Sħab ma’ min iħammeġ

Il-pjan ta’ Malta dwar l-immaniġjar tal-iskart huwa intitolat “A Resource Management Approach.” Huwa titlu li għandu sinifikat u jwassal messaġġ li kull skart jeħtieġ li nħarsu lejh bħala riżorsa li għandna nagħmlu użu tajjeb minnha.

Bdejna nirriċiklaw l-iskart li niġġeneraw. F’kontenituri mxerrda mal-pajjiż jinġabar il-plastik, il-ħġieg, il-karta u l-metall. Nhar ta’ Tlieta l-ġbir tal-iskart minn wara l-bibien ta’ djarna jiffaċilita li nirriċiklaw fid-djar tagħna. Tliet darbiet fil-ġimgħa, bieb bieb, jinġabar l-iskart organiku.

Meta ser nirriċiklaw l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni?

Meta tara r-rapporti dwar il-laqgħa li l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin kellha f’Kastilja f’nofs il-ġimgħa tirrealizza li l-emfasi kontinwament kienet li hemm bżonn iktar postijiet fejn jintrema’ l-iskart. L-ebda vuċi ma lissnet imqar kelma waħda favur kemm hu meħtieġ ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni kif ukoll dwar kemm dan jagħmel sens ekonomiku u ambjentali.

Hemm raġuni waħda sempliċi l-għala ħadd ma tniffes u lissen kelma favur ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni: għax għalfejn tħabbel rasek fuq x’tista’ tagħmel ġaladarba għandek Gvern li jimmina kull inizjattiva dwar dan billi joffri is-soluzzjoni l-faċli permezz ta’ ħlas baxx biex tkun tista’ tarmi l-iskart tiegħek?

Iktar kmieni matul il-ġimgħa kien irrappurtat li s-sidien ta’ żewġ barrieri, waħda Għar Lapsi u l-oħra fl-Imqabba, ħadu l-inizjattiva u minn jeddhom għollew il-ħlas biex jintrema l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni fil-barrieri tagħhom minn €8 għal €15 għal kull tunellata. Ir-reazzjoni għal dan kif irrappurtata fil-media hi tal-biki: il-Gvern jaqbel li joffri inċentivi biex is-sidien tal-barrieri jżommu l-prezzijiet stabbli bit-€8 kull tunellata għal tal-inqas tmintax-il xahar!

Jidher li l-Gvern għandu idea perversa tal-prinċipju ambjentali “min iħammeġ iħallas”. Flok ma jassigura li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ddaħħal ftit ordni f’xogħolha u ssib soluzzjoni għall-iskart li tiġġenera, il-Gvern, b’mod irresponsabbli juża t-taxxi li jiġbor minn fuqna biex jissussidja t-tħarbit tagħhom. Huma jħammġu u aħna nħallsu.

Ir-riċiklar tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni jinvolvi li tissepara u ssib użu għall-ikbar ammont ta’ materjal li ma jkunx hemm użu għalih fis-sit tal-kostruzzjoni. Il-kwantità ta’ skart li tista’ tirkupra tvarja minn sit għall-ieħor imma tista’ tkun waħda sostanzjali. Tinkludi kull forma ta’ ġebel u metalli, inkluż rinforz tal-konkos minn strutturi li jkunu spiċċaw.

Uffiċjali tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi kontinwament jiftaħru dwar kemm jaqblu mal-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Tant jgħidu dwar dan l-iżvilupp sostenibbli li jġibulna qalbna ġunġliena, kienu ma nafuhomx biżżejjed! Mhux aħjar jippruvaw ipoġġu fil-prattika dak li jgħidu li jemmnu fih biex jippruvaw isolvu l-problemi bl-iskart li qed jiġġeneraw u b’hekk inaqqsu l-impatti ambjentali tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni?

Mhuma ser jagħmlu xejn qabel ma jispiċċaw daharhom mal-ħajt u jkollhom iħallsu minn imneħirhom tal-ħsara li qed jagħmlu. L-unika soluzzjoni possibbli hi t-tassazzjoni ambjentali. Jekk tkun applikata lill-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni din tkun tfisser il-ħlas ta’ taxxa fuq il-ġebla li toħroġ mill-barriera u fl-istess ħin żieda konsiderevoli fuq il-ħlas biex jintrema l-iskart sakemm l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi tifhem li jagħmel anke sens ekonomiku u ambjentali li tirriċikla l-massimu li tista’ mill-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni.

Imma nafu li l-Gvern għandu allerġija għat-taxxi. Jippreferi jagħmel użu mis-sussidji u b’mod partikolari favur dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda dritt għalihom.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin għandha linja ċara: huma impalaw il-profitti, u inti tħallas il-kont. Jistgħu jibqgħu għaddejjin biha sakemm nibqgħu b’Ministru tal-Ambjent li m’għandux idea x’laqtu.

Kulħadd hu konxju li l-Gvern hu ħaġa waħda mal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi. Sakemm l-iżviluppaturi jibqgħu jiġu ssussidjati m’hemmx ċans li l-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni tibda tissolva. .

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum 22 ta’ Settembru 2019

In cahoots with the polluter

Malta’s current Waste Management Plan is entitled “A Resource Management Approach.” This is not simple a fancy title – it encapsulates the underlying philosophy for the management of our waste which is that waste is a resource which can be put to good use.

We have started recycling our waste. Recycling bins around the islands cater for plastic, glass, paper and metal waste. Waste collection carried out on a Tuesday is an effort to facilitate recycling in our homes. Three times a week the door-to-door collection is aimed at our organic waste.

What about recycling construction waste?

Going through the reports on the Malta Developers’ Association Meeting at Castille in mid-week, the need for dumping sites for the construction waste being generated was emphasised by all those reporting: not one word was uttered in favour of the need to recycle construction waste. Neither was there any mention of the economic and environmental benefits derived from such an exercise. Who cares!

There is a very simple reason for this attitude: why rack your brains as to how to recycle when the government is continuously undermining all your efforts by offering the easy way out through cheap rates for the dumping of construction waste?

Earlier in the week, it was reported that the management of two quarries at Għar Lapsi and Mqabba had unilaterally decided to increase their dumping charges from €8 to €15 per tonne of construction waste. In reaction, it was reported in the local media that “government had agreed to provide incentives to the quarry owners to keep the price stable at €8 per tonne for at least another year and a half”.

It seems that the government has a perverted understanding of the polluter-pays environmental principle. Instead of ensuring that the construction industry cleans up its act and adequately addresses the question of how to deal with waste that it generates, the government is irresponsibly using taxpayers’ money to subsidise their mess.

Construction waste recycling is the separation and recycling of recoverable waste material generated during construction activity. The quantity of recoverable construction waste varies and includes masonry and metal items, including steel reinforcement used in discarded concrete structures.

The officials of the Malta Developers Association repeatedly claim that they are “in favour” of sustainable development. How about putting their beliefs into practice and applying them to resolving the issue of the construction waste which they generate, thereby contributing to a reduction in the environmental footprint of the construction industry?

They will not do it until such time that they are forced to pay up in full for the mess they are creating – in other words, without discounts or subsidies. Applying “the polluter-pays principle” through environmental taxation is the only possible solution. Applied to the construction industry, this would mean taxing the extraction of stone on the one hand and simultaneously increasing – many times over – the dumping charges until the Malta Developers Association realises that it makes economic sense to recycle all the recoverable construction waste.

But the government says that it is allergic to taxes. It has a distinct preference for dishing out subsidies, especially where these are not justified.

The Malta Developers Association clearly has one formula: they plough the profits and you pay their bills. They can only keep at it as long as the holder of the post of Minister of the Environment has no clue as to what his brief is all about.

It is common knowledge that the government is in cahoots with the Malta Developers Association and that as long as the polluter is not forced to pay up in full there is no end in sight to the mess developing around us.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 September 2019

Daphne: min ordna l-qtil tagħha?

Fi żmien ġimgħa oħra (nhar it-Tlieta 16 t’Ottubru) tkun għaddiet sena mill-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia. S’issa l-Pulizija bdiet proċeduri kontra dawk li hu allegat li wettqu l-qtil. Iżda min ordna l-qtil  għadu mhux magħruf. Il-Pulizija għad ma skoprewx min hu, jew min hi jew min huma.

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali iddeċidiet li d-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija Silvio Valletta, li hu miżżewweġ lill-Ministru Justyne Caruana, ma kellux ikun parti mill-investgazzjoni tal-Pulizija dwar il-qtil ta’ Daphne u dan minħabba li l-presenza tiegħu fl-investgazzjoni tnissel dubji serji f’moħħ in-nies dwar l-imparzjalitá tal-investigazzjoni.

La Republica, il-bierah, f’artiklu intitolat: “Omicidio Daphne Caruana Galizia, ci fu un altro incontro tra uno dei killer e il ministro maltese” bħala parti mill-inkjesta Daphne project titkellem dwar bachleor’s party li sar f’villa fil-Fawwara nhar id-29 ta’ Ġunju 2017, erba’ xhur qabel il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia. Fost dawk preżenti, jkompli jgħid ir-rapport, kien hemm il-Ministru Chris Cardona kif  ukoll Alfred Degiorgio (il-Fulu), wieħed mill-akkużati bil-qtil ta’ Daphne.

Ir-rapport ikompli jgħid li persuna (li isimha ma tissemmiex fir-rapport) wara li ċemplet lil Daphne fuq il-mobile biex tagħtiha informazzjoni dwar l-istorja tal-kuntrabandu taż-żejt, ċemplet lill-Ministru Cardona u immedjatament wara lil Alfred Degiorgio il-fulu.

Il-Ministru Cardona qed jiċħad dan kollu. Dan hu kollu attentat biex iħammġuh Chris Cardona qal lit-Times: hu insista b’qawwa li ma għandu l-ebda konnessjoni mal-persuna li tissemma u li hi akkużata bl-attentat tal-qtil (Il-Fulu, jiġifieri). Tajjeb ħafna!

Ir-rapport jgħid iktar. Jgħid li l-Maġistrat Anthony Vella, li mexxa l-inkjesta mill-bidu nett, kien talab għar-records telefoniċi ta’ dawk li kienu qed jissemmew għal dati ferm qabel ma seħħ il-qtil. Din l-informazzjoni damet ħafna ma waslet għand il-Maġistrat, jgħid ir-rapport, tant li sadanittant kien laħaq imħallef u allura ma kienx għadu inkarigat mill-inkjesta.

S’issa għad mhux magħruf x’ġara iktar minn din l-informazzjoni, jigifieri jekk kienx hemm min investiga jekk din hiex vera jew le. Iċ-ċaħda tal-Ministru Cardona hi importanti, imma ċertament mhiex biżżejjed.

Dan kollu jista’ jfisser ħafna. Imma jista’ ukoll ma jfisser xejn. Jista’ jkun stabilit jekk din hiex informazzjoni relevanti biss jekk ikun hemm il-possibilitá li din l-informazzjoni tkun eżaminata bir-reqqa. Jidher li dan kien qed jipprova jagħmel il-Maġistrat Anthony Vella sakemm, ingħata promotion, u allura ma setax jibqa’ jmexxi l-inkjesta.

Din gravi ħafna. Xi ħadd għandu l-obbligu li jispjega.

Sakemm ta’ La Republica m’humiex qed iħarrfu, jekk l-investigazzjoni issir bis-serjetá, din tista’ tkun il-bidu reali tat-tiftix tal-mandant tal-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Kif qal fil-Qorti Silvio Valletta, Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija, minn din l-inkjesta ħadd ma hu eskluż!

Il-konsultazzjoni hi fl-interess pubbliku

Iktar kmieni illum it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjannar qabel mal-argumenti ppreżentati minni f’isem il-Kunsill Lokali tas-Siġġiewi u Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar meta ħassar deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar dwar tnaqqis fil-protezzjoni fl-inħawi magħrufa bħala Ta’ Dmejrek, fis-Siġġiewi.

Dan sar minħabba li l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, naqset milli tagħmel konsultazzjoni pubblika: ikkonsultat biss ma sid l-art li kellu kull interess li jnaqqas il-protezzjoni tal-art minħabba li ried ikabbar il-barriera tiegħu.

Għaldaqstant it-Tribunal ordna li immedjatament l-art tkun protetta mill-ġdid.

Din hi deċiżjoni ta’ importanza kbira għax it-Tribunal qiegħed jinsisti b’mod ċar li l-konsultazzjoni pubblika hi ta’ importanza kbira fil-proċess tal-ippjanar anke fejn il-liġi hi siekta dwar dan.

(ritratt : l-inħawi fil-viċin tal-art li kienet ser titlef il-protezzjoni)

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

Is-sistema politika għandha bżonn xokk qawwi

Ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-iffinanzjar tal-partiti politiċi hi ta’ importanza fundamentali fi kwalunkwe soċjeta demokratika. Sa minn meta twaqqfet fl-1989, Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem kienet fuq quddiem nett tinsisti biex il-Parlament japprova l-leġislazzjoni meħtieġa. U meta din il-leġislazzjoni ġiet, tajnieha merħba, avolja setgħet kienet ħafna aħjar.

L-Att dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi m’huwiex biss dwar il-finanzi tal-partiti politiċi. Jistabilixxi wkoll ir-regoli dwar ir-reġistrazzjoni tal-partiti mal-Kummissjoni Elettorali.  Huwa tabilħaqq ironiku li l-Partit Laburista li fil-parlament ippilota din il-leġislazzjoni, naqas milli jirreġistra ruħu sad-data stabbilita. B’dan il-fatt, għal xi raġuni li s’issa għadha mhiex magħrufa, bagħat messaġġ ċar li ried ibiegħed id-data li fiha jkun soġġett għar-regoli bħal ħaddieħor. Kellu żmien iktar minn biżżejjed biex jagħmel l-emendi tekniċi li kienu meħtieġa għall-istatut tiegħu. Imma kaxkar saqajh għal iktar minn sena.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, il-Kummissjoni Elettorali ħabbret illi waqqfet Bord biex jjinvestiga l-allegazzjonijiet li irċeviet dwar nuqqas ta’ osservanza tal-Att dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi. Safejn hu magħruf saru tlett allegazzjonijiet.

L-ewwel allegazzjoni ta’ ksur tal-liġi saret minn Alternattiva Demokratika u kienet dwar il-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Palazz tal-Girgenti. Diġá ktibt dwar dan fil-ħarga tas-26 ta’ Frar ta’ Illum bl-artiklu intitolat Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit. Nhar il-Ġimgħa, Ralph Cassar, Segretarju Ġenerali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kien infurmat bil-miktub mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali li t-talba ta’ AD lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex ikun investigat l-użu mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista tal-Palazz tal-Girgenti kienet mgħoddija lill-Bord ta’ Investigazzjoni.

Tant drajna bl-użu u l-abbuż mill-partiti politiċi l-kbar ta’ propjetá pubblika li kultant ftit nagħtu kaz. Dan jista’ jkun meqjus bħala “abbuż żgħir” ħdejn l-oħrajn presentement fl-aħbarijiet, imma għandu jkun ċar li l-anqas l-iktar ksur minimu tal-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi m’għandu jkun ittollerat.

It-tieni allegazzjoni kienet dik li qed jenfasizza l-Partit Laburista dwar id-donazzjonijiet ta’ Silvio Debono lill-Partit Nazzjonalista.  Silvio Debono kixef dak li ġara b’ritaljazzjoni ovvja għall-kritika li l-PN għamel għat-trasferiment tal-art f’Pembroke bis-soldi. Hija storja ta’ kontijiet possibilment foloz u donazzjonijiet illegali kif fissirt fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-Ħadd li għadda f’Illum. Il-kaz kollu jdur madwar l-eżistenza ta’ dawn il-kontijiet foloz li permezz tagħhom saru donazzjonijiet illegali lill-Partit Nazzjonalista u li għaddew għand il-kumpanija tal-Partit. Jekk il-bord li ser imexxi l-investigazzjoni jingħata dawn il-kontijiet “foloz” li Silvio Debono qal li ħallas fuq talba ta’ diriġenti tal-PN, diffiċli biex nifhem kif il-PN jista’ jevita li jerfa’ ir-responsabbiltá ta’ egħmilu.

It-tielet talba għal investigazzjoni saret mill-PN, kontra l-Partit Laburista. Din tirreferi għal numru ta’ ġurnalisti tal-ONE li ġew magħżula biex jokkupaw posizzjonijiet ta’ fiduċja f’diversi Ministeri jew awtoritajiet. L-ilment tal-PN (li għalkemm fih xi żbalji fl-ismijiet) naħseb li hu sostanzjalment korrett u jirreferi għall-prattika korrotta li biha l-media tal-Partit Laburista hi sussidjata permezz ta’ salarji li joħroġ l-istat, jiġifieri mit-taxxi li nħallsu.

Il-fatt li dawn it-tlett ilmenti/allegazzjonijiet ser ikunu investigati mill-Bord għall-Investigazzjonijiet maħtur mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali huwa pass ‘il quddiem. Kollox ser jiddependi minn dawk magħżula biex imexxu din l-investigazzjoni.

Is-sistema politika tagħna għandha bżonn xokk qawwi biex forsi tiġi f’sensiha. Għax kull wieħed mit-tlett ilmenti hu fil-fehma tiegħi ġustifikat u l-ebda wieħed ma jikkanċella lill-ieħor. Wasal iż-żmien li kemm il-Partit Laburista kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista jinġiebu f’sensihom biex jifhmu li anke huma soġġetti għall-liġi.

Imma forsi qed nistenna wisq mill-Bord Investigattiv!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 19 ta’ Marzu 2017

Shock therapy to the political system

 

 

Regulation of the financing of political parties is of fundamental importance in any modern democratic society. Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – has been at the forefront in campaigning for legislation since the day when it was founded way back in 1989. When legislation was finally brought forward it was welcomed, even though it could have been much better.

The Financing of Political Parties Act deals with more than just the financing of political parties. It also establishes the formalities on the basis of which political parties must register with the Electoral Commission. It is indeed ironic that the Labour Party, the political party which piloted this legislation through Parliament, failed to register by the date established in the legislation. In so doing the Labour Party – for some reason as yet unknown – sent an unmistakable message that it wanted to delay its being subject to regulation. It had more than ample time to adjust its Party Statute to bring it in line with the law, but it procrastinated for more than twelve months.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced that it would be setting up a Board to investigate allegations of breaches of the Financing of Political Parties Act that have been brought to its attention. As far as is known there are three such alleged breaches.

The first breach is that brought forward by Alternattiva Demokratika and involves the use of public property by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for holding one of its recent meetings. I have already written about the matter in the 26 February edition of TMIS (Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti). On Friday the Secretary-General of Alternattiva Demokratika Ralph Cassar was informed in writing  that AD’s request for the Electoral Commission to investigate the use of the Girgenti Palace by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group will be taken in hand by the Investigation Board established for the purpose.

We are so used to the use and abuse of public property by the major political parties that it has, over the years, been considered a fait accompli, taken for granted. It may be a “minor abuse” compared to others in the news, but we cannot tolerate even the smallest breach of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The second breach is the one highlighted by the Labour Party regarding the Silvio Debono donations to the Nationalist Party. Silvio Debono has clearly spilled the beans in retaliation to the PN criticism of the ITS land at Pembroke being transferred for peanuts.  It is an issue of fake invoices and tainted donations as described in my article in this newspaper last week. The whole case rests on the existence of possible fake invoices by which illegal donations to the Nationalist Party could have been channelled through its commercial arm. If the investigating board is presented with the fake invoices, which Silvio Debono says he paid on prodding by senior members of the PN leadership, it is difficult to fathom how the PN can avoid carrying the responsibility for the matter.

The third breach has been highlighted by the PN, obviously against the Labour Party. It refers to a number of One journalists who have been selected to occupy positions of trust in various Ministries and authorities. The PN complaint list may have some mistakes, as some names are most probably erroneously listed, but I believe that it is correct to point out this corrupt practice through which the Labour Party media are being subsidised through state salaries – i.e. through the taxes that we pay.

The fact that these three alleged breaches will be investigated under the auspices of the Investigating Board appointed by the Electoral Commission is a step forward. However, it all depends on those selected to carry out the investigation.  I look forward to some shock therapy to the political system as I consider all three complaints to be justified. It is about time that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are brought to their senses and made to realise that they, too, are subject to the law. But then, maybe I am hoping for too much from the Investigating Board!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 March 2017

 

 

Fake invoices and tainted donations

 

 

Around three weeks ago Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – requested the Electoral Commission to initiate an investigation into the illicit use of public property by the Labour Party. The case revolved around the use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Girgenti  as a meeting place for the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group. Various members of Cabinet tweeted photos of this Parliamentary Group meeting.

It is not so far known whether the Electoral Commission will be taking any action on the Girgenti matter other than that it was on the agenda for a Commission meeting.

Now another, more serious issue, has cropped up out of the blue. This is due to the very serious claim made by Silvio Debono that he gave a political donation to the Nationalist Party in the amount of about €70,800 which was camouflaged as a payment for services rendered through the production and use of a fake invoice for the purpose. This payment is alleged to have been made in a concealed or disguised manner being intended for the political party but by way of deception it was channelled through the party’s commercial arm.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, counter-claimed that a payment for €70,800 was made but that this was as payment for services “actually” rendered by its commercial arm, Media Link Communications, to two of the companies forming part of DB group, Silvio Debono’s group of companies. However,  at one point the Nationalist Party also declared that it will reimburse the “tainted money” because it will not be compromised.  The Nationalist Party has to chose between its contradictory reactions: is the €70,800 received from Silvio Debono tainted or is it a payment for services?

Silvio Debono claims that he has the fake invoices and the receipts for the amount paid through which he can substantiate his claims. He further stated that no services were rendered to his companies by Media Link Communications.

This allegation strikes a direct hit at transparency and accountability, the very foundation of the legislation regulating political party financing. The claim by Silvio Debono effectively means that donations of substantial sums of money to political parties can possibly continue unchecked, as long as they are properly disguised and provided that those with a finger in the pie keep their mouth shut. If this allegation is proven, it would signify that the regulatory checks and balances serve no purpose, because the commercial arms of the major political parties will be the proven perfect vehicle to circumvent all due process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Commission has the authority to investigate such an allegation, it would normally be very difficult to prove. No political party will ever confirm that it makes use of its commercial arm to circumvent rules and regulations. In fact, earlier this week the Nationalist Party Treasurer stated on PBS that as the person responsible for the party’s finances, he is not aware of the matter. In fact he said that he has never even met Silvio Debono.

Such an allegation can only be proven when the co-conspirator speaks up, as is happening in this particular case, even though, at the time of writing the alleged fake invoices have not been made available for public scrutiny. In actual fact, Silvio Debono is stating that he is aware that he flouted the law as he (or his companies, with his approval) knowingly accepted to settle fake invoices. In so doing, Debono is claiming that he knowingly carried out an exercise through which he gave the Nationalist Party an illegal donation.

The Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate this specific allegation and take the necessary action.

I would go further than that. Is it not about time that political parties are forced to dismantle their commercial activities, which should be the state funding of political parties, subject to strict controls. At the end of the day, this may be the only way forward.

The fact that information on the fake invoices and illegal donations was volunteered by Silvio Debono himself in obvious retaliation to his being the target of PN criticism about his being in receipt of a prime site on the cheap adds to the seriousness of the case. Clearly, while Silvio Debono “invested in the PN”, he has not received the expected dividends. At the end of the day, the pressing question requiring a very urgent answer is to identify the number of additional similar investments by Debono himself, as well as by others. As long as such investments yield suitable dividends, we may possibly  never know the answer.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 March 2017

 

Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit

girgenti-palace-2

Meta nhar it-Tlieta li għadda, jiena u Arnold Cassola iltqajna mas-Sur Joseph Church, il-Kummissarju Elettorali Ewlieni, tkellimna miegħu dwar il-Palazz tal-Girgenti u l-fatt li l-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista għamel użu minnu biex iltaqa hemm.

Għal uħud Alternattiva Demokratika qed tfettaq u tgħaġġibha. Jiena ma naħsibx li dan hu l-każ għax hemm prinċipju importanti ħafna fin-nofs: fejn hi l-linja li tissepara l-partit mill-gvern? Issa jiena konxju li hemm min mhuwiex interessat fil-prinċipji, għax għal uħud, dawn huma burokrazija żejda!

Għandu jkun hemm separazzjoni bejn il-Gvern u l-partit politku li jiffurmah, jew inkella dawn għandhom ikunu ħaġa waħda, jew kważi?  Din hi l-qalba tal-kwistjoni kollha li fil-fehma ta Alternattiva Demokratika teħtieġ li tkun ikkunsidrata battenzjoni kbira.

Il-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti saret biex ikun hemm trasparenza. Saret ukoll biex tiġbed linja ċara dwar dak li jista jsir u dak li ma jistax isir, u dan permezz ta numru ta kontrolli.

Fost affarijiet oħra, l-Att tal-2015 dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi, fl-artiklu 34 tiegħu jgħid li partit politiku ma jistax jaċċetta donazzjoni minn sorsi tal-istat. Mhemmx kif u għaliex, iżda xejn, bla argumenti jew eċċezzjonijiet.

Issa donazzjoni għal-liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi ma tfissirx biss li partit ikun irċieva għotja ta flus. Għax anke jekk jixtri jew jirċievi prodott jew servizz bi prezz ridott, partit politiku jkun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni, u l-valur tad-donazzjoni, fdan il-kaz tkun l-ammont li jkun tnaqqas mill-prezz jew mill-valur tal-oġġett jew servizz. Imma jekk partit politiku jirċievi prodott jew servizz bla ma jħallas xejn għalih ikun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni li tikkonsisti fil-valur sħiħ tal-oġġett jew servizz li jkun qed jirċievi.

Fil-kaz tal-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Girgenti ġara preċiżament hekk. Il-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista ingħata servizz li kien jikkonsisti fl-użu tal-Palazz tal-Inkwiżitur fil-Girgenti biex fih jiltaqgħu, il-bogħod mill-istorbju, u allura biex il-ħidma tagħhom setgħet tagħti l-frott ippjanat. Dan is-servizz ingħata lill-Partit Laburista mill-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru u dan ingħata bla ħlas. Minħabba li ngħata bla ħlas jitqies li huwa donazzjoni.

Il-Prim Ministru ma għandu l-ebda seta’ jagħmel donazzjonijiet ta din ix-xorta. Huwa miżmum milli jagħmel dan minn liġi li ippreżenta l-Gvern immexxi minnu stess fil-Parlament u li daħlet fis-seħħ fl-1 ta Jannar 2016 wara li ġiet approvata. Hemm min qed jargumenta li fil-passat sar l-istess. Probabbilment li dan huwa veru. Imma issa għandna liġi eżattament biex dan ma jerġax isir. Liġi li l-Gvern (ġustament) jiftaħar biha, ħalli mbagħad ikun hu stess li ma josservahiex!

Mhiex ħaġa sabiħa li l-partit u l-Gvern ikunu ħaġa waħda. Meta dan iseħħ, l-anqas ma hu sinjal tajjeb. Ikun ifisser li wasalna fsitwazzjoni li fiha dak li hu tal-pajjiż ikun ikkapparrat mill-ftit. Hekk jibdew il-problemi l-kbar. Jibdew minn affarijiet żgħar li dwarhom jgħidulek biex ma tfettaqx imma imbagħad jinfirxu għal affarijiet ikbar.

Imma jekk ma tkunx tajt kaz fl-affarijiet iżżgħar imbagħad ikun tard wisq.

II-partit fil-Gvern jifforma l-Gvern imma hu separat u distint minnu fkull ħin.

Għalhekk għandha taġixxi malajr il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax is-separazzjoni bejn il-partit u l-istat hu prinċipju sagrosant meta demokrazija parlamentari tkun bsaħħitha.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Frar 2017

Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti

muscat-girgenti-tweet

A week ago, during a short break from a very “fruitful” meeting of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister, tweeted a selfie. The selfie included a number of hangers-on who promptly re-tweeted Joseph’s selfie, announcing to one and all that the Labour Party Parliamentary Group was meeting at Girgenti, the Prime Minister’s official residence in the countryside.

In the tweeted selfie, standing in the front row, perched between Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri and Civil Rights Minister Helena Dalli stands Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Cabinet member who around 18 months ago piloted the Financing of Political Parties Act through Parliament  Throughout the past months, the Honourable Owen Bonnici rightly proclaimed this as a milestone. How come his own government and his own political party ignored the implementation of this milestone?

It seems that Joseph, the tweeter from Girgenti, was either not properly advised of the implications of this landmark  legislation or else ignored completely the advice he received.

On Tuesday I visited the offices of the Electoral Commission and met Joseph Church, the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Together with my colleague Arnold Cassola, I drew the attention of Mr Church to the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party was making use of government property contrary to the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta, we requested that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party be investigated for acting against the provisions of the landmark legislation: Joseph Muscat for permitting the use of the Girgenti Palace and the Labour Party for accepting to use it as a venue for one of the meetings of its Parliamentary Group.

As I have already explained during a Press Conference held after the meeting with the Chief Electoral Commissioner, as well as in the daily edition of this newspaper [Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state. TMI 23 February] the use of the Girgenti Palace is deemed to be a donation, which in terms of article 34 of the Financing of Political Parties Act is not permissible to be received by a political party from the state. Joseph Muscat the Prime Minister could not grant such a donation, and Joseph Muscat the Leader of the Labour Party could not accept it.

Unfortunately, this incident communicated by tweet sends a very clear and negative message: that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party consider themselves to be above the law. The law which they rightly described as being a “landmark legislation” was intended to apply to one and all.  Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party seem to think otherwise. In fact, the Labour Party is not even yet registered as a political party as the Electoral Commission, some months back, considered that it does not satisfy the conditions laid down in the legislation.

Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ, as a very basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating the government from the governing political party. This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for an investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

I am informed that the Electoral Commission will be meeting next Wednesday when it is expected to consider the request to investigate Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his political party for ignoring the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.  It is the moment of truth for the Electoral Commission. Eight out of nine of its members are political appointees: four nominated by the Prime Minister and another four nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The ninth member of the Commission is the chairman, a senior civil servant.

It is time for all nine members of the Electoral Commission to stand up and be counted. As a constitutional body, it is the Commission’s duty to defend the values of a modern day parliamentary democracy. Whether it will do so is anybody’s guess. I will definitely not hold my breath.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 February 2017