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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Undermining the rule of law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 May 2018

Il-każini tal-banda: liġi għall-allat u oħra għall-annimali

 

Nhar il-Ġimgħa li għaddiet, fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern, ġie ppubblikat abbozz ta’ liġi li f’parti minnu jitkellem dwar il-każini tal-banda.

Wara li xahar ilu, f’April li għadda, l-Qorti, f’appell deċiż mill-Imħallef Anthony Ellul, iddeċidiet kawża kontra l-każin tal-banda De Paule tar-Raħal Ġdid, il-Gvern permezz tal-Ministru Owen Bonnici kien wiegħed li ser iħares lejn kif jista’ jemenda l-liġi biex iżid il-protezzjoni lill-każini tal-banda. Għalkemm kien tħabbar dakinnhar li l-Opposizzjoni kienet kkonsultata, s’issa mhux magħruf jekk hemmx qbil bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni dwar l-abbozz ippubblikat.

Il-Qorti kienet iddeċidiet li fil-Każin tal-Banda de Paule kienu saru alterazzjonijiet bla awtorizzazzjoni u għaldaqstant skond ma jipprovdi l-kuntratt tal-kirja ordnat li l-każin jingħata lura lis-sidien u dan għax inkisru l-kundizzjonijiet tal-istess kuntratt.

Bl-emendi proposti ser ikun possibli li dan ma jsirx. L-emendi proposti għal-Kodiċi Ċivili jipproponu li (fil-każ tal-każini tal-banda) l-kirja tista’ tibqa’ fis-seħħ jekk fost oħrajn il-kera tiżdied b’għaxar darbiet kif ukoll li tingħata garanzija li l-binja tkun tista’ tiġi restawrata għall-istat oriġinali qabel ma saru l-alterazzjonijiet mhux awtorizzati.

Bla dubju l-emendi huma motivati mill-ħsieb nobbli li tingħata difiża lill-funzjoni soċjali u importanti tal-każini tal-banda fil-komunitá.

Imma hemm problema kbira. Il-Gvern għal darba oħra qed jagħti l-messaġġ li hemm min hu l-fuq mil-liġi. Jiena u inti jekk niksru l-liġi nħallsu l-konsegwenzi. Imma għat-tieni darba għandna min qiegħed jitqiegħed il-fuq mil-liġi.

Ftit ġimgħat ilu kellna lil tal-kmamar tan-nar li wara tletin sena jiksru l-liġi kellhom sentenza kontra tagħhom u l-Gvern bidel il-liġi li tirregola d-distanzi li jridu jinżammu mill-kmamar tan-nar, biex il-bdiewa u l-komunitá rurali taż-Żebbiegħ baqgħu jsaffru l-Aida.

Issa għandna lill-każini tal-banda.

Ir-rispett lejn is-saltna tad-dritt (r-rule of law jiġifieri) tfisser ukoll r-rispett lejn is-sentenzi tal-Qrati tagħna. Tfisser ukoll li l-Gvern ma jagħtix messaġġ li f’ċerti ċirkustanzi ma jkun hemm l-ebda diffikulta li xi ħadd, hu min hu, jitqiegħed il-fuq mil-liġi.

Lil hinn mill-importanza soċjali tal-każini tal-banda il-liġi proposta hi liġi ħażina għax timmina s-saltna tad-dritt.

Hemm modi oħra kif jistgħu jkunu mgħejjuna l-każini tal-banda mingħajr ma tkun imminata s-saltna tad-dritt.

Imma mid-dehra l-Gvern mhux interessat: għax issa drajna li f’dan il-pajjiż għandna liġi għall-allat u oħra għall-annimali, kif kien ibbottja Varist Bartolo!

Parliament moves the goalposts in support of fireworks lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 May 2018

From the Farm to the Fork

 

 

The local vegetable and fruit supply chain was under the spotlight last month. On 12 October, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Malta organised a round-table at Vincent’s Eco-Farm at Żebbiegħ and published Agro-Katina, the result of its research tracking the food we consume, from apricots to zucchini. The report can be downloaded at https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/AgroKatina-Report.pdf .

Maltese agriculture is characterised by small farm holdings, with three quarters of registered farmers working an area less than one hectare. With a hectare covering ten thousand square metres, this means that most local agricultural holdings are slightly less than nine tumoli in size.

Agriculture contributes a miniscule amount to the GDP – less than two per cent – but it is, however, essential to ensure the preservation of the rural characteristics of the Maltese islands.

Even though we are far from self-sufficient, agriculture can increase our self-reliance, thereby reducing our vulnerability to outside shocks.

It has been observed in the report that specific localities are linked to specific products: Rabat and Dingli are linked with onions, pumpkin with the northern agricultural region – primarily Mosta, Mġarr and Mellieħa – with cauliflowers being linked to Siġġiewi and Żebbuġ.

The report refers to the introduction in the local market of long, dark-skinned zucchini contrasting with the local round (or long) varieties of a lighter shade. As consumers overcame their hesitancy to a new product introduced to the market, local farmers started experimenting with growing it locally and, to their surprise, discovered that this variety (commonly found in Sicily and Southern Italy) had the advantage of being well adapted to the local climate.

Seasonality is still an important factor in agricultural planning, even though this is gradually on the decline primarily as a result of the competition from imported products which are available throughout the year. This seasonality is rightfully observed in the various village celebrations focusing on the availability of specific products: Manikata (pumpkins) and Mgarr (strawberries) readily come to mind. They educate consumers and contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture’s contribution to the country.

The report briefly refers to the “local vs imported produce” issue. It is emphasised that it only takes around 24 hours for locally grown fruit and vegetables to travel from the farm to the fork, hence ensuring that they are fresh, ripe and in season. This is not only reflected in a fresh appearance but also in an unmistakable advantage in terms of natural flavour and nutritional value, compared to imported produce.

Agriculture is the main user of water in Malta. It is also the major polluter of our water table. A study carried out in 2008 by the British Geological Survey on the nitrate contamination in Malta’s groundwater, commissioned by the then Malta Resources Authority, concluded that groundwater nitrate had been stable for the last 30-40 years. Notwithstanding, this has resulted in the contraction of the agricultural sector in the same timeframe.

The challenges facing agriculture in the immediate future are various. Climate change and the water crisis top the list. The changes in weather patterns will undoubtedly be a major headache. This will necessarily impact the viability of some crops, maybe bringing about changes to the season/s during which these crops are available. It will also possibly create the conditions for new crops.

The average age of the farmer is now around 55 – and this is not just in Malta, but across the EU. There is a growing awareness that we may be close to losing our farming community, in fact the impact of this loss is already being felt as it is fairly obvious that there are substantially fewer people protecting our countryside on a day to day basis.

The distance between the farm and the fork is increasing.

This is not good news.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 November 2017