Pétrus: minn Yorgen għal Joseph: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Il-politiċi għandhom iżommu distanza soċjali min-nies tan-negozju, u dan mhux biss waqt pandemija. Dan kien rappurtat li ntqal minn George Hyzler, il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, waqt seduta ta’ kumitat parlamentari li kien qed jiddiskuti r-rapport tiegħu dwar investigazzjoni li għamel fuq Joseph Muscat, ex-Prim Ministru. Ir-rapport ta’ Hyzler hu dwar ir-rigal li Joseph Muscat irċieva mingħand Yorgen Fenech li kien jikkonsisti fi tlett fliexken inbid prim, Château Pétrus, mingħand min hu presentement akkużat li kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinazzjoni ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat mhux l-ewwel politiku li irċieva rigali kompromettenti. L-ex Ministru tal-Finanzi Tonio Fenech kien aċċetta rikba bla ħlas (bejn Malta u Madrid u lura) fuq jet privat flimkien ma żewġ negozjanti biex jara logħba futbal taċ-Champon’s League (l-Arsenal f’Madrid).  Tonio Fenech, li anke rċieva rigali kontroversjali oħra, dakinhar kien soġġett għal kritika qawwija, avolja l-kariga ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma kienitx teżisti!  Anke kellu l-barka tal-Prim Ministru ta’ dakinnhar, “ir-rett” Lawrence Gonzi. U ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Fl-2015 kellna ukoll il-każ tal-ex-Ministru tas-Saħħa  Joe Cassar li, kif kien sar magħruf, kien aċċetta numru ta’ rigali mingħand negozjant ieħor kontroversjali: Joseph Gaffarena. Dakinhar ukoll ma kellniex Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, imma  Joe Cassar ħa deċiżjoni korretta u irreżenja wara li ammetta li żbalja. Cassar ma irrealizzax mill-ewwel bil-gravità ta’ dak li ġara. Imma fl-ebda ħin ma qal: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Meta dawk li jkollhom kariga politika jirċievu rigali li jiswew il-flus ikunu qed joħolqu sitwazzjoni li biha faċilment jikkompromettu l-kariga pubblika li jokkupaw. Il-posizzjoni kompromettenti tkun ferm iktar gravi jekk dak li jġib ir-rigal ikun jiddependi mill-politiku  minħabba deċiżjonijiet li jkunu għadhom pendenti, u ferm agħar jekk ikun jew tkun diġa ibbenefika minn deċiżjonijiet li diġa ttieħdu.

Nifhem li għal uħud mill-politiċi din tista’ tkun sitwazzjoni diffiċli ħafna, b’mod partikolari jekk il-politiku nvolut ma jkunx imdorri jaġixxi b’mod etiku saħansitra f’affarijiet żgħar li niffaċċjaw fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum.  L-imġieba etika mhiex switch li tixgħel jew titfi skond jekk tkunx attiv fil-politika jew le.  Il-politiku qiegħed taħt il-lenti pubblika u l-pubbliku, illum jew għada, jiskopri l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ dak li jkun.  L-attitudni ta’ uħud ġeneralment hi rifless ta’ imġieba mhux etika li saret tant komuni fis-soċjetà tagħna: fil-professjonijiet, fin-negozju (żgħir u kbir), fis-servizzi, fis-settur pubbliku u f’kull qasam tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Is-soċjetà tagħna żviluppat attitudni ta’ “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”. Kollox, jew kważi kollox jgħaddi.  Allura m’hemmx għalfejn nistgħaġbu jekk din l-attitudni hi riflessa ukoll f’dawk eletti f’karigi pubbliċi!

Ir-rapport dwar l-inbid Château Pétrus li Yorgen ta’ lil Joseph hu biss każ wieħed li spikka.  Bla dubju hemm kwantità ta’ każijiet ta’ għoti ta’ rigali lil politiċi konnessi ma’ deċiżjonijiet speċifiċi  inkella li kellhom impatt fuq il-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet.  F’xi każi il-linja li tifred rigal minn  attentat ta’ korruzzjoni hi waħda fina ħafna. Il-parti l-kbira tal-każi imma, diffiċli li jkunu ppruvati.  Huwa għalhekk essenzjali li l-ftit każi li dwarhom hemm il-provi jittieħdu passi dwarhom.

L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju tal-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika hu essenzjali fil-bini tal-infrastruttura etika tant meħtieġa biex ikunu regolati dawk f’ħatriet politiċi.  Hu għal din ir-raġuni li kien hemm elf skuża u dewmien sostanzjali biex din il-kariga inħolqot.

Ir-rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dejjem ser ikunu kontroversjali. Waqt li wieħed jirrispetta l-ġudizzju tal-Kummissarju, huwa għandu jifhem li l-konsiderazzjonijiet tiegħu dejjem ser ikunu taħt il-lenti. Bħalissa, f’xi waqtiet jidher li qed joqgħod lura bħalma għamel fl-investigazzjoni riċenti dwar il-vjaġġ ta’ Joseph Muscat f’Dubai.

Dawn huma materji li dwarhom bħalissa għadna qed nitgħallmu. Anke l-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika nnifsu għadu qed isib saqajħ f’mixja li forsi twassalna biex xi darba neliminaw mill-vokabolarju tagħna espressjonijiet bħal “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”.

Kultant, imma, naħseb li diġa qegħdin tard wisq!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Lulju 2020

Château Pétrus and the “anything goes” syndrome

Politicians should keep a social distance from big business, always, not only during a pandemic. This was reportedly stated by George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life earlier this week during a parliamentary committee sitting, when discussing the contents of his report concluding an investigation of Joseph Muscat, former Prime Minister. Hyzler’s report dealt with the receipt by Joseph Muscat of a gift consisting of three bottles of the premier Bordeaux red wine, Château Pétrus, from Yorgen Fenech, entrepreneur, currently defending himself from the criminal charge of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat is not the first politician to receive such compromising gifts. Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech had accepted a free ride to join a couple of entrepreneurs to watch an Arsenal Champion’s League match in Madrid on a private jet belonging to one of the entrepreneurs. Tonio Fenech, who also received other controversial gifts, was heavily criticised, even though unfortunately there was no Standards Commissioner to investigate back then! He even had the blessing of his boss, the sanctimonious Lawrence Gonzi.

In 2015 we also had the case of former Health Minister Joe Cassar who, it was revealed, had accepted a series of gifts from another controversial business man: Joseph Gaffarena. There was no Commissioner for Standards in Public Life then, but Joe Cassar took the right decision and resigned after publicly accepting that he had committed a serious error of judgement.

When holders of political office accept expensive gifts, they are placing themselves in a position which could easily compromise the public office which they occupy. The seriousness of the compromising situation created increases exponentially if the gift bearer is dependent on the holder of political office for decisions yet to be taken or worse, if he/she has already benefitted from decisions taken.

It is acknowledged that at times the holder of political office may be in a very awkward situation, especially if he is not accustomed to behaving ethically even in minor everyday matters. Ethical behaviour is not a switch-on/switch-off matter dependent on whether one is involved in politics. Holders of political office are under the glare of the public spotlight, which, sooner or later discovers their misdemeanours. Their attitude is however generally a reflection of the unethical behaviour prevalent throughout society: in the professions, in business, in all sectors of everyday life. Our society has developed an attitude that “anything goes”. Consequently, it is no wonder that this is also reflected in those elected to public office!

The Château Pétrus report is just one case which has made it to the headlines. There are undoubtedly countless of other cases of gifts to holders of political office which were the result of specific decisions or else had a material impact on decision-taking. In some cases, the gift bearing borders on corruption. Most of them are however difficult to identify or prove. It is hence imperative that action is taken in respect of the few provable cases.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is an essential building block of the ethical infrastructure required for the regulation of holders of political office. For this specific reason, it took ages to be implemented with a multitude of excuses continuously piling up in order to justify substantial delays.   The reports of the Standards Commissioner will always be controversial. Whilst respecting his judgement he will undoubtedly realise that his considerations will always be subject to scrutiny as at times he appears to be applying excessive self-restraint as he has done in the investigation relative to the recent Muscat Dubai trip.

We are currently riding a steep ethical learning curve. Even the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life himself is on this ethical learning trip at the end of which it may be possible to consign the “anything goes” syndrome to the dustbin of history, even though at times it seems that it may be already too late!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 July 2020

Il-perit-żviluppatur

Il-mewt ta’ Miriam Pace midfuna taħt ir-radam li sa ftit qabel kien jifforma id-dar tagħha f’Santa Venera ħasad lill-pajjiż. Waqgħet dar oħra, imma din id-darba l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ma kkawżatx biss ħsara imma wasslet ukoll għall-qtil ta’ persuna. Għax it-tejatrin ta’ Ian Borg, Joseph Muscat u Sandro Chetcuti, wara l-inċidenti tas-sajf li għadda kien nissel l-impressjoni falza li kollox kien taħt kontroll. Imma dan, sfortunatament mhux il-każ.

Huwa ġustifikabbli li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kollha titqiegħed taħt il-lenti, għal darba oħra kif ukoll għal kemm-il darba jkun hemm bżonn. Dan jinkludi li tkun eżaminata l-imġieba tal-periti.

Bħala riżultat tad-dibattitu pubbliku li għaddej ġie osservat li l-perit inkarigat mix-xogħol problematiku f’Santa Venera għandu interessi oħra, lil hinn minn interess professjonali fix-xogħol ippjanat. Huwa ukoll azzjonist fil-kumpanija li applikat għal permess u li f’Jannar inħarġilha mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar il-permess PA6459/19. Jirriżulta li dan il-perit għandu f’ismu 10% tal-ishma fil-kumpanija li f’isimha ħareġ il-permess tal-iżvilupp: MCZMC Developers Limited. Għandu interess li jara li l-investiment li għamel jirrendi.

Id-dibattitu dwar jekk huwiex etikament korrett li perit ikollu interess fi proġett ta’ żvilupp li hu inkarigat minnu li jmur lil hinn minn interess professjonali mhux wieħed ġdid. Ilu għaddej kemm f’Malta kif ukoll lil hinn minnha.

Il-Kodiċi dwar l-Imġieba għal dawk fil-pussess ta’ warrant biex jipprattikaw ta’ periti fil-gżejjer Maltin jifforma parti minn skeda annessa ma’ regolamenti intitolati Regolamenti dwar il-Kamra tal-Periti.

L-iskeda hi msejħa Kodiċi dwar l-Imġieba Professjonali. Kienet oriġinalment imfassla fl-1969 imma ġiet emendata fl-2010. Il-Kodiċi b’mod ċar ifisser li Perit f’Malta “ma għandux jokkupa, jassumi jew xjentement jaċċetta kariga li fiha l-interess tiegħu jkun kontra d-dmirijiet professjonali tiegħu.” (regolament numru 1). Iżid jipprovdi li Perit “jirċievi rimunerazzjoni biss bid-drittijiet professjonali tiegħu li jitħallsu mill-klijenti tiegħu u/jew bis-salarju tiegħu li jitħallas mill-prinċipal tiegħu. Hu ma jkunx jista’ jieħu rimunerazzjoni minn riżorsi oħra relattiva għax-xogħol u għad-dmirijiet fdati lilu.” (regolament numru 2)

Dan ifisser b’mod mill-iktar ċar li Perit ma jistax jinvolvi ruħu fl-investimenti dwar propjetà inkella bħala żviluppatur ta’ propjetà li dwarha jkollu involviment professjonali. Id-dħul tiegħu għandu jiġi unikament mix-xogħol professjonali u mhux minn qliegħ ġej minn negozju jew żvilupp ta’ propjetà. Fi kliem sempliċi u li jinftiehem id-dħul tal-perit għandu jkun mis-servizz li hu jagħti u mhux billi jieħu sehem fl-ispekulazzjoni tal-art u l-bini.

Minkejja dan, xi qarrejja bla dubju għandhom esperjenza differenti. Uħud ikunu sorpriżi meta huma u jaraw propjetà li jkunu interessati biex jixtru jiskopru li l-persuna li żviluppat din il-propjetà u li qed tfittex li tbigħilhom tkun ukoll il-perit inkarigat mix-xogħol. Filwaqt li fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi ma jinqala’ xejn straordinarju, fil-każi fejn jinqalgħu problemi n-nies tħossa skomda targumenta ma’ perit-żviluppatur. Meta jinqalgħu l-argumenti dwar il-propjetà żviluppata minn perit-żviluppatur, il-perit ma tantx issibu għax hu l-iżviluppatur li jkun fuq quddiem ifittex li jispjega u jiġġustifika dwar id-difetti fil-propjetà. Għax in-nies tirrikorri għand il-perit bħala l-ewwel arbitru tekniku bejna u l-iżviluppatur, ħafna drabi anke jekk huwa jkun il-perit ta’ l-iżviluppatur stess. Imma meta l-perit u l-iżviluppatur ikunu l-istess persuna dan ma jistax isir. Għax il-perit ma jagħtix biss servizz lill-klijent tiegħu imma b’mod indirett iservi ukoll lil kull min ikun effettwat minn dan l-istess servizz.

Uħud minn dawn il-periti żviluppaturi huma magħrufa filwaqt li oħrajn jinħbew wara kumpaniji inkella wara sħab fin-negozju.

Għad m’għandi l-ebda tweġiba għal mistoqsija bażika: għalfejn qed ninjoraw l-osservanza ta’ etika professjonali bażika b’mod li nwasslu messaġġ li wara kollox, li xejn mhu xejn, u li dan kollu hu mġieba “normali” u aċċettabbli?

Il-Kamra tal-Periti forsi tista’ tipprovdi tweġiba għal dan. Sa mit-twaqqif tagħha 100 sena ilu l-Kamra tal-Periti kellha r-responsabbiltà li tgħarbel u fejn neċessarju tieħu passi neċessarji dwar il-prattiċi professjonali tal-periti. Safejn naf jien, s’issa, ma jirriżulta minn imkien li ttieħdu xi passi dwar il-periti żviluppaturi.

Meta jirriżulta kunflitt ta’ interess jeħtieġ li nindirizzaw bla dewmien il-kawża ta’ dan il-kunflitt. Li ma nieħdu l-ebda azzjoni jfisser illi is-sitwazzjoni li tkun inħolqot qed tiġi meqjusa bħala li hi riżultat ta’ mġieba aċċettabbli.

Għax illum xejn mhux xejn.

Minħabba li tul is-snin ħadd ma għamel xejn dwar dawn il-periti żviluppaturi hemm min illum iqies li dawn huma żvilupp aċċettabli. Għax għal dawn ir-regoli dwar l-imġieba etika hu djuq żejjed, ħela ta’ żmien u burokrazija żejda. Propjament red tape!

Dan hu fejn naslu meta s-soċjetà tagħna tiżviluppa f’waħda amorali.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Marzu 2020

The architect-developer

The death of Miriam Pace buried in the ruins of her collapsed Ħamrun home as a direct result of building works in hand in an adjacent property has shocked the nation. The theatrics of Ian Borg, Joseph Muscat and Sandro Chetcuti, in the aftermath of last summer’s incidents had instilled a false sense of security that matters were now under control. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The whole construction industry is justifiably once more under the spotlight, for the umpteenth time since last summer. This spotlighting justifiably includes an examination of the ethical behaviour (or otherwise) of architects and civil engineers.

In the resulting public debate, it has been pointed out that the architect and civil engineer in charge of the problematic works at Ħamrun has more than a professional interest in the works in hand. He is also a minority shareholder of the limited liability company which applied for and holds development permit PA6459/19 issued by the Planning Authority in January. It has been reported that he holds 10 per cent of the shares of the company in question: MCZMC Developers Limited. He thus also has an interest in the returns resulting from his shareholding.

The debate as to whether it is ethical for an architect and civil engineer to have other than a professional interest in any specific development under his direction is not a recent one. Nor is it limited to Malta.

The Code of Conduct for holders of a warrant to practice locally as architects and civil engineers is contained in a schedule attached to subsidiary legislation entitled Chamber of Architects Regulations.

The schedule is entitled Code of Professional Conduct. This code of conduct, was originally drafted in 1969, but it was subsequently amended in 2010. It clearly lays down that a locally warranted architect “must not hold, assume or consciously accept a position in which his interest is in conflict with his professional duty.”(rule 1) Furthermore, it is provided that a locally warranted architect “is remunerated solely by his professional fees payable by his clients and/or by his salary payable by his employer. He is debarred from any other source of remuneration in connection with the works and duties entrusted to him.” (rule 2)

This clearly signifies that a locally warranted architect is barred from being involved as a property investor or as a developer in property in respect of which he or she is professionally involved.

Notwithstanding all this, readers would however easily point at a number of cases, both recent as well as not so recent, as to their being surprised when viewing a property which they were interested in purchasing to get to know that the developer was also the architect in charge of the development in hand. While in most cases no particular problems arise, there is always a feeling of uneasiness when dealing with the architect-developer with such a blatant conflict of interest.

At times, when there are problems associated with the property being purchased it is not possible to distinguish between the architect and the developer. The developer takes over while the architect takes a back seat. A situation which fits perfectly into George Orwell’s description in his Animal Farm: looking from man to pig and from pig to man again and not being able to tell which is which!

A number of these architect-developers are known, while others hide their identity behind corporate structures and/or business partners. The question to which I have no clear answer is: why has such a blatant disregard of professional ethics been permitted as if it is the “normal” acceptable behaviour?

The Chamber of Architects, maybe, could supply an answer. Since its foundation 100 years ago, the Chamber has been responsible for enquiring into “the professional practices of architects and civil engineers”. I am not aware of any action initiated by the Chamber in respect of any architect-developer to date.

When a conflict of interest arises, the removal of the cause of the conflict or withdrawing from the situation which gives rise to the conflict is essential. Taking no action signifies accepting the situation as the normal acceptable behaviour.

Through lack of action over the years we are currently on the brink of transforming the unacceptable into the “new normal”. This is the amoral society at its best.

published in The Malta Independent : 8 March 2020

Imnawwar minn ġewwa

Sal-ħin li qed nikteb, l-investigazzjoni interna tal-Pulizija nfirxet minn waħda iffukata fuq it-taqsima tat-traffiku għal taqsimiet oħra tal-korp. Bosta huma mnixxfa kif dawk li suppost iżommu l-ordni u jħarsu l-osservanza tal-liġi qed jiġu nvestigati huma stess dwar allegazzjionijiet ta’ abbuż minn fondi pubbliċi kif ukoll allegazzjonijiet li talbu flus biex ma jagħmlux dmirhom (speċi ta’ protection money).

Supretendent u numru ta’ uffiċjali oħra, rinfaċċjati bil-provi rreżenjaw mill-korp. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ pulizija ġew interrogati.

M’għandniex inkunu sorpriżi b’dan kollu, għax dan huwa kollu riżultat dirett ta’ kultura ta’ impunità li ġiet imxettla b’mod kontinwu mill-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern tul dawn l-aħħar snin. Xejn mhu xejn. B’xi mod jew ieħor kollox jibqa’ għaddej, jew kważi.

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela stqarr li l-fatt illi l-Pulizija stess qed jinvestigaw lill-pulizija li dwarhom hemm l-alegazzjonijiet huwa indikazzjoni ċara li l-istituzzjonijiet fil-pajjiż qed jaħdmu sewwa. Fil-fehma tiegħi din hi analiżi skorretta. Dak li qed jiġri trid tarah ukoll fil-kuntest tal-ħbiberija żvelata bejn dak li kien Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija Silvio Valletta u Yorgen Fenech, (l-allegat mandant tal-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia). F’dan il-kuntest, l-investigazzjoni tindika li l-korp tal-Pulizija huwa mnawwar minn ġewwa.

Fil-waqt li l-parti l-kbira tal-membri tal-korp tal-Pulizija huma persuni serji, għandu jkun sottolinejat li mhux l-ewwel darba li rriżulta li uffiċjali anzjani tal-korp tal-pulizija kienu viċin ta’ persuni li kienu taħt investigazzjoni. Kaz ieħor riċenti li niftakar hu ta’ uffiċjal imlaħħaq fit-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi (spettur) li kien viċin ħafna ta’ operatur fl-industrija tal-logħob tal-ażżard. Tant kien viċin tiegħu li anke kellu l-aċċess biex jutilizza karozza privata ta’ din il-persuna, Ferrari. Il-każ imur lura sal-2015 meta missier l-ispettur, kien agent Kummissarju tal-Pulizija. Għax il-każ taz-ziju Silvio ċertament mhux l-uniku wieħed.

Kien il-kandidat laburista Andy Ellul li f’artiklu ppubblikat fuq it-Times tat-28 ta’ Jannar 2020 li stqarr li “Police commissioners form part of the executive and they have to toe the electoral programme of the government of the day”. Huwa ċertament ta’ sfortuna li Andy Ellul jikkunsidra li l-pulizija għandha funzjoni politika għax l-implimentazzjoni tal-manifest elettorali hi funzjoni tal-politiċi u tagħhom biss.

Dak li qal Andy Ellul jispjega ħafna dwar meta, kif u għaliex (uħud) mill-Pulizija jaġixxu u jinvestigaw. Andy Ellul kien hu nnifsu membru tal-korp tal-pulizija u allura suppost li jaf ferm iktar minn hekk!

Meta l-Panama Papers saru materja pubblika x’investigazzjoni għamlet il-pulizija? Abbażi ta’ dak li ġie osservat min-naħa tal-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru f’Kastilja, il-Pulizija ġew jaqgħu u jqumu. Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri ma ġewx mitluba biex jerfgħu ir-responsabbiltà għall-azzjonijiet tagħhom meta waqqfu kumpaniji sigrieta fil-Panama: ħelsuha ħafif. Għaldaqstant wara dan il-messaġġ ċar li qiesu ma ġara xejn, ħadd ma għandu jkollu l-ebda dubju x’kejl kellu japplika għall-pulizija u għall kull min jagħmel affarijiet li s-soltu ma naċċettawhomx. Kien biss meta l-whistle-blower saffar li l-investigazzjoni kellha tibda. Hawn xi ħadd li jemmen li b’mod ġenwin ħadd ma nduna b’xejn? Hu ċar li bosta ħadu sehemhom u allura b’mod konvenjenti “ħadd ma nduna xejn”.

It-triq biex tissewwa l-ħsara li saret lir-reputazzjoni li Malta kisbet illum il-ġurnata mhix triq faċli. Li tkun stabilita mill-ġdid il-fiduċja fil-korp tal-Pulizija hu pass wieħed żgħir minn ħafna meħtieġa.

Malta bil-mod qed tiġi trasformata f’soċjeta amorali fejn il-prinċipji aċċettabbli ta’ imġieba korretta qed jintremew il-baħar. Hemm min jiddieħaq bihom ukoll.

Rappresentanti tas-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji qalulna li hemm bżonn is-sehem ta’ kulħadd biex naslu li nnaddfu isem Malta mill-ġdid. Huwa ftit diffiċli biex wieħed jifhem kif nistgħu naslu meta hu ċar għal kulħadd li l-korp tal-Pulizija hu mnawwar minn ġewwa.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 16 ta’ Frar 2020

Rotten to the core

At the time of writing, the Police internal investigation has widened from one focused on the traffic section to other police units. Many are shocked that the upholders of law and order are themselves under investigation in respect of allegations on the fraudulent use of public funds as well as the allegation of being in receipt of protection money.

Faced with the available evidence, a Superintendent – as well as a number of other police officers – has resigned. It is reported that substantial number of officers were interrogated, with some being released on police bail.

I am not at all surprised because, in my view, this is the direct consequence of the culture of impunity which the Labour Party in government has continuously nurtured for the past six years during which it has been in office.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has stated that the fact that the police are investigating their own is, in itself, an indicator that the institutions are functioning properly. His assessment is, in my view, incorrect. Together with the revelations regarding the close friendship of former Police Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta and Yorgen Fenech, (the suspected mastermind of Daphne’s assassination), the police investigation is more of an indication that a section of the Police Force may be rotten to the core.

While most of the members of the Police Force are beyond reproach, it has to be underlined that this is not the first instance, in recent years, when senior police officers were reported as being too close to people under investigation. A specific case that comes to mind is that of a senior police officer in the Economic Crimes unit who was so close to an operator in the gaming industry – then under investigation – that it was then reported in the media that he had access to, and made use of, the operator’s private vehicle, a Ferrari. The case goes back to 2015. Uncle Silvio’s case is definitely not a one-off.

It was Labour Party candidate Andy Ellul who, in an opinion published in The Times on 28 January 2020 stated that “Police commissioners form part of the executive and they have to toe the electoral programme of the government of the day”. It is indeed unfortunate that Andy Ellul considers that the police have a political function, as the implementation of the electoral programme is the exclusive function of holders of political office.

Andy Ellul’s utterances explain quite a lot as to when, how and why (some of) the police act and investigate. Andy Ellul, a former policeman himself, certainly knows much better than that!

When the Panama Papers revelations hit the headlines what investigations were carried out by the Police? Taking the cue from the Office of the Prime Minister at Castille the Police were not bothered. If Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri can get away with shouldering responsibility for their actions through the setting up of secret companies in Panama, one should not wonder as to the yardstick applied to misdemeanours of some of the members of the Police Force. It was only when the whistle-blower sounded the alarm that matters took a new direction on the allegations relative to police in the Traffic Section and beyond.

Repairing Malta’s reputation is not an easy task and restoring confidence in the Police Force is only one small step of the many required. Our country is being slowly transformed into an amoral society in which principles of ethical behaviour are being scourned and thrown overboard.

We have been told by representatives of the financial services sector that we need all hands on deck to repair Malta’s reputation. It is difficult to comprehend how this can commence in earnest when key elements of the Police Force are rotten to the core.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 February 2020

Investigating Konrad’s MTA contract

It is known that Johann Buttigieg, former Chief Executive at the Planning Authority, was squeezed out of his post by Minister Ian Borg. Johann Buttigieg, however, found an ally in Konrad Mizzi, then Minister for Tourism, who facilitated his employment as the new Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority.

By the time Johann Buttigieg had taken up his new post at the Malta Tourism Authority, Konrad Mizzi had already resigned as Minister. Although Konrad Mizzi had announced his resignation after a Cabinet meeting on the 26 November 2019 it is not clear if he had volunteered to step down or if he had been forced to go. He was reported as having said: “I felt it my duty – in the context of current political circumstances – to resign in loyalty to the people, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister.”

It would be reasonable to assume that Johann Buttigieg returned the favour from Konrad Mizzi when, on 9th December, he signed the contract appointing Konrad Mizzi as a consultant to the Authority – as one of his first decisions as CEO! However, this would not necessarily be a correct assumption. In fact, elsewhere in the press it has been opined that the decision to engage Konrad Mizzi as consultant was taken by Joseph Muscat himself, because after Konrad Mizzi’s resignation he was directly responsible for the Tourism Ministry.

As Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg must shoulder substantial responsibility although it is most probable that he was acting on the instructions of Joseph Muscat. He should by now be aware that illegitimate (and unethical) superior orders can – and should be – ignored.

After Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli announced the rescinding of Konrad Mizzi’s contract she was asked to explain the reasons which justified such a revocation. She was very brief in her reply, saying that there were legal and ethical reasons that justified such a course of action. She was reluctant to state more in order to avoid prejudicing any legal action, should this result.

It is very interesting to note that the Honourable Minister has justified the revocation of the contract on ethical grounds. She is, of course, correct, although she chose not to point fingers. The point at issue then is who acted unethically?

I suggest that there are four persons who acted unethically in this specific case.

Irrespective of what they say, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi resigned in disgrace for a number of reasons, including being the cause of reputational damage to the country through their involvement and/or failure to act on the Panama Papers debacle, as well as a direct result of the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a role, the details of which are still emerging.

Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi are at the top of the list of those who acted unethically as they set in motion the revolving recruitment mechanism as a result of which Konrad Mizzi was parachuted straight into the organisation for which he, as Minister, was politically responsible just two weeks earlier. This is unacceptable in any country that has a minimum degree of adherence to good governance: normally there would be a cooling-off period of some two to three years before such appointments are even considered.

Muscat and Mizzi tried to cash in on the fact that, the rules governing the ethical behaviour of holders of political office are still in their infancy. Dr George Hyzler, recently appointed by Parliament as the first Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is still in the initial phase of his term and has yet to draft some of the appropriate rules.

The same applies to Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority and Chief Executive Johann Buttigieg, who should not have allowed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi to bully them into submission. The recruitment of Mizzi was kept secret as long as was possible due to the fact that, knowledge of its existence would undoubtedly have created further turmoil within the Labour Party, then in the process of electing a successor to the disgraced Joseph Muscat.

Where do we go from here? In my view those acting unethically should shoulder their responsibilities. I have thus requested the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Gavin Gulia and Johann Buttigieg in the matter and consequently to recommend the necessary action required.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 February 2020

Pass tajjeb Julia: u issa?

Għada kif ħarġet l-aħbar li l-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu, wara li rċieva parir legali, ordna lill-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu biex il-kuntratt ta’ konsulenza ta’ Konrad Mizzi bi ħlas ta’ €80,000 fis-sena jkun annullat.

Pass tajjeb dan għal Julia Farrugia, l-Ministru ġdid tat-Turiżmu li sabet din il-ħatra ma wiċċha u ħadet passi. Ħatra li saret bil-moħbi fl-aħħar jiem tal-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Li tħassar il-kuntratt hu pass tajjeb. Imma jeħtieġ ukoll li jittieħdu passi oħra.

Min ordna li Konrad Mizzi jkun ingaġġat bħala konsulent tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu? Ma naħsibx li dan sar minn wara dahar Joseph Muscat.

Bla dubju huma nvoluti ukoll Gavin Gulia Chairman tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu u Johann Buttigieg Chief Executive li ġie ngaġġat dan l-aħħar wara li Ian Borg ra kif għamel u ħeles minnu mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-kuntratt fil-fatt hu iffirmat minn Johann Buttigieg.

L-istorja m’għandhiex tieqaf hawn. Diġa saret talba biex il-Kumitat tal-Kontijiet Pubbliċi tal-Parlament jinvestiga.

Imma dan il-kaz hu ukoll wieħed dwar nuqqas ta’ mġieba etika u għandu jkun eżaminat mill-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika fil-konfront kemm ta’ Joseph Muscat kif ukoll ta’ Gavin Gulia u Johann Buttigieg.

Ser nagħmel talba lil Dr George Hyzler biex jinvestiga dan.

Il-governanza tajba tinbena fuq it-transparenza

It-transparenza hi l-pedament essenzjali għal governanza tajba. B’kuntrast ma dan, il-governanza ħażina, ġeneralment, tkun akkumpanjata mis-segretezza u dan billi jinżamm jew ikun ostakolat l-aċċess għal informazzjoni ta’ kull xorta, liema informazzjoni għandha tkun pubblika.

Il-ħmieġ assoċjat mal-Panama Papers sirna nafu bih fil-mument li nkixfet l-informazzjoni dwar dawk li fittxew l-irkejjen tad-dinja fejn hi inkoraġġita s-segretezza: irkejjen fejn jinħbew il-flus ġejjin mill-korruzzjoni u mill-evażjoni tat-taxxi. Bl-istess mod l-iskandlu tal-Vitals dwar l-isptarijiet kif ukoll it-taħwid kollu assoċjat mal-power station ma kienux iseħħu kieku l-Partit Laburista fil-gvern għażel it-trasparenza flok is-segretezza bħala għodda essenzjali għat-tmexxija. Segretezza li kultant twaħħxek.

Il-kontabilità li tant niftaħru biha, wara kollox, hi dwar ir-responsabbiltà. Tfisser l-għarfien tar-responsabbiltà għal dak li nagħmlu. Dan ma jistax iseħħ jekk ma ssaltanx it-trasparenza, dejjem, u mhux biss meta jaqbel.

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra, l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ippubblikat dokument bil-ħsibijiet tagħha dwar il-ħtieġa li tkun inkoraġġita u msaħħa l-governanza tajba. Kien f’loku li l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ emfasizzat li l-governanza tajba hi msejsa fuq it-trasparenza, l-kontabilità u s-saltna tad-dritt.

Spiss jingħad li l-informazzjoni hi poter. It-transparenza hi dwar dan il-fatt: li jkun assigurat li l-poter jinfirex. Għax hu biss meta jkollna għarfien ta’ dak li qed jiġri li nkunu nistgħu neżerċitaw id-dritt bażiku tagħna bħala ċittadini li neżiġu illi kull min jiddeċiedi, u allura jeżerċita l-poter, jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu, dejjem.

Il-politiċi mhumiex l-uniċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawn jinkludu liċ-ċivil u lil dawk li jmexxu l-awtoritajiet u l-istituzzjonijiet imwaqqfa biex jiffaċilitaw l-amministrazzjoni tal-istat fit-twettieq tal-funzjonijiet u d-dmirijiet tiegħu.

It-trasparenza teħtieġ li tinfirex anke fid-dinja tal-kummerċ. Spiss nisimgħu lil min jemfasizza li l-politika m’għandiex tindaħal fis-settur privat, fid-dinja tan-negozju. Għal uħud għadu mhuwiex ovvju li anke s-settur privat, u in-partikolari id-dinja tan-negozju, għandu joqgħod lura milli “jindaħal” fil-politika. Fost affarijiet oħra dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun regolat il-lobbying. Dan ma jsirx billi il-lobbying ikun ipprojibit imma billi kull attività ta’ lobbying tkun transparenti. Għax jekk il-lobbying isir sewwa jista’ ikollu impatt posittiv fuq it-tfassil tad-deċiżjonijiet. Hi is-segretezza li tagħti fama ħażina lill-lobbying, segretezza intenzjonata biex ixxaqleb id-deċiżjonijiet lejn interessi kummerċjali u fl-istess ħin biex tostor it-taħwid.

Huwa f’dan id-dawl li l-inizjattiva tal- Ministru l-ġdid għall-Ambjent Aaron Farrugia li jżomm lista tal-laqgħat kollha tiegħu ma’ dawk li jfittxu li jiltaqgħu miegħu, inkluż mal-utenti, u li jippubblika din l-informazzjoni fil-forma ta’ reġistru ta’ trasparenza hi pass kbir ‘il quddiem. Din l-inizjattiva hi f’waqtha u hi ta’ eżempju lill-politiċi oħrajn biex huma ukoll jipprattikaw it-transparenza. Dan imma għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass li jeħtieġ li jkun segwit bil-pubblikazzjoni ta’ proposti u dokumenti li l-Ministru jirċievi waqt dawn il-laqgħat, kif ukoll il-minuti tal-laqgħat li jkunu saru.

Hu magħruf li l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika qed iħejji biex jippubblika abbozz ta’ proposti dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying biex eventwalment tkun tista’ issir konsultazzjoni pubblika dwarhom. Nittama li dan iwassal għal sitwazzjoni fejn f’dan il-qasam Aaron Farrugia ma jibqax l-eċċezzjoni. Il-bqija tal-membri tal-Kabinett m’għandhomx jibqagħlhom għażla. Għandhom ikunu kostretti li huma wkoll jaġixxu biex it-transparenza fil-ħidma politika tkun ir-regola u mhux l-eċċezzjoni.

Għax huwa biss meta it-transparenza jkollha egħruq fondi u b’saħħithom li nistgħu nibdew intejbu d-demokrazija tagħna billi neliminaw id-difetti li tħallew jakkumulaw tul is-snin.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Jannar 2020

Good governance is founded on transparency

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain.

The Panama Papers saga saw the light of day when information on those seeking secretive jurisdictions was made public. These locations are sought to hide  the fruits of corruption or tax evasion from public scrutiny. Similarly, the Vitals hospital scandal, as well as the power station scandal, with all their ramifications, would undoubtedly not have occurred if the Labour Party in government had embraced transparency instead of entrenching secrecy as its basic operational rule.

Transparency is a basic characteristic of good governance whereas secrecy is the distinguishing mark of bad governance, inevitably leading to unethical behaviour and corruption.

Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce published its views on the need to reinforce good governance. Pertinently it emphasised that good governance is founded on transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

It is said that knowledge (and information) is power. This is what transparency is all about: ensuring that power is shared by all as it is only when we are aware as to what is going on that we can exercise our basic right as citizens: holding decision-takers to account. Being in possession of information gives each and every one of us the power to act and exercise our civic rights.

Holders of political office are not the only decision-takers. Decision-takers include the civil service as well as those running authorities and institutions established to facilitate the administration of the state in carrying out its functions and duties.

Even business leaders should be transparent in their actions and decision-taking. Many a time we have heard the expression “we should take politics out of business”, signifying that politics should not interfere in the private sector.

To some it is less obvious that the reverse of that is just as important, meaning that we should also “take business out of politics”. Among other things, this signifies that we should regulate lobbying. This is not done by prohibiting lobbying but by focusing the spotlight of transparency on all lobbying activity. If lobbying is done properly, it could have a beneficial impact on policy making. It is secrecy that gives lobbying a bad reputation: a secrecy intended to derail decisions in a manner beneficial to the different lobby groups as well as to facilitate and shroud underhand deals.

In this respect the initiative of the newly appointed Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to log all of his meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders and to publish a Transparency Register is a welcome step in laying solid foundations for the practice of transparency by holders of political office. It is, however, only a first step and must be eventually followed by the publication in real time of proposals received as well as the minutes of meetings held.

It is known that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will shortly be publishing proposals for the regulating of lobbying. Hopefully, this should lead to a situation where Aaron Farrugia would not be an exception. Others will be compelled to not only follow in his footsteps but to proceed much further in entrenching transparency in the working methods of holders of political office.

A deep-rooted commitment to transparency is the only way by which we can start repairing our defective democracy.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 January 2020