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 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

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

Is-siġar taż-żebbuġ taħt theddida

Studju ippubblikat dan l-aħħar jitkellem dwar marda li tattakka s-siġar taż-żebbuġ (Xylella fastidiosa). Ftit li xejn, safejn naf jien, smajna lill-awtoritajiet ta’ l-agrikultura f’Malta jitkellmu dwarha, inkluż dwar x’passi qed jieħdu jew fi ħsiebhom jieħdu.

L-istudju ġie rilaxxjat nhar it-Tnejn 13 t’April 2020 u jindika li l-marda jista’ jkollha impatt serju ħafna fuq in-nofsinnhar kollu tal-Ewropa fejn is-siġar taż-żebbuġ huma prevalenti. Il-marda mhix ġdida. Ilha magħna is-snin, sa mill-2013, u diġa għamlet ħafna ħsara.

Hu stmat li l-impatt fuq Spanja jista’ jlaħħaq mas-€16.9 biljun, fuq l-Italja €5.2 biljun u fuq il-Greċja €2 biljun. L-istudju sar minn xjenzjati mill-Università Olandiża ta’ Wageningen.

Il-ħsara ma issirx f’daqqa iżda fuq numru ta’ snin skond kemm u kif tinfirex il-marda. Huwa għalhekk importanti li jittieħdu passi immedjati jekk irridu nħarsu l-investiment f’dan il-qasam agrikolu li anke f’Malta jitla’ għal ammont sostanzjali.

L-interess fis-siġar taż-żebbuġ u fil-produzzjoni ta’ żejt taż-żebbuġa żdied ħafna tul is-snin. F’Malta, bħall-bqija taż-żewġ naħat tal-kosta tal-Mediterran s’issa hawn klima li tiffaċilta dan l-interess. Mhux biss illum. Hi ħidma li kienet teżisti minn snin ilu, ukoll, kif jixhdu id-diversi fdalijiet arkejoloġiċi li nstabu tul is-snin.

X’inhu jagħmel il-Gvern? B’mod partikolari x’inhu jsir fejn tidħol l-importazzjoni ta’ siġar taż-żebbuġ mill-pajjiżi milquta mill-marda?

Ġejt infurmat li din il-marda (xylella fastidiosa) ma tattakkax biss lis-siġar taż-żebbuġ imma tattakka madwar 123 speċi ta’ siġar oħra inkluż frott irqieq, ċitru u dwieli fost oħrajn.

L-impatt fuqna jekk nimpurtaw din il-marda għaldaqstant ikun wieħed enormi.

Is-segwenti hu estratt mill-istudju:

Abstract: Xylella fastidiosa is the causal agent of plant diseases that cause massive economic damage. In 2013, a strain of the bacterium was, for the first time, detected in the European territory (Italy), causing the Olive Quick Decline Syndrome. We simulate future spread of the disease based on climatic-suitability modeling and radial expansion of the invaded territory. An economic model is developed to compute impact based on discounted foregone profits and losses in investment. The model projects impact for Italy, Greece, and Spain, as these countries account for around 95% of the European olive oil production. Climatic suitability modeling indicates that, depending on the suitability threshold, 95.5 to 98.9%, 99.2 to 99.8%, and 84.6 to 99.1% of the national areas of production fall into suitable territory in Italy, Greece, and Spain, respectively. For Italy, across the considered rates of radial range expansion the potential economic impact over 50 y ranges from 1.9 billion to 5.2 billion Euros for the economic worst-case scenario, in which production ceases after orchards die off. If replanting with resistant varieties is feasible, the impact ranges from 0.6 billion to 1.6 billion Euros. Depending on whether replanting is feasible, between 0.5 billion and 1.3 billion Euros can be saved over the course of 50 y if disease spread is reduced from 5.18 to 1.1 km per year. The analysis stresses the necessity to strengthen the ongoing research on cultivar resistance traits and application of phytosanitary measures, including vector control and inoculum suppression, by removing host plants.

Is-solidarjetà mhiex qegħda fuq kwarantina

Il-kriżi tal-Covid19 tatna affarijiet ġodda biex ninkwetaw dwarhom. Il-problemi l-qodma għadhom magħna, imma issa tilfu l-importanza u l-urġenza tagħhom fid-dawl tal-kriżi kurrenti. Saħħitna, kemm individwalment kif ukoll b’mod kollettiv hi taħt theddida. L-ekonomija wieqfa u xi setturi ambjentali bdew jirpiljaw bil-mod.

Waqt li setturi differenti tal-ħidma tal-pajjiż qed jieqfu jew jiġu mwaqqfa bħala miżura ta’ prewkazzjioni, hu tajjeb li nassiguraw li s-solidarjetà ma tiġix imqegħda fi kwarantina.

Is-solidarjetà bejnietna hi essenzjali mhux biss biex inwieżnu lil xulxin illum, waqt il-kriżi, imma ukoll fi trieqitna biex il-pajjiż jirkupra u jerġa’ jibda jaħdem mill-ġdid. Irridu nifhmu li kulħadd hu importanti: dan jgħodd għal kull persuna mingħajr l-ebda eċċezzjoni. Ħadd ma għandu jkun injorat inkella jitħalla jaqa’ lura. Meta l-kriżi toqrob lejn tmiemha b’dan il-mod inkunu iktar b’saħħitna u fil-mixja tagħna nkunu għarafna napprezzaw aktar u aħjar lil xuxlin.

L-awtorijiajiet tas-saħħa f’Malta aġixxew b’kawtela raġjonevoli meta bdew jippjanaw minn kmieni għall-imxija tal-Covid19. It-tnaqqis gradwali ta’ attività mhux essenzjali, kienet, b’mod ġenerali, ippjanata tajjeb, b’eċċezzjoni waħda. Il-ftuħ tal-istaġun tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ukoll hu waħda mill-attivitajiet mhux essenzjali li ma kienx hemm ħtieġa li jiftaħ. Il-kumitat Ornis kien irresponsabbli li ta parir biex l-istaġun jinfetaħ. Il-Gvern qatt ma messu aċċetta li dan jiftaħ.

Il-komunità tal-kaċċa tilfet opportunità li tippreżenta ruħha f’dawl differenti. Sfortunatament, għal darba oħra ikkonfermat li mhiex kapaċi taġixxi b’mod responsabbli.

Inkunu b’saħħitna jekk ilkoll kemm aħna naġixxu b’mod responsabbli. Għandna nsegwu l-parir li ngħatajna biex preferibilment nibqgħu ġewwa. Mhux il-waqt la għal picnic, la għall-camping u wisq inqas għal mixjiet fil-kampanja inkella għall-kaċċa.

Hu ukoll opportun li nirrealizzaw li r-razziżmu jagħmel ħsara iktar mill-Covid19.

Matul il-ġimgħa ċ-Ċentru Miftuħ ta’ Ħal-Far tqiegħed taħt kwarantina u dan wara li madwar tmien residenti tiegħu kienu identifikati bħala posittivi għall-Covid19. Kienet opportunità oħra li r-razzisti fostna ippruvaw jisfruttaw biex ikesksu. Ftit huma konxji li l-komunità ta’ Ħal-Far hi fost dawk li huma mill-iktar vulnerabbli b’mod partikolari minħabba l-ispazju ffullat li tqegħdu fih. Kif spjegajt fil-blog tiegħi nhar it-Tlieta, tkun deċiżjoni għaqlija kieku din il-komunità ta’ Ħal-Far, waqt li għaddejja l-kriżi kurrenti, tkun tista’ tagħmel użu mill-lukandi li presentement huma vojta u li m’humiex jintużaw. Dan mhux biss ikun fl-interess tagħhom u ta’ saħħithom. Huwa ukoll fl-interess tagħna lkoll li jittieħdu l-passi kollha neċessarji biex tkun ikkontrollata iktar l-imxija tal-Covid19. Il-Gvern għandu l-awtorità kollha biex jieħu deċiżjoni ta’ din ix-xorta għax il-liġi tipprovdi għaliha. Iktar ma issir malajr iktar aħjar għax b’hekk ikun indirizzat wieħed mir-riskji l-kbar li jista’ jwassal għat-tixrid aċċellerat tal-Covid19.

Fuq livell ta’ Unjoni Ewropea id-dibattitu dwar il-ħidma li trid issir wara li tintemm il-kriżi Covid19 għaddej.

Hu fatt li b’mod ġenerali l-Unjoni Ewropeja ma kienitx imħejjija għall-wasla taI-Covid19 u l-emerġenza li rriżultat. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, fl-ewwel ġimgħat la l-Italja u l-anqas Spanja ma sabu l-appoġġ li tant kienu jeħtieġu. Dan wassal biex is-servizzi tas-saħħa f’dawn il-pajjiżi ma setgħux ilaħħqu biex jindirizzaw l-impatti tal-mixja tal-virus u kienu f’xifer il-kollass.

It-telf ta’ kull ħajja hi dejjem okkazjoni ta’ dieqa kbira. Imma meta din tkun frott ta’ nuqqas ta’ preparazzjoni adegwata tkun ukoll riżultat ta’ inkompetenza.

Id-dibattitu illum huwa ukoll dwar liema hi l-aħjar triq il-quddiem. Pajjiżi min-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, ewlenin fosthom l-Italja u Spanja, b’appoġġ tal-Ħodor u s-soċjal demokratiċi fil-grupp S & D, qed jargumentaw favur il-ħruġ ta’ coronabonds mill-Unjoni Ewropeja. Bonds li hu propost li jimmaturaw fit-tul u dan kemm biex jitnaqqsu l-ispejjes biex dawn ikunu amministrati kif ukoll biex ikun assigurat li l-piż jintrefa minn kulħadd.

Qed nikteb l-Erbgħa fil-ghaxija meta jidher li għad ma hemm l-ebda konklużjoni dwar dan kollu. Hi triq, iżda, li għandha twassal għal solidarjetà u mhux għal karità.

Is-solidarjetà mhiex taħt kwarantina. Hi t-triq il-quddiem kemm f’Malta kif ukoll fl-Ewropa. Wara kollox hi parti integrali mid-DNA tagħna.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’April 2020

Solidarity is not on quarantine

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed what we are worrying about. Old problems are still around but their relative importance has been overshadowed by the current crisis. Our health, both individual and collective, is endangered. The economy is at a standstill and specific sectors of the environment are slowly recovering.

As more sections of society grind to a halt on a voluntary or compulsory lockdown, as a precautionary measure, it is important to ensure that solidarity is not placed on quarantine.

Solidarity is essential to support each other, primarily the most vulnerable amongst us. It is also essential both for our survival and for the eventual recovery of the country. In the process we must emphasise that everyone is important and no one is to be left behind or on his/her own. We must ensure that when this crisis is over, we come out of it stronger and wiser.

The health authorities in Malta acted with reasonable caution when they acted early to plan for the COVID-19 outbreak. The gradual reduction of non-essential activity was also generally planned responsibly, with one exception. The opening of the spring hunting season planned for this weekend is uncalled for. The Ornis Committee was irresponsible when it recommended its opening and government should not have accepted its advice.

The hunting community missed an opportunity which could have depicted them in a different light. They confirmed once more that in the hunting leadership’s dictionary the term “responsibility” has no significance.

We will be stronger if all of us act responsibly. We are being advised to preferably remain indoors. It is not the time for picnics, camping, walks in the countryside or hunting.

It is also time to realise that racism is more damaging than COVID-19.

During the week the open centre at Ħal-Far was placed on quarantine after some eight of its residents tested positive for COVID-19. It was a ranting opportunity for the racists among us. Little do they realise that the Ħal-Far community is among the most vulnerable due to the over-crowded space they have been provided with. As I explained on my blog last Tuesday, it would be reasonable at this point to shift the Ħal-Far community to vacant hotels for the duration of the crisis. It is not only in the interest of the Ħal-Far community but also in our own interest so as to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is further contained. Government has the full authority to proceed in this direction through existing legislation. The sooner this is done the better as this would be a very effective measure to contain a high risk area which could get out of hand and accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

On a European Union level the debate on the post-COVID-19 era is in full swing.
The COVID-19 outbreak found the EU inadequately prepared for the resulting emergency. As a result, in the initial weeks, Italy and Spain were not sufficiently supported and consequently their health services were overwhelmed and could not cope with the spread of the virus.

Loss of life is always regrettable. However, when this results from a lack of adequate preparation it is more a case of incompetence.

The current debate is on the best way forward. Southern European countries, primarily Italy and Spain, buttressed by the European Greens and the S & D, are arguing in favour of so-called coronabonds. The issuance would take the form of bonds with a long maturity, thereby alleviating debt servicing costs and burden-sharing among EU Member States. I am writing on Wednesday, when conclusions seem to be still far away. This should however follow a path of solidarity not one of charity.

Solidarity is not on quarantine. Solidarity is the way forward both on a national level as well as on an EU level. It is, after all, an essential element of our DNA.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 April 2020

Coronavirus: predictions and precautions

The declaration by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, earlier this week, on the possibility that between 60 and 70 per cent of the German population could eventually be infected by the Coronavirus may have shocked quite a few. That could amount to close to 38 million infected persons in Germany alone and possibly a substantial number of deaths.

I understand that Angela Merkel’s projections are a worst case scenario. This would be catastrophic, were it to ever happen. It is for this very reason that health planners in Malta have advised government, which correctly agreed, to combat the virus by playing for time and focusing on slowing its spread as much as possible, thereby reducing its overall impact on Malta and its residents. As a result of this strategy it is unlikely that there will be a large number of infected persons at any one time, thereby giving sufficient time to the health service to nurse those infected back to their normal health. On the other hand, there is a real danger that if this is not achieved the national health service will break down under the resulting strain with the number of deaths spiralling out of control. Hence the need to follow the directions given by the health authorities.

In order that the combat against Coronavirus be successful everyone has an important role to play to obstruct its spreading. At times it will be very inconvenient, but it has to be done. In the absence of a known cure, so far, slowing down the spread of Coronavirus is the only way of ensuring that the numbers infected as well as its impacts are reduced. All of us have to bear part of the brunt. If successful, this will, in the long term save lives. It will also reduce the suffering of those who are most vulnerable through shielding them and consequently reducing their risk of exposure.

The suspension of air and sea traffic to Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland together with compulsory quarantine procedures for all those returning to Malta from affected areas and localities are aimed at containing and preventing the spreading of the Coronavirus. A deep sense of responsibility is essential if the measures in hand are to be effective. In this respect it is shocking to learn, from electronic comments posted by an emergency doctor that some patients were not forthright when replying to questions on their travel history and consequently on identifying their exposure to the risk of being infected. This, it is understood, was being done in order to try and avoid precautionary compulsory quarantine procedures.

At the time of writing 12 cases have been identified and tested positive. What is very worrying is that it was reported that two of the persons identified as being infected did not self-quarantine. They went to their workplace before their attention was drawn on the need to take some sensible action!

Quarantine procedures are an essential tool which the health authorities must use in order to be in a position to arrest the spread of the virus and consequently to save lives as well as to reduce the suffering of all, but primarily of those most vulnerable amongst us.

The elderly and the sick, in particular those subject to a chronic asthma condition – approximately numbering 30,000 in Malta – need effective solidarity which can only be put into effect through the responsible behaviour of all of us. Acting responsibly by following the instructions issued by the health authorities will save lives. Each case of avoidance of quarantine, whenever this is required, will encourage the spread of the virus and consequently may lead to the death of some of the most vulnerable amongst us.

If we follow to the letter the instructions issued, we may avoid more restrictive actions in the coming days.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 March 2020