Aħdar ir-risposta

(diskors li għamilt illum is-Sibt 6 t’April 2019 f’egħluq Laqgħa Ġenerali Straordinarja li approvat il-kandidati u l-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjonijiet ta’ Mejju 2019)

Il-Manifest Elettorali li għadna kif iddiskutejna u approvajna huwa mibni fuq erba’ argumenti: l-ugwaljanza, l-ekoloġija, is-saħħa u d-demokrazija. Hija r-rabta kontinwa li nfittxu bejn il-politika ambjentali u l-politika soċjali.

Kif ngħidu fil-Manifest li għadna kif approvajna, “Biex tkompli tinbena Ewropa b’saħħitha li tiddefendi liċ-ċittadin hemm bżonn li tissaħħaħ id-demokrazija. Id-demokrazija trid titħaddem dejjem iżjed fl-istituzzjonijiet kollha, b’mod li d-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jittieħdu mhux biss ikunu trasparenti imma fuq kollox jittieħdu minn persuni eletti u politikament kontabbli. Iċ-ċittadini għandu jkunilhom possibli li jinvolvu ruħhom direttament f’dan il-proċess demokratiku.

Għal dan l-iskop, anke l-lobbying għandu jkun trasparenti, b’regoli ċari li japplikaw għal kulħadd. (hu ta’ sodisfazzjoni li illum qrajna fil-gazzetti li l-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika beda jaħdem dwar l-ewwel regoli dwar il-lobbying)

Għax mhux aċċettabbli f’soċjetà Demokratika li ma jkunx magħruf min qed jipprova jinfluwenza d-deċiżjonijiet, kif u għaliex.

Dan ma’ jgħoddx biss fl-Unjoni Ewropeja imma fuq kollox għandu jgħodd f’kull wieħed mill-istati membri.

Ir-rapporti ippubblikati dwar Malta mill-Kunsill tal-Ewropa, mill-Kummissjoni Venezja u il-GRECO (il-kumitat kontra l-korruzzjoni) lilna ma ssorpreduniex. Fihom ħafna affarijiet li mhux biss Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien titkellem dwarhom imma dwarhom ukoll għamilna proposti konkreti matul is-snin, inkluż fil-Manifesti Elettorali differenti.

Il-Gvern qed jipprova jiddefendi ruħu li l-kritika qed issir dwar liġijiet li saru żmien ilu li l-gvern tal-lum wiret mingħand il-gverijiet ta’qabel. Filwaqt li f’numru ta’ kazijiet dan hu minnu jibqa’ l-fatt li l-Gvern preżenti sabha komda li jibqa’ għaddej fuq dak li sab, għax hu komdu ħafna li meta tiġi dahrek mal-ħajt twaħħal f’ dawk li ġew qablek.

Ħu per eżempju l-poteri li għandu l-Prim Ministru u l-Ministru tal-Intern li jawtorizza l-intercettazzjoni tat-telekomunikazzjoni (tapping). Ma kellniex bżonn li l-GRECO jiġbdulna l-attenzjoni għaliha din. Ilna ngħiduha, kif għamilna anke fil-Manifest Elettorali tal-2017 ta’ AD. Kif jista’jkun li jibqa’ jkun il-politku li jiddeċiedi jekk jingħatax permess jew le biex isir it-tapping? Kif ser jiddeċiedi l-politiku meta jkun iffaċċjat b’talba biex ikunu investigati dawk ta’ madwaru? Dan mhux konflitt ta’ interess kbir? Hu għalhekk li ilna ngħidu li l-awtorità li jsir it-tapping għandha tingħata lill-ġudikatura li bla dubju tfittex li toqgħod attenta illi fil-ġlieda kontra l-kriminalità mhux biss titwarrab il-politika partiġjana u l-protezzjoni tal-ħbieb tal-politiku imma fuq kollox tassigura li jkun imħarsa d-drittijiet fundamentali.
Għidna ferm iktar minn hekk. Fl-2017 fil-Manifest Elettorali tkellimna ukoll fuq l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) fejn insistejna li m’għandiex tkompli tkun imexxija mill-AG (Avukat Ġenerali) u li r-rapporti tagħha m’għandhomx imorru għand il-Pulizija imma direttament għand il-Magistrat tal-Għassa. Irid ikun assigurat li r-rapporti tal-FIAU meta jaslu għand il-Pulizija ma jispiċċawx fil-bir tas-skieken imma li dawn ikunu investigati sewwa u li jittieħdu passi kull fejn jirriżulta meħtieġ.

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja u l-GRECO qalulna li istituzzjonijiet f’Malta għandna ħafna imma li dawn huwa dgħajfa. Qalu tajjeb, imma l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta ilha konxja minn dan. Imma dan ġie injorat mill-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Laburista. Il-PN min-naħa l-oħra, kellu jkun fl-Opposizzjoni biex jirrealizza dwar id-djgħufija tal-istituzzjonjijiet. Uħud minnhom ħoloqhom hu stess, iddiżinjati dgħajfa apposta, u dwar oħrajn sakemm inqeda għalaq għajnejh.

Huwa f’dan il-kuntest li ilna naħdmu għal dawn is-snin kollha.
Il-ħidma tagħna f’din il-kampanja elettorali b’differenza is-soltu mhiex limitat inkella iffukatan kważi esklussivament fuq il-Parlament Ewropew. Għall-ewwel darba qed niffaċċjaw l-elezzjonijiet tal-Kunsilli Lokali kollha fl-istess jum.

Ser nippreżentaw tal-inqas 9 kandidati, l-parti l-kbira minnhom żgħażagħ li qed jikkontestaw għall-ewwel darba fuq il-Mellieħa (Luke Caruana), Marsaskala (Daniel Desira), B’Kara (Anna Azzopardi), Naxxar (James Gabarretta), u Ħaż-Żebbuġ (Samwel Muscat). Għandna ukoll Irlandiż li jgħix Malta (Donal Kelly) li offra s-servizz tiegħu bħala kandidat fuq ix-Xgħajra u l-attivist ambjentali fil-Gżira (Jamie Mercieca). Ma dawn ngħodd ukoll lill-veteran tagħna fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ H’Attard Ralph Cassar, li issa ilu jiġi elett għal snin twal – madwar għoxrin sena.

Grazzi lilkom ilkoll li qed toffru s-servizz tagħkom.

Ma dawn kollha, bħala partit iddeċidejna li għandi nikkontesta jiena ukoll fil-lokalità ta’ San Ġiljan. Għażilna din il-lokalità għax bħala partit irridu nagħtu kontribut dirett lir-residenti f’San Ġiljan li qed jiffaċċjaw problemi kbar. San Ġiljan hu fost dawk il-lokalitajiet li huma l-iktar milquta mill-iżvilupp bla rażan li bħalissa qed iħarbat il-ħajja ta’ kuljum ta’ bosta mill-Maltin.

Fiċ-ċentru tal-ħidma politika tagħna bħalissa hemm il-ħarsien tal-ambjent urban. Tul dawn il-ġimgħat dorna diversi lokalitajiet nitkellmu dwar il-kundizzjonijiet tat-toroq, dwar il-politika tat-trasport intenzjonata biex tkompli iżżid il-karozzi fit-toroq, dwar in-nuqqas ta’ aċċessibilità kif ukoll dwar it-teħid tal-ispazji pubbliċi, inkluż il-bankini, min-negozji għad-detriment tar-residenti.

F’diversi lokalitajiet, primarjament mal-kosta r-residenti ġew ridotti għal priġuniera f’darhom għax il-bankini okkupati minn imwejjed u siġġijiet li qed joħlqu diffikultajiet kbar kemm għall-aċċess tar-residenti għal djarhom kif ukoll għal servizzi bażiċi bħall-ġbir tal-iskart.

It-traskuraġni amministrattiva tul is-snin irrediet lokalità bħall-B’Kara bħala lokalità perikoluża kull meta jkollna maltempata. B’Kara għadha tiffaċċja l-għargħar kull meta jkun hawn ħalba xita, qawwija u mhux. Il-Gvernijiet repetutament fittxew li jindirizzaw l-effett u ftit li xejn saret ħidma dwar il-kawża ta’ dan kollu. Parti mhux żgħira mill-bini ta’ dan l-aħħar ħamisn sena fiħ nuqqas ta’ bjar (jew bjar ta’ qisien żgħar) bil-konsegwenza li f’kull ħalba xita miljuni ta’ litri ta’ ilma tax-xita jispiċċa fit-toroq ta’ B’Kara flok fil-bjar li suppost inbnew. Dan mhux biss hu ħtija ta’ nuqqas ta’ bjar f’B’Kara imma ukoll fil-lokalitajiet fil-madwar. F’dan is-sens B’Kara hi l-vittma ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika inkompetenti li tul is-snin injorat ir-responsabbiltà li tara illi kull binja hi mgħammra b’bir ta’ daqs adegwat.

Hemm il-ħtieġa li nenfasizzaw iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li tkun implimentata mingħajr iktar dewmien l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li teżiġi li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna, primarjament għax m’għandniex bżonn din il-kwantità ta’ karozzi. Għandna bżonn investiment ikbar fit-trasport pubbliku, inkluż transport pubbliku reġjonali u lokali għax dan iservi biex inaqqas l-użu ta’ karozzi privati fit-toroq tagħna għal distanzi qosra. Irridu nirrealizzaw li 50% tal-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi privati fit-toroq Maltin isiru għal distanzi qosra li jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta.

Fuq kollox hemm bżonn ta’ investiment ikbar fl-infrastruttura lokali, iffukata fuq il-ħtieġa li niffaċilitaw dejjem iktar l-aċċessibilità għal in jagħżel li jimxi inkella li jsuq ir-rota.

Il-kwalità tal-ambjent urban jirrifletti l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Jeffettwa l-arja tant essenzjali biex ngħixu. Jeffettwa l-ispazji pubbliċi tant essenzjali biex bħala l-pulmun tal-lokalitajiet tagħna jagħtuna in-nifs u l-ispazju fejn ngħixu.

Il-karozzi ħadulna t-toroq. In-negożji ħadulna l-bankini. Irriduhom lura. Dawn huma essenzjali għall-ħajja urbana. Huma l-ispazji pubbliċi bażiċi li flimkien mal-pjazez tagħna jimmarkaw lill-komunitajiet tagħna.

Neħtieġu toroq u bankini li jkunu aċċessibli għal kulħadd. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, għandhom ikunu fuq quddiem biex iħeġġu lill-gvern sabiex mis-€700 miljun li qed jipproġetta bħala nefqa biex jirranġa t-toroq, jitbiddlu ukoll il-bankini. Ħafna minnhom saru biex jaġevolaw il-karozzi fil-garaxxijiet bil-konsegwenza li diversi bankini spiċċaw tlajja u nżul kontinwi b’detriment għal min huwa vulnerabbli. Bl-istess mod, il-Kunsilli Lokali għandhom jaraw li l-bankini ikunu ħielsa minn ostakli li ħafna drabi iġiegħlu lir-residenti, partikolarment dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli jimxu fin-nofs tat-triq.

Għal kunsilliera f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika, din hija kwistjoni prijoritarja ta′ aċċessibilità għar-residenti kollha.

Irridu nsellmu lill-dawk il-kunsilliera kollha li tul is-snin ħarġu għonqhom b’konvinzjoni kbira biex inħarsu l-wirt storiku u l-wirt ekoliġiku ta’pajjiżna. Mhux xogħol faċli. Ħidma li f’Alternattiva Demokratika nagħmluha bla waqfien. Uħud mill-proġetti l-kbar li huma fuq l-aġenda tal-pajjiż għax-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma ta’ ħsara kbira. M’għandix f’moħħi biss il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li barra li mhiex meħtieġa ser tagħmel ħsara mhux biss lill-Għawdex fit-totalità tiegħu imma ukoll lill-agrikultura madwar in-Nadur f’ Ta’ Kenuna kif ukoll lill-Wied tal-Pwales u z-zona tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ippreżentajna oġġezzjini għall-bini tat-torri tat-Toyota f’Ħaż-Żebbuġ li qed ifittex li joħloq mostru ta’ 14-il sular, 11 minnhom il-fuq mit-triq f’zona li ser ikollha impatti kbar fuq ir-residenti ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ.

Aħna qegħdin hawn biex inservu. Ilkoll.

Qed noffru mill-ġdid is-servizz tagħna fil-Parlament Ewropew u fil-Kunsilli Lokali. Hi ħidma li ser tkun imsejsa fuq il-valuri bażiċi li fuqhom hi mibnija l-ħidma ħadra: l-għarfien ekoloġiku, il-ġustizzja soċjali, id-demokrazija parteċipattiva, n-non-vjolenza, s-sostenibilità u r-rispett lejn id-diversità.

Qegħdin nippreżentaw Manifest li jiftaħ il-bibien u t-twieqi għal żiffa li tnaddaf, għal diskussjoni li tfittex risposti għall-mistoqsijiet u teżamina s-soluzzjonijiet possibli. Irridu b’mod kontinwu nisfidaw l-istatus quo u f’dan il-proċess inneħħu l-għanqbut li hemm f’diversi irkejjen mhux biss f’Malta imma ukoll fi Brussell.

Il-politika ħadra tfisser li ma tibża’ tiddiskuti xejn.

Jekk inti tfittex u tistaqsi kif il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll tista′ tkun aħjar, kif għandha tonqos u eventwalment tkun eliminata l-emarġinazzjoni, kif tissaħħaħ id-demokrazija, m’għandekx wisq minn fejn tagħżel.

Pajjiżna ma jistax jibqa’ b’rasu fir-ramel: għalhekk l-aħdar hu r-risposta għall-mistoqsijiet tiegħek.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi l-unika garanzija li leħen kulħadd jinstema’ .

 

Il-Manifest Elettorali issibu hawn

Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika: għadna nistennew

Is-sit tal-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja jindika b’mod ċar li l-Att XIII tal-2017 imsejjaħ Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadu ma daħalx fis-seħħ. Din il-liġi irċiviet il-kunsens tal-President tar-Repubblika nhar it-30 ta’ Marzu 2017 wara li damet perjodu twil pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament. Jidher li għad baqgħalna x’nistennew, għax il-partiti politiċi fil-parlament ma tantx jdher li għandhom għaġla.

Il-liġi tipprovdi għall-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan il-Kummissarju jista’ jkun approvat biss kemm-il darba jikseb il-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. Fi ftit kliem irid ikun hemm qbil dwar il-ħatra tiegħu jew tagħha bejn il-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni li, sa fejn naf jien, għandhom ma qablux. S’issa ħadd ma jaf xejn, l-anqas jekk ġewx proposti ismijiet, minn min u x’kienet ir-reazzjoni dwarhom.

Il-liġi approvata tapplika għall-Membri kollha tal-Parliament, inkluż il-membri tal-Kabinett. Tapplika wkoll għal dawk il-persuni maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja (position of trust) fil-Ministeri u s-Segretarjati Parlamentari.

Meta iktar kmieni matul din il-ġimgħa iltqajt mal-Ispeaker tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti, l-Onorevoli Anġlu Farrugia, jiena emfasizzajt li dan id-dewmien biex tkun implimentata din il-liġi dwar l-imġieba xierqa tal-Membri Parlamentari u dawk maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiducja qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ ċar ħafna: li l-Membri Parlamentari m’għandhom l-ebda ħeġġa biex iwieġbu għal egħmilhom.

Jiena niftakar lill-Ispeaker, xi snin ilu, jemfasizza li hu ma kienx sodisfatt mill-kontenut tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-assi sottomessi minn uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari. Issa għandu l-għodda biex jinvestiga dwar il-veraċitá ta’ dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet imma sfortunatament m’huwiex jitħalla jagħmel użu minnhom! Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom, iżda l-fatt li l-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadha ma daħlitx fis-seħħ qiegħed jostakola dan milli jseħħ.

Meta tħares lejn dan in-nuqqas ta’ implimentazzjoni tal-liġi waħdu tista’ tinterpretah bħala tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Membri Parlamentari u l-mexxejja tagħhom li jippreferu ma jitqegħdux taħt il-lenti tal-iskrutinjun pubbliku. Imma meta dan kollu tqisu fil-kuntest tar-rapport annwali tal-Ombudsman għas-sena 2017 huwa ċar li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn m’huwiex limitat iżda hu mifrux ħafna. Id-dritt tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni dwar il-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika qiegħed taħt assedju.

Il-kontabiltá u it-trasparenza m’humiex slogans. L-anqas huma negozjabbli. Huma valuri fundamentali li jiffurmaw parti essenzjali mis-sisien tal-istat demokratiku.

Jiena tlabt lill-Ispeaker biex jiġbed l-attenzjoni tal-Kumitat tax-Xogħol tal-Kamra li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn biex ikun implimentat l-Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika mhuwiex aċċettabbli. Huwa essenzjali li l-liġi tkun implimentata malajr kemm jista’ jkun jekk iriduna nemmnu li għall-partiti politiċi fil-parlament il-kontabilitá tfisser xi ħaga.

B’żieda mar-responsabbiltá li jinvestiga l-imġieba kemm tal-Membri Parlamentari kif ukoll dik tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikollu ukoll l-inkarigu li jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll ir-regolamenti proposti dwar l-attivitá tal-lobbying. Dwar din l-attivitá b’implikazzjonijiet etiċi sostanzjali l-partiti politiċi fil-Parlament ma qablux meta din il-liġi kienet qed tiġi ikkunsidrata quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-abbozzi ta’ liġijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan Il-materja intefgħet f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li meta jinħatar ser ikun hu li jkollu jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll r-regolamenti proposti.

Il-lobbying hi attivitá essenzjali fil-ħajja pubblika. Jeħtieġ iżda li issir b’mod li jkun assigurat illi d-deċiżjonijiet mittieħda mill-politiċi jkunu kemm trasparenti kif ukoll b’rispett sħiħ lejn r-regoli bażiċi tal-etika.

Il-lobbying huwa ta’ influwenza kontinwa fuq id-deċiżjoniiet li jittieħdu. Huwa essenzjali li dan issir b’mod mill-iktar trasparenti biex ikun ċar għal kulħadd dwar liema interessi jkunu qed jiġu mmexxija l-quddiem. Dan bla dubju jfisser li ikun meħtieġ il-pubblikazzjoni ta’ ammont mhux żgħir ta’ informazzjoni li presentement hi fil-pussess ta’ membri tal-Kabinett u li ġeneralment tibqa’ fil-files – meta tkun miktuba. Din hi informazzjoni li ġeneralment tkun il-bażi għall-azzjonijiet u d-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Bla ebda dubju, il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti dwar il-lobbying iridu jindirizzaw u jirregolaw x’jista’jagħmel membru tal-Kabinett meta jispiċċa mill-ħatra, materja magħrufa bħala revolving door policy. Dan minħabba li s-settur regolat mill-Ministru jkollu għatx għal informazzjoni (kunfidenzjali) li dan ikun kiseb kemm ikun ilu fil-ħatra kif ukoll għall-kuntatti u influwenzi akkumulati fuq dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Xi drabi għaldaqstant meta Ministru jew Segretarju Parlamentari, hekk kif itemm il-ħatra tiegħu ikun offrut impieg f’dak l-istess settur li ftit qabel ikun dipendenti minnu jeħtieġ li nieqfu ftit. Dan ovvjament għax miegħu iġorr aċċess akkumulat kemm għal informazzjoni miksuba kif ukoll għal kuntatti u influwenza fuq il-proċess deċiżjonali. Il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti jridu jistabilixxu kemm jeħtieġ li jgħaddi żmien qabel ma dan ikun jista’ jseħħ. .

Huwa dan kollu li qed nistennew. Hemm ħafna li jeħtieġ li jsir imma ma jidher li hemm l-ebda impenn biex dan isir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 1 ta’ Lulju 2018 

Standards in Public Life: still waiting for Godot

The website of the Ministry of Justice clearly indicates that Act XIII of 2017 entitled Standards in Public Life Act is not yet in force. This statute received Presidential assent on  30 March 2017 after an elephantine gestation period. It seems that we are in for a long wait as the parliamentary political parties do not seem to be in any hurry.

The Act provides for the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. The Commissioner can only be appointed if two-thirds of Members of Parliament agree with the nomination, and as far as I am aware there has been no agreement so far between Government and Opposition on the matter. The name or names proposed to date are not in the public domain.

The Act applies to all Members of Parliament, including the members of Cabinet. Moreover, it also applies to those appointed to a position of trust in Ministries and Parliamentary Secretariats.

When I met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Anġlu Farrugia, earlier this week, I emphasised the fact that the delay in implementing this legislation on the ethical behaviour of Members of Parliament and those appointed in positions of trust is sending one clear message: that Members of Parliament are not that eager to be accountable for their actions.

I do remember the Speaker – some years back – emphasising the fact that he was not satisfied with the contents of the asset declarations submitted annually by some MPs. He now has the tools to investigate the veracity (or otherwise) of such declarations but is, unfortunately, being prevented from doing so. MPs should be accountable for their actions, but the non-implementation of the Standards in Public Life Act is preventing such accountability.

On its own, this lack of implementation could be interpreted as a reluctance of MPs and their leaders to be personally placed under the spotlight of public opinion. However, when viewed in the context of the 2017 Ombudsman’s annual report, it is very clear that this reluctance is widespread. The right of access to information on the workings of the public administration is under siege.

Accountability and transparency are not slogans and, moreover, they are non-negotiable. They are fundamental values which underpin the democratic state.

I have asked Mr Speaker to draw the attention of the House Business Committee to the fact that this procrastination in implementing the Standards in Public Life Act is not acceptable. Its implementation is a must if we are to believe that the commitment of parliamentary political parties goes beyond slogans.

In addition to investigating the behaviour of Members of Parliament and that of people appointed to positions of trust, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will have the task of drawing up guidelines and a proposal for regulations on lobbying activities. This is another ethical minefield in respect of which there was no agreement between the parliamentary political parties when the draft legislation was under consideration in the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills. As a result, instead of spelling out the required regulatory regime, the matter was postponed and added to the responsibilities of the future Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, whoever he or she may be.

Lobbying is an essential and unavoidable element of public life. However, it has to be placed under the spotlight to ensure a fuller transparency of the decisions taken by the holders of political office. In addition to subjecting lobbying to clear transparency rules, it is essential that the ethical issues linked to lobbying are addressed forthwith.

Lobbying continually influences decision-making. It is imperative that transparency rules are applied to lobbying so that it be clear to one and all as to whose interests are being advanced and defended. This would undoubtedly include the publication of a substantial amount of information to which Cabinet Ministers are currently privy, which information (generally) forms the basis for their actions and decisions.

Undoubtedly, lobbying guidelines and regulations have to address the issue of revolving doors recruitment, as a result of which politicians may be available for sale at the taxpayers expense. A policy addressing the issue of revolving doors recruitment would also regulate the cooling-off period required for a Minster or Parliamentary Secretary to take up employment (after termination of office) in the sector which was subject to his regulation authority.

This is what we are waiting for. Like Samuel Beckett’s characters in his “Waiting for Godot”. Godot never arrives.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 July 2018

Green and Clean: Parliament’s role

The general election is being over-shadowed by a web of corruption spun around the Office of the Prime Minister. It has been unravelling for months since the publication of the Panama Papers.

Months of debate has highlighted the need for Parliament to reclaim the authority which, over the years, it has ceded to government. All institutions require continuous Parliamentary oversight: even the civil service needs to be properly monitored by Parliament.

The PN are proposing labour-proof institutions. In reality the institutions need to be PN-proof as well – as both major political parties have had exclusive control of institutions over the years, bending them to their will.

The current mess is the direct result of a two-party system that spread its tentacles through the institutions creating empires with the specific aim of buttressing those in power and protecting them in their time of need. It is a two-party system which, over a 50-year period, has developed a winner takes all mentality, as a result of which only those aligned to the winner are deemed to be able to contribute to the well-being and development of the country. The rest, with few exceptions, have been repeatedly excluded, and it is Malta which, ultimately has lost the utilisation of substantial talent.

This is the background to Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto. Entitled Vote Green – Vote clean, without ignoring other important issues, it focuses on matters of governance in addition to its core environmental proposals.

We have plenty of good laws. The problem is that, many times, the pool of talent from which those who implement such laws are selected is generally limited to those carrying the party card. Successive governments have often preferred the politically loyal to the technically and ethically competent. This has been possible due to the fact that Parliament has abdicated its responsibilities and assigned them to the government.

Parliament should reclaim the authority ceded to government to appoint authorities and it should proceed to screen those nominated through a public hearing by a Parliamentary Committee on the lines practised by the Senate of the United States of America. This screening by Parliament should  be applicable first and foremost to all constitutional authorities, as well as to all authorities set up in terms of law. Likewise, the appointment of Commissioner of Police, the Head of the Armed Forces, the Governor of the Central Bank,  the Head of the Civil Service and ambassadors, as well as all civil service grades from Director up to Permanent Secretary,   should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to ensuring a more serious selection process, this would serve as a safety valve protecting the civil service itself from abusive action on the part of an incoming government as happened in 2013, when the Head of the Civil Service and practically all Permanent Secretaries were removed in the first minutes of a new Labour government.

The recruitment of people of trust on a large scale during the past 4 years has further politicised the civil service. It is a practice that has been on the increase even before March 2013. The engagement of people of trust throughout the wider public service was used as a stratagem to avoid the scrutiny of the Public Service Commission, a constitutional body established specifically to ensure a fair recruitment process. This should cease forthwith, with the engagement of people of trust being limited to the private secretariats of holders of political office.

The Standards in Public Life Act, which ironically was supported by both the PN and the PL, was approved by Parliament shortly before dissolution. It provisions were therefore not implemented. In particular, the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – to be tasked with investigating the behaviour of MPs – has not yet materialised and will have to be addressed by the new Parliament elected on 3 June.

Lobbying is not yet regulated. In fact, its regulation has been postponed as no agreement was reached between the PN and the PL about possible lobbying regulations.

AD considers that the next Parliament will have to address head-on whether Members of Parliament should be full-timers, thus severing all links with profession and/or employment and, as a result, substantially reducing instances of conflict of interest faced by Members of Parliament.

Parliament can, in the next few weeks, assume a central role in re-building the country’s institutions. It is the only way forward to ensure that ethical behaviour in public life is the norm, rather than the exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 May 2017

For sale : access to the decision-taking process

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga has raised another issue as to the extent that revolving door recruitment should be regulated. By revolving door recruitment I am referring to the movement from government service to private sector lobbying and vice-versa of holders of political office as well as of senior civil servants. As a result of such recruitment, an investment is being made in the access to the decision-taking process which is purchased or offered for sale.

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday understandably raised the issue with reference to former Minister John Dalli in the article Revolving doors: John Dalli denies conflict of interest in Lowenbrau deal  (TMIS 22 January). However, the issue is much wider. It is a matter which is of concern in respect of the manner of operation of lobbying which in this country is largely unregulated. It has already happened not just in Mr Dalli’s recruitment with the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited both Mr Dalli as well as current EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

It concerns both holders of political office as well as senior civil servants, including senior officers of authorities exercising executive authority.

There is much to learn from foreign jurisdictions as to the manner in which such recruitment should be regulated. A recent example which made the international headlines was the recruitment by Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission.  An ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Corporate Europe Observatory had then commented that the Barroso recruitment had “catapulted the EU’s revolving door problem onto the political agenda, causing widespread jaw-dropping and reactions of disbelief, making it a symbol of excessive corporate influence at the highest levels of the EU.”  Corporate Europe Observatory had also referred to the recruitment of other former European Commissioners by various corporations and emphasised that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that as a result of this behaviour European politicians are seen to be acting for private interests over the public interest.

This is the real significance of revolving door recruitment:  it needs to be ascertained that the potential abuse by holders of political office of milking public office for private gain is regulated. It is not just another layer of regulation or unnecessary bureaucracy.

The issue is however more complex than the recruitment of holders of political office at the end of their political appointment. It is also of relevance even when such holders of political office are appointed to such office from the private sector as can be ascertained through the current hearings by the US Senate of the Trump administration nominees. It is also applicable to senior civil servants from the wider public sector.

Parliament is currently debating a Standards in Public Life Bill, which at this point in time is pending examination at Committee stage. Unfortunately, revolving door recruitment as well as lobbying have not been considered by the legislator!   Revolving door recruitment is an exercise in selling and purchasing access to the decision-taking process. It is high time that it is placed under a continuous spotlight.

published in The Malta Independent: Wednesday 25 January 2017

Revolving doors: John Dalli and beyond

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga is developing further, much beyond its original obvious intent. The new twist is whether, and to what extent, the use of revolving doors by politicians as soon as their political office draws to an end is permissible.

The use of revolving doors is a reference to the practice of some politicians to join the Board of Directors or team of advisors of business/industry in an area which they would have been responsible for regulating when in office.

The practice in the EU and some other countries is to postpone the possible entry of former Commissioners (holders of political office) in the areas they previously regulated by three years. This signifies that former Commissioners (or Ministers) are forbidden (unless they obtain prior clearance) from joining Boards of Directors and/or organisations  of lobbyists for a number of years.  A case in point was the recent Barroso appointment to the Goldman Sachs Board which whilst being considered as being morally reprehensible was not deemed to be a breach of the EU integrity code.  

As far as I am aware, the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending before Malta’s Parliament does not address the issue. The issues to be addressed are various. Primarily, however, it is urgent to establish a cooling-off length of time during which time persons active in public life should not take up posts in the private sector in order to ensure the observance of an ethical benchmark.

John Dallis taking up the post of Chairman of Marsovin is only one example. There are various others amongst which the posts which John Dalli himself as well as Karmenu Vella (present Commissioner and former Minister for Tourism) had taken up with the Corinthia Group in the past.

In fairness the applicability of such an ethical standard should also be considered for top civil servants, who should approach the use of revolving doors with extreme caution.  

Through the revolving door: politicians for sale at a discount

Barroso.GoldmanSachs

 

US Investment Bank Goldman Sachs announced last week that it had “hired” former EU Commission Chairman Josè Manuel Barroso as an advisor and non-executive Chairman of the Goldman Sachs International arm.

The New York Times quoting co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs International Michael Sherwood and Richard J. Gnoddle explained the relevance of the appointment as being “Josè Manuel’s immense insights and experience including a deep understanding of Europe”. Earlier this week, the EU Observer  further commented that Goldman Sachs hired Barroso “as it struggles with the fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the EU”.

Based in London but offering services across Europe, Goldman Sachs may be faced with limited or no access to the EU’s single market as a result of Brexit. Hence the need to hire Barroso as an advisor and lobbyist as the United Kingdom and the European Union prepare for the negotiations leading to the UK’s exit from the European Union which can be triggered any time in the forthcoming weeks through a declaration in terms of article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Barroso’s engagement with Goldman Sachs is one which will be much debated as, like nine other members of the Commission which he led between 2009 and 2014, he has been catapulted into the corporate boardroom through the revolving door. His value to Goldman Sachs is his knowledge of the privileged information to which he had access during his 10-year tenure as President of the EU Commission and, the influence which he may still have on a number of key EU officials.  This gives great value to his advisory/lobbying role with Goldman Sachs.

European Union regulations on the possible activities of its former Commission members draw a cut-off line after an 18-month cooling-off period at the end of their tenure when, as stated by an EU Commission spokesperson, “there is a reasonable assumption that the access to privileged information or possible influence are no longer an issue”.   This is contested by the different political groupings in the EU Parliament who maintain that the cooling-off period for EU Commissioners taking up sensitive jobs after ceasing their duties as Commissioners should be extended from 18 months to five years as the present length of time is insufficient to ensure that the EU is really the servant of ordinary people and not of multinational corporations or international financial institutions.

This debate at a European Union level contrasts to the provisions of the Standards in Public Life Bill currently being debated by the Maltese Parliament which Bill, so far, does not make any provision on the regulation of lobbying in Malta in any form or format.

It is not unheard of in Malta for politicians to move through the revolving door from the Cabinet to the private sector boardroom or its anteroom, and back again. Three such cases of former Cabinet Ministers in Malta in the recent past come to mind : John Dalli and his involvement with the Corinthia Group and later the Marsovin Group, Karmenu Vella who similarly was heavily involved first with the Corinthia Group and subsequently with the Orange Travel Group as well as with Betfair and finally Tonio Fenech’s recent involvement in the financial industry.

Being unregulated, lobbying through the revolving door is not illegal but it can still be unethical and unacceptable in a modern democratic society as it can result in undue influence of corporations over the regulatory authorities.

Piloting the debate on the Standards in Public Life Bill on Monday 11 July, Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech recognised the deficiencies of the Bill and declared that a register of lobbyists in Malta was a necessity. While this is a welcome statement and a significant first step forward, it is certainly not enough, as a proper regulation of lobbying in Malta is long overdue. This involves much more than registration of lobbyists or even the regulation of revolving door recruitment in both the private and the public sector.

If done properly, lobbying is perfectly legitimate. It is perfectly reasonable for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. In fact it is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration. It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions.

However, for lobbying to be acceptable in a democratic society, it must be done transparently. In particular, through regulation it must be ensured  that lobbying should not be transformed into a  process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives or advisors of corporations to take their place. Lobbying activities must be properly documented and the resulting documentation must be publicly accessible.

Hopefully, Parliament will take note and act.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 July 2016

Sa fl-aħħar

Standards in Public Life Bill

 

Mela fl-aħħar, il-lejla, l-Parlament ta’ Malta għandu fuq l-aġenda bħala l-ewwel item l-abbozz ta’ liġi li jirregola l-imġieba fil-ħajja pubblika. Wara li dan l-abbozz ilu lest iktar minn sentejn hu ġustifikat li ngħidu “about time”. Jew forsi “aħjar tard milli qatt”!

Ir-rapport finali tal-Kumitat Magħżul kien ippreżentat lill-Parlament nhar l-24 ta’ Marzu 2014. Xahrejn wara, nhar l-20 ta’ Mejju, l-abbozz ta’ Liġi imsejjaħ Att tal-2014 dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ingħata l-ewwel qari fil-Parlament. Wara, nhar il-15 ta’ Lulju 2014 kien ippubblikat fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern u tqiegħed fuq l-agenda tal-Parlament fejn għandu hemm sal-lum!

L-abbozz ta’ liġi jfittex li joħloq l-istrutturi meħtieġa biex ikun possibli li jkunu investigati imġieba li ma tkunx kompatibbli mal-liġi inkella man-normi etiċi minn persuni fil-ħajja pubblika. Il-moniteraġġ ser ikun vestit f’kumitat parlamentari permanenti kif ukoll f’Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li jinħatar bl-approvazzjoni ta’ żewġ terzi tal-voti tal-membri parlamentari.

Il-leġislazzjoni proposta ser tapplika għal żewġ kategoriji ta’ persuni fil-ħajja pubblika: il-Membri Parlamentari (inkluż il-Ministri, s-Segretarji Parlamentari u l-Assistenti Parlamentari) kif ukoll dawk impjegati fis-settur pubbliku minħabba li jgawdu l-fiduċja tal-politiċi, dawk li ħafna drabi nirreferu għalihom bħala li qegħdin “in a position of trust”.

L-abbozz jinkludi edizzjoni aġġornata tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli għall-membri parlamentari kif ukoll għall-Kodiċi l-ieħor applikabbli għall-membri tal-Kabinett imma ma jinkludix il-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli għad-Diretturi maħtura fuq awtoritajiet, korporazzjonijiet jew korpi parastatali li kien oriġinalment ippubblikat madwar ħamsa u għoxrin sena ilu. L-abbozz l-anqas ma jgħidilna dawn il-persuni ta’ fiduċja kif ser ikunu regolati!

Il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikun jista’ jinvestiga allegazzjonijiet dwar imġieba mhux etika kif ukoll dwar il-veraċità tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tad-dħul u l-assi li jagħmlu l-Membri Parlamentari, u l-membri tal-Kabinetti jew dawk impjegati f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja u dan skond kif jistabilixxu l-Kodiċi tal-Etika inkella r-regoli li jsiru taħt l-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika.

Għalkemm l-abbozz huwa avvanz fuq il-qagħda attwali xorta hemm ħtieġa ta’ titjib sostanzjali fil-proposti li fih l-abbozz. Fosthom huwa neċessarju li jidħlu għall-ewwel darba miżuri li jirregolaw il-lobbying illi jsir tal-politici f’laqghat kemm formali kif ukoll informali. Regolamentazzjoni illi tista’ issir b’diversi modi.

Imma l-abbozz jinjora l-lobbying kompletament u ma jippruvax jirregolah.

Huwa essenzjali li issa l-Parlament ma jkaxkarx saqajh u li l-abbozz ikun approvat b’emendi fl-iqsar zmien possibli.

Kien hemm diversi kazi u ċirkustanzi matul dawn l-aħħar sentejn li setgħu jkunu investigati kieku liġi ta’ din ix-xorta kienet teżisti. Huwa għalhekk essenzjali illi l-abbozz ikun imtejjeb u approvat u li fl-qasir żmien jinħatar il-Kummissarju ghall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Għandu jkun emfasizzat li l- Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għandu l-inkarigu li jinvestiga mhux biss l-imġieba tal-Membri Parlamentari u l-Ministri imma ukoll, kif jipproponi l-istess abbozz, l-imġieba tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja li nħatru mill-amministrazzjoni. Huwa mehtieg li anke dawn jirrealizzaw illi anke huma jeħtieġ li jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom.

X’qed jaħbu f’Dar Malta fi Brussels ?

National Representations in Brussels

 

Fi studju mħejji minn ALTER-EU (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation – grupp ta’ NGOs li jaħdmu favur it-trasparenza) ippubblikat f’Marzu li għadda ma tantx jidher li r-rapprezentanti ta’ Malta fi Brussels jipprattikaw wisq it-trasparenza.

Matul l-2015 ALTER-EU talbet lil diversi rapprezentanti ta’ pajjiżi membri fl-Unjoni Ewropea biex jinfurmawhom permezz tal-proċeduri tal-Freedom of Information Act dwar il-lista ta’ laqgħat li r-rapprezentanti ta’ Malta fi Brussels kellhom ma dawk imsejħa lobbyists – jiġifieri dawk li jfittxu li jinfluwenzaw it-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet u l-formolazzjoni ta’ policy fl-istituzzjonijiet ewropej.

Ir-rapprezentanti ta’ Malta fi Brussels (skond ir-rapport) kienu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ pajjiżi li irrifjutaw li jagħtu din l-informazzjoni. L-oħrajn kienu r-rapprezentanti tar-Renju Unit.

X’qed jaħbu f’Dar Malta fi Brussels?

 

Lobbying: influencing decision-taking

 

what to do

Lobbying risks corruption. Establishing clear standards of acceptable behaviour in public life ought to include the regulation of lobbying, yet the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending on the Parliament’s agenda ignores this important matter completely.

Potentially, lobbying is not a dirty matter. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.  It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. Obviously, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

I am not aware of the reason why the Parliamentary Select Committee, led by Hon Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, failed to identify lobbying as a matter which requires regulation within the framework of the Standards in Public Life Bill. Perusal of the final report dated 24 March 2014, as well as the minutes of the Select Committee, does not reveal any indication that the matter was ever even mentioned in the Select Committee’s deliberations. In fact in my opinion, perusal of Parliament’s Motion 77, which contains the Select Committee’s terms of reference, indirectly includes lobbying as one of the matters which had to be examined.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency. It needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process and this helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect political decisions.

Other jurisdictions require that lobbying activities are documented and that the official being lobbied is always accompanied. Subsequently a list of lobbying meetings and the resulting documentation is released or made available. Such disclosure is normal in various democracies.

Lobbying can be regulated in two ways: by regulating the lobbyist activities and by regulating the potential recipient of lobbying.

The activities of the lobbyist can be regulated either through a compulsory registration of lobbyists or else through a regular disclosure of the names of those carrying out lobbying activities.

On the other hand, the potential recipient of lobbying ought to be regulated through a disclosure of all information related to lobbying, including minutes of meetings as well as any memoranda exchanged or submitted for the consideration of the decision-taker.

Full transparency is undoubtedly the best tool which – together with guidelines on the permissible receipt of gifts as well as whistle-blowing – will reduce the risk of lobbying being transformed into an instrument of corruption.

This is not all. Malta also requires rules that regulate the lobbying that is carried out through revolving-door recruitment. At times, this is the easiest way in which special interest groups recruit former Ministers, as well as the former high ranking civil servants regulating them, immediately on concluding their term of office. In this manner, they seek to tap contacts and quasi-direct access to or knowledge of information of extreme sensitivity. It also happens in reverse, when the public sector recruits lobbyists directly into the civil service without first having allowed sufficient time for cooling off so that former lobbyists thus recruited risk being Trojan horses in the public sector areas which previously regulated them.

If we are really serious about tackling corruption at its roots, it would be better if the need to regulate lobbying is urgently considered. Together with legislation on the financing of political parties just approved by Parliament (even if this is defective, as I have explained elsewhere), the regulation of lobbying would create a better tool-kit in the fight against corruption.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 26 July 2015