Kemm ħasbuna ċwieċ ?

L-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika għadu kif ikkonkluda investigazzjoni dwar iċ-Ċentru Interpretattiv f’Ħad-Dingli. L-investigazzjoni fittxet li tiddetermina jekk kienx hemm xi ftehim wara l-kwinti bejn uffiċjali pubbliċi diversi biex is-sit f’Ħad-Dingli jkun ittrasformat minn ċentru interpretattiv għal stabiliment tal-ikel.

L-investigazzjoni, kif spjegat f’rapport bl-Ingliż li ippubblika l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika ma sab l-ebda prova li tista’ tissostanzja allegazzjonijiet dwar frodi jew korruzzjoni. Hemm imma referenza għal dak li qed jissejjaħ “oversight”, jiġifieri żball. Ċentrali fl-iżvilupp ta’ dan l-iżball insibu l-awtoritá li tieħu ħsieb l-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Dakinnhar MEPA, illum PA.

Meta l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli issottometta l-applikazzjoni bażika (dik li nirreferu għaliha bħala outline development permission) (applikazzjoni PA5314/02) il-kunsill kien qed jitlob li jingħata permess għal żona fejn iservu l-ikel (id-dokumenti jirreferu għal catering area). Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika jagħmel referenza għal dokumenti tal-MEPA biex juri li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli kien qed jintalab jirrevedi l-proposta tiegħu, u b’mod partikolari biex ineħħi mill-pjanti kull referenza għal żona fejn iservu l-ikel. Dan it-tibdil, jemfasizza ir-rapport “included the elimination of catering services”. Biex l-affarijiet ikunu ċari ħafna, l-MEPA insistiet biex tkun emendata ukoll il-proposta ta’ żvilupp innifisha.

Il-proposta oriġinali ta’ żvilupp li ippreżenta l-Kunsill Lokali kienet dwar twaqqiegħ ta’ żewġ binjiet eżistenti u l-bini minflok ta’ binja ta’ tlett sulari b’diżinn modern b’qies ikbar minn dak tal-bini eżistenti. Il-pjanti jipprovdu għal kċina żgħira u żona mdaqqsa fejn joqgħodu bil-qegħda n-nies.

Il-MEPA insistiet, u l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli aċċetta, li l-proposta ta’ żvilupp kellha tkun emendat biex tikkonċerna r-restawr tal-binjiet eżistenti flmkien ma alterazzjonijiet u żidiet għalihom biex ikunu mibdula f’ċentru interpretattiv. Il-bejgħ ta’ ikel u xorb fuq is-sit kellu jkun limitat għal dak li seta jsir bil-magni (vending machines).

Iktar tard il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli ippreżenta applikazzjoni dettaljata (full development permission) li kienet approvata mill-MEPA. Din l-applikazzjoni approvata (PA0425/08), jgħidilna r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika, “ippermetta li ikel u xorb setgħu jinxtraw miċ-ċentru interpretattiv bħala attivitá anċillari (allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity). Dan minkejja li dan kollu kien ipprojibit mill-permess bażiku li kien approvat iktar qabel, meta kienu ġew stabiliti l-parametri bażiċi tal-proġett.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika jgħidilna li meta l-investigaturi għarblu liċ-Ċhairperson tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp fuq il-każ, din qaltilhom li d-diskrepanza kienet żball u li hi kellha l-impressjoni li l-permess approvat kien jirrifletti d-diskussjoni li saret fil-bord u allura kien jipprojibixxi li jkun possibli li sservi l-ikel fis-sit (this variance as an oversight, and that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site).

Il-kelma li tintuża hi “oversight”, liema kelma tfisser “żball li jsir bi żvista għax tkun qabżitlek xi ħaġa”.

Meta fittixt fid-dokumentazzjoni tal-MEPA sibt li mill-minuti tal-laqgħat tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp ma tantx jidher li qabeż xejn biex sar dan “l-iżball”. Fil-fatt il-minuti tat-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 speċifikament jgħidu li l-Kummissjoni kellha l-intenzjoni li tirrifjuta l-applikazzjoni minħabba li dak propost dwar il-“catering facilities” (jiġifieri l-użu magħruf bħala Class 6 use) ma kienux approvati fl-ewwel permess.

Fid-dokument tal-MEPA li nirreferu għalih bħala DPAR (Development Permit Application report) fit-taqsima tiegħu intitolata “Notes to Committee” hemm miktub li l-perit tal-Kunsill Lokali rinfaċċjat b’dan ippreżenta pjanti mibdula li fihom il-faċilitajiet għall-catering tneħħew.

F’laqgħat li saru iktar tard mill-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp, din l-intenzjoni tal-Kummissjoni inbidlet u l-applikazzjoni bil-faċilitajiet tal-catering b’kollox kienet approvata nhar l-20 ta’ Jannar 2010.

Dan tista’ issejjaħlu kollox minbarra “żball”. Kienu jafu x’inhuma jagħmlu.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika jgħidilna li “Din l-investigazzjoni tinnota li bejn it-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 u l- 10 ta’ Marzu 2010, il-MEPA bidlet il-posizzjoni tagħha minn waħda li teskludi l-faċilitajiet li jipprovdu għat-tisjir tal-ikel (Class 6 facilities) għal waħda li tippermettihom bħala faċilitá anċillari.” Flok mill-bieb daħlu mit-tieqa.

Il-mistoqsija bażika hi waħda sempliċi ħafna: x’ġara bejn it-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 u l-10 ta’ Marzu 2010 biex wassal lill-Kummissjoni biex tibdel il-fehma tagħha?

Din il-mistoqsija tibqa’ bla tweġiba wara li nkunu qrajna r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika.

Huma biss iċ-ċwieċ li jistgħu jaċċettaw l-ispjegazzjoni li dan kien żball!

 

Ippubblikat f’Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Ġunju 2018

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The Dingli “oversight”

The National Audit Office (NAO) has just concluded an investigation into the Dingli Interpretation centre which sought to determine if there had been collusion between various government officials so that the site will be transformed from an interpretation centre into a catering establishment.

The investigation, as explained in the NAO’s report, did not uncover any evidence to suggest fraud and/or corruption. There is, however, reference to what is being described as an “oversight”. Of central importance in the development of this “oversight” was the authority dealing with land-use planning – then known as MEPA, today rebranded as PA!

When an application for an outline development permission was submitted by the Dingli Local Council in 2002 (application PA5314/02) the local council was requesting the incorporation of a catering area in the submitted plans. Drawing on planning documentation, the NAO report explains in detail how Dingli Local Council was requested by MEPA to revise the submitted proposal. These changes, the NAO report emphasised, “included the elimination of catering services”. To be very clear, MEPA insisted on a change to the development proposal itself.

The original development proposal submitted by the Local Council consisted of the demolition of the two existing buildings and the construction of a new building, consisting of three floors, of a modern design, which occupied a larger footprint than the existing structures. The plans included a kitchenette and a large area designated for seating.

MEPA insisted – and Dingli Local Council agreed – that the description of the proposed development be amended to read ‘restore existing structures, carry out alterations and additions to convert them to an interpretive centre’. The sale of food and drink on site was to be limited to the use of vending machines.

Subsequently, an application for full development permission was submitted by Dingli Local Council and approved by MEPA. We are informed by the NAO report that the approved application (PA0425/08), “allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity” notwithstanding the fact that these were prohibited by the previous approved outline development permit which established the basic acceptable parameters of the project.

The NAO report states that when the Chairperson of the Development Control Commission (DCC) was queried on the matter, she explained this variance as an “oversight” and said that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site.”

Now an “oversight”, according to my dictionary is “a mistake made through a failure to notice something”.

Going through the MEPA documentation available, I came across the minutes of the DCC which do not indicate an oversight. In fact, the minutes of the DCC held on 18 March 2009 specifically state that there was the intention to refuse the application specifically because catering facilities (that is Class 6 use) were not approved in the outline development permission.

In the MEPA documentation which is referred to as DPAR (Development Permit Application report) in the section entitled “Notes to Committee”, it is written that the Local Council architect reacted by submitting a revised set of drawings in which the catering facility was removed.

In later meetings of the DCC, this intention disappeared and the application (including the catering facilities) was approved on 20 January 2010.

This is anything but an “oversight”: they knew all along what was going on.

The NAO report states: “This Investigation notes that between 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, MEPA’s position changed from excluding Class 6 facilities to one that allowed catering as an ancillary facility.”

The basic question is: what happened between the 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, as a result of which the DCC changed its views? It is a question which the NAO report fails to answer.

Only idiots would accept that this is an “oversight”.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2018

A Christmas carol for Jason Azzopardi

i-am-the-ghost-of-christmas-past

 

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, Jason Azzopardi is haunted with scenes from his past. Scrooge had to deal with the Ghost of Christmas Past while Jason has been spotlighted by the Auditor-General in three separate reports. These deal with issues forming part of the political responsibilities which he shouldered when part of the Lawrence Gonzi Cabinet.

The first report was presented one year ago and dealt with the issuance of encroachment permits on the eve of the 2013 general election.  The Auditor-General then commented on Minister Jason Azzopardi’s intervention in the issuance of encroachment permits, emphasising that his intervention was “unwarranted”.

Pompous as ever, Jason Azzopardi insisted that he acted within the parameters of the law. He was not capable of recognising that he erred. Nor was he publicly chastised in any way by his own political party which has called for everybody’s resignation, except his own.

Two other reports were published by the Auditor-General last week.  Both deal with government land: its acquisition in one case, its transfer in another.

The first report investigates the acquisition of 233, 236 and 237, Republic Street Valletta.  The Auditor-General, in this investigation identified significant shortcomings in the process of negotiation, critically and negatively conditioning Government’s negotiating position. “This serious shortcoming,” states the Auditor-General, “was raised in concerns raised by the Permanent Secretary,” who was over-ruled.

Notwithstanding the corrective measures subsequently taken, the process remained flawed. This, emphasised the Auditor-General, represented a fundamental weakness in the process of negotiation (with HSBC), “effectively limiting Government’s bargaining power”.  Bad governance at its worst!

The second report deals with the investigation on the transfer of land at Ta’ L-Istabal, Qormi.   The Auditor-General concluded that “failure in terms of good governance, to varying degrees, is a recurring theme that emerged” throughout his review of the matter. The Auditor-General also noted “extraordinary haste” when as a result of problems being identified authorisations were obtained and contracts signed in a matter of two days.

The Auditor-General lists a number of public officers as being responsible for the mess created when conditions attached to a contract concerning government property were cancelled illegally without Parliament’s approval in terms of legislation regulating the disposal of government land.

Describing this mess, the Auditor-General states that he “did not find any direct evidence of political pressure exerted in the processes reviewed.” The emphasis obviously is on the words “direct evidence” as reading through the report it is amply clear that a selection of the top brass within the civil service would not act in such blatant defiance of the law unless they had at least tacit approval of the holders of political office to which they were responsible. The civil service officials mentioned by the Auditor-General as being directly responsible are: The Director General, the Notary and the Assistant Director Contracts of the Government Property Division.

The Auditor-General makes this very important consideration: “ …………… an element of political pressure was asserted by the Chair Vassallo Builders Group Ltd, who alleged that Marsovin Ltd had prior agreement with the ‘Minister’ and the GPD. The Director Marsovin Group Ltd negated this allegation, as did the Minister of Finance, the Economy and Investment and the Parliamentary Secretary for Revenues and Land, who indicated that they were not aware of the case at the time. Queried in this respect, the Chair Vassallo Builders Group Ltd indicated no knowledge of who the ‘Minister’ was. While the NAO cannot rule out pressure being exerted by any of the aforementioned, or possibly by other persons who did not come to this Office’s attention, the facts of the case render immediately evident that pressure was in fact exerted to the detriment of Government’s interests.”

Ultimately the responsibility for this mess lies on Jason Azzopardi’s lap. He has a lot of pending explanations. He will obviously not resign as clearly he only pays lip service to good governance.

In addition, this report from the Auditor-General possibly throws some light on another incident: the loan of €250,000 by a certain Nazzareno Vassallo to the PN’s commercial arms on the eve of the 2013 general elections. We were then informed that the loan was of a commercial nature on commercial terms.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. How can anyone believe Jason Azzopardi and his political party preaching adherence to good governance when as recently as 2012 they made a mess on all that they could lay their hands on?

Referring to Joseph Muscat’s gross administrative incompetence and the scandals popping up every other day is no solution. The more we unravel from the past the more clear it becomes that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, each in its own way, as a result of their shady methods of operation, cannot be trusted with the reins of power.

published in The Malta Independent : Tuesday 27 December 2016

Michael Falzon u l-Awditur Ġenerali

Michael Falzon 6

L-Awditur Ġenerali jagħmel l-investigazzjonijiet tiegħu dwar l-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Jiġifieri dwar is-settur pubbliku u dwar il-Gvern tal-ġurnata, prinċipalment. Imma jinvestiga ukoll dwar il-Gvern tal-bieraħ, jekk iħoss il-ħtieġa jew jekk ikun mitlub.

Nifhem li mhux bil-fors ikun hemm qbil mal-konklużjonijiet li jasal għalihom l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Min jagħmel l-investigazzjoni jista’ jiżbalja ukoll. Sakemm l-iżbalji jkunu żbalji umani, wieħed jifhem, avolja xorta ħadd ma hu ser jieħu pjaċir b’dawn it-tip ta’ żbalji! Huwa għalhekk li l-kritika li għamel Michael Falzon lill-uffiċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali, għalkemm kienet tinħass esaġerata, huwa xieraq li tkun eżaminata iktar milli fil-fatt jidher li ġiet eżaminata.

L-Awditur Ġenerali f’ittra lill-Ispeaker jispjega li l-impjegat fl-uffiċċju tiegħu li fuq il-media soċjali dehru ritratti tiegħu waqt partita futbol flimkien mal-ex Ministru Jason Azzopardi ma kienx involut fl-investigazzjoni li minna ilmenta Michael Falzon. Din l-ispjega tindirizza biss parti mill-ilment imma ma titfa l-ebda dawl (ta’ l-inqas publikament) dwar kemm hu ta’ ħsara li uffiċjali investigaturi mill-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali jidhru viċin wisq tal-politiċi.

Inċidenti ta’ din ix-xorta jitfgħu dell bla bżonn fuq l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Itappnu l-kontribut kbir li l-uffiċċju dejjem ta lill-pajjiż. F’ċirkustanzi bħal dawn l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu jkun ċar u iebes. Sfortunatment ma kienx.

Huwa ovvju li l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali dejjem ser ikun kritiku tal-Gvern. Gvern għaqli jagħti każ ta’ din il-kritika, anke fejn mhux bil-fors jaqbel magħha. Imma l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu l-obbligu li jassigura ruħu li dawk li jgawdu l-fiduċja tiegħu iġibu ruħhom sewwa. Dejjem, mhux biss waqt il-ħin tax-xogħol. Inkella għandu l-obbligu li jdabbrilhom rashom malajr.

Political responsibility

 

Mallia inquiry

Good governance is clearly going to the dogs. It is not just a case of matters that could have been handled better, as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stated in the aftermath of the Cafè Premier scandal.

In February 2015 the National Audit Office had underlined notable shortcomings in terms of governance with respect to Joseph Muscat’s government’s failure to involve the Government Property Division in the negotiations to re-acquire Cafè Premier in Valletta.

The purpose of holding inquires, irrespective of their format, is not just to identify those responsible for shortcomings relative to matters under investigation. High on the list of objectives of inquires is the identification and subsequent doing away with administrative practices which are liable to be abused.

The Manwel Mallia inquiry, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in terms of the Inquires Act, was handled by three former judges and focused on the behaviour of the then Honourable Minister Manwel Mallia. It is pertinent to point out that in their report dated 8 December 2014, the three judges had emphasised that Manwel Mallia had to shoulder ministerial or political responsibility in respect of the behaviour of those persons who he had nominated to a position of trust. Tongue-in-cheek, the panel of judges carrying out the Mallia inquiry had commented that Maltese politicians, when in Opposition, emphasise the need to shoulder political responsibility only to forget all about it when they make it to government.

In fact, in view of the conclusions of that inquiry, former Minister Manwel Mallia, in defiance of the basic rules of good governance, refused to resign from office and was subsequently fired by the Prime Minister – who had no other option at his disposal.

The current Gaffarena scandal may lead to similar considerations. Two politicians are under the spotlight: Joseph Muscat, who, in addition to being Prime Minister is also Minister for Lands, and Michael Falzon, who is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Lands. Both have to shoulder political responsibility for the operation of the Government Property Division for which they are jointly politically responsible. Twenty seven months into Labour’s mandate it is not justifiable that they shift the blame onto their predecessors. Labour in government has had sufficient time to carry out basic operational changes, if they considered that these were necessary.

Two inquires are under way. One has been requested by the Opposition and is being carried out by the National Audit Office. The other has been requested by the government and is being carried out by the Internal Audit and Investigation Department.

The two inquires will necessarily overlap but, due to differing terms of reference they should be complimenting each other.

There are too many coincidences in this latest Gaffarena scandal and consequently various issues need to be explained. The Government Property Division seems to have preferred Marco Gaffarena, giving him time to purchase a second portion of the Valletta property before expropriating it, when it could have easily expropriated it directly from the then owners! Likewise, it is clear that someone took the decision to pay Marco Gaffarena partly in kind, by allowing him to select amongst government property that land which suited him most. Who took this decision?  The civil service does not normally take such decisions. This particular decision, in my view, has political fingerprints.

The values attributed to both the expropriated property and to the government properties used to facilitate payment have raised eyebrows. Detailed explanation is required to establish whether there is some computational error or whether there is some other explanation.

Throughout the past week, the press has pointed at a particular member of the private secretariat of Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon who, too often, was observed accompanying Marco Gaffarena at the Government Property Division. This person, appointed in a position of trust by the Honourable Michael Falzon, did not reply to questions from the press intended to clarify whether – and to what extent – he opened doors for Gaffarena. In particular, the queries sought to clarify whether he facilitated the pick and choose land deal between the Government Property Division and Marco Gaffarena.

The conclusions of the two investigations should undoubtedly shed light on the decisions taken, as well as on those who facilitated them. The fact that this is the second case concerning the Government Property Division being investigated by the National Audit Office in the space of a few months should ring the alarm bells because, essentially, it signifies that no lessons were learnt from the Cafè Premier debacle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2015

Il-Cafè Premier u l-Lottu

Cafè Premier 2

Qed jgħidulna li l-Gvern kien trasparenti ħafna fil-każ tal-Cafè Premier. Il-Gvern, qalilna l-Prim Ministru, għadda lill-Awditur Ġenerali l-informazzjoni kollha, bla ma ħalla xejn barra.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika jgħid li Mario Camilleri ta’ Cities Entertainment Limited kien diġa offra l-Cafè Premier lill-Gvern preċedenti, li ma kienx interessat. Jgħidilna ukoll li wara l-elezzjoni ġenerali ta’ Marzu 2013 kien talab laqgħa mal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat. Din il-laqgħa saret nhar is-17 t’April 2013 meta Mario Camilleri ġedded l-offerta lill-Gvern biex jieħu lura l- Cafè Premier. Sussegwentement bdew in-negozjati.

Meta l-Gvern preċedenti informa lil Mario Camilleri li ma kienx interessat illi jakkwista l-Cafè Premier ikun interessanti ħafna x’għamel Camilleri meta kien infurmat bil-posizzjoni tal-Gvern. Ikun interessanti ħafna jekk Camilleri ippruvax jiskopri x’kien jaħseb il-Partit Laburista fl-Opposizzjoni dwar dan.

S’issa aħna infurmati li Camilleri iltaqa’ darbtejn ma Joseph Muscat meta kien għadu Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Miegħu tkellem dwar is-shareholding li Camilleri kellu fil-kumpanija li għandha l-liċenzja tal-Lottu f’pajjiżna. It-Times online il-bieraħ , fil-fatt qaltilna hekk : “Admitting that he had met Mario Camilleri – one of the owners of Cafè Premier twice before the election, he said that the financial position of the establishment was never mentioned. Instead he said that Mr Camilleri’s shareholding in lotto was discussed.”

Mario Camilleri kien inkwetat u skond Joseph Muscat iddiskuta miegħu x’kien jaħseb il-Partit Laburista dwar it-tiġdid tal-liċenzja tal-Lottu.

Mill-informazzjoni li ngħatajna s’issa, minkejja li l-Gvern preċedenti ma kienx interessat illi jixtri lura l-Cafè Premier, Mario Camilleri ma jidhirx li kien inkwetat. Għaliex fuq l-agenda bejn Muscat u Camilleri filwaqt li kien hemm il-Lottu, ma kienx hemm il-Cafè Premier.

Ma nafx jien, imma daqsxejn diffiċli biex titwemmen din.  Naħseb li hemm hemm ħafna iktar li għadna ma nafux!

Il-kobba tidher li hi imħabbla sewwa!

Il-Cafè Premier: min jgħaġġel u min ikaxkar saqajh

NAO.Premier

 

Meta tifli sewwa r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika dwar il-Cafè Premier joħorġu ċari numru ta’ punti.

Joseph Muscat, issa qed jaċċetta li għaġġel. “Muscat admits Government rushed on €4.2 million Cafè Premier deal” tgħidilna l-Malta Today online tal-bieraħ il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Marzu. Il-mistoqsija li teħtieġ tweġiba hi għaliex għaġġel? Min jew x’kellu jiġri warajh?

Huwa minħabba li ried jgħaġġel illi żamm kontroll fuq it-taħditiet taħt l-uffiċċju tiegħu? Għaliex fl-iktar żmien kruċjali tat-taħditiet ma involviex lid-Dipartiment li jieħu ħsieb l-amministrazzjoni tal-propjetà tal-Gvern? Dan il-fatt waħdu huwa sinifikanti u jagħti indikazzjoni li d-deċiżjoni, tal-inqas fil-prinċipju, kienet ilha lesta ferm qabel il-bidu t’April 2013 meta bdew id-diskussjonijiet madwar 4 ġimgħat wara li nbidel il-Gvern.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika jgħidilna li qabel ma bdew id-diskussjonijiet ma’ Joseph Muscat, Mario Camilleri ta’ Cities Entertainment Limited kien qed jiddiskuti ma’ negozjant ieħor li ukoll kien offrielu €4.2 miljuni. Imma ma ftehmux għax Mario Camilleri dehrlu li Cities Entertainment Limited kien ħaqqha iktar. Fil-fatt huwa kien talab €5.37 miljuni. Mit-Times tas-Sibt sirna nafu illi l-offerta kienet saret mingħand Anġlu Xuereb li ma kienx lest li joffri iktar minn €4.2 miljuni .

Jekk il-problema setgħet issolviet bl-involviment tas-settur privat, il-mistoqsija li toħroġ waħedha hi għaliex intużaw €4.2 miljuni mit-taxxi? Din it-tweġiba ma jista’ jagħtiha ħadd ħlief il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat.

Jista’ jkun hemm min jgħid li dan sar biex titneħħa kċina minn taħt il-Biblioteka u b’hekk jitneħħa sors ta’ periklu kbir taħt teżor nazzjonali. Min jgħid hekk forsi ma jafx li l-kuntratt oriġinali ma Cities Entertainment Limited iffirmat fl-1998 kien jipprojibixxi li jintużaw ċilindri tal-gass fuq is-sit. Forsi l-anqas ma jaf li kċina fis-sit li taħdem bl-elettriku hi ta’ periklu ferm inqas mid-diversi ħwienet tal-ħwejjeġ li hemm taħt il-Biblioteka u li b’short circuit fis-sistema tal-elettriku huma ukoll sors kontinwu ta’ periklu daqs jekk mhux iżjed minn kċina li taħdem bl-elettriku.  Għax b’short circuit fis-sistema tal-elettriku il-ħwejjeġ jaqbdu ferm iktar malajr mill-affarijiet li normalment insibu fi kċina! U in-nar li jirriżulta jinfirex iktar malajr.

It-Taqsima tal-Propjetà tal-Gvern, kif inhu ddokumentat fir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika, damet ftit ittella’ u tniżżel sakemm fl-aħħar iddeċidiet li tibda proċeduri fil-Qorti biex ikun xolt il-kuntratt. Fl-2004 kien diġa beda jberraq. Fl-4 t’April 2006 ġiet ippreżentata ittra uffiċjali biex titħallas il-kera li kienet b’lura. Wara ħafna tiġbid u xi pagamenti  s-sitwazzjoni irranġat għal ftit, sakemm nhar il-5 ta’ Mejju 2009 reġgħet ġiet ippreżentata ittra uffiċjali oħra dwar il-kera li kienet għad ma tħallsitx. Wara dan baqgħu daqqa jifthemu u wara ftit jerġgħu jaqgħu lura fil-ħlas. Sakemm fl-2012 ittieħdu passi legali mill-Gvern.

Kien ikun ħafna iktar għaqli kieku għaxar snin ilu ittieħdu l-passi biex ikun xolt il-kuntratt. Kieku sal-lum bla dubju l-Cafè Premier ilu li ġie f’idejn il-Gvern mingħajr ma tħallas ċenteżmu wieħed mit-taxxi tagħna.

Għalhekk hi ġustifikata l-konklużjoni tal-Awditur Ġenerali li ma ġewx esplorati biżżejjed possibilitajiet oħra li setgħu solvew il-problema.

Bla dubju għal dan kollu għandu responsabbilta’ kbira Joseph Muscat li kif ammetta illum, għaġġel. Imma għandu responsabbiltà ukoll Jason Azzopardi li sad-9 ta’ Marzu 2013 bħala Ministru kellu responsabbilta politika għat-Taqsima tal-Propjeta tal-Gvern li kaxkret saqajha biex tieħu l-passi li kienu neċessarji.

Wieħed għaġġel u l-ieħor ikaxkar saqajh.

Local Councils, cleaning the financial mess

localcouncils

 

The National Audit Office, last December, published an unprecedented  report entitled “Report by the Auditor General on the workings of Local Government”. The 294 page document examines the financial statements pertaining to financial year 2013 and lists various shortcomings in the financial administration of local government.

During 2013, thirty seven of the local councils registered a deficit, whilst some councils did not follow the required procurement procedures. Some of these faults have their root cause in the fact that local councillors  are not trained adequately to handle their responsibilities. They require training, both before they contest an election  as well as after the election itself. They need to be made more aware of their responsibilities. Training of our local councillors (and more so mayors) is undoubtedly not an easy task. It is, in fact, quite a challenge.

There were also a number of policy decisions which, over the years, have not made matters any easier. Understandably, the Local Government Auditors do not examine the matter in any depth, as it falls outside their brief.

A case in point is the Public Private Partnership launched through Memo 45/2010 issued by the Department of Local Government on 22 March 2010. This initiative started off on a positive note. Government then decided  to attend to the issue of dilapidated roads, thereby tackling one of the major complaints in all localities.

Various funds were made available to local councils for this purpose. Additionally part of  the statutory allocation received by local councils annually was ring-fenced such that it was only usable for road works. These funds, according to Parliamentary Question 30314, replied to by the then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on 21 November  2011, amounted to a total of €15 million and were made available to the  47 local councils which had expressed their interest and submitted the required application.

The problem however, was that Government only funded  30% of the expenses directly. The remaining 70 per cent of the required funds had to be disbursed by local councils from their own resources. These included savings made from road maintenance costs, which were justifiably rerouted to fund the resurfacing exercise.

The bottom line however, was that what should have been a central government responsibility in its entirety was shifted onto local councils, with central government only  footing 30 per cent of the bill when it should have forked out the remaining 70 too. Whilst at face value, a 30 per cent subvention may seem substantial, in reality, it was not.  Local councils were desperate to improve the state of the roads in their localities and most of them did not think twice about accepting government’s offer to carry out substantial road works in 2010 and 2011 and spreading the payment of their bills over 8 years, in line, with what was provided for in Memo 45/2010. It is this state of affairs that has led to the financial mess that a number of local councils find themselves in currently.  In fact, the National Audit Office reports that:  “during the 2013 financial year, 37 local councils registered a deficit.”

The point to be made is: is it ethical to place local councils in this position, such that councillors in 47 localities made budgetary commitments of local council finances for a period of 8 years? Councillors elected after 2011 in these 47 localities still had their statutory responsibilities but the financial resources  enabling them to honour their responsibilities were severely depleted. This is  governance at its worst, made worse only by the fact that it was officially sanctioned by the government of the day.

Local councils have very little resources to work with.  The minute budgetary increase voted by Parliament for the current financial year is obviously welcome, but in no way does it compensate for the exponential increase in costs incurred by local councils throughout the past years.

Its fine to insist that local ouncils should ensure that those providing them with services deal properly with their employees. However, to be in a better position to ensure that contractors utilising labour subject to precarious employment conditions are not engaged by local councils it stands to reason that local councils must be able to offer attractive rates of pay.  Otherwise, it will be more of the same procurement exercises, leading to the acceptance of the cheapest bidder.  The cheapest bidder, more often than not, is able to submit the lowest  bid due to its low labour costs.

Local councils have very clear and specific responsibilities. They can only shoulder them if councillors are properly trained and the councils adequately funded.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 February 2015

Tomorrow may be too late

today-tomorrow

The Guardian of Future Generations has spoken. The Guardian is under the leadership of Mr Michael Zammit Cutajar, former Climate Change Ambassador, as well as Mr. Michael C. Bonello, former Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, Dr. Roberta Lepre, Director Victim Support Malta and Ms. Simone Mizzi, Executive President, Din L-Art Ħelwa.

In a press statement issued on the 11 December 2013 the Guardian has added its voice to that of civil society. It has emphasised that prior to concluding and implementing piecemeal land use planning and environmental policies it was imperative that first and foremost a comprehensive holistic strategy is put in place. Until such time that a strategic vision is in place, stated the Guardian, it would be reasonable for current policy initiatives to be put on hold.

The Guardian is diplomatic in the language it uses. It certainly makes political statements none of which are however partisan. All environmental issues, including land use planning issues, are definitely political issues in respect of which all stakeholders have a duty to speak up.

The Guardian of Future Generations speaks up on behalf of the voiceless future. In Malta, giving a voice to the future was an initiative taken by Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party. It was acknowledged by the then Minister for the Environment Mario de Marco when piloting the Sustainable Development Act in 2012 which adopted the said proposal.

Our actions today can have a considerable impact on the future. It is imperative that the choices we make today ensure that future generations can also freely make their own decisions. We cannot ethically ignore the future. If we keep living for today, ignoring tomorrow, precious resources which must be protected today, will be lost forever. Michael Zammit Cutajar who chairs the Guardian Commission has in fact emphasised that: “un-built space and unspoilt views are among the scarcest resources of our densely populated country”.

We need to be extra careful. Too many mistakes have been made in the past. The legacy of the past is tough enough. We are in time to avoid adding to it.

The Guardian has announced in its press statement that, in accordance to its mandate, it has presented a submission with its views to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and other government officials. This refers to the provisions of article 8 of the Sustainable Development Act of 2012 which establishes that the Guardian shall direct the focus of the Prime Minister (who is the sustainable development competent authority) to safeguard future generations. The Guardian is also empowered to “propose goals and actions to government entities for them to take up in order to contribute towards the goal of sustainable development.”

The next step is undoubtedly the publication by Government of the views submitted by the Guardian. It would be preferable if government takes the initiative as the matter is of specific interest to the public. Obviously if the government fails to take this initiative there is always the possibility to demand its publication through applying the provisions of the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations of 2005 (Legal Notice 116 of 2005). Government taking the initiative would always be preferable as this would demonstrate its willingness to engage with stakeholders.

The above is a good start to the Guardian of Future Generations making its presence felt. It is however just the tip of the iceberg.

The Guardian requires its own resources to pursue other areas of policy. Foremost amongst them is the sustainable management of water resources. Whilst acknowledging that Government is currently preparing a water consultation document it is to be emphasised that there are areas of action which cannot await the said consultation process. There is little water left to protect and further procrastination will only make matters worse. Tomorrow will be too late.

In February 2012 the Auditor General had through a performance audit pointed out the deficiencies in the public administration of water resources. In his report entitled “Safeguarding Malta’s Groundwater” the Auditor General whilst noting that we have an abundance of policy documents pointed out  implementation delays as a consequence of the non-adherence to the stipulated target dates.

Not much has been done since February 2012. Obviously the political responsibility has to be shouldered by the former government which talked a lot but did not do much except commission reports. It invariably failed to take the tough action required.

Safeguarding tomorrow is a difficult task. Tomorrow’s generations, the generations of the future, have no vote, hence they have not been considered as an important constituency by those whose time horizon rarely exceeds five years. The Guardian of Future Generations has the unenviable task to sound the wake up call.

Tomorrow, which as singing doctor Gianluca Bezzina tells us, is just one day away, may be too late. All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.

published in The Times of Malta – Saturday 4 January 2014

On this same blog, on the issue of Future Generations you may read the following posts:

The Future started yesterday.

Exercise in practical democracy.

Gwardjan għal Ġenerazzjonijiet Futuri.

Increasing environmental awareness.

Future Generations must be heard.

Just lip service and cold feet.

Grazzi Sur Awditur Ġenerali

Awditur.AMifsud

Min segwa dak li ġara s’issa fil-Kumitat għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi seta jara kif l-Opposizzjoni Nazzjonalista għal darba oħra fetħet il-kanuni fuq l-Uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali bit-tama li iċċaqlaq l-attenzjoni minn fuq l-imġieba tal-ex Ministru Austin Gatt.

Naħseb li l-iktar diskors importanti li intqal mill-Awditur Ġenerali Anthony Mifsud u d-Deputat Awditur Ġenerali Charles Deguara kien meta fissru d-differenza bejn li tifformola l-politika tal-Gvern u li tieħu ħsieb li din tkun implimentata.

Meta l-Gvern permezz tal-Ministri tiegħu mhux biss jifformolaw il-politika (policy) iżda jfittxu li jindaħlu fid-dettall ikunu qed jindaħlu fejn m’għandhomx.  Ma jagħmilx sens li taħtar tim ta’ esperti u mbagħad tindaħlilhom. Jew huma esperti jew m’humiex.

Il-konklużjoni ta’ dan kollu hi li spiċċa ż-żmien tal-Ministri “hands on”. Il-Ministru mhux il-Manager. Qiegħed hemm biex jifformola l-politika li għandha tkun segwita. Imbagħad m’għandux jindaħal.

Kif qal  l-Awditur Ġenerali meta Ministru jindaħal fl-implementazzjoni tal-policy din hi prattika ħażina (bad governance) anke jekk il-liġi dan tippermettieh.

Grazzi Sur Awditur Ġenerali.