Riħa ta’ ħut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishy Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 April 2021

Bank officials and the revolving door

The money laundering criminal case instituted this morning relative to the possible use of a number of restaurants in the scam is another milestone for the Malta Police.

It is however very worrying as it shows the “revolving door” recruitment with ease which former bank officials use from their regulatory role in the bank to an operational role in the companies they should have kept a watch over. The question which begs an answer is whether the “revolving door” recruitment is payment for services rendered.

It is another lacuna which needs decisive action the soonest. Regulating “revolving door” recruitment is not just an issue for politicians.

Hopefully the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) takes decisive action urgently.

Niftħu l-iskejjel ftit ftit

Il-messaġġi konfliġġenti fil-bidu tas-sajf minn politiċi fis-sens li l-Covid-19 kien taħt kontroll huma in parti responsabbli għall-qagħda attwali. Kien in partikolari l-Prim Ministru flimkien mal-Ministru tat-Turiżmu li pubblikament emfasizzaw li issa li l-pandemija kienet taħt kontroll stajna ingawdu is-sajf!

Kienet din l-attitudni irresponsabbli li wasslet biex ġew rilassati b’mod mgħaġġel ir-restrizzjonijiet marbuta mal-Covid-19 meta s-sens komun kien jitlob pass iktar kawt.

Nifhem li l-operaturi ekonomiċi li kienu qed iġorru l-piz kienu kontinwament isusu wara l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu. Imma meta l-Gvern ċeda bagħat l-agħar messaġġ possibli: li r-restrizzjonijiet ma kienux meħtieġa. Meta l-Prim Ministru mbagħad ħafer il-multi li weħlu dawk li abbużaw u kisru l-kundizzjonijiet tal-kwarantina u restrizzjonijiet oħra, għaxxaqha!

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni attwali: fi tmiem is-sajf ir-rata tal-infezzjonijiet tal-Covid-19 hi sfortunatament l-ogħla s’issa f’Malta. Il-106 każ ta’ Covid-19 li irriżultaw nhar l-Erbgħa huma bozza ħamra li qed  itteptep u tgħidilna li l-kontrolli li għanda illum mhux adegwati. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ infurzar aħjar.  

L-ekonomija qalgħet daqqa ta’  ħarta għalkemm is-sussidji u l-għajnuniet li ħareġ il-Gvern bla dubju naqqsu l-impatt tad-daqqa. 

Il-mixja lura lejn in-normalità mhiex waħda faċli. Mhux ser isseħħ mil-lum għal għada. Teħtieġ il-paċenzja min-naħa ta’ kulħadd. Teħtieġ ukoll sens ta’ responsabbiltà billi nsegwu l-prewkazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji, fosthom li nilbsu l-maskri protettivi, mhux biss biex nipproteġu lilna nfusna imma fuq kollox biex nipproteġu lill-oħrajn.

L-argument bħalissa huwa jekk l-iskejjel għandhomx jiftħu jew le. Fin-nofs hemm l-interess tal-edukazzjoni tal-istudenti, il-ħtiega tal-genituri li jaħdmu u s-saħħa kulħadd: fuq quddiem nett dik tal-istudenti kif ukoll tal-għalliema kif ukoll ta’ dawk kollha nvoluti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-iskejjel u tal-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi.

Hemm ħafna argumenti validi għax l-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għandhom jiftħu. Dan minkejja li l-protokolli dwar l-imġieba meħtieġa damu ma ħarġu b’mod li kabbru l-inċertezza ta’ kulħadd.

L-ewwel u qabel kollox hu fl-interess tal-istudenti, kbar u żgħar, li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi jerġgħu jiftħu l-bibien tagħhom. Hemm limitu dwar kemm jista’ jsir tagħlim effettiv b’mod virtwali. It-tagħlim b’mod elettroniku bla dubju jista’ jgħin – hu għodda tajba – imma qatt ma jista’ jissostitwixxi l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliema u l-studenti b’mod partikolari ta’ dawk li għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali tat-tagħlim. F’numru ta’ każi ta’ studenti vulnerabbli l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliem u l-istudent hu l-unika mezz ta’ tagħlim effettiv. Dawn huma fost l-iktar li batew bl-għeluq komplet tal-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi. Il-ħsara li saritilhom mhux faċli li tkun rimedjata. Bħala riżultat tal-għeluq tal-iskejjel, effett dirett tal-Covid-19, hemm numru ta’ tfal li qegħdin fil-periklu li jintilfu għal kollox għas-sistema edukattiva!

L-iskejjel jeħtieġ li jiftħu ukoll għax il-genituri jeħtieġ li huma ukoll imorru għax-xogħol. L-għeluq tal-iskejjel qed iżżomm numru ta’ ġenituri milli jmorru lura għax-xogħol għax inkella ma jibqa’ ħadd biex jieħu ħsieb l-ulied. Niftakru li issa anke in-nanniet huma out of action għax huma fost il-vulnerabbli! Mhuwiex raġjonevoli li nistennew li f’dan il-mument kritiku jerfgħu l-piż in-nanniet, b’periklu għal saħħithom. Fost dawk li qalgħu daqqa kbira bl-egħluq tal-iskejjel hemm il-familji b’genitur wieħed: dawn qed jissograw l-impieg tagħhom ferm iktar minn ħaddieħor.

Mhux kull xogħol hu possibli li jsir bit-telework! Fejn hu possibli dan għandu jibqa’ jsir. Imma kif nafu ilkoll dan mhux possibli dejjem.

Fid-dawl tal-ispluzjoni ta’ każi tal-Covid-19 naħseb li minkejja l-ħtieġa li l-iskejjel jiftħu, m’huwiex prattiku li dawn jiftħu kompletament u dan biex jonqos ir-riskju tal-imxija tal-Covid-19. Huwa l-każ li nesploraw li minflok ma jiftħu kompletament l-iskejjel jiftħu bil-mod biex jerġgħu jibdew jistabilixxu kuntatt (anke jekk wieħed minimu) mal-istudenti u jkun possibli li tkun imħarsa is-saħħa ta’ kulħadd.

Is-soluzzjoni hi li nimxu b’mod gradwali, bil-mod, pass pass. L-istudenti vulnerabbli u dawk fl-etajiet li għandhom dipendenti mill-għalliema għandhom ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jerġgħu jibdew l-iskola għax huma l-iktar li għandhom bżonn!

Dan hu l-unika mod li bih nistgħu naslu. Aħjar pass żgħir il-quddiem, b’kuntatt minimu flok bil-bibien magħluqin.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Settembru 2020

Covid detection and school opening

The conflicting messages in early summer issued by Maltese holders of political office that Covid-19 was under control are partly responsible for the current state of play. Specifically, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism are on record as having publicly stated that matters were under control and that we could now “enjoy summer”.

It is this irresponsible attitude that led to the fast track relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions when a more common-sense approach would have indicated a much slower pace.

One does understand that the economic operators feeling the pinch were lobbying continuously the Tourism authorities. However, when government gave way, it sent the worst possible message: that the restrictions were not required. When the Prime Minister announced an amnesty relative to  fines imposed, he made matters worse.

This is the current state of play: at the end of summer the rate of Covid-19 infections is unfortunately the highest ever in the Maltese islands. The 106 cases identified on Wednesday is a red light warning us that controls in place are not adequate. They need to be tightened up and enforced.

As a result of the Covid-19 restrictions the economy has contracted. The government subsidies and handouts helped substantially to reduce the negative impacts.

The road back to “some version of normal” will be slow and painful. It will definitely take a considerable time, depending on the sector under consideration. It requires caution, patience and a sense of responsibility.

The current Covid-19 agenda is considering whether and when it will be possible to re-open our educational institutions.  This is primarily in the interests of our students as well as of parents whose painfully constructed work/life balance has been destabilised. It is also in the interest of protecting everyone’s health: that of students, teachers, as well as those responsible for the administration of the educational institutions.

There are a multitude of valid arguments as to why all educational institutions should re-open the soonest even though the state authorities were very late in issuing the behaviour protocols, further fuelling unnecessary uncertainty.

It is first and foremost in the interest of most students, young and old, that formal education gets going the soonest. Online learning, while being useful and having many merits, is no substitute for direct face to face contact between student and teacher, especially in the initial stages of education.

In the case of vulnerable students direct contact with the educator is essential. These are the Covid-19 education victims: their future, already in the fringes, has been severely damaged. There is a real risk of the system losing track of them completely thereby impairing severely their future.

Opening schools is also in the interest of working parents. Their active involvement at their place of work is being hampered as long as schools remain closed. Where can they leave their children? Grandparents are out of the question as they are vulnerable too!  Single parents are definitely worse off with closed schools as even their very livelihood is put into question. 

Telework is not necessarily always a solution, even though it is helpful.

The explosive increase in the number of detected Covid-19 cases during this week does not help matters. Coupled with the late availability of the school behavioural protocols this is creating considerable doubt in all stakeholders as to whether the authorities can handle the return back to school.

It may be reasonable to explore whether instead of an across the board return to school, a staggered approach can be implemented with the vulnerable and the dependent students being given priority. This could be the only realistic way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 September 2020

Lejn normal differenti

L-imxija tal-coronavirus għadha fl-istadji bikrija tagħha. In-numri ta’ dawk identifikati bħala infettati, s’issa, s-servizzi tas-saħħa qed ilaħħqu magħhom. Nittamaw li l-affarijiet jibqgħu hekk, anke jekk in-numri inevitabilment ser jiżdiedu. Dan ser ikun jiddependi fuq diversi fatturi, ewlieni fosthom li lkoll kemm aħna qed nosservaw dak li jgħidulna l-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa biex b’hekk tonqos il-possibilità li l-virus ikun trasmess fuq skala kbira.

Bla dubju, l-mistoqsija fuq fomm kulħadd hi: kemm ser jgħaddi żmien biex il-pajjiż jirkupra minn dan kollu?

F’waħda mill-intervisti li tiegħu, l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela indika li l-kriżi tal-coronavirus tista’ twassal sal-bidu tas-sajf. Jista’ jkun, iżda, li din iddum ferm iktar: possibilment anke sa tnax-il xahar ieħor! Il-medja internazzjonali qed tispekula dwar jekk il-firxa tal-coronavirus tonqosx fis-sajf biex imbagħad tirritorna iktar tard bħall-influwenza “normali” li tkun magħna kull sena. Il-possibilità tat-tieni mewġa tal-coronavirus m’għandiex tkun injorata, għax, jekk dan iseħħ jista’ jkollha impatti konsiderevoli fuq dak li jkun baqa’!

Meta ser niġu lura għan-normal? Il-ħajja f’Malta ser tirritorna għal dak li mdorrijin bih jew ser nieħdu l-opportunità biex nibnu normal ġdid u differenti?

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġlu ż-żmien biex jerġa’ jiġi fuq saqajh, ħafna iktar minn kemm hu meħtieġ biex ikun eliminat il-coronavirus minn fostna. Iż-żmien ta’ stennija nistgħu nagħmlu użu tajjeb minnu billi nibdew nippjanaw bis-serjetà dwar kif ser nibnu mill-ġdid ir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż. Huwa iktar diffiċli li nibnu r-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż milli nsewwu l-ħsara kkawżata mill-firxa tal-coronavirus.

Reċentement ġew ippubblikati żewġ dokumenti bi proposti li jistgħu jkunu ta’ għajnuna kbira f’din il-ħidma li hi tant meħtieġa. L-ewwel dokument ippubblikat huwa dokument konsultattiv li ippubblika xi ġimgħat ilu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan hu intitolat: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. It-tieni dokument huwa intitolat Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees u kien pubblikat mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Hi ħasra li, safejn naf jiena, ma teżisti l-ebda verżjoni bil-Malti ta’ dawn id-dokumenti. Dan ukoll hu nuqqas amministrattiv li għandu jkun rimedjat. Il-Malti hu lsienna u proposti ta’ din ix-xorta jeħtieġ li jkunu ppubblikati bil-Malti ukoll.

Fid-dokument konsultattiv tiegħu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jargumenta favur it-trasparenza permezz tar-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying, materja li s’issa hi nieqsa mill-liġijiet tagħna. Hu biss permezz ta’ transparenza rigoruża tal-proċess politiku li nistgħu nassiguraw il-kontabilità u allura l-iskrutinju pubbliku tal-formazzjoni ta’ proposti politiċi kif ukoll tal-proċess tat-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet. Ilkoll konxji li sakemm il-lobbying ma’ jkunx regolat, dan ser jibqa’ sors ewlieni tal-kontaminazzjoni tal-proċess politiku. Meta nirregolaw il-lobbying, min-naħa l-oħra, nistgħu jkollna proċess politiku infurmat u allura nkunu qed nikkontribwixxu b’mod effettiv għall-kontabilità.

Fit-tieni dokument, l-Awditur Ġenerali jeżamina r-regoli dwar l-imġieba etika li huma mifruxa fl-Att dwar l- Amministrazzjoni Publika, fil-Kodiċi tal-Etika u fil-Kodiċi dwar it-Tmexxija tas-Servizz Pubbliku li flimkien jirregolaw il-mod kif jopera is-servizz pubbliku. L-Awditur Ġenerali ġustament josserva, illi, meta tqis il-kontenut ta’ dawn it-tlett dokumenti flimkien jirriżulta li hemm nuqqas ta’ ċarezza, liema nuqqas joħloq l-inċertezza, u b’hekk tkun imnaqqsa l-effettività tagħhom. Huwa jemfasizza illi r-regoli huma ultimament effettivi skond kemm huma kapaċi jwasslu għal azzjoni konkreta. Jiġifieri r-regoli għandu jkollhom il-kapaċita li jittraduċu l-prinċipji f’azzjoni reali.

Permezz tal-proposti tagħhom il-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u l-Awditur Ġenerali qed iwasslu messaġġ għat-tisħieħ tal-pedamenti tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, jista’ jkun possibli li nibnu “normal ġdid” u differenti minn dak li drajna bih sal-lum. Normal fejn il-governanza tajba ma tkunx iktar eċċezzjoni imma tkun l-imġieba normali li nistennew mingħand dawk fil-ħajja pubblika u fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika għas-servizz tal-pajjiż.

Il-waqfien tal-pajjiż ħtija tal-mixja tal-coronavirus hi ukoll opportunità għal riflessjoni tant meħtieġa. Huwa l-waqt li l-paroli kollu dwar governanza tajba nittrasformawh f’azzjoni konkreta. Il-pajjiż għandu bżonn ta’ normal ġdid, ta’ normal differenti minn dak imdorrijin bih.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 t’April 2020

Towards a new normal

The Coronavirus outbreak is still in its initial stages. The numbers of those testing positive are, so far, manageable. We all hope that this will remain manageable even though the numbers are on the increase. This is however dependent on many factors, primarily on our observing the instructions issued by the health authorities in order to reduce the possibilities of transmission of the virus.

How long will it take for the country to recover?

In one of his interviews Prime Minister Robert Abela has indicated that the current Coronavirus crises may last till the beginning of summer. Recovery, could, however, last longer, even as much as twelve months. The international media is speculating on whether the Coronavirus outbreak will reduce its spread during the summer months as well as whether it will return later in the year just like the “common” flu. The possibility of a second outbreak is not to be overlooked, as if this were to happen, it could have a devastating effect on what’s left.

When will life get back to normal? Will life in Malta be back to what we were used to or will we avail ourselves of the opportunity to seek a new normal?

It will take time for the country to start functioning again, much more than is required to eliminate the Coronavirus from our midst. We can put to good use the available time on our hands to start planning in earnest the rebuilding of our reputation as a country. Reconstructing our reputation is more difficult to achieve successfully than making good the extensive damage caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.

In this respect, lately, two different sets of proposals have been published for our consideration. The first is the document for public consultation published by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life some weeks ago, entitled: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. The second is the Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees published this week by the National Audit Office. As far as I am aware no Maltese version of these documents has been published. This is a recurring administrative deficiency which should be remedied at the earliest. Maltese is our national language and proposals of this fundamental nature should be available for consideration in the Maltese language too.

In his consultation paper, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life argues in favour of transparency through the regulation of lobbying which matter is still missing from our laws. It is only through rigorous transparency of the political process that we can ensure accountability and consequently public scrutiny of the policy formation and decision-taking process. We are all aware that as long as lobbying is unregulated it will remain a primary source of the toxification of the political process. Regulated lobbying, on the other hand, can inform the political process thereby contributing to more effective accountability.

In his review, the Auditor General examines existing ethical rules spread in the Public Administration Act, the Code of Ethics and the Public Service Management Code which together regulate the operation of the civil service. He observes that at times, when one considers these three instruments together, there is a lack of clarity which creates uncertainty, as a result reducing their effectiveness. He emphasises that ultimately effectiveness of the rules is also dependent on follow-up action and an enforcement which is capable of translating principles into tangible action.

Through their proposals the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and the Auditor General seek to strengthen the foundations of public administration. As a result, it may be possible to construct a new normal where good governance is no longer an exception but the normal behaviour which we expect from people in public office as well as from the public administration serving the country.

The Coronavirus outbreak is thus also an opportunity for a long overdue reflection. The grinding to a halt of the whole country is also the right moment to substitute lip-service to good governance with some concrete action. The country desperately needs a new normal.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 5 April 2020

Investigating Konrad’s MTA contract

It is known that Johann Buttigieg, former Chief Executive at the Planning Authority, was squeezed out of his post by Minister Ian Borg. Johann Buttigieg, however, found an ally in Konrad Mizzi, then Minister for Tourism, who facilitated his employment as the new Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority.

By the time Johann Buttigieg had taken up his new post at the Malta Tourism Authority, Konrad Mizzi had already resigned as Minister. Although Konrad Mizzi had announced his resignation after a Cabinet meeting on the 26 November 2019 it is not clear if he had volunteered to step down or if he had been forced to go. He was reported as having said: “I felt it my duty – in the context of current political circumstances – to resign in loyalty to the people, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister.”

It would be reasonable to assume that Johann Buttigieg returned the favour from Konrad Mizzi when, on 9th December, he signed the contract appointing Konrad Mizzi as a consultant to the Authority – as one of his first decisions as CEO! However, this would not necessarily be a correct assumption. In fact, elsewhere in the press it has been opined that the decision to engage Konrad Mizzi as consultant was taken by Joseph Muscat himself, because after Konrad Mizzi’s resignation he was directly responsible for the Tourism Ministry.

As Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg must shoulder substantial responsibility although it is most probable that he was acting on the instructions of Joseph Muscat. He should by now be aware that illegitimate (and unethical) superior orders can – and should be – ignored.

After Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli announced the rescinding of Konrad Mizzi’s contract she was asked to explain the reasons which justified such a revocation. She was very brief in her reply, saying that there were legal and ethical reasons that justified such a course of action. She was reluctant to state more in order to avoid prejudicing any legal action, should this result.

It is very interesting to note that the Honourable Minister has justified the revocation of the contract on ethical grounds. She is, of course, correct, although she chose not to point fingers. The point at issue then is who acted unethically?

I suggest that there are four persons who acted unethically in this specific case.

Irrespective of what they say, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi resigned in disgrace for a number of reasons, including being the cause of reputational damage to the country through their involvement and/or failure to act on the Panama Papers debacle, as well as a direct result of the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a role, the details of which are still emerging.

Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi are at the top of the list of those who acted unethically as they set in motion the revolving recruitment mechanism as a result of which Konrad Mizzi was parachuted straight into the organisation for which he, as Minister, was politically responsible just two weeks earlier. This is unacceptable in any country that has a minimum degree of adherence to good governance: normally there would be a cooling-off period of some two to three years before such appointments are even considered.

Muscat and Mizzi tried to cash in on the fact that, the rules governing the ethical behaviour of holders of political office are still in their infancy. Dr George Hyzler, recently appointed by Parliament as the first Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is still in the initial phase of his term and has yet to draft some of the appropriate rules.

The same applies to Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority and Chief Executive Johann Buttigieg, who should not have allowed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi to bully them into submission. The recruitment of Mizzi was kept secret as long as was possible due to the fact that, knowledge of its existence would undoubtedly have created further turmoil within the Labour Party, then in the process of electing a successor to the disgraced Joseph Muscat.

Where do we go from here? In my view those acting unethically should shoulder their responsibilities. I have thus requested the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Gavin Gulia and Johann Buttigieg in the matter and consequently to recommend the necessary action required.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 February 2020

Il-governanza tajba tinbena fuq it-transparenza

It-transparenza hi l-pedament essenzjali għal governanza tajba. B’kuntrast ma dan, il-governanza ħażina, ġeneralment, tkun akkumpanjata mis-segretezza u dan billi jinżamm jew ikun ostakolat l-aċċess għal informazzjoni ta’ kull xorta, liema informazzjoni għandha tkun pubblika.

Il-ħmieġ assoċjat mal-Panama Papers sirna nafu bih fil-mument li nkixfet l-informazzjoni dwar dawk li fittxew l-irkejjen tad-dinja fejn hi inkoraġġita s-segretezza: irkejjen fejn jinħbew il-flus ġejjin mill-korruzzjoni u mill-evażjoni tat-taxxi. Bl-istess mod l-iskandlu tal-Vitals dwar l-isptarijiet kif ukoll it-taħwid kollu assoċjat mal-power station ma kienux iseħħu kieku l-Partit Laburista fil-gvern għażel it-trasparenza flok is-segretezza bħala għodda essenzjali għat-tmexxija. Segretezza li kultant twaħħxek.

Il-kontabilità li tant niftaħru biha, wara kollox, hi dwar ir-responsabbiltà. Tfisser l-għarfien tar-responsabbiltà għal dak li nagħmlu. Dan ma jistax iseħħ jekk ma ssaltanx it-trasparenza, dejjem, u mhux biss meta jaqbel.

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra, l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ippubblikat dokument bil-ħsibijiet tagħha dwar il-ħtieġa li tkun inkoraġġita u msaħħa l-governanza tajba. Kien f’loku li l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ emfasizzat li l-governanza tajba hi msejsa fuq it-trasparenza, l-kontabilità u s-saltna tad-dritt.

Spiss jingħad li l-informazzjoni hi poter. It-transparenza hi dwar dan il-fatt: li jkun assigurat li l-poter jinfirex. Għax hu biss meta jkollna għarfien ta’ dak li qed jiġri li nkunu nistgħu neżerċitaw id-dritt bażiku tagħna bħala ċittadini li neżiġu illi kull min jiddeċiedi, u allura jeżerċita l-poter, jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu, dejjem.

Il-politiċi mhumiex l-uniċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawn jinkludu liċ-ċivil u lil dawk li jmexxu l-awtoritajiet u l-istituzzjonijiet imwaqqfa biex jiffaċilitaw l-amministrazzjoni tal-istat fit-twettieq tal-funzjonijiet u d-dmirijiet tiegħu.

It-trasparenza teħtieġ li tinfirex anke fid-dinja tal-kummerċ. Spiss nisimgħu lil min jemfasizza li l-politika m’għandiex tindaħal fis-settur privat, fid-dinja tan-negozju. Għal uħud għadu mhuwiex ovvju li anke s-settur privat, u in-partikolari id-dinja tan-negozju, għandu joqgħod lura milli “jindaħal” fil-politika. Fost affarijiet oħra dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun regolat il-lobbying. Dan ma jsirx billi il-lobbying ikun ipprojibit imma billi kull attività ta’ lobbying tkun transparenti. Għax jekk il-lobbying isir sewwa jista’ ikollu impatt posittiv fuq it-tfassil tad-deċiżjonijiet. Hi is-segretezza li tagħti fama ħażina lill-lobbying, segretezza intenzjonata biex ixxaqleb id-deċiżjonijiet lejn interessi kummerċjali u fl-istess ħin biex tostor it-taħwid.

Huwa f’dan id-dawl li l-inizjattiva tal- Ministru l-ġdid għall-Ambjent Aaron Farrugia li jżomm lista tal-laqgħat kollha tiegħu ma’ dawk li jfittxu li jiltaqgħu miegħu, inkluż mal-utenti, u li jippubblika din l-informazzjoni fil-forma ta’ reġistru ta’ trasparenza hi pass kbir ‘il quddiem. Din l-inizjattiva hi f’waqtha u hi ta’ eżempju lill-politiċi oħrajn biex huma ukoll jipprattikaw it-transparenza. Dan imma għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass li jeħtieġ li jkun segwit bil-pubblikazzjoni ta’ proposti u dokumenti li l-Ministru jirċievi waqt dawn il-laqgħat, kif ukoll il-minuti tal-laqgħat li jkunu saru.

Hu magħruf li l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika qed iħejji biex jippubblika abbozz ta’ proposti dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying biex eventwalment tkun tista’ issir konsultazzjoni pubblika dwarhom. Nittama li dan iwassal għal sitwazzjoni fejn f’dan il-qasam Aaron Farrugia ma jibqax l-eċċezzjoni. Il-bqija tal-membri tal-Kabinett m’għandhomx jibqagħlhom għażla. Għandhom ikunu kostretti li huma wkoll jaġixxu biex it-transparenza fil-ħidma politika tkun ir-regola u mhux l-eċċezzjoni.

Għax huwa biss meta it-transparenza jkollha egħruq fondi u b’saħħithom li nistgħu nibdew intejbu d-demokrazija tagħna billi neliminaw id-difetti li tħallew jakkumulaw tul is-snin.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Jannar 2020

Good governance is founded on transparency

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain.

The Panama Papers saga saw the light of day when information on those seeking secretive jurisdictions was made public. These locations are sought to hide  the fruits of corruption or tax evasion from public scrutiny. Similarly, the Vitals hospital scandal, as well as the power station scandal, with all their ramifications, would undoubtedly not have occurred if the Labour Party in government had embraced transparency instead of entrenching secrecy as its basic operational rule.

Transparency is a basic characteristic of good governance whereas secrecy is the distinguishing mark of bad governance, inevitably leading to unethical behaviour and corruption.

Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce published its views on the need to reinforce good governance. Pertinently it emphasised that good governance is founded on transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

It is said that knowledge (and information) is power. This is what transparency is all about: ensuring that power is shared by all as it is only when we are aware as to what is going on that we can exercise our basic right as citizens: holding decision-takers to account. Being in possession of information gives each and every one of us the power to act and exercise our civic rights.

Holders of political office are not the only decision-takers. Decision-takers include the civil service as well as those running authorities and institutions established to facilitate the administration of the state in carrying out its functions and duties.

Even business leaders should be transparent in their actions and decision-taking. Many a time we have heard the expression “we should take politics out of business”, signifying that politics should not interfere in the private sector.

To some it is less obvious that the reverse of that is just as important, meaning that we should also “take business out of politics”. Among other things, this signifies that we should regulate lobbying. This is not done by prohibiting lobbying but by focusing the spotlight of transparency on all lobbying activity. If lobbying is done properly, it could have a beneficial impact on policy making. It is secrecy that gives lobbying a bad reputation: a secrecy intended to derail decisions in a manner beneficial to the different lobby groups as well as to facilitate and shroud underhand deals.

In this respect the initiative of the newly appointed Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to log all of his meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders and to publish a Transparency Register is a welcome step in laying solid foundations for the practice of transparency by holders of political office. It is, however, only a first step and must be eventually followed by the publication in real time of proposals received as well as the minutes of meetings held.

It is known that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will shortly be publishing proposals for the regulating of lobbying. Hopefully, this should lead to a situation where Aaron Farrugia would not be an exception. Others will be compelled to not only follow in his footsteps but to proceed much further in entrenching transparency in the working methods of holders of political office.

A deep-rooted commitment to transparency is the only way by which we can start repairing our defective democracy.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 January 2020