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

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Il-BBQ ta’ Karmenu Vella

Karmenu Vella + Joseph

 

Il-BBQ li l-Parlament Ewropew mistenni jorganizza għal Karmenu Vella ser isir nhar it-Tnejn 29 ta’ Settembru 2014 bejn s-2.30pm u l-5.30pm.

Tlett siegħat sħaħ li fihom huwa mistenni li jwieġeb mistoqsijiet tal-Membri Parlamentari Ewropej dwar l-Ambjent, dwar is-Sajd u dwar il-Politika Marittima. Hu mistenni li fost il-mistoqsijiet ikun hemm xi waħda jew tnejn dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Ikun interessanti ukoll kif Karmenu Vella ser jispjega x’ser jagħmel dwar id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar u d-Direttiva tal-Habitats liema żewġ direttivi ngħata l-inkarigu speċifiku dwarhom minn Jean-Claude Juncker.

Fl-ittra tal-ħatra  Jean Claude Juncker ipoġġi 5 targets quddiem Karmenu Vella:

  1. L-eżami mill-ġdid tar-regolamentazzjoni ambjentali,
  2. L-istrateġja tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-kwalita’ tal-arja,
  3. L-ekonomija ċirkulari u r-riżultati miksuba s’issa u dan fid-dawl tal-ewwel reazzjonijiet tal-Parlament u tal-Kunsill tal-Ministri,
  4. L-implimentazzjoni tal-istrateġija komuni dwar is-sajd,
  5. Sehem attiv f’fora internazzjonali dwar l-ibħra fi ħdan il-Ġnus Magħquda u fora oħra multilaterali u bilaterali.

Il-Kumitati tal-Parlament Ewropew bla dubju ser ifittxu li jgħarblu l-ideat ta’ Karmenu Vella dwar kif ser iwettaq l-inkarigu l-ingħatalu. Imma fuq kollox, fid-dawl tal-esperjenzi ta’ John Dalli bħala Kummissarju Ewropew bla dubju l-Kumitati tal-Parlament Ewropew ser jistaqsu lil Karmenu Vella diversi mistoqsijiet dwar il-kuntatti tiegħu mad-dinja tan-negozju, dwar il-ħsiebijiet tiegħu fuq il-lobbying kif ukoll kif jaħsibha dwar it-trasparenza.

Ser jissemma ukoll ir-rapport ippubblikat ftit tal-ġranet ilu mill-Corporate Europe Observatory intitolat: Don’t bet on the commissioner: the case of Karmenu Vella of Malta. 

Billi f’dan ir-rapport jingħad li Karmenu Vella “ is not suitable to be a commissioner ” il-membri tal-Kumitati tal-Parlament Ewropew ikunu jixtiequ jisimgħu mingħand Karmenu Vella għaliex huma għandhom jaslu għal konklużjoni differenti.

Lenti fuq Karmenu Vella: kif jarawh (uħud) fl-Ewropa

Revolving-Door11-300x229

Hemm diversi mill-Kummissarji nominati li mhux ser jieħdu ġost fil-gimgħat li ġejjin. Jidher li ta’ l-inqas hemm ħamsa : l-Ispanjol (Miguel Arias Cañeta), l-Ungeriż (Tibor Navracsics), l-Ingliż (Jonathan Hill), il-Malti (Karmenu Vella) w is-Slovena (Alenka Bratuŝek) li jidher car li dwarhom qed jitlestew il-kanuni fil-Parlament Ewropew u l-kumitati tiegħu.

Illum jiena ser nillimita ruħi għal xi ftit minn dak li qed jingħad fuq Karmenu Vella.

Fil-każ tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja li jinvolvi l-ex Kummissarju John Dalli, l-Unjoni Ewropeja instamtet. Huwa każ li għadu għaddej, u irrispettivament minn kif ser jispiċċa, għamel ħsara kbira lil kull min kien involut fih.

L-issue hi  l-aċċess mhux trasparenti tal-Kummissarji għas-setturi tan-negozju u l-industrija. Din hi issue taħraq ħafna, u ilha hemm minn ħafna qabel ma faqqa’ l-każ ta’ John Dalli. L-opinjoni pubblika fl-Unjoni Ewropeja tħares b’mod suspettuż lejn kuntatti bil-moħbi u mill-viċin bejn il-politiċi u d-dinja tal-business.

Il-Kummissjoni Ewropeja taffronta din is-sitwazzjoni b’żewġ miżuri: bi trasparenza dwar il-kuntatti u b’dik li tissejjaħ revolving door policy.

It-traparenza tintlaħaq billi tingħata pubbliċita kemm lill-fatt li jkunu saru l-laqgħat kif ukoll dwar x’ikun intqal fil-laqgħat infushom.

Il-politika ta’ dan l-imbierek bieb li jdur hi dwar uffiċjali għolja tal-Kummissjoni (Kummissarji u uffiċjali imlaħħqin) li meta jintemm il-perjodu tal-ħatra tagħhom imorru jaħdmu mas-settur privat li qabel kienu jirregolaw (meta kienu Kummissarji jew uffiċjali tal-Kummissjoni). Għal numru ta’ snin wara li Kummissarju (jew uffiċjal) jispiċċa mill-ħatra huwa jeħtieġlu jikseb permess qabel ma jibda impieg ġdid. Dan biex il-Kummissjoni tipprova tnaqqas l-impatt f’termini ta’ lobbying minn ex-uffiċjali tagħha stess.

Il-Corporate Europe Observatory hi NGO li għandha l-funzjoni ta’ kelb tal-għassa dwar il-lobbying fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Tlett ijiem ilu ippubblikat rapport dwar Karmenu Vella. Ir-rapport hu intitolat : Don’t bet on the Commissioner: the case of Karmenu Vella of Malta.

Fil-bidu nett tiegħu dan ir-rapport jgħid hekk dwar Karmenu Vella;

“He has been a member of the Maltese Parliament since 1976, but that hasn’t prevented him from also holding a variety of external business roles at the same time including within the gambling industry. CEO now argues that these recent outside interests make him unsuitable to be a Commissioner.”

Għal dawk li bejnhom u bejn ruħhom qed jgħidu, “imma dan x’għandu x’jaqsam?” ir-rapport jispjega l-ħajja professjonali ta’ Karmenu Vella tul is-snin imma jżid jikkummenta hekk:

“ ……it is his recent private sector roles which will raise eyebrows most as, between 2007 and 2013, Vella had an extensive relationship with the Betfair group , acting as “non-executive director on the Betfair Maltese Board” to Betfair Holding (Malta) Limited and Betfair Poker Holdings Limited. He also joined Betfair International Plc on 27 January 2012. Betfair is apparently the world largest internet betting exchange and while it started life as a UK business, its first overseas licence was granted in Malta.”

Ir-rapport ikompli:

“For several years, Vella was also chairman of the Orange Travel Group  which is a merger of Maltese travel firms Mondial and SMS Travel. OTG encompasses a number of subsidiaries and associate outbound travel companies, is present in eight countries, and specialises in cruise trips and outbound travel to Malta and elsewhere.”

Ir-rapport tal-Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) wara li jispjega l-importanza għall-ekonomija Maltija tal-industriji tal-imħatri u tat-turiżmu jagħmel l-osservazzjoni segwenti:

“ In CEO’s view, it is pretty shocking that an MP was able to maintain such outside interests whilst apparently not breaking any rules; even more shocking when this MP was then appointed as Minister for Tourism.”

Wara li jirriproduċi l-kummenti ta’ Karmenu Vella illi meta kien Ministru ma kellu l-ebda konflitt ta’ interess minħabba li l-kumpaniji li fil-passat kellu assoċjazzjoni magħhom ma kellhom l-ebda xogħol mal-Gvern  l-Corporate Europe Observatory tagħlaq ir-rapport tagħha dwar Karmenu Vella bil-kumment segwenti:

“In CEO’s view, it is inappropriate to nominate as a European commissioner a serving politician who has had such recent links to big business. As a very minimum we hope that MEPs who will shortly grill him on his appointment will seek the following commitments from Vella: a commitment to have no professional or private contacts with any of the companies with which he has been involved and / or their lobby representatives, and a promise to refuse all professional and private contacts with the gambling and tourism industries.”

Hu ċar li hemm il-biża’. Il-biża’ hi dwar kuntatti bil-moħbi (lobbying mhux trasparenti). Wara l-każ ta’ John Dalli, hu inevitabbli li Karmenu Vella jitqiegħed taħt il-lenti.  L-ispjegazzjonijiet li jrid jagħti huma bosta.

Hu ċar, għal min irid jifhem, li hemm baħar jaqsam bejn kif inħarsu lejn is-serjeta’ fil-ħajja pubblika aħna l-Maltin u kif iħarsu lejha fl-Ewropa. Il-Corporate Europe Observatory qed jgħid b’mod ċar li dak li f’Malta ma nagħtux kaz tieghu, għalihom hu ta’ importanza fundamentali.  Mhux ser ikun faċli għal Karmenu Vella, anke bir-rieda tajba kollha possibli, li jikkonvinċi, għax il-każ ta’ John Dalli ħoloq pregudizzju kbir fil-konfront ta’ Malta u tal-Maltin li diffiċli ħafna biex jingħeleb.

 

ara wkoll fuq dan il-blog

10 ta’ Settembru 2014 : Ir-responsabbiltajiet ta’ Karmenu Vella fil-Kummissjoni Juncker .

11 ta’ Settembru 2014 : Jean Claude Juncker hu ġurdien xiħ.

12 ta’ Settembru 2014: Kif jista’ Karmenu Vella jitfi s-switch?

Snippets from the EGP Manifesto: (5) Lobbyists, fraud and corruption

EU.lobbying 

The EU needs a stronger anti-corruption policy and more effective instruments against organized crime to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and also to strengthen the European economy.

Corrupt behaviour by EU officials or parliamentarians in their relations with lobbyists must be met with very strong reactions. Big business still influences the Commission too much. Almost 80% of all stakeholders appointed by the Commission represent corporate interests, despite a commitment to change.

Greens also fight to tackle the problem of “revolving doors” where top bureaucrats and politicians in European institutions join private organizations which they were previously responsible for regulating. We want to safeguard democracy from corruption by introducing robust regulation and transparency for the financing of political parties, candidates and election campaigns. We want to provide the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Auditors with stronger tools to control the way in which EU resources are spent and to act against corruption both within the EU institutions and in the case of serious problems within the member states.

(EGP 2014 Manifesto section entitled  : Fight Fraud and Corruption)