It-timbru tal-President

Waqt li inti qiegħed taqra dan l-artiklu, l-Eċċellenza Tiegħu il-President  qiegħed  fir-Renju Unit wara li attenda għall-inawgurazzjoni tal-logħob tal-Commonwealth. Huwa telaq minn Malta nhar l-Erbgħa fil-għodu.

Hekk kif l-ajruplan tal-Air Malta bl-Eċċellenza tiegħu fi triqtu lejn Birmingham inqata’ mill-art, l-Aġent President il-Professor Frank Bezzina kien fl-uffiċċju tal-President qiegħed jiffirma l-liġi bl-emendi tal-IVF. L-istess liġi li Dr Vella kien ilu ġranet sħaħ jirrifjuta li jiffirma.

L-istorja ma tieqafx hawn. Meta l-President, George Vella, irrifjuta li jiffirma huwa mar lil hinn mill-awtorità li tagħtih il-liġi u dan billi hu ma għandu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif jista’ jaġixxi: għandu jagħti l-kunsens tiegħu bla dewmien. Hekk jistabilixxi l-artiklu 72 tal-Kostituzzjoni tar-Repubblika ta’ Malta.

Anke l-Eċċellenza Tiegħu hu soġġett għal-liġi, f’dan il-każ il-Kostituzzjoni. Li jirrifjuta li jimxi ma dak li tgħid il-liġi, f’dan il-każ il-Kostituzzjoni, hu ksur serjissimu tar-responsabbiltajiet Kostituzzjonali Tiegħu. Fil-fehma tal-partit tiegħi dan hu suffiċjenti biex ikun ikkunsidrat li Dr George Vella jitneħħa mill-kariga ta’ President tar-Repubblika. L-Eċċellenza Tiegħu messu jkun ta’ eżempju dwar kif inbaxxu rasna għas-saltna tad-dritt. Kif nippretendu li ħaddiehor jaqdi dmiru jekk il-Kap tal-iStat jaġixxi b’dan il-mod u jagħti l-agħar eżempju possibli?

Għad baqa’ ċans biex il-Parlament jikkunsidra t-tneħħija ta’ Dr George Vella mill-ħatra u dan minħabba l-imġieba tiegħu li hi kemm inaċċettabbli kif ukoll illegali.

Imma l-Parlament għandu bżonn li jmur lil hinn minn ċensura qawwija ta’ Dr George Vella.  Għandu jikkunsidra fil-fond ir-rwol tal-President tar-Republika. Speċifikament għandu jkun ikkunsidrat li l-President ma għandux ikun sempliċi timbru imma li possibilment ikollu poter li jibgħat lura għand il-Parlament dawk il-liġijiet li fil-fehma tiegħu ma jkunux kompatibbli mal-kostituzzjoni.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet li l-partit li jiena immexxi kien għamel lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali konna iffukajna fuq din il-materja, fost affarijiet oħra.  Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna lill-konvenzjoni, fis-sezzjoni intitolata : Il-President tar-Repubblika: ħatra u responsabbiltajiet, il-partit kien ippropona li l-President għandu jkollu id-dritt li jibgħat lura quddiem il-Parlament liġi biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid kemm-il darba fil-fehma tiegħu din il-liġi ma tkunx kompatibbli ma’ dak li tipprovdi l-Kostituzzjoni.  

Il-President, meta jidħol fil-ħatra, jiddikjara li hu/hi ser jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni. Imma minkejja li jassumi fuqu dan l-obbligu m’għandux għodda kostituzzjonali biex dan ikun jista’ jagħmlu.  Il-proposta tagħna ilha li ppreżentajniha kważi tlett snin. Biha ipproponejna l-għodda kostituzzjonali meħtieġa  li permezz tagħha l-Eċċellenza Tiegħunil-President ikun jista’ jaġixxi  b’mod responsabbli u bis-saħħa tal-liġi, f’ċirkustanzi serji fejn dan ikun meħtieġ. Konna pproponejna ukoll li jekk il-Parlament ma jibdilx jew jimmodifika il-posizzjoni tiegħu għas-sodisfazzjon tal-President dan ikollu l-possibilità li jibgħat il-liġi in kwistjoni quddiem il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali għal deċiżjoni finali. Hekk isiru l-affarijiet bis-serjetà.

B’dan il-mod l-uffiċċju tal-President ma jibqax sempliċi timbru kostrett li jgħid iva bilfors, inkella jopera barra mill-parametri tal-liġi. Dak li għamel il-President f’dawn il-ġranet hu gravi u setgħet inħolqot kriżi kostituzzjonali. Mhux l-ewwel darba li konna fix-xifer lijinqala’ incident simili. Xi snin ilu President ieħor kien indika (privatament) li ma kienx komdu li jiffirma il-liġi dwar l-Unjoni Ċivili (Att IX tal-2014).  Biex jikkalma s-sitwazzjoni u jevita kriżi Kostituzzjonali l-Gvern ta’ dakinnhar kien ippospona ftit il-vot finali fil-parliament sakemm laħaq inħatar President ġdid. Il-liġi dwar l-Unjoni Ċivili, fil-fatt kienet ġiet iffirmata mill-President nhar is-17 t’April 2014, tlettax-il jum wara li bdiet il-Presidenza ta’ Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca.

Jagħmel tajjeb il-Parliament jekk jikkunsidra din il-materja issa u jikkunsidraha sewwa. Hu essenzjali li l-President tar-Repubblika jkollu l-għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jaħdem b’mod responsabbli u skond il-liġi. Iktar ma dan isir malajr, aħjar.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 31 ta’ Lulju 2022

The Presidential rubberstamp

While you are reading through this article, His Excellency President George Vella is in the United Kingdom – after attending for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. He left these islands on Wednesday morning.

As soon as the Air Malta plane taking His Excellency to Birmingham was in the air, the Acting President Professor Frank Bezzina was at the President’s desk signing into law the IVF amendments. Those same amendments which Dr Vella refused to sign in the days before.

This is not the end of the story. By refusing to give his assent the President, George Vella, acted beyond his authority as in terms of law he had no discretion on the matter: he had to signify his assent without delay, as established by article 72 of the Constitution.

Even His Excellency is subject to the law, in this case the Constitution. His refusal to follow what is prescribed by the law is a serious breach of his Constitutional responsibilities, and, in the view of my party this gives rise to valid reasons to consider the impeachment of Dr George Vella from his Presidential duties. His Excellency should show us the way as to what it means to be subject to the rule of law. How do we expect others to carry out their duties if the Head of State acts in this way: the worst possible example?

There is still time for Parliament to consider impeachment proceedings against Dr George Vella and remove him from office in view of his unacceptable and illegal behaviour.

Parliament needs, however, to go beyond clearly censuring Dr George Vella. It is essential to consider in some depth the role of the President of the Republic. Specifically, it should consider whether the President should be just a rubberstamp or else whether he or she should have limited powers of review over Parliament’s legislative authority.

In submissions which the party that I lead presented to the Constitutional Convention we focused on this specific matter, among other issues. In a section of the document submitted to the Convention, entitled, The President of the Republic: appointment and responsibilities, my party proposed that the President should have the right to send legislation back to Parliament for its reconsideration, if, in his view such legislation runs counter to the provisions of the Constitution.

The President, on assuming office, declares that he/she will do all it takes to defend the Constitution. He/she is not however equipped with any (constitutional) tools with which to carry out his responsibilities. The Green proposal presented almost three years ago for the consideration of the Constitutional Convention identifies an essential tool with which His Excellency the President can act responsibly within the parameters of the law. We further proposed that should Parliament refuse to budge the President should refer the matter to the Constitutional Court for a final decision.  This is the manner in which the Presidency should function. Much better than the present-day theatrics.

In this manner the President’s office would not be a mere rubberstamp, constrained to assent or else act outside the parameters of the law.  The President’s actions in the past days conveyed the worst possible message. It almost happened some years ago when another President had (privately) indicated that he would not assent to legislation relative to Civil Unions (Act IX of 2014). In order to avert a Constitutional crisis government had then slightly delayed the final vote in parliament, timing it with the swearing in of a new President. The Civil Unions Act was in fact signed on the 17 April 2014, just thirteen days into the Presidency of Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca.

Parliament would do well to consider the issue further. It is essential that the President of the Republic is adequately equipped with the necessary constitutional tools in order that he can carry out his duties in a responsible manner and within the parameters of the law. The sooner this is done, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 31 July 2022

L-integrità fil-ħajja pubblika

L-OECD (Organizzazzjoni għall-Kooperazzjoni Ekonomika u l-Iżvilupp) għadha kif ippubblikat tlett rapporti dwar aspetti differenti tal-integrità tal-ħajja pubblika f’Malta. Dan għamlitu bħala parti mill-proġett iffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar it-tisħiħ tal-ħidma tal-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

L-ewwel rapport hu dwar kif il-leġislazzjoni eżistenti tista’ titjieb filwaqt li t-tieni wieħed hu dwar it-titjib organizzattiv meħtieġ fl-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. It-tielet rapport fih rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying.

It-tlett rapporti fihom total ta’ 71 rakkomandazzjoni li l-esperti u l-konsulenti tal-OECD iddiskutew mad-diversi persuni u organizzazzjonijiet li ltaqgħu magħhom f’Malta. Mingħajr ma innaqqas mill-mertu ta’ dawn it-tlett rapporti irrid nemfasizza bi kważi ċertezza li l-parti l-kbira ta’ dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet kienu ilhom preżenti fid-dibattitu politiku lokali għal żmien konsiderevoli. Sfortunatament dawn ġew repetutament injorati mill-partiti fil-parlament.

F’dawn il-paġni jiena ktibt diversi drabi dwar il-ħtieġa li nirregolaw il-lobbying fil-pajjiż. Il-lobbying huwa parti essenzjali mill-proċess demokratiku. Jeħtieġ, iżda, li jkun trasparenti. Sentejn ilu, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika Dr George Hyzler, ippubblika dokument konsultattiv dettaljat dwar il-mod kif nistgħu nirregolaw il-lobbying fil-pajjiż. Wara sentejn, iżda,  għadu ma sar xejn: il-proposti tiegħu għadhom qed jiġu “studjati”! Hi sfortuna li s’issa l-partiti fil-parlament ma jidhrux li huma interessati.  

Il-ħolqien tal-uffiċċju ta’ Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika kien pass tajjeb ħafna, avolja kien hemm ħafna dewnien u tkaxkir tas-saqajn sakemm il-liġi għaddiet mill-Parlament.

Dan l-uffiċċju jeħtieġ li jkun allinejat kemm mal-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman kif ukoll mal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika. Meta tqishom flimkien dawn huma tlett funzjonijiet essenzjali biex il-governanza tajba tinfirex u tissaħħaħ fl-oqsma kollha tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika.

It-tlieta li huma qed jagħmlu xogħol utli.  Jistgħu jkunu anke aħjar kieku jkollhom inqas tfixkil kull meta jkunu jeħtieġu informazzjoni biex jeżaminaw dak li jkollhom quddiemhom.  Ir-rapporti tal-OECD jezaminaw il-liġi Maltija li biha twaqqaf l-uffiċċju ta’ Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u jigbdu l-attenzjoni għad-diversi oqsma fejn jista’ jsir titjib biex ikun assigurat li l-indipendenza tal-Kummissarju tkun imħarsa b’mod prattiku.

Il-pubblikazzjoni tal-files Uber, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, wrew li hemm bosta gvernijiet u istituzzjonijiet oħra (inkluż l-Unjoni Ewropeja) li minkejja li għandhom biżibilju liġijiet u regolamenti dwar il-lobbying, xorta nqabdu fuq sieq waħda. Għax li jkollok il-liġijiet li jiregolaw il-lobbying mhux biżżejjed: neħtieġu ukoll ir-rieda politika biex nimplimentawhom. Bosta drabi din ir-rieda politika ma teżistix!  

Il-kontabilità, it-trasparenza u l-governanza tajba huma ferm iktar minn slogans: huma valuri fundamentali li fuqhom jinbena l-istat demokratiku modern.  L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, l-Ombudsman u l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika huma parti integrali mill-infrastruttura demokratika li hi essenzjali biex dawn il-valuri jrabbu għeruq b’saħħithom fl-istituzzjonijiet u s-soċjetà tagħna.

Madwar tnax-il xahar ilu l-Ombudsman kien indika li ma kellux intenzjoni li jaċċetta li l-ħatra tiegħu tkun imġedda. Ghad ma ġiex identifikat min ser jinħatar floku avolja qed jingħadu bosta affarijiet dwar dak li għaddej bejn il-partiti parlamentari  huma u jiddiskutu dwar min jista’ jinħatar.  Sadanittant Dr George Hyzler ser ikollu jwarrab ukoll  għax inħatar mill-Gvern Malti fil-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri. F’dan il-mument delikat ser ikun hemm post ieħor vojt.

Jekk verament nemmnu li f’dan l-istat demokratiku l-istituzzjonijiet għandhom valur, huwa essenzjali li dawn il-vakanzi jimtlew illum qabel għada. F’ġieh is-serjetà fil-ħajja pubblika hemm bżonnhom bla ħafna iktar dewmien.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum 17 ta’ Lulju 2022

Standards Matter

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has just published three reports dealing with various aspects of the integrity of public life in Malta. This was done as part of the EU funded project on “Improving the Integrity and Transparency Framework in Malta”.

The first published report deals with the need to reinforce existing legislation, while the second one deals with the organisational review required at the office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public life. The third report deals with recommendations for the improvement of transparency and integrity in lobbying.

The three reports contain a total of 71 recommendations arrived at by experts and advisors at OECD after having carried out various meetings with stakeholders in Malta. Without in any way diminishing the positive contribution of all three OECD publications I can safely state that the great majority of the recommendations made in the three OECD publications have been present in the local public debate for a considerable time. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored by the parliamentary parties.

I have written on the need to regulate lobbying many times from these columns. Lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process. It needs, however, to be transparent. Two years ago, Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life published a detailed consultation paper on lobbying entitled: Towards the Regulation of lobbying in Malta. Two years down the line nothing has been done to regulate lobbying: his proposals are still being “studied”. Unfortunately, none of the parliamentary parties is remotely interested, so far.

The creation of the office of Commissioner for Standards in Public life was the achievement of a milestone, even though it took too long a time to drive the relevant legislation through Parliament.

The office needs however to be aligned with the Office of the Ombudsman and that of the National Audit Office. Viewed together these are the three essential offices which seek to ensure good governance, in all its aspects, throughout the different levels of public administration.

All three are doing sterling work. They can however do better if they encounter less obstructions whenever they seek information to examine issues at hand. The OECD reports dissect the legislation setting up the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and pinpoint the several areas where improvements are essential in order to ensure that the independence of the Commissioner is protected in practical ways.

Standards matter. 

The Uber files published earlier this week indicate that many other governments and institutions (the EU included) are not up to scratch notwithstanding the at times detailed legislation regulating lobbying. The point being made is that having legislation regulating lobbying on our statute books is not enough: we need the political will to implement it. Many times, this political will is inexistent.

Accountability, transparency and good governance are not just slogans: they are fundamental values which underpin the modern democratic state. The office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the Ombudsman and the National Audit Office are the essential democratic infrastructure to ensure that these fundamental values have strong roots in our institutions.

Around twelve months ago the Ombudsman has signified his intention that he does not desire a renewal of his term of office. His replacement has not been identified yet as a result of the  horse-trading in which the PN and PL are currently engaged in. In the meantime, Dr George Hyzler has been kicked upstairs, being nominated as the Maltese member  at the European Court of Auditors. As a result, very shortly, another vacancy in the Office of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has been created at such a delicate point in time.

If we really believe that, in a democratic state, institutions really matter, it is imperative that these vacancies are addressed at the earliest. Standards matter.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 July 2022

L-annimali, il-moħqrija u l-ikel fuq il-platt

Issa għaddew iktar minn seba’ snin minn meta issejjaħ ir-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li kien inizjattiva ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika flimkien ma’ koalizzjoni ta’ 13-il għaqda ambjentali u tal-ħarsien tal-annimali u li kien intilef b’numru żgħir ħafna ta’ voti. Kultant dan il-proċess demokratiku jerġa’ jissemma’ fl-aħbarijiet u dan billi l-għaqdiet tal-kaċċaturi jridu  jnaqqsu l-aċċess għal dan id-dritt. S’issa, fortunatement, ħadd ma jidher li ta każ tagħhom. Imma ħadd ma jaf jekk l-affarijiet jinbidlux fil-futur!

Flok ma nirrestrinġu l-użu demokratiku tal-għodda tar-referendum għandna nikkunsidraw li nestendu l-użu tiegħu. Sal-lum għandna d-dritt li niġbru l-firem biex jissejjaħ referendum li jipproponi li titħassar liġi jew parti minnha. Għalhekk jissejjaħ referendum “abrogattiv” għax huwa referendum li jħassar ligi jew parti tagħha. Dan id-dritt demokratiku  għandu jkun estiż biex ikun possibli li jittieħdu inizjattivi dwar liġijiet li l-Parlament jevita b’mod kontinwu.  ADPD-The Green Party repetutament ippropona li dan isir bi proposti speċifiċi fil-manifest elettorali. L-aħħar darba li dan sar kien fl- elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2022.

Ir-referendum tal-2015 dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa kien biex jitħassru regolamenti li kienu jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. B’dan il-pass kienet tkun qed tiġi imħarsa l-bijodiversità u dan għax fil-perjodu li l-għasafar ibejtu l-ebda kaċċa ma kienet tkun permessa.   Dan imma ma kienx jindirizza l-ħarsien tal-għasafar b’mod iktar wiesa’. Biex dan ikun jista’ jseħħ teħtieġ li tkun abolita l-kaċċa f’kull żmien. Din fil-fatt kienet, u nifhem li għada, l-posizzjoni ġustifikata tal-għaqdiet li jaħdmu favur l-annimali.

Id-dibattitu lokali dwar il-ħarsien tal-annimali hu sfortunatament limitat għall-annimali li nżommu fid-djar (pets), dawk li jintużaw fir-riċerka, kif ukoll riċentment għaż-żmiemel li jintużaw mal-karozzini. Ittieħdu diversi inizjattivi dwar iż-żwiemel u dan wara ħidma bla waqfien mill-għaqidet li jaħdmu favur il-ħarsien tal-annimali.

Il-mod kif l-industrja tal-agrikultura timxi mal-annimali fl-irziezet hi materja ta’ importanza. Qed jingħata importanza dejjem ikbar fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Riċentement, Alison Bezzina, il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tal-Annimali ippruvat testendi d-diskussjoni dwar dan kollu billi ikkummentat dwar il-konsum tal-ħalib. Il-kummenti tagħha saru fil-Jum Dinji tal-Ħalib (3 ta’ Ġunju). Hi ibbażat il-kummenti tagħha fuq dak li jgħaddu minnu l-baqar li jipproduċu l-ħalib b’mod naturali għall-għoġġiela tagħhom u jispiċċaw jeħdulhom kemm il-ħalib kif ukoll lill-għoġġiela biex jinbiegħ kummerċjalment!  

L-argument dwar il-mod kif nimxu mal-annimali jkompli. Intqal illi kieku l-biċċerija għandha ħitan tal-ħġieg, ħadd iktar ma jiekol laħam. Il-punt hu li l-mod kif jiġi prodott il-laħam jassoġġetta lill-annimali għall-moħrija esaġerata li, kieku tkun magħrufa, tant taħsad nies li kważi ħadd iktar ma jmiss il-laħam b’mod permanenti.

It-trasparenza fil-biċċerija u l-fabbriki tal-annimali hi essenzjali biex ikun assigurat li r-regoli bażiċi li jħarsu lill-annimali mill-moħqrija bla sens qed jiġu osservati.

It-triq mir-razzett sal-mejda tal-ikel hi mimlija bi problemi konnessi mat-trattament ħażin tal-annimali. Li kellna nkunu nafu iktar dak li jseħħ wara l-bibien magħluqin tal-irżieżet jew tal-fabbriki tal-annimali bla dubju jkollna  nibdew naħsbu sewwa dwar l-għażliet tagħna ta’ dak li nieklu. Dawn huma għażliet li ħafna drabi nagħmluhom b’għajnejna magħluqa, bla ħafna ħsieb. Huma għażliet awtomatiċi li ħafna drabi ftit tajna każ ta’ xi jfissru: għax dejjem hekk għamilna.

L-etika dwar dak li nieklu hi estensjoni naturali tad-dibattitu ambjentali. Fil-fatt il-ġustizzja ambjentali u l-ħarsien tal-annimali huma tewmin.

In-numru ta’ dawk li ma jieklux laħam qiegħed jiżdied kif qiegħed jiżdied in-numru ta’ dawk li ma jridux imissu prodotti ġejjin mill-ħalib. Din iż-żieda hi waħda fuq livell globali. Dawn l-għażliet qed isiru fuq konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali, konsiderazzjonijiet dwar ħarsien tal-annimali kif ukoll konsiderazzjonijiet etiċi.

Il-Gvern jippenalizza lil dawk li jagħmlu għazliet etiċi dwar l-ikel. Dan ġie emfasizzat riċentement waqt intervista ta’ Darryl Grima, ambjentalist, veġan u attivist kontra l-qtil tal-annimali għall-ikel. Hu meħtieġ li l-Gvern ma jibqax jippenalizza lil min jagħmel dawn l-għażliet. Darryl Grima jsemmi eżempju wieħed. Il-ħalib hu meqjus bħala prodott tal-ikel u għaldaqstant fuqu ma titħallasx taxxa fuq il-valur miżjud (VAT). Imma l-prodotti li jintużaw bħala alternattivi għall-ħalib ma jitqiesux bħala ikel u allura huma soġġetti għall-VAT. Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel.

Mahatma Gandhi kien jemfasizza li “l-kobor ta’ nazzjon u l-progress morali tiegħu jitkejjel minn kif huwa jittratta lill-annimali.”  Dan jgħodd għal kulħadd, f’kull żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 10 ta’ Lulju 2022

On birds and other animals

It has been seven years since the spring hunting referendum, a Green Party initiative in Malta supported by a coalition of 13 environmental and animal welfare NGOs, was lost by the smallest of margins.  Occasionally we still have public references to that democratic process as the hunting lobby wants to restrict its availability. So far, fortunately, they have not been heeded. One does not however know whether this will remain so.

Rather than restricting the use of a referendum by popular demand one should consider extending it. The right to call an abrogative referendum should be extended to also include a referendum which proposes legislative initiatives. So far, we have the right to take the initiative to delete legislation or part of it, hence the term “abrogative” meaning “to delete”. This democratic right should be extended to make it possible to include the taking of legislative initiatives by the electorate, in particular those initiatives which are continuously avoided by Parliament. ADPD-The Green Party has time and again proposed the matter in its electoral manifesto, including in the manifesto for the 2022 general elections.

The 2015 spring hunting referendum sought to delete from the statute book legislation permitting spring hunting. This would have addressed issues of biodiversity by abolishing hunting during the bird breeding season. The 2015 referendum initiative did not however address issues of animal welfare as in such a case one would have to consider the complete abolition of hunting. This was and in fact still is the valid view of a number of animal welfare NGOs.

The local debate on animal welfare is unfortunately limited to treatment of pets, to animals used in research and relatively recently to the welfare of horses used by the local cabs (karozzini). Various initiatives in this respect have been embarked on in the past years as a result of the persistent lobbying by animal welfare NGOs.

The treatment of farm animals is a basic issue which is not given due weight by the agricultural industry. It is given an ever-increasing importance within the EU.

Recently, Alison Bezzina, the Animal Welfare Commissioner sought to extend the animal welfare debate by challenging the need for milk consumption. She did this in her comments on World Milk Day (3 June) basing her arguments on what cows are made to endure in order to produce milk for human consumption. It was pointed out that access of the new born calves to that same milk which nature provides for their subsistence is diverted to human use!

Extending the argument further, it has been stated by many others that if the abattoir had glass walls none of us would ever eat meat again. The point made being is, to put it mildly, that the process to produce meat for our consumption causes a lot of unnecessary suffering to animals, which, if we are aware of, would put most of us off meat consumption permanently.

Transparency at the abattoir and farm factories is essential in order to ascertain as to whether the basics of animal welfare standards are being adhered to!

From the farm to the fork there are many issues of animal welfare which are continuously ignored by one and all. Being aware as to what goes on behind the closed doors of farms and farm factories would undoubtedly force us to think carefully about our choices of food. Choices which, so far, we take for granted, as they are choices which we consider to be automatic ones and which we rarely think about.

The ethics of what we eat is a natural extension of the environmental debate. In fact, environmental justice and animal welfare are twins.

The number of those who do not eat meat as well as those who do not consume dairy products is on the increase on a global level. Their choices are based on environmental, animal welfare and ethical considerations.

Government penalises those who make ethical choices when it comes to food! This was emphasised recently in an interview by Darryl Grima, an environmentalist, vegan and End the Slaughter campaigner. It is about time that government does not penalise those making such choices. Darryl Grima refers to one example. Dairy milk is considered as food and is therefore not subject to value added tax (VAT). Its substitutes, however, plant-based milks, are still subject to VAT. This is unacceptable and should change.

Mahatma Gandhi used to emphasise that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated”.  This is food for thought: pun intended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 July 2022

Stormwater Management: entrenched incompetence

(photo by author dated 4 October 2018: overflowing sewer at Archbishop Gonzi Square Kalkara)

The Ministry for Public Works and Planning has embarked on another public consultation on stormwater management. I have lost count as to the number of times this exercise has been carried out along the years, directly or indirectly. At the end of the day the authorities continuously develop cold feet as they fail to address the basic issue: enforcement!

The consultation document points to a basic statistic which proves this point: only 36 per cent of dwellings have a water cistern. This notwithstanding that the matter has been codified in our legislation since 1880: that is since the approval of Ordinance I of 1880 by the British colonial government. Before that date most buildings had a water cistern. Everyone was then aware that water in Malta is scarce and all sought to do their part in collecting rainwater. Nowadays no one cares, as long as there is water in the tap!

The consultation document, entitled Green Stormwater Infrastructure Guidance Manual, drawing on Census 2011 information, further points out that it is in the sector of apartment blocks that one finds the largest number of infringements in non-provision of water cisterns. Compliance ranges from 80 per cent in the case of villas to 4 per cent in the case of apartments. On a geographic level it is probably no surprise that Gozo is only 25 per cent compliant!

As is also pointed out by the consultation document the present state of water harvesting is the result of a lack of adequate enforcement. I would emphasise that it is a case of an incompetent, almost inexistent, enforcement. It is very easy to point at developers who try to avoid excavating or constructing water cisterns, reducing his costs and increasing profits. They have a number of accomplices, who ignore this fact and then proceed to certify works as having been completed satisfactorily. In these instances, compliance certificates are issued just the same by the Planning Authority. Likewise, the Water Services Corporation authorises the connection of foul water drains from such developments to the public sewer without generally bothering to ascertain as to where rainwater is being collected or directed.

Rainwater is to be collected in a water cistern which should be fitted with an overflow which directs excess rainwater onto the street. Instead, a number of developments direct all rainwater directly onto the street. At times, unfortunately increasing in frequency, rainwater is disposed of directly into the public sewer.

This is the cause of flooded streets and overflowing sewers with which we are very familiar during and after heavy rainfall.

Enforcement hits hard as non-compliance is widespread. This is the primary reason as to why no government has seriously embarked on tackling this problem. In the past government, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, that is the non-provision of water cisterns, embarked on the drilling of a number of tunnels to facilitate the collection of rainwater and its dumping into the sea. Millions of euros in EU funds were utilised in this exercise, literally money down the drain.  Notwithstanding this misapplication of EU funds, the problem of flooded streets and overflowing sewers is still a common occurrence during and immediately after heavy rainfall.

Having expertly drawn up codes and manuals is generally helpful. It is however no substitute for clear indiscriminate enforcement: no exceptions allowed. It is what we lack. It is the result of clientelism forming an integral part of the philosophy of government and administration. It is a political disease which is not limited to stormwater management but as we all know is spread throughout the public administration.

If those employed to implement our laws, rules and regulations get on with their jobs, the problem of stormwater management would be substantially smaller, and definitely quite manageable!

The basic problem which the consultation document does not discuss is that there is no political will to ensure that simple rules on rainwater harvesting are observed by all. The rest follows.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd July 2022

Ethical pluralism: the next steps

Malta’s divorce referendum in 2011 has reinforced ethical pluralism in the Maltese islands.

The intensive debate on civil rights, IVF and abortion are a direct result of the divorce referendum. All this would not have been possible without the positive 2011 divorce referendum result. Prejudices and inhibitions are being slowly overcome.

The debate on civil rights is substantially settled, even though there is always room for improvement. The IVF debate is works in progress: with the PN having buckled under pressure as a result of Bernard Grech’s U-turn in Parliament on Wednesday, even this debate seems to be on track towards a possible satisfactory conclusion. In particular Bernard Grech rightly discarded the reaction of his health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri.

The next steps relate to the abortion debate.

ADPD – The Green Party is only one of two political parties in Malta to support the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances, that is to say when the pregnant woman’s life is in manifest danger, in respect of a pregnancy which is the result of violence (rape and incest) and in respect of a non-viable pregnancy.

Early this week the Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF) has gone a step further. Through a judicial protest it has taken the State Advocate as well as the Health and the Equality Ministers to task on abortion legislation arguing that current abortion legislation discriminated against all persons who can get pregnant and obstructed them from making choices in their private lives. The judicial protest submitted on behalf of more than 188 potential mothers is the first shot in what promises to be a long drawn up legal battle, right up to Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights, should this be necessary.

The abortion debate has been and will remain highly emotional. To date Malta’s predominantly conservative institutions have been intolerant and have done their utmost to obstruct this debate from developing. This situation cannot and will not last much longer as it is inconceivable in this day and age to further obstruct the co-existence of contrasting values: ethical pluralism is here to stay.

The decriminalisation of abortion and its possible legalisation, irrespective whether limited or otherwise, signifies one basic and important decision. It means that that the state no longer takes the decision on your behalf but rather that you will be able to take your own decision, subject to a regulatory framework which sets reasonable limits.  

It is estimated that around 400 Maltese women every year opt for an abortion. Some go abroad, others take pills, without medical supervision, which pills they receive through the post. Others resort to backstreet abortions. Prohibiting and criminalising abortion only drives it underground, away from the medical services, as a result exposing women to death or serious medical repercussions.

Therapeutic abortion is already permissible in the Maltese islands although this is not that clear in Maltese legislation. The way forward in the debate is to realise that abortion legislation in Malta, first enacted over 160 years ago, is not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul. It requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years.

Decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion in limited circumstances should be the way forward. No woman who opts for an abortion for whatever reason should be subject to criminal law. Any woman in such circumstances needs help, empathy and not state prosecution. This is the way forward.

published in Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 June 2022

Djun tal-PLPN: theddida demokratika

Matul il-ġimgħa l-oħra kien hawn delegazzjoni f’Malta mill-Parlament Ewropew biex tistħarreġ dwar il-progress li sar fil-konfront tas-saltna tad-dritt (rule of law) fil-pajjiż.

Wieħed mill-kummenti li għamlu kien dwar id-djun esaġerati tal-partiti politiċi parlamentari! Iddeskrivewhom bħala ta’ theddida għas-sisien demokratiċi tal-pajjiż. Id-djun akkumulati tal-partiti politiċi parlamentari li jlaħħqu miljuni kbar huma ta’ theddida għad-demokrazija għax jorbtuhom fit-tul mal-karru tal-flus u poġġuhom f’posizzjoni kontinwa kompromettenti.

Aħna mill-ADPD ilna nitkellmu dwar dan u dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ qafas serju ta’ finanzjament pubbliku tal-partiti politiċi.

Madwar tmien snin ilu inħolqot leġislazzjoni dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Liġi li fiha toqob iktar minn passatur.

L-ewwel nett hi l-Kummissjoni Elettorali li tiffunzjona ta’ regolatur f’dan il-qasam. Issa l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi magħmula minn rappresentanti tal-PLPN. Kif jistgħu dawn jirregolaw lilhom infushom?

It-tieni ħallew barra minn dan kollu lill-kumpaniji tal-partiti politiċi. Toqba kbira din għax qed tiġi użata biex d-donazzjonijiet politiċi jinħbew bħala taparsi servizzi li jinxtraw mill-kumpaniji tal-partiti politiċi. Dan ta’ lok għall-każ magħruf bħala tal-invoices foloz jew għall-każ l-ieħor ta’ servizzi fittizji. Meta wieħed iqies li l-kumpanji tal-PLPN ilhom snin kbar ma jippreżentaw l-audited accounts tagħhom wieħed jista’ jifhem iktar kemm huma moħħhom mistrieħ li l-abbużi li qed isiru jibqgħu misturi għal ħafna snin.

Ma’ dan kollu jeħtieġ li nagħtu każ tal-kontijiet li jammontaw għal miljuni f’arretrati tad-dawl u l-ilma mhux imħallsa mill-PN u l-PL u l-kumpaniji tagħhom.  Anke ħlas b’lura tal-VAT għandhom li jmur lura għal ħafna snin.

Ex-Ministru kien iħobb jikkwota qawl Ruman li hemm liġi għall-bnedmin u oħra għall-annimali. Hekk ġiebuh il-pajjiż. Hemm liġi għalihom, li jippretendu li jagħmlu li jridu (u fejn jaqblilhom iħokku dahar xulxin) u oħra għall-bqija, għalina lkoll.

Għalik li iddum ma tħallas il-kont tad-dawl u l-ilma malajr tirċievi theddida ta’ qtugħ tas-servizz. Imma dawn b’miljuni ta’ arretrati jibqgħu għaddejjin qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Hemm bżonn leġislazzjoni sura dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti li tagħti każ dan kollu. M’għandhomx jibqgħu taparsi qed jirregolaw lilhom infushom.

Ikla tajba tiftaħ l-aptit ta’ Bernard Grech

Ikla tajba tiftaħlek l-aptit sewwa. Hekk jidher li ġara lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech f’ikla li kellu waqt il-kampanja elettorali ma’ numru ta’ negozjanti. Hi ikla li għaliha mar bis-sasla biex jiġbor flejjes kbar. Għax għandu bżonn il-miljuni. Ġew imwegħda somom kbar, mid-dehra. Imma jidher li kien hemm ukoll il-kundizzjonijiet.

Intqal li hemm min ried proklama għal tal-familja. Hemm min ried jagħlaq ħalq uħud mill-kandidati tal-PN. Għax qed idejquh!

Diġa saru dikjarazzjonijiet dwar dak li ġara, għax uħud li kienu hemm, għall-ikla, tkellmu.

Il-verità kollha mhux ser inkunu nafuha qabel ma jkun hemm min jgħid l-istorja kollha. S’issa nafu biss biċċiet. Kull min tkellem qal il-biċċa li taqbillu.

Li jkun hemm min jagħmel talbiet lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni bħal dawk li issemmew hu possibli. Li hu ta’ interess pubbliku iżda hu x’wieġeb il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għat-talbiet li sarulu. Kemm dawk (it-talbiet) li nafu bihom kif ukoll dawk li għad ma nafux!

Iċ-ċaħda li saru t-talbiet ma tantx titwemmen. Għalhekk hu iktar importanti li tingħata spjegazzjoni ċara ta’ x’ġara eżattament. Illum jew għada nkunu nafu, imma l-verzjoni li toħroġ bil-mod qatt ma tkun preċiża, dejjem tkun imlewwna. Il-kuluri żejda, kif tafu, ma jagħmlu ġid lil ħadd.

It-trasparenza u l-kontabilità vera jesiġu li Bernard Grech jagħti kont ta’ għemilu. Illum qabel għada.