Fir-Repubblika tal-Banana

Meta l-mexxej Laburista Robert Abela indirizza lill-partitarji fil-Każin Laburista ta’ Birkirkara, nhar il-Ħadd li għadda, kellu raġun jilmenta li s-sentenzi f’kawżi kriminali, bosta drabi jidhru baxxi jew laxki. Xi drabi qed jingħata l-messaġġ li qiesu ma ġara xejn. Il-Prim Ministru għandu bosta postijiet iktar addattati fejn jista’ jwassal il-preokkupazzjoni tiegħu dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ politika iktar addattata dwar is-sentenzi li qed jingħataw mill-Qrati.

Seta ġibed l-attenzjoni tal-President tar-Repubblika biex il-materja tkun ikkunsidrata fil-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja. Seta qajjem il-materja f’laqgħa formali mal-Prim Imħallef. Seta ukoll illeġisla biex inaqqas il-flessibilità li għandha l-Qorti meta tapplika l-pieni li hemm fil-liġi. Fil-fatt kellu għad-disposizzjoni tiegħu bosta għodda jew mezzi biex jasal għall-bidla mixtieqa. Imma li joqgħod ipeċlaq fil-każin laburista ta’ B’Kara bil-prietka ta’ nhar ta’ Ħadd mhux wieħed minnhom.

F’Birkirkara Robert Abela tkellem ukoll dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess li Membri Parlamentari li jipprattikaw il-liġi kriminali huma esposti għalih. Matul in-nofstanhar ta’ filgħodu b’abbiltà, dawn l-avukati, jiddefendu lill-klijenti tagħhom u jippreżentaw sottomissjonijiet quddiem il-Qrati dwar pieni baxxi jew tnaqqis fil-pieni inkella dwar sentenzi sospiżi.  Imbagħad, waranofsinnhar, emfasizza Robert Abela, dawn l-istess Membri Parlamentari jiġu fil-Parliament jargumentaw b’qawwa fuq il-perikli ta’ żieda fil-kriminalità.

Dwar dan għandu raġun. Imma din il-linja ta’ ħsieb ma tapplikax biss għall-avukati li jipprattikaw il-liġi kriminali.  Tapplika ukoll għal avukati fiċ-ċivil u fil-liġi kummerċjali kif ukoll għal membri parlamentari fi professjonijiet oħra kif kellna l-opportunità li naraw bosta drabi tul is-snin! Din hi esperjenza li diġà għaddejna minnha matul is-snin.

Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jiddedikaw il-ħin kollu tagħhom għall-ħidma parlamentari. M’għandux ikun possibli li Membri Parlamentari jibqgħu jagħmlu kwalunkwe xogħol ieħor, kemm jekk dan ikun imħallas kif ukoll jekk le. Bħala partit dan aħna ilna ngħiduh is-snin, għax nemmnu li fil-prattika hu l-uniku mod kif tista’ tindirizza u tnaqqas b’mod effettiv il-kunflitt ta’ interess ovvju li jirriżulta illi Membru tal-Parlament hu espost għalih fis-sistema tagħna kif inhi illum.

Robert Abela qal iktar minn hekk. Irrefera għad-diskursata li kellu ma’ Maġistrat dwar is-sentenzi baxxi li ħerġin mill-Qrati Kriminali. Il-Maġistrat, qal Abela, iddefendiet ruħha billi emfasizzat li s-sentenzi mogħtija qed jitbaxxew mill-Qorti tal-Appell, li fid-dawl ta’ sentenzi oħra ġja mogħtija qed tnaqqas sentenzi li jkunu ngħataw mill-Maġistrati.

Robert Abela żbalja meta ikkomunika direttament mal-Maġistrat. Żbalja iktar meta tkellem dwar dan fil-pubbliku għax b’hekk bagħat messaġġ żbaljat u inkwetanti li l-Qrati qed jirċievu ordnijiet diretti mingħand l-eżekuttiv. Dan fi kliem sempliċi hu ta’ theddida għall-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura.  Bħala avukat, bla dubju, Robert Abela jirrealizza li qabeż il-linja ta’ dak li hu tollerabbli mill-politiku f’soċjetà demokratika.

F’pajjiż demokratiku fejn is-saltna tad-dritt hi realtà mhux ħrafa, Robert Abela kien jirreżenja fi ftit siegħat minn x’ħin pubblikament ammetta  li hu għamel pressjoni fuq il-Maġistrat. Il-Maġistrat li min-naħa tagħha kompliet miegħu fid-diskussjoni s’issa, kienet tkun ġiet identifikata u dixxiplinata.

Imma, kif tafu, minn dan kollu, ma ġara xejn.

Nhar it-Tnejn fi stqarrija għall-istampa, jiena tlabt lill-President tar-Repubblika biex isejjaħ laqgħa urġenti tal-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja biex din tkun tista’ tieħu l-passi neċessarja dwar dak li ġara.

S’issa għad ma ġara xejn. Forsi l-President kien imsiefer, inkella kien imħabbat b’xi attività dwar il-larinġ li nsibu fil-ġonna Presidenzjali ta’ Sant Anton.

Issa forsi jmiss iċ-ċelebrazzjoni tal-ġimgħa tal-banana fl-aġenda Presidenzjali. Bla dubju din tieħu prijorità fuq l-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura fir-Repubblika tal-Banana!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Frar 2023

In a Banana Republic

When Labour Leader Robert Abela addressed the party faithful at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club last Sunday, he was right to complain that the sentencing policy currently applied by the judiciary may at times appear as being too lenient. However, as Prime Minister he had other fora through which to convey his preoccupation and to emphasise the need of an up-to-date sentencing policy.

He could have drawn the attention of the President of the Republic in order that he may refer the matter for the consideration of the Commission for the Administration of Justice. He could have legitimately brought up the matter in a formal meeting with the Chief Justice. He could also legislate in order to restrict the current flexibility which the Courts have when applying the law. In fact, he has at his disposal various tools to bring about the change he spoke about: pontificating at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club through a Sunday political sermon is not one of these tools.

At Birkirkara Robert Abela also spoke on the conflict of interest which Members of Parliament who are practising criminal lawyers are continuously exposed to. They ably defend their clients during the morning in Court pleading in favour of minimal sentencing, including the application of suspended sentences. Then, in the afternoon, emphasised Robert Abela, in Parliament, these same Members of Parliament vociferously argue on the dangers of an increasing criminality.

He is definitely right on that. But this line of reasoning does not only apply to criminal lawyers. It is also applicable to MPs who are civil and commercial lawyers as well as to other professionals in their specific area of practice. We have been exposed to this over the years in a number of cases. Is it not about time that parliament is made up of full-timers? No Member of Parliament should carry out any other work (paid or unpaid) except that resulting from his/her parliamentary duties. My party has been emphasising this for a considerable number of years. We believe that it is the only way to effectively address the obvious conflict of interest which abounds in Parliament.

Robert Abela said more. He referred to a tete-a-tete with a sitting Magistrate with whom he discussed the lenient sentencing which the Criminal Law Courts are applying. The Magistrate, said Abela, defensively replied that it is all the fault of the appeals court as they consider themselves bound by precedent when they revise the decisions delivered by the inferior courts, ending up in lighter sentences.

Robert Abela was wrong when he conveyed his views directly to one of the Magistrates currently sitting in judgement at the inferior Courts. Bragging about it in public makes it even worse as it conveys the wrong message that the judiciary is at the beck and call of the Executive. This, in plain language, threatens the independence of the judiciary. As a lawyer, Robert Abela is undoubtedly aware that he has gone far beyond the red line.

In any other democratic country where rule of law is fact, not fiction, Robert Abela would have resigned within a couple of hours after having publicly admitting pressuring a sitting Magistrate. Similarly, the Magistrate who allowed the discussion to proceed would by now have been identified and disciplined.

But, as you are aware, nothing has happened yet.

On Monday in a press statement, I have called on the President of the Republic to convene an urgent meeting of the Commission for the Administration of Justice to take the necessary and required action. So far there has been no reaction whatsoever. Possibly his Excellency the President is currently abroad, or, maybe he is extremely busy with some activity promoting the citrous products of the presidential kitchen garden at the San Anton Presidential Palace!

As things stand banana week would definitely be a future activity in the Presidential agenda: this takes priority over the independence of the judiciary, in this Banana Republic!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 February 2023

Iż-żiemel ta’ Trojja

Il-mitoloġija Griega tgħallimna ħafna: tajjeb li kultant nagħtu ftit każ. Waħda minn dawn it-tagħlimiet  hi dwar ir-rigali: kuntant dawn ikunu rigali finta għax, xi drabi, warajhom jinħbew motivi li xejn ma jkunu sbieħ!  Tagħlima partikolari toħroġ fl-Ilijade, ir-rakkont ta’ Omeru dwar il-gwerra ta’ Trojja, rakkuntata ukoll fl-Anejadi, kapulavur tal-poeta Ruman Virgilju. 

Virgilju jagħtina l-parir biex noqgħodu attenti mill-Griegi meta dawn b’ħafna ħlewwa jiġu joffru r-rigali. L-osservazzjoni ta’  Virgilju hi referenza għaż-żiemel ta’ Trojja, żiemel tal-injam li s-suldati Griegi ħallew barra s-swar tal-Belt assedjata ta’ Trojja.

Kif nafu, moħbija f’dan iż-żiemel/rigal kien hemm suldati armati Griegi li matul il-lejl, meta fi tmiem l-assedju ta’ Trojja iddaħħal fil-belt b’ċelbrazzjoni, issarraf f’ħerba għax minnu ħargu s-suldati armati.  Dan hu t-tifsira taż-żiemel ta’ Trojja!

In-nomina xi xhur ilu ta’ George Hyzler minn Robert Abela, għan-nom tal-Gvern, biex Hyzler ikun membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri hu rigal minn dawn. Bħaż-żiemel ta’ Trojja dan kien rigal li l-Opposizzjoni kellha toqgħod attentat minnu: kien intenzjonat li jkollu effetti oħra li mal-ewwel daqqa t’għajn ma jidhrux.

Kważi kulħadd jaqbel li George Hyzler ħadem sewwa bħala Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Anke l-Gvern jaqbel! Tant qabel li offrielu promozzjoni: karrotta tad-deheb li kien diffiċli li jirrifjuta. Hyzler ingħata promozzjoni biex ikun jista’ jitwarrab minn fejn kien u riżultat ta’ hekk ikun hemm xewka inqas tiġri mas-saqajn. Fil-fehma tiegħi ma hemm l-ebda mod ieħor kif tista’ tinterpreta dak li ġara.  

In-nomina ta’ Hyzler bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri hi parti mill-logħba ta’ manuvri politiċi ta’ Abela. Ħafna drabi jimmanuvra b’ta’ madwaru. Permezz tan-nomina ta’ Hyzler, imma, irnexxielu jpoġġi lill-Oppożizzjoni f’posizzjoni ta’ diffikultà li Bernard Grech ma rnexxielux jinduna biha minn kmieni u allura ma rnexxielux jevita.  

L-Oppożizzjoni messa ġibdet l-attenzjoni ta’ Hyzler li kien mistenni li hu jservi t-terminu kollu li għalih inħatar bħala Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi politiċi tal-lum Hyzler qatt ma messu aċċetta n-nomina bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri. L-iskop tan-nomina messu kien ċar anke għal min għadu jibda fil-politika! Sfortunatament donnu li kulħadd induna x’kien qed jiġri, ħlief l-Opposizzjoni.

Dan hu l-kuntest għad-dibattitu parlamentari kurrenti dwar l-emendi proposti għall-liġi dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Uffiċjalment l-emendi proposti kellhom l-iskop li jħollu l-problema f’każ li ż-żewġ terzi ma jintlaħqux (anti-deadlock mechanism). Meta ż-żewġ terzi meħtieġa biex jinħatar il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma jintlaħqux f’żewġ votazzjonijiet konsekuttivi,  b’ġimgħa bejniethom, hu propost li minn hemm il-quddiem tkun meħtieġa  maġġoranza sempliċi biss biex tkun approvata l-ħatra.

L-emendi proposti qed ifittxu li jeliminaw oġġettiv ewlieni tal-liġi eżistenti. Dan hu li, għalkemm il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Hajja Pubblika hu approvat mill-Parlament, hu għandu jgawdi ukoll il-fiduċja tal-Opposizzjoni.  (Jeżistu liġijiet oħra li jipprovdu posizzjoni ċentrali garantita għall-Opposizzjoni: fost dawn hemm il-Presidenza tal-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar il-Kontijiet Pubbliċi kif ukoll ir-rwol ta’ Deputat Speaker.)

Li l-persuna nominata tkun persuna ta’ integrità bħalma hu Joe Azzopardi l-Prim Imħallef Emeritu, mhux biżżejjed. Il-fatt li mhux aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni hu minnu innifsu raġuni suffiċjenti u valida biex ma jkunx addattat għall-ħatra, sakemm hemm raġuni valida għal din l-opposizzjoni.  Ma hemmx ħtieġa li jkun nominat mill-Opposizzjoni, imma għandu jkun persuna aċċettabbli għaliha.

Il-Gvern qal li Bernard Grech l-ewwel qabel man-nomina u mbagħad bidel fehemtu. Anke kieku dan kien minnu, dan hu irrelevanti, għax il-persuna nominata għandha tkun aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni kollha u mhux biss għall-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Il-Grupp Parlamentari għandu kull dritt li ma jaqbilx mal-Kap tiegħu kull meta jħoss il-ħtieġa għal dan. F’partiti politiċi demokratiċi, din mhiex xi ħaġa rari li issir.

L-iskop kollu li l-ħatra tikseb l-approvazzjoni ta’ żewġ terzi hu li jinħoloq l-iktar kunsens wiesa’ possibli meta jinħatar Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Li titneħħa din il-ħtieġa għall-kunsens iwassal biex ikun imminat il-proċess kollu.

Riżultat tal-ħtieġa ta’ żewġ terzi biex tkun approvata l-ħatra, l-Opposizzjoni m’għandiex biss is-saħħa li tkun determinanti fid-deċiżjoni: għandha ukoll l-obbligu li taġixxi b’mod responsabbli. Jiġifieri għandha l-obbligu li iġgib il-quddiem raġunijiet validi biex issostni l-posizzjoni tagħha.  Anke l-Opposizzjoni hi soġġetta għall-kontabilità.

Id-dibattitu parlamentari sadanittant qed idur mal-lewża. L-Gvern irid jikkontrolla l-proċess kollu waħdu. Dan minkejja li diġa fil-prattika jikkontrolla d-deċiżjoni finali dwar kull investigazzjoni: kemm riżultat tal-maġġoranza parlamentari kif ukoll in vista tal-komposizzjoni tal-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern  donnu ddeċieda li m’għadux essenzjali li min jinħatar tkun persuna aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari. Il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm kunsens qiegħed jitwarrab. Dan jimmina  l-integrità tal-proċess kollu li bih huma regolati l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.  L-Opposizzjoni, s’issa, għadha ma spjegatx  il-għala qed topponi n-nomina tal-ħatra tal-Prim Imħallef Emeritu Joe Azzopardi. Għandha obbligu politiku li dan tagħmlu.

Kemm il-Partit Laburista kif ukoll il-PN ħadu posizzjoni intransiġenti: jew kif ngħid jien, inkella insa kollox, qed jgħidu. Flimkien qed iżarmaw dak li ħa ħafna żmien biex inbena.

Dan hu li kapaċi tagħtina sistema Parlamentari ta’ żewġ partiti!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 22 ta’ Jannar 2023

The Trojan gift

photo:The Procession of the Trojan horse into Troy: Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo(1727-1804)

Greek mythology conveys a multitude of lessons which we could do well to ponder on. One of them refers to gifts that mask a hidden, and generally destructive, agenda. One such lesson results from the account of the Trojan war in Homer’s Iliad and its retelling in Virgil’s masterpiece Aeneid.

Virgil advises us that we should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Virgil’s observation is with reference to the “gift” of a wooden horse left by the Greek warriors outside the walls of the besieged city of Troy! As we know the actual hidden element attached to the Greek gift was the armed soldiers hidden within the wooden horse!

The Trojan horse was pulled within the city of Troy as part of the celebrations for the lifting of the city’s siege. When the celebrations had subsided, during the night, out came the surprise from within the wooden horse, armed Greek soldiers which devastated the city. This is the proverbial Trojan horse!

The nomination by Robert Abela of George Hyzler some months ago as a member of the European Court of Auditors is precisely one such gift of the Labour leader to the Opposition.

Most would agree that George Hyzler performed well as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Even government shares this view. As a result, it has gone out of its way to offer him a gilded carrot which he could not easily refuse. Hyzler was kicked upstairs as a result of his performance. In my opinion there is no other realistic way of interpreting the nomination.

Hyzler’s nomination to the European Court of Auditors is part of the Abela chess game of political manoeuvring. Generally, he moves about Labour pawns along the political chessboard. Through Hyzler’s nomination he has also succeeded in placing the Opposition in an awkward corner which, so far, Bernard Grech has proved to be incapable of avoiding.

The Opposition should have advised Hyzler that he ought to serve his full term as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Given the prevailing political circumstances, Hyzler should have never accepted the nomination to the European Court of Auditors. Its Trojan purpose should have been clear enough even to the most junior of political novices. Unfortunately, everyone was aware of this except, apparently, the Opposition, which was once more outmanoeuvred by Labour.

This is the essential and basic background to the current parliamentary debate on the proposed amendments to the legislation relative to the regulation of Standards in Public Life.

Officially the proposed amendments seek to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism. Whenever the two-thirds majority required to approve the appointment of a Standards in Public Life Commissioner is not attained in two consecutive ballots, a week apart, it is being proposed that thereafter, the required threshold would be reduced to that of a simple majority.

The proposed amendments seek to eliminate a basic objective of the existing legislation, this being that the Standards Commissioner, though approved by Parliament, must enjoy the confidence of the Parliamentary Opposition. (Our laws provide other instances where the Opposition is guaranteed a central role: the Chairmanship of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the role of Deputy Speaker come to mind.)

Having a nominee of integrity, such as former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, is not sufficient. The fact that he is not acceptable to the Opposition is in itself a sufficient (and valid) reason justifying his non-suitability to the post, provided a valid reason for such an objection exists. It is not required that the person be an Opposition nominee: he or she should however be a person whom the Opposition accepts.

The point made by government that Bernard Grech first accepted the nomination and then changed his view, even if correct, is irrelevant, as the proposed candidate needs to be acceptable to the Opposition as a whole and not just to its Leader. His Parliamentary Group is within its rights in over-ruling him whenever it considers that this is necessary. This is not a rare occurrence in democratic political parties!

The whole purpose of the two-thirds requirement is to have as wide a consensus as possible when appointing a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Removal of the broad consensus requirement undermines the whole process.

As a result of the two-thirds requirement the Opposition does not just have a major determining say: it also has the duty to act in a responsible manner. It must as a consequence have valid reasons justifying its decision. Even the Opposition is accountable.

The parliamentary debate is currently going round in circles. Government wants to control the whole process on its own. It already enjoys the final say on deciding on each and every investigation, through its parliamentary majority as well as a direct result of the composition of the parliamentary committee on Standards in Public Life. Labour has apparently decided that it is no longer essential to ensure that the eventual appointee is acceptable to the Parliamentary Opposition. It has decided to discard the consensus requirement. This will undermine the integrity of the oversight required on the regulation of Standards in Public Life. The Opposition, has, so far, not explained why it is opposing the nomination of former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi.

Both Labour and the PN have taken an intransigent position: my way or no way. Together they are demolishing what has been slowly developed over the years. This is what a two party system is capable of producing!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 January 2023

Nomina tal-Prim Imħallef Emeritu Joseph Azzopardi

Lil Joseph Azzopardi, Prim Imħallef Emeritu, ilni nafu madwar 40 sena. Meta konna ferm iżgħar, it-tnejn li aħna, kellna l-opportunità li naħdmu flimkien. Kien żmien fejn il-polarizzazzjoni fil-pajjiż kienet akuta ħafna iktar milli hi illum. Anke dakinnhar, Joseph Azzopardi kien persuna valida, moderata u, fil-fehma tiegħi persuna li ma titmexxiex minn imneħirha.

Triqatna m’għadhomx jiltaqgħu daqstant. Is-sitwazzjoni imma, illum, ma naħsibx li hi differenti avolja ilni ftit mhux ħażin ma nitkellem miegħu. Joseph Azzopardi għadu l-istess bniedem li naf jien.

Bħalissa Joseph Azzopardi qiegħed fiċ-ċentru ta’ maltempata politika dwar il-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Il-PN qed jopponi l-ħatra tiegħu. Naħseb li l-PN qed jagħmel ġudizzju politiku żbaljat.

Il-Gvern min-naħa l-oħra qed jinsisti fuq il-ħatra ta’ Azzopardi u ser jibdel ir-regoli biex tgħaddi tiegħu.

Il-Gvern qed jagħżel triq perikoluża. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-obbligu li jinkiseb l-appoġġ ta’ żewġ terzi qiegħed hemm bi skop: biex min jinħatar f’post daqshekk sensittiv ikollu appoġġ wiesa’. Biex ikun hemm fiduċja. Dan kollu issa ser jintrema l-baħar.

It-tnejn li huma (PN u PL) qed jagħmlu żball madornali. Il-PN għax mhux qed ikun sensittiv biżżejjed u qiegħed joġġezzjona mingħajr raġuni suffiċjenti. Il-PL min naħa l-oħra qed jarmi l-avvanzi li saru biex ikun hemm fiduċja fl-istituzzjonijiet.

Ir-riżultat finali ser ikun wieħed li jagħmel il-ħsara lill-kulħadd, imma l-iktar lill-pajjiż.

It-tnejn li huma qed jagħtu messaġġ wieħed: li l-istituzzjonijiet, għalihom huma importanti jekk jaħsbu li jistgħu jkun imxaqilbha lejhom. It-tnejn li huma qieshom tfal żgħar li jekk ma tgħaddix tagħhom jagħmlu xenata biex jimpressjonaw. 

Kien hemm kummenti fil-media li Azzopardi, jekk jinħatar, ikun pupazz. Dan hu insult intenzjonat biex ikun skreditat Azzopardi. Hu ħażin li d-dibattitu politiku jsir b’dan il-mod. Dan ser iwassal biex infarrku il-ftit li għad baqa’!

It-triq il-quddiem mhiex faċli. Għal darba’oħra min joffri s-servizz tiegħu ser jispiċċa ikkalpestat u immaqdar għalxejn. Issa meta jmut jgħidu kemm kien raġel sew u forsi jinnominawħ unanimament għal Ġieħ ir-Repubblika ukoll!

Dan il-pajjiż qed jitkisser biċċa biċċa. Qed ikissruh il-PN u PL flimkien.

Qatt ma kien ċar daqshekk li flimkien kollox hu possibli.

Supporting Bill 28

The amendment to the Criminal Code forming part of Bill 28 which Parliament started discussing on Monday 28 November codifies the existing practice at the state hospital. It defines the necessary legal framework for therapeutic abortion. It does not introduce the practice of therapeutic abortion: this has been the practice for quite some time.

The Bill avoids use of the term “abortion”, using instead the term “termination of a pregnancy”, which as we are all aware has exactly the same meaning!

Legislation to date relative to therapeutic abortion is not clear at this point in time. On this basis ADPD-The Green Party was the only political party which tackled the matter during the March 2022 electoral campaign, including a whole section on sexual health and reproductive rights in the electoral manifesto. We went much further than that, emphasising the need for the decriminalisation of abortion too.

The Labour Party in Government, which has been practically silent on the matter during the electoral campaign, has now decided to act, taking a minimalist approach. It has limited itself to ensuring that current practice is protected at law. While this is definitely not enough it is a welcome first step and deserves our full support, even though there is still room for improvement in the proposed text of the proposal.

The Labour Party is right in saying that it is not introducing abortion through Bill 28: therapeutic abortion has been here and practised for some time even in the state hospital. Consequently, the approval of Bill 28 as presented will, in practice, not change anything, it will merely recognise the current state of affairs. As a result, it will give peace of mind to medical practitioners in state hospitals as their current modus operandi would be clearly spelt out in the law, as it should be.

In a sense the current fierce and at times emotional debate on abortion is much ado about nothing. It has however resulted in the local conservative forces speaking from the same hymn book. The opposition to the Bill is primarily twofold. On one hand there is the PN official stand which, together with Archbishop Scicluna has adopted the position paper published by a group of academics. In practice they seek to limit permissible medical interventions to cases of a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, eliminating health issues as justification. On the other hand, exponents of the fundamentalist Christian right, including a minority in the PN rank and file oppose the Bill in principle.

Put simply, the debate identifies three different proposals. The first, proposed by the Labour government in Bill 28, enshrines in law the current practice and places the onus on the medical profession to decide each case on its own merits. The second, supported by the PN opposition and the Church hierarchy seeks to substantially limit the discretion of the medical profession in Bill 28 primarily by eliminating health and mental health considerations. The third position brought forward by the fundamentalist Christian faction is in total opposition to all that is being proposed.

During the Parliamentary debate held this week I took note of the various positive contributions, in particular those of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg and Opposition spokespersons Joe Giglio and Mario Demarco. Of particular note, in my view, is Fearne’s reference to the hospital’s standard operating procedures. It is being emphasised that these procedures do in fact address important aspects of the criticism aired during the debate, in particular that decisions taken by the medical profession relative to therapeutic abortion procedures should be taken by two or more professionals in order to ensure that no professional shoulders the decision alone. This, I understand is already standard practice!

There is always room for improvement in the proposed text of the Bill as indicated in the level-headed approach of Joe Giglio during the Parliamentary debate on Wednesday. As I emphasised in my article last week it would have been much better if Government had embarked on an exercise of public consultation before presenting the Bill. There would definitely have been more time to listen to and digest the different views. A valid point which was also emphasised by Mario Demarco.

In this scenario, even though viewing it as just a first step, which can be improved: without any shadow of doubt, ADPD supports the proposal put forward by Bill 28 in principle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 December 2022

Inħarsu l-art agrikola: kollha

Tul is-snin il-Gvern dejjem kien fuq quddiem fil-ħidma biex tinqered il-biedja. Kontinwament il-Gvern jagħmilha iktar faċli biex art agrikola tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Huwa l-Gvern li kontinwament jidentifika art agrikola tajba għal toroq ġodda (mhux meħtieġa) inkella biex jestendi toroq eżistenti.

Il-White Paper li ippubblika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura, intitolata Riforma fil-Qasam tar-Raba’  tfittex li tirregola l-assalt tas-settur privat fuq l-art agrikola. Imma ma issemmi xejn dwar l-assalt li għaddej mis-settur pubbliku: dak għall-Gvern hu aċċettabbli! Imma m’għandux ikun għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ li tkun imħarsa.

Awtoritajiet eżistenti, bħall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, diġa għandhom il-poteri bil-liġi biex jieħdu passi u ma jħallux l-art agrikola tinbidel f’art għall-picnics jew għall-barbeques! Imma tul is-snin din l-awtorità ma għamlet xejn minn dan. Għalqet għajnejha.

Id-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura imbagħad, dejjem jispiċċa jiddefendi id-deċiżjonijiet tal-Gvern favur il-qerda tar-raba’ għal toroq inutli. Is-Central Link hi waħda mill-aħħar eżempji li miegħu aħna familjari. Hemmhekk raba’ saqwi f’Ħ’Attard inqerdet fl-interess tal-karozzi. L-għixien ta’ numru ta’ bdiewa inqered. L-anqas ħoss mill-awtoritajiet fid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura ma nstema’ biex jiddefendu lill-bdiewa li laqqtuha.

B’dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritajiet li mhux kapaċi jaħdmu, x’sens hemm fil-ħolqien ta’ iktar awtoritajiet bħalhom? Mhux aħjar li jitneħħew is-sriep mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u mid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura u flokhom ikunu ngaġġati persuni kwalifikati u motivati biex jaħdmu? Għax jekk l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u d-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa, bi tmexxija tajba u kapaċi, parti mdaqqsa mill-kontenut tal-White Paper ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa għalih!

Lejn l-aħħar tas-sena 2021 l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff, f’deċiżjoni tiegħu dwar applikazzjoni kostituzzjonali fuq raba’ fil-Qrendi kien emfasizza li l-valur realistiku tar-raba’ għandu jkun rifless ta’ dak li l-istess raba’ tista’ tipproduċi. Dan hu punt li l-White Paper tibni fuqu meta titkellem dwar il-valur esaġerat li r-raba’ qed jinbiegħ jew jiġi stmat kif ukoll dwar kif għandha tkun ikkalkulata l-valur tal-qbiela. Il-White Paper fil-fatt tipproponi li l-qbiela għandhom ikunu 1.5 fil-mija tal-valur realistiku tar-raba’. Għad irridu naraw, iżda, kemm dan kollu ser jiflaħ għall-battalji legali li inevitabilment ser ifaqqsu da parti ta’ min ma jridx din ir-regolamentazzjoni.

Punt interessanti li joħrog mill-White Paper hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa li hu propost li titħallas fuq ir-raba’ li ma tibqax tintuża għal skop agrikolu. Din il-proposta hi simili għall-proposti tal-partit tiegħi dwar taxxa fuq propjetajet vojta liema proposti saru f’diversi manifesti elettorali tul is-snin.  

Safejn niftakar, din hi l-ewwel darba li l-Partit Laburista qed jipproponi li jagħmel użu mit-tassazzjoni bħala għodda biex jilħaq oġġettiv politiku: f’dan il-każ il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Ma naħsibx li din il-proposta partikolari ser timmaterjalizza u dan minħabba li l-Partit Laburista kontinwament jitkellem b’ċerta qawwa kontra l-użu tat-tassazzjoni bħala strument politiku fi kwalunkwe forma. Imma l-fatt li l-proposta qed issir, minnu nnifsu hu pass tajjeb.

Il-proposti fil-White Paper fuq ir-riforma meħtieġa dwar ir-raba’ huma l-ewwel pass lejn diskussjoni serja u matura. Imma għadhom il-bogħod  minn dak li hu meħtieġ.  

L-ewwel pass għandu jsir biex ikun stabilit element ta’ rieda tajba. B’dan il-ħsieb nistieden lill-Gvern biex jippreżenta mozzjoni fil-Parlament biex iħassar l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni approvat mill-Parlament fl-2006 u li permezz tiegħu eluf ta’ metri kwadri ta’ raba’ spiċċaw tajba biex jinbnew. Naħseb li l-Ministru tal-Agrikultura tal-lum, Anton Refalo, għandu l-kredibilità biex jagħmel dan il-pass. Hu wieħed mill-ftit Membri Parlamentari li għadhom fil-Kamra u li fl-2006 kienu ivvutaw kontra li din l-art tingħata għal-iżvilupp. Għamel dan flimkien ma sħabu tal-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista ta’ dakinnhar!

Bħala t-tieni pass il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar għall-Iżvilupp tal-Art jista jħaffef ftit il-pass li bih għandhom ikunu reveduti r-regoli dwar id-diżinn għall-iżvilupp rurali (Rural Design Guidelines). Forsi, ma tafx kif, jingħalqu darba għal dejjem it-toqob fir-regoli, li bihom qed ikun imħeġġeg l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja.

Imbagħad, kieku dan kellu jsir, il-Gvern ikun kredibbli fil-proposti li qed jagħmel dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ il-ħarsien mingħandna. Dan hu meħtieġ dejjem, mhux biss meta jkun politikament konvenjenti.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 t’Ottubru 2022

Protecting agricultural land: all of it

Over the years government has been actively at the forefront in the assault on agricultural land. It continuously makes it easier for agricultural land to be developed. It also takes up good quality agricultural land in order to develop new (and many times unnecessary) roads or else to extend existing ones.

The White Paper published earlier this week by the Ministry for Agriculture, entitled Agricultural Land Reform seeks to control the private sector assault on agricultural land. By omission, the assault being carried out by the public sector is being deemed acceptable!

Existing authorities like the Planning Authority already have the legal powers to stop agricultural land being transformed into picnic or barbeque areas. Yet it has done nothing to stop this over the years.

The Department of Agriculture always ends up defending the uptake of good agricultural land by Government for unnecessary roads. The Central Link is one of the latest examples as a result of which naturally irrigated agricultural land at Attard was destroyed in order to make way for more cars. The livelihood of a number of full-time farmers was destroyed. Not even a whimper from the authorities at the Department of Agriculture was heard.

Faced with existing authorities which are not functioning properly what sense does it make to create more authorities, as proposed by the agricultural reform White Paper? Would it not be better to remove the snakes from the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture and replace them with suitably qualified and motivated personnel? If the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture are allowed to function properly, with suitable leadership and expertise, most of the contents of the White Paper would not even be required!

Towards the end of 2021 Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, in his decision on a constitutional application relative to agricultural land at Qrendi had emphasised that the realistic value of agricultural land ought to be a reflection of what that agricultural land can produce. This is a point validly taken up by the White Paper when discussing the value currently being attached to agricultural holdings. The White Paper also proposes that the rental value of agricultural holdings should be determined at 1.5 per cent of their realistic value.  It remains to be seen whether and to what extent these limitations on the determination of value and rental value will be able to withstand the legal assault which will inevitably follow once the White paper proposal in this respect is implemented.

An interesting point made by the White Paper is to introduce a tax on agricultural land which is not being used for agricultural purposes! This is similar to the proposals which my party repeatedly brought forward relative to taxes on vacant dwellings!

This is the first time, as far as I can recollect, that the Labour Party is proposing the utilisation of taxation as a tool to attain a political objective: the protection of agricultural land. I do not however think that this proposal will materialise as the Labour Party has been vociferous over the years against the use of taxation as a political instrument in any form or shape. However, it is positive that the proposal is being tabled.

The proposals in the White Paper on agricultural reform are definitely a first step towards a mature debate. They are however very far from what is required to protect agricultural land.

The first step should be to establish an element of good faith, which is currently inexistent. In this line of thought I would invite government to present a motion in Parliament to cancel the rationalisation exercise approved by Parliament in 2006 as a result of which thousands of square metres of agricultural land all over the islands were defined as being suitable for development. I believe that the current Minister for Agricultural, Anton Refalo, has the credibility to do it. He is in fact one of the few remaining Members of Parliament who way back in 2006 had voted against adopting the rationalisation exercise, together with the rest of the then Labour Party Parliamentary Group!

As a second step the Minister for Land Use Planning could accelerate the revision of the Rural Design Guidelines, thereby closing the loopholes which continuously encourage the urbanisation of the countryside.

Only then, maybe, can government be credible in its proposals to protect agricultural land. All agricultural land needs our protection. This is required all of the time, not only when it is politically convenient.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 October 2022

Telefonata mill-Ministeru

Il-biċċa qerq dwar il-liċenzji tas-sewqan li nkixfet fil-Qorti iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hi inkwetanti ħafna. Dan qed ngħidu in vista tal-informazzjoni sensittiva li dwarha ingħatat biss indikazzjoni żgħira fix-xhieda li instemgħet s’issa fil-Qorti. Id-dettalji dwar dan kollu li jikkonċerna korruzzjoni fl-eżamijiet tejoretiċi dwar is-sewqan, għadhom mhux magħrufa.

S’issa ġew imħarrka tlett irġiel:  wieħed mid-Diretturi u żewġ uffiċjali ta’ Trasport Malta, li wieħed minnhom kien elett bħala kunsillier fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħaż- Żebbuġ f’isem il-Partit Laburista.  

Kien żvelat fil-Qorti li l-akkużati, waqt li kienu interrogati, iġġustifikaw l-azzjonijiet tagħhom billi emfasizzaw li kienu soġġetti għal pressjoni politika kontinwa.  L-uffiċjal anżjan fost dawk akkużati ilmenta li ħassu taħt pressjoni kbira minħabba t-telefonati kontinwi minn diversi Ministeri.

Fix-xhieda mogħtija s’issa l-pulizija żvelat li f’mobile li ġabru sabu “chats diversi ma’ persuni b’rabta ma’ partit politiku”. Ma hemm l-ebda informazzjoni uffiċjali dwar l-identità ta’ dan il-partit politiku. L-unika ħaġa li nista’ ngħid hi li dan il-partit definittivament mhux l- ADPD!

Xi ħadd li kellu aċċess għall-informazzjoni fuq il-mobile maqbud imma, fuq il-media soċjali, indirettament żvela l-għala l-pulizija hi kawta u mhux tiżvela ismijiet ta’ dawk involuti. Jidher li rrealizzaw li l-ismijiet, hekk kif ikunu żvelati jistgħu joħolqu terrimot politiku li bħalu qatt ma rajna.  Skont l-informazzjoni mhux uffiċjali li qed tiċċirkola b’mod elettroniku jidher li ġew identifikati bħala li ħadu sehem f’din il-biċċa qerq taħt investigazzjoni 4 membri attwali tal-Kabinett flimkien ma tnejn oħra li m’għadhomx fil-Kabinett.  Mid-dehra l-parti l-kbira ta’ dawk inkarigati mis-Segretarjat tal-Ministri kif ukoll numru ta’  Membri Parlamentari huma mdeffsa ukoll.

Fl-investigazzjonijiet tagħhom il-Pulizija jidher li f’uffiċċju ta’wieħed mill-akkużati sabu żewġ djarji b’informazzjoni sostanzjali li kienet tikkonsisti f’ismijiet, numri tal-karta tal-identità kif ukoll id-dati ta’ meta dawk li gawdew mill-irregolaritajiet investigati qagħdu għall-eżami tejoretiku għall-liċenzja tas-sewqan.

Wieħed mill-akkużati qed jiddefendieħ il-kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Intern, l-Avukat  Dr Joe Giglio, avukat bi prattika estensiva fil-qasam tal-liġi kriminali.  Mhux etika li membri parlamentari jinvolvu ruħhom f’dawn il-każijiet. Id-difiża ta’ persuni akkużati bl-involviment fil-korruzzjoni mhiex kompatibbli mal-ħidma politika kontra l-istess korruzzjoni. Ma jistax ikun kredibbli jekk jipprova jkollu saqajh fuq iż-żewġ naħat.  Dan qed ixellef sewwa l-kredibilità politika tiegħu. Jidher li mill-kaz tal-Bank Pilatus ma’ tgħallem xejn!

Minn din l-istorja kollha  hemm żewġ punti ta’ importanza.

Għalfejn il-Pulizija joqgħodu lura milli jagħtu informazzjoni fejn ikun hemm il-politiċi involuti? Il-kliem nieqes miċ-ċarezza li intuża mill-Ispettur tal-Pulizija fil-Qorti din il-ġimgħa jwassal dan il-messaġġ. Ma jkunx ferm iktar għaqli li min qiegħed hemm biex iħares il-liġi ma jibqgħax jimxi bl-ingwanti tal-ħarir mal-membri tal-Kabinett?

Imbagħad xi ngħidu għall-irbit li għandhom il-membri parlamentari mal-professjoni jew xogħol tagħhom? Meta ser jinħallu minn dan l-irbit li jxekkilhom fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom? Kif propost repetutament minn ADPD fid-diversi manifesti elettorali, għandna bżonn  Parlament li mill-iktar fis ikun magħmul minn membri li jiddedikaw ħinhom kollu għall-ħidma Parlamentari. Huwa b’dan il-mod biss li l-Parlament jista’ jkun kredibbli u possibilment effettiv.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Settembru 2022

Phone call from the Ministry

The driving licence racket unveiled in Court earlier this week is extremely disturbing. This is being stated in view of the sensitive information indicated in the testimony heard so far in Court but the details of which are still under wraps. The case involves corruption in driving theory tests.

Three men have so far been arraigned: the Director for Land Transport at Transport Malta and two other Transport Malta officers one of whom is a Żebbuġ Local Councillor elected on behalf of the Labour Party.

It was revealed in Court that the accused, when interrogated, had justified their actions by emphasising that they were under constant “political” pressure. The senior among the accused complained that he felt pressured as he was getting continuous calls from various Ministries.

The police have revealed, in the testimony so far, that a mobile phone in their possession has “revealed chats with people linked to a political party”. No further official information is available as to the identity of this political party.  It is definitely not ADPD!

Someone having access to the mobile phone data has however indirectly revealed on social media the reason why the police have been cautious in revealing the names of those involved in this racket. It seems that the Police have realised that these names, once revealed, could cause a political earthquake the likes of which we have never seen. According to the unofficial information circulating online, the names of at least four current members of the Cabinet as well as two former ones have been so far identified as being possibly involved in the racket being investigated. Apparently, most of the Ministries’ Chief of Staff as well as a number of Members of Parliament may also have a finger in the pie.

Apparently in a Transport Malta office used by one of the accused, the police, during their investigations came across two diaries containing substantial information consisting of names, ID card numbers and dates when the persons benefitting from the irregularities under investigation were due to sit for their theoretical driving exams. The persons indicated were apparently “helped” in order to ensure that they were successful.

One of the accused is being defended by the shadow minister for Home Affairs, Dr Joe Giglio, a lawyer with an extensive criminal law practice. It is extremely unethical for members of parliament to involve themselves in such cases. His defence of clients accused with involvement in corruption is incompatible with his political actions against corruption in the political arena. He cannot be credible if he runs with the hares and then tries hunting with the hounds. He is severely denting his own credibility. Apparently, he has not learnt anything from his experiences as the legal advisor of Pilatus Bank.

This racket brings two basic issues to the fore.

Why are the Police (so far) withholding information on the holders of political office involved? The cryptic language used by the Police Inspector in Court this week transmits this basic message. Isn’t it about time that law enforcement does not treat the members of the Cabinet and their hangers-on with kids’ gloves?

When will all members of Parliament cut themselves free from the restraints of their professional practices or their previous employment? As ADPD has repeatedly proposed over the years, we need a full time Parliament as soon as possible.  It is only in this way that parliament can be credible and possibly effective.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 September 2022