Dritt għall-privatezza: tagħna lkoll

 

L-aħbar li l-Gvern ser jistalla bi prova cameras closed circuit (CCTV), fil-pubbliku, abbinati ma teknoloġija ta’ għarfien tal-wiċċ (facial recognition) hija inkwetanti. Dan għaliex din hi miżura sproporzjonata li tissagrifika l-privatezza tan-nies fuq l-artal tat-taparsi sigurta` nazzjonali. Dan minħabba li din it-teknoloġija ser tintuża b’mod indiskriminat u mingħajr kontrolli serji.

Kif għidna l-bieraħ Alterattiva Demokratika, permezz ta’ stqarrija, hemm ħtieġa ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar din il-miżura bl-iskop li jiġu determinati x’limiti raġjonevoli għandu jkun hemm fl-applikazzjoni ta’ din it-teknoloġija. Użata tajjeb, b’mod limitat u f’ċirkustanzi addattati din it-teknoloġija tista’ tkun ta’ ġid imma f’idejn żbaljati, b’użu indiskriminat u f’sitwazzjonijiet normali tal-ħajja tista’ tkun strument ta’ ripressjoni.

Kemm smajna diskors din il-ġimgħa dwar il-ħtieġa li tkun protetta l-privatezza ta’ xi politiku li presentement qiegħed f’sitwazzjoni diffiċli.

Il-privatezza ta’ kulħadd teħtieġ li tkun imħarsa, mhux tal-politiċi biss!

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Il-bully ta’ ħdejna

 

Michael Farrugia, il-Ministru tal-Intern ta’ Malta, għamel tajjeb meta qal li Matteo Salvini m’għandux jibqa’ jilgħaba tal-bully. Salvini, faxxist mil-Lega u Ministru għall-Intern Taljan, qiegħed kontinwament jipprova jikkundizzjona lil Malta dwar kif naġixxu f’din il-kriżi dwar l-immigranti.

Joseph Muscat kien korrett meta emfasizza li l-Gvern għandu quddiemu żewġ għanijiet: li jindirizza l-kriżi umanitarja u li jħares is-sigurtá nazzjonali.

Kien pass il-quddiem, għaldaqstant, meta numru ta’ Gvernijiet Ewropej għażlu li jerfgħu biċċa mill-piż li daħlet għalih Malta meta aċċettat li l-MV Lifeline jidħol il-Port il-Kbir: 237 persuna umana. Avolja tħallew bejn sema u ilma għal ġranet sħaħ ma naħsibx li kien hemm mod ieħor kif numru ta’ gvernijiet ikunu sensibilizzati biex jerfgħu l-piż.

Għalhekk kien pass lura meta l-Gvern ordna li jittieħdu passi kriminali kontra l-kaptan tal-vapur MV Lifeline dwar ir-reġistrazzjoni tal-vapur. F’mumenti ta’ kriżi ma toqgħodx tfettaq imma tfittex li ssalva l-ħajjiet kollha possibli malajr kemm jista’ jkun u tirringrazzja lil min kien strumentali biex dan seħħ.

L-egħluq tal-portijiet Maltin hi kundanna tal-mewt għal dawk kollha bejn sema u ilma. Għax il-gwardja tal-kosta Libjana m’għandha l-ebda interess li issalva l-ħajjiet. Fil-fatt, hekk kif ingħalqu l-portijiet beda jiżdied in-numru ta’ dawk li għerqu bil-gwardja tal-kosta Libjana ċassa.

Lill-bully ta’ ħdejna qed ngħidulu li mhux biss ma nibżgħux minnu imma li kapaċi nkunu agħar minnu ukoll.

A Secret Plan for Delimara

external-emergency-plan-censored

The Seveso Directive of the European Union is a legal instrument originally enacted in 1982. Subsequently amended, the present version was enacted in 2012 and is referred to as the Seveso III Directive.

Its full name is “Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC”. It has also been transposed into Maltese legislation through the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2015.

As the technical name implies, the Seveso III Directive seeks to regulate sites which have the potential for major industrial accidents. It seeks to achieve its aim primarily through prevention but also by planning to minimise the impact of accidents which may occur on such sites.

The Directive was originally enacted as a result of the industrial accident in the Italian town of Seveso in 1976, when toxic fumes emitted from a chemical plant contaminated the surrounding residential area. It aims to improve the safety of such sites, both the safety of the employees working in such sites and the safety of residents, and the commercial communities, in the area.

One such site is the Delimara power station. This site has to follow the rules set out in the Seveso III Directive and in the Maltese regulations which transpose it into Maltese law.

Through these regulations, the Civil Protection Department is responsible for prepare emergency plans to be applied in the event of an accident.  There has to be an internal plan, one that applies to the industrial plant itself, and an external emergency plan, that applies beyond the boundaries of the plant.

The internal emergency plan is drawn up in conjunction with the management of the plant and discussed with the staff. Members of staff are undoubtedly trained not just in the correct running of the plant but also with regard to the protocol they should follow if there is an accident.

The external emergency plan concerns residents and business in the vicinity of the industrial plant. The Seveso III Directive requires that such a plan be subject to public consultation. In fact, regulation 10(5) of the Control of Major Hazard Regulations 2015 states  “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

Today is, in fact, the closing day for a public consultation exercise organised by the Environment and Resources Authority in respect of the Delimara Power Station. Among the documents which the Authority published for consultation one finds a report entitled External Emergency Plan prepared by the Civil Protection Department. However, the report made available is only part of the full report as the most important part – the part on operational issues – is missing. The available partial-report makes interesting reading, but  we are informed that the censored part has been removed as its availability would be “a threat to national security”.

Those running the Department of Civil Protection are maybe not aware that they have the duty to inform and that in this day and age they have no authority to act as a big brother. The public has the right to be informed and this right is the prerequisite for its active involvement in the formulation and eventual approval of the external emergency plan.

In a democratic society the right of the public to be informed is a basic element of good governance. By opting for secrecy, the Department of Civil Protection has chosen to take a completely different path – one that ignores the citizen and his right to participate in meaningful actions and decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 November 2016

A farce in the making

external-emergency-plan-censored

 

Public consultation on the Delimara operational permit has commenced. This permit has to be issued in terms of the provisions of the EU Directive  on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC).

Feeding this public consultation exercise, last week the Environment and Resources Authority released 293 reports detailing information on different aspects of the Delimara power station. These reports are available on the authority’s website as well as at the offices of Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa local councils. They run into thousands of pages – varying from those which are very short to others which are substantial in length.

Originally, the public consultation exercise was planned to last 30 days – the minimum time  established by law. After a number of protests, this was increased to 40 days, which is still too short,  given the substantial amount of information that must be digested and analysed. Common sense should have dictated a much longer consultation period as the lack of sufficient time to examine the information released will bring into question the validity of the whole exercise.

The  reports require considerable time to be examined in order that their contents are understood in their proper perspective. Most of these reports were submitted to the Environment and Resources Authority many months ago and in the intervening period have been examined by officials of the Authority, who, in a number of cases, requested amendments or additions. These changes were identified by the Authority’s officers as a result of their examination of the said reports over a number of months.

It stands to reason that the Environment and Resources Authority is, on the basis of its own work,  fully aware that the real time required for  this public consultation would be in the region of four months and that anything less is insufficient.

There is, however, one exception. The report entitled “External Emergency Plan” drawn up by the Civil Protection Department, has been censored. A whole section has been removed and, as such, is not being subjected to the current public consultation exercise. Page 21 of the report contains the tile of the section : Section B Operational. On the following page we then have a note which informs us that “Information in the Operational Section (Section B) of this document is being withheld from publication on grounds on national security”.

This is a farce. The most important part of the document that requires dissemination and feedback has been withheld. This report should have been placed in the public domain in its entirety, as it is essential for those members of the public who are interested (or preoccupied) on the issue as they live too close for comfort to the Delimara power station. They  need the whole report in order to be informed and thus be in a position to give their reactions. Familiarity on the part of Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa residents with the Operational Section of the External Emergency Plan would eventually be put into use in the civil protection drills and simulation exercises which have to be organised by the Civil Protection Department on a regular basis at both Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa.

The Civil Protection Department leadership team should realise, even at this stage, that the local population must own the operational plans. These plans will not work if the local population is not aware of at least the basic contents of these plans.

The public consultation process is a basic and essential component of the workings of a democratic society. Tampering with the required information, or unnecessarily restricting the consultation period, will transform it into a farce.

It is for these reasons that the Delimara power station consultation process is a farce in the making!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 30 October 2016

Subsidiarity and loyalty

malta passport

The Prime Minister has a generational transformation in sight which he wants to bankroll with the monies generated by his sale of citizenship scheme. His supporters see traitors everywhere as they cannot stomach any form of criticism.

Does any EU member state have the right to introduce and implement a sale of citizenship scheme?  Government spokesmen have repeatedly stated that the Malta Government has been advised that it is in line with EU legislation. In line with the subsidiarity principle, nationality issues, we were told, are the sole and exclusive competence of EU member states.

No one is contesting that nationality issues are a national competence. In fact even Commissioner Viviene Reding made this amply clear. There is however much more to it than state competence. There is the duty to be loyal to the Union and other member states. Article 4.3 of the European Union Treaty explains this as the principle of sincere cooperation, also referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European Union member states.

Government has opted to milk citizenship in order to generate finance so as to be in a position to implement its electoral programme. It has excluded taxation as an option. Moreover it has reduced income tax as part of its electoral strategy in order to outwit the former government, knowing full well that this necessitated alternative financial avenues. Never did it place its plans to put citizenship on sale before the electorate for its consideration. Ethically the Labour Party cannot claim to have an electoral mandate on the matter.

The local political debate has revealed diametrically opposed positions. Government’s position is dictated by its strategy of requiring cash in order to finance its political initiatives. Time is of essence in its strategy. It cannot afford to wait for would-be investors to take initiatives of their choice. There is no direct link between the prospective citizen and the manner in which the monies he pays are “invested”. It is in fact an exercise of selling citizenship with a commitment to use the proceeds in a specific manner. The funds generated are hypothecated. A residential criterion has so far been ruled out, most probably,  as this would only serve as a delaying factor. It would delay the flow of the monies required depending on how long the residential criterion runs.

The warning shot fired by the EU Parliament is not to be discarded as the EU Parliament is the only democratically elected EU institution. Nor is Commissioner Reding’s statement  one that could be ignored. Reding has stated that:

While I am not calling for the Commission to receive legal power to determine what constitutes nationality or the rules granting it, the Commission nevertheless expects that Member States act in full awareness of the consequences of their decisions.

Our debate today shows the growing importance of these questions in a European Union where national decisions are in many instances not neutral vis-à-vis other Member States and the EU as a whole. It is a fact that the principle of sincere cooperation, which is inscribed in the EU Treaties (Article 4.3 of the Treaty on European Union), should lead Member States to take account of the impact of decisions in the field of nationality on other Member States and the Union as a whole.”

Clearly the competence of member states on issues of citizenship is not absolute. Given its impacts on all the other members of the Union in areas of national security, freedom of movement in the Schengen Area, rights to residence and employment, it stands to reason that both the EU as well as member states require consultation which apparently was not carried out.

The capping of the citizenship scheme at 1,800 passports for sale is certainly not enough. A residential condition of reasonable length is also  required as an additional and essential element. This would however be a sticking point as whilst it could render the proposed scheme less un-acceptable and in line with some of the practices elsewhere, it may fail to deliver what the Maltese Government requires on time.

It is with this in mind that the Greens in Malta have time and again called on Government to suspend the implementation of the scheme and concurrently to initiate a dialogue with Brussels. The problem at an EU level may eventually be resolved around the negotiating table. This would result in less reputational damage for Malta. A meeting called between the EU Commision and the Malta Government seems to be imminent. Hopefully matters will take a positive turn.

That would leave the political issue to be solved locally, either in Parliament or at the ballot box through a public consultation. The Prime Minister has already indicated that he is willing to submit the issue to a national consultation.  It is the decent way forward, part of our learning curve as a nation.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday January 25, 2014