Open a bottle of wine baby!

The developments over the past week in the investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija have been substantial.

At this point in time, it appears that, as a result of the Malta Police having been assisted by more experienced investigators, they have possibly started mastering the technological divide which, until fairly recently seemed unbridgeable. Searches, arrests and arraignments have followed in quick succession. Other hitherto unsolved crimes involving bombs in the past few months may now possibly be on the verge of being solved too.

The systematic and detailed leaks to both local and foreign news outlets are apparently a celebration of this new technological mastery, although those master-minding the leaks may also be sending messages to those who can still spill the beans as to who commissioned the assassination.

“Open a bottle of wine, baby!” Feeding the press with titbits as to the celebratory bottle of wine requested by the same fingers which triggered the bomb through an SMS may send shivers down our spines as to the carefully planned assassination and the ruthlessness of the perpetrators. This precise detail was then followed by the information that the mobile phone used to trigger the bomb had exceeded its credit limit which led to a hitch, as a result of which an essential €5 mobile phone credit top-up served to unmistakeably identify the fingers operating the deadly phone.

A detailed examination of the conversations and messages exchanged through the deadly mobile phone has, most probably, revealed much more information which -rightly- has not been yet released. Even this information may be ultra-sensitive, at this point in time, in the exercise to identify those who may have commissioned this murder.

Undoubtedly, police investigators will have identified a multitude of possibilities, some realistic, others far-fetched, as to who could have had an interest in commissioning the assassination. Some of those arrested during the large-scale police operation in Marsa, Ħaż-Żebbuġ and St.Paul’s Bay earlier this week, are, in fact, indicative of this investigative line of action, even though seven of those arrested were eventually released on police bail.

Among the leaked information is the fact that the assassination has been planned for two months, meaning that the police have detailed information of electronic messages and phone conversations spanning this long. This undoubtedly will be the source of much more information that has so far been withheld. It could point towards other leads of crucial importance to understanding the still unknown elements of the plot.

The leaks are undoubtedly sourced at the nerve centre of the investigation. They reveal  uneasiness on the part of the police with regard to the local media, opting to leak substantial information to the foreign press. The local media also demands information, even though at times to make this available would clearly be counterproductive. The police would do well to invest substantially in some professional training on how to deal with the press. The top brass of the police force (starting with Commissioner Cutajar) clearly need it.

Notwithstanding these developments, basic misgivings about the investigation itself remain. The bad move on the part of Magistrate Consuelo Scerri-Herrera, who rushed head-on into the investigation when it was ethical to have stayed miles away from it, as well as the involvement of Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta, are serious mistakes that should have been avoided. The results obtained so far in the investigation do not cancel out these basic mistakes.

The arraignments made so far are a step forward. The case will, however, only be solved when those commissioning the assassination, as well as their motives, are known. It is only then that Daphne will rest in peace.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 10 December 2017

Advertisements

Iftaħli flixkun inbid, qalbi!

L-iżviluppi matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet fl-investigazzjoni dwar il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia fil-Bidnija kienu sostanzjali. Jidher li l-Pulizija Maltija, bħala riżultat tal-għajnuna li rċieviet minn forzi tal-ordni ta’ pajjiżi oħra b’esperjenza vasta f’dawn it-tip ta’ investigazzjonijiet bdew jitgħallmu jużaw it-teknoloġija biex isolvu l-investigazzjonijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan segwew tfittxijiet u arresti, u tlieta ttellgħu l-Qorti akkużati bil-qtil. Jidher ukoll li każijiet oħra ta’ qtil b’bombi li seħħew fl-aħħar xhur hu possibli ħafna li jissolvew.

L-informazzjoni li ħarġet u għada ħierġa kemm lill-medja lokali kif ukoll lil dik barranija jidher li hi ċelebrazzjoni ta’ dan l-għarfien ġdid: li t-teknoloġija tista’ wara kollox tkun għodda tajba u utli ħafna fl-investigazzjonijiet. Imma jista’ jkun ukoll li l-informazzjoni li ħarġet hi ukoll messaġġ li issa, wara kollox, ftit baqa’ mistur u li min għandu jikxef il-ftit li baqa’ jaqbillu jiċċaqlaq: min ordna l-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia?

“Iftaħli flixkun inbid, qalbi!” Li nkunu nafu dwar t-talba għal-flixkun inbid biex jiċċelebra, liema talba saret minn l-istess swaba’ li splodew il-bomba permezz ta’ SMS li ntbagħtet hi aħbar li għandha tqabbadna l-bard għax tikxef il-preparazzjoni u l-kefrija ta’ dawk li ħejjew għal u wettqu dan il-qtil. Dan id-dettal hu segwit minn informazzjoni li t-telefon ċellulari li ntuża biex tkun sploduta l-bomba kien wasal fil-limitu, għax ma kienx baqa’ flus u li kien meħtieġ top-up ta’ €5. Kien bħala riżultat ta’ dan it-top-up li ġew identifikati l-identità tas-swaba’ qerrieda.

Bla dubju, eżami dettaljat tal-messaġġi u l-konverzazzjonijiet li seħħew bil-mobile qerriedi żvelaw ħafna iktar minn hekk. B’mod għaqli dan s’issa għadu mhux magħruf mill-pubbliku. Għax jista’ jkun li din l-informazzjoni għad tista’ twassal f’ras il-għajn: min ordna l-qtil. Dawk li qed imexxu l-investigazzjoni mingħajr dubju jkunu identifikaw il-parti l-kbira tal-possibilitajiet dwar x’seta ġara: uħud rejalistiċi, oħrajn xi ftit jew wisq inġebbda: possibilitajiet dwar min seta’ kellu interess li jordna dan il-qtil. Uħud minn dawk arrestati bħala riżultat tal-operazzjoni tal-Pulizija li seħħet iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fil-Marsa, Ħaż-Żebbuġ u San Pawl il-Baħar jindikaw x’qed jaħsbu l-investgaturi dwar dawn il-possibilitajiet.

Fost l-informazzjoni li ħarġet hemm li l-qtil kien ilu jkun ippjanat għal madwar xahrejn. Dan ifisser li fl-investigazzjoni tagħhom il-pulizija eżaminaw tal-inqas informazzjoni elettronika li tmur lura tal-inqas xahrejn. Dan ifisser ukoll li hemm ħafna iktar informazzjoni li s’issa għad ma ħarġitx għax probabbilment m’huwiex għaqli li din toħroġ minħabba li titfa dawl fuq dak li s’issa għadu mhux magħruf: min ordna l-qtil?

L-informazzjoni bla ebda dubju ħarġet minn ras il-għajn. Imma turi Pulizija li m’hiex kunfidenti mal-istampa lokali u li għaldaqstant għażlet dik barranija biex tiżvela dak li riedet. Anke l-istampa lokali għandha dritt li tkun infurmata avolja kulltant din l-informazzjoni tista’ tkun kontro-produċenti. Jidher ċar li l-Pulizija għandha bżonn tinvesti f’taħriġ professjonali fuq l-imġieba tagħha mal-istampa. Taħrig li għandu jingħata lill-fizzjali kollha: jistgħu jibdew mill-Kummissarju Cutajar.

Minkejja dak kollu li seħħ matul din il-ġimgħa, l-kritika inizzjali dwar l-investigazzjoni tibqa’ waħda valida. Il-pass żbaljat tal-Maġistrat Consuelo Scerri-Herrera li telqet tiġri lejn il-Bidnija biex tibda l-investigazzjoni meta kien ovvju li għal raġunijiet etiċi kellha tibqa’ l-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun jibqa’ żball li jeħtieġ li jkun indirizzat biex ma jkunx hemm ripetizzjoni tiegħu. Anke l-involviment tad-Deputat Kummissarju Silvio Valletta kien żball oħxon li ma jitħassax bir-riżultati miksuba s’issa.

Il-konkluzjonijiet s’issa tal-investigazzjoni huma pass il-quddiem. Il-kaz imma ikun riżolt biss meta jkun magħruf min ordna l-qtil kif ukoll il-motivi tiegħu jew tagħha. Huwa biss f’dak il-ħin li Daphne tkun tista’ tistrieħ fis-sliem.

 

Ippubblikat f’Illum – 10 ta’ Diċembru 2017

 

L-investigazzjoni dwar il-qtil ta’ Daphne taħt il-lenti

Fiċ-ċirkustanzi kif qed jiżviluppaw, ħadd ma jista’ jagħti tort lill-familja Caruana Galizia li jkollha dubji serji dwar il-proċess kollu tal-investigazzjoni dwar il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

L-investigazzjoni bdiet fuq sieq ħażin mill-ewwel, meta tfaċċat il-Bidnija l-Maġistrat Consuelo Scerri-Herrera. Il-Maġistrat damet ħin twil iddur mal-lewża sakemm iddeċidiet li tastjeni u titlob li jinħatar Maġistrat ieħor. Biex tagħqad sakemm iddeċidiet ordnat numru ta’ familjari ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia biex ikunu l-Qorti propju fl-ewwel siegħat tal-investigazzjoni, kważi immedjatament kif inqatlet.

Bla dubju l-Maġistrat Scerri-Herrera ittratta ħażin ħafna lill-familja ta’ Daphne.

Imbagħad sirna nafu li l-investigazzjoni kienet taħt id-direzzjoni tad-Deputat Kummissarju (tal-Pulizija) Silvio Valletta li hu miżżewweġ lill-Ministru għal Għawdex Justyne Caruana. Xahar ilu ktibt li kien ikun għaqli kieku l-investigazzjoni qed imexxiha fizzjal ieħor tal-Pulizija. Dan minħabba d-dellijiet politiċi li bil-fors iġorr miegħu d-Deputat Kummissarju. Tajjeb li nfakkarkhom x’kienet irrappurtat il-gazzetta Illum meta Silvio Valletta kien qed jissemma’ għal Kummissarju tal-Pulizija:

“L-ILLUM tista’ tiżvela li fost il-persuni li ġew avviċinati biex jokkupaw il-kariga ta’ Kummissarju tal-Pulizija kien hemm l-Assistent Kummissarju Silvio Valletta. Is-sorsi qrib il-Korp tal-Pulizija li tkellmu mal-ILLUM qalu li minkejja li Valletta kien ikkunsidrat bħala kandidat mill-aktar idoneu għall-kariga, hu rrifjuta.
Għalkemm għadu mhux ċar x’inhuma r-raġunijiet kollha għal dan ir-rifjut, dawk li tkellmu magħna qalu li waħda mir-raġunijiet ewlenin għalfejn Valletta ma xtaqx li jokkupa l-ogħla kariga fil-korp kien minħabba l-kariga politika ta’ martu, Justyne Caruana. Nies li tkellmu ma’ Valletta qalu li l-Assistent Kummissarju jħoss li l-fatt li Caruana hija Membru tal-Kabinett u persuna prominenti fil-Partit Laburista, seta’ jitfa’ wisq piż u dell fuq l-operat tiegħu kieku aċċetta li jkun fit-tmun tal-Korp.”

Dan kollu seta jkun evitat, bi ftit ħsieb. Inutli noqgħdu nparlaw żejjed fil-konfront ta’ xulxin. Kieku l-affarijiet isiru sewwa, mill-ewwel, jkun tajjeb għal kulħadd.

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

Daphne: riflessjonijiet f’jum il-funeral

Illum waranofsinnhar isir il-funeral ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia, kważi tlett ġimgħat wara li nqatlet, meta fil-Bidnija splodiet bomba li tqegħdet mal-karozza li kienet qed issuq, ftit wara li telqet mid-dar tagħha.

Intqal, u bla dubju għad irid jintqal ħafna iktar dwar dan il-qtil, li ħasad lill-pajjiż kollu.

Wara sbatax-il jum il-Pulizija għadha qed tinvestiga u dan a bażi tat-truf li għandha f’idejha s’issa.

Ser jaslu? Ma nafx, imma nispera li jaslu għax il-pajjiż kollu ma jistax jibqa’ ttorturat bi qtil ieħor mhux solvut.

Hemm uħud li rċevew messaġġ li l-presenza tagħhom għall-funeral mhiex mixtieqa. Dan hu kontinwazzjoni tal-kontroversji li fihom kienet magħġuna ħajjet il-maqtula. Huma kontroversji li mhux ser jintesew kif ġieb u laħaq, għax bosta minnhom għad jeħtieġu spjegazzjoni kredibbli. Spjegazzjoni li s’issa ma tidhirx b’nemes.

S’issa ħadd għadu ma nġabar mill-Pulizija biex ikun interrogat dwar dan il-qtil. Imma qed jintqal li l-Pulizija qed jikkunsidraw li jmorru f’Katanja fejn hemm Malti li ġie arrestat f’Lampedusa mill-Guardia fi Finanza dwar kuntrabandu ta’ fjuwil. Dan jindika l-linja investigattiva li preżentement qed issegwi l-Pulizija. Imma jekk dan kollu jindikax li l-kaz issolva hu prematur biex jingħad.

Imma f’dawn l-aħħar ġranet saru ukoll il-mirakli. Għax il-Pulizija donnhom ikkonkludew żewġ każijiet jaħarqu, qiesu biex jgħidulna li ma kienux reqdin. Jew, agħar minn hekk, qiesu biex jgħidulna li ħadd ma jmexxihom min imneħirhom.

Mhux kulħadd hu konvint minn dan u għalhekk sfortunatament żdieded l-isfiduċja fil-Korp tal-Pulizija u l-għajta għar-riżenja tal-Kummissarju.

Il-Pulizija jistgħu jifdu lilhom infushom f’kull ħin billi jagħtu prova li kapaċi jaħdmu sewwa. S’issa din il-prova għadna qed nistennewha.

Bloodshed in Bidnija

 

Daphne is dead, brutally murdered in a hamlet few people outside Malta had ever heard of before. The initial shock left us dumbstruck. Before we had gathered our thoughts, the PN had returned to its assault on the government based on allegations of sleaze, cronyism, poor governance and erosion of the rule of law.

The voice of prudence and moderation was never given a chance.

So far, nobody has a clue who killed Daphne, except her killers. The notional responsibility of every government for everything that happens in its jurisdiction has been stretched to include an assassination which most probably could not have been prevented by a democratic government tuned to perfection and a police force with every resource possible and imaginable.

We have been wounded collectively but we are being invited, coerced even, to fragment. Accusations fly, allegations are remade and attached by unfathomable logic to the awful event. Is this what we were expected to do, instantly to turn on one another? By whom?

Nobody has accused the government of having a hand in Daphne’s murder. Nobody has dared because it would be counter-productive. A government having just won a landslide victory, almost disoriented by a floored and self-harming Opposition would not invent such a nightmare for itself. So, because it is impossible to accuse the government directly, the next best thing is to accuse indirectly, to inflate notional responsibility to actual responsibility, to demand resignations that will not happen and foment an atmosphere of profound discontent.

It is an understatement to say that the reaction of the Adrian Delia’s PN to Daphne’s murder is disappointing. We had a right to expect sobriety, moderation, prudence, even a truce in the endless feud. Instead we had a scandalous populist exploitation of a crime of historic proportions.

Nobody in his right mind suspects that the Government had a hand in Daphne’s murder. Despite the very public excoriation suffered by Adrian Delia at the hands of Daphne during the PN leadership race, nobody in his right mind could suspect Adrian Delia of assassination. How about one of their henchmen unhinged? Possible – but not plausible: a political motive for the murder seems farfetched.

Something more personal involving great financial loss, perhaps imprisonment for a merciless criminal seems far more plausible. We have been thrown head first into the “what if” season and among all the “what ifs”, this seems to be the best bet.

But there is worse, far worse, to contemplate. What if Daphne’s killers simply picked her for her prominence? What if she is collateral damage in an attack on Malta? It took decades for evidence to emerge that Italy’s anni di piombo had been largely orchestrated by the CIA. The terrorists at both extremes of the Italian political spectrum never suspected that they had been so deftly manipulated into turning their country into a war zone. Today the CIA should have no interest in destabilizing Malta but the game they played could be played by others.

What if Daphne and Malta are both victims in a larger game? In this scenario, the devil in the piece has to be Russia and its geo-political interest in the Mediterranean. Profoundly humiliated by the West’s role in the Arab Spring, it has kept Assad in place in Syria against all comers at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and millions reduced to refugee status. Did the Kremlin pick Malta and Daphne in Malta to show the EU that it could destabilize a member state? Our government may have achieved more prominence than is good for us when it supported the Russian embargo and when it refused to refuel the Russian fleet on its way to Syria. Perhaps the Russians are innocent, but this is the “what if” season and they must forgive us for not excluding them.

What is certain is that this is a time for prudence, for moderate discourse, for credible leadership. We are all called upon to avoid playing the killers’ game. Upping the ante in the wake of an event such as this is the last thing we should be doing. We should not be turning the country into a political powder keg. Only our enemies, as ruthless as Daphne’s killers, would want us to do so.

Defeated as they are, the PN owe the country responsible leadership appropriate to the grave circumstances of the moment. The government owes the country a steady hand at the helm and consideration of the long-term reforms that will give us the resilience to face an assault such as Daphne’s assassination without the fear of destabilization.

Duopoly makes us vulnerable, authentic democracy could make us less of a target of choice.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 29 October 2017

Id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrill u l-qtil ta’ Daphne

Inkitbu numru kbir ta’ artikli dwar il-qtil ta’ Daphne nhar it-Tnejn li għadda, meta l-karozza li kienet qed issuq ġiet sploduta f’elf biċċa. Tfasslu bosta tejoriji dwar l-identità u l-motiv ta’ dawk li ppjanaw u/jew esegwew dan il-qtil. Mhux ħa nżid mal-ispekulazzjoni.

Bħal bosta oħrajn, tul is-snin jiena ukoll kelli l-possibiltà li nsegwi l-kitbiet tagħha. Bosta minnhom sibthom mill-iktar informattivi. Il-kapaċitajiet investigattivi tagħha kienu fost l-aqwa fil-ġurnaliżmu Malti. L-argumenti tagħha kienu dejjem qawwija, għalkemm il-preġudizzji tagħha dejjem kienu ċari. Kienet kapaċi talterna bejn artikli investigattivi ta’ l-għola livell ma oħrajn li jivvilifikaw lil dawk fil-mira tagħha.

L-opinjonijiet politiċi tagħha kienu dejjem ċari u hi dejjem mexxiethom ‘il quddiem b’qawwa kbira. Sa’ Ġunju 2017 injorat il-parti l-kbira tad-dnubiet tal-PN u iffukat bla ħniena fuq dawk tal-PL. Wara Ġunju 2017, kif kien jixirqilhom, poġġiethom flimkien f’qoffa waħda u b’hekk tat iktar kredibilità lil min jgħid li m’hemmx x’tagħżel bejn il-PN u l-PL.

Dwar Alternattiva Demokratika kitbet bosta drabi: kritika f’mumenti delikati fejn il-posizzjoni politika ta’ AD kienet f’kuntrast ma dik tal-PN. Drabi oħra, meta dehrilha, għamlet użu mill-fehmiet ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kif kien jaqbel biex issaħħaħ l-argumenti tagħha.

Il-qtil tagħha hu daqqa ta’ ħarta għal-libertà tal-espressjoni f’Malta.

Kien hemm bosta opportunitajiet oħra fejn kien hemm min jipprova jagħlqiha ħalqa permezz ta’ numru esaġerat ta’ kawżi ta’ libel. Reċentement sar attentat biex permezz ta’ mekkaniżmu legali eżistenti ġew iffriżati l-kontijiet bankarji tagħha bħala garanzija għad-danni li kienu qed jintalbu. Sfortunatament il-Qrati ma irrealizzawx in-natura reali ta’ din l-azzjoni intimidatorja. L-impatt ta’ din l-azzjoni kien imxejjen biss wara li irnexxiet l-inizzjattiva ta’ crowd funding organizzata minn David Thake. B’hekk l-azzjoni intimidatorja tal-Ministru Cardona u l-konsulenti legali tiegħu kważi sfatt fix-xejn.

Adrian Delia, l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni, li ukoll kien taħt il-lenti tagħha għal dawn l-aħħar erba’ xhur, kif jidher minn l-aħħar diskors tiegħu, qed ifittex x’vantaġġ politiku jista’ jakkwista l-partit tiegħu minn dan il-qtil. Jidher li jixtieq li ninsew li hu ukoll ta kontibut biex inġemgħu t-turrun libelli fil-konfront tagħha. Li iritirhom iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mhu xejn għajr ipokrezija grassa.

Dan hu essenzjalment dak li hemm mistoħbi wara t-tixrid tad-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ta’ uħud minn dawk li qed jgħidu li huma maħsudin b’dan il-qtil.

Il-Pulizija bdew l-investigazzjonijiet tagħhom. It-talba li saret għall-għajnuna ta’ esperti barranin hi utli għax tista’ tkun l-assigurazzjoni meħtieġa biex kull indikazzjoni tkun esplorata u investigata. Imma l-investigazzjoni għal ftit ma bdietx bil-banda għax il-Maġistrat Consuelo Scerri Herrera damet ma ndunat li hemm ma kienx postha. Il-fatt li damet is-siegħat biex irrealizzat dan juri li uħud mill-membri tal-ġudikatura għad għandhom ħafna x’jitgħallmu.

Il-presenza tal-Maġistrat Scerri Herrera fil-Bidnija ħasdet lil kulħadd hekk kif waslet. Ftit wara l-ħasda kibret minħabba l-kummenti fuq Facebook ta’ surgent mit-tim investigattiv tal-Pulizja li ried jiċċelebra l-avvenimenti li kien qed jara. Il-fatt li ġie sospiż u ser jgħaddi passi dixxiplinari mhux biżżejjed. Għad hemm ħtieġa ta’ spjegazzjoni mingħand il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizja dwar il-għala xi membri tal-Korp għadhom ma rrealizzawx li l-presenza tagħhom fuq il-media soċjali hi ta’ ħsara għall-kredibilità u l-imparzjalità tagħhom u tal-Korp tal-Pulizija kollu.

Imma mid-dehra mhux is-surġent tal-Pulizija biss ħass li kellu bżonn jiċċelebra nhar it-Tnejn waranofsinnhar. X’ser jgħidulna dwar il-carcades li saru, anke jekk kienu ftit? Min ser jassumi r-responsabbiltà għalihom?

Il-Prim Ministru hu anzjuż biex il-każ jissolva malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Ilkoll għandna l-istess xewqa u iktar ma dan iseħħ malajr, aħjar għal kulħadd. Imma, meta l-każ jingħalaq ikun il-waqt li nstaqsu jekk dan kollu setax ikun evitat. Għax bla dubju seta kien evitat.

 

 

 

ippubblikat f’Illum – 22 t’Ottubru 2017

Crocodile tears and the assassination of Daphne

Countless articles and opinions have been written about Daphne’s assassination last Monday, when the car she was driving was blown to smithereens.

Many theories have been woven as to the possible identity and motivation of those who planned and/or executed her assassination. I will not add to the speculation.

Like many others, I followed her writings through the years and found most of them informative. In the Maltese journalist community, her investigative skills were second to none. Her arguments were always very forceful even though a bias was always clearly present. She could alternate between well-written, clearly thought out and investigative articles and pure invective aimed at those she despised.

Her underlying political views were always clear and she promoted them mercilessly. Until June 2017, she ignored most of the sins of the PN and focused relentlessly on those of the PL. After June 2017 she practically lumped them both together in one basket, as they deserved, lending credence to the statement that there is nothing to distinguish the PN from the PL.

As for AD, it was one of her punching bags when it suited her, in particular at those critical political junctures where AD’s views and positions contrasted sharply with those of the PN. At other times, when she found AD’s views useful, she used them to buttress her own.

Her assassination is a direct blow against freedom of expression in Malta.

Various other attempts have been made to shut her up through the countless actions in court for civil damages. An attempt was made to cripple her financially with a legal mechanism, insisting that the claimed civil damages be deposited in Court when legal action is initiated. This was an attempt at intimidation which, unfortunately, the Law Courts did not see through. The attempt was only thwarted through the initiative of David Thake who organised crowd funding of the sums requested, thus short-circuiting the bully-boy tactics of Minister Cardona and his lawyers.

The Leader of the Opposition, Adrian Delia, having been under her spotlight for the past four months is now apparently out to milk her assassination for his party’s political gain, as is evidenced by his speeches earlier this week. He seems to want us to forget that he too was a contributor to the pile of actions for libel submitted against her. Their withdrawal this week smells of crass hypocrisy.

This is essentially the background to the crocodile tears being shed by some of those who say that they are “shocked” at her assassination.

Police investigations have commenced. Requesting help from foreign experts may ensure that all leads are followed. The investigation was almost torpedoed in its first seconds when Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera failed to realise that this was a definite no-go area for her. That she took hours to realise this, is testimony to the fact that some members of the bench still need to master much more than the law.

The Magistrate’s presence shocked all as soon as she arrived on site at Bidnija. Soon after, that shock was to be compounded by the comments posted on Facebook by a Police Sergeant from the police investigating team on his being overjoyed at the day’s happenings. The fact that he was suspended pending disciplinary action is not sufficient. It still needs to be explained by the Commissioner of Police why some members of the police force have still not realised that they should stay away from the social media as it may seriously jeopardise not only their integrity and impartiality but also that of the whole Police Corps.

Apparently, it was not only the Police Sergeant who was overjoyed on Monday afternoon. What about the few carcades which were organised? Anybody cares to assume responsibility?

The Prime Minister is very anxious to get to the bottom of all this. We all are. The sooner this is done the better. However, when this is done and dusted it would be appropriate to examine the extent to which it was avoidable. As indeed it was.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 October 2017

Ghost towns in the Maltese Islands

The last Census, carried out in 2011 – with results published in late 2014 – revealed that in the Maltese islands only 68.2 per cent of residential property is regularly occupied. The rest is either vacant (18.4 per cent) or else used seasonally or for some secondary use (13.3 per cent).

If we focus on the regional data, the situation is much clearer. The rate of occupied residential property varies – from 79.5 per cent in the Western Region (between Dingli, Siġġiewi and Balzan) to 46.4 per cent in the Gozo and Comino Region. Table 1 gives the full data. Property that is completely vacant varies from a rate of 16 per cent in the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) to 23.9 per cent in Gozo and Comino as shown it Table 2. Finally, property which is used seasonally or for some secondary use varies from an insignificant three per cent in the Southern Harbour Region (Valletta to Xgħajra, up to Paola and Luqa] to a staggering 29.7 per cent in Gozo, with the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) with a 25.9 per cent rate being a close second as shown in Table 3. This data has been extracted from the 2011 Census Final Report pages 221 and 222.

This amounts to more ten times the size of residential Birkirkara, meaning that the vacant or underutilised properties in Malta and Gozo at this time are equivalent to 10 ghost towns – each of which is equivalent to Birkirkara, the largest locality in the Maltese Islands. This represents a substantial waste of public funds. As a minimum it means that funds spent on the development of the infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, drainage and telecommunications) for these 10 ghost towns went down the drain and could have been mostly avoided.

While all this built-up residential property is vacant or under-utilised, the building industry keeps building more – thereby adding to the glut. They call this progress and a significant contribution to the economy. Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party and the environment lobby in Malta has been vociferous about this over-development of the Maltese Islands. This state of affairs has been worsening, with neither the Labour Party nor the Nationalist Party giving a fig about the consequences.

Instead of addressing the issue, the PN government increased the size of the development zone through the addition of the so-called “rationalisation” exercise. On the other hand, the Labour Party has, during the past four years, encouraged more development.

Last March I had the opportunity to represent a number of Mosta residents in opposing the scheming of a large tract of land at Tad-Durumblat, Mosta. This concerned 38,600 square metres of land which formed part of the rationalisation exercise piloted in 2006 by a PN-led government. Mosta has a sizable vacant and under-utilised residential area consisting of 19.4 per cent of the housing stock as in November 2011. The Executive Council of the Planning Authority accepted my arguments and rejected the relative planning control application, thereby saving – at least temporarily – this large tract of land from the greedy forces of development.

Faced with this situation, AD considers that the number of vacant properties in any locality should be an important criterion in determining whether development applications for larger areas are approved or not. This should also apply to the large tracts of land forming part of the rationalisation exercise, in respect of which the determination of the applicable scheme should not be decided if the number of vacant properties is substantial.

It is about time that this situation is addressed and for this purpose, AD’s election manifesto is making this specific proposal: in those localities where the number of vacant properties is substantial, large-scale residential projects will not be permitted.

This would be a good first step in addressing Malta’s ghost towns, ensuring that their enlargement is restrained and thereby applying a significant brake to over-development in the Maltese Islands.

 published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 14 May 2017

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 29,107 75.9
Northern Harbour 46,181 72.9
South Eastern 22,279 71.6
Western 19,584 79.5
Northern 23,989 58.1
Gozo and Comino 11,630 46.4

Table 1: Occupied property by Region 

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 1,113   3
Northern Harbour 6,650 10.5
South Eastern 3,294 10.6
Western 6,33  2.6
Northern 10,692 25.9
Gozo and Comino 7,444 29.7

Table 2: Property used seasonally or for secondary use by Region

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 8,126 21.2
Northern Harbour 10,556 16.7
South Eastern 5,552 17.8
Western 4,420 17.9
Northern 6,582 16.0
Gozo and Comino 5,996 23.9

 Table 3: Vacant Property by Region

Sens komun: fil-Mosta u f’Marsaxlokk

 

 

Matul dawn l-aħħar ġranet, Alternattiva Demokratika kienet qed tikkampanja kontra żvilupp massiċċ li ġie propost kemm fil-Mosta kif ukoll f’Marsaxlokk.  Din hi kampanja li ilha li bdiet ħdax-il sena, u tibqa’ għaddejja,  kontra t-tkabbir taż-żona żviluppabbli proposta minn George Pullicino, dakinnhar Ministru responsabbli għall-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nhar il-Ġimgħa, f’Marsaxlokk, kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni li s-Sindku Horace Gauci, elett f’isem il-Partit Laburista, ingħaqad magħna ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika waqt konferenza stampa b’appoġġ għar-residenti Tal-Marnisi Marsaxlokk.

Hi kampanja biex is-sens komun favur l-ambjent jipprevali fuq id-deċiżjoni li kien ħa l-Parlament fl-2006 meta l-Gvern immexxi mill-PN mexxa ‘l-quddiem proposta biex żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, ma jibqgħux iktar ODZ u minn dakinnhar jibdew jiffurmaw parti miż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Dan sar mingħajr ma ġew eżaminati l-impatti ta’ deċiżjoni bħal din, lejliet li kellha tidħol fis-seħħ id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-kejl tal-impatti strateġiċi ambjentali. Li ma sarx dan l-kejl, ifisser li l-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li kien qed ikun propost kienu kompletament injorati.

Nhar it-Tnejn 20 ta’ Marzu l-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ħa żewġ deċiżjonijiet kontrastanti dwar żewġ meded kbar ta’ art. Dwar l-ewwel waħda, art agrikola fil-Mosta tal-qies ta’ 38500 metru kwadru l-proposta bi pjan ta’ żvilupp kienet rifjutata filwaqt li dwar it-tieni waħda ukoll primarjament agrikola u b’qies ta’ 17,530 metru kwadru, l-propost pjan ta’ żvilupp kien approvat.

Fiż-żewġ każi ma sar l-ebda eżami tal-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ambjentali u dan billi l-professjonisti tal-ippjanar li taw il-parir lill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar kienu tal-fehma li d-deċiżjoni tal-2006 tal-Parlament kienet kemm ċara kif ukoll finali. Sfortunatament ma dehrilhomx meħtieġ li jeżaminhaw dan minn lenti kritika.

Fl-2006, il-Parlament kien iddeċieda li dawn iż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art ma kellhomx iktar ikunu meqjusa bħala barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). Il-grupp parlamentari tal-PN kien ivvota favur din il-proposta, u dan jispjega l-għaliex dak li taparsi kkonverta favur l-ambjent, Simon Busuttil, għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu dwar dan kollu.  Imma l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar fl-Opposizzjoni ma kienx qabel u kien ivvota kontra li din l-art tkun tista’ tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Għalhekk Joseph Muscat bħalissa qiegħed f’posizzjoni imbarazzanti.

Il-Partit Laburista għadu tal-istess fehma, jew bidel il-ħsieb? Għax issa waslet is-siegħa tal-prova. X’ser jagħmel? Għax anke jekk ikun meqjus li d-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament tal-2006 titfa’ ċerti obbligi fuq il-Gvern u fuq l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, xorta hu possibli li l-impatt tal-iżvilupp massiv li ġie propost ikun imtaffi.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-20 ta’ Marzu tal-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li biha l-applikazzjoni dwar l-art fil-Mosta kienet rifjutat hu l-mod kif għandhom isiru l-affarijiet. Hi deċiżjoni li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Deborah Schembri għandha żżomm quddiem għajnejha meta l-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk jiġi quddiema biex tikkunsidra jekk tagħtix l-approvazzjoni tagħha. Jiena naħseb li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Schembri għandha tibgħat il-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk lura quddiem l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar biex ikun ikkunsidrat mill-ġdid.

Żvilupp massiv ta’ din ix-xorta m’għandux ikun possibli meta hawn tant propjetajiet residenzjali vojta. Anke f’Marsaxlokk stess l-aħħar ċensiment, dak tal-2011, juri li 18.7% tar-residenzi huma battala filwaqt li 5.9% tagħhom jintużaw biss kultant. Nistgħu nibqgħu nibnu bil-goff meta għandna din il-kwantitá ta’ propjetá vojta?

Għandna bżonn ftit sens komun fl-ippjanar ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art. Sens komun li jagħti piz u konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti fuq il-komunitá kollha qabel ma jittieħdu deċiżjoniiet bħal dawn.

Fiż-żewġ każi, l-Mosta u Marsaxlokk, qed nitkellmu dwar raba’ li kienet tinħadem u li issa intelqet minħabba l-pressjoni kkawżata mill-iżvilupp. Dan hu process li jeħtieġ li nwaqqfuh minnufih. Illum qabel għada.

 

ippubblikat f’ Illum –  2 t’April 2017