Fil-lista l-griża: wara snin ma jsir xejn dwar il-ħasil tal-flus

Ċertament li mhux ġust mal-Maltin li l-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) poġġiet lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża.

Li dħalna fil-lista l-griża hu bla l-iċken dubju ħtija tal-Gvern. L-Opposizzjoni ukoll għandha terfa’ parti mit-tort u dan minħabba li fl-2013 ħalliet warajha istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa. B’istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa l-ħmieġ hu iffaċilitat.

Ilkoll għandna nkunu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lill-Malta fuq il-lista l-griża, minkejja li din id-deċiżjoni kienet mistennija.

Il-kelliema tal-Gvern, matul il-ġimgħa, kienu qed jenfasizzaw li ttieħdu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafa regolatorju. Li ma qalulniex hu li dan sar wara bosta snin ta’ infurzar żero. Li għal snin sħaħ l-awtoritajiet regolatorji bħall-FIAU kellhom fosthom kollaboraturi ta’ kriminali magħrufa, bħal Silvio Valletta, eks-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Ilkoll kemm huma ikkontribwew biex Malta ġiet inkluża fuq il-lista l-griża.

Tiftakru lil Varist Bartolo fuq Hard Talk jispjega għaliex ivvota favur Mizzi u Schembri? Kienet strateġija biex jissopravivi qalilna (strategy for survival) bit-tama li jkun għadu hemm meta tasal il-battalja li jmiss. Jew forsi tiftakru lill-Leo Brincat jispjega meta kien taħt skrutinju fil-Parlament Ewropew in konnessjoni man-nomina tiegħu għall-Qorti tal-Awdituri? Dakinnhar kien qalilna li ma jridx li jispiċċa eroj għal ġurnata biex imbgħad wara jispiċċa fil-baħħ!

Kellna lill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija ma jinvestigax każijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus għal snin sħaħ. Huwa biss reċentement li Kummissarju tal-Pulizija l-ġdid għamel l-investigazzjonijiet u prosekuzzjonijiet possibbli.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Sadanittant saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-Gvern f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se iħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Dawn għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern, bl-appoġġ tal-Oppożizzjoni, matul is-snin żviluppa “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju inkluż li jagħmilha possibbli li Malta tintuża bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun afdata.

Xi ħadd jiftakar iċ-ċirkustanzi li wasslu għar-riżenja ta’ Joseph Cuschieri, CEO tal-Awtorità tas-Serviżżi Finanzjarji (MFSA) wara li ż-żjara tiegħu f’Las Vegas ma Yorgen Fenech ġiet għall-attenzjoni pubblika? Il-vjaġġ kien iffinanzjat minn Yorgen Fenech meta Cuschieri kien għadu jmexxi l-Awtorità tal-Logħob li suppost kienet ir-regolatur tal-casino ta’ Yorgen Fenech.  B’regolaturi bħal dawn, kif jista’ jsir l-infurzar?

Dan l-isfreġju sħiħ fuq Malta kien immexxi direttament minn Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna, eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li ġie ppremjat bil-ħatra tiegħu bħala Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali. Muscat spiċċa. Scicluna għandu bżonn isegwih malajr. Huwa għandu jew jirriżenja jew jitkeċċa minnufih.

Huwa xieraq wkoll li nfakkru li dan it-taħwid kollu kien is-suġġett tal-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia li nqatlet għall-isforzi tagħha biex tinfurmana u tesponi l-elit kriminali. Intilfet il-ħajja ta’ mara, omm u ġurnalista.

Huwa essenzjali li tittieħed azzjoni immedjata biex tibda terġa’ tinbena r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta. Dan għandu jinkludi r-revoka immedjata tal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza u l-għeluq tal-lakuni legali li biddlu lil Malta f’bażi ta’ evazjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 27 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Grey listing: after years of zero enforcement on money laundering

The grey listing announced earlier during the week as a result of a decision by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is definitely not fair on the Maltese people.

The grey list is government’s making. However, the opposition certainly has a finger in the pie too as it is ultimately responsible for the weak institutions which it left in place in 2013. These weak institutions facilitated the current mess.

We should all be saddened by the decision of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) to have Malta on its grey list, even though this course of action was expected.  

Government spokespersons have been emphasising that a lot of regulatory sprucing and reinforcement has been taken in hand.  However, they did not tell us that this has been done after several years of zero enforcement. After years having regulatory authorities such as FIAU staffed by collaborators of known criminals, such as Silvio Valletta, former Deputy Commissioner of Police.

We have had all Labour MPs in Parliament refusing to condemn Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri when their Panama Papers involvement was made public. All of them have contributed to this grey listing. 

Do you remember Evarist Bartolo explaining on Hard Talk why he voted in favour of Mizzi and Schembri? He had a strategy for survival, hoping “to live and fight another day”. Or Leo Brincat’s explanation when being scrutinised by the EU Parliament Budgetary Control Committee prior to his appointment at the European Court of Auditors? Leo Brincat had than stated that he did not want to live as a hero for one day, to be subsequently condemned to the wilderness for the rest of his life!

We have had the Commissioner of Police not investigating money laundering cases for years on end. It is only recently that a new Police Commissioner has made investigations and prosecutions possible.

Unfortunately, the action against money laundering has been late in coming. Considerable damage has resulted in the meantime. Government criminal complicity in all this has seriously damaged the economy and society.  It is those in the lower income levels who will feel most of the impacts of all this. They need our empathy. It is they who need most protection at this point in time.

Government with the support of the opposition has over the years developed a “national consensus” on the financial sector including the setup which makes it possible for international tax evasion to make use of Malta as a base. Together with the sale of citizenship scheme this has further contributed to the erosion of Malta’s reputation as a trustworthy jurisdiction.

Anybody remembers the circumstances which led to the 2018 resignation of the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) CEO Joseph Cuschieri following his Las Vegas trip with Yorgen Fenech becoming public knowledge? The trip had been financed by Fenech when Cuschieri was still the Gaming Authority Chief, supposedly regulating Yorgen Fenech’s casino!

All this mess was directed by Joseph Muscat and Edward Scicluna, former Finance Minister who has been rewarded for his endeavours by his appointment as Governor of the Central Bank. Muscat is gone. Scicluna, politically responsible for ensuring that money-laundering structures were functioning, needs to follow him at the earliest. He should either resign or be dismissed forthwith.

It is also pertinent to point out that all this was the subject of the investigative journalism of Daphne Caruana Galizia who was blown up for her efforts to inform us and expose the criminal elite. We have lost a life: a mother, a wife, a journalist.

Immediate action is essential to start rebuilding Malta’s reputation. This should include the immediate repeal of the sale of citizenship scheme and closing the legal loopholes which have transformed Malta into a tax haven.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 June 2021

Il-lista l-griża: x’tistenna wara snin ta’ żero infurzar?

Fi stqarrija wara d-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tagħha, iċ-Chairperson ta’ ADPD Carmel Cacopardo qal:

“Ninsabu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni, minkejja li din kienet mistennija.

Matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, il-kelliema tal-Gvern kienu qed jenfasizzaw li ttieħedu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafa regolatorju. Li ma qalulniex hu li dan sar wara bosta snin ta’ infurzar żero. Li għal snin sħaħ l-awtoritajiet regolatorji bħall-FIAU kellhom fosthom kollaboraturi ta’ kriminali magħrufa bħal Silvio Valletta, eks-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers.

Kellna lill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija jirrifjuta li jinvestiga każijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus għal snin sħaħ. Huwa reċentement li Kummissarju tal-Pulizija ġdid għamel l-investigazzjonijiet u prosekuzzjonijiet possibbli.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-gvern f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se jħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Dawn għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern bl-appoġġ tal-Oppożizzjoni matul is-snin żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali dwar is-settur finanzjarju inkluż is-setup li jagħmilha possibbli għall-użu ta’ Malta bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-bejgħ tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għall-erożjoni tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni affidabbli.

Dan l-isfreġju sħiħ fuq Malta kien immexxi direttament minn Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna, eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li ġie ppremjat bil-ħatra tiegħu bħala Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali. Muscat spiċċa. Scicluna għandu bżonn isegwih malajr. Huwa għandu jew jirriżenja jew jitkeċċa minnufih.

Huwa pertinenti wkoll li nfakkru li dan it-taħwid kollu kien is-suġġett tal-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia li nqatlet għall-isforzi tagħha biex tinfurmana u tesponi l-elit kriminali. Tlifna ħajja ta’ mara, omm u ġurnalista.

Huwa essenzjali li tittieħed azzjoni immedjata biex tibda terġa’ tinbena r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta. Dan għandu jinkludi r-revoka immedjata tal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza u l-għeluq tal-lakuni legali li biddlu lil Malta f’bażi ta’ evazjoni tat-taxxa.”

Taħt il-lenti

Irridu u ma rridux, Malta hi kontinwament taħt il-lenti  internazzjonali. L-imġieba tagħna bħala pajjiż kontinwament tiġi mqabbla ma dak li hu aċċettat u li fil-fatt isir f’pajjiżi oħra.  Dan bla dubju għandu jservi ta’ xprun għalina lkoll f’dak kollu li nagħmlu.

Kemm jekk hi l-Moneyval, il-GRECO, l-Kummissjoni ta’ Venezja inkella xi istituzzjoni sopranazzjonali oħra, l-argumenti huma sostanzjalment identiċi. Xi drabi huma dwar it-titjib meħtieġ inkella titjib li diġa qiegħed isir.  Sfortunatament, iżda, bosta drabi oħra, l-istorja hi differenti: għax l-imġieba etika tal-istituzzjonijiet tagħna bosta drabi hi ferm il-bogħod minn dak mixtieq.  Dan jinkludi lill-Parliament, li tul is-snin wera li mhux kapaċi jeżiġi l-kontabilità tal-Gvern.  

Mill-ħażin immorru għall-agħar, kontinwament, kif jidher mill-imġieba tal-kumitat Parlamentari inkarigat biex jissorvelja l-implimentazzjoni tal-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika.  B’mod speċifiku l-mod kif aġixxa l-iSpeaker f’uħud minn dawn il-laqgħat hu inaċċettabbli.   

Il-Grupp GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa għadu kif ħareġ rapport ieħor dwar Malta. Il-GRECO hu kumitat fi ħdan il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa li jissorvelja kontra l-korruzzjoni fil-pajjiżi li jiffurmaw il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa.  Dan l-aħħar rapport tal-GRECO hu dwar regoli etiċi konnessi mal-Parlament, mal-ġudikatura u ma’ oqsma oħra relatati.

Hu tal-biki li tisma’ l-kelliema tal-Gvern jilgħaqu lill-GRECO għax, jgħidu, li dan qed ifaħħar lill-Gvern dwar inizjattivi fil-qasam tal-etika pubblika. Ma sar xejn minn dan. Minflok iżda  ġie emfasizzat mill-GRECO li r-riformi f’Malta mexjin bil-mod wisq, qegħdin lura. Qed jitkaxkru is-saqajn.  Dak li qalet il-GRECO.

Fl-istess ħin kellna rapport ieħor mill-Kummissjoni Venezja. Din id-darba dan ir-rapport intalab mill-Gvern stess dwar tibdil li qed ikun ikkunsidrat fil-liġijiet in konnessjoni ma’ multi amministrattivi sostanzjali li qed jimponu diversi awtoritajiet. Il-problema hi dwar il-fatt li dawn l-awtoritajiet mhumiex meqjusa bħala Qorti kif teħtieġ il-Kostituzzjoni Maltija f’ċirkustanzi bħal dawn. Dan minħabba li mhumiex immexxija minn persuna meqjusa imparzjali, bħal ma hu Imħallef jew magistrat. Minflok huma immexxija minn persuni ta’ fiduċja!

Il-Gvern ilu jipprova jilgħab b’emendi differenti li ressaq għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-Parlament. Weħel fl-emendi meħtieġa għall-Kostituzzjoni għax m’għandux l-appoġġ ta’ żewġ terzi tal-Parlament u issa spiċċa dahru mal-ħajt. Ir-rispett lejn is-saltna tad-dritt qatt ma kienet kwalità ewlenija tal-Gvern kif qed jidher ċar fil-mod kif qed jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet! Din mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida li ma konniex nafu biha!

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġibdet l-attenzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis li jkun iktar xieraq jekk il-Gvern Malti josserva t-toroq indikati mill-Kostituzzjoni Maltija flok ma jibqa’ jilgħab bil-liġijiet.  Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tiġbed l-attenzjoni li filwaqt li l-opinjoni tagħha hi kontribut lejn id-diskussjoni pubblika li qed tiżviluppa, hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li fl-aħħar tista’ tiddeċiedi jekk l-għażliet tal-Gvern Malti humiex korretti jew le! Fi ftit kliem qed tgħidlu: x’ġejt tagħmel hawn?

Id-deċiżjoni meħtieġa, tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja hi waħda li trid tittieħed minn Malta u l-awtoritajiet tagħha. Hi ukoll materja ta’ sovranità. Għax hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li tista’ tiddeċiedi dwar jekk l-emendi proposti għall-Att dwar l-Interpretazzjoni jmorrux kontra l-Kostituzzjoni Maltija jew le.

Imma hemm xi ftit posittiv f’dak li ġara ukoll. Il-Gvern Laburista fittex il-parir tal-barranin! Għal darba mhux jeqred bl-indħil barrani!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Under the spotlight

Whether we like it or not, as a country, Malta is continuously under the international spotlight. Our behaviour as a country is continuously compared to what is considered to be the norm, that is what is acceptable elsewhere.

Whether it is Moneyval, GRECO, the Venice Commission or any other supranational institution the arguments are basically identical. At times it is just about improvements which are required or are in hand. Unfortunately, however, many other times it is a completely different matter:  the ethical behaviour of our institutions leave much to be desired. This includes Parliament, which over the years has proven itself to be incapable of holding government to account. It gets worse by the hour as is evidenced by the behaviour of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which oversees the implementation of the Standards in Public Life. Specifically, the behaviour of the Speaker in the proceedings of that committee is, to put it mildly, unacceptable. 

The Council of Europe’s GRECO Group has just issued its Fourth Evaluation Report on Malta. GRECO is the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body. This GRECO report deals with corruption prevention in respect of Members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors in Malta.

It is nauseating to hear government spokespersons eulogising GRECO and emphasising a perceived praise for government “ethical initiatives”. It did nothing of the sort. It rather emphasised, in not so many words, that reforms in hand were moving too slowly and pointing out that they should be speeded up! I see no praise there.

Almost simultaneously we had another Venice Commission report, this time requested by Government, on how to implement changes to our legislation in order to ensure that it is possible for substantial penalties to be charged by a number of administrative authorities. The issue is whether these can be decided by a number of these authorities, staffed by so-called “persons of trust”, or else whether one had to stick to existing constitutional provisions which ensure that it is only a court of law presided by an impartial judge or magistrate that decides such matters.

Government has tried to use many tricks to force Parliament’s hand, clearly indicating that respect for the rule of law is not one of its strong attributes! Nothing new there, one might add.

The Venice Commission has drawn attention of Justice Minister Zammit Lewis that it would be appropriate if his government observes the paths laid down by the Constitution instead of engaging in tinkering with other pieces of legislation. Tactfully the Venice Commission points out that while it is expressing an opinion “contributing to the public discussion” it is Malta’s Constitutional Court which at the end of the day has the authority to decide whether the path on which government has embarked is correct or not!

The Venice Commission aptly threw the ball back in our court. It states in its report that its role “is not to assess whether the reform in question is necessary or appropriate. This decision falls within the sovereignty of the Maltese authorities and people. Further, the question of whether the proposed amendment of the Interpretation Act is compatible with the Constitution of Malta as interpreted by the constitutional case-law is for the Constitutional Court of Malta to decide, eventually.” (Vide para 94 of report)

For a change we have sought (foreign) advice, rather than complain on foreign interference. That is certainly an improvement!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 June 2021

Xejn ma jsir b’xejn

Ir-rapport dwar ir-Reżidenza tal-Anzjani San Vinċenż, li ħafna drabi nirreferu għaliha bħala l-Imgieret, ippubblikat il-ġimgħa l-oħra mill-Awditur Ġenerali hu wieħed twil. Jista’, iżda faċilment jinġabar f’sentenza waħda: meta tagħmel dak li jaqbel, addio governanza tajba!

L-ewwel reazzjoni tal-Ministru politikament responsabbli minn din il-froġa kienet li l-Awditur Ġenerali mhux interessat fl-anzjani! Qalilna ukoll li hu, l-Ministru, ma ndaħalx. Mid-dehra l-Onorevoli Ministru ma jafx li għandu resposabbiltà li “jindaħal” u jagħti direzzjoni. Direzzjoni favur it-tisħiħ kontinwu tal-governanza tajba fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Flimkien mal-Ministru Falzon iridu jerfgħu ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika l-Ministru Justyne Caruana u l-ex-Segretarju Parlamentari Anthony Agius Decelis. It-tnejn li huma kienuresponsabbli għall-anzjani bħala Segretarji Parlamentari u allura għandhom sehem fil-ħolqien ta’ din il-froġa.

Li ma tagħmel xejn, għax ma tagħtix kaz inkella għax tiġi taqa’ u tqum hu nuqqas. Nuqqas kbir li l-politiċi jridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għalih.  Politiċi serji u ta’ stoffa jirreżenjaw f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi. Jiena naħseb li ma hu ser jirreżenja ħadd.

Bħas-soltu l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela jipprova jmewwet l-affarijiet. Qalilna li kien żball li l-każ ma telax għall-approvazzjoni tal-Kabinett. Bħal dak li qallu li deċiżjoni tal-Kabinett kienet ser iddawwar froġa f’deċiżjoni tajba!  Il-Ministru Falzon qalilna waħda aħjar: ma hemm xejn ħażin f’din id-deċiżjoni, qal Falzon. Azzarda jgħid ukoll li jidhirlu li l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu jikkoreġi uħud mill-konklużjonijiet tiegħu.

Meta f’Malta l-istituzzjonijiet jaħdmu, sfortunatament ikollhom jiffaċċjaw dawn ir-reazzjonijiet tal-politiċi. Dawn huma kollha ostakli għat-twettieq tal-governanza tajba.   

Jippruvaw kontinwament inaqqsu is-sinifikat tal-konklużjonijiet tal-Awditur Ġenerali billi jgħidu li, forsi, kull ma hemm huma “xi żbalji żgħar proċedurali”! Dawn huma attentati biex jimminaw l-istituzzjonijiet li jaħdmu.

Meta l-Awditur Ġenerali jgħid li l-kien hemm ksur tar-regoli tax-xiri pubbliku ma kienx qed jitkellem fuq xi proċeduri żgħar li ma ġewx osservati. Anke meta jgħid li d-deċiżjoni kienet waħda illegali, kien ċar daqs il-kristall.

Kelliema għall-Gvern jemfasizzaw li din id-deċiżjoni wasslet għal investiment sostanzjali li ġie b’xejn. Anke hawn l-Awditur Ġenerali hu ċarissimu Ma hemm xejn b’xejn, jgħidilna. Juża dan il-kliem preċiż fir-rapport tiegħu: “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free”.

L-Awditur Ġenerali kellu kliem iebes anke għad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti talli dan ma ħax prewkazzjonijiet billi pprovda gwida ċara. Dan kien meħtieġ essenzjali minħabba l-konsiderazzjoni tal-hekk imsejjaħ investiment addizzjonali bla ħlas! In-nuqqas ta’ gwida ċara min-naħa tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti, sostna l-Awditur Ġenerali, jesponi lill-proġett għall-ħafna riskji.

Id-deċiżjoni waslu għaliha permezz ta’ negozjati ma’ min għamel l-offerti. Dan jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali imur kontra dak li jipprovdu r-regolamenti dwar ix-xiri pubbliku.  Kien possibli, jkompli jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali li l-istess servizz jinkiseb mingħand operaturi ekonomiċi oħra u allura is-sistema tal-offerti kompetittivi kienet l-għażla addattata li sfortunatament ġiet skartata.

Dan hu każ ieħor ta’ falliment fit-twettieq ta’ governanza tajba minkejja l-mod kif jipprova jpinġi l-każ il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela. Hemm lezzjoni waħda ċara: xejn ma jiġi b’xejn. Il-kont kollu jitħallas mit-taxxi li jħallsu uħud minna.

Qed jingħad fil-media li saret laqgħa bejn il-pulizija u l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Hu tal-biki li qed jingħad li “f’dan l-istadju” mhemmx ħtieġa ta’ investigazzjoni mill-pulizija.

Qed nittama li l-pulizija ma jdumux ma jindunaw li hu neċessarju li issir l-investigazzjoni tagħhom b’mod immedjat.

Mela mill-iżbalji tal-passat ma tgħallmu xejn?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Mejju 2021

Nothing is ever secured for free

The St Vincent de Paul Residence report published last week by the National Audit Office (NAO) is quite long. It can however be described by one sentence: this is what happens when political expediency overrides good governance.

The first reaction of the Minister politically responsible for this whole mess is quite indicative. Minister Michael Falzon was reported as stating that “the lives of the elderly not NAO’s concern”. He furthermore emphasised that there was no political interference from his end. The Honourable Minister is apparently not aware that holders of political office are there to give direction, including political direction leading to and entrenching good governance. Together with Minister Michael Falzon the political responsibility should be shouldered by Minister Justyne Caruana and former Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis, both of whom were at different points in time Parliamentary Secretaries responsible for the elderly and consequently co-creators of this mess.

Failure to act is an act of omission. This is the basic point at issue.

The Prime Minister, as usual, sought to minimise these gross governance failures by stating that in this specific case it was a mistake not to seek the approval of Cabinet. As if the approval of Cabinet would have ever transformed such a deal into an acceptable one. Minister Falzon went one better: there is nothing wrong in the deal, he said. He even had the cheek to suggest that the NAO should issue a correction on some of its findings!

Whenever the institutions do function, they are unfortunately stonewalled by holders of political office. These are the major obstructions encountered on the road to good governance. 

There is an attempt to downplay the significance of the NAO findings into a need “to improve procedures”. Such attempts have to be seen for what they really are: undermining the institutions which function.

When the NAO suggests that the deal is an infringement of procurement rules and does not represent value for money it was not speaking about some minor procedural infringement. The fact that the NAO even concludes that the deal should be deemed invalid is quite damning.

Government spokespersons speak of the deal with glee pointing out that substantial investment was obtained “for free”.  “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free” is the blunt reply of the NAO.

The NAO also took the Director of Contracts to task for not taking the necessary precautions through legal safeguards and guidance. These were deemed essential in respect of the additional investment required “at no cost” to government and forming part of the deal examined. This, stated the NAO, gave rise to serious risks in the execution of the project.

The deal under the spotlight makes use of what is known as a “negotiated procedure”. This, emphasises the NAO, was applied in breach of the Public Procurement Regulations. The NAO underlined that the services sought could easily have been provided by other economic operators thereby necessitating the use of the competitive tendering procedures and not a negotiated procedure.

This is yet another case of a failure in good governance notwithstanding the attempts at its minimisation by the Prime Minister Robert Abela. There is one basic lesson to be learnt: there are no free lunches available! The bills are invariably paid through the taxes which a number of us pay!

It has been reported that a meeting was held between the NAO and the police. It is flabbergasting to note that a spokesperson for the police has stated that “at this stage a police investigation is not required.” 

I look forward to the stage when a police investigation is considered necessary!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 May 2021

Ma’ Reno Bugeja: lil hinn mill-bebbux

Reno ġurnalista b’esperjenza li għandi kull rispett lejh. Ikun ippreparat sewwa biex ikun jista’ jindirizza l-argument quddiemu.

L-intervista kienet iffukata fuq l-ADPD u l-futur tiegħu. X’inhi r-raġuni għall-fatt li minkejja dawn is-snin kollha għadna partit żgħir?

Tul l-intervista Reno, b’sengħa, kontinwament ipprovokani biex joħroġ l-argumenti u l-ispjegazzjonijiet tiegħi.

Il-ħin ma taraħx għaddej għax l-argumenti jintiżġu flimkien b’ħeffa kbira b’mod li sat-tmiem jidher quddiemek mużajk ta’ argumenti li jagħti stampa ċara.

Id-diffikultajiet li niffaċċjaw huma essenzjalment tnejn.

L-ewwel hemm sistema elettorali li tul is-snin fittxet dejjem li tikkonsolida l-ħakma ta’ żewġ partiti fuq il-pajjiż u l-istituzzjonijiet tiegħu.

It-tieni hemm il-frammentazzjoni. Dawk li jaħsbuha bħalna huma mifruxa. Tul is-snin dejjem kien hemm diffikulta biex ninġabru flimkien. L-għaqda bejn l-Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku f’dan is-sens kien pass kbir il-quddiem. Ovvjament hemm ħafna iktar xi jsir biex l-ilħna progressivi jinġabru flimkien.

L-intervista serviet biex nispjega ukoll il-kuntrast politiku tagħna ma dak tal-partiti l-oħra.

Tkellimt ftit dwar l-ambjent. Emfasizzajt li l-ambjent għalina jmur lil hinn mill-apprezzament tal-bebbux, id-dud u l-fjuri. L-apprezzament u l-ħarsien tal-ekoloġija huwa importanti ħafna f’ħidmietna. Imma l-ħarsien tal-ambjent ifisser ukoll il-ħarsien u t-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, tagħna u tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna.

Tkellimna fit-tul, madwar 40 minuta.

Issibu l-ħsibijiet dwar kif il-pajjiż qed isir dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Nafferma għal darba oħra li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza mhiex aċċettabbli għalina. Hi prostituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Hemm ukoll kummenti dwar l-abort u kif dan fil-prattika diġa qed isir fl-isptar Mater Dei.

Il-ħidma politika tagħna tkompli. Pass pass nimxu l-quddiem.

Meta l-istat jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa

F’indirizz li għamlet nhar it-Tnejn liċ-Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, Segretarju għat-Teżor tal-Istati Uniti, ippreżentat l-argument favur taxxa minima applikabbli għall-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali fuq livell globali, irrispettivament minn fejn huma bbażati.  Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta, kif rappurtat min-New York Times, ikollha s-saħħa li żżomm lil dawn il-kumpaniji milli jċaqilqu l-profitti tagħħom minn post għall-ieħor biex jevadu l-ħlas tat-taxxi dovuti minnhom.

Meta jitnaqqsu it-taxxi biex tinġbed l-industrija u n-negozju, emfasizzat  Ms Yellen, hemm is-sogru li mmissu l-qiegħ: fejn ser tieqaf? Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Il-kompetittività mhiex biss kif kumpanija tmur fil-konfront ta’ kumpaniji oħra.  Hi ukoll il-mod li bih nassiguraw  li l-gvernijiet ikollhom sistemi ta’ ġbir ta’ taxxa li jkunu stabbli b’mod li jistgħu jiġbru biżżejjed fondi x’jinvestu f’servizzi publiċi u jkunu f’posizzjoni li jirreaġixxu fi żmien ta’ kriżi. Hu meħtieġ li ċ-ċittadini bejniethom jerfgħu b’mod ġust il-piż tal-finanzjament tal-gvern.”

Din il-materja hi diġa fuq l-agenda tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hi opposta b’qawwa minn Malta, il-Lussimburgu, l-Irlanda u pajjiżi oħrajn.  L-argument dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni hu parti integrali mill-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus.

Hu ta’ sfortuna li Malta (u pajjiżi oħrajn) repetutament abbużat mis-sovranità tagħha fuq materji ta’ taxxa. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan l-abbuż repetut li l-proposta dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-taxxa qabdet l-art b’mod li issa hi appoġġata ukoll mill-Istati Uniti tal-Amerka.  Malta rmiet il-vantaġġ kompetittiv tagħha billi abbużat minnu repetutament. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż hi għaldaqstant awto-gol mill-kbar.

Malta ma tistax tkun kredibbli fil-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jekk ser tibqa’ tiffaċilita l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fuq skala internazzjonali.  Xi snin ilu il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kien ippubblika studju intitolat Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. Dan ir-rapport kien svela kif tul is -snin, il-kumpanija Ġermaniża ġgant tal-kimika BASF kien irnexxielha tevita u tiffranka l-ħlas ta’ biljun euro f’taxxi fuq 4 snin billi użat lill-Malta għal dan l-iskop. Dan sar billi kumpanija sussidjarja ġiet reġistrata f’Malta u t-taxxi dovuti, għax l-azzjonisti mhux residenti f’Malta, ħadu lura 6 euros minn kull 7 li kellhom iħallsu f’taxxa!

Il-każ tal-Korporazzjoni Amerikana Apple fl-Irlanda, kif nafu, wassal għall-evażjoni ta’ 13-il biljun euro f’taxxi. L-iskandlu Luxleaks fil-Lussimburgu ukoll wera kif dan il-pajjiż żgħir fost il-fundaturi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ukoll kien qed jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Dawn huma ftit mill-eżempji. Bla dubju hemm bosta oħra li s’issa huma moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu madwarna għaddejja evażjoni ta’ biljuni ta’ euro ta’ taxxi, kontinwament. Malta, l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu u xi pajjiżi oħra jiġbru parti żgħira mit-taxxi dovuti bħala ħlas talli jippermettu din l-evażjoni ta’ taxxa fuq skala pjuttost kbira.

F’Malta dan kollu kien possibli bħala riżultant tal-hekk imsejjaħ “kunsens nazzjonali” bejn il-PLPN dwar il-qasam finanzjarju. “Kunsens” li ilu fis-seħħ numru ta’ snin. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta li seħħet u għad qed isseħħ bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu, għaldaqstant, ma jġorriex il-Partit Laburista waħdu. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll għandu resposabbiltà xi jġorr. Għalhekk fuq dawn il-materji in-Nazzjonalisti u l-Labour dejjem iħokku dahar xulxin.  

Sfortunatament l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus huma ħafna drabi konnessi. Bosta drabi fejn issib waħda issib l-oħra ukoll.

It-triq il-quddiem m’għandiex ikollha impatt fuq is-sovranità fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni kif determinat mit-trattati Ewropej permezz tal-ħtieġa tal-unanimità f’materji konnessi mat-taxxa. Imma hemm bżonn urġenti li l-qasam tal-politika fiskali ukoll jinbena fuq prinċipji etiċi b’saħħithom. U mhux dan biss. Għandu jkun assigurat darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tibqax tiddependi minn dħul ġej mill-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Għax id-dipendenza tal-ekonomija Maltija fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa (u l-bejgħ tal-passaporti) hi ta’ inkwiet kbir għall-pajjiż. L-industrija tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa hi sors ta’ dħul kif ukoll ta’ impiegi li it-tnejn li huma inevitabilment jintilfu fi żmien qasir. Wasal iż-żmien li nippjanaw għal futur nadif, futur li mhux iktar dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’April 2021

When the state encourages tax evasion

In a speech delivered on Monday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, made the case for a global minimum tax applicable to multinational corporations irrespective of where they locate their headquarters. Such a proposal, reported the New York Times, would prevent companies from shifting profits to evade taxes.

Lowering tax rates to attract business, emphasised Ms Yellen, is a race to the bottom which has to be addressed. Competitiveness is not just how companies fare against other companies. It is also about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crisis, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.

This issue is already on the agenda of the EU facing fierce opposition from Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland as well as others. The issue of tax harmonisation is an integral part of the fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

It is unfortunate that Malta (and others) have been repeatedly abusing its tax sovereignty. It is as a result of such repeated abuse that the proposal for tax harmonisation is gaining ground such that it now has the support of the United States of America too. As a result of greed Malta has squandered a competitive advantage by abusing it repeatedly and continuously. The resulting reputational damage is hence an own goal.

Malta (and the other countries) cannot be credible in the declared fight against tax evasion and money laundering if it keeps facilitating tax avoidance on an international scale. Some years back the Green Group in the European Parliament had published a study entitled Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. This report reveals that over the years, the German chemical giant BASF used Malta to avoid the payment of one billion euros in taxes. This was done using the “legal” possibility to have tax refunds of up to six sevenths of the tax due in such cases where shareholders are not resident in the Maltese islands. Tax avoidance is tax evasion sanctioned by the state.

The Apple Corporation case in Ireland as a result of which another €13 billion in taxes were avoided is another example of tax evasion sanctioned by the state of Ireland. Luxleaks had also revealed countless of other examples as a result of which Luxembourg too embarked on state encouraged tax-evasion.

These are just some examples of many: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are undoubtedly countless of others, currently below the radar of public scrutiny, as a result of which the payment of billions of euros in taxes are being continuously avoided. Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg and other countries receive a small part of the actual tax due as a result of facilitating this state encouraged tax evasion.

Locally this scam is the result of the PNPL “national consensus” on financial institutions and fiscal policy in force for a number of years in Malta. The responsibility for the resulting reputational damage is thus not one to be shouldered by the Labour Party on its own, it has help from the PN which has continuously buttressed this abusive behaviour.

Unfortunately, tax evasion and money-laundering are inseparable twins!

The way forward need not impact the tax sovereignty afforded by the EU treaties through the unanimity rule on taxation issues. However, it necessitates ensuring that policy on all fiscal issues is also founded on sound ethical principles.

In addition to ensuring that fiscal policy is not in any way unethical it is about time that Malta does not any more, in any way, depend on tax avoidance.

The dependence of Malta’s economy on tax avoidance (and the sale of citizenship) is very worrying. The tax avoidance industry is a source of both revenue to the state and employment opportunities, both of which will be lost in the not-so-distant future. It is about time that we start planning for a cleaner future, a future that is, which is not dependent on the tax avoidance industry!

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2021