Impjant nuklejari fi Sqallija?

Matul il-kampanja elettorali riċenti tal-2022, fl-Italja, fid-dibattitu politiku, reġgħet infetħet id-diskussjoni dwar il-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija nuklejari.

Matteo Salvini, presentement Ministru għall-Infrastruttura u t-Transport, apparti li hu ukoll Deputat Prim Ministru fil-Gvern ta’ koalizzjoni Taljan, emfasizza, li, fl-isfond tal-kriżi enerġetika kurrenti l-Italja għandha tikkunsidra mill-ġdid il-politika tagħha dwar l-impjanti nuklejari.

Il-votanti Taljani darbtejn esprimew ruħhom b’mod ċar dwar ir-rejatturi nuklejari fuq art Taljana. L-aħħar darba li għamlu dan kien f’referendum li sar f’Ġunju 2011, ftit wara d-diżastru nuklejari li seħħ f’Fukushima l-Ġappun f’Marzu 2011. Dakinnhar, 94 fil-mija ta’ dawk li vvutaw għażlu projibizzjoni totali ta’ kostruzzjoni ta’ impjanti nuklejari fl-Italja.

Il-kriżi kurrenti tal-enerġija qed isservi ta’ pressjoni fuq kulħadd biex jinstabu sorsi alternattivi ta’ enerġija bi prezz li nifilħuħ. L-enerġija nuklejari hemm marbuta magħha spejjes moħbija li rari ħafna jittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni kull meta l-materja tkun soġġett ta’ dibattitu politiku: l-iskart nuklejari ġġenerat kif ukoll ir-riskji inerenti, marbuta ma’ ħsara jew funzjonament ħażin  tal-impjanti nuklejari.  L-impatt tal-inċidenti nuklejari fi Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania Stati Uniti – 28 ta’ Marzu 1979), Chernobyl (Ukrajina – 26 t’April 1986) u Fukushima (Ġappun – 11 ta’ Marzu 2011) huma xhieda biżżejjed tal-konsegwenzi li jista’ jkollna niffaċċjaw meta tkun ikkunsidrata l-għażla ta’ enerġija nuklejari.

Il-mod kif niddisponu mill-iskart nuklejari hu suġġett għal dibattitu kontinwu fuq livell globali. L-ispiża biex dan isir hi waħda sostanzjali, u dan b’referenza kemm għall-ispiża ambjentali kif ukoll għal dik finanzjarja.  Fil-passat riċenti, viċin tagħna, l- eko-mafja irmiet kull xorta ta’ skart, inkluż skart nuklejari, fil-Baħar Mediterranean. Dan għamlitu fi 42 vapur differenti, kollha mgħarrqa f’partijiet differenti tal-Mediterran. Il-kaz speċifiku tal-vapur Kunsky mgħarraq ftit il-barra mill-kosta tal-Kalabrija, kien ġie żvelat mill-pentiti tal- ‘Ndrangheta/Camorra, Francesco Fonti u Carmine Schiavone, snin ilu fix-xhieda tagħhom lill-awtoritajiet Taljani.

Bosta mir-riskji tekniċi tal-impjanti nuklejari illum il-ġurnata kważi nstab tarf tagħhom u dan minħabba l-avvanżi kontinwi fit-teknoloġija. Hemm iżda eċċezzjoni waħda! Kif ġie żvelat bħala riżultat tad-diżastru ta’ Fukushima, il-forzi naturali jibqgħu kontinwament bit-tmun f’idejhom!  F’Fukushima, għal darba oħra ġie ikkonfermat li r-riskji marbuta mat-terrimoti mhux la kemm insibu tarf tagħhom! Dan kollu  għandu relevanza kbira għad-dibattitu dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ impjanti nuklejari wara biebna, f’teritorju Taljan.

Fl-2011 l-awtoritajiet Taljani kienu indikaw li s-sit fi Sqallija li probabbilment jintuża biex fuqu jinbena impjant nuklejari qiegħed mal-kosta tan-nofsinnhar ħdejn il-lokalità ta’ Palma di Montechiaro. Dan ikun madwar 100 kilometru fil-Majjistral ta’ Għawdex.

Kif nafu, Sqallija hi zona fejn it-terrimoti huma frekwenti. Apparti t-terrimoti frekwenti “żgħar” li  nisimgħu dwarhom u li xi kultant nindunaw bihom matul is-sena, fi Sqallija seħħew tnejn mill-agħar terrimoti li qatt laqgħtu lill-Ewropa. Fl-1693 terrimot fix-Xlokk ta’ Sqallija kellu qawwa ta’ 7.4 filwaqt li f’Messina fl-1908 terrimot ieħor laħaq qawwa ta’ 7.1 fuq l-iskala Mercalli. Dawn iż-żewġ terrimoti ħolqu ħerba u wasslu għat-telfien ta’ bosta ħajjiet. L-infrastruttura ukoll sofriet danni kbar!

Id-deċiżjoni dwar jekk il-Gvern Taljan jerġax jipprova jmur lejn in-nuklejari biex jiġġenera l-elettriku fl-Italja mhux ser tittieħed f’data fil-qrib. Imma, meta jibdew jinġabru l-firem għal referendum fuq is-suġġett ma tantx ikun baqa’ żmien biex għal darba’oħra nqiesu sewwa x’nistgħu nagħmlu.

F’Malta, l-interess tagħna hu dwar l-impatt  fuqna ta’ impjant nuklejari mal-kosta ta’ Sqallija viċin ta’ Palma di Montechiaro f’kaz li dan l-impjant jiżviluppa l-ħsara jew għal xi raġuni jibda jaħdem b’mod erratiku.  

Tajjeb li nżommu f’moħħna li minħabba l-emissjonijiet radjuattivi riżultat tad-diżastru ta’ Fukushima kellha sseħħ evakwazzjoni sħiħa f’distanza ta’ 200 kilometru mill-impjant nuklejari. Għawdex, kif tafu, hu inqas minn 100 kilometru mill-kosta ta’ Sqallija. Daqshekk huma ċari l-konsegwenzi għalina ta’ impjant nuklejari mal-kosta ta’ Sqallija!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 15 ta’ Jannar 2023

A nuclear reactor in Sicily?

During the recent 2022 electoral campaign, the issue of nuclear energy in neighbouring Italy has resurfaced in the political debate.

Matteo Salvini, currently Minister for the Infrastructure and Transport, in addition to being Deputy Prime Minister of the ruling Italian coalition government, is on record as emphasising that, given the current energy crisis, he considers that it would be expedient to resurrect the nuclear proposal.

Italian voters have expressed themselves clearly on the matter twice. The last time was in a referendum in June 2011 in the aftermath of the Fukushima March 2011 nuclear disaster. Then, 94 per cent of those voting, opted in favour of a total ban on the construction of nuclear reactors on Italian soil.

The current energy crisis is pressuring all to find alternative energy supplies at affordable cost. Nuclear energy, however, comes with two hidden costs which are rarely ever factored into the costings presented for public debate: the disposal of nuclear waste and the inherent risks linked to the failure of the nuclear plants. The impacts of the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania USA – 28 March 1979), Chernobyl (Ukraine – 26 April 1986) and Fukushima (Japan – 11 March 2011) are clear enough testimony of what is at stake, when considering the option of nuclear energy.

The disposal of nuclear waste is the subject of an ongoing debate all over the world. It is costly both environmentally as well as financially. In the recent past, closer to home, the eco-mafia dumped various types of waste including nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea in 42 different ships sunk in different parts of the Mediterranean. The specific case of the sunken ship Kunsky off the Calabrian coast was revealed by ‘Ndrangheta/Camorra turncoats Francesco Fonti and Carmine Schiavone many years ago in their testimony to the Italian authorities.

Most of the technical risks of nuclear plants have become more manageable with the technical developments over the years. There is however one exception! As revealed by the Fukushima disaster, natural forces are not always predictable. In Fukushima the risks resulting from earthquakes in the end proved once more to be unmanageable. This is of extreme relevance to the debate on the possible eventual siting of nuclear reactors on the Italian mainland.

The site which in 2011 was indicated by the Italian authorities as the most probable candidate to host a nuclear reactor in Sicily was along the southern coastline in the vicinity of Palma de Montechiaro. That would be less than 100 kilometres to the North West of Gozo.

As we are aware Sicily is an earthquake prone zone. In addition to the multitude of small earthquakes we hear about and occasionally are aware of throughout the year, the Sicilian mainland was exposed to the two most intensive earthquakes ever to hit the European mainland. The 1693 earthquake centred in South East Sicily had a magnitude of 7.4 while the Messina 1908 earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 on the Mercalli scale. Both created havoc and had a high cost in human life! In addition, the physical infrastructure was in shambles.

A decision on whether the Italian government will once more attempt to consider the generation of nuclear energy on Italian soil is not due anytime soon. However, once the collection of signatures for a referendum on the matter gathers steam it will only be a question of time when we will have to consider facing the music one more time.

Our interest in Malta is in the transboundary impacts generated from a nuclear reactor sited along the southern Sicilian coast close to Palma di Montechiaro, should the proposed nuclear reactor malfunction.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind that the radioactivity emitted as a result of the Fukushima disaster led to a complete evacuation within a 200 km radius of the nuclear plant. Gozo being less than 100 km away from the Sicilian mainland should trigger the alarm bells of one and all as to what is ultimately at stake.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 15 January 2023

Supporting Bill 28

The amendment to the Criminal Code forming part of Bill 28 which Parliament started discussing on Monday 28 November codifies the existing practice at the state hospital. It defines the necessary legal framework for therapeutic abortion. It does not introduce the practice of therapeutic abortion: this has been the practice for quite some time.

The Bill avoids use of the term “abortion”, using instead the term “termination of a pregnancy”, which as we are all aware has exactly the same meaning!

Legislation to date relative to therapeutic abortion is not clear at this point in time. On this basis ADPD-The Green Party was the only political party which tackled the matter during the March 2022 electoral campaign, including a whole section on sexual health and reproductive rights in the electoral manifesto. We went much further than that, emphasising the need for the decriminalisation of abortion too.

The Labour Party in Government, which has been practically silent on the matter during the electoral campaign, has now decided to act, taking a minimalist approach. It has limited itself to ensuring that current practice is protected at law. While this is definitely not enough it is a welcome first step and deserves our full support, even though there is still room for improvement in the proposed text of the proposal.

The Labour Party is right in saying that it is not introducing abortion through Bill 28: therapeutic abortion has been here and practised for some time even in the state hospital. Consequently, the approval of Bill 28 as presented will, in practice, not change anything, it will merely recognise the current state of affairs. As a result, it will give peace of mind to medical practitioners in state hospitals as their current modus operandi would be clearly spelt out in the law, as it should be.

In a sense the current fierce and at times emotional debate on abortion is much ado about nothing. It has however resulted in the local conservative forces speaking from the same hymn book. The opposition to the Bill is primarily twofold. On one hand there is the PN official stand which, together with Archbishop Scicluna has adopted the position paper published by a group of academics. In practice they seek to limit permissible medical interventions to cases of a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, eliminating health issues as justification. On the other hand, exponents of the fundamentalist Christian right, including a minority in the PN rank and file oppose the Bill in principle.

Put simply, the debate identifies three different proposals. The first, proposed by the Labour government in Bill 28, enshrines in law the current practice and places the onus on the medical profession to decide each case on its own merits. The second, supported by the PN opposition and the Church hierarchy seeks to substantially limit the discretion of the medical profession in Bill 28 primarily by eliminating health and mental health considerations. The third position brought forward by the fundamentalist Christian faction is in total opposition to all that is being proposed.

During the Parliamentary debate held this week I took note of the various positive contributions, in particular those of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg and Opposition spokespersons Joe Giglio and Mario Demarco. Of particular note, in my view, is Fearne’s reference to the hospital’s standard operating procedures. It is being emphasised that these procedures do in fact address important aspects of the criticism aired during the debate, in particular that decisions taken by the medical profession relative to therapeutic abortion procedures should be taken by two or more professionals in order to ensure that no professional shoulders the decision alone. This, I understand is already standard practice!

There is always room for improvement in the proposed text of the Bill as indicated in the level-headed approach of Joe Giglio during the Parliamentary debate on Wednesday. As I emphasised in my article last week it would have been much better if Government had embarked on an exercise of public consultation before presenting the Bill. There would definitely have been more time to listen to and digest the different views. A valid point which was also emphasised by Mario Demarco.

In this scenario, even though viewing it as just a first step, which can be improved: without any shadow of doubt, ADPD supports the proposal put forward by Bill 28 in principle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 December 2022

Proposta nejja tal-Labour dwar l-abort

Nhar it-Tnejn, il-Parlament approva fl-istadju tal-ewwel qari, l-abbozz ta’ liġi numru 28. Dan l-abbozz hu intenzjonat biex jikkjarifika l-provedimenti tal-Kodiċi Kriminali dwar l-abort terrapewtiku. B’mod speċifiku l-għanijiet u r-raġunijiet tal-abbozz huma biex “jipprovdu kjarifika dwar il-parametri fil-Kodiċi Kriminali li għandhom japplikaw għal cirkostanzi ta’ neċessità fejn ikun meħtieġ intervent mediku biex tkun protetta l-ħajja u s-saħħa ta’ mara tqila li tkun qiegħda tbati minn kumplikazzjoni medika.”

Uħud jikkunsidraw li l-abbozz numru 28 hu pass żgħir il-quddiem f’pajjiż li kontinwament ipprova jevita li jiddibatti l-abort. Sfortunatament, imma, l-proposta li ġiet ippreżentata hi waħda nejja.  

Wara snin jevita dibattitu nazzjonali, kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli għall-Gvern li jippubblika White Paper fejn jispjega b’mod ċar u dettaljat dak li jrid jagħmel dwar l-abort kif ukoll dwar dak kollu relatat miegħu. Tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li l-leġislazzjoni dwar l-abort tal-pajjiż ma hi tal-ebda siwi. Wara li ġiet injorata għal 160 sena l-liġi teħtieġ li tkun aġġornata għaż-żminijiet u li tkun tirrifletti l-avvanzi fix-xjenza u l-mediċina tul dawn is-snin kollha. Hemm bżonn li tinkiteb mill-ġdid u dan fid-dawl tal-fatt li tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar sninil-pajjiż ħaddan il-plurliżmu etiku.

Hu ċar li l-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza l-impatt politiku li rriżulta mill-kaz riċenti tat-turista Amerikana Andrea Prudente, f’liema każ Malta naqset milli tipprovdi l-kura medika li kienet mistennija.

M’għandniex ħtieġa ta’ proposta rejattiva, proposta nejja: imma għandna bżonn proposta li tindirizza ir-realtà tas-seklu wieħed u għoxrin.  L-abort hu parti integrali mill-ħajja Maltija, rridu jew ma irridux! L-indikazzjonijiet huma ta’ medja ta’ 400 abort li jsiru kull sena fost il-Maltin. Il-parti l-kbira jseħħu bl-użu ta’ pilloli li jinkisbu bil-posta.  Oħrajn iseħħu f’pajjiżi oħra, primarjament fir-Renju Unit kif jidher fir-rapporti mediċi annwali ippubblikati.

Il-Partit Laburista jidher li hu xott mill-ideat għax naqas ukoll milli jindirizza l-abort fil-manifest elettorali tiegħu għall-elezzjoni ġenerali ta’ Marzu 2022.

Dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Partit Laburista jikkuntrasta mal-proposti tal-partit immexxi minni li tul ix-xhur li għaddew ippreżentajna proposti diversi biex apparti iktar ċarezza fil-liġi nimxu lejn id-dikriminalizzazzjoni kif ukoll lejn l-introduzzjoni speċifika tal-abort limitat għal tlett ċirkustanzi partikolari u straordinarji. Il-proposta tagħna hi li l-abort ikun permissibli meta l-ħajja jew is-saħħa tal-mara tqila tkun mhedda, fil-kaz ta’ tqala li isseħħ riżultat ta’ vjolenza (stupru u incest) kif ukoll fil-kaz ta’ tqala li ma tkunx vijabbli.

Uħud jikkunsidraw li dak proposta hu ftit wisq, oħrajn li hu wisq. Fil-fehma tagħna il-proposta hi addattata għaċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari lokali. Hi proposta li mhux biss hi ferm aħjar mill-proposta nejja tal-Gvern, imma twassal ukoll biex il-liġi tkun aġġornata għal dak mistenni fi żmienna!

Hemm ukoll materji oħra li huma relatati u li jeħtieġ li jkunu diskussi. Matul din il-ġimgħa grupp ta’ akkademiċi lokali u oħrajn ippubblikaw dokument għad-diskussjoni in konnessjoni mal-proposta tal-Gvern dwar l-abort.

Il-proposti fid-dokument ippubblikat għad-diskussjoni jfittxu li jissikkaw id-definizzjonijiet dwar iċ-ċirkustanzi li fihom ikun ġġustifikat l-intervent mediku biex ikun possibli li tkun protetta l-ħajja u s-saħħa tal-mara tqila. Jeskludi ukoll kull xorta ta’ abort.

Il-punti mqajjma f’dan id-dokument hu dejjem utlili li jkunu diskussi. Għalhekk ilna ngħidu li hemm ħtieġa għal diskussjoni pubblika matura, diskussjoni li l-Gvern ilu żmien jevita.  Imma nistenna ukoll li jkun hemm akkademiċi oħra b’veduti u opinjonijiet differenti li anke huma jsemmgħu leħinhom. Għandhom bżonn joħorġu mill-friża.

Irridu nħarsu lil hinn mill-proposti restrittivi li dan id-dokument għad-diskussjoni jippreżenta. Sa mill-2011, meta kien approvat ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju, Malta għażlet it-triq tal-pluraliżmu etiku: rispett lejn il-pluralità ta’ opinjonijiet u valuri etiċi. Id-dokument li qed nirreferi għalih hu negazzjoni ta’ dan u effettivament hu proposta biex naqbdu triq oħra u differenti. Għandna nirreżistu dan l-attentat.

Fl-aħħar għandu jkun ċar li din mhiex diskussjoni dwar x’inhu tajjeb jew ħażin imma dwar min għandu jieħu d-deċiżjoni kif ukoll dwar il-parametri li jiddeterminaw kif u safejn nistgħu naġixxu. M’aħniex qed ngħixu f’teokrazija: hu dritt li naffermaw illi hu possibli li jeżistu veduti u valuri differenti.

B’hekk beda d-dibattitu li ilu żmien maħnuq.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 27 ta’ Novembru 2022

Labour’s half-baked abortion proposal

On Monday Parliament approved at first reading stage Bill number 28 which Bill seeks to clarify the provisions of the Criminal Code relative to therapeutic abortion. Specifically, the objects and reasons of the Bill seek to “provide clarification on the parameters that shall apply in the Criminal Code to circumstances of necessity in which a medical intervention is required in order to protect the life and health of a pregnant woman suffering from a medical complication”.

Some may consider that Bill 28 is a good first step in a country which has continuously avoided debating abortion. Unfortunately, government’s proposal is half-baked.

After years of avoiding a national debate, it would have been much better if government published a detailed White Paper explaining its views on abortion and the related issues and principles. It is about time that we recognise that the country’s abortion legislation is not fit for purpose. After being ignored for 160 years Maltese abortion legislation requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years. It also requires a substantial redrafting in view of the fact that for over a decade Malta has embraced ethical pluralism.

It is clear that government has limited itself to addressing the political fallout resulting from the recent case of the American tourist Andrea Prudente as a result of which Malta failed in the provision of the expected medical care.

We do not require a half-baked reactive proposal but rather a proposal which addresses twenty-first century reality. Whether we like it or not, abortion is a regular occurrence among Maltese too! Indications point towards an average 400 abortions which are carried out annually, a substantial portion of which through the use of abortion pills acquired through the post. Others are carried out through abortion tourism, primarily in the United Kingdom as is evidenced by annual published medical returns for England and Wales.

Apparently, the Labour Party is short on ideas as it has even failed to address abortion in its electoral manifesto for the March 2022 general election.

In contrast to the reluctance of the Labour Party to come forward with proposals, the Maltese Greens, which I lead, have, over the past months presented proposals which in addition to the required clarifications in our legislation seek decriminalisation as well as the specific introduction of abortion in three extraordinary circumstances: namely when the pregnant female’s health or life is under threat, in cases of a pregnancy brought about violently (rape and incest) as well as in the case of non-viable pregnancies.

Some have considered our above proposals as being too little, others as being too much. We consider that in view of the prevailing local circumstances our proposals are just right, a substantial improvement over government’s half-baked proposals and an overhaul of the current mid-nineteen century legislation, which is out of tune with what is expected in this day and age.

There are other related issues which we should also discuss. During this week a group of local academics and some hangers-on have published a discussion paper which discusses government’s abortion proposal.

The proposals in the said discussion paper seek to tightly define the circumstances which justify a medical intervention to protect the life and health of a pregnant woman. It also seeks to exclude all forms of abortion by tightly defining the applicable parameters.

It is a point of view which should be considered and discussed. This is what a mature public debate should be about and what government has been continuously avoiding. I would however expect other academics having different views to come out of the deep freeze and speak up.

We should look beyond the restrictive proposals presented in the discussion paper. Since the 2011 divorce referendum Malta has embarked on a journey of ethical pluralism which respects a plurality of views and ethical norms. The discussion paper is a negation of this journey and an attempt to change course, which attempt should be resisted.

At the end of the day the debate is not about what is right and wrong but on who should take the decision and the parameters within which it is permissible to act. We are not living in a theocracy. Differing views and values can definitely co-exist.

Let the debate, at last, begin.

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 November 2022

Daphne: the five-year wait for justice

Most of us remember what we were doing five years ago slightly after 3pm on Monday October 16, 2017, when the news flashed that a car had exploded in Bidnija. The possible connection with Daphne was immediate, even then, at that critical moment, when nothing else was yet known.

Slowly we got to know what had actually happened. 

The first reactions, then, five years ago were, and still are, significant.

Everyone was shocked, five years ago, when the Magistrate on duty, Consuelo Scerri-Herrera turned up on site at Bidnija. She failed to realise that this specific investigation was a no-go area for her!  I had then commented that Scerri-Herrera’s reluctance to abstain from leading this magisterial investigation was testimony to the fact that some members of the bench still need to master much more than the law.

Five years later, matters have not changed a bit as is evidenced by the behaviour of another Magistrate. Magistrate Nadine Lia is refusing to accept that she has an obvious conflict of interest and must hence withdraw from the consideration of another case currently under her consideration. Some things never change! The ethical behaviour of the judiciary is indispensable, now more than ever. How can the judiciary expect to be respected if it does not even respect itself?

Five years ago, we even had a Police Sergeant posting his comments on social media on his being overjoyed at the day’s happenings in Bidnija! Much worse was however in store. In fact, the then Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta took overall charge of the police investigation into the assassination, only for it to be revealed much later that he was literally in the pockets of Yorgen Fenech, currently undergoing criminal proceedings on charges of having commissioned Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Remember Uncle Silvio?

How could the Police carry out its duties adequately with Silvio Valletta, then Deputy Police Commissioner, hibernating deep inside criminal pockets, and leading the investigation into the assassination of Daphne?

Following the evidence in the multiple cases in our law courts dealing with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was in itself a documentation of the failure of the state. This was even confirmed by the public inquiry into the assassination. It is a failure of the institutions which have been hijacked into servicing the criminal world.

Daphne’s investigative journalism, as it unfolded over the years, was a threat to all this. She exposed the ineffective institutions. She shone a light on the men and women of straw who think they are running the state when in fact they are puppets on a string controlled by various lobbies, including the criminal lobby.

Her last published words were significant as they spelled out her fears. “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”  She was commenting on Keith Schembri, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff with reference to libel proceedings against Simon Busuttil as he had taken offence to being labelled a crook, and corrupt.  In her last article published minutes before she was blown up Daphne had spelt out that “The crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook.”

The developments over the past sixty months are proving without a shadow of doubt “that crooks are everywhere”.  It has resulted that the Office of the Prime Minister was run by crooks: as a result, Joseph Muscat had no option but to resign. He had been protecting the crooks around him for far too long!

With all these obstacles it is no wonder that after five years the end of the investigations into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is not yet in sight. No one is certain yet whether there was one mastermind plotting the assassination or else whether there were two or more.

We do not have an answer yet, as to whether any politician was in the know, or worse, directly involved, even though there have been a number of public references to former Labour Cabinet Minister, Chris Cardona in this respect.

We have been witnessing the exposure of a web of criminality which has infiltrated and infected all sectors of society. The investigations which we have witnessed developing over the past five years have revealed an intricate network which pervades practically all institutions. Just like the octopus which with its eight long tentacles seeks to control all from a distance. It is no wonder that after sixty months the end is not yet in sight.  The octopus is still in control.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 December 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

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