Wrong messages from the National Audit Office


The National Audit Office (NAO) has recently published its report for 2017. In a democracy, the role of the NAO is of paramount importance. Its role of ascertaining the presence (or absence) of good governance at all levels is crucial in determining the health of the public sector.

The report lists the investigations carried out during 2017 in respect of which separate reports have been published and discussed publicly. These include the annual report on the public accounts, the consolidated annual report on local government, special audits and investigations and performance audits. Last year also saw the publication of a stand-alone report on the results achieved by the three main revenue-generating departments of the government, namely the Inland Revenue Department, the Value Added Tax Department and the Department of Customs.

In his overview, Auditor General Charles Deguara welcomes the positive developments, highlighting the administration’s commitment to implementing the NAO’s recommendations as far as possible. This has been done for two consecutive years and it is to be hoped that it becomes an annual occurrence.

The report explains the efforts made to continuously train the staff, thereby ensuring that, as far as possible, an internal team of experts is available to monitor and investigate as required. This is essential in order that the NAO keeps the administration on its toes.

The NAO, in its present format, was set up 20 years ago. Since 1997, it has been part of Parliament, accountable directly to Parliament. Previously, although technically independent it formed part of the Ministry of Finance.

During the past 20 years, it has had much to do. Its specific investigations are the ones about which we hear the most but the workings of the NAO go much deeper. Its continuous examination of the country’s public accounts, and the recommendations made to fine tune or correct methods of operation are always work in progress.

In order for the NAO to be as effective as possible, it should ensure that it keeps at arm’s length from the administration’s day to day operations. For this reason I was worried when reading in the 2017 report a short list of a number of domestic working groups in which the NAO participated. These range from the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) Implementation Project Board, the Financial Legislation Working Group, the Local Government Good Governance Working Group and others. The NAO should have oversight and not sit around the same table forming part of working groups to implement or draft a proposal for implementation.

Some years back the Auditor-General, together with the Ombudsman and the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, had decided to go beyond their terms of remit and accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to examine the issue of the salaries of MPs and holders of political office. I had taken the Ombudsman Said Pullicino to task about his stand when, together with Arnold Cassola I had met the trio. They then justified their stand by referring to legal advice from the Attorney General’s office and others! The three wise men did not realise that they had compromised their office because they cannot – and should not – switch from being regulators to being advisors, even if temporarily.

The NAO would do well to take a step back, thereby ensuring that it is at arm’s length from the administration. Otherwise it risks sending the wrong messages.


published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 April 2018

The mess created by Franco Debono

The current controversy as to whether it is appropriate for the Electoral Commission to be the authority overseeing the implementation of the Financing of Political Parties Act was anticipated over three years ago.

As far back as February 2014, Alternattiva Demokratika -the Green Party – in reaction to the White Paper published by the government on the regulation of the financing of political parties, had welcomed the initiative but had also queried the choice of the Electoral Commission as the regulating authority. This position was reiterated by  Alternattiva Demokratika in July 2014 when Minister Owen Bonnici and his advisor Franco Debono presented the finalised Bill.

Alternattiva Demokratika has consistently insisted on the identification of an acceptable alternative to the Electoral Commission as the regulating authority. This alternative was identified when the Parliamentary Select Committee on Standards in Public Life agreed to the setting-up of the post of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and on the 24 March 2014 concluded its workings by finalising a Bill for the purpose. This Bill was approved by Parliament on 22 March 2017 and, hopefully, its implementation process will start soon. The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is to be appointed by – and requires the consent of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This ensures that the appointee will be acceptable to everyone.

Alternattiva Demokratika’s position was subsequently adopted by the Nationalist Party, which  presented various amendments to the proposed legislation on party financing at the Parliamentary Committee stage. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, I participated actively in this debate, even in the Parliamentary Committee dealing with Bills, and can attest that Government and its advisors consistently opposed the replacement of the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority of choice.

The author of the basic draft of the Financing of Political Parties Bill, former MP Franco Debono, emphasised that he had modelled his proposal on UK legislation. He refused to consider, at any time, that the basic mechanics that determine the composition of the Maltese Electoral Commission clearly show that his proposal was a non-starter. He even refused to consider that the situation in the UK is completely different, in view of the fact that there is a long-standing tradition of appointing a truly independent Electoral Commission, so much so that very recently the said Commission, after a thorough investigation, fined the Conservative Party the maximum fine permissible at law for proven irregularities in party financial reporting!

In a document published by Alternattiva Demokratika way back in July 2014 to explain its position on the Financing of Political Parties Bill, it was stated that:  “ ……. the manner in which the Electoral Commission is composed, half appointed by Government with the other half appointed by the Opposition (and a Government appointed chairman) places the two parliamentary parties in such a position that they directly control the whole proposed process.”

The fact that the Electoral Commission is a constitutional authority already entrusted with specific duties spelled out in the Constitution is not a valid argument which can in any way justify its selection as the regulatory authority for political party financing. It has to be borne in mind that the only reason why the Electoral Commission carries out its electoral duties adequately is due to the detailed and entrenched legislation which regulates the electoral process, which legislation is so tightly drawn up that it leaves very little, if any, space for political manoeuvring.

The Electoral Commission currently has three complaints on its agenda which point to three infringements of the political party financing legislation. The Labour Party, primarily on the basis of statements by the db Group as well as reports in the press, is insisting that it has proof that the Nationalist Party is circumventing the regulations on political donations by camouflaging them as payment for fake services. The way forward is to have the matter thoroughly investigated. Unfortunately, due to its composition, the Electoral Commission is not and cannot ever be a credible investigating authority.

The PN is thus right to oppose an investigation led by a politically-appointed Electoral Commission and to challenge the matter in Court. Obviously, this may be a convenient way out for the PN, handed to them on a platter by the Labour Government and its advisor Franco Debono.

Alternattiva Demokratika would have preferred it if the law were better drafted without leaving any room for the PN (and possibly Labour too, at a later stage) to wriggle out of its obligations.

This will, however now signify that in these crucial months leading to a general election, the rules regulating party financing will be largely ineffective while the validity of the law is dissected in our Courts of Law.

This is a mess created by Franco Debono who preferred his narcissistic posturing to the identification of reasonable proposals acceptable to all political parties. Whether the government will, at this late stage, seek a reasonable way out is anyone’s guess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 April 2017

Il-finanzjament tal-partiti : id-difett ewlieni fil-liġi


Bħalissa għaddej id-dibattitu dwar jekk il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għandiex tinvestiga l-allegazzjonijiet li nġiebu għall-attenzjoni tagħha dwar nuqqas ta osservanza tal-liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti.

Alternattiva Demokratika sa mill-bidu nett għamlitha ċara li kien żball oħxon li tintgħażel il-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex tħares l-implimentazzjoni tal-liġi. Fdokument dwar l-abbozz ta liġi f’Lulju 2014, Alternattiva Demokratika kienet qalet hekk : 

………….. l-komposizzjoni tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali bnofsha  tinħatar mill-Gvern u bin-nofs l-ieħor tinħatar mill-Oppożizzjoni (bChairman appuntat mill-Gvern) tpoġġi liżżewġ partiti politiċi parlamentari fpożizzjoni li direttament jikkontrollaw il-proċess kollu li qed jiġi propost. Kull partit politiku ieħor, inkluż Alternattiva Demokratika, hu  eskluż minn dan il-proċess.


Alternattiva Demokratika, kif diġa għamlet meta ikkummentat dwar il-White Paper tirreferi għal proposta approvata minn Kumitat Magħżul tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti taħt it-tmexxija tal-iSpeaker. Il-Kumitat Magħżul issa iffinalizza r-rapport tiegħu liema rapport  jinkludi abbozz ta liġi ieħor intitolat: Standards in Public Life Act 2014. Dan l-abbozz  jipprovdi dwar il-ħatra ta Kummissarju u Kumitat Permanenti Parlamentari dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Skond il-klawsola 3 tal-abbozz dwar l-Istandards, il-liġi proposta tapplika għall-Membri tal- Parlament (inkluż Ministri, Segretarji Parlamentari u Assistenti Parlamentari) kif ukoll għal  persuni impjegati fposizzjoni ta fiduċja inkella bħala konsulenti tal-Gvern jew ta xi korp  statutorju. L-istess klawsola 3 tippermetti li l-applikabilita tal-liġi tista titwessa permezz ta  regolamenti li jkunu ikkunsidrati u jiksbu l-appoġġ tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti.

L-abbozz jikkonċerna l-imġieba tal-politiċi eletti fil-Parlament u konsulenti/ħatriet ta fiduċja.

L-awtorità regolatorja hi vestita fKummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li skond kif  tipprovdi l-klawsola 4 tal-istess abbozz jeħtieġ l-approvazzjoni ta mhux inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti biex ikun jista jinħatar.

Il-Kummissarju hekk maħtur hu propost li jkun sorveljat fil-ħidma tiegħu minn Kumitat Permanenti mmexxi mill-iSpeaker u kompost ukoll minn 4 Membri Parlamentari, tnejn min-naħa tal-Gvern u tnejn oħra min-naħa tal-Oppożizzjoni.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li dan ifisser mhux biss garanzija ta serjeta u imparzjalita bil-ħatra ta persuna li tgawdi l-fiduċja ta mhux inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Parlament imma ukoll garanzija ta trasparenza ikbar minħabba li l-laqgħat tal-Kumitat Parlamentari jsiru fil-pubbliku. Il-ħidma li issir għaldaqstant tista ukoll tkun soġġetta biktar faċilita għall-iskrutinju tal-medja.  

Għal dawn ir-raġunijiet Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li l-awtorita regolatorja dwar il-finanzjament tal-politika għandha tkun fil-qafas tal-istruttura li l-Parlament qiegħed jibni bil-mod u bil-paċenzja dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika bl-involviment tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan ikun ferm aħjar mill-istruttura proposta fl-abbozz ta liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi.

Nifhmu li l-idea li l-awtorita regolatorja għall-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali ttieħdet mill-esperjenza tar-Renju Unit. Irridu iżda inżommu quddiem għajnejna li l-esperjenza tar-Renju Unit mgħandha xejn xtaqsam ma dik Maltija fejn tidħol awtorita regolatorja indipendenti. Fil-leġislazzjoni tar-Renju Unit kemm il-proċess elettorali ukoll dak ta sorveljanza tal-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi hu taħt il-lenti tal-House of Commons u l-Kummissarji Elettorali għar-Renju Unit (għaxra bkollox) bkuntrast mal-prattika fMalta ma jistgħux ikunu persuni assoċjati ma partiti politiċi. Dik tagħmel differenza kbira u fundamentali.

Wara li Alternattiva Demokratika kienet ħarget bdin ir-reazzjoni, il-PN kien beda jdoqq l-istess diska.

Imma l-Gvern webbes rasu.


Tista tara id-dokument sħih ippubblikat bil-Malti hawn. Inkella hawn jekk tippreferi taqrah bl-Ingliż.

Is-sistema politika għandha bżonn xokk qawwi

Ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-iffinanzjar tal-partiti politiċi hi ta’ importanza fundamentali fi kwalunkwe soċjeta demokratika. Sa minn meta twaqqfet fl-1989, Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem kienet fuq quddiem nett tinsisti biex il-Parlament japprova l-leġislazzjoni meħtieġa. U meta din il-leġislazzjoni ġiet, tajnieha merħba, avolja setgħet kienet ħafna aħjar.

L-Att dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi m’huwiex biss dwar il-finanzi tal-partiti politiċi. Jistabilixxi wkoll ir-regoli dwar ir-reġistrazzjoni tal-partiti mal-Kummissjoni Elettorali.  Huwa tabilħaqq ironiku li l-Partit Laburista li fil-parlament ippilota din il-leġislazzjoni, naqas milli jirreġistra ruħu sad-data stabbilita. B’dan il-fatt, għal xi raġuni li s’issa għadha mhiex magħrufa, bagħat messaġġ ċar li ried ibiegħed id-data li fiha jkun soġġett għar-regoli bħal ħaddieħor. Kellu żmien iktar minn biżżejjed biex jagħmel l-emendi tekniċi li kienu meħtieġa għall-istatut tiegħu. Imma kaxkar saqajh għal iktar minn sena.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, il-Kummissjoni Elettorali ħabbret illi waqqfet Bord biex jjinvestiga l-allegazzjonijiet li irċeviet dwar nuqqas ta’ osservanza tal-Att dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi. Safejn hu magħruf saru tlett allegazzjonijiet.

L-ewwel allegazzjoni ta’ ksur tal-liġi saret minn Alternattiva Demokratika u kienet dwar il-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Palazz tal-Girgenti. Diġá ktibt dwar dan fil-ħarga tas-26 ta’ Frar ta’ Illum bl-artiklu intitolat Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit. Nhar il-Ġimgħa, Ralph Cassar, Segretarju Ġenerali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kien infurmat bil-miktub mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali li t-talba ta’ AD lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex ikun investigat l-użu mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista tal-Palazz tal-Girgenti kienet mgħoddija lill-Bord ta’ Investigazzjoni.

Tant drajna bl-użu u l-abbuż mill-partiti politiċi l-kbar ta’ propjetá pubblika li kultant ftit nagħtu kaz. Dan jista’ jkun meqjus bħala “abbuż żgħir” ħdejn l-oħrajn presentement fl-aħbarijiet, imma għandu jkun ċar li l-anqas l-iktar ksur minimu tal-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi m’għandu jkun ittollerat.

It-tieni allegazzjoni kienet dik li qed jenfasizza l-Partit Laburista dwar id-donazzjonijiet ta’ Silvio Debono lill-Partit Nazzjonalista.  Silvio Debono kixef dak li ġara b’ritaljazzjoni ovvja għall-kritika li l-PN għamel għat-trasferiment tal-art f’Pembroke bis-soldi. Hija storja ta’ kontijiet possibilment foloz u donazzjonijiet illegali kif fissirt fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-Ħadd li għadda f’Illum. Il-kaz kollu jdur madwar l-eżistenza ta’ dawn il-kontijiet foloz li permezz tagħhom saru donazzjonijiet illegali lill-Partit Nazzjonalista u li għaddew għand il-kumpanija tal-Partit. Jekk il-bord li ser imexxi l-investigazzjoni jingħata dawn il-kontijiet “foloz” li Silvio Debono qal li ħallas fuq talba ta’ diriġenti tal-PN, diffiċli biex nifhem kif il-PN jista’ jevita li jerfa’ ir-responsabbiltá ta’ egħmilu.

It-tielet talba għal investigazzjoni saret mill-PN, kontra l-Partit Laburista. Din tirreferi għal numru ta’ ġurnalisti tal-ONE li ġew magħżula biex jokkupaw posizzjonijiet ta’ fiduċja f’diversi Ministeri jew awtoritajiet. L-ilment tal-PN (li għalkemm fih xi żbalji fl-ismijiet) naħseb li hu sostanzjalment korrett u jirreferi għall-prattika korrotta li biha l-media tal-Partit Laburista hi sussidjata permezz ta’ salarji li joħroġ l-istat, jiġifieri mit-taxxi li nħallsu.

Il-fatt li dawn it-tlett ilmenti/allegazzjonijiet ser ikunu investigati mill-Bord għall-Investigazzjonijiet maħtur mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali huwa pass ‘il quddiem. Kollox ser jiddependi minn dawk magħżula biex imexxu din l-investigazzjoni.

Is-sistema politika tagħna għandha bżonn xokk qawwi biex forsi tiġi f’sensiha. Għax kull wieħed mit-tlett ilmenti hu fil-fehma tiegħi ġustifikat u l-ebda wieħed ma jikkanċella lill-ieħor. Wasal iż-żmien li kemm il-Partit Laburista kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista jinġiebu f’sensihom biex jifhmu li anke huma soġġetti għall-liġi.

Imma forsi qed nistenna wisq mill-Bord Investigattiv!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 19 ta’ Marzu 2017

Shock therapy to the political system



Regulation of the financing of political parties is of fundamental importance in any modern democratic society. Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – has been at the forefront in campaigning for legislation since the day when it was founded way back in 1989. When legislation was finally brought forward it was welcomed, even though it could have been much better.

The Financing of Political Parties Act deals with more than just the financing of political parties. It also establishes the formalities on the basis of which political parties must register with the Electoral Commission. It is indeed ironic that the Labour Party, the political party which piloted this legislation through Parliament, failed to register by the date established in the legislation. In so doing the Labour Party – for some reason as yet unknown – sent an unmistakable message that it wanted to delay its being subject to regulation. It had more than ample time to adjust its Party Statute to bring it in line with the law, but it procrastinated for more than twelve months.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced that it would be setting up a Board to investigate allegations of breaches of the Financing of Political Parties Act that have been brought to its attention. As far as is known there are three such alleged breaches.

The first breach is that brought forward by Alternattiva Demokratika and involves the use of public property by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for holding one of its recent meetings. I have already written about the matter in the 26 February edition of TMIS (Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti). On Friday the Secretary-General of Alternattiva Demokratika Ralph Cassar was informed in writing  that AD’s request for the Electoral Commission to investigate the use of the Girgenti Palace by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group will be taken in hand by the Investigation Board established for the purpose.

We are so used to the use and abuse of public property by the major political parties that it has, over the years, been considered a fait accompli, taken for granted. It may be a “minor abuse” compared to others in the news, but we cannot tolerate even the smallest breach of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The second breach is the one highlighted by the Labour Party regarding the Silvio Debono donations to the Nationalist Party. Silvio Debono has clearly spilled the beans in retaliation to the PN criticism of the ITS land at Pembroke being transferred for peanuts.  It is an issue of fake invoices and tainted donations as described in my article in this newspaper last week. The whole case rests on the existence of possible fake invoices by which illegal donations to the Nationalist Party could have been channelled through its commercial arm. If the investigating board is presented with the fake invoices, which Silvio Debono says he paid on prodding by senior members of the PN leadership, it is difficult to fathom how the PN can avoid carrying the responsibility for the matter.

The third breach has been highlighted by the PN, obviously against the Labour Party. It refers to a number of One journalists who have been selected to occupy positions of trust in various Ministries and authorities. The PN complaint list may have some mistakes, as some names are most probably erroneously listed, but I believe that it is correct to point out this corrupt practice through which the Labour Party media are being subsidised through state salaries – i.e. through the taxes that we pay.

The fact that these three alleged breaches will be investigated under the auspices of the Investigating Board appointed by the Electoral Commission is a step forward. However, it all depends on those selected to carry out the investigation.  I look forward to some shock therapy to the political system as I consider all three complaints to be justified. It is about time that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are brought to their senses and made to realise that they, too, are subject to the law. But then, maybe I am hoping for too much from the Investigating Board!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 March 2017



Il-vit tal-flus taħt investigazzjoni ?

Għamlet tajjeb il-Kummissjoni Elettorali li waqqfet Bord biex jinvestiga l-allegazzjonijiet dwar nuqqas ta osservanza tal-liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi.

Bla dubju, l-kummissjoni innifisha għandha diffikultá biex taġixxi u dan minħabba l-mod kif inhi komposta.

Il-Kummissjoni għandha quddiemha tlett każi xtinvestiga.

L-ewwel kaz hu dak li ressqet l-Alternattiva Demokratika dwar l-użu mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista ta propjetá pubblika għal-laqgħat tiegħu. Bmod partikolari dwar l-użu riċenti tal-Palazz tal-Girgenti għal laqgħa tal-grupp.

It-tieni kaz imressaq mill-Partit Laburista hu dak dwar id-donazzjonijiet mill-kumpaniji ta Silvio Debono li qed jingħad li ġew moħbija taħt invoice jew invoices foloz u li għaddew għand il-kumpanija Media Link Communications tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

It-tielet kaz hu dak li ressaq il-PN li hu huwa dwar kif numru mdaqqas ta persuni li jagħtu kontribut sostanzjali fil-media tal-Partit Laburista huma impjegati mal-Gvern jew korpi governattivi bmod li jidher li dawn qed jitħallsu mill-Gvern waqt li qed jagħmlu xogħol għall-partit!

Bejniethom dawn it-tlett kazi li għandhom ikunu investigati jmissu firxa wiesgħa tal-ħajja pubblika u kull konklużjoni li l-investigazzjoni tista tasal għaliha ser ikollha konsegwenzi gravi.

Nistennew li kulħadd jagħmel dmiru.  

Joseph Church : waħdu fin-nofs



Is-Sur Joseph Church hu l-Kummissarju Elettorali Ewlieni. Huwa uffiċjal pubbliku. Jmexxi l-Kummissjoni Elettorali magħmula minn 9 membri: 4 nominati mill-Prim Ministru, 4 oħra nominati mill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni flimkien mas-Sur Joseph Church.

Meta l-Gvern ippreżenta l-abbozz ta liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi mill-ewwel insista li l-awtoritá li kellha tieħu ħsieb it-twettiq ta dawn l-obbligi kellha tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Il-Gvern insista dwar dan għax il-konsulent legali tiegħu Franco Debono repetutament insista dwar dan. Kienu jgħidu li hekk hi l-liġi Ingliża!

Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem insistiet li kien żball li din ir-responsabbiltá titqiegħed f’ħoġor il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax din, minħabba l-komposizzjoni tagħha, fl-iktar mumenti kritiċi tieħu posizzjoni partiġġjana biċ-Chairman fin-nofs irid jiddeċiedi prattikament hu l-iktar kwistjonijiet jaħarqu.

Franco Debono u Owen Bonnici kienu jgħidu li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali dejjem mexxiet tajjeb l-elezzjonijiet kollha li kellha l-inkarigu li tmexxi. Dawn forsi qatt ma irrealizzaw li l-liġijiet elettorali tant huma dettaljati li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali ftit għandha fejn tiċċaqlaq u anke kieku riedet kważi qatt ma setgħet tagħti deċiżjonijiet differenti milli tat!

Fuq kollox il-Kummissjoni Elettorali Ingliża hi komposta bmod differenti u fiha persuni li huma verament indipendenti. Il-Kummissjoni Elettorali Maltija għandha tmienja minn disa membri li mhumiex u l-anqas qatt ma jistgħu jkunu indipendenti, avolja huma lkoll persuni serji. Hemm ta’ l-inqas tlieta minnhom li kienu kandidati felezzjonijiet ġenerali. Hemm min minnhom anke illum hu direttur ta Korpi Parastatali nnominat mill-Gvern!

Fdawn iċċirkustanzi Alternattiva Demokratika kienet ipproponiet li l-awtoritá dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti għandha tkun fil-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li l-Liġi dwaru ġiet approvata riċentement.

Wara xi żmien li Alternattiva Demokratika kienet ħarġet bdin il-proposta, il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll kien ħareġ idoqq l-istess diska. Imma l-Gvern webbes rasu.

Mela illum tiddeċiedi l-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

Immaġinaw ftit xinhi l-posizzjoni tal-Kummissjoni meta titalab tinvestiga liżżewġ partiti l-kbar. Diġa hawn l-ewwel każijiet u hemm d-diffikultajiet. It-Times qed tirrapporta li wara li ġie diskuss il-każ tal-invoices tal-PN/Silvio Debono hemm membri tal-Kummissjoni li qed joġġezzjonaw li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali tkun hi li tinvestiga u taqta l-każ.

Ovvja, 4 jaqblu u 4 ma jaqblux. U jispiċċa jiddeċiedi ċ-Chairman is-Sur Joseph Church, waħdu, wara li jkun qies il-parir legali li jirċievi.

Dan kollu seta jkun evitat kieku l-Gvern ta każ tal-fehma ta Alternattiva Demokratika li kienet ippreżentata bil-miktub kemm meta ħarġet il-White Paper kif ukoll iktar tard meta ħareġ l-abbozz ta liġi.

Fake invoices and tainted donations



Around three weeks ago Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – requested the Electoral Commission to initiate an investigation into the illicit use of public property by the Labour Party. The case revolved around the use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Girgenti  as a meeting place for the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group. Various members of Cabinet tweeted photos of this Parliamentary Group meeting.

It is not so far known whether the Electoral Commission will be taking any action on the Girgenti matter other than that it was on the agenda for a Commission meeting.

Now another, more serious issue, has cropped up out of the blue. This is due to the very serious claim made by Silvio Debono that he gave a political donation to the Nationalist Party in the amount of about €70,800 which was camouflaged as a payment for services rendered through the production and use of a fake invoice for the purpose. This payment is alleged to have been made in a concealed or disguised manner being intended for the political party but by way of deception it was channelled through the party’s commercial arm.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, counter-claimed that a payment for €70,800 was made but that this was as payment for services “actually” rendered by its commercial arm, Media Link Communications, to two of the companies forming part of DB group, Silvio Debono’s group of companies. However,  at one point the Nationalist Party also declared that it will reimburse the “tainted money” because it will not be compromised.  The Nationalist Party has to chose between its contradictory reactions: is the €70,800 received from Silvio Debono tainted or is it a payment for services?

Silvio Debono claims that he has the fake invoices and the receipts for the amount paid through which he can substantiate his claims. He further stated that no services were rendered to his companies by Media Link Communications.

This allegation strikes a direct hit at transparency and accountability, the very foundation of the legislation regulating political party financing. The claim by Silvio Debono effectively means that donations of substantial sums of money to political parties can possibly continue unchecked, as long as they are properly disguised and provided that those with a finger in the pie keep their mouth shut. If this allegation is proven, it would signify that the regulatory checks and balances serve no purpose, because the commercial arms of the major political parties will be the proven perfect vehicle to circumvent all due process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Commission has the authority to investigate such an allegation, it would normally be very difficult to prove. No political party will ever confirm that it makes use of its commercial arm to circumvent rules and regulations. In fact, earlier this week the Nationalist Party Treasurer stated on PBS that as the person responsible for the party’s finances, he is not aware of the matter. In fact he said that he has never even met Silvio Debono.

Such an allegation can only be proven when the co-conspirator speaks up, as is happening in this particular case, even though, at the time of writing the alleged fake invoices have not been made available for public scrutiny. In actual fact, Silvio Debono is stating that he is aware that he flouted the law as he (or his companies, with his approval) knowingly accepted to settle fake invoices. In so doing, Debono is claiming that he knowingly carried out an exercise through which he gave the Nationalist Party an illegal donation.

The Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate this specific allegation and take the necessary action.

I would go further than that. Is it not about time that political parties are forced to dismantle their commercial activities, which should be the state funding of political parties, subject to strict controls. At the end of the day, this may be the only way forward.

The fact that information on the fake invoices and illegal donations was volunteered by Silvio Debono himself in obvious retaliation to his being the target of PN criticism about his being in receipt of a prime site on the cheap adds to the seriousness of the case. Clearly, while Silvio Debono “invested in the PN”, he has not received the expected dividends. At the end of the day, the pressing question requiring a very urgent answer is to identify the number of additional similar investments by Debono himself, as well as by others. As long as such investments yield suitable dividends, we may possibly  never know the answer.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 March 2017


Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit


Meta nhar it-Tlieta li għadda, jiena u Arnold Cassola iltqajna mas-Sur Joseph Church, il-Kummissarju Elettorali Ewlieni, tkellimna miegħu dwar il-Palazz tal-Girgenti u l-fatt li l-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista għamel użu minnu biex iltaqa hemm.

Għal uħud Alternattiva Demokratika qed tfettaq u tgħaġġibha. Jiena ma naħsibx li dan hu l-każ għax hemm prinċipju importanti ħafna fin-nofs: fejn hi l-linja li tissepara l-partit mill-gvern? Issa jiena konxju li hemm min mhuwiex interessat fil-prinċipji, għax għal uħud, dawn huma burokrazija żejda!

Għandu jkun hemm separazzjoni bejn il-Gvern u l-partit politku li jiffurmah, jew inkella dawn għandhom ikunu ħaġa waħda, jew kważi?  Din hi l-qalba tal-kwistjoni kollha li fil-fehma ta Alternattiva Demokratika teħtieġ li tkun ikkunsidrata battenzjoni kbira.

Il-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti saret biex ikun hemm trasparenza. Saret ukoll biex tiġbed linja ċara dwar dak li jista jsir u dak li ma jistax isir, u dan permezz ta numru ta kontrolli.

Fost affarijiet oħra, l-Att tal-2015 dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi, fl-artiklu 34 tiegħu jgħid li partit politiku ma jistax jaċċetta donazzjoni minn sorsi tal-istat. Mhemmx kif u għaliex, iżda xejn, bla argumenti jew eċċezzjonijiet.

Issa donazzjoni għal-liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi ma tfissirx biss li partit ikun irċieva għotja ta flus. Għax anke jekk jixtri jew jirċievi prodott jew servizz bi prezz ridott, partit politiku jkun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni, u l-valur tad-donazzjoni, fdan il-kaz tkun l-ammont li jkun tnaqqas mill-prezz jew mill-valur tal-oġġett jew servizz. Imma jekk partit politiku jirċievi prodott jew servizz bla ma jħallas xejn għalih ikun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni li tikkonsisti fil-valur sħiħ tal-oġġett jew servizz li jkun qed jirċievi.

Fil-kaz tal-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Girgenti ġara preċiżament hekk. Il-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista ingħata servizz li kien jikkonsisti fl-użu tal-Palazz tal-Inkwiżitur fil-Girgenti biex fih jiltaqgħu, il-bogħod mill-istorbju, u allura biex il-ħidma tagħhom setgħet tagħti l-frott ippjanat. Dan is-servizz ingħata lill-Partit Laburista mill-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru u dan ingħata bla ħlas. Minħabba li ngħata bla ħlas jitqies li huwa donazzjoni.

Il-Prim Ministru ma għandu l-ebda seta’ jagħmel donazzjonijiet ta din ix-xorta. Huwa miżmum milli jagħmel dan minn liġi li ippreżenta l-Gvern immexxi minnu stess fil-Parlament u li daħlet fis-seħħ fl-1 ta Jannar 2016 wara li ġiet approvata. Hemm min qed jargumenta li fil-passat sar l-istess. Probabbilment li dan huwa veru. Imma issa għandna liġi eżattament biex dan ma jerġax isir. Liġi li l-Gvern (ġustament) jiftaħar biha, ħalli mbagħad ikun hu stess li ma josservahiex!

Mhiex ħaġa sabiħa li l-partit u l-Gvern ikunu ħaġa waħda. Meta dan iseħħ, l-anqas ma hu sinjal tajjeb. Ikun ifisser li wasalna fsitwazzjoni li fiha dak li hu tal-pajjiż ikun ikkapparrat mill-ftit. Hekk jibdew il-problemi l-kbar. Jibdew minn affarijiet żgħar li dwarhom jgħidulek biex ma tfettaqx imma imbagħad jinfirxu għal affarijiet ikbar.

Imma jekk ma tkunx tajt kaz fl-affarijiet iżżgħar imbagħad ikun tard wisq.

II-partit fil-Gvern jifforma l-Gvern imma hu separat u distint minnu fkull ħin.

Għalhekk għandha taġixxi malajr il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax is-separazzjoni bejn il-partit u l-istat hu prinċipju sagrosant meta demokrazija parlamentari tkun bsaħħitha.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Frar 2017

Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti


A week ago, during a short break from a very “fruitful” meeting of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister, tweeted a selfie. The selfie included a number of hangers-on who promptly re-tweeted Joseph’s selfie, announcing to one and all that the Labour Party Parliamentary Group was meeting at Girgenti, the Prime Minister’s official residence in the countryside.

In the tweeted selfie, standing in the front row, perched between Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri and Civil Rights Minister Helena Dalli stands Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Cabinet member who around 18 months ago piloted the Financing of Political Parties Act through Parliament  Throughout the past months, the Honourable Owen Bonnici rightly proclaimed this as a milestone. How come his own government and his own political party ignored the implementation of this milestone?

It seems that Joseph, the tweeter from Girgenti, was either not properly advised of the implications of this landmark  legislation or else ignored completely the advice he received.

On Tuesday I visited the offices of the Electoral Commission and met Joseph Church, the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Together with my colleague Arnold Cassola, I drew the attention of Mr Church to the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party was making use of government property contrary to the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta, we requested that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party be investigated for acting against the provisions of the landmark legislation: Joseph Muscat for permitting the use of the Girgenti Palace and the Labour Party for accepting to use it as a venue for one of the meetings of its Parliamentary Group.

As I have already explained during a Press Conference held after the meeting with the Chief Electoral Commissioner, as well as in the daily edition of this newspaper [Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state. TMI 23 February] the use of the Girgenti Palace is deemed to be a donation, which in terms of article 34 of the Financing of Political Parties Act is not permissible to be received by a political party from the state. Joseph Muscat the Prime Minister could not grant such a donation, and Joseph Muscat the Leader of the Labour Party could not accept it.

Unfortunately, this incident communicated by tweet sends a very clear and negative message: that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party consider themselves to be above the law. The law which they rightly described as being a “landmark legislation” was intended to apply to one and all.  Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party seem to think otherwise. In fact, the Labour Party is not even yet registered as a political party as the Electoral Commission, some months back, considered that it does not satisfy the conditions laid down in the legislation.

Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ, as a very basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating the government from the governing political party. This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for an investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

I am informed that the Electoral Commission will be meeting next Wednesday when it is expected to consider the request to investigate Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his political party for ignoring the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.  It is the moment of truth for the Electoral Commission. Eight out of nine of its members are political appointees: four nominated by the Prime Minister and another four nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The ninth member of the Commission is the chairman, a senior civil servant.

It is time for all nine members of the Electoral Commission to stand up and be counted. As a constitutional body, it is the Commission’s duty to defend the values of a modern day parliamentary democracy. Whether it will do so is anybody’s guess. I will definitely not hold my breath.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 February 2017