Is-sussidjarjetà fil-Kostituzzjoni

 

Nhar il-Ġimgħa delegazzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika iltaqgħet ma’ Silvio Parnis, Segretarju Parlamentari għall-Gvern Lokali, biex miegħu niddiskutu l-White Paper ippubblikata mill-Gvern dwar ir-riforma tal-kunsilli lokali.

Waqt id-diskussjoni għaddejna lil Silvio Parnis l-ideat tagħna dwar din il-White Paper. Għamilna tmien proposti b’dik ewlenija tiffoka dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun aċċettat u implimentat il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà. Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà jeħtieġ li jifforma parti mill-kostituzzjoni biex iservi ta’ linja gwida għall-amminstrazzjoni pubblika tal-pajjiż u allura jħares b’qawwa l-ħidma tal-Gvern lokali u reġjonali.

It-trattati Ewropej diġa għamlu dan il-pass meta addottaw il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà bħala prinċipju bażiku li jirregola r-relazzjonijiet kumplessi bejn l-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej u l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà hu l-iktar żviluppat fl-istati hekk imsejħa Ġermaniċi tal-Ewropa u ċjoè l-Ġermanja, l-Awstrija u l-Iżvizzera, liema pajjiżi għandhom qafas ta’ Gvern lokali u reġjonali b’saħħtu u bħala riżultat ta’ dan ir-responsabbiltajiet u l-poteri huma mifruxa.

L-amministrazzjoni pubblika teħtieġ li tkun l-iktar viċin possibli taċ-ċittadin: min jamministra u jiddeċiedi għandu jkun l-iktar qrib possibli ta’ min hu effettwat mid-deċiżjonijiet. L-eċċezzjonijiet għandhom ikunu rari u altru milli ġustifikati. Jacques Delors, li kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja, hu ikkwota li qal li : is-sussidjarjetà ma tillimitax biss l-intervent ta’ l-ogħla awtorità f’dak li kull persuna jew komunità tista’ tiddeċiedi hi innifisha, imma hi ukoll dover ta’ din l-istess awtorità biex taġixxi b’mod li lil din il-persuna jew komunità tgħinhom biex iwettqu l-ħolm tagħhom.”

Dan jitfa dawl fuq żewġ aspetti tas-sussidjarjetà. L-ewwel li ħlief f’każijiet eċċezzjonali l-ogħla awtorità ma jindaħalx fejn ma jesgħahiex fil-ħidma ta’ awtoritajiet oħra taħtha. It-tieni : l-obbligu li tgħin biex tinkoraġixxi l-kisba tal-awtonomija.

Alternattiva Demokratika qed tipproponi li l-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà jkun aċċettat bħala prinċipju kostituzzjonali li jagħti gwida lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika u dan bħala l-ewwel pass għat-twettieq ta’ proposta radikali oħra: id-diċentralizzazzjoni tal-ħidma operattiva tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika lill-awtoritajiet lokali u reġjonali, bil-Gvern iżomm f’idejh il-funzjonijiet regolatorji. Dan jista’ faċilment jitwettaq fuq il-mudell ta’ Għawdex bid-differenza li jitmexxew minn politiku reġjonali flok minn politiku nazzjonali.

Id-dokument bil-proposti ppubblikat minn Alternattiva Demokratika jittratta diversi temi oħrajn bħalissa ċentrali fid-dibattitu dwar ir-riforma proposta tal-gvern lokali u reġjonali.

Is-servizz ta’ kull kunsillier lokali għandu jkun apprezzat, mhux biss is-servizz li jagħti s-Sindku! Il-proposta li l-uffiċċju tas-Sindku jkun wieħed full-time ma hemmx ħtieġa tagħha. Hemm diversi raġunijiet għal dan. Bħala riżultat ta’ din il-proposta dawk kollha li ma jistgħux jieqfu mill-impieg normali tagħhom ikunu esklużi milli joffru s-servizz tagħhom fil-kariga ta’ Sindku. Dan billi tali proposta teffettwa b’mod qawwi l-possibilità li huma jirrintegraw ruħhom fl-impieg meta jintemmilhom il-perjodu tal-ħatra tagħhom. Bla dubju jinħolqu ukoll kunflitti bla bżonn mas-Segretarju Eżekuttiv li l-liġi illum tikkunsidrah bħala l-uffiċjal amministrattiv ewlieni tal-kunsill lokali.

Flok ma tiffoka fuq is-Sindku r-riforma għandha tinkoraġixxi iktar il-ħidma kolleġjali fil-lokalitajiet tagħna b’mod li twassal għal sehem iktar attiv ta’ kull kunsillier fit-tmexxija tal-lokalitajiet. Il-proposta li qed jagħmel il-Gvern li kull kunsillier jingħata responsabbiltajiet hi tajba. Saret diġa minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-kunsilli lokali li saret fl-2008. Waħedha imma mhiex biżżejjed. Trid tkun segwita minn pass ieħor: li kull kunsillier jingħata onorarju raġjonevoli. Din m’għandiex tkun materja riżervata għas-Sindku.

Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà għandu japplika ukoll biex materji ambjentali jkunu regolati minn dawk li l-iktar jeffettwawhom mill-viċin. Li jkunu nvoluti sewwa l-kunsilli lokali u reġjonali f’dawn id-deċiżjonijiet għandu jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar minn dawk li għandna illum. Imma dwar dan, darb’oħra.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar ir-riforma tal-gvern lokali u reġjonali issa ġiet fit-tmiem. Nistennew il-posizzjoni li ser jieħu l-Gvern dwar in-numru mhux żgħir ta’ proposti li saru. Nittama li jittieħdu bis-serjetà.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 2 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Subsidiarity in the Constitution

 

On Friday, a delegation from Alternattiva Demokratika met Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government Silvio Parnis to discuss the White Paper published by the government concerning the reform of local government.

During the discussion, we handed Mr Silvio Parnis our response to the White Paper, a response that contains eight proposals – the central one focusing on the need to accept and implement the principle of subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity needs to be constitutionally entrenched in order to serve as a guiding light to the country’s public administration and, consequently, protect local and regional government.

The European treaties have already entrenched the principle of subsidiarity as a basic tenet, regulating the complex relationship between European institutions and EU member states.

The principle of subsidiarity, mostly developed in the so-called Germanic states in Europe- namely Germany, Austria and Switzerland – which states have a robust local and regional arrangement, as a result of which responsibilities and the corresponding authority is spread.

Public administration should be as close to the citizen as possible: those administering and making decisions should be as close as possible to those who feel the impact of such decisions. Departure from this basic rule should only occur for reasons of absolute necessity. Former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors is quoted as having stated that subsidiarity is not only a limit on the intervention of a higher authority in the affairs of a person or community that can act itself, it is also a duty of this authority to act in relation to that person or community in such a way as to give it the means to fulfil itself.

This brings to the fore two aspects of subsidiarity. Firstly, that of non-interference by the higher authority in the workings of the lower authority, except in exceptional cases and, secondly, the duty to help – that is help that encourages autonomy.

Alternattiva Demokratika is proposing that the principle of subsidiarity be accepted as a guiding constitutional principle for the public administration as a first step to implementing another radical proposal: the decentralisation of the operational functions of public administration to the regions and local authorities with government retaining the regulatory functions. This can be easily carried out on the Gozo model, although with a regional elected politician replacing the current national politician in charge.

The document published by Alternattiva Demokratika deals with various other matters currently being debated as part of the proposed local and regional government reform.

The service of all elected local councillors should be appreciated, not just that rendered by the Mayor! The proposal to transform the office of Mayor in our localities into a full-time role is uncalled for and a number of reasons come to mind. It would automatically exclude all those who cannot take a sabbatical from their employment as it would have a long-term negative effect on their ability to adequately reintegrate when their mayoral term of office comes to an end. It would also create unnecessary conflict with the Executive Secretary, currently defined by the Local Council legislation as the chief executive of Local Councils.

Instead of singling out the Mayor, the local council reform should encourage a more collegial leadership, with all councillors being more actively involved in the running of the localities. The proposal in the White Paper to codify the duty to assign responsibilities to each elected councillor – a proposal first made by Alternattiva Demokratika and highlighted during the public consultation of 2008 on local council reform, is a good first step. It has to be followed by ensuring that all councillors receive a reasonable honorarium: this should not be a reserved for the Mayor alone.

The principle of subsidiarity should also be applied to regulating environmental issues closer to base. Involving regional and local councils in these decisions could lead to much better decisions than those we currently face. But more about that next time.

The public consultation has now been concluded. We await the reaction of the government to the large number of proposals made. Hopefully, these proposals will be seriously considered.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 December 2018

Reflections on an Environment Policy

The current debate on what should form part of a National Environment Policy is a healthy exercise. It is focusing not only on the different aspirations of each citizen but also on the role of each one of the towns and villages which together constitute this country.

The environmental issues we face are the result of the manner we organise our lives both individually and as a community. In fact it can be safely stated that the manner in which economic activity has been organised throughout time has created different environmental and social impacts.

The exercise at this point in time is hence the clear identification of these impacts and subsequently seeking the best manner in which they can be tackled. This is done on two fronts: firstly through the formulation of an environment policy and secondly by integrating this environment policy with economic and social policy within the National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD).

The NSSD has already been formulated and approved by Cabinet almost three years ago after a long process of consultation. It established targets and objectives which have unfortunately been ignored by the same Government which has approved them. This necessarily leads to the conclusion that these exercises can be a waste of time as their only purpose seems to be an exercise to prove that the new hands on deck can do things in a better way than those they have replaced. 

The National Environment Policy Issues Paper identifies a number of areas which are to be tackled but excludes a number of important ones. What is in my view objectionable and bordering on the insulting is the ignoring by the Issues Paper of the NSSD. It also ignores matters which have been tackled by the NSSD as well as the specific targets identified. This the NSSD did after extensive consultation with civil society, which the Issues Paper promises to go through again.

 

Eco-taxation

One such case refers to the use of economic instruments to attain environmental objectives. The Issues Paper queries whether and to what extent there is agreement  with the use of such instruments to further environmental objectives. Simultaneously with the publication of the Issues Paper, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech through the pre-budget document was lauding the idea of introducing a carbon tax and the possible utilisation of the proceeds to affect a tax shift. This is in the spirit of the former EU Commission President  (French Socialist) Jacques Delors’ 1993 EU White Paper entitled “On growth, competitiveness and employment. The challenges and ways forward into the 21st century”.

So whilst the Environment Ministry is requesting our opinion on the use of eco-taxation (and other instruments) it seems that the Finance Ministry is dead-set to proceed.  Do these two Ministries form part of the same government? 

Both the Environment Ministry and the Finance Ministry would do well to go back in time to the debate on the introduction of the eco-contribution (2003-05) where they could identify a number of issues raised by civil society.

Should fiscal objectives be the purpose of environmental taxation or would it rather be environmental improvement? All over the globe governments declare that their aim in applying eco-taxation is environmental improvement. Yet they resist transferring political responsibility for environmental taxation from the Finance Ministry to the Environment Ministry. Such a move would lend credence to statements on the environmental objectives of eco-taxation and would ensure that the design of specific measures is more in line with encouraging changes in behaviour. Retaining political responsibility for environmental taxation at the Finance Ministry on the other hand signifies that the objective is to tax behaviour but not  to change it. This reluctance is generally reflected in the manner  in which eco-taxes are designed. Fiscal policy makers pay attention to the fact that changing behaviour would mean drying up a source of revenue. Hence eco-taxes designed for fiscal objectives are intended not to affect the elasticity of demand. This is done by selecting items in respect of which there are no alternatives and thus irrespective of tax added to the price there is no alternative to purchasing the product or service. The eco-contribution exercise clearly illustrates this argument.

 

Environmental nuisance 

The Issues Paper has failed to project an understanding that environmental issues can be most effectively tackled at a micro-level. In fact the Issues Paper adopts an exclusively macro approach and does not give any weight to the real life issues. Issues of environmental nuisance are the ones which the man in the street feels strongly about. These include primarily noise, air quality and odour nuisance caused by neighbours in residential areas. They could range from an air conditioner fixed below your bedroom window to a neighbour’s fireplace chimney spewing smoke right into your living room or a bakery belching black smoke onto your washing line. Or the newly opened restaurant or snack bar in a transformed ground floor flat whose operator wouldn’t care less about where the odours from his kitchen end up.    

Information

Access to environmental information is an important aspect of environment policy. Yet the drafters of the Issues Paper ignored it. The environmental information aspects of the Åarhus Convention have been incorporated into Maltese legislation as a direct result of Malta’s EU accession. This legislation provides a mechanism through which the citizen requests the release of information which up till then would be withheld by the authorities. This is a very primitive form of governance. The state should release information without having its hand forced to do it. This is the minimum required in an age of transparency and accountability. 

Policy proposals and other initiatives must be buttressed by studies which not only justify the proposal or initiative but which also identify the resulting impacts and the manner in which these can be addressed. Studies must be published at an early stage and not in the final stages of a discussion. Otherwise the public debate cannot be fruitful.

Transparency and accountability

Transparency and accountability are not only duties of the state. They are also a responsibility of private enterprise.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting is one way in which private enterprise informs the public on its activities. It is a function as important as financial reporting. Financial reporting having been accepted by society for quite a long time as a reporting requirement.

In Malta currently two companies publish a CSR report. Vodafone (Malta) and Bank of Valletta (BOV) have already published two editions of their CSR report. There has been considerable improvement in the information made available by Vodafone (Malta) in its second report, but BOV’s reporting  can be substantially improved.

The environment policy should identify the type of organisations that should have the duty to report publicly and on a regular basis on their environmental and other impacts. By organisations I understand not just industry and business but also public corporations, government departments and local authorities. A reasonable first step would be for companies quoted on the stock exchange to take the lead followed by public bodies such as Enemalta, Water Services Corporation, Heritage Malta and Air Malta.

CSR reporting should be guided by international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative G3 guidelines and should be subject to auditing in order to verify that the statements made reflect what the organisation is really up to. 

Alternattiva Demokratika, AD, the Green Party in Malta has earlier this month published a document in reply to the National Environment Policy Issues Paper which lists and discusses the areas missed out by the said Issues Paper.  In addition to focusing on the urgent need to implement the NSSD, environment information, environmental nuisance and environment information it also points out the need to tackle the uptake of environmental management systems such as ISO 14001 and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) Regulations of the European Union, light pollution, contaminated land, environmental and sustainability planning at a locality level better known as Local Agenda 21,  the role of civil society and environmental NGOs in environment policy and environment  research.  

We hope that when the environment policy is drafted it will include the widest possible list of issues and will tackle them in an holistic manner keeping in mind the parameters established in the National Sustainable Development Strategy.                 

Alternattiva Demokratika considers that environment policy is one of several instruments through which improvement in the quality of life can be attained. Protecting the environment signifies that we better our quality of life. It also signifies that each one of us acts in a responsible manner. However primarily it must be government which leading the way should act in an appropriate manner in order that it leads by example.

 published in

The Independent on Sunday, October 17, 2010, Environment Supplement

Environment Policy and the Budget

The National Environment Policy Issues Paper, launched by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Mario de Marco, on July 27 requested the views of the public on a move towards a taxation system that “penalises pollution rather than jobs”.

When launching the 2011 pre-Budget document on the same day, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech was more clear as to the government’s intentions. Under the heading Tax Shifting, he proposed the shifting of taxes from economic goods to economic bads. The pre-Budget document goes on to say: “In order to incentivise the creation of work by making labour less costly we are proposing the lowering of government-induced employee costs as well as corporate and income taxation.” The pre-Budget document then praises the merits of a carbon tax as a fiscal tool.

It seems that both the minister and the parliamentary secretary have forgotten that taxation does not penalise jobs. It is an instrument for the attainment of social solidarity. That is what the post-1977 Nationalist Party I remember was in favour of. It seems that time has changed the PN. It cannot be anymore described as being “un partito di centro che guarda a sinistra” (a party of the centre that looks to the left), as the old guard, quoting Alcide de Gasperi, justifiably boasted.

The drafters of the documents launched could have consulted the Cabinet-approved National Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands (page 59), which established 2008 for the conclusion of a strategy on environmental taxation. The year 2008 is 32 months away and the strategy on the use of economic instruments to regulate environmental impacts is still not in place. Instead of asking for views of the public they should have drafted the strategy that has been promised but not delivered. It could be a useful guide for the finance minister.

At issue in this debate on tax shifting are points already emphasised during the eco-contribution legislation debate in 2004/05. Which ministry will be in the driving seat of environment taxation policy: Finance or the environment? Will the primary objectives of environment taxation be environmental or fiscal?

The strategy to be adopted and, thus, the specific proposals to be brought forward will depend on whether fiscal policy is used to regulate and reduce environmental impacts or whether the environment will be used to compensate for shortfalls in tax revenue.

After 17 years, the government has woken up to the proposals of a Jacques Delors EU White Paper in 1993 on growth, competitiveness and employment [COM (93) 700 final] who had the argued in favour of taxing environmental impacts and resource use.

In its 2008 electoral manifesto, the PN promised it will reduce income tax in the higher bands. It is now seeking ways to deliver without subjecting the Exchequer to further problems. It is very unfortunate that an inappropriate tool was selected. As a result of the tax shifting proposal, a tax, which is socially progressive (income tax) will be partially substituted with a carbon tax that, viewed on its own, can be socially regressive. The proposal aims to reduce taxation from a band which is paid mostly by companies and those who have a substantial income. To compensate for the resulting shortfall, it will spread the tax-load on everyone without discrimination, irrespective of their means.

Once the government decided on the reduction of the higher band income tax, I understand that it did not have much of a choice. In order to ensure a regular flow of income, which would have to substitute a reduction of the forfeited income tax, it had to select a subject in respect of which (at least, in the short term) demand is largely inelastic to tax-induced price changes.

It would be interesting if any studies on the impacts of the pre-Budget tax-shifting proposal are available. Such studies should clearly demonstrate the two basic flaws of the proposal: first it’s being socially regressive and, secondly, it’s exploiting of the environment as a tax revenue generator without ensuring environmental improvement as a primary objective.

If environmental improvement was a primary objective, the projected tax revenues would not be generated as they would be reduced gradually, in line with environmental improvement.

A carbon tax would force business and industry to address their environmental impacts. However, the impacts of a carbon tax on SMEs and households have to be assessed more carefully before policy declarations are made in view of the limited size of the former and the lack of resources of both. Given that most of Malta’s business is in the SME sector, matters should first be studied in their proper perspective before declarations are made or decisions taken.

There are various alternatives to the government’s proposals. Each one of them must however be tested through studies to ensure that the social and environmental impacts of fiscal policy are either positive or else substantially mitigated.

Studies made must be available at this stage. Otherwise, the discussions on both the National Environment Policy and the pre-Budget document would be just kite flying exercises.

 

published in The Times Saturday, September 4, 2010