The resignation of David Thake

The resignation of David Thake is a positive step.  It takes courage to admit to having acted incorrectly and shoulder the political responsibility for your actions. There are others who should follow in his footsteps. Parliament, as a result would be a much better place.

The fact that the tax misdemeanours of the companies owned by David Thake were revealed through media leaks does not make the case any less serious. It however adds another worrying dimension to the saga: institutional breach of ethics, this time by the tax authorities. The Minister for Finance Clyde Caruana is politically responsible for this. He has to act fast to address the matter.

Registered editors already have a right to request income tax returns of sitting MPs. This right should be extended to VAT returns, not only those submitted personally by sitting MPs but also by companies in which they have a controlling interest. This would do away with selective leaking of damaging tax information which generally targets those who those close to government seek to damage or destroy!

It has been established that the two companies owned by David Thake, namely Vanilla Telecoms Limited and Maltashopper Limited have collected Value Added Tax due on their services and retained the tax collected for a long period of time. His companies, stated David Thake, had a problem with their cash flow and thus they were not in a position to pay up the taxes they had collected.

Vanilla Telecoms Limited owes the exchequer €270,000 while Maltashopper Limited owes another €550,000. This is a substantial sum which has been collected from taxpayers through VAT and includes fines and interest due for non-payment.

There are serious doubts as to whether Thake’s claim that he was simply applying the Covid-19 tax deferral scheme is correct.

Given that most of the pending VAT dues of Thake’s companies date back to substantially before the outbreak of Covid-19 Thake has yet to explain as to why it took him so much time to address the cash flow problems of his companies. He has shed too many crocodile tears in emphasising that faced with cash flow problems he opted to pay his employees rather than the VAT office. His delay in acting to address his cash flow problems has the specific consequence of endangering the livelihood of the very employees, which he is so keen to protect!

It is not correct to describe David Thake as a tax evader. It is unfair to compare him to Bernard Grech, his party leader, who was investigated for tax evasion over the years and opted to pay up on the eve of the PN leadership contest.

In view of the fact that Thake’s companies have yet to submit their accounts it is not yet clear as to the actual cause of his cashflow problems.

The point at issue is whether it is right for David Thake to bankroll his companies through the taxes they have collected as economic operators. The fact that there are others who do likewise, and maybe worse, is no consolation!  He was a member of parliament elected on a good governance platform. The mismatch between his behaviour and his stated beliefs cannot be clearer than this.  This is no minor administrative omission as David Thake emphasised when he announced his resignation.

Its fine to preach good governance. Putting this into practice is a completely different matter. Thake’s resignation, even though he took some time to decide that he should resign, puts some sense back into local politics. Thake’s resignation is a positive contribution to improve standards. Ian Castaldi Paris and Rosianne Cutajar should be next.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 January 2022

The golden handshakes must be transparent

It has been reported, in various sections of the press, that Justyne Caruana, former Minister of Education, has received, or will be shortly receiving payment in the region of €30,000 as a result of her ceasing to hold political office. This has occurred after she was forced to resign subsequent to the publication of a damning report from the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life which report concluded that the Ministry of Education, under her political direction, had screwed the exchequer to benefit her “close friend”.

Since 2008 holders of political office who cease to occupy such office have received golden handshakes, substantial sums which some describe as severance pay. The sums disbursed to date are substantial and, over the years, are said to be close to a total of €1,500,000. Holders of political office in receipt of such payments are not just members of Cabinet, as payments have also been made to former Leaders of the Opposition throughout these years.

The applicable criteria are largely unknown. There is no transparency whatsoever in the process.

There is a serious issue of governance.  The Executive is bound to be accountable through ensuring that both the criteria applied as well as the monies disbursed are well known. It is an expenditure from the public purse, so there should be no secrets about it. It is in the public interest to know how the public purse is being managed at all times.

First: the objectives of the payments should be crystal clear. When holders of political office take up their post, generally, they take leave from their current employment or close their private offices if they are professionals. Their job prior to assuming political office may be lost by the time they relinquish office. On the other hand, losing contact with their professional environment will generally place them in a difficult position to reintegrate when their term of political responsibilities draws to an end. 

Hence the objective of these so-called golden handshakes is to compensate for the fact that the holder of political office cannot go back to his/her former job or professional environment. He or she will generally have to start from scratch or almost. Not all cases are identical and hence the criteria drawn up should allow for some leeway. Do they? We do not know as to date these criteria are considered as some state secret!

The objective of the payments made is to ease the transition of the holder of political office back to a normal life.

The second point is to establish who should apply these criteria. From what is known through reports in the media the matter is regulated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), either directly or through the Cabinet office. This is not on.

Ideally the criteria should be applied by an authoritative person or body separate and distinct from the OPM. The OPM has a finger in the pie, generally, in all the circumstances leading to the appointment to political office or to the dismissal therefrom. It should therefore not be in a position of sugaring resignations with promises of generous hand-outs.

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

From what is known, locally, this is established at a month’s salary for every year’s service, subject to a minimum payment of a six-month salary. It is not known whether eligibility is pegged to a minimum period in office.  These payment rates are substantial when compared to those in other jurisdictions. In addition to having smaller payments other jurisdictions subject such benefits to a minimum period in office, generally of not less than one year.

There are also a number of other serious considerations which need to be made. Should loss of political office as a result of an unfavourable election result have the same impact as being dismissed from office or being forced to resign as a result of unethical or unacceptable behaviour?

Specifically, should ending your political appointment in disgrace be rewarded? It should definitely not be so.

These are some of the issues which transparency brings to the fore. We need to discuss them seriously and only then can they be applied ethically and fairly.

It is for these reasons that earlier this week I have requested the Auditor General to investigate the golden handshakes being paid out by the Office of the Prime Minister to former members of the Cabinet. The payments made and the criteria applied should be examined meticulously.

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022

Wara Justyne: nistennew issa r-riżenja ta’ Frank Fabri

Ir-riżenja ta’ Justyne kienet inevitabbli.

Setgħet iddum ftit ieħor taħsibha, imma kienet fir-rokna, ma kelliex minn fejn toħroġ.

Din hi t-tieni riżenja bħala riżultat tar-rapporti tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. L-oħra kienet Rosianne Cutajar!

Li tirriżenja darbtejn mill-Kabinett fi 23 xahar, kif għamlet Justyne, naħseb li hu record. Juri li l-ġudizzju ta’ Robert Abela li jagħtiha ċans ieħor kien wieħed żbaljat għall-aħħar.

Ir-riżenja ta’ Justyne mhiex il-konklużjoni. Għad hemm iktar : ir-riżenja ta’ Frank Fabri, Segretarju Permanenti li approva l-kuntratt ta’ sieħeb Justyne, Daniel Bogdanovic, issa hu iktar meħtieġa minn qatt qabel.

Fil-ġlieda għall-governanza tajba, fil-ġlieda kontra l-abbuż u l-korruzzjoni, iċ-ċivil għandu rwol importanti. Is-segretarji permanenti għandhom sehem kruċjali f’din il-ġlieda. Min minnhom jonqos li jaghti sehem mhemmx post għalih. Min jiffaċilita l-ħmieġ għandu jitwarrab minnu fih

Towards a wider cannabis consensus

It has been more than 10 years since the publication of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. One of its main recommendations was to end criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.  

The changes in drug legislation approved by Parliament earlier this week as a result of which the possession of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised was a definite step in the right direction. This does not however signify that all provisions of the approved legislation are satisfactory. It means that the general thrust of the legislation is positive and acceptable. Improvements are however still necessary.

The legislation approved earlier this week is a radical change and as such there is still a reluctance in some quarters and sectors about it. This is understandable. It is however a fact that the decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis for personal use has been generally accepted. This is a reflection of the positive development in our society’s attitudes and should form the basis for the way forward.

The Daniel Holmes case as a result of which the cultivation of a number of cannabis plants for personal use led to a draconian prison sentence is too recent for anyone of us to forget. Until this week, drug legislation was out of tune and not an adequate reflection of what our society is prepared to accept.

The publication of the 24-page White Paper in March 2021 entitled “Towards the strengthening of the legal framework on the responsible use of cannabis” should not be viewed as an end in itself but rather as part of a continuous consultation process with all stakeholders. It has to be borne in mind that notwithstanding the sterling work of the NGO ReLeaf Malta on behalf of cannabis users there are others who, while recognising the urgent need for reform, are however much more cautious and would prefer that the required reforms are more gradual.

Ignoring the rudderless parliamentary Opposition, which does not yet have a clue on the issue, I refer to various proposals on the drug reform legislation which proposals were prepared by a number of NGOs and presented to Parliament.  Parliament was wrong to ignore these proposals and to steamroll ahead, notwithstanding. Such an attitude is not conducive to good governance. Parliament ought to have listened much more before deciding. This applies even if at the end of the day not all of the proposals made by the NGOs would have been taken on board.

At this critical juncture it is imperative that the drug reform is supported by as wide as possible a base. The consensus achieved has to be as wide as possible. This is essential in order to isolate those elements in our society who still believe that the criminalisation of cannabis users should be the rule.

It has been estimated that in 2021 there are around 40,000 consumers of cannabis in Malta. That is the current state of play after 40 years of militarised crackdown on cannabis use in the Maltese Islands. Criminalisation of cannabis users has not yielded any tangible positive results over the years.

The way forward in drug reform is to ensure that possession for personal use can be dealt with differently from trafficking. The legislation which Parliament approved earlier this week does precisely that. It can however be improved by ensuring that there are suitable buffers which protect children and vulnerable persons. This is one of the principal points made by the NGOs, who, to their credit, accept decriminalisation of possession for personal use of cannabis as a positive step forward.

Greens in Malta support the need for drug reform in general and specifically the decriminalisation for personal use relative to cannabis. In fact, the Green Electoral Manifesto for the 2017 General Election was the only electoral platform which presented this as an electoral pledge.

It is indeed unfortunate that Government and Parliament have squandered a unique opportunity at consensus building. It is however still possible at this late hour to remedy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 December 2021

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