The fragility of democracy

The events on Capitol Hill in Washington last Wednesday clearly show the fragility of democracy. We should never take it for granted.

The storming of Capitol Hill by Trump’s mob has damaged American democracy, which damage will be felt for many years to come. Damage which will take considerable time to heal.

Instigating and making use of violence for political ends, to instill fear and condition political opponents is nothing new. It has been used in countries and by politicians of dubious democratic credentials since time immemorial. On these islands we have had more than our fair share of this throughout the years.

In my younger days I used to live in Valletta, one block away from Parliament. We were used to having “spontaneous demonstrations” whenever Parliament had some hot item on its agenda, or whenever the political climate was tense, which was quite often. An orgy of violence many a time was the anticipated conclusion of such “spontaneous demonstrations” as the business community can confirm.  This is what incited crowds do: they transform themselves into deadly weapons used unscrupulously by those who pull the strings to silence or try to condition their political opponents.

Whenever the mob was let loose it left a trail of damage, not just physical damage, but more importantly reputational damage which takes quite a time to heal and repair.

Some of you may remember when a bull was let loose in the streets of Paola in September 1976 as part of the then election victory celebrations. After being force-fed a whole bottle of whisky it ended being directed towards the local PN club where it destroyed everything in its path.

The setting on fire of The Times in Valletta and the subsequent orgy of violence of the 15 October 1979 is another instance when instigation directed at highly charged political-mobs ends destroying everything in sight. The reputational damage is the most serious in such circumstances.

The objective, in such instances is always the retention, buttressing and consolidation of raw political power. Fortunately, this is history now, but it still lingers on in the collective memory, the cause of occasional collective nightmares.

The international media has rightly reacted sharply to the developments down Pennsylvania Avenue. In a couple of hours, in addition to the loss of four lives, injury to at least 14 police officers and damage to property, the Trump mob has inflicted lasting damage to American democracy.

Do not just blame Donald Trump for the chaos at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. His enablers have a sizeable share of the blame. The agitators were not just those in the streets in hoodies and army fatigues. They were also in suits, products of Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities sitting in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, participating in the joint session of the US Congress.

Both Trump as well as his enablers have blood on their hands.

The rule of law and the respect of democratic institutions are not just for export! The United States of America needs to practice what it preaches in order to start restoring its credibility.

As a result of the election of Joe Biden, described as “sleepy Joe” by Donald Trump throughout the electoral campaign, the US could slowly start the difficult uphill path to reconciliation. Having the support of influential minorities will undoubtedly be an asset in achieving this objective. The successful mobilisation by the Biden campaign of the black vote throughout the United States was pivotal in achieving its electoral success, the latest being the election for the first time in the last thirty years of two Georgian Democratic Senators. One must now look ahead towards the future to reconstruct the social and democratic infrastructure dismantled in the recent past.

Democracy is very fragile. It is easily damaged and takes quite a time to heal. We should never take democracy for granted. It is continuously under threat and should be defended assiduously every day.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 10 January 2021

Writing off future generations

Our actions today are a first draft in designing the future. They are tomorrow’s blueprint. Our future as well as that of future generations.

The ice sheets are melting at a faster rate than ever before. The resulting sea-level rise will obliterate coastal settlements around the globe. Even the Maltese islands will be impacted by a sea-level rise, irrespective of its magnitude. The larger the sea-level rise the more severe the impacts.

On a global level the sea is rising around 3 millimetres per annum. This varies with region. This variation may be insignificant to the naked eye and as result many would not even notice it.

No one can state with certainty as to how much the sea level will eventually rise. It is however clear to the scientific community that an increase in the mean global temperature is a major contributor. Islands and coastal communities all around the world will bear the brunt of this sea-level rise.

In the Pacific Ocean the sea has risen at a rate of three times the global average. A number of low-lying islands have already disappeared below the sea.  In the Indian Ocean, The Maldives, a major touristic destination, risks losing 77 per cent of its land with a 50-centimetre sea-level rise. It will completely disappear if the sea level rises to a metre or more.  

There is a time lag between our actions and sea-level rise such that we can substantially decrease sea-level rise in the future if we act appropriately now.

This is the reason underlying the EU’s policy of carbon neutrality, that is taking steps to ensure that net carbon emissions are reduced to zero by 2050, preferably earlier.

The Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot of climate change. Mediterranean experts on climate and environmental change within the framework of the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan have drawn up a report entitled “Risks associated to climate and environmental changes in the Mediterranean Region”. This report points at the enormous challenges facing the Mediterranean due to the projected rising temperature in the region.

Without policy change it is estimated that the Mediterranean Region will, on average, be 2.2 degrees warmer in 2040 than it is today. This will have a considerable impact on water resources, agricultural production and health, amongst other issues. By 2100 without meaningful policy change this could lead to a one metre rise in sea level impacting severely the coastal communities in the Mediterranean.

The tourism industry, with most of its facilities situated along the coastline, will be obliterated. The impacts of climate change will be so severe that Covid-19 impacts will seem to be child’s play in comparison.

All over the world governments have been reluctant to act and take definite action on climate change to limit the potential temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and definitely to not more than 2 degrees Celsius. The commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are a welcome first step, but they are certainly not enough.

It has been estimated that if all commitments made in Paris are adhered to, we would still be on track to hit a temperature increase in excess of the two-degree limit. This would lead to a global disaster.

The first to bear the brunt will be islands all around the globe followed closely by low-lying coastal areas. This is the reason for island states being so vociferous in Climate Change fora, insisting for more action. It is unfortunate that Malta’s voice is not sufficiently heard in such fora. It is about time that we get our priorities right. Our relative silence is writing off future generations in the Mediterranean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 January 2021

Ambaxxati b’daqs ta’ raħal

L-ambaxxata Amerikana nbniet 9 snin ilu fuq medda kbira ta’ art f’ Ta’ Qali li nxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’  €14.6 miljuni. L-ambaxxata f’Ta’ Qali hi mibnija fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 4 ettari, jiġifieri 40,000 metru kwadru.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar approvat permess ta’ żvilupp biex tinbena ambaxxata Ċiniża f’Pembroke fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 2 ettari, jiġifieri 20,000 metru kwadru.  

Għalkemm il-kumpless tal-ambaxxata Ċiniża ser ikun madwar nofs fid-daqs meta mqabbel ma dak Amerikan f’Ta’ Qali xorta hu kbir wisq. L-art li fuqha ser jinbena dan il-kumpless inxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’ €7,880,000.

Għalfejn dawn il-pajjiżi barranin qed jitħallew jibnu l-ambaxxati tagħhom fuq art daqshekk kbira?  Jekk verament jeħtieġu dan l-ispazju għaliex ma ġewx imħajra biex jirrestawraw xi bini qadim, preferibilment storiku, b’benefiċċju għall-komunità Maltija?

Kemm ser indumu ma jkollna xi talba oħra għall-iżvilupp ta’ kumpless ieħor għal ambaxxata enormi? Forsi mill-Federazzjoni Russa?

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar l-Università Amerikana f’Malta suppost li għamel lil ħafna nies iktar konxji. Imma jidher li ma tgħallmu xejn mid-dibattitu pubbliku li wassal biex l-unika parti ta’ din l-Univeristà li illum qed tiffunżjona qegħda flok it-tarżna f’Bormla. Il-bini storiku li kien jifforma parti mit-tarżna ta’ Bormla, l-imħażen tal-Kavallieri tas-sbatax-il seklu u l-workshops tal-Ammiraljat Ingliż tad-dsatax-il seklu ġew restawrati u ħadu ħajja ġdida. Dan kollu issarraf f’ġid ambjentali għall-pajjiż kollu u l-ħarsien ta’ art f’Marsaskala minn żvilupp li kien jeqridha.

Jekk nistaqsu għaliex dawn l-ambaxxati kbar, daqs raħal, qatt m’hu ser ikollna tweġiba onesta. Għax hu ovvju li apparti x-xogħol konsulari normali u l-iżvilupp ta’ relazzjonijiet tajba mad-dinja tan-negozju u mal-komunitajiet lokali, fir-realtà, dawn l-ambaxxati huma “widna” iffukata biex tisma’ dak li qed jiġri fir-reġjun tal-Mediterran.

Uħud iħobbu jiddeskrivu kemm lill-iStati Uniti kif ukoll lir-Repubblika Ċiniża bħala ħbieb kbar ta’ Malta. Ir-realtà hi ftit differenti. Hu prinċipju bażiku tal-politika barranija li l-pajjiżi m’għandhomx ħbieb, għandhom biss interessi! Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi, imbagħad, iservu biex iġibu l-quddiem dawn l-interessi!

Il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fil-Mediterran tagħmilha idejali bħala ċentru fejn tisma’ u tosserva. Dan, hu interess ewlieni li minħabba fih kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll ir-Repubblika Ċiniża għandhom bżonn spazju kbir.

Id-dibattitu riċenti dwar il-possibiltà ta’ ftehim li jirregola l-militar Amerikan f’pajjiżna (Status of Forces Agreement : SOFA) hu indikattiv. Il-kummenti li smajna u qrajna jagħtu idea żgħir ta’ dak li kien għaddej madwar il-mejda.  

F’pajjiżi kbar, ambaxxati kbar jistgħu jagħmlu sens. Imma Malta, tista’ tgħaddi mingħajrhom. M’għandniex bżonn ambaxxati kbar biex intejbu r-relazzjonijiet mal-Istati Uniti jew iċ-Ċina.

L-ambaxxata tal-Istati Uniti f’Ta’ Qali issa ilha mibnija u ilha topera 9 snin. Imma l-ambaxxata Ċiniża għadha fuq il-pjanta. MInkejja li għadha kif ġiet approvata l-ambaxxatur Ċiniż għad għandu ħin biex jaħseb ftit dwar kif jista’ jindirizza n-nuqqas ta’ spazju li għandu mod ieħor. Jista’ jikunsidra r-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadima, possibilment bini storiku minflok ma jibni ambaxxata daqs raħal.  

Jekk jagħmel hekk ikun qed jittrasforma problema f’opportunità.

Qatt mhu tard, sur Ambaxxatur.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Novembru 2020

Village size embassies: are they required?

The US embassy was built some 9 years ago on a large tract of land at Ta’ Qali purchased from the Maltese Government for €14.6 million. The footprint of the Ta’ Qali Embassy is slightly over 4 hectares in size.

Earlier this week a development permit for a new Chinese Embassy at Pembroke, covering an area of around 2 hectares, was approved by the Planning Authority. The Chinese Embassy compound will be half the size of the US embassy complex but it still has quite a substantial footprint. The land to be developed as a Chinese Embassy was purchased from the Maltese Government for €7,880,000.

Why have these foreign governments been permitted to develop their embassies on such large tracts of land? If they really need space, would it not have been much more helpful if they were advised to restore some old, possibly historic building, as a result giving back something to Maltese society?

How long will it take before some other request for the development of another enormous embassy complex is made? From the Russian Federation maybe?

Does the debate on the American University in Malta not ring a bell? Have we not learnt anything from that public debate as a result of which the only functioning campus is at the former Malta Drydocks? The historic properties on that site, namely the seventeenth century Knights’ Building and the nineteenth century British naval workshops have been restored and given a new use. This has resulted in a net environmental gain, in the process protecting land at Marsaskala from development: a portion of our countryside was saved from ruin.

We will never have an honest reply to the basic question as to what all this space in the village size embassies is needed for. In addition to basic consular work and the development of relations with the business and local community these village size embassies are also inevitably an eavesdropping focus for intelligence gathering in the Mediterranean region.

Some tend to describe both the United States and the Republic of China as being very good friends of Malta. In reality it is a well-established foreign policy principle that countries do not have friends: they have interests. Diplomatic relations serve to further these interests.

Malta’s central location in the Mediterranean makes it ideal as a monitoring post and that is undoubtedly one of the basic interests for such large embassies. Ensuring that this interest is well catered for in Malta is a priority for both the United States of America and the Republic of China.

The recent debate on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) relative to US Forces is indicative. Only the naïve would have failed to note the unofficial comments flying around in order to understand what was going on around the negotiating tables.

In larger countries it may make sense to have large embassies. However, in Malta we could definitely do without them. In a small country such as ours, they are definitely not required to improve the relations with the United States, China or any other country.

The Embassy of the United States of America has now been built and it has been operational for the past nine years. The Chinese embassy is however still on plan. Even if it has just been approved the Chinese Ambassador could still give the matter some further thought and consider the possible rehabilitation of some old building or buildings, possibly historical ones, instead of his massive embassy, the size of a small village!

Possibly that could turn the problem of the location and land uptake of the proposed embassy on its head and develop it into a unique opportunity.

It is never too late Mr Ambassador to take note.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 November 2020

Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ

Hawn sinjali u indikazzjonijiet konfliġġenti dwar x’inhu għaddej bejn Malta u l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fuq negozjati dwar kundizzjonijiet li jirregolaw il-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Dak li hu magħruf bħala  Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Il-presenza f’Malta tas-Segretarju tad-Difiża Amerikan  Mark Esper iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa jindika mhux biss li t-taħdidiet huma għaddejjin, imma fuq kollox li huma fi stadju kritiku. Uffiċjalment ħadd ma jaf iktar minn hekk, ħlief dawk li għandhom idejhom fil-borma!

Billi hemm skiet kważi perfett – silenzju stampa – dwar il-materja, hu naturali li bħalissa għaddejja ħafna spekulazzjoni dwar dak li għaddej.

L-Istati Uniti ilha s-snin turi xewqa għal ftehim SOFA mal-Gvern Malti, imma kull Gvern repetutament qagħad lura. L-indikazzjonijiet illum huma  il-possibiltà ta’ insistenza Amerikana għal rabta  bejn ftehim u l-proċess tal- Moneyval dwar l-osservanza ta’ standards internazzjonali li jirregolaw il-ħasil tal-flus.

Kemm ir-rappreżentanti tal-Gvern Malti kif ukoll dawk tal-Gvern Amerikan jiċħdu li hemm din ir-rabta. Imma fin-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni iktar konkreta nistgħu nkunu nafu biss matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin. Jekk il-Gvernijiet humiex ser iħokku dahar xulxin ikun magħruf diplomatikament, kif jiġri ħafna drabi bejn l-istati  fil-maniġġi internazzjinali globali, kontinwament.

Fil-politika internazzjonali m’hemmx ħbieb, hemm biss interessi. Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi kontinwament ifittxu l-aħjar mod kif jaġevolaw dawn l-interessi. L-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika qed tfittex u tħares l-interessi tagħha meta tipprova issib mod kif tasal għal ftehim SOFA li jirregola l-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Din hi l-politika internazzjonali.  

Hu magħruf li Malta tablet l-assistenza tal-Istati Uniti biex tegħleb il-pressjoni internazzjonali dwar il-proċess tal-Moneyval li jirregola jekk il-pajjiż huwiex qiegħed miexi sewwa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus fuq territorju Malti.

Id-diċeriji jindikaw li l-Istati Uniti lesta tgħin, imma għal din l-għajnuna hemm prezz: il-ftehim li ilhom jixtiequ. Din hi opportunità li mhux la kemm terġa’ titfaċċa. Kif nafu: ħadd ma jagħmel xejn għal xejn.

Ftehim SOFA jistabilixxi l-qafas li fih il-militar Amerikan jopera f’pajjiżi barranin. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta jistabilixxi jekk u kif il-liġijiet ta’ Malta japplikawx għall-militar Amerikan u għall-ħidma tagħhom, inkluż kull apparat (inkluż il-flotta navali) li jistgħu jġibu magħhom. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta meta jkun negozjat – jista’ jwassal għal konċessjonijiet u eċċezzjonijiet b’mod li mhux il-liġi Maltija kollha tkun tapplika għall-mistednin tal-Gvern ta’ Robert Abela.

Dan kollu jwassal għal mistoqsija bażika: il-Gvern Malti qed jikkunsidra proposta tal-Istati Uniti li jkun hawn il-militar Amerikan jopera minn teritorju Malti?  Ma għandi l-ebda dubju li ftit huma l-Maltin li jaqblu ma proposta bħal din, jekk teżisti. 

Tul is-snin fil-pajjiż żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali li m’hawnx post għall-militar ta’ pajjiżi barranin fuq artna.  

Nistgħu allura naslu għall-konklużjoni li l-Gvern Malti qed ikun rikattat: Ftehim SOFA jekk trid l-għajnuna dwar il-proċess Moneyval? Sfortunatament ma tantx nistgħu naslu għal konklużjoni differenti.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku (li fi żmien qasir ser jingħaqdu f’partit wieħed) għamlu sejħa biex l-abbozz ta’ ftehim mal-Amerikani jkun ippubblikat immedjatament. Dan hu meħtieġ biex ikun jista’ jsir skrutinju pubbliku: dan hu obbligu demokratiku bażiku.

Nazzarda ngħid li l-idea innifisha tal-ftehim hi oggezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju u dan billi tmur kontra l-prinċipji bażiċi fil-Kostituzzjoni Maltija:  mhux aċċettabbli li jkollna l-miltar ta’ pajjiż ieħor f’artna. Anke d-dettalji tal-ftehim huma inkwetanti: dawn jistgħu jinkludu l-presenza ta’ elementi tas-Sitt Flotta Amerikana bl-elementi nuklejari tagħha, li jkun opposti bil-qawwa mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Jekk Malta, kif inhu xieraq, tirrifjuta ftehim mal-Amerikani, jibqa’ l-pendenza tal-Moneyval  li tista’ twassal għal miżuri li jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-settur finanzjarju f’Malta. Robert Abela xorta jibqgħalu l-obbligu li jħoll l-egħeqiedi li rabtu bihom il-predeċessur tiegħu u ta’ madwaru u dan mingħajr għajnuna Amerikana.  

L-għajnuna Amerikana għandha prezz għoli li Malta m’għandhiex tħallas. Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Ottubru 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

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

It-turiżmu wara l-pandemija

It-turiżmu kien wieħed mis-setturi li l-iktar intlaqat bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19. Tul is-snin in-numri tat-turisti li ġew iżuruna żdied kull meta tjiebet il-konnettività: min-naħa l-oħra hekk kif il-konnettività naqset u eventwalment waqfet kompletament, ġara bil-maqlub.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa bdew jaslu l-ewwel turisti fil-port u l-ajruport tagħna. Bil-mod qed terġa’ tiġi stabilita l-konnettività li twassal biex it-turiżmu jibda jirpilja bil-mod. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Julia Farrugia-Portelli f’dawn il-ġranet ħabbret il-mira tal-Gvern: 700,000 turist sal-aħħar tas-sena. Iktar kmieni t-tmexxija tal-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta kienet emfasizzat li jeħtieġ madwar sentejn biex il-wasla tal-passiġġiera tirkupra u naslu fejn konna qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt jilħaq il-livelli ta’ qabel il-pandemija?

Jeżistu stimi diversi dwar il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lejn l-ekonomija. Stima minnhom tipponta lejn kontribut dirett ta’ 5 fil-mija tal-ekonomija. Imma, bħala riżultat tal-impatt fuq setturi oħra dan is-sehem jitla għal madwar 12 fil-mija. Barijiet, restoranti, ħwienet li jbiegħu bl-imnut, attivitajiet pubbliċi, l-industrija tad-divertiment u t-trasport (in partikolari l-kiri tal-karozzi) huma dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu. Setturi partikolari bħat-tagħlim tal-Ingliż u ċ-ċentri tal-għaddasa huma meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-ekonomija turistika.

Intqal ħafna dwar l-impatt tal-pandemija fuq il-lukandi. Imma anke dawk li jipprovdu sodod turistiċi barra mil-lukandi ġarrew fuq spallejhom impatt sostanzjali avolja ftit li xejn issemmew fid-dibattitu konness mal-impatti tal-pandemija. Dan huwa settur li jinvolvi negozjanti żgħar u dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala micro-businesses li kull wieħed minnhom jimpjega inqas minn għaxar persuni.

UNCTAD, l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ħabbret li l-iġġammjar tat-turiżmu minħabba l-pandemija ser jiswa’ lill-industrija globali tat-turiżmu madwar $1.2 triljun . Din l-istima tista’ tirdoppja skond kif tiżviluppa t-tieni mewġa tal-pandemija.

Il-Ġamajka tista’ titlef madwar 11 fil-mija tal-Prodott Gross Domestiku, t-Tajlandja 9 fil-mija, l-Italja 5 fil-mija. Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja l-agħar impatti huma mal-kosta Mediterranja fejn l-ekonomija hi dipendenti ħafna fuq it-turiżmu. Minbarra Malta hemm l-Italja, l-Kroazja, is-Slovenja, Cipru u l-Greċja li kollha ntlaqtu sew. It-Turkija u t-Tunesija, parteċipanti Mediterranji fl-industrija turistika ukoll iġġammjaw, wara li gawdew minn żidiet sostanzjali fin-numri ta’ turisti tul is-snin.

Jagħmel sens li l-Gvern, f’dan il-waqt, permezz tal-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu, qiegħed jiffoka fuq li jġib lill-industrija tat-turiżmu lura fuq saqajha. Dan imma, mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieġ li nibdew naħsbu dwar il-futur tal-industrija u dan billi neżaminaw fid-dettall dak li l-industrja teħtieġ li tiffaċċja fit-tul.

Fi tmiem is-sena li għaddiet, l-2019, ilħaqna in-numru ta’ 2.8 miljun turista iżuruna. Il-punt hu jekk dawn in-numri humiex sostenibbli. Dan hu argument ta’ dejjem li ilu għaddej sa minnmeta n-numri kienu ferm iżgħar. Id-dibattitu kien, u għandu jibqa’ jkun dwar jekk għandniex niffukaw iktar fuq il-kwalità milli fuq il-kwantità.

Il-miġja fostna tal-linji tal-ajru low-cost bħala parti essenzjali mill-politika tat-turiżmu illum tpoġġi emfasi ikbar fuq in-numri. Din hi għażla politika li saret u li teħtieġ li tkun eżaminata u analizzata fil-fond. L-impatti ekonomiċi għandhom jitqiesu fl-istess ħin mal-impatti ambjentali. Irridu niftakru kontinwament li t-turiżmu jiġġenera bosta impatti ambjentali.

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrealizzaw li d-dibattitu meħtieġ dwar il-futur tat-turiżmu jeħtieġ li jsir fl-isfond tal-Patt l-Aħdar: The Green Deal.

L-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani ser ikollhom ikunu indirizzati fil-futur qarib. Hu inevitabbli li jiddaħħlu taxxi dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet (carbon taxes) fi żmien mhux il-bogħod. Jekk mhux ser jittieħdu passi immedjati dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet ser ikun ħafna iktar diffiċli, biex ma ngħidx impossibli, biex ikunu ndirizzati l-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit Klimatiku ta’ Pariġi tal-2015. Summit li Malta ħarġet tiftaħar li kienet wieħed mill-ewwel pajjiżi li rratifikatu. F’dak il-mument (jekk nibqgħu ma nieħdux passi) mhux biss it-turiżmu jaqla’ daqqa kbira oħra imma tkun il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll li tieħu daqqa l-isfel.

Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-parti l-kbira tal-gżejjer imxerrda mal-ibħra, ikunu minn tal-ewwel biex jaqilgħu ġo fihom l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-kosta tkun effettwat bl-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-infrastruttura tat-turiżmu qegħda kważi kollha mal-kosta! Iktar ma ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku ikbar tkun id-daqqa li naqilgħu.

S’issa naħseb li kulħadd irrealizza kemm l-industrija tat-turiżmu hi waħda fraġli. Kull xokk li l-industrija issofri jista’ jwassal għal tnaqqis kbir fl-impiegi f’din l-industrija. It-turiżmu għadu staġjonali wisq u dan minnu innifsu jwassal għal kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ natura prekarja.

Jeħtieġ li nippjanaw iżjed billi nħarsu il-bogħod u fuq medda twila ta’ żmien: naħsbu u nippjanaw sewwa dwar l-impatti soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomiċi ta’ kull deċiżjoni. Dan wara kollox hu l-proċess li jwassal għal żvilupp sostenibbli. Hu l-unika mod kif nistgħu nassiguraw li l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu nistgħu nindirizzawhom illum qabel għada.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Lulju 2020