Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Il-lista l-griża: id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Dalgħodu indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar il-kundanna ta’ Malta għal-lista l-griża.

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġ tindifa sħiħa, li għadha ma saritx. Għall perjodu twil il-Gvern Malti injora l-kuxjenza nazzjonali f’Malta stess, inkluż kritika interna tal-fasla tas-sistema finanzjarja ta’ Malta u l-abbużi u l-involviment kriminali ta’ uffiċċjali għolja u ta’ xi politiċi. Kellu jistenna l-kritika tal-barranin biex jiċċaqlaq?

Ninsabu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tagħha, minkejja li din kienet mistennija. Imma ma kienx meħtieġ li jkunu l-istituzzjonijiet barranin li jiġbdulna widnejna li l-affarijiet f’Malta mhumiex mexjin sew.  Aħna stess ilna niġbdu l-attenzjoni li l-affarijiet mhux sejrin sew fis-sistema finanzjarja.

Huwa veru li matul l-aħħar xhur ittieħedu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafas regolatorju kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-kriminalità organizzata. Il-problema però hi li mhux kulħadd hu konvint li dan sar b’konvinzjoni favur tmexxija b’integrità. Għad jeżisti dubju dwar jekk dak li sar hux biss reazzjoni għas-sensittivitajiet tal-komunità internazzjonali. Għax, sfortunatament, drajna wisq għal snin twal b’istituzzjoniiet li ma jaħdmux.

Li f’daqqa waħda l-pulizija bdiet tieħu passi f’kazijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus ma jħassarx il-fatt li għal snin sħaħ il-korp tal-Pulizija kien miżmum milli jaġixxi billi diversi uffiċjali tiegħu kienu fil-but tal-kriminali. Huwa dan li wassal biex għal snin twal kellna infurzar żero. Dak li sa ftit ilu kien biss suspett illum il-ġurnata hu konfermat bl-ismijiet li jaf bihom kulħadd.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Dakinhar il-Parlament messu ta messaġġ qawwi favur is-serjetà. Minflok imma, ħareġ messaġġ favur il-ħmieg.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Laħqet saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-gvern u l-istituzzjonijiet imnawwra f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se jħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern u l-Oppożizzjoni matul is-snin żviluppaw dak li jsejħu “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju li jagħmilha possibbli għall-użu ta’ Malta bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-bejgħ tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun fdata. Ir-reputazzjoni ħażina li sfortunatament għandha Malta illum fuq livell internazzjonali ma ġietx mix-xejn. Żviluppat bħala riżultat tal-fatt li l-Gvern naqas tul is-snin li jimxi sewwa. Il-messaġġ ċar li ngħata kien li l-Gvern kien jipproteġi l-kriminalità.

Il-kliem sabiħ li qed jingħad illum favur il-governanza tajba jikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal tul is-snin passati. Il-Prim Ministru tal-lum Robert Abela dejjem enfasizza li l-Gvern immexxi minnu hu wieħed ta’ kontinwità. Wara kollox Robert Abela kien il-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat u sa ċertu punt irid jerfa’ ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika għas-sitwazzjoni tal-lum.

Ir-responsabbiltà politika għall-qagħda attwali trid tintrefa ukoll mill-Professur Edward Scicluna eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li kellu responsabbiltà politika dwar l-istituzzjonijiet li suppost ħadmu kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Huwa stess preżentement hu soġġett għal investigazzjoni kriminali. Imma flok ma mar jistaħba ngħata premju  għal dak li għamel billi nħatar Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali.

Ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jagħtu messaġġ ċar: li ma hawnx serjetà fit-tmexxija tal-pajjiż. Ikun aħjar jekk flok id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar dak li qed jiġri issir tindifa sħiħa. Tindifa meħtieġa b’urgenza li s’issa għadha ma saritx.

Another fake consultation

Reading through the Green Paper entitled “Towards Cleaner Vehicles on Our Roads” it is evident that this consultation process is flawed. After being 4 years in the making, instead of proposing solutions it just asks questions which should have been answered by the Green Paper itself as part of the consultation process.

This is symptomatic of a government which has been continuously emitting conflicting signals on transport issues. The Green Paper recognises the obvious when it states that transport combustion emissions increased by 86 per cent over the period 1990-2018. The massive investment in unnecessary road infrastructure has been a major contributor in this respect, a point which is conveniently ignored by the Green Paper.

The proposed shift to cleaner vehicles on our roads is welcome, but on its own it is not sufficient. This measure will definitely reduce combustion emissions. It will however also shift the said emissions from our roads to the sources of the electrical energy used to electrify our roads. Knowing that government is planning to install a second interconnector to the Sicilian mainland for the supply of electricity it is clear that part of the emissions will be shifted 80 kilometres to the north, the rest to Delimara. It is still unclear how this will be reflected in the price we pay for electricity, as information on the matter is conveniently absent from the Green Paper.

The Green Paper rightly discusses the need to upgrade the skills of the technical personnel required in servicing and maintaining electric and hybrid vehicles. It also points towards the need for substantial investments in the infrastructure required particularly for charging points. However, it fails to address a number of points of controversy which require urgent resolution and should have been addressed through this consultation process.

The consumption of petrol and diesel is bound to decrease as a result of the drive towards the electrification of our roads. The rate of decrease of fuel consumption will depend on the manner in which the electrification exercise will proceed throughout the transition period. Why then has no moratorium been announced on the development and construction of new fuel stations? A number of controversial applications for fuel stations are still burdening the land use planning process when it should be crystal clear to all that in view of the electrification process, they will no longer be required. The consultation process is conveniently silent on the matter thereby encouraging unnecessary pressures on the planning process.

Simultaneously it is pertinent to point out that the sale of fuel contributes a substantial income to the exchequer which income will now slowly taper to near zero through the transition period. The Green Paper fails to volunteer information in this respect. How will this substantial income be substituted? Will the electrification process itself provide the substitute financial resources or will other areas of activity be tapped to make good? The amounts involved are substantial. In fact, the budgetary estimates for 2021 indicate a projected income of €154 million from excise duties on petroleum products. What are government plans for the substitution of this income? The Green Paper is once more completely silent on the matter.

The Green Paper refers to Low Emission Zones but it does not have the courage to make specific proposals. It is imperative that the transition period from now until the full electrification of our roads gradually adopts the identification of Low Emission Zones within which internal combustion engine vehicles will have a prohibited access. The Green Paper fails in this respect too.

The Green Paper refers to two studies which have been commissioned by the Cleaner Vehicles Commission on the electrification of our roads. These studies are not however available to inform this public consultation.

Notwithstanding having been announced four years ago, with ample time for preparation, this consultation process is deficient. It fails to address the basics: it fails to inform. It is a fake consultation.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 June 2021

L-abort: nippruvaw niddiskutu bil-kalma

Id-dibattitu dwar l-abort hu wieħed emottiv. L-insulti u t-tgħajjir li għaddejjin huma bla limitu. Huwa f’din l-atmosfera li qed issir id-diskussjoni. Ċerti nies ma jitgħallmu qatt.

Id-dibattitu huwa ibbażat fuq l-istess punt fundamentali tad-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju: fil-pajjiż jirrenja l-pluraliżmu etiku. Jiġifieri jeżistu valuri kuntrastanti. Kuntrasti li ilhom jinbnew ftit ftit tul is-snin imma li ġew moħbija mil-lenti pubblika. Id-diskussjoni kienet waħda ipprojibita. Ma saritx minħabba l-biża’ minn soċjetà intolleranti, frott tal-fundamentaliżmu li għixna fih għal ħafna snin. Is-soċjetà tagħna illum żviluppat f’soċjetà lajka li immanifestat ruħha fir-referendum dwar id-divorzju u fl-aċċettazzjoni tad-drittijiet LGBTIQ.

Mhux kull abort hu xorta. Mhuwiex ġustifikat li taqbad l-“agħar każ ta’ abort” u tuża lilu bħala eżempju.

Il-kampanja kontra l-abort hi iffukata fuq abort bla limitu li ma jeżisti kważi mkien. Fuq l-iktar każ estrem, kontinwament jinbena argument li jappella għall-emozzjonijiet flok għar-raġuni. Argument li jbezza’ lil uħud imma li ma jikkonvinċix lill-kotra li kapaċi taħseb b’moħħa.

Il-kampanja favur id-dritt tal-għażla (pro-choice) min-naħa l-oħra tagħmlu l-argument li mara għandha dritt li tagħżel dak li trid, x’ħin trid u bla ma jindaħlilha ħadd. Dan jinkludi dritt li tagħżel jekk u meta tidħol għal abort. Argument neoliberali fejn il-libertà individwali m’għandhiex limiti.

Id-dibattitu hu kuntrast bejn dawn iż-żewġ estremi. Id-djalogu min-naħa l-oħra taf twasslek x’imkien ieħor li jkun aċċettat abort f’każijiet limitati fejn is-sens komun jgħidlek li dan hu ġustifikat. L-argumenti emottivi dan kollu jinjorawh u allura jimminaw d-diskussjoni matura li tant neħtieġu f’dan il-pajjiż. Il-pajjiż ma jeħtiegx l-abort bħala stil ta’ ħajja imma l-abort bħala rimedju f’ċirkustanzi straordinarji.

F’Malta l-abort isir. Jagħmluh n-nisa li jixtru pilloli online u jeħduhom mingħajr ma jikkonsultaw tabib, bil-kumplikazzjonijiet kollha possibli. Ma teżistix statistika dwar kemm minnhom jidħlu l-isptar bħala riżultat ta’ dan.

L-abort isir ukoll fl-isptar Mater Dei f’ċirkustanzi fejn tittieħed azzjoni biex tkun imħarsa l-ħajja ta’ nisa tqal li jiffaċċjaw kumplikazzjonijiet fit-tqala. Riċentment kellna l-polemika dwar t-tqala magħrufa bħala “ectopic”, jiġifieri meta l-bajda ffertilizzata teħel f’tubu intern fil-mara. Dan it-tubu (Fallopian tube) hu żgħir u jekk ma tittieħed l-ebda ażżjoni jinfaqa’ u jipperikola l-ħajja tal-mara tqila.

Il-kura li tingħata f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hi mediċina li taqla’ l-bajda iffertilizzata minn mat-tubu u tarmiha. Jekk dan idum ma jseħħ jikber il-periklu u tkun meħtieġa operazzjoni. Fiż-żewġ każi dan hu abort li bħalu jsiru numru kull sena f’Mater Dei. Imma ħadd ma jgħid xejn, għax kulħadd jaċċetta li dan hu intervent meħtieġ, anke jekk il-liġi tqis din is-sitwazzjoni bħala illegali.

Hu ċar li l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta, fil-parti l-kbira taċċetta l-abort meta dan hu meħtieġ biex iħares il-ħajja tal-mara. Meta tiddiskuti bosta jaslu biex jaċċettaw li l-abort f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu tollerabbli.

Hemm ċirkustanzi oħra fejn l-abort hu inqas kontroversjali. Qed nirreferi għal meta jsir abort f’kaz ta’ stupru jew f’każ ta’ inċest. Fejn it-tqala hi sfurzata, bi vjolenza, hu ġustifikat li jsir abort preferibilment fil-fażi l-iktar kmieni possibli tat-tqala. Mara li għaddiet minn vjolenza ma tistax issib il-liġi bojja lesta biex tikkastigha, għax inkella tispiċċa soġġetta għal vjolenza doppja.

Xi żmien ilu ktibt artiklu fejn kont ikkumentajt dwar il-fatt li hawn min fil-fażi inizjali tat-tqala jagħmel xi testijiet u jekk minnhom jirriżulta xi difetti fil-fetu, il-mara tirrikorri għal abort. Dan mhux aċċettabbli. Imma mhux biżżejjed li ngħidu hekk. Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu lil min jagħmel din l-għażla u nistaqsu jekk parti mir-raġuni hijiex soċjetà li ma tindukrax biżżejjed familji li jgħaddu minn sitwazzjonijiet ta’ disabililtà. Minkejja li sar progress kbir xorta għad hawn nuqqas enormi kemm ta’ komprensjoni kif ukoll ta’ għajnuna iffukata lejn min għandu bżonnha.

Xi kultant naqraw b’min jirrikorri għal abort għax it-tqala u t-twelid jitqiesu xkiel għall-iżvilupp tal-karriera! Hemm soluzzjonijiet diversi għal dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi, minn edukazzjoni aħjar dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva għal sens ikbar ta’ responsabbilta’ mhux biss tal-mara imma wkoll tar-raġel.

L-aħħar eżempju huwa fejn issir għażla favur l-abort minħabba l-faqar. Jintqal li hawn każi fejn il-mezzi ta’ familja huma tant ristretti li ma jifilħux għal wild ieħor. Anke hawn hemm soluzzjonijiet li minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ dibattitu pubbliku ftit li xejn jiġu esplorati. Irridu nindirizzaw l-għerq tal-faqar u mhux il-konsegwenzi tiegħu. Inkella nibqgħu fejn konna. Anke hawn in-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar is-saħħa riproduttiva hu enormi.

Mhux in-nisa biss jeħtieġilhom jitgħallmu iktar imma anke l-irġiel għandhom ħtieġa kbira għal dan: uħud jeħtieġu doża iktar qawwija ta’ rispett u sens ta’ responsabbiltà.

Id-dekriminalizzazzjoni, almenu f’ċerta aspetti, hi parti essenzjali mit-tibdil meħtieġ. L-ebda mara m’għandha tkun soġġetta għal passi kriminali għax ħadet il-pilloli li waslulha bil-posta inkella għax irrikorriet b’xi mod għall-abort wara vjolenza li taqqlitha. Il-mara li tagħmel abort hi ukoll vittma hi stess u teħtieġ l-għajnuna u mhux is-swat tal-liġi.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-proposta ta’ Marlene Farrugia iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha ser isservi biex taċċellera d-dibattitu pubbliku. Imma jkolli ngħid li saret ftit bil-għaġġla u hija nieqsa minn preparazzjoni pubblika dwarha.

Neħtieġu dibattitu kalm għax hu b’hekk biss li nistgħu nifhmu iktar lil xulxin. Dan hu dibattitu li mhux ser jispiċċa fi ftit ġranet iżda ser idum. Jekk ma nagħmluħx bil-kalma ma nkunu wasalna mkien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’Mejju 2021

The abortion debate

The abortion debate is very emotional. Many insults are flying around. Some, unfortunately never learn.

The basic premise underlying the abortion debate is identical to that of the divorce debate: ethical pluralism reigns. Meaning that different values and attitudes co-exist. It is a clash of values that has been building up over a number of years, far away from the public eye.  Discussion has been continuously postponed due to the fear generated by an intolerant society founded on fundamentalism. A lay society has in the meantime developed and manifested itself clearly in the divorce referendum and subsequent acceptance of LGBTIQ rights.

It is incorrect to select “the worst” type of abortion and presenting it as the prototype

The “pro-life” campaign against abortion is focusing on “abortion on demand” which practically does not exist anywhere and presenting this as the prototype.  On this basis the campaign propagates an emotionally charged message instead of appealing to a reasoned approach. A message aimed at instilling extreme fear even though it is not the least convincing.

The pro-choice campaign on the other hand argues that a woman has the right to determine her choices without interference from anyone. This includes the right to determine if and when to have an abortion. This is a neo-liberal attitude which considers that there are no limits to individual liberty.

The debate is a contrast between these two extremes. Dialogue, on the other hand, leads you elsewhere, considering the exceptional circumstances in which an abortion may be justified. The emotional arguments ignore all this thereby undermining the mature discussion which this country has a right to. The country does not require abortion as a lifestyle: rather it is required as a remedy in extraordinary circumstances.

Abortion is practised in Malta. It is practised by women who purchase abortion pills online which they take without medical direction. All sorts of medical complications arise.  No statistics are available as to the number of those who require hospitalisation as a result.

Abortion is carried out at Mater Dei Hospital in circumstances to safeguard the life of women who face serious complications at some point in their pregnancy.  Recently the press highlighted the controversy on ectopic pregnancies, that is when a fertilised ovum is lodged in the female Fallopian tube. If left untreated this leads to a rupture of the said tube thereby placing the life of the pregnant woman in extreme danger.  

The medicine administered in such cases serves to dislodge the fertilised ovum which is subsequently discharged. If there is a delay in administering the medicine, or if this is ineffective, a physical intervention (surgery) would be essential.  In both circumstances this is an abortion which is carried out a number of times annually in the state hospital. However, no one ever complains as it is considered by all as a necessary and essential intervention, even if the law considers this as an illegal situation.

It is clear to all that public opinion in Malta generally accepts abortion when this is carried out to address the danger to the life of a pregnant woman.. At the end of the day in these circumstances abortion is tolerated.  

There are other circumstances when abortion is acceptable. I refer to cases of rape or incest. When a pregnancy is the result of violence, an abortion, preferably in the earliest possible stages of a pregnancy is acceptable.  A woman who has been subjected to violence should find comfort in the law otherwise she would be subject to violence for a second time.

Some time back I had written an article about tests being carried out in order to identify specific abnormalities in the foetus. In such cases depending on the results of the tests, abortions are being carried out.

This selectivity is definitely unacceptable. However, one must look beyond this and try to understand the underlying reasons for such choices. One would immediately understand that the prospective parent/s are making a forceful statement that notwithstanding existing help they feel that they are not able to shoulder the burden of the indicated disability. Notwithstanding the substantial progress registered over the years there are still substantial gaps. Parents feel this much more than anyone else. 

Occasionally we read about abortion resorted to in order not to endanger career development.  There are alternatives to such a course of action starting from education on reproductive health which ought to instil a greater sense of responsibility in both man and woman.

Poverty is another situation which may lead to opting for an abortion. It has been asserted that in circumstances of poverty a woman may opt for an abortion. Alternatives exist even in such circumstances: these have however been ignored.   It is poverty which has to be addressed and not its consequences.  Even in these circumstances the impact of a lack of education on reproductive health is glaring.  

Providing adequate reproductive health education would in the long run lead to less abortions.  This is required not just by women but also by men who generally require a greater sense of responsibility.

Decriminalisation is central to the change required. No woman should be subject to criminal action for making use of abortion pills which she receives through the post or for opting for an abortion after being violently impregnated. Women who opt for abortion are themselves victims who should find full protection of the law and not be criminalised.

In the light of the above the proposals put forward by Marlene Farrugia earlier this week will aid the development of the public debate.  Unfortunately matters were done somewhat in a hurry as the public was not prepared for these developments. But maybe shocking the public was part of the strategy!

We require a calm debate as this is the only manner in which we can clearly understand each other’s arguments. This is a debate that will not be over in a few days.  Being rational and calm is the least we can do.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 May 2021

ERA’s accountability: keeping up the pressure

On Tuesday, slightly after 11am I received a telephone call from the EIA office at the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) informing me that the Waste to Energy (WtE) Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been resubmitted for public consultation by Wasteserv.

Last October I had presented a number of submissions in response to the Waste to Energy EIA. Hence being informed by ERA of this latest development.

Exchanges between ERA and Wasteserv on the matter are not in the public domain. However, from the various reports in the media one can draw a fairly accurate picture as to what has transpired between 23 December 2020, when the “original” EIA was subject to an online public hearing and last Monday when the ERA website made the “new” EIA available for the latest round of public consultation. The minutes of the public hearing are available on the ERA website.

ERA has rejected the original EIA submitted by Wasteserv and sent it back to the drawing board.

Some may rejoice that ERA has, for the first time ever, rejected an EIA. It would, in my view, be more pertinent to ask why ERA has taken so long to assert its authority.  It has been hibernating for too long a time. There were many instances in the past when it should have acted similarly but it did not. That is an issue worth examining in depth. In particular ERA needs a thorough overhaul of the procedures in use for the vetting of EIA experts and coordinators.

Notwithstanding, I believe that ERA’s rejection of the original WtE EIA is a positive first. It is an encouraging sign that the environmental lobby’s work is bearing fruit. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that all public authorities get to their senses the soonest. They must realise that the public is fed up with authorities that are generally insensitive to good governance.

From the various press reports it has transpired that ERA’s instructions to Wasteserv were that the EIA had to be drawn up again without making use of the services of Engineer Mario Schembri, the coordinator of the original EIA. ERA issued this instruction in order to address my submissions that Engineer Schembri’s involvement at various levels of the waste management industry in Malta constituted a conflict of interest as a result of which he could be neither independent nor impartial as an EIA coordinator, as is clearly spelt out in sub-regulation 17(2) of the EIA Regulations.

Did ERA need to be in receipt of such submissions in order to act? The relative information is public knowledge and has been so for quite some time: ERA could and should have acted on its own initiative long ago!

I had also pointed out that the EIA documentation submitted under the direction of coordinator Engineer Mario Schembri was incomplete as it quoted relevant reports which were not made available to the public to be scrutinised as part of the public consultation exercise. These reports dealt with the site selection exercise for the WtE project, a major issue of controversy. No explanation was ever forthcoming for this omission. However, I note that the “new” EIA now includes both “missing” reports.  The first report was drawn up in December 2015 while the second one was drawn up in December 2019.

The next steps require an analysis of the coordinated assessment submitted by the new coordinator Dr Joe Doublet specifically in order to identify and assess the difference in his assessment of the technical studies which are being resubmitted. The coordinated assessment by Dr Joe Doublet runs into 507 pages. Its perusal will therefore take some time!

This should lead to considering the extent to which the submitted studies together with the new coordinated assessment address the concerns of stakeholders thereby ensuring that the country’s environmental objectives can be met without subjecting anyone to unnecessary impacts and/or hardships.

Various stakeholders have so far, to their credit, spoken up.

It is up to the environment lobby to ensure that Wastserv’s proposed operations are properly scrutinised. This is the purpose of the EIA process which is managed by ERA.

The current public debate is one way of being sure that ERA’s accountability to the public is real, not fake. This is the only way that the whole community can be protected.

I will keep up the pressure, holding ERA continuously to account for its shortcomings.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 May 2021

The last straw

The situation is now unbearable. The discriminatory gender mechanism introduced in the Constitution by consent of the PNPL duopoly is definitely the last straw. The PNPL duopoly have now been at it for quite some time: they are undermining our very democracy.

Some years back they introduced the proportionality adjustment mechanism in the Constitution. They fine-tuned it over the years. Yet it is only applicable when just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third party makes it to parliament the Constitution ceases to guarantee proportionality except to the one party which obtains over fifty per cent of the votes in a general election. All the others are excluded from benefitting from the proportionality adjustment mechanism.

Act XXII of 2021, given the Presidential assent on the 20 April 2021, introduces another adjustment mechanism to general election results. It is a gender adjustment mechanism and is likewise applicable when candidates of two political parties make it to Parliament.

Twelve additional members of Parliament will be added from the under-represented sex. These will “be apportioned equally between the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”. There is no provision for the applicability of the gender adjustment mechanism when parliament is made up of more than two political parties.

Way back in March 2019 government had set up a “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” which was entrusted to draw up proposals on the need to achieve gender balance in parliament. In July of the same year, after an exercise in public consultation, this Technical Committee published its findings and final proposals.

The Technical Committee in its report acknowledges the receipt of a position paper submitted by the Maltese Green Party which emphasised the need of a “broader electoral reform” than the one under consideration. Unfortunately, the Technical Committee failed to engage and discuss the only alternative submitted to its entrenched position. An alternative which could possibly have delivered a solution without creating additional discrimination was ignored completely.

The Technical Committee’s proposal, which was eventually adopted by parliament, adds another layer of discrimination to our electoral laws. To date proportionality is only constitutionally guaranteed to political parties in a two-party parliament.  The second layer of discrimination will likewise guarantee a gender balance only when two political parties are present in parliament.

Encouraging gender balance is an important objective which I and all my colleagues share. It cannot however be the cause of creating further discrimination in our electoral legislation. This was a unique opportunity which could have been utilised by the so-called “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” to eradicate the existent electoral discrimination rather than further strengthen it. As a result, the Technical Committee ended up strengthening the existent parliamentary duopoly.

It is unacceptable that the electoral law treats us differently from the large parties. Equality before the law is supposed to be a basic democratic principle underpinning all legislation.

The electoral system has been treating us unfairly for too long a time. Adding further to this unfairness is definitely the last straw. It is now time to address this unfairness head-on and possibly settle matters once and for all.

With this in mind we are planning to challenge constitutionally the two adjustment electoral mechanisms as both of them are designed to function as discriminatory tools.

It is however possible to have both proportionality and gender balance in our parliament without making use of discriminatory action.

Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver fairness in our electoral system. The Courts are our only remaining hope to address and remove discrimination from electoral legislation.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 April 2021

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