Ftit ħsibijiet wara t-traġedja f’Ġenova

Wara l-kollass tal-pont f’Ġenova hemm numru ta’ lezzjonijiet, anke għalina, mijiet ta’ kilometri ‘l bogħod mill-pont Morandi.

Minkejja li l-investigazzjonijiet uffiċjali dwar l-għaliex seħħ dan il-kollass tal-pont għadhom bil-kemm bdew, il-media Taljana diġá qed tiddiskuti dak li ġara fid-dettall. Il-pontijiet kollha fl-Italja qegħdin taħt il-lenti, b’mod partikolari dawk li hu magħruf li m’humiex f’kundizzjoni tajba u li allura jistgħu, f’qasir żmien jikkollassaw huma ukoll. Dan jassumi sinifikat ikbar meta wieħed iqis li f’dawn l-aħħar ħames snin, fl-Italja, diġa ikkollassaw seba’ pontijiet oħra, u qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Bla dubju, fost il-lezzjonijiet ewlenin, jeħtieġ nifhmu l-ħtieġa li nieħdu ħsieb u nikkuraw b’mod adegwat il-proġetti pubbliċi. Għax anke f’Malta, wara li l-proġetti pubbliċi jkunu saru, ħafna drabi ftit nagħtu kas tagħhom. Ħarsa ftit lejn il-flyover li tifforma parti mill-bypass tal-Marsa/Ħal-Qormi kif inhi illum, tkun biżżejjed, avolja kif ħabbret Infrastruttura Malta nhar il-Ġimgħa ma hemm l-ebda ħsara strutturali. Huwa biss issa li tħabbar li ser jibda programm ta’ manutenzjoni, issa li n-nies, wara l-istraġi ta’ Ġenova, bdiet tistaqsi l-mistoqsijiet. Forsi, min jaf, mil-lum il-quddiem jibda jkollna skeda regolari ta’ manutenzjoni tal-proġetti pubbliċi kollha. Forsi xi darba l-mini ta’ Santa Venera ma jibqgħux iqattru.

Hemm ukoll x’jingħad dwar il-governanza tajba fil-proġetti pubbliċi.

Deċiżjoni riċenti tal-bord li jirrevedi l-kuntratti pubblici (Public Contracts Review Board) hi ta’ tħassib kbir. L-għoti tal-kuntratt għall-bini u t-tkomplija taċ-Ċentru tas-Saħħa f’Raħal Ġdid ġie mwaqqaf wara li Public Contracts Review Board esprima dubji serji fuq kif tmexxew il-proċeduri tal-evalwazzjoni tal-offerti. Fil-fatt ġie identifikat li żewġ professjonisti (inġinier u Perit) kienu konsulenti kemm tal-Fondazzjoni tas-Servizzi Mediċi tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa kif ukoll ta’ tnejn minn dawk li tefgħu l-offerti. Fil-fehma tiegħi huwa diffiċli ferm biex nifhem kif ħadd mill-Fondazzjoni għas-Servizzi Mediċi ma nduna b’dan il-konflitt ta’ interess. Kont nistenna xi ħaġa aħjar mill-Fondazzjoni, għax jidher li ftit li xejn qed jagħtu importanza lill-ħtieġa ta’ governanza tajba fil-ħidma tal-fondazzjoni.

Issa li l-Public Contracts Review Board ħa deċiżjoni nistenna li l-korpi professjonali li jirregolaw l-inginiera u l-periti jeżaminaw sewwa l-kaz biex jaraw x’passi għandhom jieħdu f’dak li hu ksur ta’ etika professjonali bażika.

Il-kontroll adegwat tal-materjali li jintużaw fuq is-sit ta’ kostruzzjoni hi materja oħra ta’ importanza fundamentali. Din mill-ewwel tfakkarni fl-investigazzjoni li saret dwar il-kwalitá tal-konkos użat fl-isptar Mater Dei. Anke hawn kienet responsabbli l-Fondazzjoni għas-Servizzi Mediċi. Dwar dan ma kienx hemm biss l-inkjesta li saret taħt it-tmexxija tal-Imħallef irtirat Philip Sciberras imma ukoll rapport tal-Awditur Ġenerali fuq talba tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi. Dan ir-rapport kien konkluż u ippubblikat f’Mejju li għadda.

Niftakru li l-Awditur Ġenerali fir-rapport tiegħu kien emfasizza li rriżultalu li kien hemm nuqqas kbir ta’ dokumentazzjoni dwar kull stadju tal-proġett (significant lack of documentation with respect to all stages of the project). Dan wassal lill-istess Awditur Ġenerali biex jikkonkludi li “l-inkapaċita tal-Fondazzjoni li tipprovdi l-informazzjoni bażika dwar proġett ta’ dan il-kobor ifisser falliment istituzzjonali u negliġenza grassa fl-amministrazzjoni ta’ fondi pubbliċi” (the Foundation’s inability to provide basic information relating to a project of this magnitude represents an institutional failure and gross negligence in the administration of public funds).

Min-naħa l-oħra, anke l-inkjesta immexxija mill-Imħallef irtirat Philip Sciberras identifikat nuqqasijiet kbar li dwarhom irrakkomandat li jittieħdu passi.

In partikolari qed nara quddiemi l-konklużjoni numru 5 tar-rapport Sciberras li tgħid li “in-nuqqasijiet gravi li nkixfu bir-rapporti tekniċi tal-lum jindikaw li l-konkos dgħajjef li nstab f’kull parti tas-sit hu riżultat intenzjonat ta’ azzjonijiet bi skop ta’ frodi. Il-Bord ifforma l-impressjoni ċara li l-ġrajjet li wasslu għal dan ma kienux riżultat ta’ koinċidenza, lanqas ma kienu providenzjali, imma warajhom kien hemm id moħbija li tagħti direzzjoni.” (the widespread failings uncovered by the present day technical reports indicate that the pervasive weak concrete found in the site is a result of intended fraudulent actions. Moreover the Board is left with a distinct impression that events as they transpired were not the fruit of coincidence or providence but seem to indicate an element of concertation and direction.)

Ma tantx jidher li sar wisq dwar dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet. X’qed nistennew? Li jaqa’ x’imkien?

Hemm tagħlim waħda bażika minn Ġenova: in-nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba tista’ twassal ukoll għall-imwiet.

Ippubblikat f’Illum : 19 t’Awwissu 2018

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Lessons from the Genova bridge collapse

The collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genova should lead to a number of lessons which have an application hundreds of kilometres away from Genova.

Notwithstanding the fact that the official investigations into the bridge collapse have barely commenced, the media in Italy is discussing the possible causes of the collapse and whether there are any other bridges on the Italian mainland that may shortly have a similar fate. The fact that there have been some seven other bridge collapses in Italy during the past five years adds more fuel to this debate.

Among the many lessons to be learnt is the need to ensure adequate maintenance of public structures at all times. How does Malta score? Not very well, I would say. Have a look at the bridge forming part of the Marsa/Qormi flyover. It does not send out a good message even if, as stated by Infrastructure Malta on Friday, the flyover is structurally safe. The authorities in Malta have only announced the commencement of a maintenance programme for this bridge when questions began being asked as a result of the Genova tragedy.

Hopefully we will henceforth have regular maintenance schedules of all public structures and,  maybe, someday the dripping Santa Venera tunnels will be seen to permanently!

What about good governance in tenders for public projects? A recent decision by the Public Contracts Review Board is cause for concern. The award of the contract for the building and finishing of a health centre in Paola was halted by this Board after serious doubts regarding the evaluation procedure were raised. In fact, two professionals (an engineer and an architect) were identified as being simultaneously advisors of the Health Ministry’s Foundation for Medical Services as well as two of the three tenderers. It is, in my opinion, very difficult to understand how nobody at the Foundation for Medical Services was aware of this glaring conflict of interest. Good governance is apparently not the Foundation’s strong point.

Now that the Public Contracts Review Board has decided the case, I would expect that the professional bodies regulating the professionals involved take appropriate action on what is clearly a very serious breach of professional ethics.

Adequate quality control of materials used on site is another fundamental issue. The investigations regarding the quality of concrete used in the construction of the Mater Dei Hospital project comes to mind. The Foundation for Medical Services was also responsible for this project.

This issue has been dealt with not only by an inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras but also by a report drawn up by the Auditor General at the request of the Finance Minister, which was concluded and published last May.

We may remember that, in the Auditor General’s report, it was emphasised that he found a “significant lack of documentation with respect to all stages of the project”. This led the Auditor General to conclude that “the Foundation’s inability to provide basic information relating to a project of this magnitude represents an institutional failure and gross negligence in the administration of public funds”.

On the other hand, the inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras also identified various deficiencies in respect of which it recommended that action be taken.

I point in particular to conclusion No. 5 of the Sciberras report which states that : “the widespread failings uncovered by the present day technical reports indicates that the pervasive weak concrete found in the site is a result of intended fraudulent actions. Moreover, the Board is left with a distinct impression that events as they transpired were not the fruit of coincidence or providence but seem to indicate an element of concertation and direction.”

Apparently, not much has been done to date regarding the  implementation of the recommendations of these reports. Shall we wait for our own bridge collapse before action?

There is one basic lesson to be learnt from the Genova tragedy: a lack of good governance is a potential killer.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 August 2018

L-ostaklu tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni hu delitt kontra d-demokrazija

Ir-rapport Annwali tal-Ombudsman għall-2017 li kien ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hu inkwetanti. F’partijiet minnu, nazzarda ngħid li hu ukoll tal-biża’. L-Ombudsman jikkummenta fit-tul dwar “in-nuqqas tal-amministrazzjoni li tipprovdi informazzjoni”.

Josserva żewġ tendenzi ġenerali.

L-ewwel tendenza hi li diversi Dipartimenti tal-Gvern u Ministeri qed isibuha bi tqil biex jiżvelaw informazzjoni importanti. Il-kliem li l-Ombudsman juża’: “Sfortunatament l-amministrazzjoni pubblika – u dan jinkludi ukoll awtoritajiet pubbliċi – jidher li addottaw attitudni ġeneralment negattiva dwar l-obbligu li tkun żvelata informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jinżamm infurmat. Uħud marru fl-estrem li anke qed jirrifjutaw li jipprovdu kemm informazzjoni importanti kif ukoll imformazzjoni vitali li l-pubbliku hu ntitolat għaliha minħabba li din tikkonċerna setturi importanti tal-ħajja ekonomika u soċjali tal-pajjiż.”

It-tieni tendenza hi agħar: diversi ftehimiet li daħal għalihom il-Gvern fihom klawsola li tobbliga li jinżamm is-skiet dwar il-kontenut tal-ftehim. Dak li hu magħruf bħala “non-disclosure clause”. L-Ombudsman jgħidilna li issa hawn “żvilupp riċenti u Inkwetanti permezz ta’ attentat biex jiġi assigurat skiet totali hi l-prattika li torbot lil dawk li magħhom l-amministrazzjoni pubblika jkollha rabta kuntrattwali biex ma tiżvelax informazzjoni fil-kuntratti infushom mingħajr l-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritá pubblika.”

Issa fir-realtá, din il-prattika ma ġietx addottata f’daqqa waħda fl-2017. Kien hemm okkazjonijiet fil-passat meta l-Gvern rabat lil oħrajn inkella aċċetta li jintrabat hu stess li ma tkunx żvelata informazzjoni. Jidher imma li din il-prattika qed iżżid fil-frekwenza. Mhux biss il-kuntratt ta’ Henley and Partners dwar il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza li fih dawn il-provedimenti imma ukoll il-kuntratt dwar il-privatizzazzjoni tal-lotteriji pubbliċi mal-Maltco kif ukoll il-ftehim dwar il-privatizzazzjoni parzjali tas-sistema tas-saħħa mal-Vitals Healthcare inkella l-ftehim mal-Electrogas dwar il-qalba għall-gass tal-impjant tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku f’Delimara.

Kif jista’ jkun li gvern jippretendi li jkun trasparenti u kontabbli meta juża’ jew jippermetti l-użu ta’ strateġiji bħal dawn li jostakolaw li tkun żvelata l-informazzjoni?

L-Ombudsman hu korrett li jipponta subgħajh lejn dan in-nuqqas bażiku ta’ servizz pubbliku li jridha ta’ wieħed ġust, effiċjenti, trasparenti u kontabbli. Jiena naħseb li dan hu daqstant importanti li jimmerita diskussjoni fil-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali – jekk din xi darba issir. Forsi wasal iż-żmien li tkun il-Kostituzzjoni innifisha li tillimita b’mod strett lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika milli tibqa’ tillimita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni b’dan il-mod.

Hu meħtieġ li jkollna s-salvagwardji kontra dan l-abbuż sfaċċat li qiegħed jostakola l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni li għandha f’idejha l-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Is-salvagwardji jistgħu jinkludu l-possibilitá ta’ reviżjoni amministrattiva immedjata li tikkanċella l-ostaklu għall-aċċess kif ukoll passi biex dawk responsabbli biex jostakolaw dan l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni mingħajr raġuni valida ma jitħallewx iktar jeżerċitaw il-funzjonijiet ta’ uffiċċju pubbliku.

L-Ombudsman jispjega fir-rapport tiegħu li l-liġi tagħti lill-uffiċċju tiegħu l-għodda meħtieġa biex ikollu aċċess għall-informazzjoni li jeħtieġ ħalli “jmexxi l-investigazzjonijiet dwar l-ilmenti li jkunu waslu” avolja din l-informazzjoni xi drabi tingħata b’mod imqanżaħ. Iżda l-Ombudsman iqis li għandu jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal tlett ċirkustanzi partikolari “li juru kif ir-rispons negattiv tal-awtoritajiet pubbliċi meta dawn jintalbu informazzjoni qed ixekkel l-Ombudsman u lill-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tiegħu fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom”.

L-ewwel kaz jirrigwarda l-Armata. Ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru għall-Intern u s-Sigurtá Nazzjonali li jgħaddi l-files kollha dwar l-eżerċizzji ta’ promozzjonijiet għall-għola gradi fl-Armata issolva biss wara d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qorti tal-Appell f’Ottubru 2016 liema deċiżjoni ikkonfermat li Ombudsman kellu l-obbligu li jinvestiga l-ilmenti li rċieva.

It-tieni kaz jirrigwarda ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa li jipprovdi l-informazzjoni mitluba mill-Kummissarju għas-Saħħa biex dan jipprovdi il-ftehim sħiħ ma’ Vitals Healthcare dwar il-privatizzazzjoni ta’ sptarijiet f’Malta u Għawdex li kien meħtieġ fl-investigazzjoni dwar jekk l-interessi tal-pazjenti u l-istaff (mediku) kienux adegwatament imħarsa.

It-tielet kaz hu dwar l-ilmenti kontinwa tal-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman (Saħħa, Ippjanar/Ambjent u Edukazzjoni) dwar id-dewmien li qed jirriżulta f’investigazzjonijiet li jkunu jeħtieġu konklużjoni immedjata. Dan minħabba n-nuqqas tas-settur pubbliku li jagħti tweġiba għat-talbiet diversi għal informazzjoni.

L-obbligu tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika li tiffaċilita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jkun infurmat huma bażiċi f’soċjetá demokratika. Attentati biex dan l-aċċess taċ-ċittadin għall-informazzjoni jkun imblukkat b’dan il-mod jimmina l-proċess demokratiku u dan billi ċ-ċittadin qed ikun ostakolat milli jifforma opinjoni fuq kif qed ikun amministrat l-istat. Dan qiegħed ukoll jostakola lil dawk l-istituzzjonijiet fid-dmir li jiddefendu ċ-ċittadin komuni milli jagħmlu xogħolhom.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena nirringrazzja lill- Ombudsman talli qed ikun daqstant ċar fid-difiża tiegħu ta’ dak li hu bażiku f’soċjetá demokratika kif ukoll talli qed isemma’ leħnu b’vuċi ċara kontra dan l-abbuż ta’ poter.

Ippubblikat f’Illum Il-Ħadd : 10 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Obstructing access to information is a crime against democracy

The Ombudsman’s 2017 Annual Report, published earlier this week, is very worrying. At times it makes scary reading. The Ombudsman comments at length on “the failure by the administration to provide information” and points at two general trends.

The first of these is the reluctance of various Government Departments and Ministries to disclose important information. The exact words  from the Ombudsman’s report,  which I quote verbatim, are: “Regrettably the public administration – and this includes public authorities – appears to have adopted a generally negative approach towards its duty to disclose information and the citizen’s right to be informed. Some have gone to extremes by even refusing to provide important and even vital information to which the public was obviously entitled since it concerned important segments of the economic and social life of the country.”

The second trend is even worse: various agreements entered into by government are containing a non-disclosure clause. The Ombudsman states “An even more worrying, recent development that has come to light in an attempt to ensure a total blackout of silence is the practice of binding parties with whom the public administration enters into contractual agreements not to disclose information on the contracts themselves without prior approval from the public authority.”

Now, in fairness, this practice has not been adopted suddenly in 2017. There have been a number of instances in the past where the government bound others, or else accepted to be bound, not to disclose information. Apparently this is now increasing in frequency. It is not just the contract with Henley and Partners on the sale of Maltese citizenship which contains such provisions but also the contract concerning the privatisation of the public lottery system with Maltco, as well as the agreements on the partial privatisation of the Health service with Vitals Healthcare as well as the Electrogas agreements in relation to the Delimara power station changeover to gas.

How can a government claim to be transparent and accountable when it uses or permits the use of the non-disclosure weapon?

The Ombudsman is right to point out this basic deficiency of a public service which pretends that it is fair, efficient, transparent and accountable. I consider that it is also of such importance that it merits discussion in the Constitutional Convention, if this is ever convened. Maybe it is about time that the Constitution should limit very strictly the use by the public administration of non-disclosure as a tool to obstruct the public’s access to information.

Safeguards are required against the abusive use of the non-disclosure of information held by the public administration. Such safeguards could include access to fast track administrative review as well as both publication of the suppressed information and the prohibition from holding public office of those found guilty of blocking the public’s access to information without valid reason.

The Ombudsman explains in his report that the law provides his office with the tools to ensure that it has access to the information it requires “to conduct its investigations into complaints received”, even though this information is at times made available very reluctantly. However, the Ombudsman considers it appropriate to underline three specific instances “that show how the negative response of public authorities to provide information hindered the Ombudsman and his Commissioners in the exercise of their functions”.

The first instance is that concerning the Armed Forces of Malta. The refusal by the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to provide all files relating to promotion exercises in the top echelons of the AFM was only resolved after a definite decision of the Court of Appeal in October 2016, which confirmed that the Ombudsman had a duty to investigate the complaints received.

The second instance is that concerning the refusal of the Ministry of Health to comply with the request of the Commissioner of Health to supply “clean copies” of the agreements with Vitals Healthcare on the privatisation of hospitals in Malta and Gozo which were required in the investigation into whether the interests of patients and staff were being adequately protected.

The third instance is that of repeated complaints in all the reports of the Commissioners attached to the Ombudsman’s office [Health, Planning/Environment and Education] on the resulting delay in investigations which, by their very nature, require an immediate response. These delays are the direct result of the failure of various sectors in the public administration to submitting an expedient reply to requests for information.

The duty of the public administration to disclose information, and the right of the citizen  to be informed, is basic in a democratic society. Attempts to block the essential flow of information to the citizen through non-disclosure tools undermines the democratic process, as it blocks the essential elements required by the citizen in order to form a clear and unbiased opinion on the way in which the state is being administered. Moreover, it obstructs those institutions entrusted with defending the common citizen from carrying out their duty.

On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, I thank the Ombudsman for taking such a clear and unequivocal stand in favour of the basic tenets of democratic rule and against such blatant abuse of authority.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 June 2018

Mill-karità għall-ġustizzja soċjali

Charity

Il-ġenerosità tal-poplu Malti hi kbira, kważi bla limitu. Dan jixhduh il-fondi li nġabru mill-Istrina għall-Community Chest Fund l-għada tal-Milied kif ukoll il-fondi li nġabru l-bieraħ b’risq id-Dar tal-Providenza.

Matul is-sena jinqalgħu diversi ċirkustanzi oħra li għalihom ukoll ikun hemm rispons tajjeb.

Huwa tajjeb li nagħmlu l-karità. Peró dan mhux biżżejjed.

Mill-karità irridu naslu għal ġustizzja soċjali iktar effettiva. Għas solidarjetà. Għax il-fatt li hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ din il-karità kollha ifisser bla ebda dubju li x-xibka tas-servizzi soċjali li għandu l-istat m’humiex jilħqu lil kulħadd.

Huwa neċessarju li flok ma naraw lill-Ministru tal-Finanzi fl-Istrina jippreżenta ċekk ta’ €60,000 mill-Fond tal-Kawżi Ġusti naraw żieda sostanzjali fil-fondi allokati lill-Ministeri tas-Saħħa u tas-Sigurtà Soċjali.

Imma jekk il-Gvernijiet ser jibqgħu jnaqqsu it-taxxa tad-dħul, dan ma jistax isir.

Gvern progressiv, minn dan kollu jasal għall-unika konklużjoni loġika: mill-karità jgħaddi għal ġustizzja soċjali iktar effettiva.

 

Mater Dei ………. ora pro nobis

Louis Deguara li kien Ministru tas-Saħħa sal-elezzjoni tal-2008 għadu kif iddikjara illi huwa ma kienx jaqbel mal-ftehim kollettiv iffirmat bejn  il-Gvern u t-tobba lejlet l-elezzjoni tal-2008.

It-Times tal-beraħ fil-fatt jikkwotah hekk :

“The Health Division never agreed with the final agreement because we knew it was seriously flawed. As a department it never agreed to the final draft,” Dr Degu­ara said when contacted yesterday.

Huwa kien qed jikkummenta b’reazzjoni għal dak li qal iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa Dr Joe Cassar il-Ministru tas-Saħħa attwali li qiegħed jilmenta illi l-ftehim kollettiv huwa mażra m’għonq il-Ministeru  tas-Saħħa.

Jiġifieri l-posizzjoni kienet :

1)     Saru negozjati bejn it-tobba u l-Ministeru tas-Saħħa.

2)     L-uffiċjali tal-Ministeru kif ukoll dawk tad-Diviżjoni tas-Saħħa ma qablux ma kif żviluppaw dawn in-negozjati u in partikolari mat-talbiet tat-tobba u n-negozjati daħlu fi sqaq.

3)     Il-Union tat-tobba għamlet pressure fuq il-Gvern u l-Gvern ċeda kontra l-parir li kellu.

4)     Il-Ministru Deguara baxxa rasu u aċċetta li jkun iffirmat ftehim li ma jaqbilx miegħu.

Issa qed jirriżulta li Louis Deguara kellu raġun.

Min ser iġorr ir-responsabbilta’ politika?

Huwa ċar li l-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi injora l-prinċipji kollha ta’ amminsitrazzjoni tajba biex minflok  bħalma jagħmel dejjem poġġa l-vantaġġ politiku qabel dak li hu sewwa.

GonziPN m’huwiex interessat li jamministra l-pajjiż sewwa. Hu interessat biss li jibqa’ fil-Gvern.

Dawn huma l-prinċipji li fuqhom hu mibni l-Gvern tal-lum. M’huwiex gvern tal-Maltin. Hu biss gonzipn.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.