Riħa ta’ ħut

Bħala mexxej ta’ partit politiku jiena meqjus persuna esposta politikament (politically exposed person – PEP) skond kif tipprovdi ir-Raba’ Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja kontra l-ħasil tal-flus, hekk kif din ġiet trasposta fil-liġi Maltija. Anke membri tal-familja immedjata tiegħi huma kkunsidrati bl-istess mod. Politiċi oħra flimkien mal-familja tagħhom huma fl-istess qagħda.

Hu meqjus li l-persuni esposti politikament  (PEPs), minħabba l-posizzjoni li jokkupaw, huma f’riskju ikbar ta’ involviment fil-ħasil tal-flus. Ma hemm l-ebda distinzjoni bejn dawk li għandhom u jeżerċitaw il-poter eżekuttiv u dawk li ma għandhom xejn minn dan. Jiena wieħed minn tal-aħħar!  

It-talbiet għall-informazzjoni, xi minn daqqiet repetittivi u bla ħtieġa, li jiena u diversi membri tal-familja nirċievu idejquk, avolja nifhem il-ħtieġa tagħhom kieku kellhom isiru bil-galbu.   L-uffiċjali tal-bank bosta drabi juru entużjażmu esaġerat mal-ħuta ż-żgħira biex imbagħad ma jagħtu każ ta’ xejn, jew kważi, meta titfaċċa l-ħuta l-kbira.  

Mhuwiex aċċettabbli li waqt li jissorveljaw b’żelu u entużjażmu esaġerat lil dawk li huma ta’ riskju żgħir, imbagħad, lil dawk li mhux biss huma ta’ riskju imma li fil-fatt jabbużaw kontinwament, dawn jibqgħu għaddejjin qiesu qatt ma kien xejn. Dawn jirnexxielhom jiżgiċċaw għax ikollhom min jgħinhom eżatt fil-waqt u l-post meħtieġ. Verament każ tal-ħabib fis-suq li hu ferm aħjar mill-flus fis-senduq!

L-aħħar każ ippresentat il-Qorti dwar il-ħasil tal-flus jeħodna minn restorant tal-ħut sal-bank u lura. Il-mixja ta’ tiftix tal-allegat ħasil tal-flus wasslet lill-pulizija investigattiva sa restorant tal-ħut f’Marsaxlokk u ieħor ġol-Belt Valletta. Din l-investigazzjoni tidher li hi konnessa ma każ ieħor ewlieni dwar allegat ħasil tal-flus: dak konness mal-kuntrabandu tad-diesel mil-Libja.

Wieħed mill-persuni li presentment għaddej proċeduri kriminali fil-passat kien uffiċjal ta’ bank. Illum hu irtirat, kif fakkarna l-bank stess wara li dan ttella’ l-Qorti.

Il-punt importanti hu dwar il-konnessjoni li qed jingħad li kien hemm bejn ir-ristoranti tal-ħut u l-bank.  Fil-fatt, il-medja, hi u tirrapporta x-xhieda li nstemgħet waqt l-ewwel seduta tal-proċeduri kriminali, irrappurtat li l-uffiċjal prosekutur, huwa u jispjega kif żvolġiet l-investigazzjoni qal li dan l-ex-impjegat tal-bank, meta kien għadu fl-impieg bħala uffiċjal tat-taqsima tal-bank li tieħu ħsieb il-ħidma tal-kumpaniji allegatament kien ta’ għajnuna fil-ħidma tal-ħasil ta’ flus taħt investigazzjoni. Qed ikun suġġerit li din l-għajnuna serviet biex tinsatar il-ħidma ta’ dawk li allegatament kienu qed jaħslu l-flus.  

Dan l-uffiċjal tal-bank illum m’għadux impjegat mal-bank. Sadanittant ħa promozzjoni u issa qed jieħu ħsieb il-kumpaniji fejn allegatament jinħaslu l-flus.

Xi rwol għandha l-MFSA (L-Awtorità Maltija dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji) f’dan kollu? Waqt li kienet għaddejja din il-biċċa xogħol l-uffiċjal ewlieni (CEO) tal-MFSA kien għaddej minn perjodu ta’ kollaborazzjoni ma’ Yorgen Fenech, li presentment għaddej proċeduri kriminali fil-Qrati Maltin bl-akkuża li kien il-moħħ wara l-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia u huwa meħtieġ ukoll li jidher fi Sqallija dwar skandlu ieħor, din id-darba dwar logħob tal-azzard illegali kif ukoll dwar tbagħbis ta’ logħob.  

X’monitoraġġ jagħmlu l-MFSA u l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) biex jassiguraw li l-banek iwettqu sewwa l-obbligi tagħhom konnessi mal-ħasil tal-flus?

L-akkużi li ippreżentaw il-pulizija din il-ġimgħa jindikaw li dan il-moniteraġġ, jekk jeżisti, huwa dgħajjef u ineffettiv ħafna.

L-uffiċjal tal-bank issa bidel l-impieg. Minn ħidma regolatorja fil-bank issa għadda biex allegatament jieħu ħsieb il-ħasil tal-flus ġejjin mill-kuntrabandu tad-diesel Libjan. Din hi l-konklużjoni loġika li toħroġ mill-akkużi tal-Puliizja din il-ġimgħa dwar l-użu tar-ristoranti tal-ħut fil-Belt Valletta u Marsaxlokk bħala allegati għodda tal-ħasil tal-flus.

Kieku l-MFSA ul-FIAU ħadmu sewwa dan kollu ma kienx ikun possibli li jseħħ.  Hu każ ċar fejn l-industrija tal-ħasil tal-flus qed timpjega lin-nies li ġejjin mill-awtoritajiet regolatorji. Affarijiet li qed iseħħu fid-dawl tax-xemx mingħajr ħadd ma jinduna jew jagħti każ.  

L-istituzzjonijiet qed jaħdmu għax jidher li t-taħwid qed jikber bil-minuti? Wieħed jittama li l-MFSA u l-FIAU jieħdu azzjoni deċiżiva, u din id-darba b’urġenza.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 18 t’April 2021

Fishy Business

As the leader of a political party, I am considered as a politically exposed person (PEP) in line with the provisions of EU 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive as transposed into Maltese law. Even members of my immediate family are so considered. Other politicians and their families are in a similar position.

It is held that politically exposed persons (PEPs), by virtue of the position they hold present a higher risk for involvement in money-laundering. There is no practical distinction between PEPs who exercise executive authority and those who have none of it, as yours truly!

The unnecessary, at times repetitive, queries from banks which I and various members of my family receive, are at times very annoying, even though I understand their scope and need if they were to carried out appropriately.  At times however, bank officials are overzealous with small fry, and then look sideways when facing the big fish.

It is unacceptable that while monitoring of persons who pose a minor and insignificant risk for involvement in money-laundering is done (at times), with exaggerated zeal, yet those who not only pose a risk, but actually do it manage to avoid any sort of detection by having the right friends at the right places assisting them in meticulously piloting the waters.

The latest money laundering cases in court this week take us from the fish restaurant to the bank and back again. Investigating the money-laundering trail took the police investigators to Marsaxlokk and Valletta fish restaurants. This investigation is apparently linked to another major money-laundering case: the laundering of monies allegedly resulting from the Libyan diesel smuggling operation.

One of the persons arraigned is a former bank official. He is now retired, as emphasised, after the arraignment, by his former employer the bank.

The point at issue is the trail between the fish restaurant and the bank. In fact, reporting on the testimony at the first sitting in the criminal courts the media emphasised that the prosecuting officer, in explaining the background to the investigation carried out, stated that the former bank official, when still in employment as an official of the bank’s corporate banking unit, had allegedly been of assistance in the money laundering operation currently under review. It has been suggested that such assistance helped the alleged money launderers to avoid detection for quite some time.

The former bank official is no longer in the bank’s employment. In the meantime, he had taken a promotion and is now on the books of the alleged money launderer, a Director of his various companies.

What is the role of the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) in all this? This operation was in motion at the time when the Chief Executive Officer of the MFSA was in cahoots with Yorgen Fenech, currently under the criminal spotlight himself, accused with masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in the Maltese Courts and simultaneously wanted in Sicily as part of a match fixing and illegal betting scandal.

What monitoring do the MFSA and the FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) carry out to ensure that the banks perform their money-laundering regulatory functions diligently?

This week’s police charge sheet seems to indicate that any such monitoring, if at all existent, was very weak and for all intents and purposes ineffective.

The bank official changed his job and moved on from his bank regulatory duties to allegedly managing the laundering of monies generated from the Libyan diesel smuggling operation. This is the logical conclusion drawn from the police charge sheet presented this week on the alleged use of the fish restaurants at Valletta and Marsaxlokk as money-laundering tools.

If the MFSA and FIAU had carried out their duties properly this would not have been possible. This is a clear case where the revolving door recruitment from the regulatory authorities to the money-laundering industry operated under the very noses of the regulatory authorities themselves with no one noticing or bothering about it.

Are the institutions really functioning, as the mess gets bigger every day?

Hopefully the MFSA and the FIAU take decisive action, urgently, for a change.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 April 2021

Bank officials and the revolving door

The money laundering criminal case instituted this morning relative to the possible use of a number of restaurants in the scam is another milestone for the Malta Police.

It is however very worrying as it shows the “revolving door” recruitment with ease which former bank officials use from their regulatory role in the bank to an operational role in the companies they should have kept a watch over. The question which begs an answer is whether the “revolving door” recruitment is payment for services rendered.

It is another lacuna which needs decisive action the soonest. Regulating “revolving door” recruitment is not just an issue for politicians.

Hopefully the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) takes decisive action urgently.

Meta l-istat jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa

F’indirizz li għamlet nhar it-Tnejn liċ-Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, Segretarju għat-Teżor tal-Istati Uniti, ippreżentat l-argument favur taxxa minima applikabbli għall-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali fuq livell globali, irrispettivament minn fejn huma bbażati.  Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta, kif rappurtat min-New York Times, ikollha s-saħħa li żżomm lil dawn il-kumpaniji milli jċaqilqu l-profitti tagħħom minn post għall-ieħor biex jevadu l-ħlas tat-taxxi dovuti minnhom.

Meta jitnaqqsu it-taxxi biex tinġbed l-industrija u n-negozju, emfasizzat  Ms Yellen, hemm is-sogru li mmissu l-qiegħ: fejn ser tieqaf? Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Il-kompetittività mhiex biss kif kumpanija tmur fil-konfront ta’ kumpaniji oħra.  Hi ukoll il-mod li bih nassiguraw  li l-gvernijiet ikollhom sistemi ta’ ġbir ta’ taxxa li jkunu stabbli b’mod li jistgħu jiġbru biżżejjed fondi x’jinvestu f’servizzi publiċi u jkunu f’posizzjoni li jirreaġixxu fi żmien ta’ kriżi. Hu meħtieġ li ċ-ċittadini bejniethom jerfgħu b’mod ġust il-piż tal-finanzjament tal-gvern.”

Din il-materja hi diġa fuq l-agenda tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hi opposta b’qawwa minn Malta, il-Lussimburgu, l-Irlanda u pajjiżi oħrajn.  L-argument dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni hu parti integrali mill-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus.

Hu ta’ sfortuna li Malta (u pajjiżi oħrajn) repetutament abbużat mis-sovranità tagħha fuq materji ta’ taxxa. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan l-abbuż repetut li l-proposta dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-taxxa qabdet l-art b’mod li issa hi appoġġata ukoll mill-Istati Uniti tal-Amerka.  Malta rmiet il-vantaġġ kompetittiv tagħha billi abbużat minnu repetutament. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż hi għaldaqstant awto-gol mill-kbar.

Malta ma tistax tkun kredibbli fil-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jekk ser tibqa’ tiffaċilita l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fuq skala internazzjonali.  Xi snin ilu il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kien ippubblika studju intitolat Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. Dan ir-rapport kien svela kif tul is -snin, il-kumpanija Ġermaniża ġgant tal-kimika BASF kien irnexxielha tevita u tiffranka l-ħlas ta’ biljun euro f’taxxi fuq 4 snin billi użat lill-Malta għal dan l-iskop. Dan sar billi kumpanija sussidjarja ġiet reġistrata f’Malta u t-taxxi dovuti, għax l-azzjonisti mhux residenti f’Malta, ħadu lura 6 euros minn kull 7 li kellhom iħallsu f’taxxa!

Il-każ tal-Korporazzjoni Amerikana Apple fl-Irlanda, kif nafu, wassal għall-evażjoni ta’ 13-il biljun euro f’taxxi. L-iskandlu Luxleaks fil-Lussimburgu ukoll wera kif dan il-pajjiż żgħir fost il-fundaturi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ukoll kien qed jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Dawn huma ftit mill-eżempji. Bla dubju hemm bosta oħra li s’issa huma moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu madwarna għaddejja evażjoni ta’ biljuni ta’ euro ta’ taxxi, kontinwament. Malta, l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu u xi pajjiżi oħra jiġbru parti żgħira mit-taxxi dovuti bħala ħlas talli jippermettu din l-evażjoni ta’ taxxa fuq skala pjuttost kbira.

F’Malta dan kollu kien possibli bħala riżultant tal-hekk imsejjaħ “kunsens nazzjonali” bejn il-PLPN dwar il-qasam finanzjarju. “Kunsens” li ilu fis-seħħ numru ta’ snin. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta li seħħet u għad qed isseħħ bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu, għaldaqstant, ma jġorriex il-Partit Laburista waħdu. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll għandu resposabbiltà xi jġorr. Għalhekk fuq dawn il-materji in-Nazzjonalisti u l-Labour dejjem iħokku dahar xulxin.  

Sfortunatament l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus huma ħafna drabi konnessi. Bosta drabi fejn issib waħda issib l-oħra ukoll.

It-triq il-quddiem m’għandiex ikollha impatt fuq is-sovranità fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni kif determinat mit-trattati Ewropej permezz tal-ħtieġa tal-unanimità f’materji konnessi mat-taxxa. Imma hemm bżonn urġenti li l-qasam tal-politika fiskali ukoll jinbena fuq prinċipji etiċi b’saħħithom. U mhux dan biss. Għandu jkun assigurat darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tibqax tiddependi minn dħul ġej mill-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Għax id-dipendenza tal-ekonomija Maltija fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa (u l-bejgħ tal-passaporti) hi ta’ inkwiet kbir għall-pajjiż. L-industrija tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa hi sors ta’ dħul kif ukoll ta’ impiegi li it-tnejn li huma inevitabilment jintilfu fi żmien qasir. Wasal iż-żmien li nippjanaw għal futur nadif, futur li mhux iktar dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’April 2021

When the state encourages tax evasion

In a speech delivered on Monday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, made the case for a global minimum tax applicable to multinational corporations irrespective of where they locate their headquarters. Such a proposal, reported the New York Times, would prevent companies from shifting profits to evade taxes.

Lowering tax rates to attract business, emphasised Ms Yellen, is a race to the bottom which has to be addressed. Competitiveness is not just how companies fare against other companies. It is also about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crisis, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.

This issue is already on the agenda of the EU facing fierce opposition from Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland as well as others. The issue of tax harmonisation is an integral part of the fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

It is unfortunate that Malta (and others) have been repeatedly abusing its tax sovereignty. It is as a result of such repeated abuse that the proposal for tax harmonisation is gaining ground such that it now has the support of the United States of America too. As a result of greed Malta has squandered a competitive advantage by abusing it repeatedly and continuously. The resulting reputational damage is hence an own goal.

Malta (and the other countries) cannot be credible in the declared fight against tax evasion and money laundering if it keeps facilitating tax avoidance on an international scale. Some years back the Green Group in the European Parliament had published a study entitled Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. This report reveals that over the years, the German chemical giant BASF used Malta to avoid the payment of one billion euros in taxes. This was done using the “legal” possibility to have tax refunds of up to six sevenths of the tax due in such cases where shareholders are not resident in the Maltese islands. Tax avoidance is tax evasion sanctioned by the state.

The Apple Corporation case in Ireland as a result of which another €13 billion in taxes were avoided is another example of tax evasion sanctioned by the state of Ireland. Luxleaks had also revealed countless of other examples as a result of which Luxembourg too embarked on state encouraged tax-evasion.

These are just some examples of many: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are undoubtedly countless of others, currently below the radar of public scrutiny, as a result of which the payment of billions of euros in taxes are being continuously avoided. Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg and other countries receive a small part of the actual tax due as a result of facilitating this state encouraged tax evasion.

Locally this scam is the result of the PNPL “national consensus” on financial institutions and fiscal policy in force for a number of years in Malta. The responsibility for the resulting reputational damage is thus not one to be shouldered by the Labour Party on its own, it has help from the PN which has continuously buttressed this abusive behaviour.

Unfortunately, tax evasion and money-laundering are inseparable twins!

The way forward need not impact the tax sovereignty afforded by the EU treaties through the unanimity rule on taxation issues. However, it necessitates ensuring that policy on all fiscal issues is also founded on sound ethical principles.

In addition to ensuring that fiscal policy is not in any way unethical it is about time that Malta does not any more, in any way, depend on tax avoidance.

The dependence of Malta’s economy on tax avoidance (and the sale of citizenship) is very worrying. The tax avoidance industry is a source of both revenue to the state and employment opportunities, both of which will be lost in the not-so-distant future. It is about time that we start planning for a cleaner future, a future that is, which is not dependent on the tax avoidance industry!

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2021

It-taħwid fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Qatt ħsibt ftit dwar kif inhu possibli li r-regolatur tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art f’Malta jinsab fl-istat ta’ taħwid li qiegħed? Ħarsu ftit lejn il-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Wieħed mill-akkużati hu Matthew Pace li sa ftit ilu kien membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Spettur tal-Pulizija li kien qed jixhed fil-każ iddeskrivieh bħala professjonist tal-ħasil tal-flus:  a professional money launderer.

Ftit jiftakru li f’Ġunju 2018 kellna aħbar li l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) kienet immultat lil  Matthew Pace is-somma ta’ €38,750 minħabba li ma segwiex il-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus meta kien qed jieħu ħsieb l-investimenti tal-klijent tiegħu Keith Schembri. Dan kien fatt magħruf. Mid-dehra l-Gvern kien kuntent bih, għax ma għamel xejn dwaru. Qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Ikun interessanti nkunu nafu jekk il-konsulent legali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ċertu Dr Robert Abela, ġibitx l-attenzjoni tal-Awtorità dwar il-ħtieġa li taġixxi dwar dan. Jekk le, forsi l-istess Dr Robert Abela bħala l-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat ġibidlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan? Ma smajna xejn dwar dan kollu.  ilkoll kompromessi. Governanza tajba? U mhux hekk tgħid.

Matthew Pace għamel snin membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kien biss wara l-każ ċar ta’ kunflitt ta’interess tiegħu  fil-każ tal-applikazzjoni ta’żvilupp mill-Grupp dB f’Pembroke li kien sfurzat jirreżenja u dan wara pressjoni pubblika minn ambjentalisti. Ngħid li kien “sfurzat” għax wara li l-Qorti annullat il-permess mogħti lill-Grupp dB fuq il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace hu kien għall-ewwel irrifjuta li jwarrab. Kien ippruvat li huwa ħa sehem fil-laqgħat li wasslu għal deċiżjoni dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke, u ivvota favur din l-applikazzjoni.  Fl-istess ħin kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà li kienet qed tbiegħ  partijiet minn dan l-iżvilupp sa minn qabel mal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur, approva din l-applikazzjoni! Dik governanza tajba. Dik imġieba korretta!

Din hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Sfortunatament il-membri l-oħra tal-Bord huma ukoll effettwati minħabba l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom miegħu.  Iridu jgħaddu snin kbar qabel mar-regulatur jirkupra minn dan.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk.

Ambjentalisti skoprew, kważi b’kumbinazzjoni, li c-Chairman attwali tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar  (EPRT) li jisma’ appelli dwar każijiet ta’ ippjanar tal-użu tal-art u oħrajn dwar l-ambjent huwa ukoll impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Presentement qiegħed b’leave bla ħlas mill-impjieg normali tiegħu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bid-dritt li jmur lura għall-impieg normali tiegħu hekk kif tintemm il-ħatra tiegħu bħala Chairperson tat-Tribunal.  

Kif jista’ impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet li jieħu min jimpjegah? Dan imma hu dak li jagħmel kuljum ic-Chairman tal-EPRT.  L-anqas jekk jipprova ma qatt jista’ jkun imparzjali. Imma meta inġibditlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan ma qabilx li s-sitwazzjoni partikolari tiegħu titfa dell fuq l-imparzjalità tiegħu meta jiddeċiedi dwar kazijiet tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Fl-aħħar ser tkun il-Qorti li jkollha tiddeċiedi u l-ħsara li tkun saret sadanittant ser tkun waħda kbira.

It-taħwid, kif qed taraw, hu kbir. B’dawn in-nuqqasijiet etiċi ħadd m’għandu jiskanta li l-proċess dwar l-użu ta’ l-art tilef kull kredibilità.  

A mess by design

Did you ever wonder why it is possible for the land use planning regulator in Malta to be in such a mess? Just take a look at the criminal proceedings currently under way on money laundering. A former Planning Authority Board member, Matthew Pace, is one of the accused. A police inspector, explaining the investigation results has described him as a professional money launderer.

Few may remember that, way back in June 2018, an item in the news had announced that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had fined Matthew Pace the sum of €38,750 for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws when dealing with investments held by a client of his named Keith Schembri. It was public knowledge and government was apparently happy as it did not act about it.

It would be interesting to know if the then legal advisor of the Planning Authority, a certain Dr Robert Abela, had flagged the issue and drawn the attention of the Authority on the need to take action. If not, could the legal advisor to Joseph Muscat, the same Dr Robert Abela, have drawn attention of his then boss to the matter? We have heard nothing about it. As we are by now aware, they are all compromised. Good governance my foot!

Mr Matthew Pace spent years as a member of the Planning Authority Board and it was only after his blatant case of conflict of interest in the dB Pembroke case that he was forced to resign as a result of public pressures by environmentalists. I say he was “forced to resign” as, when the Court annulled the dB Pembroke permit on the basis of Matthew Pace’s conflict of interest, he initially refused to make way. It was proven that he sat in judgement and participated in the decision on the dB Pembroke permit, voting in favour of its approval. Simultaneously he had an interest in an estate agency which was already “selling” units forming part of the dB Pembroke development even before the development permit was approved by the Planning Board with Matthew Pace’s vote in favour! Governance at its best!

This is the Planning Authority. Unfortunately, the other members of the Board are impacted by association. It will be many years before this regulator recovers.

There is more.

Environmentalists have discovered, almost by accident, that the current Chairman of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) while sitting in judgement on appeal cases concerning planning and environmental issues is still an employee of the Planning Authority. He is currently on leave without pay having the right to return to his employment with the Planning Authority when his current term as Chairman of the EPRT expires.

How can an employee of the Planning Authority sit in judgement on the decisions of his employer? Yet this is what the Chairman of the EPRT does every day. He cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impartial even if he tries his very best. Yet whenever he was challenged, he has refused to accept that his specific circumstances render him unsuitable to Chair the EPRT in all cases concerning the Planning Authority. This matter will eventually have to be decided by the Courts with possible considerable consequences.

The mess gets worse every day.

With these ethical failures it is no wonder that the credibility of the land use planning process has gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 March 2021

The octopus in our midst

During the past weeks we have been witnessing the exposure of a web of criminality which has infiltrated and infected all sectors of our society.  Revelations are being made public by instalments, as if a new edition of La Piovra (made in Malta) is being launched.

Information leaking from the Yorgen Fenech investigation as well as from other related investigations has revealed an intricate network which pervades practically all local institutions. Just like the octopus which with its eight long tentacles seeks to control all from far away.

We cannot say that we were not warned about this. At a point in time, it was stated that if Yorgen Fenech falls, all around him will collapse too. One instalment after the other we are realising the extent of control of the octopus.

One witness after another is confirming that the criminal gang under investigation was continuously aware of the different moves of the police investigators, in real time and with substantial notice. Those carrying out the assassination were even aware, with a three-week notice, as to when they were to be arrested. It was sufficient notice, we were told, that enabled them to plan where they would prefer the arrest to take place. They selected the potato shed at Marsa as their preference!

You would undoubtedly remember the first news instalments on Silvio Valletta, then still Deputy Commissioner of Police and in charge of the criminal investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was introduced as Uncle Silvio to Yorgen Fenech’s family. The two men (Silvio and Yorgen), one year after the assassination were on such close terms that on the 29 September 2018, they were together at Stamford Bridge enjoying a game of football: Chelsea playing against Liverpool.

It is no news that Yorgen Fenech has a sharp eye for strategic investment opportunities. He chose his portfolio with care. He invested carefully in Silvio Valletta. Silvio was after all also a member of the Board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU). Such focused investments yield handsome dividends. Most probably there is still much more that we do not know yet as to the dividends actually reaped.

These are the methods of the Mafia, a term which we normally use to describe organised crime which is so organised that it infiltrates all layers of the state. The Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Deputy Police Commissioner, one Cabinet Minister, and a number of others of a lower order were depicted in the testimony to date as being in the service of organised crime. This is as serious as it gets. Whether others higher up were also in the game is still not known for certain yet.

It is not known when the whole truth will be uncovered even though periodically we learn about an additional small bit .

This has been possible because successive governments have been allergic to good governance. The abundance of institutions set up throughout the years have been staffed with a multitude of weak men and women who have generally not been capable of standing up to the exercise of raw power. In the moment of truth, because they were weak, they gave way and allowed the octopus to move unhindered.

The published information, including confidential chats on WhatsApp, with senior officers of the Malta Gaming Authority, the Malta Financial Services Authority, the Planning Authority and others, is another worrying indicator as to how the authorities set up to defend society have been seriously undermined and compromised.

The road ahead is very difficult to navigate.  Undoubtedly, much more is yet unknown. The octopus is still in control.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 21st March 2021

Keith Schembri u l-kaxxi vojta: frodi, korruzzjoni u ħasil ta’ flus

Mela Keith Schembri u 10 persuni oħra, kif ukoll għoxrin kumpanija ittellgħu l-Qorti ftit tal- ħin ilu. Huma akkużati bi frodi, korruzzjoni, ħasil ta’ flus u iktar.

Dan li qed iseħħ illum huwa prova li l-istituzzjonijiet ma ħadmux kif kellhom jaħdmu. Għax kellom ikunu l-kaxxi “vojta” ta’ Simon Busuttil, li wara li saret investigazzjoni dwarhom mill-Maġistrat wasslu għall-passi tal-lum.

Illum hu jum ta’ niket. Jum ta’ għajb.

Dak li kien “in-number one” ta’ Malta hu akkużat li hu maħmuġ. Miegħu hemm oħrajn fosthom persuna li l-Gvern kien appuntah bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar (Matthew Pace) li kellu jirreżenja għax inqabad b’kunflitt ta’interess: waqt li kien qed jivvuta favur il-permess tal-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke kien diġa qed ibiegħ l-appartamenti permezz tal-aġenzija tal-propjetà li kellu sehem fiha.

Jum tal-mistħija għax tal-lum hi biċċa prova li l-Gvern ta’ Malta kien immexxi mill-ħmieġ.

X’serjiġri minn issa l-quddiem diffiċli tgħid. Li l-affarijiet waslu sa hawn hu pass importanti għas saltna tad-dritt.

Min imiss?

Some reflections on the Mafia State

Reading through the terms of reference for the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it is amply clear to all as to what the inquiry should be aiming at.

The inquiry’s objective is to determine whether the machinery of government functioned as it should. Did it function in the public interest, or did it function in another manner, in the interest of the few, thereby creating a culture of impunity for the said few?

Some may justifiably argue that the machinery of government, in Malta, never functioned properly. It is further argued that the post 2013 administration made use of a defective machinery of government more efficiently than previous administrations, fine tuning and intensifying political controls in the process, as a result of which the stultification of the functions of the democratic state was accelerated.

The terms of reference agreed to in December 2019 speak of the development of a “de facto state of impunity” and seek to determine whether this could have been avoided through effective criminal law provisions, if such provisions exist.

Do we have a Mafia State? We would definitely have a Mafia State if the machinery of government is tied with organised crime to the extent that state officials become part of a criminal partnership or organisation.

The testimony heard so far in open session during the proceedings of the public inquiry reveals the reluctance of the authorities to investigate thereby paving the way for the development of a culture of impunity. Money-laundering investigations moved at snail’s pace until there was a change in leadership at the Economic Crimes Unit of the Malta Police Force. However, as yet we do not know what was revealed in the testimony behind closed doors. Matters could be considerably worse than what is known so far.

The revelations at the public inquiry must not be seen in isolation. They must be viewed in context of the testimony in the Magistrates Court relative to the criminal proceedings against those accused of carrying out the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, or of masterminding it.

We have learnt that the alleged master-mind has pleaded with the police that he was carrying out the instructions of the Chief of Staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, who categorically denied this. The definite truth is not known yet. So far, we are only sure that the assassination planners were too close to the political nerve centre: just like in a Mafia State. It is at the Office of the Prime Minister that the middleman was offered a government job, one which delivered pay for no work. Part payment for his endeavours as a middleman!

The Ministers testifying at the public inquiry were continuously seeking to pass the buck from the Cabinet to the kitchen cabinet. On the other hand, those forming part of this kitchen cabinet feigned ignorance of their role in circumventing the role of the real cabinet. This is the worrying state of play in which those having responsibility take a step backwards as a result of which their authority ends being wielded by those appointed in lieu of those elected. Collective responsibility has been thrown to the winds.

The latest revelations crown it all. Government’s thinly veiled threats in the past days to the members of the judiciary directing the public inquiry reveal a government in panic mode.

Robert Abela’s unease at this point in time is understandable. After all he was former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s legal advisor. How many skeletons in the cupboard is he aware of?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 December 2020