Regulating lobbying

When Parliament, some years back, approved the Standards in Public Life legislation it did not arrive at any conclusions on the regulation of lobbying. It postponed consideration of this important matter by delegating the matter to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – then still to be appointed. The Commissioner had to draft a set of lobbying guidelines.

It is now almost two years since the publication by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life of a consultation document entitled “Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Maltain which document Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner, outlines his views as to how lobbying should be regulated in Malta.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has requested technical support from the EU’s Directorate General for Structural Reform in the area of “public integrity”. A technical support team from OECD engaged by the EU is currently in Malta to assist and advise the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.  I have had the opportunity of a very fruitful discussion with one of the OECD lobbying experts earlier during the week.

Hopefully in the weeks ahead the Commissioner will be in a position to submit a clear proposal indicating the way ahead for regulating lobbying in Malta.

In his consultation document of two years ago the Commissioner rightly emphasises that due to the particular circumstances of the country, the small size of the country and the population in particular, decision-takers are easily accessible. This leads to the conclusion that there is limited need to regulate the professional lobbyist. Rather, opines the Commissioner, there is a need to address contacts between decision-takers and private individuals who have such easy access.

The Commissioner makes the point that this should be done carefully without obstructing or hindering the direct contact between the politician as decision-taker and the voter at constituency level. This is a valid point but not without its dangers and pitfalls. At constituency level democracy is strengthened. It is also where clientelism is carefully nurtured. This is also a basic characteristic of this small country.

Lobbying is about influencing the decision-taker. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. This is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to politicians, parliamentarians and administrators by those who have an interest in the decisions under consideration.  

Hence the need for lobbying to be transparent and above-board. This is normally done through ensuring that meetings held by holders of political office or senior administrators are well documented and that the resulting minutes and supporting documents are available for public scrutiny.

Formal lobbying would be thus addressed. But that leaves informal lobbying which is the real headache. This can only be regulated if those lobbied are willing to submit themselves to the basic rules of transparency. Self-declarations by those lobbied would in such circumstances be the only way to keep lobbying in check!

This is however not all.

There are more sinister ways through which lobbying is carried out. Well organised sectors of industry and business employ former decision-takers as advisors or in some other high-sounding senior position. This ensures that the “advisor” can share his knowledge and contacts with his “new employer” thereby facilitating the effectiveness of focused lobbying. This practice is normally referred to as “revolving-door recruitment” and is an integral part of the lobbying process which needs regulating the soonest.

There are countless examples of this practice both locally and abroad, in respect of which I have already written various times. This aspect tends to be regulated by establishing a reasonable time-frame during which the former decision-taker or administrator cannot seek employment in areas of economic activity in respect of which he had political or high-level administrative or regulatory responsibilities.

The regulation of lobbying is essential in a democracy. Unregulated, lobbying can, and generally does, develop into corruption.

Lobbying can be a legitimate activity. Adequate regulation of lobbying, properly applied, ensures that it remains within legitimate boundaries.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 November 2021

Il-kontabilità tan-negozji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi

Illum indirizzajt il-konferenza biennali tal-Malta Institute of Accountants bit-tema: A New Mindset: Reduce. Reuse. Report.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja bħalissa għaddejja diskussjoni dwar Direttiva biex kumpaniji diversi jkollhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu rapporti regolari dwarl-impatti tagħhom fuq is-soċjetà. Dawn ir-rapporti jikkonċernaw dak li jissejjaħ “non-financial reporting” u allura jittrattaw dwar impatti ambjentali, impatti soċjali kif ukoll l-attitudnijiet etiċi fil-kumpanija.

Id-diskussjonijiet għadhom għaddejjin. Hu tajjeb li anke aħna niddiskutu dan kollu u kif ser jeffettwa lilna u lill-kumpaniji li joperaw fil-pajjiż.

Emfasizzajt li hu importanti lil-pajjiż ma jfittix xi eżenzjoni minn din id-direttiva. Huwa importanti ukoll li l-korporazzjonijiet tal-Gvern ukoll ikunu kostretti li jippreżentaw dawn ir-rapporti.

Bħal dejjem hemm problema bl-SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) li waħda waħda jqisu lil-impatt tagħhom hu żgħir imma li meta tgħoddhom flimkien jammonta għal impatt sostanzjali! Dawn ukoll jeħtieġ lijinstab mod kif jirrappurtaw dwarl-impatti tagħhom. Biex jagħmlu dan ikollhom bżonn l-għajnuna tal-Gvern, kemm għajnuna diretta lilhom kif ukoll lill-assoċjazzjonijiet li jgħinuhom.

Ir-rappurtaġġ li ser teżiġi l-Unjoni Ewropeja hu applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju ta’ trasparenza fuq in-negozju ul-industrija. It-trasparenza hi l-bażi li mingħajrha ma jistax ikollna kontabilità vera.

Għandna kull dritt li nkunu nafu x’inhu jiġri anke fil-kumpaniji u fil-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi. Mhux il-politiċi biss għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom: anke l-kumpaniji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi!

Id-diskors kollu taqrah hawn.

Il-kuxjenza ta’ George Vella

Intqal ħafna dwar George Vella, l-President tar-Repubblika, u l-kuxjenza tiegħu, u dan wara ir-rapport tal-inkjesta dwar ir-rwol tal-istat Malti u ċ-ċirkustanzi li wasslu għall-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Mhux ser nagħti kaz ta’ dak li qalu ipokriti bħal Jason Azzopardi li dwaru diġa ktibt diversi drabi (ara per eżempju dan : A Christmas Carol for Jason Azzopardi) li għandu ħafna kontijiet pendenti mal-kuxjenza tiegħu. L-ebda żjara fuq il-qabar ta’ Kristu m’hi ser tħassar dawn il-pendenzi!

George Vella kien jifforma parti mill-Kabinett ta’ Joseph Muscat. Qatt ma esprima ruħu fil-pubbliku kontra dak li kien qed jiġri. Nafu minn dak li ntqal fil-media li fil-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista, anke meta kien jifforma parti minnu George Vella, kien hemm diskussjoni mqanqla dwar dak li kien għaddej. Kien hemm numru żgħir ta’ Membri Parlamentari li kienu kritiċi ta’ dak li kien għaddej, fosthom jingħad li kien hemm George Vella.  Dwar dan jiena diġa ktibt 5 snin ilu fil-kuntest tad-dibattitu dwar il-Panama Papers.

Kont għidt hekk nhar it- 3 ta’ Mejju 2016 :

Il-grupp parlamentari laburista m’huwiex kuntent bis-sitwazzjoni. Huwa konxju li s-skiet tal-Partit Laburista quddiem it-taħwid tal-Gvernijiet tas-snin 70 u 80 kienet raġuni ewlenija li kkundannat lill-partit għal 25 sena fl-Opposizzjoni. Illum jirrealizzzaw li hu kmieni wisq, wara biss tlett snin, biex il-partit laburista jsib ruħu f’dan it-taħwid kollu. Il-ftit li għamel Joseph dwar il-kaz (anke jekk kosmetiku) għamlu biex jipprova jissodisfa lill-grupp parlamentari tiegħu. Imma xorta ħadd ma hu sodisfatt. Dan kien jidher anke nhar il-Ħadd mill-body language ta’ Joseph x’ħin kien qed jindirizza l-folla fuq Kastilja.

Iċ-ċavetta qegħda f’idejn il-grupp parlamentari laburista biex dan iwassal lill-partit forsi jiġi f’sensieh. Is-soċjetà ċivili ukoll għandha responsabbiltà kbira li tibqa’ ssemma’ leħinha biex tkompli tagħmel il-kuraġġ lil dawk li fil-Partit Laburista qed jinsistu li Konrad (u Keith) għandhom jirriżenjaw. L-intellettwali tal-pajjiż hemm bżonn ukoll li joħorġu mill-friża u jiftħu ħalqhom flok ma jillimitaw ruħhom għat-tfesfis fil-widnejn.

George Vella kien wieħed minn dawk li ppruvaw jikkoreġu l-affarijiet minn ġewwa u ma rnexxielhomx! Għax is-saħħa tagħhom kienet limitata.

L-opinjoni li jiena għandi, u dejjem kelli, dwar George Vella, hi ta’ persuna serja. Nistqarr li xelliftha ftit din il-fehma meta George Vella kien wieħed minn tal-ewwel li appoġġa lil Joseph Muscat meta dan ippreżenta ruħu fl-elezzjoni għal mexxej tal-Partit Laburista (kontra George Abela, Marie Louise Coleiro, Michael Falzon u Evarist Bartolo). Sfortunatament minn kmieni ħafna beda jidher li Joseph Muscat kien bniedem amorali: il-boxxla tiegħu mhiex dak li hu sewwa. Ma jinteressahx dak li hu tajjeb jew ħażin, iżda biss dak li hu popolari.

George Vella iżda mhux amorali, u għalhekk li għandu jirrfiletti iktar fuq ir-responsabbiltajiet politiċi tiegħu tul il-perjodu li dam jokkupa post fil-Kabinett ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Joseph Muscat li hu amorali warrab, kif qal hu stess biex jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika ta’ dak li kien għaddej.

Huwa obbligu ta’ George Vella, anke f’isem il-Laburisti ta’ integrità, li bħalhom hemm bosta, li hu ukoll jaċċetta r-responsabbiltà politika għal dak li ġara: irid jew ma jridx is-sehem tiegħu qiegħed hemm, ħadd u xejn m’hu ser iħassru!

The Republic is sick

Following the compilation of evidence in our law courts relative to the multiple cases dealing with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is in itself a detailed continuously developing documentary of the failure of our institutions, the failure of the state.

Daphne’s assassination is also a failure of the police corps to keep a tag on criminal activity.

How could the police corps carry out its duties with officers like Silvio Valletta hibernating deep inside criminal pockets? Silvio Valletta has to date not been prosecuted for his criminal activity which has been the cause of considerable reputational damage and to the effectiveness of the police corps.

Today we know of Valletta’s cavorting with Yorgen Fenech. Valletta was not an ordinary simple cop languishing in some out of the way police station. He practically ran the Police Corps as Deputy Commissioner of Police and represented it on the governing board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).

The fact that this top policeman acted in such a manner is a clear indication of the forma mentis of the contemporary top brass at Floriana Police HQ. An Ombudsman report made public earlier this month on the investigation relative to the complaint of a Police Superintendent has dwelt at some length as to how police officials were selected: loyalty to the boss before loyalty to service was a basic requirement. With police officer selection being carried out on the basis of such a “qualification” it is no surprise that that the Police Corps was compromised for such a long time.

Uncle Silvio was the perfect investment for Yorgen Fenech. For a long time, Silvio Valletta was the key that facilitated access to Yorgen Fenech to all sorts of intelligence. A perfect example which illustrates what it means when we emphasise that the criminal world is many steps ahead of the police force.  In this specific case, for quite a time, the criminal world had the police force on a remote control, through Silvio Valletta.

It is difficult to comprehend how we could ever have an institutional failure of larger proportions.

This did not happen overnight. It is however central to the web of intrigue which developed over the years and leading up the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and beyond.

When Valletta’s conflict of interest as the then husband of a cabinet minister was spotlighted, the resistance to let got was enormous. It had to be a laborious court case which at the end of the day had him removed from coordinating the assassination investigation.

The final report of the public inquiry into Daphne’s assassination has now been published. It does not identify who signed Daphne’s death warrant: that was not its purpose. It does however examine how a state of impunity has developed over time such that her assassination was the direct consequence. It points out how business and politics became intertwined until you could not tell which was which.

The main takeaway from the inquiry report is that the state has been taken over by a Mafia mentality. The state has been hijacked by a cultural mindset that allows and encourages a Mafia attitude to take root and prosper.

Few of the proposals of the inquiry are new to the political debate. Most have been put forward over the years but they were shot down, diluted or had the breaks applied by different governments. Effective whistleblowing is still subject to political strings as has been evidenced over the years. Lobbying regulation is still talked of but not implemented.  The regulation of ethical behaviour has developed into a farce, notwithstanding the efforts of George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

It is about time that the links between business and all branches of the state are transparent. Everything, without any exception, must be above board. This has been on the books for years, yet continuously ignored.

The Maltese state has been severely weakened by those who sought their fast-track enrichment at all costs. It is up to all of us, to stop them in their tracks. The soonest. The state has failed us. The Republic is sick.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 August 2021

Switch għal-lista l-griża

Għada it-Tnejn, fil-Parlament, il-Kumitat Permanenti dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jibda jeżamina ir-rapport  K/032 dwar il-Membru Parlamentari Laburista Rosianne Cutajar. Ir-rapport jeżamina is-sottomissjonijiet li rċieva l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler dwar in-nuqqas ta’ Cutajar li tiddikjara dħul tagħha hi u timla l-formola dwar id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi meta kienet għadha Segretarju Parlamentari fil-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja.

Ir-rapport ta’ 45 paġna tal-Kummissarju Hyzler hu akkumpanjat minn żewġ volumi addizzjonali bix-xhieda li fuqha Dr Hyzler fassal id-deliberazzjonijiet u l-konklużjonijiet tiegħu. Hemm ukoll it-tielet volum li mhux aċċessibli għal skrutinju pubbliku. Dan it-tielet volum fih statements tal-bank tal-membru parlamentari Qormija flimkien mac- chats tagħha fuq Whatsapp ma Yorgen Fenech, is-suspettat moħħ wara l-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ħa deċiżjoni li bħala riżultat tagħha Rosianne Cutajar hi issa definittivament barra mill-Kabinet, ta’ l-inqas f’dawn l-aħħar xhur tal-leġislatura. Iżda għadha qed tinsisti li mhux ser twarrab minn membru tal-Parlament. Qalet li fi ħsiebha tibqa’, anke jekk il-Partit Laburista, s’issa, għad ma ikkonfermax jekk hux ser tkun kandidata u dan in vista tar-rapport dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika taħt konsiderazzjoni.

Biex jiddefendi lil Cutajar il-Prim Ministur Abela, b’mod li jevita li jikkommetti ruħu iżżejjed, qal li kulħadd għandu jkun trattat l-istess, mingħajr deskriminazzjoni!

Bla dubju Rosianne Cutajar tħoss li ġiet ittrattata ħażin, kemm kemm mhux b’mod inġust!  Għalfejn din il-pressjoni kollha biex tisparixxi mill-ħajja pubblika meta min ammetta pubblikament li evada t-taxxa spiċċa elett Kap tal-Opposizzjoni? Il-ħajja u l-politika f’Malta xejn m’huma ġusti!   

Bernard Grech u Rosianne Cutajar qegħdin fuq l-istess livell fl-imġieba etika tagħhom, imma s’issa huma trattati b’mod differenti.  

Għalfejn, nistaqsi, l-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari ma tapplikax l-istess kriterji lit-tnejn li huma?  Meta l-Opposizzjoni tinsisti li Rosianne Cutajar għandha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika għal għemilha kif imfisser fir-rapport tal-Kummissarju Hyzler qed tagħmel sewwa. Għaliex mela ma tkunx konsistenti u tapplika l-istess kriterji għall-mexxej tagħha li dwaru l-investigazzjoni ilha lesta?

Bħal Rosianne Cutajar, Bernard Grech ħaqqu daqqa ta’ sieq għal barra. Dak hu t-trattament ugwali li jixraqilhom.  Il-presenza tagħhom it-tnejn fil-ħajja pubblika hi kontribut ċar għall-presenza ta’ Malta fil-lista l-griża tal- FATF!

Therese Comodini Cachia u Karol Aquilina kienu preċiżi meta emfasiżżaw li r-rapport ta’ George Hyzler jeħtieġ li jkun approvat bla dewmien jekk irridu nwasslu l-messaġġ li qed naħdmu bis-serjetà biex Malta ma tibqax fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF.  Nittama li xi darba jifhmu illi meta jkollok persuna li hi evasur tat-taxxa li jistenna li jkun il-Prim Ministru alternattiv fi ftit taż-żmien ieħor, dan ma tantx hu ta’ għajnuna biex nitbegħdu minn din il-lista l-griża. Għadu possibli anke issa li nkunu konsistenti jekk irridu!

Il-ħtieġa li jkollna mġieba aħjar fil-ħajja pubblika mhiex switch li tixgħelu jew titfiegħ fil-mument li nidħlu fil-ħajja pubblika. Tapplika għal kulħadd, dejjem. Mhux biss waqt li aħna attivi fil-ħajja pubblika imma saħansitra sa minn qabel ma jibda l-involviment tagħna.  

Għal din ir-raġuni ngħarblu n-nomini tal-kandidati u l-ħatra tal-uffiċjali minn qabel. Għax m’għandniex nistennew lil min kien jiġi jaqa’ u jqum dwar kif iġib ruħu qabel ma jidħol fil-politika ser jaqbleb is-switch għal imġieba aħjar, hekk kif jidħol fil-politika.

Dan il-każ għandu jservi ta’ sveljarin.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Lulju 2021

A grey-list switch

Tomorrow, Monday, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life will commence the examination of Report K/032 on Labour Party Qormi Member of Parliament Rosianne Cutajar. The report examines submissions received by the Standards Commissioner George Hyzler and points towards the failure by Cutajar to declare income which she received when drawing up her declaration of assets, a declaration which she submitted when she was still a Parliamentary Secretary in the Justice Ministry.

The 45-page report drawn up by Commissioner Hyzler is accompanied by an additional two volumes containing the supporting evidence on the basis of which Dr Hyzler based his deliberations and conclusions. A third volume of evidence has been withheld from public scrutiny. It has been stated that this third volume contains confidential bank statements of the Qormi Labour MP as well as her chats on Whatsapp with Yorgen Fenech, suspected mastermind of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has taken a decision as a result of which Rosianne Cutajar is now definitely out of Cabinet, at least for the final months of the current legislature. However, she has stubbornly emphasised that she will not relinquish her Parliamentary seat. She says that she will be back, even though to date her political party has not yet confirmed whether she will be presented as a candidate, in view of the Standards in Public Life report under consideration.

In Cutajar’s defence Prime Minister Abela, in non-committal mode, has emphasised that she will be treated as anybody else, with no favourable treatment.

Undoubtedly Cutajar considers that she has been treated very unfairly. Why should she now be pressured to disappear from public life when a self-confessed tax evader was elected Leader of the Opposition? Life (and Maltese politics) is certainly not fair.  Bernard Grech and Rosianne Cutajar are on an ethically equivalent level yet so far, they are treated differently.  

Why is it, one might ask, that the Parliamentary Opposition adopts two weights and two measures? May I suggest that the Opposition representatives are right in insisting that Rosianne Cutajar should shoulder the political consequences of her actions as detailed in the report of Commissioner Hyzler? Why don’t they be consistent and apply the same criteria to their Leader too?

Like Rosianne Cutajar, Bernard Grech qualifies for the Order of the Boot. That is the equal treatment they should receive. The presence of both of them in local public life is a significant contributor to FATF grey-listing!

Therese Comodini Cachia and Karol Aquilina were spot on when they emphasised that the Hyzler report needs to be approved in order to send out the message that we are truly working on removing Malta from the FATF grey-list.  I hope they also agree that having a tax-evader as an alternative Prime Minister does not help in distancing this country from the FATF grey-list! 

There is still time to be consistent!

The need to upgrade ethical behaviour in public life is not a switch-on switch-off exercise depending on which political party is in government. It is applicable to all of us in politics. Not just while we are active in politics but starting from before the actual involvement itself.

This is the reason why we seek to screen potential electoral candidates and party officials before selection or election. We should not expect that those who do not behave ethically before taking up politics manage to switch to a more “acceptable” behavioural mode on entering politics.  

Let this be a wake-up call!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 July 2021

Taħt il-lenti

Irridu u ma rridux, Malta hi kontinwament taħt il-lenti  internazzjonali. L-imġieba tagħna bħala pajjiż kontinwament tiġi mqabbla ma dak li hu aċċettat u li fil-fatt isir f’pajjiżi oħra.  Dan bla dubju għandu jservi ta’ xprun għalina lkoll f’dak kollu li nagħmlu.

Kemm jekk hi l-Moneyval, il-GRECO, l-Kummissjoni ta’ Venezja inkella xi istituzzjoni sopranazzjonali oħra, l-argumenti huma sostanzjalment identiċi. Xi drabi huma dwar it-titjib meħtieġ inkella titjib li diġa qiegħed isir.  Sfortunatament, iżda, bosta drabi oħra, l-istorja hi differenti: għax l-imġieba etika tal-istituzzjonijiet tagħna bosta drabi hi ferm il-bogħod minn dak mixtieq.  Dan jinkludi lill-Parliament, li tul is-snin wera li mhux kapaċi jeżiġi l-kontabilità tal-Gvern.  

Mill-ħażin immorru għall-agħar, kontinwament, kif jidher mill-imġieba tal-kumitat Parlamentari inkarigat biex jissorvelja l-implimentazzjoni tal-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika.  B’mod speċifiku l-mod kif aġixxa l-iSpeaker f’uħud minn dawn il-laqgħat hu inaċċettabbli.   

Il-Grupp GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa għadu kif ħareġ rapport ieħor dwar Malta. Il-GRECO hu kumitat fi ħdan il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa li jissorvelja kontra l-korruzzjoni fil-pajjiżi li jiffurmaw il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa.  Dan l-aħħar rapport tal-GRECO hu dwar regoli etiċi konnessi mal-Parlament, mal-ġudikatura u ma’ oqsma oħra relatati.

Hu tal-biki li tisma’ l-kelliema tal-Gvern jilgħaqu lill-GRECO għax, jgħidu, li dan qed ifaħħar lill-Gvern dwar inizjattivi fil-qasam tal-etika pubblika. Ma sar xejn minn dan. Minflok iżda  ġie emfasizzat mill-GRECO li r-riformi f’Malta mexjin bil-mod wisq, qegħdin lura. Qed jitkaxkru is-saqajn.  Dak li qalet il-GRECO.

Fl-istess ħin kellna rapport ieħor mill-Kummissjoni Venezja. Din id-darba dan ir-rapport intalab mill-Gvern stess dwar tibdil li qed ikun ikkunsidrat fil-liġijiet in konnessjoni ma’ multi amministrattivi sostanzjali li qed jimponu diversi awtoritajiet. Il-problema hi dwar il-fatt li dawn l-awtoritajiet mhumiex meqjusa bħala Qorti kif teħtieġ il-Kostituzzjoni Maltija f’ċirkustanzi bħal dawn. Dan minħabba li mhumiex immexxija minn persuna meqjusa imparzjali, bħal ma hu Imħallef jew magistrat. Minflok huma immexxija minn persuni ta’ fiduċja!

Il-Gvern ilu jipprova jilgħab b’emendi differenti li ressaq għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-Parlament. Weħel fl-emendi meħtieġa għall-Kostituzzjoni għax m’għandux l-appoġġ ta’ żewġ terzi tal-Parlament u issa spiċċa dahru mal-ħajt. Ir-rispett lejn is-saltna tad-dritt qatt ma kienet kwalità ewlenija tal-Gvern kif qed jidher ċar fil-mod kif qed jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet! Din mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida li ma konniex nafu biha!

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġibdet l-attenzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis li jkun iktar xieraq jekk il-Gvern Malti josserva t-toroq indikati mill-Kostituzzjoni Maltija flok ma jibqa’ jilgħab bil-liġijiet.  Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tiġbed l-attenzjoni li filwaqt li l-opinjoni tagħha hi kontribut lejn id-diskussjoni pubblika li qed tiżviluppa, hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li fl-aħħar tista’ tiddeċiedi jekk l-għażliet tal-Gvern Malti humiex korretti jew le! Fi ftit kliem qed tgħidlu: x’ġejt tagħmel hawn?

Id-deċiżjoni meħtieġa, tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja hi waħda li trid tittieħed minn Malta u l-awtoritajiet tagħha. Hi ukoll materja ta’ sovranità. Għax hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li tista’ tiddeċiedi dwar jekk l-emendi proposti għall-Att dwar l-Interpretazzjoni jmorrux kontra l-Kostituzzjoni Maltija jew le.

Imma hemm xi ftit posittiv f’dak li ġara ukoll. Il-Gvern Laburista fittex il-parir tal-barranin! Għal darba mhux jeqred bl-indħil barrani!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Under the spotlight

Whether we like it or not, as a country, Malta is continuously under the international spotlight. Our behaviour as a country is continuously compared to what is considered to be the norm, that is what is acceptable elsewhere.

Whether it is Moneyval, GRECO, the Venice Commission or any other supranational institution the arguments are basically identical. At times it is just about improvements which are required or are in hand. Unfortunately, however, many other times it is a completely different matter:  the ethical behaviour of our institutions leave much to be desired. This includes Parliament, which over the years has proven itself to be incapable of holding government to account. It gets worse by the hour as is evidenced by the behaviour of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which oversees the implementation of the Standards in Public Life. Specifically, the behaviour of the Speaker in the proceedings of that committee is, to put it mildly, unacceptable. 

The Council of Europe’s GRECO Group has just issued its Fourth Evaluation Report on Malta. GRECO is the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body. This GRECO report deals with corruption prevention in respect of Members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors in Malta.

It is nauseating to hear government spokespersons eulogising GRECO and emphasising a perceived praise for government “ethical initiatives”. It did nothing of the sort. It rather emphasised, in not so many words, that reforms in hand were moving too slowly and pointing out that they should be speeded up! I see no praise there.

Almost simultaneously we had another Venice Commission report, this time requested by Government, on how to implement changes to our legislation in order to ensure that it is possible for substantial penalties to be charged by a number of administrative authorities. The issue is whether these can be decided by a number of these authorities, staffed by so-called “persons of trust”, or else whether one had to stick to existing constitutional provisions which ensure that it is only a court of law presided by an impartial judge or magistrate that decides such matters.

Government has tried to use many tricks to force Parliament’s hand, clearly indicating that respect for the rule of law is not one of its strong attributes! Nothing new there, one might add.

The Venice Commission has drawn attention of Justice Minister Zammit Lewis that it would be appropriate if his government observes the paths laid down by the Constitution instead of engaging in tinkering with other pieces of legislation. Tactfully the Venice Commission points out that while it is expressing an opinion “contributing to the public discussion” it is Malta’s Constitutional Court which at the end of the day has the authority to decide whether the path on which government has embarked is correct or not!

The Venice Commission aptly threw the ball back in our court. It states in its report that its role “is not to assess whether the reform in question is necessary or appropriate. This decision falls within the sovereignty of the Maltese authorities and people. Further, the question of whether the proposed amendment of the Interpretation Act is compatible with the Constitution of Malta as interpreted by the constitutional case-law is for the Constitutional Court of Malta to decide, eventually.” (Vide para 94 of report)

For a change we have sought (foreign) advice, rather than complain on foreign interference. That is certainly an improvement!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 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