Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

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Karmenu Vella and the plastic tax

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, is enthusiastic about the possibility of a plastic tax being introduced throughout the EU. In his view, this tax – if properly designed – could be one of a number of tools for delivering environmental objectives as well as providing budgetary income. Planet Earth is drowning in plastic.

Vella made these comments in an interview published on Euractive last week on the subject of the EU’s new plastics strategy.

We have been there before and maybe it is time to consider the matter once more in Malta. Some 10 years ago in Malta we had an environmental tax which was known as an “eco-contribution”. It was a valid proposal, badly designed and arrogantly implemented. The lessons learnt from that exercise could, if properly analysed, lead to the development of effective policy tools addressing the generation of waste in the Maltese islands. Policies should be well thought out and not developed as a result of panic – as is clearly the case with the current government incineration proposal.

Ten years ago, the eco-contribution tried to address the generation of plastic waste including “single-use plastic”. This is one of the primary targets of the EU plastics strategy published on the 16 January.

Its title is very clear : A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. Plastic is ubiquitous: it is present in all aspects of our economy and our daily lives. The plastics we use must be such that they can be re-used rather than thrown away. It is an important resource which can be put to good use rather than thrown away or incinerated.

It is for this purpose that the newly-published plastics strategy lays the foundations for a new plastics economy where “the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs and more sustainable materials are developed and promoted”.

A plastics economy would definitely not send “waste plastic” to the incinerator to be converted into energy. Even Malta’s latest version of the Waste Management Strategy, approved in 2014, emphasises that our approach to waste must be one based on the sustainable use of resources and, in line with the EU waste hierarchy, gives priority to recycling over incineration.

In fairness, it has to be said that our government’s advisors on incineration have already sounded the alarm. Apparently this has not, as yet, been understood – either by the government or by the Opposition. It would be pertinent to point out that the Special Assignment Report by Jaspers dated 23 February 2017 on a Waste to Energy (WtE) project in Malta specifically emphasises that “it would be difficult to justify a WtE facility that is not based on low waste growth and high recycling”.

Rather than talking about incineration, it is about time we discussed in detail the implementation of our Waste Management Strategy in order to identify why it has not to date succeeded in increasing Malta’s recycling rates. What initiatives need to be taken in order that the waste generated in Malta is minimised?

Malta’s waste management strategy, now complemented by the EU’s Plastic Strategy, is definitely a much better roadmap than the documentation encouraging incineration. And what about our commitments to encourage a “circular economy” : gone with the wind?

Karmenu Vella’s plastics tax is food for thought.

It is about time that Wasteserve is managed properly. As a first step, it should stick to its brief and seek to implement carefully the Waste Management Strategy, which establishes the year 2050 as the year when we should achieve a “Zero Waste Target”. This target will not be achieved through the use of incineration but through a policy encouraging waste minimisation as well as recycling.

This is not just a task for the Minister responsible for the Environment. The Minister responsible for the Development of the Economy also has a very important role to play in achieving a successful implementation of the Waste Management Strategy.

Unfortunately he is apparently completely absent.

Zero waste municipalities in Europe are continuously indicating that an 80 to 90 per cent recycling rate is achievable. The fact that Malta’s recycling rate is, at best, estimated at around 12 per cent, is a clear indication that there is room for substantial improvement – with or without Karmenu Vella’s plastics tax.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 28 January 2018

 

Encouraging the avoidance of paying tax

The issue as to whether or not  Malta is a tax haven has been brought to the fore once again, as a result of the amendment to the Panama Papers Inquiry Report discussed in the European Parliament earlier this week. The defeated amendment would have seen Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands labelled by the European Parliament as “tax havens”.

The matter is much more complex. On the one hand it involves tax competition and on the other hand it is a matter of justice in taxation matters.

As has been repeatedly stated, competition on taxation matters is one of the few areas in which small, as well as peripheral, countries in the European Union have a competitive advantage. Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party is not in favour of loosing this competitive advantage through tax harmonisation in the EU. However, it has to be used in a responsible manner.

The rules permitting the refund of a substantial amount of tax paid by foreign-owned companies based in Malta is one of the main reasons for the current spotlight. This substantial tax refund effectively reduces the tax paid by such companies from 35% to five per cent and is obviously considered very attractive by a number of companies. The basic question that requires a clear answer is how many of these companies are letter-box companies, that is companies which do not have any part of their operations on Maltese soil?

It would be reasonable to encourage companies to base part of their operations in Malta and, as a result, make use of tax advantages. But in respect of those companies which have not moved any part of their operations to Malta, making use of beneficial taxation arrangements is unreasonable and unjust. It leads to such companies avoiding paying tax in the countries in which they create their profits and consequently avoiding their social responsibilities on paying taxes in the countries that are providing them with the very facilities which make it possible for them to create their wealth.

In a nutshell, Malta is providing these companies with the legal framework to avoid their taxation responsibilities in the countries in which they operate through payment of a fraction of these taxes to the Maltese Exchequer. They pocket the rest.

Hiding behind the EU unanimity rule on tax issues will not get us anywhere, as Ireland has learnt in the Apple case. At the end of the day, the situation is not just about  taxation: it also involves competition rules and rules regulating state aid, as the legal infrastructure encouraging the avoidance of taxation is, in effect, a mechanism for state aid. The is also an issue of tax justice, as a result of which tax should be paid where the profits are generated.

Tax competition has a role to play as an important tool that small and peripheral countries in the EU have at their disposal. No one should expect these countries, Malta included, to throw away the small advantage they have, but it should be clear that this should be used responsibly and in no way should it buttress the urge of multinationals to circumvent the national taxation system in the country where their profits are generated.

Profits should be taxed where they are actually generated and not elsewhere. The EU needs to end – once and for all – not only tax evasion but also tax avoidance resulting from loopholes in national taxation rules. For this to happen, the EU member states must not only be vigilant, but they must also refrain from encouraging tax avoidance through the creation of more loopholes.

Tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance seriously will mean that taxes are paid where they are due, thereby funding the services and infrastructure that is required in a modern, civilised society. This can only happen if more companies pay their dues.

Tax competition need not be a race to the bottom.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 December 2017

Sven Giegold tkellem dwar il-preokkupazzjoni tagħna lkoll

Il-Membru Parlamentari Ewropew Sven Giegold, mill-Grupp tal-Ħodor, Ġermaniż,  ġie Malta ippreokkupat dwar is-saltna tad-dritt f’Malta. B’dak li sema’ kemm dam hawn spiċċa ippreokkupa ruħu ferm iktar.

Fuq il-blog tiegħu stess, fil-fatt jgħid hekk: 

“The delegation of the Parliament came seriously concerned over the rule of law in Malta and left even more worried. We learnt a great deal, gathered important evidence and were promised even more.

The police and the attorney general have demonstrated an unwillingness to investigate and failure to prosecute corruption and money laundering.”

X’qalulhom mela, biex tawhom din l-impressjoni ħażina.

Sven Giegold ikompli jgħid :

“Publically available information and even reports by Malta’s anti-money laundering body FIAU have repeatedly not triggered investigations. Individuals and financial institutions involved were not searched, evidence not gathered. This protected high government officials such as prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi from prosecution as well as financial instiutions such as Pilatus Bank and Nexia BT.”

Bħalna lkoll Sven Giegold ifforma l-opinjoni li r-rapporti tal-FIAU ġew injorati. Jidher li wasal għall- konklużjoni li ma saret l-ebda investigazzjoni dwar il-kontenut ta’ dawn ir-rapporti. Għax kieku saret investigazzjoni u din waslet għall-konklużjoni li ma kien hemm xejn minn dak li jintqal fir-rapporti, nimmaġina li l-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija kien jgħidlhom lid-delegazzjoni tal-Parlament Ewropew li “investiga u ma sab xejn”.

Imma ma jidhirx li intqal dan il-kliem għax il-konklużjoni ta’ Giegold, liema konklużjoni taqbel magħha Ana Gomes is-Soċjalista Portugiża li qed tmexxi d-delegazzjoni, hi ċara daqs il-kristall :

“Publically available information and even reports by Malta’s anti-money laundering body FIAU have repeatedly not triggered investigations.”

Din hi l-preokkupazzjoni tagħna lkoll: li l-istituzzjonijiet qegħdin hemm għalxejn.

Wara d-dibattitu fi Strasburgu

 

Id-dibattitu tal-ġimgħa l-oħra fil-Parlament Ewropew dwar is-saltna tad-dritt wera li prattikament il-partiti politiċi kollha huma mħassba dwar is-saltna tad-dritt f’Malta. Il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia jkompli jżid ma dan it-tħassib.

It-tħassib hu wieħed akkumulat u huwa ġġustifikat minħabba diversi affarijiet li ġraw fuq tul ta’ żmien.

Il-ħatra u r-riżenja ta’ diversi Kummissarji tal-Pulizija matul dawn il-ħames snin xejn ma għen f’dan il-kuntest.

Ir-rapporti tal-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) li waslu għand il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija u ma ittieħdu l-ebda passi dwarhom ukoll wasslu l-messaġġ li f’dan il-pajjiż xejn m’hu xejn: li l-liġi hi bla siwi.

Jekk il-liġi hi bla siwi għax l-awtorijtajiet li għandhom l-obbligu li jimplimentawha jagħlqu għajnejhom, daqqa waħda u drabi oħra t-tnejn, hu ġustifikat li jingħad li s-saltna tad-dritt hi mhedda.

F’dan il-kuntest ma tista’ tagħti tort lil ħadd li jissuspetta illi l-awtoritajiet kollha ħaġa waħda, jħokku dahar xulxin. Anke jekk mhux neċessarjament hekk.

Imma hemm min qiegħed japprofitta ruħu minn din is-sitwazzjoni biex jiżra’ sfiduċja iktar milli diġa hawn. Ilkoll kemm aħna, fuq quddiem nett il-partiti politiċi, għandna l-obbligu li f’din is-siegħa delikata ma nesagerawx fil-kritika li nagħmlu. Anke fejn il-kritika hi ġustifikata. Il-kritika li issir hemm bżonn li tkun waħda responsabbli avolja jkun hemm min ma jagħtix każ, jew inkella jipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li mhux qed jagħti każ.

Il-fatti jibqgħu dejjem fatti.

Il-Prim Ministru żbalja meta ma tajjarx lill-Konrad Mizzi mill-Kabinett u lil Keith Schembri minn Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tiegħu wara li isimhom deher fil-lista magħrufa bħala Panama Papers. Kien żball oħxon li anke fil-Partit Laburista stess kien hemm dibattitu jaħraq dwaru. Fil-Partit Laburista kien hemm min kellu l-kuraġġ li jesprimi fehmtu dwar dan fil-pubbliku. Hekk għamlu s-sena l-oħra Evarist Bartolo u Godfrey Farrugia. Kien hemm oħrajn li tkellmu fil-magħluq waqt laqgħat tal-Grupp Parlamentari. Fil-gazzetti kienu ssemmew l-ismijiet tad-Deputat Prim Ministru ta’ dak iż-żmien Louis Grech u tal-Ministri Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna u George Vella. Hemm ukoll id-dikjarazzjoni ċara pubblika ta’ Alfred Sant, avolja dan issa qed jitkellem ftit differenti. Naf li hemm oħrajn. Kollha talbu r-riżenja ta’ Konrad Mizzi.

Il-preokkupazzjoni tal-lum hi in parti riżultat ta’ din id-deċiżjoni żbaljata tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat.

Il-kobba issa kompliet titħabbel bil-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Sfortunatament hemm min qed jitfa l-argumenti kollha f’borma waħda u jgħaqqad, b’mod irresponsabbli l-affarijiet, meta s’issa għad ma hemm l-ebda prova dwar min wettaq dan id-delitt u għal liema raġuni. L-iżbalji li saru fil-kors tal-investigazzjoni xejn m’huma ta’ għajnuna. La d-dewmien tal-Maġistrat Consuelo Scerri Herrera biex ma tibqax tmexxi l-investigazzjoni Maġisterjali u l-anqas li d-Deputat Kummissarju Silvio Valletta ma fehemx li l-presenza tiegħu fl-investigazzjoni tista’ tkun ta’ xkiel għall-kredibilita tal-konkluzjonijiet m’huma ser jgħinu.

F’dan il-kuntest il-kummenti ta’ Frans Timmermans Viċi President Ewlieni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea huma ta’ validità kbira: “Let the investigation run its full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

Il-preokkupazzjoni tagħna lkoll hi ġustifikata. Imma tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li t-taħwid kollu li għandna quddiemna ma tfaċċax f’daqqa, ilu jinġabar ftit ftit. Biex dan jingħeleb jeħtieġ l-isforz flimkien ta’ kull min hu ta’ rieda tajba.

 

ippubblikat f’Illum – Il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Novembru 2017

Beyond the Strasbourg debate

Last week’s debate in the European Parliament on the rule of law in Malta revealed that all political parties are preoccupied with the matter and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made a bad situation worse.

This preoccupation has not developed overnight, it has accumulated over time. The appointment of various Commissioners of Police and their subsequent resignation for a variety of reasons has not been helpful: it has reinforced the perception that “all is not well in the state of Denmark”.

The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reports received by the Commissioner of Police, and in respect of which no investigation was carried out, sent out one clear message: in this country, some people are clearly not subject to the rule of law. Can anyone be blamed if this message – sent by the Commissioner of Police – was clearly understood by one and all?

This transmits an additional clear message: the authorities are in cahoots; they are scratching each other’s back. Even though reality may be different, this is the message which has gone through.

Unfortunately, some people may be cashing in on these developments and, as a result, increasing exponentially the lack of trust in public authorities in Malta. This is a very dangerous development and calls for responsible action on the part of one and all, primarily political parties. Speaking out publicly about these developments is justified, notwithstanding the continuous insults which keep being levelled against such a stand. It is time to stand up and be counted.

The Prime Minister erred when he did not dismiss Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff at the OPM Keith Schembri on the spot, after it was clear that their names featured prominently in the Panama Papers. This serious error by the Prime Minister triggered a debate about the matter in the Labour Party. Some even had the courage to speak publicly: Evarist Bartolo and Godfrey Farrugia did so. Others participated actively in the internal debates within the Labour Party, in particular during meetings of the Parliamentary Group. Last year, the media had mentioned various Labour MPs as having been vociferous in internal debates on the matter: it was reported that former Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech and senior Ministers Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna and George Vella took the lead.

Even former Labour Leader Alfred Sant made public declarations in support of required resignations. This week, Sant sought to change his tune in a hysterical contribution to the Strasbourg debate. Others have preferred silence.

The Prime Minister’s erroneous position in refusing to fire Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri has been a major contributor to the present state of affairs. The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made matters worse and has, justifiably, led to the current preoccupation with the question of whether the rule of law is still effective in Malta at all.

Unfortunately some individuals begin linking all the incidents together – in the process, weaving a story which is quite different from reality, at least that which is known so far. Some claim to be able to joint the dots, thereby creating a narrative unknown to the rest of us, because the dots can be joined in many different ways.

Mistakes made during the initial stages of the investigation of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder further reinforce the perceptions that all is not well. When Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera took quite some time to realise that it was not right for her to lead the investigation into the murder of a journalist who had been the prime mover in torpedoing her elevation to the position of a Judge in the Superior Courts, everyone was shocked.

Even the failure of Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta to realise that for him to lead the police investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder could dent the credibility of the police investigation in view of his marriage to a Cabinet Minister was another serious mistake. This is no reflection on the couple’s integrity but an ethical consideration which should have been taken into consideration in the first seconds of the investigation.

In this context, the comments of European Commission Senior Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans assume greater importance “Let the investigation run its  full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

It is reasonable that all of us are seriously preoccupied. The present state of affairs did not develop overnight. It requires the concerted efforts of all of us to be put right.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 November 2017 

Meta l-egħedewwa tal-poplu jħarsu fil-mera

 

Owen Bonnici fil-Parlament, il-bieraħ, ikkummenta fuq id-dibattitu fil-Parlament Ewropew ġewwa Strasbourg dwar is-saltna tad-dritt. Qal li segwa d-dibattitu u “ħassu dispjaċut jara Maltin bħalu jagħmlu ħsara lil pajjiżna”. Ħaddieħor qiegħed jikkwota lil Cicerun u qed jitkellem dwar “l-għadu f’nofsna”.

Għandi eta biżżejjed biex niftakar iż-żmien meta kull min jikkritika lill-Gvern kien ikun deskritt bħala “għadu tal-poplu”. Għax għal dawn in-nies li tikkritika lill-Gvern ifisser li tkun qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż.

Din hi l-attitudni tal-intolleranza, ta’ min ma jissaportix lil min jikkritikah. Hi l-istess attitudni li twassal għall-vjolenza u anke f’xi każi għall-qtil.

Issa jiena naħseb li l-kritika tal-Opposizzjoni hi ftit esaġerata u qed tpoġġi flimkien affarijiet li mhux prudenti li jkunu ippreżentati daqs li kieku huma marbutin. Dwar dan ktibt diversi drabi u jekk ikun hemm bżonn nerġa’ nikteb kif ktibt il-bieraħ fuq dan l-istess blog.

Il-Partit Laburista għandu bżonn jiġi ftit f’sensieh u jirrealizza li meta ħa posizzjoni favur Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri u fil-prattika ma ħa l-ebda passi dwar l-involviment tagħhom fil-Panama Papers kien qed jiffirma l-kundanna tiegħu innifsu. Dakinnhar kellhom ċans jieħdu posizzjoni ta’ prinċipju u minflok għażlu li jagħlqu għajnejhom it-tnejn.

Dak kollu li qed jiġri illum hu konsegwenza ta’ dik id-deċiżjoni ħażina.

Nissuggerixxi lil min qed jitgħajjar dwar “l-egħdewwa tal-poplu” biex iħares ftit fil-mera. Għax l-ikbar għadu tal-poplu Malti hu dak li hu fdat bil-poter u ma jagħmilx dmiru.

Wara d-dibattitu fi Strasbourg

Id-dibattitu tal-lum fil-Parlament Ewropew dwar is-saltna tad-dritt wera li prattikament il-partiti politiċi kollha huma mħassba dwar is-saltna tad-dritt f’Malta.

Il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia jkompli jżid ma dan it-tħassib.

It-tħassib hu ġustifikat minħabba diversi affarijiet.

Il-ħatra u r-riżenja ta’ diversi Kummissarji tal-Pulizija matul dawn il-ħames snin xejn ma għen f’dan il-kuntest.

Ir-rapporti tal-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) li waslu għand il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija u ma ittieħdu l-ebda passi dwarhom ukoll wasslu l-messaġġ li f’dan il-pajjiż xejn m’hu xejn: li l-liġi hi bla siwi.

Jekk il-liġi hi bla siwi għax l-awtorijtajiet li għandhom l-obbligu li jimplimentawha jagħlqu għajnejhom, daqqa waħda u drabi oħra t-tnejn, hu ġustifikat li jingħad li s-saltna tad-dritt hi mhedda.

F’dan il-kuntest ma tista’ tagħti tort lil ħadd li jissuspetta illi l-awtoritajiet kollha ħaġa waħda, jħokku dahar xulxin. Anke jekk mhux neċessarjament hekk.

Imma hemm min qiegħed japprofitta ruħu minn din is-sitwazzjoni biex jiżra’ sfiduċja iktar milli diġa hawn. Ilkoll kemm aħna, fuq quddiem nett il-partiti politiċi, għandna l-obbligu li f’din is-siegħa delikata ma nesagerawx.

Il-fatti jibqgħu fatti.

Il-Prim Ministru żbalja meta ma tajjarx lill-Konrad Mizzi mill-Kabinett u lil Keith Schembri minn Chief of Staff fl-uffċċju tiegħu wara li isimhom deher fil-lista magħrufa bħala Panama Papers. Kien żball oħxon li anke fil-Partit Laburista stess kien hemm dibattitu jaħraq dwaru.

Xi żmien ilu, madwar 18-il xahar ilu kont ktibt u għidt hekk :
“Fortunatament bosta membri tal-grupp parlamentari jaħsbuha differenti minn hekk. Hemm min tkellem fil-pubbliku bħalma għamlu Evarist Bartolo u Godfrey Farrugia. Hemm oħrajn li tkellmu fil-magħluq waqt laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari. Issemmew l-ismijiet tad-Deputat Prim Ministru Louis Grech u tal-Ministri Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna u George Vella. Hemm ukoll id-dikjarazzjoni ċara ta’ Alfred Sant. Naf li hemm oħrajn. Kollha talbu r-riżenja ta’ Konrad Mizzi.
Il-grupp parlamentari laburista m’huwiex kuntent bis-sitwazzjoni. Huwa konxju li s-skiet tal-Partit Laburista quddiem it-taħwid tal-Gvernijiet tas-snin 70 u 80 kienet raġuni ewlenija li kkundannat lill-partit għal 25 sena fl-Opposizzjoni. Illum jirrealizzzaw li hu kmieni wisq, wara biss tlett snin, biex il-partit laburista jsib ruħu f’dan it-taħwid kollu.”

Il-kobba issa kompliet titħabbel bil-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Hemm min qed jitfa l-argumenti kollha f’borma waħda u jgħaqqad, b’mod irresponsabbli l-affarijiet, meta s’issa għad ma hemm l-ebda prova dwar min wettaq dan id-delitt u għal liema raġuni. L-iżbalji li saru fil-kors tal-investigazzjoni xejn m’huma ta’ għajnuna. La d-dewmien tal-maġistrat Scerri-Herrera biex twarrab minn nofs u l-anqas li d-Deputat Kummissarju Silvio Valletta  ma fehmx li l-presenza tiegħu fl-investigazzjoni tista’ tkun ta’ xkiel għall-kredibilita tal-konkluzjonijiet m’huma ser jgħinu.

F’dan il-kuntest il-kummenti ta’ Frans Timmermans Viċi President Ewlieni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea huma ta’ validità kbira: “Let the investigation run its full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

Il-preokkupazzjoni tagħna lkoll hi ġustifikata. Imma tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li t-taħwid kollu li għandna quddiemna ma tfaċċax f’daqqa, ilu jinġabar ftit ftit. Biex dan jingħeleb jeħtieġ l-isforz flimkien ta’ kull min hu ta’ rieda tajba.

From the Farm to the Fork

 

 

The local vegetable and fruit supply chain was under the spotlight last month. On 12 October, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Malta organised a round-table at Vincent’s Eco-Farm at Żebbiegħ and published Agro-Katina, the result of its research tracking the food we consume, from apricots to zucchini. The report can be downloaded at https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/AgroKatina-Report.pdf .

Maltese agriculture is characterised by small farm holdings, with three quarters of registered farmers working an area less than one hectare. With a hectare covering ten thousand square metres, this means that most local agricultural holdings are slightly less than nine tumoli in size.

Agriculture contributes a miniscule amount to the GDP – less than two per cent – but it is, however, essential to ensure the preservation of the rural characteristics of the Maltese islands.

Even though we are far from self-sufficient, agriculture can increase our self-reliance, thereby reducing our vulnerability to outside shocks.

It has been observed in the report that specific localities are linked to specific products: Rabat and Dingli are linked with onions, pumpkin with the northern agricultural region – primarily Mosta, Mġarr and Mellieħa – with cauliflowers being linked to Siġġiewi and Żebbuġ.

The report refers to the introduction in the local market of long, dark-skinned zucchini contrasting with the local round (or long) varieties of a lighter shade. As consumers overcame their hesitancy to a new product introduced to the market, local farmers started experimenting with growing it locally and, to their surprise, discovered that this variety (commonly found in Sicily and Southern Italy) had the advantage of being well adapted to the local climate.

Seasonality is still an important factor in agricultural planning, even though this is gradually on the decline primarily as a result of the competition from imported products which are available throughout the year. This seasonality is rightfully observed in the various village celebrations focusing on the availability of specific products: Manikata (pumpkins) and Mgarr (strawberries) readily come to mind. They educate consumers and contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture’s contribution to the country.

The report briefly refers to the “local vs imported produce” issue. It is emphasised that it only takes around 24 hours for locally grown fruit and vegetables to travel from the farm to the fork, hence ensuring that they are fresh, ripe and in season. This is not only reflected in a fresh appearance but also in an unmistakable advantage in terms of natural flavour and nutritional value, compared to imported produce.

Agriculture is the main user of water in Malta. It is also the major polluter of our water table. A study carried out in 2008 by the British Geological Survey on the nitrate contamination in Malta’s groundwater, commissioned by the then Malta Resources Authority, concluded that groundwater nitrate had been stable for the last 30-40 years. Notwithstanding, this has resulted in the contraction of the agricultural sector in the same timeframe.

The challenges facing agriculture in the immediate future are various. Climate change and the water crisis top the list. The changes in weather patterns will undoubtedly be a major headache. This will necessarily impact the viability of some crops, maybe bringing about changes to the season/s during which these crops are available. It will also possibly create the conditions for new crops.

The average age of the farmer is now around 55 – and this is not just in Malta, but across the EU. There is a growing awareness that we may be close to losing our farming community, in fact the impact of this loss is already being felt as it is fairly obvious that there are substantially fewer people protecting our countryside on a day to day basis.

The distance between the farm and the fork is increasing.

This is not good news.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 November 2017

Bloodshed in Bidnija

 

Daphne is dead, brutally murdered in a hamlet few people outside Malta had ever heard of before. The initial shock left us dumbstruck. Before we had gathered our thoughts, the PN had returned to its assault on the government based on allegations of sleaze, cronyism, poor governance and erosion of the rule of law.

The voice of prudence and moderation was never given a chance.

So far, nobody has a clue who killed Daphne, except her killers. The notional responsibility of every government for everything that happens in its jurisdiction has been stretched to include an assassination which most probably could not have been prevented by a democratic government tuned to perfection and a police force with every resource possible and imaginable.

We have been wounded collectively but we are being invited, coerced even, to fragment. Accusations fly, allegations are remade and attached by unfathomable logic to the awful event. Is this what we were expected to do, instantly to turn on one another? By whom?

Nobody has accused the government of having a hand in Daphne’s murder. Nobody has dared because it would be counter-productive. A government having just won a landslide victory, almost disoriented by a floored and self-harming Opposition would not invent such a nightmare for itself. So, because it is impossible to accuse the government directly, the next best thing is to accuse indirectly, to inflate notional responsibility to actual responsibility, to demand resignations that will not happen and foment an atmosphere of profound discontent.

It is an understatement to say that the reaction of the Adrian Delia’s PN to Daphne’s murder is disappointing. We had a right to expect sobriety, moderation, prudence, even a truce in the endless feud. Instead we had a scandalous populist exploitation of a crime of historic proportions.

Nobody in his right mind suspects that the Government had a hand in Daphne’s murder. Despite the very public excoriation suffered by Adrian Delia at the hands of Daphne during the PN leadership race, nobody in his right mind could suspect Adrian Delia of assassination. How about one of their henchmen unhinged? Possible – but not plausible: a political motive for the murder seems farfetched.

Something more personal involving great financial loss, perhaps imprisonment for a merciless criminal seems far more plausible. We have been thrown head first into the “what if” season and among all the “what ifs”, this seems to be the best bet.

But there is worse, far worse, to contemplate. What if Daphne’s killers simply picked her for her prominence? What if she is collateral damage in an attack on Malta? It took decades for evidence to emerge that Italy’s anni di piombo had been largely orchestrated by the CIA. The terrorists at both extremes of the Italian political spectrum never suspected that they had been so deftly manipulated into turning their country into a war zone. Today the CIA should have no interest in destabilizing Malta but the game they played could be played by others.

What if Daphne and Malta are both victims in a larger game? In this scenario, the devil in the piece has to be Russia and its geo-political interest in the Mediterranean. Profoundly humiliated by the West’s role in the Arab Spring, it has kept Assad in place in Syria against all comers at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and millions reduced to refugee status. Did the Kremlin pick Malta and Daphne in Malta to show the EU that it could destabilize a member state? Our government may have achieved more prominence than is good for us when it supported the Russian embargo and when it refused to refuel the Russian fleet on its way to Syria. Perhaps the Russians are innocent, but this is the “what if” season and they must forgive us for not excluding them.

What is certain is that this is a time for prudence, for moderate discourse, for credible leadership. We are all called upon to avoid playing the killers’ game. Upping the ante in the wake of an event such as this is the last thing we should be doing. We should not be turning the country into a political powder keg. Only our enemies, as ruthless as Daphne’s killers, would want us to do so.

Defeated as they are, the PN owe the country responsible leadership appropriate to the grave circumstances of the moment. The government owes the country a steady hand at the helm and consideration of the long-term reforms that will give us the resilience to face an assault such as Daphne’s assassination without the fear of destabilization.

Duopoly makes us vulnerable, authentic democracy could make us less of a target of choice.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 29 October 2017