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

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

Malta: b’politika diżonesta dwar il-klima

Stimi dwar kemm jista’ jogħla l-livell tal-baħar, b’mod globali kif ukoll fl-Ewropa, ivarjaw skond kif wieħed iqis ir-rata tad-dewbien tas-silġ akkumulat fil-poli kif ukoll fi Greenland. Il-mod kif nilqgħu għall-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ukoll għandu impatt fuq dawn l-istimi. Dawn l-istimi fil-fatt ivarjaw minn żieda ta’ 34 ċentimetru sa żieda ta’ 172 ċentimetru sa tmiem dan is-seklu. Imma jekk l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju jkunu indirizzati b’politika iffukata u effettiva, din iż-żieda tista’ tkun waħda iżgħar.

Minkejja dan, ħadd ma qiegħed f’posizzjoni li jantiċpa jekk din iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tkunx waħda gradwali inkella jekk din isseħħx f’daqqa. Hemm iżda l-biża’ li l-gravità tas-sitwazzjoni tista’ taċċellera avolja il-jekk u l-meta ħadd ma jaf. Din hi xi ħaga ġdida għal kulħadd!

Kull żieda fil-livell tal-baħar, kemm jekk isseħħ b’mod gradwali kif ukoll jekk isseħħ f’daqqa, ikollha impatt fuq il-kosta u b’mod partikolari fuq l-infrastruttura żviluppata tul iż-żmien. Din l-infrastruttura hi primarjament waħda turistika imma tinkludi ukoll żvilupp residenzjali li xi drabi jasal sax-xifer, sal-baħar: kemm bl-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritajiet u anke xi minndaqqiet mingħajrha!

Il-ħsara potenzjali għall-infrastruttura kostali hi kwistjoni li għandha tħassibna. Din diġà sofriet ħsarat diversi minħabba il-maltemp qalil li żied fil-frekwenza u l-intensità tul dawn l-aħħar snin. L-impatt ta’ żieda fil-livell tal-baħar bla dubju ser joħloq tibdil kbir tul il-kosta kollha tal-gżejjer Maltin. L-istorja tgħallimna. Nhar it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Diċembru 1908 fil-5.20 ta’ fil-għodu Messina fi Sqallija ġarrbet wieħed mill-iktar terrimoti qliel li qatt kien hawn fl-Ewropa, b’qawwa mkejla ta’ 7.5 fuq l-iskala Richter. Immedjatament, inħoloq tsunami b’mewġ għoli sa 9 metri. Madwar sagħtejn wara, fit-7.45 ta’ fil-għodu dan it-tsunami, ftit immansat, wasal fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Diversi gazzetti Maltin ta’ dak iż-żmien irrappurtaw li l-lokalitajiet mal-kosta viċin il-livell tal-baħar kienu mgħarrqa fl-ilma mit-7.45 ta’ fil-għodu għax b’effett taz-tsunami l-baħar tela’ l-art. Dan baqa’ sal-4.00 ta’ waranofsinnhar meta l-baħar reġa’ ikkalma u rritorna lejn il-livelli normali tiegħu! Herbert Ganado, f’l-ewwel volum ta’ Rajt Malta Tinbidel jgħid li residenzi u ħwienet tul il-kosta ta’ tas-Sliema, l-iMsida u tal-Pietà kienu mgħarrqa f’tebqa’ t’għajn għax daħlilhom kwantità ta’ ilma fis-sular terran. Bħala medja l-baħar għola madwar erba’ piedi : 1.20 metri. Fil-Port il-Kbir, imma, ma ġara xejn għax kien imħares mill-breakwater, li l-bini tiegħu kien ġie ffinalizzat madwar sentejn qabel, fis-sena 1906.

Żieda fil-livell tal-baħar bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima tkun tfisser repetizzjoni tal-impatti taz-tsunami tal-1908 mifruxa iktar u fuq bażi permanenti. Il-lokalitajiet Maltin tul il-kosta li qegħdin viċin tal-livell tal-baħar jispiċċaw b’mod permanenti fl-ilma baħar. Dan ikun jinkludi r-ramliet kollha u żoni kummerċjali u residenzjali fl-Għadira, ix-Xemxija, is-Salini, l-Gzira, l-iMsida, tas-Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Tal-Pietà, il-Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuġa, ix-Xlendi, u Marsalforn. L-impatti jistgħu jinħassu iktar il-ġewwa mill-kosta ukoll, f’lokalitajiet li huma f’livell tal-baħar bħal Ħal-Qormi u allura jeffettwa l-inħawi kollha mix-xatt tal-Marsa sa Ħal-Qormi b’dik li hi magħrufa bħala l-Marsa tal-Inġliżi b’kollox. Dan jeffettwa ukoll l-investiment fl-infrastruttura sportiva.

Li jogħla l-livell tal-baħar issa hu inevitabbli. Imma b’ħidma bil-għaqal għad hemm ċans li nnaqqsu kemm dan jogħla. Dan jista’ jseħħ kemm-il darba nieħdu passi biex innaqqsu l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju u allura inkunu qed nagħtu kontribut biex iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali tkun l-inqas possibli.

Fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, Malta, flimkien mal-bqija tal-pajjiżi, wegħdet li tieħu azzjoni konkreta biex ikun possibli li jonqsu l-impatti fuq il-klima. Però anke jekk il-wegħdiet kollha li saru f’Pariġi jkunu onorati, hu ċar li għadna l-bogħod ħafna milli nilħqu l-mira miftehma li ma naqbżux iż-żieda ta’ żewġ gradi Celsius fit-temperatura. Hu meħtieġ ħafna iktar mingħand kulħadd. Hemm bżonn mhux biss iktar azzjoni konkreta imma ukoll politika koerenti u konsistenti.

Il-politika ta’ Malta dwar il-klima, imma, hi waħda diżonesta. Nuru wiċċ b’ieħor kontinwament. Min-naħa l-waħda l-Gvern Malti jwiegħed li jaġixxi biex ikun possibli li nindirizzaw il-klima. Imma fl-istess ħin jibqa’ għaddej bi proġetti infrastrutturali li jinkoraġixxu iktar karozzi fit-toroq u allura iktar emissjonijiet. L-emissjonijiet tal-karozzi jikkompetu ma dawk li joriġinaw mill-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku.

Hemm bżonn li ndaħħlu ftit sens u konsistenza fil-politika ta’ Malta dwar il-klima. Għax sakemm nibqgħu inkonsitenti kullma qed nagħmlu hu li qed ngħinu biex ikompli jitħaffar il-qabar tagħna.


ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Mejju 2020

Malta: a double-faced climate change policy

Estimates for sea-level rise, both globally as well as in Europe, vary depending on the assumptions made as to the rate at which ice at the polar caps and Greenland is melting.

The carbon emission-mitigation policy scenario also has a direct bearing on these estimates. These estimates range between a 34- and 172-centimetres potential sea-level rise by the end of the current century. Lower emissions together with a focused mitigation policy may restrict sea-level rise towards the lower end of the range.

However, notwithstanding, no one is in a position to predict as to whether such a sea-level rise will be gradual or sudden. It is however feared that once a tipping point is reached changes may occur at a much faster pace than anticipated. We all are on a learning curve on this!

Any sea-level rise, gradual or sudden, will have an impact on our coastline and in particular on the infrastructure developed over the years along the coast. This infrastructure is primarily of a touristic nature but it also includes residential development at times built along the water’s edge with or without the acquiescence of the planning authorities.

There is nothing to worry about if the sea-level rise wipes out abusive development. When one considers the potential impact on coastal infrastructure that is, however, a different kettle of fish.

The coastal infrastructure is already battered by the ever-frequent storms. The impact of a sea-level rise will without any doubt redraw the coastal map of the Maltese islands.

Let us have a look at our history books. At 5.20am of Monday 28 December 1908, Messina in neighbouring Sicily experienced one of the most powerful earthquakes to ever hit Europe, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. Immediately, a tsunami generating waves as high as 9 metres was unleashed. Just over two hours later, at 7.45am, the tsunami, slightly tamed, reached the Maltese Islands.

Various local newspapers of the time reported that low-lying areas were flooded from 7.45am until around 4.00pm when the sea receded back to its “normal level”. Herbert Ganado, in his Rajt Malta Tinbidel (Volume 1, page 37) states that residences and shops along the coast in Sliema, Msida, and Pietà were suddenly flooded. The average sea-level rise was 1.20 metres. The Grand Harbour was spared as it was protected by the breakwater, whose construction had been finalised a couple of years earlier.

A sea-level rise as a result of climate change would repeat the Malta impacts of the 1908 tsunami on a permanent basis. The low-lying parts of the Maltese coastline would then be permanently underwater. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards the inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

Sea-level rise is inevitable. It is only its extent which can be reduced. This can happen if we take appropriate action which reduces carbon emissions and hence contributes to nudging the temperature increase towards the least possible.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously it proceeds with road infrastructural projects which encourage cars on our roads. Car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change. Is it not about time that we bring our own house in order? We are digging our own grave with a double-faced climate policy.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 May 2020

It-turiżmu għarkuptejh

It-turiżmu hu ewlieni fost l-oqsma tas-setturi ekonomiċi milquta mill-pandemija Covid-19. Dan japplika iktar għat-turiżmu tal-massa li għadu s’issa settur importanti li fuqu hi dipendenti l-industrija turistika Maltija. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, (flimkien mal- Ministri għat-Turiżmu tal-Italja, Ċipru, Spanja, Franza, l-Portugall, il-Greċja, ir-Rumanija u l-Bulgarija) f’laqgħa virtwali iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fittxet kunsens biex jinħolqu kurituri siguri għat-turiżmu fit-triq lura lejn in-normalità u f’żona ħielsa mill-Covid-19.

Sfortunatament, tal-inqas fl-immedjat, irridu ngħixu mal-virus Covid-19 u l-limitazzjonijiet li ħoloq fuq il-ħajja normali tagħna. It-triq lura lejn in-normalità hi waħda twila. Ir-restrizzjonijiet straordinarji fuq ħajjitna li huma fis-seħħ presentment ma jistgħux jibqgħu għaddejjin b’mod indefinit u dan minkejja li illum huma meħtieġa.

Ir-restrizzjonijiet kważi totali imposti fil-gżejjer Maltin tul il-ġimgħat li għaddew kienu effettivi biex ikunu indirizzati il-biżgħat dwar is-saħħa. Bħala riżultat ta’ dawn ir-restrizzjonijiet, f’Malta, l-mixja tal-virus kienet imrażżna, kif jixhdu l-aħbarijiet ta’ kuljum imxandra mis-Supretendent dwar is-Saħħa Pubblika.

It-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh. Prattikament waqaf, kullimkien madwar id-dinja, anke jekk temporanjament.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropea mit-turiżmu jiddependu qrib is-27 miljun impieg li jiġġeneraw madwar għaxra fil-mija tal-prodott gross nazzjonali. F’Malta u fil-pajjiżi ġirien fin-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, aħna dipendenti iktar mit-turiżmu mill-medja Ewopeja. Ix-xibka tad-dipendenza tal-ekonomija tagħna fuq it-turiżmu hi ferm ikbar minn hekk. It-tbatija kkawżat illum hi għaldaqstant ikbar u r-ritorn għal xi forma ta’ normalità inevitabilment tieħu iktar fit-tul.

Meta ser nirritornaw lura għan-normal? Ċertament li mhux fl-immedjat. Hu ferm dubjuż jekk din ix-xewqa għar-ritorn lejn in-normal magħruf tistax tintlaħaq, anke jekk inħarsu ftit fit-tul. Li hu żgur hu li ma hu ser jinbidel xejn mil-lum għal għada.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministri tat-Turiżmu tal-Unjoni Ewropea iddiskutew inizjattivi biex jinkuraġixxu t-turiżmu intern fl-unjoni nnifisha u dan permezz tal-ħolqien ta’ speċi ta’ passaporti tas-saħħa bejn żoni ħielsa mill-Covid-19. Sakemm tibqa’ fis-seħħ il-miżura dwar iż-żamma ta’ distanza soċjali, l-proposta mhiex waħda realistika, ta’ l-inqas għall-futur immedjat u probabbilment għal bosta xhur wara.

Sfortunatament l-ivvjaġġar b’mod ġenerali, u b’mod partikolari t-turiżmu, għandu l-potenzjal li jservi għat-tixrid tal-pandemija bl-istess mod kif fil-passat kien il-kummerċ li serva biex xtered mard ieħor f’kull rokna tad-dinja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, hu probabbli li t-turiżmu tkun fost l-aħħar mill-attivitajiet ekonomiċi li jibdew t-triq lura għan-normal, u dan wara li l-Covid-19 tkun taħt kontroll effettiv fl-Ewropa b’mod ġenerali.

Kulħadd jifhem u japprezza l-ħeġġa tal-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu biex jonqsu r-restrizzjonijiet fuq l-ivvjaġġar u allura fuq dawk is-setturi li minnhom hi dipendenti l-industrija tat-turiżmu. Sfortunatament, iżda, fil-futur immedjat dan mhux realistiku li jintlaħaq. Hemm dubji kbar anke dwar x’jista’ jseħħ fuq tul ta’ żmien.

L-ekonomija tal-parti l-kbira tan-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, u in partikolari dik tal-pajjiżi Mediterranji, hi dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu u dan billi tipprovdi vaganzi bi prezzijiet raġjonevoli tul is-sena kollha għal dawk ġejjin mit-tramuntana u ċ-ċentru tal-Ewropa f’kuntest ta’ suq Ewropew wieħed. Il-miġja tal-vjaġġi b’irħis mifruxa mal-Ewropa kollha komplew kabbru l-firxa ta’ din ix-xibka ta’ dipendenza.

F’dan il-kuntest huwa ċar li ftit jista’ jsir ippjanar bil-quddiem. Hemm ħaġa waħda li hi ċara: il-futur huwa nċert u t-turiżmu għad ma nafux x’sura ser jieħu fix-xhur u fis-snin li ġejjin. It-tbatija mhux ser tintemm hekk kif nieqfu nistennew. Għax it-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Mejju 2020

Tourism is on its knees

Tourism has been among the hardest hit sectors of the economy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This applies more so to mass tourism which still constitutes an important sector on which Malta’s tourism industry is dependent. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Minister for Tourism, (together with Tourism Ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria) in an online meeting earlier this week advocated the creation of safe corridors, desperately seeking to create a return to normal in a Covid-19 free zone.

Unfortunately, at least in the short term, we have to live with a virus that has overturned ordinary life. The path back to normalcy will take a very long time even though it is clear that the extraordinary restrictions currently enforced cannot go on indefinitely, notwithstanding that today they are clearly a necessity.

The partial lockdown in operation in the Maltese islands for the past weeks has been effective in addressing public health concerns. As a result, in Malta, the spread of the virus has been contained and adequately managed as is evidenced by the daily briefings of the Superintendent of Public Health.

Tourism is however on its knees. It has been practically wiped out, temporarily, everywhere across the globe.

Within the European Union tourism accounts for close to 27 million jobs and around 10 per cent of GDP. In Malta, as well as in other neighbouring Southern European countries, tourism makes a larger contribution to the GDP. The web of dependence of the economy on tourism is larger. The pain is consequently larger and the expected time for recovery will be much longer.

Will we return to normal? Certainly not in the short term. It is even doubtful whether such a return to the “known normal” is achievable in the long term. Definitely any recovery will not occur overnight.

Earlier this week EU Tourism Ministers discussed whether initiatives should be taken to encourage internal tourism within the EU itself through some sort of health passports between areas within the EU which are Covid-19 free. As long as keeping a social distance rule remains in force this is not a realistic option, at least for the foreseeable future, certainly not for a number of months.

Unfortunately, travel in general and tourism in particular has the potential of being the perfect vehicle for the spreading of the pandemic just as trade, in the past, served to spread other pandemics across the globe. Keeping this in mind, most probably tourism would be the last economic activity to be reactivated once Covid-19 is sufficiently under control, at least on the European mainland.

It is understandable that the Ministry for Tourism seeks an early scaling down of the restrictions on travel and consequently on the sectors servicing the tourism industry. It has however to be underlined that this is not realistic to achieve in the short term. It is also dubious as to what lies in store in the long term.

The economy of the greater extent of Southern Europe, and in particular that of Mediterranean countries, is reliant on tourism primarily through providing reasonably priced holidays, not just during the summer months, for citizens of Northern and Central Europe within an EU single market. Low-cost flights throughout the European area further adds to this web of dependence.

Even though in this context it is difficult to plan ahead, one thing is certain: the future is as yet undefined and tourism will never be the same. Recovery will be as painful as the waiting time. Tourism is definitely on its knees.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 May 2020

Solidarity: practising what we preach

In the local political lexicon, at times, the significance of Malta’s EU membership is incorrectly equated to the financial input of the union in the financing of the development of the local infrastructure, both physical and social. The role of the cohesion funds and regional development funds, in their various forms, are, at times perceived as the be-all of Malta’s EU policy!

Solidarity is a founding principle embedded in the European Union Treaties: however, it is not sufficiently reflected in the behaviour of both EU states and EU citizens. Solidarity signifies the existence of a commitment for mutual support in time of need. As most are aware, solidarity is much more than a financial commitment of the stronger members of the union who are net contributors to the EU budget. Beyond financial assistance, unfortunately, solidarity has time and again proven easier said than done for the EU member states.

Solidarity is a two-way process: we speak of the solidarity which we expect of others without giving sufficient attention to the solidarity due from us, in particular to our neighbours. Solidarity due to us is a given, however a multitude of reservations seem to apply to the solidarity which we are expected to deliver to our neighbours in time of need.

The criminalisation of NGOs who save lives (thus filling the gaps created by EU state inaction and dereliction of duty) together with the closure of our ports for humanitarian missions is an affront to the basic principles of solidarity. We should not shift onto NGOs and onto the refugees the failure of the Libyan state to control those who are making a quick buck from the refugees’ plight.

The Covid-19 crisis has once more identified that within the European Union, in time of need, when it really matters, there exists a solidarity deficit. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, has earlier this week publicly apologised to the state of Italy for not helping out at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Addressing the European Parliament, she stated that “too many were not there in time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning”.

Saying sorry is however not enough. A genuine “sorry” needs to be matched by concrete action which changes behaviour, if it has to mean anything at all.

A time of crisis is a time for more Europe. It is a time where the relatively strong should seek the weak to help them out in overcoming the difficulties being faced. In a time of crises no one should beg for help. Solidarity should be forthcoming almost automatically and without any conditions attached.

As we are well aware, this is not news to us, as we have had to bear a lack of solidarity in respect of the impacts of immigration incident on our shores time and again. Together with other EU member states along the extensive borders of the Union, time and again Malta has been left on its own to face the music. There is as yet no general acceptance within the Union that this is an EU problem which requires an EU solution.

In Malta, at times, we fail to understand that the effectiveness of the EU in any specific area is dependent on the reactions from the individual member states.At times, there has been limited agreement on voluntary action to relocate refugees saved from drowning as well as those arriving in Malta on their own or else assisted by NGOs.

So far, the EU has generally been able to agree on one line of action in tackling the influx of refugees: throwing money at the problem. Development aid has also been used with limited success in aiding the rebuilding of those parts of Africa which have collapsed.

Solidarity should be a fundamental value in our operations as a state not just as an EU member state but more so as a state which claims adherence to basic Christian values. Our solidarity is a value which should stand on its own two feet without being conditioned by whether others act appropriately or not. Do unto others what you expect others do to you. Many a times have we heard this said. Isn’t it about time that we practice what we preach?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26th April 2020

Is-Solidarjetà mhiex għażla, iżda obbligu

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Evarist Bartolo, il-Ministru għall-Affarijiet Barranin, b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali, iddikjara fuq it-televiżjoni li kien iddiskuta fit-tul il-kriżi tal-immigrazzjoni li qed tiżviluppa fl-ibħra Maltin mal-Kummissjoni Ewropea, mal-Vatikan u ma uffiċjali mlaħħqin tal-aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar ir-Refuġjati (UNHCR). Ilkoll kienu tal-fehma, qal, li Malta għandha raġun.

Evarist Bartolo qed jipprova jagħti l-impressjoni falza li l-għeluq tal-portijiet Maltin għall-NGOs biex ikunu jistgħu jisbarkaw l-immigranti meħlusa mill-għarqa fl-ibħra ta’ madwarna li qed jiżviluppaw f’ċimiterju hi aċċettabbli u jew raġjonevoli għall-komunità internazzjonali. Il-verità hi ferm differenti minn hekk.

Il-Ħodor, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll fl-Unjoni Ewropea, repetutament emfasizzaw li Malta ma tistax titħalla terfa’ waħedha dawn l-obbligi ta’ salvataġġ. Dan ġie emfasizzat din il-ġimgħa stess fi stqarrija konġunta bejn il-Partit tal-Ħodor Ewropej (EGP) u Alternattiva Demokratika. Is-solidarjetà fjakka jew ineżistenti ma tħassarx l-obbligi ta’ Malta fiż-żona ta’ salvataġġ li hi responsabbli għaliha fil-Mediterran ċentrali.

Hi tabilħaqq sfortuna li tul is-snin, Malta, repetutament ippruvat taħrab mir-responsabbiltajiet tagħha. Ilkoll niftakru meta l-PN fil-Gvern wasal fi ftehim mal-Gvern immexxi minn Silvio Berlusconi fl-Italja biex il-qawwiet tal-baħar Taljani jimbuttaw lura d-dgħajjes mgħobbija bl-immigranti li jkunu telqu mill-kosta Libjana.

Iktar qrib fiż-żmien il-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat wasal f’xi forma ta’ ftehim sigriet imma mhux miktub (safejn hu magħruf) li permezz tiegħu il-Gvern Taljan immexxi minn Matteo Renzi b’mod li ma waslux iktar immigranti f’Malta għal perjodu twil.

Imbagħad hemm il-każ ta’ Neville Gafà, il-mibgħut speċjali tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat u l-laqgħat li hu kellu ma’ Haithem Tajouri mexxej tal-brigati rivoluzzjonarji ta’ Tripli. Tajouri, mid-dehra viċin ħafna tal-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat jissemma f’rapport ta’ ‘l fuq minn 200 paġna tal-Ġnus Magħquda liema rapport hu dwar ksur ta’diversi drittijiet tal-bniedem. Skond l-istess rapport Tajouri hu responsabbli ukoll għal ċentru privat ta’ detenzjoni fejn jinżammu ħafna nies.

Fl-istampa lokali kien ġie rappurtat ukoll li kien hemm laqgħat fil-Libja bejn Neville Gafà, l-mibgħut speċjali tal-Prim Ministru, Joseph Muscat, u uffiċjali għoljin tal-Gvern Libjan. F’dawn il-laqgħat, li għalihom attenda Kurunell mill-Forzi Armati ta’ Malta ġew diskussi l-mezzi li kellhom jintużaw biex iwaqqfu l-immigrazzjoni. L-ismijiet u r-ritratti ta’ dawk presenti kienu ġew ippubblikati.

Dan m’għadux effettiv għax illum jidher li nbidlet l-istrateġija u jeħtieġilna li niffaċċjaw allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tal-Forzi Armati ta’ Malta dwar sabutaġġ tal-opri tal-baħar użati minn dawk li qed ifittxu l-ażil. Qed ikun allegat li s-suldati/baħrin tal-patrol boat P52 qatgħu l-cable tal-mutur li bih kienet għaddejja l-opra tal-baħar b’mod li ħallihom bejn sema’ u ilma fiż-żona ta’ tiftix li hi responsabbiltà ta’ Malta.

Prosit lill-NGO Repubblika li qed tinsisti li issir investigazzjoni kriminali dwar dan l-inċident biex jiġi stabilit eżattament x’ġara u min huwa responsabbli għalih. Kont nistenna li kellu jkun il-Kmandant tal-Forzi Armati minn rajh li jagħti bidu għall-investigazzjoni hekk kif saru dawk li s’issa għadhom allegazzjonijiet. Ma kellux joqgħod jistenna li jkun ħaddieħor li jinsisti li dan isir.

Il-proposta riċenti tal-Ministru Bartolo biex l-Unjoni Ewropeja tgħin lil-Libja b’mod li ittaffilha l-piz umanitarju li qed iġġorr bħalissa kif ukoll biex ikun iffaċilitat li l-komunità internazzjonali tkun tista’ tipprovdi l-għajnuna tant meħtieġa kemm lir-refuġjati kif ukoll lil-Libjani infushom hi pass il-quddiem. Imma tajjeb li jkun ċar illi minkejja d-diffikultajiet kollha fil-Libja nnifisha dan diġa qed isir.

Fil-fatt mill-2014 sal-lum l-Unjoni Ewropeja diġa ħarget għajnuna umanitarja ta’ madwar €50 miljun indirizzata lejn il-Libja.

Sfortunatament la hemm rieda u l-anqas aptit għal soluzzjoni Ewropea fost il-Gvernijiet tal-Unjoni Ewropeja u dan minkejja li erbgħa fost l-ikbar pajjiżi tal-unjoni (il-Ġermanja, Franza, Spanja u l-Italja), xi ġranet ilu ħadu inizjattiva biex il-migrazzjoni tirritorna fuq l-aġenda.

Naħseb li lkoll napprezzaw li s-sitwazzjoni hi waħda diffiċli. Imma anke f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi kulħadd għandu jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu.

Il-Gvern Malti għandu jibdel ir-rotta u flok ma jibqa’ kontinwament ifittex li jipprova jaħrab mir-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu ifittex li jaħdem id f’id mal-NGOs li qed isalvaw il-ħajjiet b’mod li qed jagħmlu ħidma li messha qed issir mill-Gvernijiet. Li jkun hemm min jipprova jimita lil mexxej lemini Matteo Salvini biex ikunu kkriminalizzati l-NGOs iservi biss biex tkompli tixtered il-mibgħeda imżejna b’lingwaġġ taparsi patrijottiku.

Hemm il-ħtieġa li l-Gvern Malti jifhem li s-solidarjetà mhiex għażla, imma dmir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 19 t’April 2020




Solidarity is not an option but a duty

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo sanctimoniously declared on TV that he had discussed at length the immigration crisis in Maltese waters with the EU Commission, with the Vatican and with senior officers of UNHCR. All agreed, he said, that Malta was in the right.

Mr Bartolo is trying to create a false perception that the closure of Maltese ports to NGOs disembarking immigrants saved from being engulfed in the cemetery developing around us is reasonable and acceptable to the international community. He cannot be more distant from the truth.

Greens, both in Malta and in the EU, have repeatedly emphasised that Malta cannot shoulder its “save and rescue responsibilities” on its own. This was emphasised as recently as this week in a joint statement between the European Green Party and Alternattiva Demokratika. However, inadequate or at times inexistent solidarity from EU member states does not absolve Malta of its international responsibilities from coordinating safety and rescue operations within its area of responsibility in the central Mediterranean.

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years Malta has repeatedly tried to wriggle out of its responsibilities. We do remember when the PN led government arrived at an agreement with the Berlusconi administration in Italy in order that the Italian navy pushes back all departing boats carrying immigrants along the Libyan coast.

Closer in time the Joseph Muscat administration is known to have arrived at some sort of secret but unwritten agreement with the then Renzi led government in Italy such that the arrival of immigrants in Malta trickled down to zero.

What about Neville Gafà, then special envoy of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his meetings with Libyan militia leader Haithem Tajouri of the Tripoli Revolutionary brigades? Tajouri, apparently a close acquaintance of the Muscat led government was singled out in a United Nations report for a number of human rights breaches. He is also, according to the same report, responsible for the running of a private detention centre where many are held in captivity.

It was also reported in the press that at a point in time Neville Gafà, envoy of the Prime Minister had accompanied the Maltese Colonel in charge of AFM Operations at high level meetings in Libya to stem immigration. Photographs and names were published.

Apparently this is no longer effective as we now have to face serious allegations of AFM personnel sabotaging rubber boats carrying asylum seekers in Maltese waters. It is being alleged that the crew of patrol boat P52 cut the cable of the motor driving the rubber boat carrying the asylum seekers leaving them adrift in the Maltese search and rescue area. Hats off to NGO Repubblika for filing criminal complaints. I would have expected the Commander of the Armed Forces to initiate an investigation himself without the need for any prompting, as soon as the allegations surfaced.

The recent proposal of Minister Bartolo for the EU to engage with Libya in order to lessen its humanitarian burden and enable the international community to provide much-needed assistance to both refugees and the Libyan people is positive. It is however to be underlined that this is already being done notwithstanding the difficult circumstances within Libya itself.

The EU has in fact disbursed around €50 million in humanitarian aid utilised in Libya since 2014.

Unfortunately there is no will among EU governments for an EU solution even though the four largest EU countries (Germany, France, Spain and Italy), a couple of days ago, have taken steps to push the migration issue back onto the EU agenda.

Everyone recognises that the situation is very difficult. Everyone must however shoulder their responsibilities.

The Maltese government should change tack and instead of constantly seeking ways to wriggle out of its responsibilities actively develop a close collaboration with those NGOs who have volunteered to deploy their own rescue missions to save lives, thereby filling in the gaps left by the EU states. Aping Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini in criminalising NGOs only serves to further encourage pseudo-patriotic vitriol.

It is about time that the Maltese Government recognises that solidarity is not an option but a duty.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday 19 April 2020