basic question: is the Maltese government considering a US proposal to have US military personnel operating on Maltese territory or in Maltese territorial waters? I would not hesitate to state that few Maltese would agree with such a proposal. It is reasonable to state that over the years a consensus has developed on these islands that there is no room for foreign troops on Maltese soil or in Maltese waters.

Should we then conclude that the Maltese government is being blackmailed: a SOFA in return for Moneyval support? Unfortunately, it is difficult to arrive at an alternative conclusion.

Earlier this week Alternattiva Demokratika and the Democratic Party (which will be shortly merging into one party) called for the draft of any Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the USA to be made public immediately. This is necessary for public scrutiny. It is a basic democratic duty.

I would dare say that the very idea of a SOFA agreement is objectionable in principle as it goes flatly against the principles enshrined in Malta’s Constitution: no foreign troops on Maltese soil (or in Maltese waters). The possible details of a SOFA agreement are just as worrying: these could include the presence of elements of a nuclear powered Sixth Fleet which will be opposed tooth and nail by civil society.

Rejecting a SOFA agreement would potentially leave the Moneyval grey-listing possibilities unresolved. But then Robert Abela must seek to disentangle Malta from the suffocating problems created by his predecessor and his kitchen Cabinet without seeking US help!

US help comes at a hefty price which Malta should not pay. Our sovereignty is not for sale.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 October 2020

Gambetti lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali

Il-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis, kien ewforiku dwar il-bidliet kostituzzjonali li ftehmu dwarhom il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Gvern Laburista. “Ftehim storiku” qal.

Ikun opportun li ninnutaw li dan il-ftehim bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni sar bil-bibien magħluqin. Għal darb’oħra ma kienx hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika. Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, presentement fil-limbu, ngħatat gambetta oħra.  Kif ġie emfasizzat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa minn Pieter Omtzigt, rapporteur Olandiż tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa dwar  Malta u s-saltna tad-dritt, il-bidliet ta’ din ix-xorta għandhom isiru bis-serjeta.

Filwaqt li l-partiti fil-Parlament kontinwament jitkellmu favur il-ħtieġa tal-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali, b’għemilhom jimminawha kontinwament.  Tal-PLPN jidher li jemmnu li għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddettaw it-tibdil meħtieġ għall-kostituzzjoni. B’għemilhom kontinwament jagħtu l-ġemb lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-Kostituzzjoni, imma, mhiex tagħhom biss, iżda hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Parlament għaldaqstant m’għandu l-ebda dritt li jimponi riformi kostituzzjonali mingħajr konsultazzjoni pubblika adegwata.

Il-qbil li, fil-futur, il-President tar-Repubblika jkun elett b’appoġġ li ma jkunx inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament hu pass il-quddiem mis-sitwazzjoni attwali. Imma jikkuntrasta ma’ proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ilha li ġiet ippreżentata lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali  li biha l-Kunsilli Lokali, flimkien mal-Membri Parlamentari jkunu involuti direttament fil-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat.  Meta l-PLPN iddeċidew dwar din il-proposta kif ukoll dwar emendi oħra, bejniethom, bil-bibien magħluqin, kienu għal darb’oħra qed jagħtu bis-sieq lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat m’għandhiex tibqa’ l-prerogativa tal-Parlament: ir-rapprezentanza demokratika fil-lokalitajiet ukoll għandha tkun involuta attivament f’din l-għażla.

Apparti li hemm bżonn mod aħjar milli għandna illum kif nagħżlu l-Kap tal-Istat wasal iż-żmien li nikkunsidraw jekk il-President tar-Repubblika għandux ikollu l-possibilità  li jirrifjuta li jiffirma liġi jekk ikun tal-fehma li din tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni. Anke dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-President għandu jkollu din ir-responsabbiltà li meta liġi jqisha li tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni jibgħatha lura lill-Parlament biex dan jikkunsidraha mill-ġdid.  Permezz tal-ġurament tal-ħatra l-President tar-Repubblika jwiegħed li jħares il-Kostituzzjoni, iżda mbagħad ma jingħata l-ebda għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dan l-obbligu. L-awtorità morali tal-Kap tal-Istat mhiex biżżejjed biex jissavagwardja l-Kostituzzjoni meta l-Parlament ikun jidhrilu li jista’ jiġi jaqa’ u jqum minn kollox u minn kulħadd.

Mezzi oħra tal-media presentement qed jiffukaw fuq ir-rwol tal-istazzjonijiet tat-televiżjoni u r-radju tal-partiti politiċi. Anke dwar dan, repetutament, Alternattiva Demokratika emfasizzajna li f’demorkazija moderna dan ma jagħmilx sens, għalkemm dejjem irridu nżommu quddiem għajnejna ċ-ċirkustanzi li minħabba fihom il-partit laburista u l-partit nazzjonalista għandhom dawn il-mezzi.  Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-istazzjonijiet tal-partiti politiċi għandhom jingħalqu u dan f’kuntest ta’ riforma mill-qiegħ tax-xandir fil-pajjiż. Il-PLPN għandhom kull interess li dibattitu bħal dan jostakolawh għax inkella jispiċċaw jitilfu l-kontroll li għandhom fuq ix-Xandir.

Il-proposti pendenti quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali huma bosta.

Bi qbil bejn il-PLPN, il-President tar-Repubblika intalab li jikkoordina l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Dan qed isir bl-assistenza ta’ kumitat magħmul minn rappresentanti tal-PLPN, tlieta minn kull naħa. Dan ilu għaddej is-snin, sa minn qabel ma nħatar il-President tar-Repubblika attwali.  S’issa, imma, jekk sar xi progress m’aħniex infurmati bih! Għax jidher li s-segretezza, sfortunatament, invadiet il-Palazz Presidenzjali ukoll.

Flok ma joqgħodu jilgħabu bil-Kostituzzjoni kull tant żmien, ikun ferm aħjar jekk induruha dawra sew flimkien u dan wara konsultazzjonI pubblika. Ir-riformi li jinħmew wara l-bibien magħluqin, il-metodu operattiv preferut tal-PLPN mhuwiex aċċettabbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 t’Awwissu 2020

Undermining the Constitutional Convention

Edward Zammit Lewis, Justice Minister, has been euphoric on the constitutional changes agreed between the Labour government and the Nationalist Party. He describes it as a historic agreement.

It is however pertinent to point out that the agreed changes have been arrived at between Government and the Opposition behind closed doors. Once more public consultation has been discarded. The Constitutional Convention, currently in limbo, has been once more undermined. As emphasised earlier this week by Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch rapporteur of the Council of Europe on Malta and the rule of law: paper reforms are not enough.

In contrast to their public statements on the need for a constitutional convention, the parliamentary parties are continuously doing their utmost to undermine it. They seem to believe that they have some divine right to dictate the required improvements to the constitution. In so doing they continuously short-circuit public consultation. The Constitution belongs to all of us. Parliament has no right to impose constitutional changes without adequate public consultation.

The agreement relative to the election of future Heads of State by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, for example, while being an improvement on the present state of affairs, contrasts sharply with a Green proposal submitted to the Constitutional Convention, which proposal would require that local councils should be directly involved together with members of parliament in the process to elect a Head of State.

By deciding on the change behind closed doors the PNPL in Parliament have effectively short-circuited the public debate on this proposal. The election of the Head of State should not remain the prerogative of Parliament. Democratic representatives at a local level should be actively involved in this selection too.

In addition to improving the method of selection of the Head of State it is about time that we consider whether the incumbent should have the authority to refuse to sign legislation approved by Parliament which, in his/her opinion, is anti-Constitutional.

Greens have proposed to the Constitutional Convention that the Head of State should have the authority to send back to Parliament, for its reconsideration, any legislation which he/she considers to be in conflict with the Constitution. The Head of State, in terms of the constitutional oath of office, is bound to defend the constitution yet no constitutional tool is provided in order that this defence can be carried out. The Head of State’s moral authority is not enough to defend the Constitution whenever Parliament feels that it should ignore its provisions.

Other sections of the media are currently highlighting the role of political TV and radio stations. Maltese Greens have time and again drawn attention to the fact that the political media is a misfit in a modern democracy. Even in this respect a Green submission to the Constitutional Convention advocates the dismantling of the political stations within the framework of a radical broadcasting reform. PNPL have an interest in procrastinating a debate which could lead to their being cut down to size and losing control of the broadcasting waves.

Where do we go from here? The proposals pending at the secretariat of the Constitutional Convention are many.

As a result of a PNPL agreement, the President of the Republic has been appointed to lead the Constitutional Convention. The Head of State is presumably coordinating the input received with the assistance of a committee made up of PLPN representatives. This exercise has been going on for ages, since well before the current President was appointed.  Whatever progress has been possibly achieved is not known as everything, so far, is being done behind closed doors. Unnecessary secrecy has also invaded and taken control of the Presidential Palace!

It is about time that instead of having piecemeal adjustments to the Constitution, this is given a complete overhaul after adequate public consultation.  Paper reform behind closed doors, the preferred method of operation of the PNPL is definitely not acceptable.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 August 2020

Wara l-gwerra ċivili fil-PN

Għad m’hemm l-ebda ħjiel tat-tmiem tal-gwerra ċivili fil-PN. Din qed tagħmel ħafna ħsara, mhux biss lill-PN: fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż kollu.

Kull wieħed miż-żewġ darbiet fejn ġie espress vot ta’ sfiduċja fil-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia iwassal messaġġ politiku ċar li s’issa l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għad ma fehem xejn minnu. Meta Delia stqarr li l-vot ta’ sfuduċja espress mill-grupp parlamentari Nazzjonalista u iktar tard mill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN ma kellhom l-ebda sinifikat partikolari, kien qed jesponi l-miżerja ta’ kredenzjali demokratiċi tiegħu kif ukoll kien qed jirrifletti l-immaturità politika tiegħu. Dan fl-aħħar m’għandux biss rifless fuq il-kredibilità ta’ Adrian Delia imma ukoll fuq dik tal-PN innifsu.

Il-gwerra ċivili fil-PN qed tisraq l-attenzjoni li presentement jixraq li tkun fuq materji oħra ta’ importanza kbira.  L-irkupru mill-impatti sostanzjali tal-pandemija  Covid-19 u t-tisħiħ tal-kapaċità ta’ Malta kontra l-korruzzjoni u l-ħasil tal-flus jeħtieġu ferm iktar attenzjoni u enerġija. Mhux biss mill-Gvern, imma anke mill-Opposizzjoni.

Jeħtieġ li niddiskutu fid-dettall pjan ta’ rkupru mill-pandemija Covid-19 li jinfirex fuq l-oqsma kollha effettwati: pjan li għandu jkun wieħed integrat ma’ strateġija li tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u dan fil-qafas tal-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi.  Alternattiva Demokratika diġà tat il-kontribut tagħha xi ġimgħat ilu permezz tal-pubblikazzjoni tar-rapport: Pjan Aħdar: Ġust u Sostenibbli.

Studju riċenti ta’ Deloitte li kien ikkummissjonat mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti (MHRA) jindika li l-industrija tat-turiżmu bdiet ġejja f’sensiha. Qed tirrealizza li l-irkupru mhux biss seħħ bil-mod, iżda bil-mod ħafna: iktar kajman milli qatt antiċipaw.   L-Air Malta irrevediet il-pjan kummerċjali tagħha u issa qed tantiċipa li teħtieġ madwar seba’ snin biex tkun f’posizzjoni li terġa’ tibda iġġorr l-istess numru ta’ passiġġiera li kienet iġġor qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.  Dan kollu jwassal għal osservazzjoni waħda – evitata minn bosta – dwar kemm l-aspettattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu dwar l-irkupru tal-industrija mhumiex realistiċi.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku napprofittaw ruħna mis-sitwazzjoni u nippjanaw aħjar biex l-industrija tat-turiżmu tissaħħaħ billi ma tibqax tiffoka fuq in-numri imma fuq il-kwalità tat-turist. Pjan ta’ din ix-xorta, bla dubju, jkun jista’ jindirizza l-impatti ambjentali negattivi sostanzjali tal-industrija b’mod effettiv. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu  Julia Portelli-Farrugia ma tantx tidher li taqbel ma dan, għax il-ħin kollu tredden bin-numri.

Il-Moneyval hu Kumitat tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa  magħmul minn esperti li jevalwaw miżuri kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-finanzjament tat-terroriżmu.  Hu grupp ta’ monitoraġġ permanenti bl-inkarigu li jara li l-istati membri tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa qed jieħdu l-miżuri meħtieġa u maqbula fuq livell internazzjonali.

Fl-aħħar rapport dwar Malta ippubblikat fl-2019 il-Moneyval, tagħmel 40 rakkomandazzjoni spjegati f’ 233 paġna. Rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar x’inhu meħtieġ li jsir.  Ir-riskji għal Malta huma ċari: għandna ekonomija li hi vulnerabbli ħafna primarjament minħabba d-daqs tagħha kif ukoll minħabba l-fatt li hi esposta ħafna għal dak kollu li jiġri barra minn xtutna.   Ir-rapport tal-Moneyval jemfasizza li r-remote gaming, per eżempju hu vulnerabbli ħafna għall-ħasil tal-flus u dan “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Mhux biżżejjed li għandna liġijiet li huma ġeneralment liġijiet tajbin. Hemm ħtieġa qawwija ta’ riżorsi għax mingħajr r-riżorsi ma tista’ timplimenta xejn. Ix-xhieda riċenti tal-Assistant Kummissarju tal-Pulizija  Ian Abdilla fl-inkjesta pubblika dwar l-assassinju ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia, ftit jiem wara li tneħħa mit-tmexxija tat-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi, jindika n-nuqqas ta’ impenn biex il-ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet li jsiru kontra l-ħasil tal-flus ikunu implimentati. Sfortunatament id-dikjarazzjonijiet u l-assigurazzjonijiet repetuti tal-Gvern mhumiex kredibbli.

Mhux aħjar l-Opposizzjoni tuża’ l-ħin tagħha dwar dan? Iktar ma jikkonkludu l-glied intern malajr, aħjar għal kulħadd. Hemm ħafna x’isir wara li  Adrian Delia jiġi f’sensieh u jaċċetta l-inevitabbli.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Lulju 2020

After the PN civil war

The civil war within the PN has no end in sight. This does not only inflict considerable damage on the PN: at the end of the day it damages the whole country.

The two instances of a vote of no confidence in PN leader Adrian Delia are clear political statements which unfortunately the Opposition leader has so far been incapable of deciphering. Labelling the no confidence votes expressed separately by the Opposition Parliamentary Group and the PN Executive Committee as being of no significance further dilutes Adrian Delia’s democratic credentials and reflects his political immaturity. This has a bearing not only on Delia’s credibility but also on that of the PN.

The PN civil war is diverting attention from more pressing issues. The recovery from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 and the strengthening of Malta’s capability in the fight against corruption and money laundering surely require more attention and energy. Not just from government but also from the opposition.

We need to discuss in depth a Covid-19 recovery plan which spans all areas and factors in climate change. Maltese Greens have already made their contribution through the report published some weeks ago entitled: Green Plan: Fair and Sustainable.

A recent Deloitte study commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) indicates that the tourism industry is coming to its senses and realising that the recovery is slow, maybe even much slower than originally perceived.  Air Malta’s revised business plan is envisaging that it will take around seven years for the national carrier to return to pre-Covid-19 capacity. All this begs the question, so far avoided, as to whether the expectations of the tourism industry of attaining full recovery are realistic.

Would it not be more realistic if we realise that this is the appropriate time to plan for a tourism industry that foregoes quantity and focuses on quality? Such a course of action would address the substantial negative environmental impacts of the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Julia Portelli-Farrugia is not on the same page. She is unfortunately desperately after numbers.

Moneyval is a Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism. It is a permanent monitoring body tasked with assessing compliance of Council of Europe member States with international standards.

In its 2019 report on Malta, Moneyval, in a 233-page report, made 40 recommendations on measures which need to be taken. The risks are clear: our economy is highly vulnerable to money laundering, even as a consequence of its size and international exposure.  The report emphasises that remote gaming, for example, is inherently vulnerable to money laundering “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Having good laws is not sufficient. Resources are desperately needed as otherwise laws cannot be implemented. The recent testimony of Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla in the ongoing public inquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a few days after being unceremoniously removed from leading the Economic Crimes Unit, clearly indicates the lack of commitment to implement Malta’s declared objectives in addressing money-laundering. Unfortunately, government’s repeated declarations and assurances are not credible.

Some food for thought for the Parliamentary Opposition: the sooner they conclude their in-fighting the better. There is much to be done after Adrian Delia comes to his senses and accepts the inevitable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 July 2020

The Parliamentary Opposition

The fact that government has been forced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to loosen its stranglehold on the Commissioner of Police appointment process is a positive democratic development. It is not as good as it could be, but it is definitely a welcome first step: there is however room for substantial improvement in the process.

In this context the Opposition’s decision to boycott the public hearing process is retrograde.

The Parliamentary Opposition, in any democratic jurisdiction worthy of being so described, is the champion of transparency and accountability. A Parliamentary Opposition demands more opportunities to scrutinise major appointments to public office. Boycotting the first substantial opportunity to scrutinise an appointee to the post of Commissioner of Police is not just a lost opportunity. It risks undermining the democratic requests for more public scrutiny of top appointments to public office.

The PN Parliamentary Opposition is arguing that the existence of the possibility for government to terminate the appointment of the new Police Commissioner within a one-year probationary period is unacceptable as it would keep the new appointee on a leash. The justified preoccupation of the Opposition is that the probationary period could be abused of. This is not unheard of. There is however a solution in seeking to subject the possible dismissal of the Police Commissioner at any stage to a Parliamentary decision as a result of which the Minister for the Interior would be required to set out the case for dismissal and the Police Commissioner himself would be afforded the right to defend himself. This would place any government in an awkward position as it would not seek dismissal unless there is a very valid justification for such a course of action. This would ensure, more than anything else, the integrity of the office of Commissioner of Police.

The Opposition has also sought to subject the appointment of the Commissioner of Police to a two-thirds parliamentary approval, indirectly seeking a veto on the appointment to be considered.

It would have been much better if the debate focused on the real decision taker in the whole matter: that is to say the Public Service Commission (PSC). Originally set up in the 1959 Constitution, the PSC has a role of advising the Prime Minister on appointments to public office and on the removal or disciplinary control of appointees to public office. Section 109 of the Constitution emphasises that when the PSC is appointed by the President of the Republic, he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister who would have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition.

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are taken out of the equation in such matters? Parliament should seriously consider squeezing them both out of the process not just in the appointment of the PSC but in the case of the appointment of all Constitutional bodies. That is an instant where it would be justifiable in ensuring that all appointments are subject to a two thirds approval threshold in Parliament.

In boycotting the scrutinising process, the Opposition is doing a disservice to the country.

Since 2018 it has been possible for Parliament to scrutinise a number of public sector appointments. Perusal of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee indicates the very superficial manner in which consideration of appointments is dealt with. Serious objections raised on the non-suitability of candidates are ignored before the proposed appointment is generally rubber-stamped.

Unfortunately, Parliament is not capable of holding government to account. Having a retrograde Parliamentary Opposition certainly does not help in overturning a rubber-stamping practice!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2020

Kif ser tinħatar il-ġudikatura?

Qalulna dan l-aħħar li ftehmu. Il-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis qal li mal-PN ftiehem. Li l-PN u l-PL ftehmu bejniethom u li soġġett għall-approvazzjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa l-kaz hu prattikament magħluq.

Jiġifieri ftehmu bil-biebien magħluqa. Dan mhux sewwa u huwa inaċċettabbli anke jekk ġew ispirati mill-Kummissjoni Venezja innifisha, kif qal Zammit Lewis.

Ilkoll kemm aħna jinteressana li nikkontribwixxu għad-diskussjoni dwar kif għandhom jinħatru l-membri tal-ġudikatur. Allura għalfejn dawn id-diskussjonijiet isiru bil-bibien magħluqin?

Dawn affarijiet li jiġru f’repubblika tal-banana.

Żomm ‘il-bogħod mill-investigazzjoni

Il-familja Caruana Galizia għandha raġun li tinsisti illi l-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat jeħtieg li jżomm ‘il-bogħod mill-investigazzjoni kriminali dwar l-assassinju ta’ Daphne.

Il-kummentarju kontinwu tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat dwar l-investigazzjoni kriminali għandha tinkwetana ilkoll.

Matul din il-ġimgħa huwa għamel numru ta’ dikjarazzjonijiet inkwetanti li jindikaw bl-iktar mod ċar illi kien qed ikun infurmat b’mod immedjat dwar dak li jkun għaddej waqt l-interrogazzjonijiet.

Dan hu aġir abbużiv u jista’ jkollu konsegwenzi gravi, inkluż t-tħarbit tal-investigazzjoni nnifisha.

Ġejna nfurmati minn Joseph Muscat li l-informazzjoni li wasslet għall-arrest ta’ Yorgen Fenech ma ġietx mill-intermedjarju imma li l-Pulizija kienu ilhom li waslu għaliha. Infurmana ukoll li l-intermedjarju għadu ma svelax biżżejjed informazzjoni. Biżżejjed jiġifieri, biex din l-informazzjoni tkun tista’ twassal ħalli l-investigazzjoni tkun konkluża u dawk kollha responsabbli għall-ippjanar u l-esekuzzjoni tal-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia jkun possibli li kollha kemm huma jieħdu dak li ħaqqhom.

Iktar kmieni, huwa u jwieġeb mistoqsija ta’ ġurnalista, Joseph Muscat żvela li “s’issa”, l-ebda politiku ma kien identifikat bħala “persuna li hi ta’ interess” għall-investigazzjoni kriminali. Din bla dubju żelqitlu. Probabbilment hu nkwetat li din il-possibilità tista’ titfaċċa iktar tard meta l-investigazzjoni tkun żviluppat ftit ieħor. Jittama li dan ma jseħħx. Imma l-movimenti tiegħu (body language) iwasslu messaġġ iktar qawwi minn kliemu dwar din il-possibilità.

Muscat qal li jaf ferm iktar minn dak li qal sa issa, imma li qagħad lura għal dawn l-aħħar 24 xahar. Għamel sforz kbir mid-dehra, probabbilment għax hekk kien jaqbillu.

Min hu inkarigat mill-interrogazzjonijiet fil-Kwartieri Ġenerali tal-Pulizija: il-Kummissarju Lawrence Cutajar jew il-Kummissarju Joseph Muscat?

Diversi mezzi tal-aħbarijiet qed jiżvelaw biċċiet ta’ informazzjoni li qed jindikaw illi l-intermedjarju huwa s-sors potenzjali ta’ minjiera ta’ informazzjoni addizzionali ta’ importanza kbira li tista’ tissiġilla l-każ. Dan jidher li ftit ser iħalli possibiltajiet lil min ikun jixtieq jilgħab.

Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, il-Pulizija issa ma tantx baqagħalhom skużi biex jimxu bil-mod. Għax kif tista’ tispjega dak li qed jgħid il-Prim Ministru li qabel ma tfaċċa l-intermedjarju l-kaz kien diġa ċar għall-investigaturi meta huwa issa, wara dan iż-żmien kollu li bdew jiċċaqalqu ftit biex joqorbu lejn konklużjoni tal-kaz?

Dan il-punt jagħmlu ukoll Pieter Omtzigt, ir-rapporteur tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa dwar l-assassinju ta’ Daphne li ġie ikkwotat jgħid li “Għaliex ix-xhieda tal-intermedjarju l-ewwel tiġġustifika l-proklama imbagħad il-Prim Ministru jgħid li din ma kienitx meħtieġa biex ikun arrestat Fenech?” Din l-osservazzjoni ta’ Omtzigt hi konklużjoni loġika u inevitabbli li tasal għaliha wara li tgħarbel dak li qal il-Prim Ministru li appunta lilu innifsu bħala l-kelliem għall-investigaturi.

Il-Prim Ministru għandu l-obbligu li jassigura illi l-investigazzjoni tkun imħarsa u mhux imfixkla. F’dan il-mument, bħala riżultat tal-interventi pubbliċi tiegħu dwar l-investigazzjoni, huwa l-ikbar theddida biex l-investigazzjoni tkun imfixkla f’xogħolha.

Dan kollu jwassal għal mistoqsija waħda: lil min qed jipprova iħares?

Hu possibli li qed iħares l-interessi tiegħu stess, jekk mhux ukoll ta’ dawk ta’ madwaru li wħud minnhom jidhru inkwetati sew. F’investigazzjoni normali u bla tfixkil dawk kollha li Daphne kitbet dwarhom huma l-ewwel suspettati li jeħtieg li jkun investigati.

Għalhekk, sur Prim Ministru, żomm il-bogħod mill-investigazzjoni.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Novembru 2019

 

Hands off the investigation

The Caruana-Galizia family is right to  insist that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat should keep his distance from the criminal investigation into the assassination of Daphne.

We should be very worried about Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s running commentary on this investigation. This week he made a number of worrying declarations which clearly indicate that he is being informed in real time regarding the proceedings in the police interrogation rooms. This is downright abusive and could have very serious consequences, including the derailing of the investigation.

We were informed by Joseph Muscat that the information that led to the arrest of Yorgen Fenech did not come from the middleman. He further informed us that the middleman has not yet revealed enough information – enough, that is, to conclude the investigation and arraign all those responsible for master-minding and carrying out the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Earlier, in answer to a journalist’s question, he had revealed that “so far” no political person has been identified as a “person of interest” to the criminal investigation. Is this a Freudian slip? Most probably he is worried about the distinct possibility that such an identification could materialise later – when the investigation has matured sufficiently -and he is keeping his fingers crossed. His body language says much more than the words he uttered.

Muscat said that he knows much more, but that he has been keeping back from revealing everything for the past 24 months. Apparently, he has made quite an effort to keep his mouth shut – most probably because it suited him.

Who is in charge in the interrogation rooms at the Floriana Police Headquarters? Why has the Commissioner of Police relinquished his lead of the Police Corps? Is it Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar or is it Commissioner Joseph Muscat who is in charge of the Police and in particular its criminal investigation on Daphne’s assassination?

Various media outlets are revealing titbits of information which seem to indicate that the identification of the middleman as a potential source of additional information of considerable importance seems to have placed the police authorities in a very tight corner. As a result, the Police have no option but to now proceed at a very fast pace. How could one otherwise explain the Prime Minister’s emphasising that the Police authorities already had a solid case before the advent of the middleman?

This is a point also made by Pieter Omtzigt, the Council of Europe rapporteur for the Daphne assassination, who was quoted as saying: “Why was (the middleman’s) evidence worth a pardon one day, only for the PM to then say it was not needed for Fenech’s arrest?” This Omtzigt quote is the logical conclusion to which one inevitably arrives after digesting the Prime Minister’s interventions as the self-appointed spokesman for the police investigators! The Prime Minister has a duty to ensure that the investigation is not derailed, but at this point in time – as a result of his public interventions regarding the investigation – he is the greatest threat to this happening. This leads to one simple question: whom is he trying to shield?

He could be shielding even himself, if not the obvious ones close to him. In any normal unfettered police investigation, all those about whom Daphne wrote would be suspects from the outset.

Hands off the investigation.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 November 2019