It-taħwid fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Qatt ħsibt ftit dwar kif inhu possibli li r-regolatur tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art f’Malta jinsab fl-istat ta’ taħwid li qiegħed? Ħarsu ftit lejn il-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Wieħed mill-akkużati hu Matthew Pace li sa ftit ilu kien membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Spettur tal-Pulizija li kien qed jixhed fil-każ iddeskrivieh bħala professjonist tal-ħasil tal-flus:  a professional money launderer.

Ftit jiftakru li f’Ġunju 2018 kellna aħbar li l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) kienet immultat lil  Matthew Pace is-somma ta’ €38,750 minħabba li ma segwiex il-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus meta kien qed jieħu ħsieb l-investimenti tal-klijent tiegħu Keith Schembri. Dan kien fatt magħruf. Mid-dehra l-Gvern kien kuntent bih, għax ma għamel xejn dwaru. Qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Ikun interessanti nkunu nafu jekk il-konsulent legali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ċertu Dr Robert Abela, ġibitx l-attenzjoni tal-Awtorità dwar il-ħtieġa li taġixxi dwar dan. Jekk le, forsi l-istess Dr Robert Abela bħala l-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat ġibidlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan? Ma smajna xejn dwar dan kollu.  ilkoll kompromessi. Governanza tajba? U mhux hekk tgħid.

Matthew Pace għamel snin membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kien biss wara l-każ ċar ta’ kunflitt ta’interess tiegħu  fil-każ tal-applikazzjoni ta’żvilupp mill-Grupp dB f’Pembroke li kien sfurzat jirreżenja u dan wara pressjoni pubblika minn ambjentalisti. Ngħid li kien “sfurzat” għax wara li l-Qorti annullat il-permess mogħti lill-Grupp dB fuq il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace hu kien għall-ewwel irrifjuta li jwarrab. Kien ippruvat li huwa ħa sehem fil-laqgħat li wasslu għal deċiżjoni dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke, u ivvota favur din l-applikazzjoni.  Fl-istess ħin kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà li kienet qed tbiegħ  partijiet minn dan l-iżvilupp sa minn qabel mal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur, approva din l-applikazzjoni! Dik governanza tajba. Dik imġieba korretta!

Din hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Sfortunatament il-membri l-oħra tal-Bord huma ukoll effettwati minħabba l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom miegħu.  Iridu jgħaddu snin kbar qabel mar-regulatur jirkupra minn dan.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk.

Ambjentalisti skoprew, kważi b’kumbinazzjoni, li c-Chairman attwali tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar  (EPRT) li jisma’ appelli dwar każijiet ta’ ippjanar tal-użu tal-art u oħrajn dwar l-ambjent huwa ukoll impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Presentement qiegħed b’leave bla ħlas mill-impjieg normali tiegħu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bid-dritt li jmur lura għall-impieg normali tiegħu hekk kif tintemm il-ħatra tiegħu bħala Chairperson tat-Tribunal.  

Kif jista’ impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet li jieħu min jimpjegah? Dan imma hu dak li jagħmel kuljum ic-Chairman tal-EPRT.  L-anqas jekk jipprova ma qatt jista’ jkun imparzjali. Imma meta inġibditlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan ma qabilx li s-sitwazzjoni partikolari tiegħu titfa dell fuq l-imparzjalità tiegħu meta jiddeċiedi dwar kazijiet tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Fl-aħħar ser tkun il-Qorti li jkollha tiddeċiedi u l-ħsara li tkun saret sadanittant ser tkun waħda kbira.

It-taħwid, kif qed taraw, hu kbir. B’dawn in-nuqqasijiet etiċi ħadd m’għandu jiskanta li l-proċess dwar l-użu ta’ l-art tilef kull kredibilità.  

A mess by design

Did you ever wonder why it is possible for the land use planning regulator in Malta to be in such a mess? Just take a look at the criminal proceedings currently under way on money laundering. A former Planning Authority Board member, Matthew Pace, is one of the accused. A police inspector, explaining the investigation results has described him as a professional money launderer.

Few may remember that, way back in June 2018, an item in the news had announced that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had fined Matthew Pace the sum of €38,750 for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws when dealing with investments held by a client of his named Keith Schembri. It was public knowledge and government was apparently happy as it did not act about it.

It would be interesting to know if the then legal advisor of the Planning Authority, a certain Dr Robert Abela, had flagged the issue and drawn the attention of the Authority on the need to take action. If not, could the legal advisor to Joseph Muscat, the same Dr Robert Abela, have drawn attention of his then boss to the matter? We have heard nothing about it. As we are by now aware, they are all compromised. Good governance my foot!

Mr Matthew Pace spent years as a member of the Planning Authority Board and it was only after his blatant case of conflict of interest in the dB Pembroke case that he was forced to resign as a result of public pressures by environmentalists. I say he was “forced to resign” as, when the Court annulled the dB Pembroke permit on the basis of Matthew Pace’s conflict of interest, he initially refused to make way. It was proven that he sat in judgement and participated in the decision on the dB Pembroke permit, voting in favour of its approval. Simultaneously he had an interest in an estate agency which was already “selling” units forming part of the dB Pembroke development even before the development permit was approved by the Planning Board with Matthew Pace’s vote in favour! Governance at its best!

This is the Planning Authority. Unfortunately, the other members of the Board are impacted by association. It will be many years before this regulator recovers.

There is more.

Environmentalists have discovered, almost by accident, that the current Chairman of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) while sitting in judgement on appeal cases concerning planning and environmental issues is still an employee of the Planning Authority. He is currently on leave without pay having the right to return to his employment with the Planning Authority when his current term as Chairman of the EPRT expires.

How can an employee of the Planning Authority sit in judgement on the decisions of his employer? Yet this is what the Chairman of the EPRT does every day. He cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impartial even if he tries his very best. Yet whenever he was challenged, he has refused to accept that his specific circumstances render him unsuitable to Chair the EPRT in all cases concerning the Planning Authority. This matter will eventually have to be decided by the Courts with possible considerable consequences.

The mess gets worse every day.

With these ethical failures it is no wonder that the credibility of the land use planning process has gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 March 2021

Għaliex issa?

Għaliex il-Pulizija aġixxiet issa? L-apoloġisti tal-Labour ilhom is-siegħat jeqirdu li dan hu prova ta’ kemm l-istituzzjonijiet jaħdmu. Fir-realtà hu propju prova bil-maqlub. Prova ta’ kemm l-istiutuzzjonijiet ma ħadmux meta kellhom. Kemm kellhom ikunu sfurzati biex jiċċaqilqu u jaħdmu.

L-istituzzjonijiet iċċaqilqu illum. Iċċaqilqu għax ħareġ rapport (anzi tnejn) minn Maġistrat u dan fuq talba ta’ Simon Busuttil li 4 snin ilu ġibed l-attenzjoni tal-Qorti għall-provi li kellu (dawk li kienu fil-kaxxi “vojta”). U l-Qorti ħadet 4 snin.

Dan xogħol li messha għamlitu l-Pulizija 4 snin ilu. Imma ma għamlitux.

Messha għamlitu l-FIAU u m’għamlitux.

Messu iċċaqlaq l-Avukat Ġenerali. Imma baqa’ sieket.

Kellna dawn kollha li m’għamlux dmirhom. Uħud dawru wiċċhom. Oħrajn għalqu għajnejhom. Kellna min ipprefera jirreżenja flok jiffaċċja r-realtà u jagħmel dmiru.

Issa l-Pulizja iċċaqilqet. Għax sfurzata mir-rapporti tal-Maġistrat.

Għax mhux biżżejjed li għandna l-istituzzjonijiet. Jekk jimtlew b’irġiel u nisa dgħajfa, qegħdin hemm għalxejn, kif kienu hemm għalxejn għal bosta snin.

Meta jissemmgħu t-telefonati

Li l-forżi tal-ordni għandu jkollhom dritt li jissemmgħu t-telefonati meta dan ikun meħtieġ biex jinvestigaw delitt kif ukoll biex jippruvaw jevitaw li jsir delitt huwa aċċettabbli f’kull soċjetá demokratika.

Imma x’kontrolli għandu jkun hemm fuq il-Pulizija jew is-Servizz tas-Sigurtá meta jagħmlu dan?

Illum l-awtoritá biex jissemmgħu tingħata mill-Ministru tal-Intern inkella mill-Prim Ministru. Jiġifieri huwa l-politiku li jagħti l-awtorizzazzjoni.

Dan mhux tajjeb. Il-politiku mhux l-aħjar persuna li teżerċita kontrolli fuq materja ta’ din id-delikatezza. Xi drabi, l-politiku jkollu ukoll interess f’dak li jkun qiegħed jingħad. Interess politiku li każ jissolva u possibilment anke li ma jissolviex. Interess ukoll li xi persuni partikolari ma jkunux investigati.

Kien għalhekk li fil-Manifest Elettorali tal-Elezzjoni tal-2017 Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet li ma għandux ikun iktar il-politiku li jagħti l-awtoritá biex jissemmgħu t-telefonati, imma l-Qrati.

Dan qiegħed ngħidu għax matul din il-ġimgħa kien hemm referenza għal dan b’referenza għal żewġ każijiet pendenti.

Jason Azzopardi qed jallega li Robert Abela kellu aċċess għall-informazzjoni li irriżultat minn interċettazzjoni tat-telefonati konnessi mal-każ ta’ qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia. Abela ċaħad.

Fil-Qorti, avukati f’każ kriminali ieħor, li hu pendenti, qed jikkontestaw il-validitá tas-sehem tal-politiku fid-deċiżjoni li l-Pulizija u/jew is-Servizz tas-Sigurtá jingħataw il-permess biex jissemmgħu t-telefonati.

Għandha tkun il-Qorti li tiddeċiedi dwar dan. Mhux għax il-Qorti hi perfetta, imma għax bis-sorveljanza tal-Qorti hemm probabbiltá ferm ikbar li l-affarijiet isiru sewwa. Li d-drittijiet ta’ kulħadd ikunu imħarsa. Kemm id-dritt tal-komunitá kif ukoll id-drittijiet tas-suspettati.

L-inċident fil-kamra tan-nar fis-Salini: dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli

 

L-inċident tal-kamra tan-nar tas-Salini għadu fl-aħbarijiet, mhux biss għax għad hemm il-possibilitá ta’ murtali li ma splodewx li jistgħu jkunu is-sors ta’ periklu. Imma ukoll għax għad hemm in-nies l-isptar, uħud fil-periklu li jitilfu ħajjithom. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb qed titħabbar il-mewt ta’ wieħed minn dawk imweġġgħin gravi.

L-inkjesti għaddejjin u f’xi stadju jkollna rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar x’jeħtieġ li jsir biex ikunu evitati dawn l-inċidenti. Imbagħad ikunu hemm ħafna dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar il-ħtieġa li jittieħdu passi biex tiżdied is-siġurtá.

Tajjeb f’dan il-kuntest li niftakru li ftit ġimgħat ilu l-Qorti tal-Appell, dwar kawża li saret mill-komunitá rurali taż-Żebbiegħ tletin sena ilu, ħassret permess ta’ kamra tan-nar fiż-Żebbiegħ, u dan minħabba li ma kienitx tosserva d-distanzi minimi meħtieġa mill-liġi.

Sfortunatament din id-deċiżjoni tal-Qorti ġiet newtralizzata, għax il-Parlament Malti, bi qbil unanimu, emenda l-liġi biex jagħti lill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija l-awtoritá li jkun jista’ joħroġ il-permess għall-kamra tan-nar xorta waħda, minkejja li l-qisien minimi ma jkunux osservati.

Hi ipokrezija grassa li, fost dawk li l-iktar marru malajr is-Salini jxerrdu d-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli, kien hemm dawk li mexxew il-quddiem malajr malajr il-liġi li tagħmilha possibli li l-kmamar tan-nar ikunu iktar viċin in-nies, bil-periklu b’kollox.

Issa, l-qisien minimi kif inhuma, waħedhom m’humiex biżżejjed biex jipproteġu n-nies. Aħseb u ara jekk tagħmilha possibli li dawn jonqsu.

Undermining the rule of law

The “rule of law” is a basic democratic principle codified in the laws of democratic countries.

We are all servants of the law in order to be free and in a democracy, the law should apply to one and all without exception. A weak “rule of law” thus results in less and less democracy until one is left with only a free-standing façade.

The law is there to be observed: it should be a constraint on the behaviour of individuals as well as on that of institutions. All individuals ought to be subject to the same laws, whereas institutions are there to protect us all, not just from ourselves but also from all possible attempted abuse of authority by the institutions themselves.

It is within this context that the report of the ad hoc delegation of the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament has to be considered. The report is an illustration of how others see the state of our democracy, even though at points it may be inaccurate.

The delegation’s brief was to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion”.

The observations and conclusions of the delegation in its 36-page report are certainly not edifying. The common thread running through the different pages of the report is that in Malta there are more masters of the law than servants; this is how others see us.

In my opinion they are not far off the mark. The report repeatedly emphasises the point that the law should be observed in both letter and spirit.

The institutions in Malta are very weak. I would add that they are weak by design, in other words they are designed specifically to genuflect when confronted by crude political power. This is reflected both in the type of appointees as well as in the actual set-up of the institutions which are supposedly there to protect us.

The above-mentioned report observes, for example, that none of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) reports on Maltese politically exposed persons (PEPs) were investigated by the Police, notwithstanding the fact that the said reports had been forwarded to them “for any action the Police may consider appropriate”.

Is it too much to expect that the police do their duty in at least investigating? The fact that no such investigation was carried out drives home the clear unequivocal message that for the police, PEPs are not subject to the law like any other person. The EU Parliament report is very clear as to why such investigations are essential. In fact it is stated that: “Persons perceived to be implicated in serious acts of corruption and money- laundering, as a result of Panama Papers revelations and FIAU reports, should not be kept in public office and must be swiftly and formally investigated and brought to justice. Keeping them in office affects the credibility of the Government, fuels the perception of impunity and may result in further damage to State interests by enabling the continuation of criminal activity.”

The question to be asked is: why is this possible? Why do Maltese authorities tend to bend the rules or close an eye here and there?

You may find an indication as to why this is so in two small incidents occurring in Malta this year. These illustrate the forma mentis of the Maltese “authorities”.

The first example is associated with the fireworks factory at Iż-Żebbiegħ. After 30 years in Court the rural community of iż-Żebbiegħ won a civil case as a result of which a permit for a fireworks factory was declared null and void by the Court of Appeal. The government reacted by rushing through Parliament amendments to the Explosives Ordinance. These amendments with approved by Parliament with the full support of the Opposition. As a result, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal, a permit for the fireworks factory can still be issued.

The second example is still “work in progress”. The Court of Appeal has, in the application of rent legislation, decided that the Antoine de Paule Band Club in Paola was in breach of its lease agreement. As a result the Court of Appeal ordered the eviction of the band club from the premises they leased within four months.

The government reacted by publishing proposed amendments to the Civil Code, as a result of which the eviction ordered by the Court of Appeal will be blocked.

These are two examples of the government reacting to decisions of our Courts of Law by moving the goalposts – with the direct involvement of the Opposition. The public reactions to these two cases have been minimal. Maltese public opinion has become immune to such “cheating” and bending of the rules because this method of operation has become an integral part of the way in which our institutions function. The Opposition is an active collaborator in this exercise that undermines the rule of law in Malta.

Is it therefore reasonable to be surprised if this “cheating” and bending of the rules is applied not just in minor matters but in very serious ones too? Moving the goalposts whenever it is politically expedient is, unfortunately, part of the way in which this country has operated to date. It is certainly anything but democratic and most obviously anything but respectful towards the rule of law.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 May 2018

Parliament moves the goalposts in support of fireworks lobby

On Friday, 26 January 2018, Malta’s Court of Appeal delivered judgement on a fireworks factory law suit which had originally been presented way back in 1989. The Court of Appeal accepted the requests of the plaintiffs (the rural community) and declared the building permit for a fireworks factory at iż-Żebbiegħ null and void.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, very slowly, we are told: 30 years in fact. Unfortunately, the wheels of injustice are too fast.

Fast-forward two months to March 2018: Parliament debates and approves amendments to the Explosives Ordinance, consequently removing the legal requirements as a result of which the Court of Appeal declared the permit for the Żebbiegħ fireworks factory null and void. Malta’s Parliament is of course very respectful of the rule of law, to the extent that if a powerful lobby falls foul of the law, the law is changed as quickly as possible thereby ensuring that after all, it is possible to be in full alignment with the law.

Parliament has caved-in to the demands of the fireworks lobby and restored its privileged status of being above the law. As a result, Parliament has set aside the expectations of the Żebbiegħ rural community which, for 30 years, has been battling against the Maltese state to ensure that the rule of law prevails.

As a result of the amendments just approved, Parliament has granted the Commissioner of Police the discretion to consider issuing a licence for a fireworks factory when this is closer that the minimum distance prescribed by law – which is 183 metres. Parliament has decided to give the Commissioner of Police this additional authority which he can apply “after giving due consideration to the exigencies of public safety”. Among those MPs accepting the granting of such additional authority to the Commissioner of Police where those who, until a few days ago were insisting that he should resign.

Parliament rushed legislation through practically all its stages on the 20 March 2018. The minutes of the Parliamentary session do not indicate a single Member of Parliament standing up to the fireworks lobby and its Ministerial lackeys. None of the 67 MPs stood up for the Żebbiegħ rural community: they preferred to protect the operation of fireworks factories instead.

It would be more appropriate if Parliament were to start debating the Vella report presented by the Commission of Inquiry headed by Professor Alfred Vella some years ago [Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Accidents in Fireworks Factories]. The 97- page report, published on 11 November 2011, contained a list of 24 recommendations, most of which dealing with the required quality of the materials used in the local manufacture of fireworks. Apparently a discussion on these conclusions is not a priority for the time being. Such a discussion seems to have been shelved until the next deadly fireworks accident.

Then maybe another inquiry and another report would be produced. Another smokescreen.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 May 2018

Indħil politiku lill-pulizija

L-allegazzjonijiet ta’ Jonathan Ferris dwar indħil politiku fil-qadi ta’ dmirijietu meta kien Spettur tal-Pulzija huma ta’ gravità kbira. F’pajjiż serju l-Maġistrat tal-Għassa kien jibgħat għas-Sur Ferris u jitolbu għall-provi, u jekk dawn jirriżultaw jordna li jittieħdu l-passi immedjatament.

Għax kif qal il-Prim Imħallef xi ġimgħat ilu, kulħadd għandu responsabbiltà biex titħares is-saltna tad-dritt. Inkluż l-Imħallfin u l-Maġistrati. U is-saltna tad-dritt tfisser li kulħadd għandu jbaxxi rasu quddiem il-liġi.

Jonathan Ferris qal li meta jippubblika l-informazzjoni li għandu kulħadd ikun jista’ jasal għall-konklużjonijiet tiegħu. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk il-provi li għandu jmur bihom għand min jista’ jieħu passi, immedjatament.

Għax jekk l-istituzzjonijiet inżommuhom sajmin mill-informazzjoni kif nistgħu nippretendu li dawn jaġixxu biex jipproteġuna?

Inti ukoll għandek dritt tiekol

Qed jintqal li l-Prim Imħallef Silvio Camilleri fid-diskors tiegħu iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ta’ ħasla papali lill-Gvern. Jiena naħseb li dan mhux korrett.

Fil-fehma tiegħi il-Prim Imħallef emfasizza li r-responsabbiltà biex ħadd ma jkun il-fuq mill-liġi mhiex biss tal-Qrati imma ukoll tal-Pulizija u tal-Avukat Ġenerali. Fi ftit kliem il-poter fil-pajjiż hu mifrux u biex ikollna s-saltna tad-dritt jeħtieġ li kulħadd jagħmel xogħolu.

Il-mistoqsija li allura teħtieġ tweġiba hi jekk l-uffiċjali pubbliċi humiex jagħmlu dmirhom, bla biża’ jew favuri. Għalhekk hu importanti li l-ħatriet isiru sewwa. Li jinħatru persuni kapaċi u integri li fl-aħħar mill-aħħar ikunu it-tarka tal-pajjiz kollu. Għax kulħadd għandu dritt jiekol, mhux il-bulijiet biss.

Daqqa ta’ ħarta oħra

whisky on the rocks

L-aġir tal-Maġistrat Carol Peralta nhar il-Ħamis hu daqqa ta’ ħarta oħra għall-Qrati. Huwa ta’ sfortuna kbira li l-ħidma ġenwina ta’ ħafna biex il-Qrati jiksbu kura l-fiduċja tan-nies issib persuna bħal Peralta li għal darba oħra jwaqqa’ l-Qrati għaż-żuffjett.

Mhux l-unika wieħed tul is-snin li bl-imġeba tiegħu kisser ix-xogħol tajjeb li għamlu bosta.

Imma bħal dejjem il-party ta’ Peralta li ser jibqgħu jiftakru in-nies.

Il-ġurnalist tat-Times Ivan Martin li mar jinvestiga u għamel xogħolu għamel sewwa. Imma l-Maġistrat sfortunatament jidhirlu li mhux biss hu il-fuq mill-Liġi imma li m’għandux ikun soġġett għall-iskrutinju pubbliku.

Ġaladraba l-Magistrat Peralta jidhirlu li mexa sewwa u bl-iktar mod arroganti ser jibqa’ għaddej ma nafx x’inhu jistenna l-Prim Ministru biex iressaq mozzjoni fil-Parlament ħalli Peralta jitneħħa minn Maġistrat immedjatament.

Il-Qrati  tagħna jixirqilhom aħjar.