The budget: beyond the €s

Liza Minelli’s song “Money makes the world go round” is the underlying theme of the Budget speech delivered by Finance Minister in Parliament last Monday. The message driven home was that money and the accompanying affluence clearly indicate that we have never had it so good and that handouts to all are not a problem, both to those who need them, and, more importantly to those who don’t.

Today, taxation is a dirty word in our political lexicon: hence, it was suggested that the message that no increases in existent taxes or new taxes have been proposed is a positive one by the Honourable Minister. Handouts are for all, almost. First for those in need, secondly for most of the rest. The dictum “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” no longer has any significance when trying to understand the political philosophy underlying the budget of this “labour” government.

Taxation collected in Malta apparently only has some significance when taxing foreign companies operating outside Maltese territory but having some small office, or just a letterbox, on this rock. This is done so that they can avail themselves of reduced taxation rates, substantially lower that those payable in the countries where they operate.

Similarly, companies operating in the financial services sector benefit from a tax package which offers them substantial savings on their tax bills in order to entice them to set up shop.

The government thinks it is smart, but all it is doing is encouraging tax avoidance. Malta’s message is clear: those who want to avoid tax in their country are welcome as long as they are prepared to pay a small part of the taxes avoided to the Maltese exchequer.

In this respect, the case study entitled “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published by the Green Group in the European Parliament around two years ago is indicative. In that study, it was concluded that BASF, the German chemical giant with its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes, paying instead a small amount of the taxes avoided, in gratitude for this wonderful opportunity made possible by the Maltese governments, blue and red.

In this context the Finance Minister’s declaration against tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering is deemed mere rhetoric. It has to be viewed in the context of the Panama Papers saga, as well as the established fact that a Cabinet Minister and the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister set up companies in Panama, a tax haven, and no punitive action was taken against them. With this background, the Minister’s sanctimonious declaration is in no way credible.

The Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net as it assists the vulnerable financially. However, the quality of life is not measured solely by financial metrics. The Budget has various green gaps that affect our quality of life.

The welfare of cars assumes an importance over human quality of life, as government considers it is important to widen and improve roads in order to facilitate the passage of cars, thereby aiming at reducing congestion. An inverted sense of logic: reduction of the number of cars on our roads should have been the target as that is the real and actual problem. Widening roads and improving road infrastructure with flyovers and underpasses only serves to grow the number of cars on our roads, thereby increasing the problem. Providing and facilitating alternative transport is the only solution. Paying lip service to alternative means of transport but simultaneously financing an exponential
increase of the problem signifies that we still have to learn the ABC of transport policy.

The government’s own transport master-plan places considerable emphasis on the need to reduce cars from our roads but it seems that the government is not interested.

Therefore, we have a government which is more interested in the welfare of cars than in our quality of life.

This is just one example. There are countless of others.

The Budget loses an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a number of areas important for our quality of life that goes beyond finances.

published (online) at Malta Independent

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Il-baġit : lil hinn mill-€s

Id-diska ta’ Liza Minelli “Money makes the world go round” donnha li hi t-tema li madwarha hu minsuġ id-diskors tal-Baġit li nqara mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi nhar it-Tnejn fil-Parlament. Il-messaġġ ċar li wasal fi djarna kien li l-flus u l-“ġid” li hawn jagħmlu possibli li tirċievi ċekk id-dar, kemm jekk għandek bżonnu kif ukoll jekk m’għandekx.

F’dawn iż-żmienijiet il-kelma taxxa donna saret kelma moqżieża fid-dizzjunarju politiku: għalhekk ġie suġġerit li n-nuqqas ta’ taxxi ġodda, inkella ta’ żieda fit-taxxi eżistenti kien element pożittiv fid-diskors tal-Onorevoli Ministru. Ċekkijiet għal kważi kulħadd. L-ewwel għal dawk li għandhom il-ħtieġa u mbagħad għall-parti l-kbira tal-bqija. Dak li kien jingħad li “jittieħed mingħand kull wieħed skont ma jiflaħ, u jingħata lil kulħadd skont il-ħtiġijiet tiegħu” donnu li ma għandu l-ebda piz illum meta nippruvaw nifhmu l-filosofija politika li fuqha hu mfassal dan il-baġit ta’ Gvern “Laburista”.

It-taxxa li tinġabar f’Malta donnha li hi utli biss meta tinġabar mingħand kumpaniji barranin li fil-waqt li joperaw barra mit-teritorju Malti jkollhom uffiċċju żgħir jew sempliċi letterbox f’Malta. Dan biex ikunu jistgħu jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa sostanzjalment iktar baxxi minn dawk li jkunu soġġetti għalihom fil-pajjiżi fejn joperaw.

Diversi kumpaniji fis-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji ukoll jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa li bihom jiffrankaw sostanzjalment minn dak li jħallsu band’oħra.

Il-Gvern mingħalih li għamel opra. Fir-realtá qed jibgħat messaġġ li Malta tilqa’ li min irid jevadi t-taxxa f’pajjiżu, kemm-il darba jkun lest li jħalli xi ħaġa minn dak li jiffranka fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta!

F’dan il-kuntest l-istudju intitolat Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance. ippubblikat mill-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew madwar sentejn ilu jispjega b’mod ċar x’inhu jiġri. F’dan l-istudju ġie konkluż li l-BASF, ġgant Ġermaniz fil-qasam tal-industrija kimika ibbazat f’Ludwigshafen, jagħmel użu minn differenzi fis-sitemi nazzjonali tat-taxxa biex jevita milli jħallas it-taxxi dovuti. Huwa stmat li, tul il-ħames snin bejn l-2010 u l-2014, BASF evitaw madwar biljun euro fi ħlas ta’ taxxi. Minflok ħallsu ammonti ferm inqas, b’ħajr lill-gvernijiet Maltin (blu u ħomor) talli għinhom jevitaw dawn it-taxxi kollha.

F’dan il-kuntest id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jidhru dak li fil-fatt huma: eżerċizzju ta’ retorika. Inżommu f’moħħna ukoll il-kaz tal-Panama Papers, li kien stabilixxa l-fatt li membru tal-Kabinett u ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru kellhom kumpaniji fil-Panama, pajjiż rinomat għall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, u dwar dan ma kienu ittieħdu l-ebda passi kontra tagħhom. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ “qdusija” da parti tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi nieqsa minn kull kredibilitá.

Il-proposti tal-Baġit isaħħu ix-xibka soċjali u dan billi jgħinu finanzjarjament lill-vulnerabbli. Imma l-kwalitá tal-ħajja ma titkejjilx biss f’termini ta’ flus. Fil-Baġit hemm bosta miżuri ambjentali nofs leħja.

Il-ħarsien tal-karozzi huwa iktar importanti mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja għalina. Il-Gvern jikkunsidra li hu iktar importanti li jwessa’ t-toroq biex jiffaċilita ċ-ċaqlieq tal-karozzi u b’hekk jipprova jnaqqas il-konġestjoni. Loġika rasha l-isfel. Il-mira kellha tkun it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna għax dik hi l-problema. It-twessiegħ tat-toroq u t-titjib tal-infrastruttura bil-kostruzzjoni ta’ flyovers lil hawn u lil hemm iwassal biss għaż-żieda ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna u b’hekk tikber il-problema tal-konġestjoni. L-unika soluzzjoni hi li jkun inkoraġġit bis-serjetá t-trasport alternattiv. Il-Gvern qiegħed fl-istess nifs jinkoraġixxi kemm lit-trasport alternattiv kif ukoll iż-żieda fenomenali ta’ karozzi: dan ifisser li għadu ma tgħallem xejn. Wara kollox huwa l-pjan nazzjonali tat-trasport imfassal minn dan il-Gvern stess li jpoġġi quddiemna l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Imma jidher li l-Gvern qed iwarrab il-pjani tiegħu stess.

L-Gvern hu iktar interessat mill-ħarsien tal-karozzi milli mill-ħarsien tal-kwalitá tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Dan hu biss eżempu wieħed. Hemm bosta oħrajn.

Il-Baġit qed jitlef l-oportunitá li jagħmel differenza f’numru ta’ oqsma fejn li troxx il-flus mhux biżżejjed.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’Ottubru 2018

L-idjoti (bla sens ta’ etika) fit-tmexxija tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar

L-aħbar fil-media li Jacqueline Gili, Direttur tal-Kuntratti fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi, persuna nnominata mill-Gvern fuq il-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, inġiebet minn Catania bil-jet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord kienet aħbar xokkanti. Fatt li jistabilixxi standards ġodda ta’ governanza ħażina għal din l-amministrazzjoni.

Id-dikjarazzjoni taċ-Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar Johann Buttigieg, li jkun idjota kieku kellu jerġa’ jikri jet privat darba oħra meta jaf li m’għandux appoġġ politiku għal deċiżjoni bħal din, turina b’mod ċar daqs il-kristall in-natura tal-problema reali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Id-deċiżjonijiet ma jittieħdux fuq bażi ta’ prinċipji etiċi ta’ tmexxija imma biss jekk ikunx hemm appoġġ politiku għalihom. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandha tmexxija amorali li tippermetti kollox, sakemm ikun hemm l-appoġġ politiku neċessarju.

Hemm mod sistematiku kif jivvutaw il-parti l-kbira tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar. M’hemmx bżonn wisq għerf biex tbassar min minnhom jista’ jivvota favur jew kontra applikazzjonijiet kontroversjali. Xi kultant ivarjaw ftit imma ġeneralment tista’ tipprevedi bi kważi preċiżjoni kif ser tmur il-votazzjoni.

Dan ifisser li d-deċiżjoni li jinkera l-jet kien eżerċizzju sempliċi biex ikun assigurat li l-voti favur l-applikazzjoni jkunu kollha preżenti madwar il-mejda. Meta wieħed iqis li Jacqueline Gili m’attendietx 29 minn l-aħħar 75 laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar dan kollu jassumi sinifikat ikbar.

Dan kollu, minkejja Ii hu importanti hu huwa kważi insinifikanti f’kuntrast mal-problemi kkawżati mill-konflitt ta’ interess eżistenti fil-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar.

Intqal li żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandhom kunflitt ta’ interess li minħabba fih ma kellhomx jipparteċipaw fil-laqgħa li kkunsidrat u approvat l-applikazzjoni tad-dB għal żvilupp f’Pembroke.

Iż-żewġ każi huma ta’ natura kompletament differenti.

L-ewwel każ ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess hu dak tal-membru parlamentari Laburista Mellieħi Clayton Bartolo. Meta kien mistoqsi dwar il-każ wara d-deċiżjoni, l-Onor. Clayton Bartolo spjega li missieru u zijuh jikru fond kummerċjali mingħand id-dB Group: huma sidien ta’ kumpanija fil-qasam tal-isports tal-baħar li topera mit-Tunny Net, propjetá ta’ Silvio Debono. Il-fatt enfasizzat mill-Onor. Bartolo li l-qraba tiegħu ma jirċievu l-ebda ħlas mingħand id-dB Group hu rrelevanti. Dak li hu relevanti hu li Clayton Bartolo qatt ma seta biss jikkunsidra li jivvota kontra l-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke għax li kieku għamel dan kien ikun qed jipperikola l-interessi kummerċjali ta’ qrabatu. Dan hu l-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Clayton Bartolo. Huwa kellu jiddikjara dan l-interess tiegħu immedjatament fil-bidu tal-laqgħa u sussegwentement kellu jwarrab u ma jipparteċipax fid-diskussjoni u d-deċiżjoni dwar il-proġett propost minn dB f’Pembroke.

It-tieni kunflitt ta’ interess hu ferm iktar serju minn hekk. Jinvolvi lil Matthew Pace membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-ishma li għandu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetá Remax. Dan l-interess ta’ Matthew Pace fin-negozju tal-propjetá huwa f’kunflitt dirett mad-doveri tiegħu ta’ membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Bħala sid ta’ ishma f’Remax hu perfettament naturali li Matthew Pace jieħu interess attiv fil-permessi ta’ żvilupp li jistgħu jwasslu għal iktar negozju għall-aġenzija li fiha għandu sehem. Imma bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar m’għandu jkollu l-ebda interess ta’ din ix-xorta għax dan inevitabilment iċajpar il-ġudizzju tiegħu huwa u jikkonsidra u jiddeċiedi l-applikazzjonijiet li jkollu quddiemu. Hu ċar li qatt ma messu kien appuntat. Il-fatt li ġie appuntat juri l-importanza li jagħti l-Gvern preżenti lill-imġieba korretta ta’ dawk li jiġu maħtura.

Hu floku ukoll li niġbed l-attenzjoni li Matthew Pace hu direttur eżekuttiv tal-kumpanija MFSP Financial Management Limited li f’Ġunju li għadda kienet immultata €38,750 mill-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) talli ma osservatx numru tal-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Ir-rapporti fl-istampa f’Ġunju li għadda jindikaw li l-kontijiet inkwistjioni kienu ta’ Keith Schembri, Kap Amministrattiv tal-Uffiċju tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, u ta’ Adrian Hillman li kien Direttur Maniġerjali tal-Allied Newspapers.

Dan jgħinna mhux ftit biex nifhmu ħafna iktar dak li qiegħed jiġri. It-taħwid li għaddej fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandu l-barka diretta minn Kastilja, u allura huwa l-Prim Ministru li jeħtieġ li jerfa’ r-responsabbiltá diretta għal dan kollu.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Settembru 2018

Amoral idiots at the Planning Authority

The revelation that Jacqueline Gili, Director of Contracts at the Ministry of Finance and government appointee on the Planning Authority Board, was brought over for a meeting by a jet plane from Catania is shocking. It takes bad governance under this administration to a new level.

The declaration by PA Executive Chairman, Johann Buttigieg, that he would be an idiot to hire an executive jet next time in view of his not having any “political backing” for his decision to do so on this occasion identifies the real problem. Governance at the PA is dependent on political backing and not upon solid ethical behaviour. The authority has an amoral leadership and anything is permissible, as long as there is political backing.

The voting patterns of the Planning Authority Board members are clear enough. It is not rocket science to identify a priori which members of the Planning Authority Board are in favour and which are against controversial applications. They vary at times, but generally one can be 75 per cent spot-on in identifying who will vote “yes” and who will vote “no” on most applications.

This signifies that the jet plane decision was simply an exercise in ensuring that the potential yes votes were all on board. This in view of the large number of absences of Jacqueline Gili at Planning Board meetings in the recent past: she has not been present at  29 of the last 75.

I submit, however, that the jet plane issue almost pales into insignificance compared with the issue of conflict of interest at Planning Authority Board meetings. It has been said that two members of the Board had a conflict of interest in view of which they should not have participated in the meeting that considered and approved the dB Pembroke development proposal.

The two cases are however of a completely different nature.

The first conflict of interest is of Mellieħa Labour MP Clayton Bartolo. When prodded, after the decision was taken, the Hon Clayton Bartolo explained that his father and uncle are tenants of commercial premises owned by the dB Group: they are shareholders of a water sports company that operates from Silvio Debono’s Tunny Net Complex. The fact underlined by Hon Bartolo that the Bartolo relatives do not receive any payments from the dB Group is irrelevant. What is relevant is that, had Clayton Bartolo decided to vote against the dB Pembroke proposal, the existing commercial relationship between his immediate relatives and the dB Group would have been at considerable risk. This is what gives rise to Clayton Bartolo’s conflict of interest. He should have declared his interest before the PA Board meeting and not participated in the discussion and decision on the dB Pembroke project.

The second conflict of interest is much more serious. It involves PA Board member Matthew Pace and his shareholding in the Remax Estate Agency. Mr Pace’s interests in an estate agency is in direct conflict with his duties as a member of the Planning Authority Board. As a shareholder in Remax, it is natural for him to have an active interest in development permits as this would inevitably lead to more business for his agency. As a PA Board member, he should not have such an interest in any potential development permit as it would inevitably cloud his judgement in accessing and deciding on the applications for his consideration.

It is clear that Matthew Pace should have never been appointed in the first place and the fact that he was signifies the importance that the present government attaches to the ethical behaviour of its appointees.

It would be pertinent to also point out that Mr Pace is also Executive Director of MFSP Financial Management Ltd, an investment company which, last June, was fined €38,750 by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws. Reports in the press at the time indicated that the accounts in question belonged to Keith Schembri, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and Adrian Hillman former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers.

This makes matters substantially easier to decipher: the useful idiots at the Planning Authority are in the good books of the powers that be at Castille. The buck therefore stops on Joseph Muscat’s desk: it is he who has to shoulder political responsibility for this mess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 September 2018

Bomba tal-ħin jisimha Pilatus

Il-kwistjoni tal-bank Pilatus Bank għandha l-potenzjal li tkun il-kawża ta’ ħsara li tmur lil hinn minn dik lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kien żvelat li ċ-Chairman tal-Bank Pilatus Ali Sadr Hasheminejad bħala riżultat ta’ investigazzjonijiet li kienu ilhom għaddejjin madwar sitt snin kien arrestat fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika u akkużat li pprova jdur mas-sanzjonijiet Amerikani kontra l-Iran billi uża banek Amerikani ħalli jittrasferixxi miljuni ta’ dollari mill-Venezwela b’mod li ħeba l-konnessjoni Iranjana.

Ġejna infurmati li dawn l-akkużi, jekk ippruvati, jistgħu jwasslu sa massimu ta’ 125 sena l-ħabs.

F’temp ta’ ftit siegħat, nhar il-Ħamis, hekk kif ħarġet l-aħbar, l-Awtoritá Maltija tas-Servizzi Finanzjarji (MFSA) neħħiet lil Ali Sadr Hasheminejad mit-tmexxija tal-bank Pilatus, inkluż li ssospendiet d-drittijiet kollha tiegħu fuq il-bank u mbagħad ipproċediet biex ħatret amministratur bl-inkarigu li jmexxi l-bank u jieħu ħsieb l-assi kollha tiegħu. Dan sar wara li MFSA tat direzzjoni li l-bank ma kellux jiddisponi minn, jillikwida, jittrasferixxi jew b’xi mod imiss l-assi u l-flus tal-klijenti tal-bank.

Issa sirna nafu ukoll li x-xahar li għadda l-Awtoritá Ewropeja dwar il-Banek (European Banking Authority) kienet ordnat li tinbeda investigazzjoni preliminari dwar is-supervizjoni tal-bank Pilatus mill-Awtoritá Maltija tas-Servizzi Finanzjarja u b’mod partikolari dwar il-verifiki li kellhom isiru in konnessjoni mal-kapital inizzjali ta’ €8 miljuni li Ali Sadr Hasheminejad uża biex waqqaf il-bank.

Damu ftit jaħsbuha!

Bosta minna jiftakru lil Ali Sadr Hasheminejad ħiereġ mill-uffiċini ta’ Pilatus f’Ta’ Xbiex tard fil-għaxija, jum fost l-oħrajn, bil-kameras tat-TV jiġru warajh u bil-gurnalisti jfajjru l-mistoqsijiet. Kienu qed jistaqsu jekk fil-bagalji li kellu kienx hemm xi dokumenti tal-bank konnessi mal-kontroversja dwar min kienu is-sidien ta’ Egrant inkella dwar it-trasferimenti ta’ flejjes minn uħud mill-kontijiet tal-bank.

Ir-Repubblika tal-Azerbajġan ilha ftit turi interss f’kooperazzjoni ma’ Malta. Ta’ interess f’dan is-sens kienet stqarrija ta’ 127 kelma li ħarġet lejn tmiem Diċembru tal-2014 li ħabbret li kien ġie iffirmat ftehim bejn Konrad Mizzi, dakinnhar Ministru tal-Enerġija ta’ Malta u l-kontro-parti tiegħu Natiq Aliyev kif ukoll ftehim ieħor mal-kumpanija statali taż-żejt tar-Repubblika tal-Azerbajġan (SOCAR). La l-istampa Maltja ma kienet hemm u l-anqas ma kien hemm uffiċjali pubbliċi jassistu lid-delegazzjoni Maltija mmexxija mill-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat. Dakinhar kulħadd kien staqsa “għaliex ?”

F’dan l-isfond ma nafx liema hu dak il-pajjiż li jista’ jżomm ir-reputazzjoni tiegħu intatta!
Bħalissa għaddejjin diversi investigazzjonijiet, lkoll bil-pass ta’ nemla. F’xi ħin, nittama li mhux il-bogħod, kapaċi naraw il-biċċiet jingħaqdu fi stampa waħda li tkun ċara u li tinftiehem minn kulħadd.

Kull investgazzjoni mitmuma, kull rapport konkluż, tnaqqas it-tul tal-miċċa ta’ din il-bomba tal-ħin. Nittama biss li meta din il-bomba tal-ħin tieħu teqred biss lil dawk li ħolquha jew lil dawk li qagħdu jitbissmu lil dawk li ħolquha. Sfortunatament il-ħsara tinfirex.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Marzu 2018

 

It-tieġ ta’ Venezja u l-ħasil tal-flus

 

Diversi qed jistaqsu għalfejn dan l-għaġeb kollu dwar min attenda għat-tieġ li sar Venezja fejn iżżewweġ dak li sa ftit ġranet ilu kien iċ-Chairman u s-sid tal-bank Pilatus, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.

Kull wieħed minna għandu l-obbligu li joqgħod attent biex dak li jagħmel fil-ħajja privata tiegħu jew tagħha ma jirriflettix ħażin fuq il-ħidma pubblika tiegħu jew tagħha. Biex inkun ċar, meta ngħid il-ħidma pubblika mhux qed nillimita ruħi għall-politiċi.

Sfortunatament għal bosta sar qiesu xejn m’hu xejn.

L-arrest fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika ta’ Ali Sadr Hasheminejad sar il-ġimgħa l-oħra. Kien arrest dwar ksur tal-liġijiet Amerikani fuq is-sanzjonijiet kontra l-Iran.

Imma kien ix-xahar l-ieħor li l-European Banking Authority fetħet inkjesta preliminari dwar is-sorveljanza li l-MFSA għamlet fuq il-bank Pilatus u b’mod partikolari dwar id-due diligence meħtiega biex ikun stabilit is-sors tat-€8 miljuni kapital inizzjali biex fetaħ il-bank.

L-issue tal-ħasil tal-flus ilha tissemma xhur sħaħ fil-konfront tal-bank Pilatus.

Il-mistoqsija allura li teħtieġ tweġiba hi dwar jekk kienx hemm preżenti għal dan it-tieġ f’Venezja persuni li x-xogħol tagħhom ta’ kuljum jikkonċerna s-sorveljanza kontra l-ħasil tal-flus.

Biex inkun l-iktar ċar possibli ħa nikkwota ir-rapport ta’ Lovin Malta li ġie ippubblikat il-bieraħ il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Marzu 2018. Jgħid hekk :
“Also present at Ali Sadr’s wedding was Juanita Bencini, a consultant at KPMG – the auditors of Pilatus Bank. Bencini is President of the Institute of the Financial Services Practitioners and chairs the IFSP’s Prevention of Money Laundering And Funding Of Terrorism committee. She is also board member of the government’s finance promotional arm FinanceMalta and chairs the anti-money laundering committee of the Malta Institute of Accountants.

She was accompanied to the wedding by her husband Austin Bencini, who sits on the board of directors of Allied Newspapers – which owns The Times of Malta.”

Ikun interessanti ħafna jekk inkunu nafu x’taħseb l-MFSA dwar dan. U kif qegħdin fiha l-korpi professjonali tal-accountants u l-awdituri jistgħu jilluminawna ftit ukoll!

L-etika professjonali fejn hi?

 

A time-bomb called Pilatus

The Pilatus Bank saga has the potential to develop into much more than damage to the country’s reputation. 

Earlier this week it was revealed that Pilatus Chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was, as a result of investigations spanning the past six years, arrested in the United States on charges that he evaded US-Iran sanctions by moving millions of dollars from Venezuela through US banks using a network of banks in order to conceal the Iranian connection.

We were informed that if the charges are proven a maximum sentence of 125 years behind bars is at stake.

Over a number of hours  on Thursday, the MFSA removed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad from the Pilatus Chairmanship, stripped him of all authority over the bank – including the suspension of his voting rights – and then proceeded to appoint an administrator to take charge of the bank and its assets. It further directed the bank “not to dispose, liquidate, transfer or otherwise deal with clients’ assets and monies”.

At the same time, the media informed us that last month the European Banking Authority ordered a preliminary inquiry into the Malta Financial Services Authority’s supervision of Pilatus Bank. In particular, this should be dealing with the due diligence checks of the €8 million initial capital which Ali Sadr Hasheminejad used to set up the bank. Is it not about time that such an inquiry is held?

Most of us do remember Ali Sadr Hasheminejad leaving Pilatus offices in Ta’ Xbiex late one evening last year, moving heavy luggage towards his parked car. He was being filmed by a television crew and questioned as to whether he was removing any bank documents from the bank’s vaults in the wake of the Egrant ownership allegations as well as in view of leaked information as to the ownership of a number of accounts held at Pilatus Bank and the transfers carried out to and from such accounts.

The involvement of the Azerbaijani dynasty in a number of matters adds further spice to the developing stories.

Coincidentally, the Azerbaijani Republic is interested in cooperation with tiny Malta. Of interest in this respect is a 127-word statement issued late in December 2014 announcing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Dr Konrad Mizzi, at the time Malta’s Energy Minister, and his counterpart Natiq Aliyev, as well as a further Memorandum with the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). The Maltese press did not cover the event and,  moreover, no Maltese civil servants were present to assist the Maltese delegation led by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Everyone had queried this at the time.

This is part of the background which, even if its individual bits were unrelated, is sufficient to blow to smithereens any country’s reputation.

Various investigations are currently in the pipeline, albeit moving at a snail’s pace. At some point in time, hopefully not too distant, we may be able to see which parts of the jigsaw puzzle fit together.

Each investigation concluded, and each report published, shortens the fuse of this time-bomb. It can only be hoped that when this time-bomb goes off it will only destroy those who created it – or who watched its development in awe. Unfortunately, the collateral damage will, inevitably, be substantial.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25th March 2018

Min hu bħal Pilatu?

Li Pilatu jkun fl-aħbarijiet lejliet kull Ġimgħa l-Kbira hu normali.

L-akkużi gravi fi New York kontra ċ-Chairman tal-Bank Pilatus Ali Sadr Hasheminejad kienu ilhom ikunu investigati sa mill-2013. Id-delitti finanzjarji fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika jidher li jeħduhom bis-serjetá. It-tmexmix tal-fenek probabbilment jitħalla għal wara s-sentenza.

Waqt li fl-Istati Uniti kien qed ikun investigat iċ-Chairman tal-Bank Pilatus f’Malta l-MFSA kienet qed tagħmel due diligence dwar l-istess bank. Mid-dehra l-MFSA kienet sodisfatta b’dak li rriżultala tant li fl-2014 ħarġet il-liċenzja tal-Bank.

Ilna nistaqsu dwar kif dan il-Bank ħa l-liċenzja. Għax hu diffiċli biex tifhem kif inhu possibli li fl-Istati Uniti l-Bank ikun taħt il-lenti u qed jiġi investigat u f’pajjiż ieħor fl-istess ħin jinfetħulu l-bibien beraħ u jingħata l-liċenzja.

L-MFSA għandha ħafna x’tispjega.

Hu meħtieġ li l-MFSA stess tkun investigata biex ikun stabilit x’irriżulta waqt il-proċess tad-due diligence u jekk kienx hemm min għalaq għajnejh. Fi ftit kliem: d-due diligence sar bis-serjetá jew le?

L-istejjer li ilna nisimgħu dwar il-Bank Pilatus matul dawn l-aħħar xhur misshom ilhom li wasslu għal azzjoni drastika. Meta illum l-MFSA damet ġurnata sħiħa tiddelibera dwar x’ser tagħmel kont nistenna li tkun sospiża l-liċenzja tal-Bank inkella li l-MFSA taħtar amministrazzjoni temporanja u indipendenti għall-bank biex ikunu assigurat li jekk hemm xi provi li jistgħu jixħtu d-dawl fuq dak li għaddej, dawn ikunu ppreservati.

Għax ngħiduha kif inhi, li bank ikollu lill-Gvern tal-Azerbajan bħala klijent ewlieni tiegħu kellha tiftah għajnejn kulħadd li hemm xi ħaġa mhux f’postha. Għax il-Gvern tal-Azerbajan hu magħruf bħala wieħed mill-iktar Gvernijiet korrotti fid-dinja.

Kif ngħidu, ma min rajtek, xebbaħtek.

Xi ħadd qed jaħsel idejh bħal Pilatu.

Meta Pilatu ħasel idejh

L-istorja dwar il-Bank ta Pilatu jidher li hi ħafna iktar kumplessa milli naħsbu. L-informazzjoni ħierġa ftit ftit u nimmaġina li hemm ħafna iktar xtoħroġ, apparti l-ħafna li qatt mhu ser jara d-dawl tax-xemx.

Tgħallimna li Pilatu ħasel idejh.

Il-Bank ta Pilatu wasal sa hawn għax kien hawn min ħasel idejh u ħeles mis-serjetá. Il-Bank mhux ser jagħti informazzjoni pubblika dwar il-klijenti tiegħu. Imma anke l-iktar ħarsa ħafifa lejn il-lista żgħira tal-klijenti tal-bank magħrufa sissa twassal inevitabilment għal xokk kbir.

Qed jingħad li l-bank hu effettivament il-Bank tal-Azerbaijġan, l-iktar pajjiż korrott fid-dinja. Possibli li l-Awtoritá dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji qatt ma kellha l-iċken suspett dwar dan? Anke l-fatt li Bank ta dan ix-xorta jingħata liċenzja, fiha innifisha tqanqal suspetti kbar li t-tmexxija tal-Awtoritá dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji ma tafx xinhi tagħmel, jew, agħar minn hekk taf iżżejjed xinhi tagħmel.

Ilkoll niftakru l-kritika qawwija li kien hemm minn Evarist Bartolo dwar iċ-Chairman tal-Awtoritá għas-Servizzi Finanzjarji l-Professur J. Bannister xi xhur ilu. Illum wieħed jifhem ftit iktar għalfejn kien iddefendieh ħafna l-Onor Prim Ministru liċ-Chairman.

Dan kollu isaħħah l-argument li bosta ilhom jagħmlu, li l-kawża tal-problemi kollha tagħna huma l-istituzzjonijiet fMalta li huma kompromessi: kemm bil-mod li jinħatru kif ukoll bil-persuni li jinħatru biex imexxuhom.

Għax f’Malta ħafna affarijiet jiddependu fuq li Pilatu jaħsel idejh. Għax jekk u meta Pilatu ma jaħsilx idejh, iżda jiddeċiedi li jagħmel xogħolu, jibdew il-problemi għal ħafna nies.

 

The financing of Fawlty Towers

Townsquare.Fawlty Tower

The saga of the Mrieħel and the Townsquare towers is now entering a new phase, with the planning appeal stopwatch due to start ticking shortly –  most probably towards the end of the month. It is known that, so far, Sliema Local Council and a number of environmental NGOs will be appealing against the 4 August decision of the Planning Authority to approve the “Fawlty Towers” at Mrieħel and Townsquare Sliema .

Financing of the projects is next. The banks cannot increase their already substantial exposure to loans that are dependent on building speculation. Consequently, the developers will inevitably have to seek the involvement of private citizens and, possibly, institutional investors. Most probably, the process for financing the projects has already commenced; it will involve the issuing of bonds to the public and will normally be sponsored by a bank and a stock-broking agency.

The bank or banks and stockbrokers sponsoring the bond issue will have to ensure that the bonds are subject to an “appropriateness and suitability testing” subject to such direction as the Malta Financial Services Authority  may consider necessary and suitable. Also, in the light of past local unpleasant experiences, the Authority will undoubtedly be guided by the need to ensure  that prospective investors fully understand the inherent risks of the proposed investments.  It will also ensure that detailed information is published in the form of a suitable prospectus in which the small print is both legible and understandable.

Those who finance the high-rise projects should shoulder responsibility for their impact together with the Planning Authority and the developers. They will potentially make it happen, so they should carry the can. It is important to get this message through: those who will invest in the Gasan and Tumas bonds intended to finance the “Fawlty  Towers”  should receive more than a monetary return on their investment. The moment they sign up they will also assume co-responsibility – with the developers, the Planning Authority, the bank or banks and the sponsoring stockbrokers – for this projected development .

Word is going around on the need to boycott the services and products placed on the market by the Gasan and Tumas Groups. Journalist Jürgen Balzan, writing in Malta Today described these services and products as being wide-ranging (hotels, car-dealerships, gaming, finance and property) which easily impact on the daily life of a substantial number of Maltese citizens. However, such a boycott’s only link with  the “Fawlty  Towers”  would be through the owners.  It would be preferable for a boycott to have a direct link with the offensive action.  In this context, the forthcoming bond issue to finance the “Fawlty  Towers”  presents itself as a suitable opportunity.

A boycott is a non-violent instrument of protest that is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society. The boycotting of the forthcoming bond issue would send a clear message that people will not be complicit in further ruining the  urban fabric of Sliema and ensure that development at Imrieħel is such that the historic landscape is fully respected.

A social impact assessment, if properly carried out, would have revealed the apprehensions of the residents in particular the residents on the Tignè peninsula. But, unfortunately, as stated by Sliema Green Local Councillor Michael Briguglio, the existing policy-making process tends to consider such studies as an irritant rather than as a tool for holistic management and community participation.

We have had some recent converts on the desirability of social impact assessments, such as Professor Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. Prof. Torpiano, in an opinion piece published by the Malta Independent this week, stressed that spatial planning in Malta needs a social-economic dimension. Unfortunately, I do not recollect the professor himself practising these beliefs as the leading architect in the MIDI and Cambridge projects on the Tignè peninsula,  a stone’s throw from Townsquare!

Investing in this bond issue is not another private decision: it will have an enormous impact on the community.

Responsibility for this ever-increasing environmental mess has to be shouldered by quite a few persons in Malta. Even the banks have a very basic responsibility – and not one to be shouldered just by the Directors: the shareholders should also take an interest before decisions are taken and not post-factum.

I understand that the Directors of APS Bank have already taken note of the recent  statements regarding the environment by  Archbishop Charles Scicluna. As such, it stands to reason that APS will (I hope) not be in any way associated with the financing process for the “Fawlty  Towers”.  However, there is no news as yet from the other banks, primarily from the major ones – ie Bank of Valletta and HSBC.

This is a defining moment in environmental action in Malta. It is time for those that matter to stand up to be counted – and the sooner the better.

published by the Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 August 2016