A fixed-term Parliament

At this point in time, within the party we are discussing our electoral Manifesto for the forthcoming general election. When will it be held: shortly or much later? At the time of writing no official announcement has been made. Maybe by the time this article is printed matters would be clear.

When presenting proposals for the consideration of the ever-pending Constitutional Convention, we had as a party considered the matter in some detail: should the Prime Minister have the discretion to advise on the dissolution of Parliament?  This was one of the “rights” of Kings and Queens which have been inherited by Heads of Government as a result of democratisation. Since independence it has been the Prime Minister’s right in Malta to advise that Parliament be dissolved and that an election be called.

Over two years have now elapsed since we proposed to the Constitutional Convention that Parliament should have a fixed term and that the election date should be fixed.

Such a provision is normally associated with the American experience on the first Tuesday of the month of November: every alternate year electing the House of Representatives, every four years for electing the President and for electing a third of the Senate every two years.

In the United Kingdom the Liberal-Conservative coalition had in 2011 introduced a fixed-term Parliament Act as a result of which, for the first time ever, the Prime Minister’s role in determining the date of dissolution of Parliament and the subsequent holding of a general election were severely curtailed.

Nick Clegg, then Liberal leader and Deputy Prime Minister had, in piloting the relevant act in Parliament, described such a move stripping Prime Ministers of the power to pick election dates to maximise party advantage as a profound reform. He further emphasised that such a reform was essential to restore faith in politics.

The introduction of a constitutional provision for a fixed-term Parliament would entail removing political self-interest from election timing.

Of course, all Prime Ministers, with tears in their eyes, plead national interest whenever they make use of this discretion.

It would be interesting if we could have an explanation as to what “national interest justification” exists for having a snap-election in Malta at this point in time. Robert Abela’s justification could be as follows.

The first reason to justify a snap election is that come January 2022 a criminal jury relative to the failed HSBC hold-up is scheduled. Possible revelations could spot-light the alleged role of senior Labour Party politicians in the planning of this failed hold-up. Probably Robert Abela thinks that having clear information as to who was involved in planning the HSBC hold-up is not in our interest. It is definitely not in the interest of the Labour Party as it could unmask the Labour Party for what it really is: an eye-opener to some!

The second reason to justify a snap election is the turbulent energy market which could play havoc with the costs to generate electricity locally. Given that we import gas through a contract which is to expire shortly, the price of gas used at Delimara to generate electricity will probably sky-rocket. Alternatively, we use the interconnector to tap energy generated on the mainland. The use of the interconnector was very recently curtailed due to the substantial increase in the price of the energy available!  A substantial increase would impact government finances negatively and Robert Abela would prefer not to have this fact in the public domain during an electoral campaign.

The third reason would be the impacts of grey-listing which are bound to increase with time. The longer it takes to take action as per the agreed road-map with the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) the more the impacts. Labour cannot divorce itself from this. They think that having an election out of the way would at least shield Labour from more electoral impacts of grey-listing.

Having a snap election could potentially shield the Labour Party from these and other impacts which could have a substantial political fallout. The snap election will not address these problems, it will just postpone them into the future.

A fixed-term Parliament would do away with all this. Instead of trying to avoid problems it is better to address them head-on.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 October 2021

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

B’power station ġdida, xorta bla elettriku

B’power station ġdida, l-Gvern ta’ Joseph xorta m’għandux elettriku minkejja l-infieq u l-korruzzjoni.

Għaliex? Għax Gvern korrott u inkompetenti.

Qalulna li l-piż tal-elettriku kien kollu fuq l-interconnector, li, meta ġratlu l-ħsara (qalu bl-ankra ta’ vapur) kien qed jintuża għall-massimu possibli. Għax, qalu, li bl-interconnector l-elettriku jiġi orħos. Orħos, jiġifieri, milli jkollna elettriku ġġenerat bil-gass li hemm maħżun fit-tanker fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Għaliex dan?

Għaliex l-elettriku ġġenerat bil-gass hu għola minkejja li l-prezz tal-gass nieżel l-isfel? Għar-raġuni sempliċi li l-klikka ta’ Joseph/Konrad/Keith/Yorgen għamlu ftehim mas-SOCAR tal-Azerbajġan għall-gass bi prezz għoli iffissat fuq tul ta’ żmien, b’mod li illum hu ħafna għola mill-prezz tas-suq.

Mhux bil-fors il-prezz tal-elettriku jkun għola bil-gass milli bl-interconnector?

Dan hu l-prezz tal-korruzzjoni.

Luigi Di Maio’s threat

US President Donald Trump, over breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, unleashed a blistering criticism of Angela Merkel’s government for being too supportive of Russia’s natural gas pipeline, which provides natural gas to various European states. Germany is too dependent on Russian natural gas, said Donald Trump. Is it appropriate for Angela Merkel’s Germany to do away with energy sovereignty and security in this manner? Being too dependent on Putin’s Russia is not on, he suggested.

Malta also may have its energy sovereignty and security hanging by a string.

Only last month we were reminded by Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi di Maio that Malta’s electricity interconnector supply is plugged in at Ragusa on the Sicilian mainland. The comment was made in the context of the savage debate that developed over the rescue operations involving drowning immigrants picked up from the Mediterranean Sea by NGO operated sea vessels.

The Cinque Stelle politician considered it appropriate to use the Ragusa plug-in for political leverage in the same manner that Vladimir Putin makes use of his Russian gas supply, in relation not just to Angela Merkel’s Germany, but to most of the European mainland.

The fact that Malta is at times too dependent on the Ragusa electricity supply makes matters worse. We have undoubtedly lost count over the last months regarding the number of times we have been subjected to an electricity black-out in Malta: the standard explanation being that there was some technical hitch on either side of the Sicilian Channel which was being taken care of.

Malta will shortly have another Sicilian plug-in, this time a gas pipeline most probably at Gela.

Like the electricity interconnector plugged in at Ragusa the gas-pipeline plugged in at Gela will be another commercial undertaking. Malta will be paying for its gas, just as much as it is paying for its electricity.

Luigi Di Maio’s thinly veiled threat was obviously that the existing electricity plug-in at Ragusa was there at the Italian government’s pleasure which could reverse any commitment entered into so far if the Maltese government persists in irritating it.

It is not known whether there was any follow-up to Di Maio’s declaration, accept that the Maltese government closed all ports to NGO-operated vessels and that criminal proceedings were initiated against the MV Lifeline captain on flimsy sea-vessel registration charges.

This is unfortunately in-line with the Di Maio/Salvini philosophy that good Samaritans have to be treated suspiciously.

At the time of writing, another sea vessel with 450 migrants on board is sailing through Malta’s search and rescue area towards Sicily with Matteo Salvini, Minister for the Interior, insisting that Italy’s ports are closed for such vessels.

What next?

Potentially, as a result of the closure of Maltese and Italian ports, this is another developing tragedy. Di Maio’s veiled threat, maybe, has been taken seriously by the Maltese government.

Such incidents send one clear message: the foundations of solidarity as a value have heavily eroded. It has been transformed into a slogan. Solidarity is one of the basic values of the European Union – it is not limited to the EU’s border states. Successive Maltese governments have tried to nudge other EU member states to shoulder this collective responsibility which is currently shouldered disproportionately by the border states. The response from nine members states when the MV Lifeline debacle came to the fore was encouraging, but it is certainly not enough.

Faced with racist and xenophobic overreactions, opting for solidarity is not an easy choice. It would be certainly helpful if more EU states put solidarity into practice. The problem is that not all of them are convinced that this is the only ethical way forward.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 July 2018

It-theddida ta’ Di Maio

Luigi de Maio qalilna li Malta tieħu l-elettriku minn Ragusa imma għalqet il-portijiet tagħha.

Jidher li din hi theddida ċara għal min irid jifhem. Theddida ikkalkulata sewwa għax kif nafu, bħalissa Malta hi dipendenti kważi għal kollox fuq l-elettriku ġej mill-interconnector.

Di Maio qiesu qiegħed jgħidilna li meta jrid jagħlaq il-vit.

Id-diversi drabi li kien hemm il-ħsara fl-interconnector, Malta spiċċat bla elettriku.

U issa?

Kif ser tissarraf din id-dipendenza ta’ Malta fuq l-interconnector?

Wara din it-theddida ta’ Di Maio l-Gvern għandu l-obbligu li jispjega ftit il-posizzjoni eżattament x’inhi.

The Delimara Inquiry: unfinished business

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on May 1, 2010

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Many unanswered questions arise from the National Audit Office (NAO) report entitled Enemalta Corporation Tender for Generating Capacity. The conclusions are certainly damning and with no stretch of the imagination can they be considered as pointing at mere shortcomings.

Was there any corruption involved in the Delimara tender? The NAO report is clear: “The NAO’s inquiry did not come across any hard and conclusive evidence of corruption…” (page 8). In my opinion this means that the evidence of wrongdoing encountered and documented does not lead to a definite conclusion. Evidence is still there awaiting further investigations.

It would be worthwhile to recollect that in the few cases in Malta’s recent history where it was concluded that corruption had been proven this had resulted because someone directly involved had spilt the beans.

As reported in other sections of the press, the commissions in play in connection with the Delimara tender are substantially higher than what is normal in this business. When this is coupled with the lack of cooperation encountered by the NAO during its investigations as well as the selective leakages identified, it is reasonable to conclude that much more could yet be unearthed.

But then there is also a related case of proven corruption: Lahmeyer International (LI), Enemalta’s advisers, were found guilty of corruption relative to two World Bank contracts and, as a result, on November 6, 2006, they were added to the World Bank’s blacklist. The tainted contracts refer to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in respect of which LI had responsibilities for detailed design work, construction supervision, project studies and technical assistance in connection with water delivery tunnels.

LI offered their services to Enemalta in April 2008, 17 months after being included on the World Bank blacklist. Initially, the unsolicited services of LI were refused by Enemalta but one month later someone had second thoughts and their services were accepted. Why?

When queried by the NAO, senior Enemalta officials declared that they were not aware that LI was blacklisted by the World Bank. The NAO report declares (page 115) that it “was not convinced of the explanations given”.

In the meantime, LI is still advising the Malta Resources Authority, which has not yet publicly reacted to the news that its adviser is currently on the World Bank blacklist for corruption. But maybe we will hear about that at some later stage when the energy interconnection between Malta and Sicily is scrutinised.

In my opinion, the fact that Enemalta did not check into LI’s ethical credentials indicates that Enemalta does not consider these to be of any relevance to its operations. This is not a shortcoming but a serious error of judgment.

Some may point fingers at “inexperienced officers” who dealt with the case. Enemalta board has a duty towards taxpayers to ensure that it engages only the best available staff. It was for this reason that, in the past, we were informed of the substantial emoluments being paid to some of the senior officers. We have been reminded that if you employ the best you cannot pay peanuts. Much more than peanuts has been paid but Enemalta has ended up with monkey business just the same!

There is then the issue of changing the rules mid-way through the process. Enemalta had initiated the tendering process in November 2006 through a Request for Proposals. During the adjudication, in January 2008, the government changed the rules relative to the permissible emissions. The NAO states that while this change is permissible in terms of the relative EU Directive (page 22) the tendering process should have been aborted and the tender reissued in view of the fact that the original specifications were based on different emission levels. Such a line of action, says the NAO, would have ensured a greater degree of transparency and equity (page 53).

There are many other issues the report unearths but the space allotted for this article is very limited.

The NAO-led inquiry was a tough job the Auditor General has done honourably. I have no doubt that he will take the criticism by Enemalta’s chairman and members of the Cabinet in his stride. It is, after all, an occupational hazard that goes with his job.

In view of the damning NAO report, in a democracy, the politician responsible for the Enemalta Delimara tender would stand up, accept political responsibility and resign. So far, he has not done so, which means that all Cabinet has now been forced to collectively shoulder the responsibility instead of their colleague. The only positive note is that he has been relieved of his Enemalta duties some weeks ago!

The NAO report is not the end of the story as many answers are still awaited. This is a business yet unfinished.

original article at : The Times