Il-kontabilità ……….. taħt l-effett tal-loppju

Il-Kummisarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar fl-uffiċċju ta’ l-Ombudsman, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ikkonkluda li mhu affari ta’ ħadd jekk membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jattendux jew le l-laqgħat tal-Bord. Dik biċċa tagħhom: hi responsabbiltà tagħhom dwar kif jaġixxu biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom. Meta għaldaqstant, Jacqueline Gili kienet pprovduta bis-servizz ta’ ajruplan privat biex ikun iffaċilitat li hi tattendi għal-laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha kienet diskussa u approvata l-monstrosità tal-dB Group f’Pembroke kien hemm indħil mhux permissibli fil-proċeduri tal-istess awtorità.

Is-Sur Johann Buttigieg, Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ikkonferma pubblikament li d-deċiżjoni li jġib lil Jacqueline Gili bil-ajruplan privat minn Catania, u jeħodha lura Catania biex tkompli tgawdi l-btala mal-familja tagħha, kienet deċiżjoni tiegħu. F’pajjiż fejn il-governanza tajba hi pprattikata, mhux ipprietkata biss, is-Sur Buttigieg kien jirreżenja immedjatament, inkella kien jitkeċċa bla dewmien hekk kif l-aħbar kienet magħrufa pubblikament. Dan apparti mid-dell kbir li nxteħet fuq il-validità tad-deċżjoni li ttieħdet bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-indħil fil-ħidma tal-Bord.
Imma, huwa fatt magħruf li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar mhiex kapaċi tiddeċiedi fuq kaz daqshekk ċar ta’ tmexxija ħażina. M’għandiex il-kuraġġ li taġixxi.

Ma nistgħux nistennew imġieba mod ieħor. Dawk maħtura fl-awtoritajiet pubbliċi huma kkundizzjonati dwar kif iġibu ruħhom mill-mod kif jaraw lill-politiċi li jkunu ħatruhom iġibu ruħhom. U ngħiduha kif inhi: ma tantx għandhom eżempji tajba fuq xiex jimxu.
L-istorja tal-Panama Papers hi waħda relattivament riċenti. Il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, malli sar jaf li l-Ministru Konrad Mizzi u ċ-Chief of Staff tiegħu Keith Schembri, waqqfu kumpaniji fl-Amerika Ċentrali, fil-Panama, li hi rinomata bħala post fejn taħbi l-flus u tevita t-taxxi, flok ma keċċihom minnufih, qiesu qagħad jiggusthom daqslikieku ma ġara xejn. Dwar x’seta ġara iktar mill-kumpaniji ta’ Mizzi u Schembri u t-tielet kumpanija misterjuża (Egrant), s’issa għad ma nġiebu l-ebda provi. Dan intqal mill-Qrati repetutament, avolja d-deċiżjonijiet tal-Qrati ġew interpretati b’mod li qieshom naddfu lil uħud assoċjati mal-politika minn kull ħtija possibli. Il-fatti huma mod ieħor, kompletament differenti.

S’issa, bla dubju, hemm assenza ta’ provi kredibbli li jindikaw xi ħtija kriminali. Imma ma nistgħux ngħidu l-istess dwar l-imġieba ta’ dawk involuti. Il-provi magħrufa juru bl-iktar mod ċar li tal-inqas hemm imġieba żbaljata u mhix etika u dan minnu nnifsu jiġġustifika sanzjonijiet politiċi.

Dan ma japplikax biss għal dawk il-persuni li huma esposti għall-politika u li issemmew fil-Panama Papers. Japplika ukoll għal xenarji differenti f’kull kamp politiku.

Fuq livell kompletament differenti, jiena diversi drabi għamilt referenza għal tliet rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar ir-responsabbiltajiet politiċi ta’ Jason Azzopardi, ilkoll konnessi mal-amministrazzjoni ta’ art pubblika. F’kull wieħed minn dawn it-tliet rapporti l-ex-Ministru Jason Azzopardi kien iċċensurat b’qawwa kbira. Ilkoll niftakru meta f’Ottubru 2017 waqt laqgħa pubblika tal-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi uffiċjal pubbliku kien xehed li l-ex Ministru Azzopardi kien jaf b’dak kollu li kien għaddej. Imma Jason Azzopardi jibqa’ jilgħabha tal-iblah u jagħmel ta’ birruħu li ma kellux idea dwar dak li kien għaddej madwaru.

L-Opposizzjoni s’issa għadha ma ġegħlitux jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà ta’ għemilu. La ġiegħlet lilu u l-anqas lil oħrajn. Bilfors, f’dan il-kuntest, allura wieħed jistaqsi dwar kif l-Opposizzjoni tippretendi li neħduha bis-serjetà meta tkun kritika ta’ ħaddieħor. Għax l-ewwel u qabel kollox, l-Opposizzjoni għandha tkun kapaċi tapplika għaliha dak li ġustament tippretendi b’insistenza mingħand ħaddieħor.

Sfortunatament il-klassi politika presentment fil-ħatra mhiex kapaċi tipprattika dak li tipprietka. Meta l-partiti politiċi fil-parlament huma b’kuxjenza mraqqda, qiesha taħt l-effett tal-loppju, m’għandniex għalfejn niskantaw b’dak li naraw madwarna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum :13 ta’ Jannar 2019

 

Advertisements

Anesthetised accountability

Earlier this week, the Planning and Environment Commissioner at the Ombudsman’s office held that it is nobody’s business as to whether or not the Planning Authority’s Board members attend Board meetings: this is a matter for their exclusive concern. The provision of a jet plane to encourage and facilitate the attendance of Ms Jacqueline Gili at the PA Board meeting which considered and approved the dB monstrosity at Pembroke is thus considered as an undue interference and influence in the Planning Authority’s operations.

The Planning Authority Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg is on record as having taken the responsibility for the decision to bring Ms Gili over to Malta from Catania by air and facilitating her return to continue her interrupted family holiday.

In a country where good governance is upheld, Mr Buttigieg would have resigned forthwith and, in the absence of such a resignation, he would have been fired on the spot as soon as information on the matter became public knowledge.

In addition one would also have had to deal with the fallout on the validity of the decision so taken as a result of such an undue interference.

It is, however, well known that the Planning Authority is incapable of reacting to such blatant bad governance. It is common knowledge that that it lacks the proverbial balls, making it incapable of acting properly.

But we cannot realistically expect otherwise, because the appointees to public authorities mirror the behaviour of their political masters. We cannot expect accountability from the appointees if those that appoint them continuously try to wriggle out of shouldering their responsibilities. There are, of course, some exceptions.

The Panama Papers saga is recent enough. Instead of firing Minister Konrad Mizzi and his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri on the spot for setting up companies in the Central American tax-haven, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat acted as if nothing of significance ever happened. What could have happened – in addition to the setting up Mizzi’s and Schembri’s companies and the third mysterious one (Egrant) is not so far provable. This has been stated repeatedly by our Courts, although the relative decisions have been repeated misinterpreted as absolving various politically exposed people (PEP) from any wrong doing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no doubt that, so far, there is an absence of proof indicating potential criminal liability. However, as a minimum, there is sufficient proof in the public domain pointing towards both errors of judgement and unethical behaviour which, on its own, is sufficient to justify immediate political sanctions.

This is not only applicable to all the PEP featuring in the Panama Papers saga. It is also applicable to other different scenarios across the political divide.

On a completely different level, I refer to the three reports by Auditor-General concerning the political responsibilities of Jason Azzopardi, all three of which deal with the management of government-owned land. In all three cases, former Minister Jason Azzopardi was heavily censored. I remember when a senior civil servant testified during a sitting of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in October 2017, in public session, that then Minister Azzopardi was aware of all the goings-on. Yet Jason Azzopardi sanctimoniously plays the idiot and feigns ignorance of the goings-on around his desk.

As yet, the Opposition has not yet held him (and others) to account. The Opposition cannot expect to be taken seriously when it rightly censors others before it musters sufficient courage to put its own house in order.

Unfortunately, the political class currently in office is not capable of practising what its preaches. With such anesthetised political parties, it is no wonder that this country has long gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 January 2019

Encouraging the avoidance of paying tax

The issue as to whether or not  Malta is a tax haven has been brought to the fore once again, as a result of the amendment to the Panama Papers Inquiry Report discussed in the European Parliament earlier this week. The defeated amendment would have seen Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands labelled by the European Parliament as “tax havens”.

The matter is much more complex. On the one hand it involves tax competition and on the other hand it is a matter of justice in taxation matters.

As has been repeatedly stated, competition on taxation matters is one of the few areas in which small, as well as peripheral, countries in the European Union have a competitive advantage. Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party is not in favour of loosing this competitive advantage through tax harmonisation in the EU. However, it has to be used in a responsible manner.

The rules permitting the refund of a substantial amount of tax paid by foreign-owned companies based in Malta is one of the main reasons for the current spotlight. This substantial tax refund effectively reduces the tax paid by such companies from 35% to five per cent and is obviously considered very attractive by a number of companies. The basic question that requires a clear answer is how many of these companies are letter-box companies, that is companies which do not have any part of their operations on Maltese soil?

It would be reasonable to encourage companies to base part of their operations in Malta and, as a result, make use of tax advantages. But in respect of those companies which have not moved any part of their operations to Malta, making use of beneficial taxation arrangements is unreasonable and unjust. It leads to such companies avoiding paying tax in the countries in which they create their profits and consequently avoiding their social responsibilities on paying taxes in the countries that are providing them with the very facilities which make it possible for them to create their wealth.

In a nutshell, Malta is providing these companies with the legal framework to avoid their taxation responsibilities in the countries in which they operate through payment of a fraction of these taxes to the Maltese Exchequer. They pocket the rest.

Hiding behind the EU unanimity rule on tax issues will not get us anywhere, as Ireland has learnt in the Apple case. At the end of the day, the situation is not just about  taxation: it also involves competition rules and rules regulating state aid, as the legal infrastructure encouraging the avoidance of taxation is, in effect, a mechanism for state aid. The is also an issue of tax justice, as a result of which tax should be paid where the profits are generated.

Tax competition has a role to play as an important tool that small and peripheral countries in the EU have at their disposal. No one should expect these countries, Malta included, to throw away the small advantage they have, but it should be clear that this should be used responsibly and in no way should it buttress the urge of multinationals to circumvent the national taxation system in the country where their profits are generated.

Profits should be taxed where they are actually generated and not elsewhere. The EU needs to end – once and for all – not only tax evasion but also tax avoidance resulting from loopholes in national taxation rules. For this to happen, the EU member states must not only be vigilant, but they must also refrain from encouraging tax avoidance through the creation of more loopholes.

Tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance seriously will mean that taxes are paid where they are due, thereby funding the services and infrastructure that is required in a modern, civilised society. This can only happen if more companies pay their dues.

Tax competition need not be a race to the bottom.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 December 2017

Xejn m’hu xejn: fir-Republika tal-Banana

The Banana Republic of Malta

 

Għall-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern, jidher li xejn m’hu xejn. Għall-Partit Nazzjonalista fl-Opposizzjoni, fil-pajjiż hawn rieħa taqsam ta’ korruzzjoni li tinxtamm wara kull kantuniera. Tlett snin ilu l-affarijiet kienu bil-maqlub. Dakinnhar għall-Partit Nazzjonalista fil-Gvern kollox kien miexi fuq ir-rubini u għall-Partit Laburista fl-Opposizzjoni l-pajjiz kien qabad it-triq tan-niżla.

Il-vizjoni taż-żewġ partiti politiċi fil-Parlament hi waħda mċajpra. Dak li jagħmlu huma hu kollu tajjeb. Huwa biss dak li tagħmel in-naħa l-oħra li hu ħażin.

Il-Prim Ministru qed jgħidilna li l-Ministru Konrad Mizzi ma għamel xejn ħażin meta akkwista jew irreġistra kumpanija fil-Panama.

Għalfejn ikunu akkwistati jew reġistrati kumpaniji fil-Panama? Jekk tfittxu u taqraw daqsxejn issibu li l-Panama, pajjiż fl-Amerika Ċentrali, huwa ħafna drabi mfittex minn min irid jaħbi l-ġid li jkun akkumula, ikun xi jkun is-sors li minnu dan joriġina. Il-Panama għandha leġislazzjoni finanzjarja żviluppata li tipprovdi fost oħrajn għal eżenzjoni minn kull taxxa lil dawk il-kumpaniji li filwaqt li jkunu reġistrati fil-Panama ma joperawx hemmhekk.

Il-Ministru Konrad Mizzi, u issa żdied miegħu ċ-Ċhief of Staff tal-Prim Ministru Keith Schembri, fil-komunikazzjonijiet tagħhom mal-istampa spjegaw li l-kumpaniji tagħhom (s’issa) la għandhom assi u l-anqas ma għamlu l-ebda transazzjoni. Mizzi qal li l-kumpanija fil-Panama u t-trust assoċjata magħha li qegħda fi New Zealand huma intenzjonati biex jamministraw il-ġid tal-familja fil-waqt li Keith Schembri qed jgħid li da parti tiegħu kellu bżonn alternattiva għal trust preżentement ibbażat f’Malta li l-bank li bħalissa qed jamministrah qed jikkunsidra li jgħaddieh f’idejn ħaddieħor.

L-opinjoni pubblika kemmxet xuftejha għal dawn l-ispjegazzjonijiet għax dawn bl-ebda mod ma jiġġustifikaw il-ħolqien ta’ kumpaniji fil-Panama li ngħiduha kif inhi, iktar huma assoċjati mal-ħabi tal-ġid milli għal xi kwalunkwe skop ieħor. Filwaqt li s’issa ħadd għadu ma ġieb l-ebda prova ta’ xi fondi illeċiti assoċjati ma dawn il-kumpaniji fil-Panama kull min għandu rasu fuq għonqu qed jistaqsi għaliex inħolqot din l-assoċjazzjoni perikoluża minn Mizzi u Schembri.

Tweġiba konvinċenti s’issa ma hemmx. Imma hu ovvju għal kulħadd li l-qasba ma ċċaqċaqx għalxejn.

Il-persuna fil-ħajja pubblika ma tiżbaljax biss meta tikser il-liġi, imma ukoll meta jibgħat messaġġi żbaljati. Hu messaġġ żbaljat dak li qed jibgħatu Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri meta qed jassoċjaw ruħhom mal-Panama, pajjiż li l-Unjoni Ewropea tqiesu bħala tax haven, u mal-ħasil tal-flus maħmuġin. Pajjiż li d-dinja demokratika tqiesu bħala wieħed fejn jinħbew il-flus li joriġinaw minn attività illeċita.

Hu żball oħxon tal-Prim Ministru li ma jara xejn ħażin f’dak li hu għaddej. Dan hu rifless tal-kumpass etiku tal-Prim Ministru, u sfortunatament ukoll il-kumpass etiku tal-amministrazzjoni li hu qiegħed imexxi.

Fi kwalunkwe pajjiż demokratiku ieħor, pajjiż li jirrispetta lilu nnifsu, Konrad Mizzi, anke biss bħala riżultat ta’ dak li hu magħruf s’issa, kien ikun xkupat il-barra mill-Kabinett, illum qabel għada. Minflok inħatar bħala Deputat Mexxej tal-Partit fil-Gvern.

Qed insiru pajjiż fejn xejn m’hu xejn, fejn kollox jgħaddi. Fi ftit kliem sirna qiesna Repubblika tal-Banana f’nofs il-Mediterran.

Sal-ponta ta’ imnieħru

nose2

Għall-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Simon Busuttil, il-mod kif żviluppat l-istorja tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza għall-prezz ta’ €650,000 hi sħaba sewda għax il-Gvern irrombla minn fuq l-Opposizzjoni. Simon Busuttil kompla jgħid li dak li ġara hu ta’ theddida għad-demokrazija.

Il-Gvern wasal għall-konklużjoni li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza  hi mezz tajjeb biex bih jiġbor il-miljuni għal numru ta’ snin, biżżejjed biex ikollu l-mezzi ħalli jiffinanzja l-programm politiku li jrid iwettaq mingħajr ma jżid taxxi. Jidher li ngħata pariri dwar dan kemm mill-konsulenti tiegħu kif ukoll minn dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala lobbyists.

Il-Gvern geżwer il-proposta tiegħu fis-segretezza. Fatt li saħħah l-argument li minkejja d-due diligence kollha li jista’ jkun hemm xorta hemm il-possibilita ta’ karattri mhux mixtieqa li japplikaw għal u jakkwistaw din iċ-ċittadinaza.

Li kieku l-Gvern aċċetta s-suggeriment li jneħħi s-segretezza, proposta li saret mill-Alternattiva Demokratika,  mill-Opposizzjoni, kif ukoll mis-soċjeta’ ċivili, argument qawwi kontra din l-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza kien ikun eliminat.

Il-konsegwenza tal-iskema kif approvata mill-Parlament hi li Malta tidher li biex iddaħħal il-flus hi lesta li tiddefendi l-interessi ta’ min ma jridx jikxef l-identita tiegħu.Issa dan kollu jmur kontra r-reputazzjoni li Malta kisbet tul is-snin bħala ċentru finanzjarju serju u ta’ min jafdah. Sfortunatament din ir-reputazzjoni tajba inevitabilment ser tittappan u dan minħabba li s-segretezza tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza inevitabilment ser tkun assoċjata mal-idea ta’ tax haven. Dan kollu jista’ jwassal għal impatt negattiv fuq is-servizzi finanzjarji li huma ibbażati f’Malta bħala riżultat ta’ din ir-reputazzjoni tajba. B’mod li dak li l-Gvern idaħħal mill-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza jintilef minn banda oħra.

Imbagħad hemm l-issue tal-prinċipji involuti. Fir-realta’ hawnhekk ingħataw messaġġi konfliġġenti. Għax fil-prinċipju hemm qbil maċ-ċittadinanza ekonomika. Id-differenza ta’ opinjoni hi dwar x’inhu meqjus bħala investiment aċċettabbli. Il-Gvern għażel mudell ta’ donazzjoni “żgħira” minn għand numru imdaqqas bħalma hu ipprattikat f’diversi pajjiżi fil-Karibew filwaqt li l-kontro-proposta hi l-mudell Awstrijak ta’ investiment sostanzjali.

Il-kuntrast bejn iż-żewġ mudelli hu li l-mudell li għażel il-Gvern iwassal għall-fondi direttament fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta li dwarhom ikun il-Gvern li jiddeċiedi kif ikunu investiti. Min-naħa l-oħra l-mudell Awstrijak idum iktar biex jagħti r-riżultati. Apparti dan dwar l-investimenti mill-mudell Awstrijak il-Gvern, ftit li xejn ikollu kontroll fuq kif jitħaddem.

Bħalissa l-istampa internazzjonali qed tirrapporta dak li Malta qed toffri għall-bejgħ passaport għall-Unjoni Ewropeja. Nistennew u naraw kif ser jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet u l-konsegwenzi.

L-issue kollha taċ-ċittadinanza hi deċiżjoni politika li ma naqbilx magħha għax hi ibbażata fuq konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ benefiċċju “short term”.  Fil-waqt li l-anqas dan l-impatt “short term” ma hu assigurat għad irridu naraw jekk l-impatt negattiv antiċipat fuq is-servizzi finanzjarji iseħhx. Filwaqt li nixtieq li dan ma jiġrix, issa hu ċar li għandna Gvern li jħares sal-pont ta’ imnieħru.