Il-kumpaniji tal-PLPN jeħtieġ li jkunu regolati sewwa

Tal-PLPN, permezz tal-kumpaniji tagħhom tal-media, għandhom jagħtu l-miljuni lill-Kummissarju tal-VAT.  Kif jistgħu qatt ikunu kredibbli meta jitkellmu dwar il-miżuri meħtieġa kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa?  Mhux aħjar li jkunu huma minn tal-ewwel li jħallsu dak dovut u jagħtu l-eżempju?

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa konna infurmati li l-kumpaniji tal-media tal- PL u tal-PN għandhom jagħtu mal-€5 miljuni lill-Kummissarju tal-VAT. Dan l-ammont hu dovut lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta u jirrappreżenta taxxa li nġabret mill-kumpaniji tal-PLPN u nżammet għandhom.  Iż-żamma għandhom da parti tal-kumpaniji tal-PLPN ta’ dawn il- €5 miljuni jfisser li dawn ħadmu uqed jaħdmu bi flus li ma humiex tagħhom, iżda tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. Huwa self moħbi li minnu ibbenefikaw kemm il-PL kif ukoll il-PN. Għalhekk kważi skiet perfett. Fejn jaqblihom iħokku dahar xulxin: malajr jiftehmu bi ftit kliem.

L-għaqdiet tan-negozju għamlu sew li semmgħu leħinhom u lmentaw pubblikament dwar dan it-trattament preferenzjali tal-kumpaniji tal-PLPN dwar il-ħlas tal-VAT li dawn għad għandhom pendenti. Huwa essenzjali li l-mexxejja tal-pajjiż imexxu bl-eżempju. Kif ngħidu, l-kliem iqanqal, imma l-eżempju jkaxkar.  

Il-problema iżda hi ħafna ikbar minn hekk. Xi żmien ilu l-medja kienet ikkummentat dwar il-fatt li tal-PLPN l-anqas il-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma ma kienu qed iħallsu. Il-kontijiet pendenti kienu enormi.  L-aħħar informazzjoni li sibt kienet tindika kontijiet pendenti tal-PLPN u l-kumpaniji tagħhom, flimkien, għall-ammont ta’ madwar  €2,500,000. Diffiċli biex ikollok informazzjoni preċiża u aġġornata minħabba li l-ARMS tqis li din hi materja kunfidenzjali minkejja li hi materja ta’ importanza nazzjonali enormi: għax il-PLPN qed jabbużaw mis-sistema u l-awtoritajiet mhux biss qed iħalluhom imma qed jostruhom.    L- ARMS għandha l-obbligu li tittratta lill-kumpaniji tal-PLPN bl-istess mod li timxi ma’ kumpaniji oħra: trid tassigura ruħha li anke huma jħallsu l-kontijiet fil-ħin!  

Għadni ma semmejtx l-arretrati dwar il-ħlas tal-kontribuzzjoni tas-sigurtà nazzjonali u t-tnaqqis tal-PAYE għat-taxxa tad-dħul tal-impjegati tal-partiti politiċi u tal-kumpaniji tagħhom. Minn dak li ġie indikat fil-passat dawn l-arretrati jistgħu jammontaw għal miljuni kbar, avolja l-ammont eżatt tagħhom mhux magħruf!

Dan ifisser li fil-prattika tal-PLPN għandhom sors ieħor mhux dikjarat ta’ dħul li bih jiffinanzjaw il-ħidma tagħhom: għandhom kreditu fuq it-taxxi u pagamenti oħra dovuti lill-istat u istituzzjonijiet oħra. Self ieħor iffinanzjat minn dawk li jħallsu it-taxxi: self mhux dikjarat li jista’ jammonta għal madwar €10,000,000!

Kull negozju li jkollu jħallas dawn l-ammonti f’taxxa u ħlasijiet oħra jkollu jkollu inkwiet mhux żgħir. Ikun qabad it-triq tal-falliment. Jkun qed jissogra li l-assi tiegħu jittieħdu biex bihom jitħallsu l-kontijiet pendenti. Imma mal-PLPN, qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Dan kollu irridu narawh ukoll fil-kuntest ta’ xi ftehim mistur li niskopru bih minn żmien għal żmien bejn il-partiti l-kbar u x’uħud fin-negozju. L-aħħar każ hu dak tal-abbozz ta’ ftehim bejn il-Labour u Yorgen Fenech liema ftehim kien jipprovdi ħlas ta’ €200,000 għal xi servizzi. Dan bla dubju jfakkarna fil-każ l-ieħor ta’ xi snin ilu bejn il-Grupp dB u l-PN, dwar servizzi ukoll. F’kull kaz wara dawn il-ftehim hemm moħbija donazzjonijiet politiċi “taparsi ħlas għal servizzi”. B’hekk il-partiti l-kbar ikunu qed iduru mar-regolamenti dwar id-donazzjonijiet li jistabilixxu li l-valur kumulattiv ta’ donazzjoni fi flus lil partit politiku ma tistax taqbeż il–limitu ta’ €25,000 minn sors wieħed speċifiku.  

Dan kollu jipponta lejn nuqqas gravi u intenzjonat fit-tfassil tal-leġislazzjoni li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Għidna repetutament li kemm il-PL kif ukoll il-PN kontinwament qed jagħmlu użu mill-kumpaniji tagħhom biex b’mod konvenjenti jevitaw l-obbligi tar-regolamenti finanzjarji.  

Kif wieħed jistenna, l-PLPN jiċħdu dan kollu. L-PL jinsisti li l-kumpaiji tiegħu ma daħlu fl-ebda ftehim ma’ Yorgen Fenech. Il-PN, min-naħa l-oħra jinsisti li m’għandu xejn irregolari. Imma mbagħad it-tnejn li huma ma jimxux mar-regoli. L- accounts ivverifikati tal-kumpaniji tagħhom ilhom snin kbar ma jkunu ppreżentati lill-awtoritajiet skond il-liġi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan ma hemm l-ebda dokumenti li jistgħu jindikaw  jekk u kif il-kumpaniji tal-PLPN humiex verament mexjin sew u b’mod partikolari jekk humiex kontinwament jintużaw biex ikunu evitati ir-regoli dwar id-donazzjonijiet lill-partiti politiċi.

Hemm ħtieġa urġenti li r-regoli li bihom huma rregolati l-kumpaniji tal-partiti politiċi induruhom dawra sew. Dawn il-kumpaniji għandhom ikunu eżaminati fil-kuntest tal-Att tal-2015 dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi.  Rappurtaġġ fil-ħin hu essenzjali biex ikun assigurat li dawn il-kumpaniji ma jibqgħux jintużaw biex tinkiser il-liġi.  

F’dan il-mument il-PLPN u l-kumpaniji tagħhom ikkapparraw self sostanzjali bla ebda awtorizzazzjoni. Dik governanza tajba!

Il-PLPN ma jistgħux isolvuha din. Huma parti integrali mill-problema.

Huma biss Membri Parlamentari eletti minn fost dawk ippreżentati minn ADPD li jistgħu jibdew it-triq tat-tindif tat-taħwid li ħoloq u kattar il-PLPN.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Settembru 2021

Regulating the commercial companies owned by PLPN

PLPN media houses owe millions to the VAT office.  How can PLPN be credible when speaking about measures to bring tax dodging and tax evasion under control? Would it not be more appropriate if they bring their own house in order first?

Earlier this week we were informed that the PL and the PN media houses have a combined unpaid VAT tax bill to the tune of €5 million. This amount is due to the exchequer and represents VAT collected by them and not paid to the state coffers. The retention by the PLPN of this sum of €5 million also signifies that the party media houses are making use of monies due to the national exchequer in their day-to-day workings!  It is an undeclared loan to the benefit of both the PL and the PN. Whenever it suites them, PLPN are in agreement. They are on the same wavelength. They are taking a free ride on the taxpayers back, year-in year-out.

Business is right to publicly complain on the preferential treatment meted out to the PLPN media houses on outstanding VAT payments. It is a reasonable expectation that the country’s leaders should lead by example!

The problem is however much larger than that. Some time back the media alerted us on the PLPN pending water and electricity bills too. The pending amounts due were known to be substantial. The latest available information is of a combined outstanding bill of €2,500,000. Up to date information is difficult to come by as ARMS considers it as a confidential matter, notwithstanding it being a matter of public interest due to its abusive nature.  Is it not about time that ARMS deals with PLPN companies in the same way as it deals with its other customers and ensures that they pay their bills on time?

There are also arrears due for National Insurance contributions and Income Tax deductions for employees of political parties and their companies. It has in the past been indicated that these arrears may run into many million euros even though the precise quantum is not known.

In effect this means that the PLPN have another undeclared source of finance for their day-to-day operations: an interminable credit on taxes and payments due to the state and its various institutions. Another loan financed by taxpayers in the region of around €10,000,000!

This has to be seen within the context of the underhand deals revealed from time to time between PLPN and business. The latest revelation of a possible draft agreement between Labour and Yorgen Fenech through which a €200,000 “deal for services” by the party media was planned, is a case in point. This is reminiscent of the other deal some years back between the dB Group and PN companies also for “services” by the party media. In both cases these deals are intended to disguise effective donations as “payment for services” thereby circumventing the donations regulations which impose an annual cumulative limit of €25,000 for donations to political parties from any one specific source.

Any business owing so much to the exchequer would be in deep trouble, on the inevitable fast track road to bankruptcy. Such a business would also be risking a takeover of its assets to make good for the substantial amounts due. But for the PLPN it seems that there is nothing to worry about!

All this points to a major intended deficiency of the legislation regulating the financing of political parties. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the PL and the PN are continuously using their companies as a convenient front to go around the political party financial regulatory framework.

As expected PLPN are in denial. The PL insists that its companies have not entered into a deal with Yorgen Fenech. The PN on the other hand insist that all is above board. Yet they continuously fail to play by the rules. Audited accounts for their companies have not been presented for many years. As a result, there is no way to verify whether and to what extent the PLPN commercial companies are innocent of the charges that they are being continuously used to circumvent the rules regulating the funding of political parties.

The rules regulating companies owned by political parties should be tightened up. Such companies should be scrutinised within the framework of the Financing of Political Parties Act of 2015. Real-time reporting is essential in order to ensure that such companies are not used any more to circumvent the rules.

As things stand, at this point in time, the PLPN and their commercial companies have appropriated a substantial loan without authorisation. How’s that for good governance? Another contributory factor to grey-listing?

PLPN cannot solve this. They are an integral part of the problem.

Only the election of Green MPs can clean up this PLPN mess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 September 2021

Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Il-lista l-griża: id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Dalgħodu indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar il-kundanna ta’ Malta għal-lista l-griża.

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġ tindifa sħiħa, li għadha ma saritx. Għall perjodu twil il-Gvern Malti injora l-kuxjenza nazzjonali f’Malta stess, inkluż kritika interna tal-fasla tas-sistema finanzjarja ta’ Malta u l-abbużi u l-involviment kriminali ta’ uffiċċjali għolja u ta’ xi politiċi. Kellu jistenna l-kritika tal-barranin biex jiċċaqlaq?

Ninsabu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tagħha, minkejja li din kienet mistennija. Imma ma kienx meħtieġ li jkunu l-istituzzjonijiet barranin li jiġbdulna widnejna li l-affarijiet f’Malta mhumiex mexjin sew.  Aħna stess ilna niġbdu l-attenzjoni li l-affarijiet mhux sejrin sew fis-sistema finanzjarja.

Huwa veru li matul l-aħħar xhur ittieħedu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafas regolatorju kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-kriminalità organizzata. Il-problema però hi li mhux kulħadd hu konvint li dan sar b’konvinzjoni favur tmexxija b’integrità. Għad jeżisti dubju dwar jekk dak li sar hux biss reazzjoni għas-sensittivitajiet tal-komunità internazzjonali. Għax, sfortunatament, drajna wisq għal snin twal b’istituzzjoniiet li ma jaħdmux.

Li f’daqqa waħda l-pulizija bdiet tieħu passi f’kazijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus ma jħassarx il-fatt li għal snin sħaħ il-korp tal-Pulizija kien miżmum milli jaġixxi billi diversi uffiċjali tiegħu kienu fil-but tal-kriminali. Huwa dan li wassal biex għal snin twal kellna infurzar żero. Dak li sa ftit ilu kien biss suspett illum il-ġurnata hu konfermat bl-ismijiet li jaf bihom kulħadd.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Dakinhar il-Parlament messu ta messaġġ qawwi favur is-serjetà. Minflok imma, ħareġ messaġġ favur il-ħmieg.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Laħqet saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-gvern u l-istituzzjonijiet imnawwra f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se jħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern u l-Oppożizzjoni matul is-snin żviluppaw dak li jsejħu “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju li jagħmilha possibbli għall-użu ta’ Malta bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-bejgħ tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun fdata. Ir-reputazzjoni ħażina li sfortunatament għandha Malta illum fuq livell internazzjonali ma ġietx mix-xejn. Żviluppat bħala riżultat tal-fatt li l-Gvern naqas tul is-snin li jimxi sewwa. Il-messaġġ ċar li ngħata kien li l-Gvern kien jipproteġi l-kriminalità.

Il-kliem sabiħ li qed jingħad illum favur il-governanza tajba jikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal tul is-snin passati. Il-Prim Ministru tal-lum Robert Abela dejjem enfasizza li l-Gvern immexxi minnu hu wieħed ta’ kontinwità. Wara kollox Robert Abela kien il-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat u sa ċertu punt irid jerfa’ ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika għas-sitwazzjoni tal-lum.

Ir-responsabbiltà politika għall-qagħda attwali trid tintrefa ukoll mill-Professur Edward Scicluna eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li kellu responsabbiltà politika dwar l-istituzzjonijiet li suppost ħadmu kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Huwa stess preżentement hu soġġett għal investigazzjoni kriminali. Imma flok ma mar jistaħba ngħata premju  għal dak li għamel billi nħatar Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali.

Ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jagħtu messaġġ ċar: li ma hawnx serjetà fit-tmexxija tal-pajjiż. Ikun aħjar jekk flok id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar dak li qed jiġri issir tindifa sħiħa. Tindifa meħtieġa b’urgenza li s’issa għadha ma saritx.

Xejn ma jsir b’xejn

Ir-rapport dwar ir-Reżidenza tal-Anzjani San Vinċenż, li ħafna drabi nirreferu għaliha bħala l-Imgieret, ippubblikat il-ġimgħa l-oħra mill-Awditur Ġenerali hu wieħed twil. Jista’, iżda faċilment jinġabar f’sentenza waħda: meta tagħmel dak li jaqbel, addio governanza tajba!

L-ewwel reazzjoni tal-Ministru politikament responsabbli minn din il-froġa kienet li l-Awditur Ġenerali mhux interessat fl-anzjani! Qalilna ukoll li hu, l-Ministru, ma ndaħalx. Mid-dehra l-Onorevoli Ministru ma jafx li għandu resposabbiltà li “jindaħal” u jagħti direzzjoni. Direzzjoni favur it-tisħiħ kontinwu tal-governanza tajba fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Flimkien mal-Ministru Falzon iridu jerfgħu ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika l-Ministru Justyne Caruana u l-ex-Segretarju Parlamentari Anthony Agius Decelis. It-tnejn li huma kienuresponsabbli għall-anzjani bħala Segretarji Parlamentari u allura għandhom sehem fil-ħolqien ta’ din il-froġa.

Li ma tagħmel xejn, għax ma tagħtix kaz inkella għax tiġi taqa’ u tqum hu nuqqas. Nuqqas kbir li l-politiċi jridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għalih.  Politiċi serji u ta’ stoffa jirreżenjaw f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi. Jiena naħseb li ma hu ser jirreżenja ħadd.

Bħas-soltu l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela jipprova jmewwet l-affarijiet. Qalilna li kien żball li l-każ ma telax għall-approvazzjoni tal-Kabinett. Bħal dak li qallu li deċiżjoni tal-Kabinett kienet ser iddawwar froġa f’deċiżjoni tajba!  Il-Ministru Falzon qalilna waħda aħjar: ma hemm xejn ħażin f’din id-deċiżjoni, qal Falzon. Azzarda jgħid ukoll li jidhirlu li l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu jikkoreġi uħud mill-konklużjonijiet tiegħu.

Meta f’Malta l-istituzzjonijiet jaħdmu, sfortunatament ikollhom jiffaċċjaw dawn ir-reazzjonijiet tal-politiċi. Dawn huma kollha ostakli għat-twettieq tal-governanza tajba.   

Jippruvaw kontinwament inaqqsu is-sinifikat tal-konklużjonijiet tal-Awditur Ġenerali billi jgħidu li, forsi, kull ma hemm huma “xi żbalji żgħar proċedurali”! Dawn huma attentati biex jimminaw l-istituzzjonijiet li jaħdmu.

Meta l-Awditur Ġenerali jgħid li l-kien hemm ksur tar-regoli tax-xiri pubbliku ma kienx qed jitkellem fuq xi proċeduri żgħar li ma ġewx osservati. Anke meta jgħid li d-deċiżjoni kienet waħda illegali, kien ċar daqs il-kristall.

Kelliema għall-Gvern jemfasizzaw li din id-deċiżjoni wasslet għal investiment sostanzjali li ġie b’xejn. Anke hawn l-Awditur Ġenerali hu ċarissimu Ma hemm xejn b’xejn, jgħidilna. Juża dan il-kliem preċiż fir-rapport tiegħu: “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free”.

L-Awditur Ġenerali kellu kliem iebes anke għad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti talli dan ma ħax prewkazzjonijiet billi pprovda gwida ċara. Dan kien meħtieġ essenzjali minħabba l-konsiderazzjoni tal-hekk imsejjaħ investiment addizzjonali bla ħlas! In-nuqqas ta’ gwida ċara min-naħa tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti, sostna l-Awditur Ġenerali, jesponi lill-proġett għall-ħafna riskji.

Id-deċiżjoni waslu għaliha permezz ta’ negozjati ma’ min għamel l-offerti. Dan jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali imur kontra dak li jipprovdu r-regolamenti dwar ix-xiri pubbliku.  Kien possibli, jkompli jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali li l-istess servizz jinkiseb mingħand operaturi ekonomiċi oħra u allura is-sistema tal-offerti kompetittivi kienet l-għażla addattata li sfortunatament ġiet skartata.

Dan hu każ ieħor ta’ falliment fit-twettieq ta’ governanza tajba minkejja l-mod kif jipprova jpinġi l-każ il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela. Hemm lezzjoni waħda ċara: xejn ma jiġi b’xejn. Il-kont kollu jitħallas mit-taxxi li jħallsu uħud minna.

Qed jingħad fil-media li saret laqgħa bejn il-pulizija u l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Hu tal-biki li qed jingħad li “f’dan l-istadju” mhemmx ħtieġa ta’ investigazzjoni mill-pulizija.

Qed nittama li l-pulizija ma jdumux ma jindunaw li hu neċessarju li issir l-investigazzjoni tagħhom b’mod immedjat.

Mela mill-iżbalji tal-passat ma tgħallmu xejn?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Mejju 2021

Nothing is ever secured for free

The St Vincent de Paul Residence report published last week by the National Audit Office (NAO) is quite long. It can however be described by one sentence: this is what happens when political expediency overrides good governance.

The first reaction of the Minister politically responsible for this whole mess is quite indicative. Minister Michael Falzon was reported as stating that “the lives of the elderly not NAO’s concern”. He furthermore emphasised that there was no political interference from his end. The Honourable Minister is apparently not aware that holders of political office are there to give direction, including political direction leading to and entrenching good governance. Together with Minister Michael Falzon the political responsibility should be shouldered by Minister Justyne Caruana and former Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis, both of whom were at different points in time Parliamentary Secretaries responsible for the elderly and consequently co-creators of this mess.

Failure to act is an act of omission. This is the basic point at issue.

The Prime Minister, as usual, sought to minimise these gross governance failures by stating that in this specific case it was a mistake not to seek the approval of Cabinet. As if the approval of Cabinet would have ever transformed such a deal into an acceptable one. Minister Falzon went one better: there is nothing wrong in the deal, he said. He even had the cheek to suggest that the NAO should issue a correction on some of its findings!

Whenever the institutions do function, they are unfortunately stonewalled by holders of political office. These are the major obstructions encountered on the road to good governance. 

There is an attempt to downplay the significance of the NAO findings into a need “to improve procedures”. Such attempts have to be seen for what they really are: undermining the institutions which function.

When the NAO suggests that the deal is an infringement of procurement rules and does not represent value for money it was not speaking about some minor procedural infringement. The fact that the NAO even concludes that the deal should be deemed invalid is quite damning.

Government spokespersons speak of the deal with glee pointing out that substantial investment was obtained “for free”.  “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free” is the blunt reply of the NAO.

The NAO also took the Director of Contracts to task for not taking the necessary precautions through legal safeguards and guidance. These were deemed essential in respect of the additional investment required “at no cost” to government and forming part of the deal examined. This, stated the NAO, gave rise to serious risks in the execution of the project.

The deal under the spotlight makes use of what is known as a “negotiated procedure”. This, emphasises the NAO, was applied in breach of the Public Procurement Regulations. The NAO underlined that the services sought could easily have been provided by other economic operators thereby necessitating the use of the competitive tendering procedures and not a negotiated procedure.

This is yet another case of a failure in good governance notwithstanding the attempts at its minimisation by the Prime Minister Robert Abela. There is one basic lesson to be learnt: there are no free lunches available! The bills are invariably paid through the taxes which a number of us pay!

It has been reported that a meeting was held between the NAO and the police. It is flabbergasting to note that a spokesperson for the police has stated that “at this stage a police investigation is not required.” 

I look forward to the stage when a police investigation is considered necessary!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 May 2021

ERA’s accountability: keeping up the pressure

On Tuesday, slightly after 11am I received a telephone call from the EIA office at the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) informing me that the Waste to Energy (WtE) Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been resubmitted for public consultation by Wasteserv.

Last October I had presented a number of submissions in response to the Waste to Energy EIA. Hence being informed by ERA of this latest development.

Exchanges between ERA and Wasteserv on the matter are not in the public domain. However, from the various reports in the media one can draw a fairly accurate picture as to what has transpired between 23 December 2020, when the “original” EIA was subject to an online public hearing and last Monday when the ERA website made the “new” EIA available for the latest round of public consultation. The minutes of the public hearing are available on the ERA website.

ERA has rejected the original EIA submitted by Wasteserv and sent it back to the drawing board.

Some may rejoice that ERA has, for the first time ever, rejected an EIA. It would, in my view, be more pertinent to ask why ERA has taken so long to assert its authority.  It has been hibernating for too long a time. There were many instances in the past when it should have acted similarly but it did not. That is an issue worth examining in depth. In particular ERA needs a thorough overhaul of the procedures in use for the vetting of EIA experts and coordinators.

Notwithstanding, I believe that ERA’s rejection of the original WtE EIA is a positive first. It is an encouraging sign that the environmental lobby’s work is bearing fruit. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that all public authorities get to their senses the soonest. They must realise that the public is fed up with authorities that are generally insensitive to good governance.

From the various press reports it has transpired that ERA’s instructions to Wasteserv were that the EIA had to be drawn up again without making use of the services of Engineer Mario Schembri, the coordinator of the original EIA. ERA issued this instruction in order to address my submissions that Engineer Schembri’s involvement at various levels of the waste management industry in Malta constituted a conflict of interest as a result of which he could be neither independent nor impartial as an EIA coordinator, as is clearly spelt out in sub-regulation 17(2) of the EIA Regulations.

Did ERA need to be in receipt of such submissions in order to act? The relative information is public knowledge and has been so for quite some time: ERA could and should have acted on its own initiative long ago!

I had also pointed out that the EIA documentation submitted under the direction of coordinator Engineer Mario Schembri was incomplete as it quoted relevant reports which were not made available to the public to be scrutinised as part of the public consultation exercise. These reports dealt with the site selection exercise for the WtE project, a major issue of controversy. No explanation was ever forthcoming for this omission. However, I note that the “new” EIA now includes both “missing” reports.  The first report was drawn up in December 2015 while the second one was drawn up in December 2019.

The next steps require an analysis of the coordinated assessment submitted by the new coordinator Dr Joe Doublet specifically in order to identify and assess the difference in his assessment of the technical studies which are being resubmitted. The coordinated assessment by Dr Joe Doublet runs into 507 pages. Its perusal will therefore take some time!

This should lead to considering the extent to which the submitted studies together with the new coordinated assessment address the concerns of stakeholders thereby ensuring that the country’s environmental objectives can be met without subjecting anyone to unnecessary impacts and/or hardships.

Various stakeholders have so far, to their credit, spoken up.

It is up to the environment lobby to ensure that Wastserv’s proposed operations are properly scrutinised. This is the purpose of the EIA process which is managed by ERA.

The current public debate is one way of being sure that ERA’s accountability to the public is real, not fake. This is the only way that the whole community can be protected.

I will keep up the pressure, holding ERA continuously to account for its shortcomings.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 May 2021

Riħa ta’ ħut

Bħala mexxej ta’ partit politiku jiena meqjus persuna esposta politikament (politically exposed person – PEP) skond kif tipprovdi ir-Raba’ Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja kontra l-ħasil tal-flus, hekk kif din ġiet trasposta fil-liġi Maltija. Anke membri tal-familja immedjata tiegħi huma kkunsidrati bl-istess mod. Politiċi oħra flimkien mal-familja tagħhom huma fl-istess qagħda.

Hu meqjus li l-persuni esposti politikament  (PEPs), minħabba l-posizzjoni li jokkupaw, huma f’riskju ikbar ta’ involviment fil-ħasil tal-flus. Ma hemm l-ebda distinzjoni bejn dawk li għandhom u jeżerċitaw il-poter eżekuttiv u dawk li ma għandhom xejn minn dan. Jiena wieħed minn tal-aħħar!  

It-talbiet għall-informazzjoni, xi minn daqqiet repetittivi u bla ħtieġa, li jiena u diversi membri tal-familja nirċievu idejquk, avolja nifhem il-ħtieġa tagħhom kieku kellhom isiru bil-galbu.   L-uffiċjali tal-bank bosta drabi juru entużjażmu esaġerat mal-ħuta ż-żgħira biex imbagħad ma jagħtu każ ta’ xejn, jew kważi, meta titfaċċa l-ħuta l-kbira.  

Mhuwiex aċċettabbli li waqt li jissorveljaw b’żelu u entużjażmu esaġerat lil dawk li huma ta’ riskju żgħir, imbagħad, lil dawk li mhux biss huma ta’ riskju imma li fil-fatt jabbużaw kontinwament, dawn jibqgħu għaddejjin qiesu qatt ma kien xejn. Dawn jirnexxielhom jiżgiċċaw għax ikollhom min jgħinhom eżatt fil-waqt u l-post meħtieġ. Verament każ tal-ħabib fis-suq li hu ferm aħjar mill-flus fis-senduq!

L-aħħar każ ippresentat il-Qorti dwar il-ħasil tal-flus jeħodna minn restorant tal-ħut sal-bank u lura. Il-mixja ta’ tiftix tal-allegat ħasil tal-flus wasslet lill-pulizija investigattiva sa restorant tal-ħut f’Marsaxlokk u ieħor ġol-Belt Valletta. Din l-investigazzjoni tidher li hi konnessa ma każ ieħor ewlieni dwar allegat ħasil tal-flus: dak konness mal-kuntrabandu tad-diesel mil-Libja.

Wieħed mill-persuni li presentment għaddej proċeduri kriminali fil-passat kien uffiċjal ta’ bank. Illum hu irtirat, kif fakkarna l-bank stess wara li dan ttella’ l-Qorti.

Il-punt importanti hu dwar il-konnessjoni li qed jingħad li kien hemm bejn ir-ristoranti tal-ħut u l-bank.  Fil-fatt, il-medja, hi u tirrapporta x-xhieda li nstemgħet waqt l-ewwel seduta tal-proċeduri kriminali, irrappurtat li l-uffiċjal prosekutur, huwa u jispjega kif żvolġiet l-investigazzjoni qal li dan l-ex-impjegat tal-bank, meta kien għadu fl-impieg bħala uffiċjal tat-taqsima tal-bank li tieħu ħsieb il-ħidma tal-kumpaniji allegatament kien ta’ għajnuna fil-ħidma tal-ħasil ta’ flus taħt investigazzjoni. Qed ikun suġġerit li din l-għajnuna serviet biex tinsatar il-ħidma ta’ dawk li allegatament kienu qed jaħslu l-flus.  

Dan l-uffiċjal tal-bank illum m’għadux impjegat mal-bank. Sadanittant ħa promozzjoni u issa qed jieħu ħsieb il-kumpaniji fejn allegatament jinħaslu l-flus.

Xi rwol għandha l-MFSA (L-Awtorità Maltija dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji) f’dan kollu? Waqt li kienet għaddejja din il-biċċa xogħol l-uffiċjal ewlieni (CEO) tal-MFSA kien għaddej minn perjodu ta’ kollaborazzjoni ma’ Yorgen Fenech, li presentment għaddej proċeduri kriminali fil-Qrati Maltin bl-akkuża li kien il-moħħ wara l-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia u huwa meħtieġ ukoll li jidher fi Sqallija dwar skandlu ieħor, din id-darba dwar logħob tal-azzard illegali kif ukoll dwar tbagħbis ta’ logħob.  

X’monitoraġġ jagħmlu l-MFSA u l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) biex jassiguraw li l-banek iwettqu sewwa l-obbligi tagħhom konnessi mal-ħasil tal-flus?

L-akkużi li ippreżentaw il-pulizija din il-ġimgħa jindikaw li dan il-moniteraġġ, jekk jeżisti, huwa dgħajjef u ineffettiv ħafna.

L-uffiċjal tal-bank issa bidel l-impieg. Minn ħidma regolatorja fil-bank issa għadda biex allegatament jieħu ħsieb il-ħasil tal-flus ġejjin mill-kuntrabandu tad-diesel Libjan. Din hi l-konklużjoni loġika li toħroġ mill-akkużi tal-Puliizja din il-ġimgħa dwar l-użu tar-ristoranti tal-ħut fil-Belt Valletta u Marsaxlokk bħala allegati għodda tal-ħasil tal-flus.

Kieku l-MFSA ul-FIAU ħadmu sewwa dan kollu ma kienx ikun possibli li jseħħ.  Hu każ ċar fejn l-industrija tal-ħasil tal-flus qed timpjega lin-nies li ġejjin mill-awtoritajiet regolatorji. Affarijiet li qed iseħħu fid-dawl tax-xemx mingħajr ħadd ma jinduna jew jagħti każ.  

L-istituzzjonijiet qed jaħdmu għax jidher li t-taħwid qed jikber bil-minuti? Wieħed jittama li l-MFSA u l-FIAU jieħdu azzjoni deċiżiva, u din id-darba b’urġenza.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 18 t’April 2021

Fishy Business

As the leader of a political party, I am considered as a politically exposed person (PEP) in line with the provisions of EU 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive as transposed into Maltese law. Even members of my immediate family are so considered. Other politicians and their families are in a similar position.

It is held that politically exposed persons (PEPs), by virtue of the position they hold present a higher risk for involvement in money-laundering. There is no practical distinction between PEPs who exercise executive authority and those who have none of it, as yours truly!

The unnecessary, at times repetitive, queries from banks which I and various members of my family receive, are at times very annoying, even though I understand their scope and need if they were to carried out appropriately.  At times however, bank officials are overzealous with small fry, and then look sideways when facing the big fish.

It is unacceptable that while monitoring of persons who pose a minor and insignificant risk for involvement in money-laundering is done (at times), with exaggerated zeal, yet those who not only pose a risk, but actually do it manage to avoid any sort of detection by having the right friends at the right places assisting them in meticulously piloting the waters.

The latest money laundering cases in court this week take us from the fish restaurant to the bank and back again. Investigating the money-laundering trail took the police investigators to Marsaxlokk and Valletta fish restaurants. This investigation is apparently linked to another major money-laundering case: the laundering of monies allegedly resulting from the Libyan diesel smuggling operation.

One of the persons arraigned is a former bank official. He is now retired, as emphasised, after the arraignment, by his former employer the bank.

The point at issue is the trail between the fish restaurant and the bank. In fact, reporting on the testimony at the first sitting in the criminal courts the media emphasised that the prosecuting officer, in explaining the background to the investigation carried out, stated that the former bank official, when still in employment as an official of the bank’s corporate banking unit, had allegedly been of assistance in the money laundering operation currently under review. It has been suggested that such assistance helped the alleged money launderers to avoid detection for quite some time.

The former bank official is no longer in the bank’s employment. In the meantime, he had taken a promotion and is now on the books of the alleged money launderer, a Director of his various companies.

What is the role of the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) in all this? This operation was in motion at the time when the Chief Executive Officer of the MFSA was in cahoots with Yorgen Fenech, currently under the criminal spotlight himself, accused with masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in the Maltese Courts and simultaneously wanted in Sicily as part of a match fixing and illegal betting scandal.

What monitoring do the MFSA and the FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) carry out to ensure that the banks perform their money-laundering regulatory functions diligently?

This week’s police charge sheet seems to indicate that any such monitoring, if at all existent, was very weak and for all intents and purposes ineffective.

The bank official changed his job and moved on from his bank regulatory duties to allegedly managing the laundering of monies generated from the Libyan diesel smuggling operation. This is the logical conclusion drawn from the police charge sheet presented this week on the alleged use of the fish restaurants at Valletta and Marsaxlokk as money-laundering tools.

If the MFSA and FIAU had carried out their duties properly this would not have been possible. This is a clear case where the revolving door recruitment from the regulatory authorities to the money-laundering industry operated under the very noses of the regulatory authorities themselves with no one noticing or bothering about it.

Are the institutions really functioning, as the mess gets bigger every day?

Hopefully the MFSA and the FIAU take decisive action, urgently, for a change.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 April 2021