Pétrus: minn Yorgen għal Joseph: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Il-politiċi għandhom iżommu distanza soċjali min-nies tan-negozju, u dan mhux biss waqt pandemija. Dan kien rappurtat li ntqal minn George Hyzler, il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, waqt seduta ta’ kumitat parlamentari li kien qed jiddiskuti r-rapport tiegħu dwar investigazzjoni li għamel fuq Joseph Muscat, ex-Prim Ministru. Ir-rapport ta’ Hyzler hu dwar ir-rigal li Joseph Muscat irċieva mingħand Yorgen Fenech li kien jikkonsisti fi tlett fliexken inbid prim, Château Pétrus, mingħand min hu presentement akkużat li kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinazzjoni ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat mhux l-ewwel politiku li irċieva rigali kompromettenti. L-ex Ministru tal-Finanzi Tonio Fenech kien aċċetta rikba bla ħlas (bejn Malta u Madrid u lura) fuq jet privat flimkien ma żewġ negozjanti biex jara logħba futbal taċ-Champon’s League (l-Arsenal f’Madrid).  Tonio Fenech, li anke rċieva rigali kontroversjali oħra, dakinhar kien soġġett għal kritika qawwija, avolja l-kariga ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma kienitx teżisti!  Anke kellu l-barka tal-Prim Ministru ta’ dakinnhar, “ir-rett” Lawrence Gonzi. U ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Fl-2015 kellna ukoll il-każ tal-ex-Ministru tas-Saħħa  Joe Cassar li, kif kien sar magħruf, kien aċċetta numru ta’ rigali mingħand negozjant ieħor kontroversjali: Joseph Gaffarena. Dakinhar ukoll ma kellniex Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, imma  Joe Cassar ħa deċiżjoni korretta u irreżenja wara li ammetta li żbalja. Cassar ma irrealizzax mill-ewwel bil-gravità ta’ dak li ġara. Imma fl-ebda ħin ma qal: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Meta dawk li jkollhom kariga politika jirċievu rigali li jiswew il-flus ikunu qed joħolqu sitwazzjoni li biha faċilment jikkompromettu l-kariga pubblika li jokkupaw. Il-posizzjoni kompromettenti tkun ferm iktar gravi jekk dak li jġib ir-rigal ikun jiddependi mill-politiku  minħabba deċiżjonijiet li jkunu għadhom pendenti, u ferm agħar jekk ikun jew tkun diġa ibbenefika minn deċiżjonijiet li diġa ttieħdu.

Nifhem li għal uħud mill-politiċi din tista’ tkun sitwazzjoni diffiċli ħafna, b’mod partikolari jekk il-politiku nvolut ma jkunx imdorri jaġixxi b’mod etiku saħansitra f’affarijiet żgħar li niffaċċjaw fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum.  L-imġieba etika mhiex switch li tixgħel jew titfi skond jekk tkunx attiv fil-politika jew le.  Il-politiku qiegħed taħt il-lenti pubblika u l-pubbliku, illum jew għada, jiskopri l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ dak li jkun.  L-attitudni ta’ uħud ġeneralment hi rifless ta’ imġieba mhux etika li saret tant komuni fis-soċjetà tagħna: fil-professjonijiet, fin-negozju (żgħir u kbir), fis-servizzi, fis-settur pubbliku u f’kull qasam tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Is-soċjetà tagħna żviluppat attitudni ta’ “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”. Kollox, jew kważi kollox jgħaddi.  Allura m’hemmx għalfejn nistgħaġbu jekk din l-attitudni hi riflessa ukoll f’dawk eletti f’karigi pubbliċi!

Ir-rapport dwar l-inbid Château Pétrus li Yorgen ta’ lil Joseph hu biss każ wieħed li spikka.  Bla dubju hemm kwantità ta’ każijiet ta’ għoti ta’ rigali lil politiċi konnessi ma’ deċiżjonijiet speċifiċi  inkella li kellhom impatt fuq il-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet.  F’xi każi il-linja li tifred rigal minn  attentat ta’ korruzzjoni hi waħda fina ħafna. Il-parti l-kbira tal-każi imma, diffiċli li jkunu ppruvati.  Huwa għalhekk essenzjali li l-ftit każi li dwarhom hemm il-provi jittieħdu passi dwarhom.

L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju tal-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika hu essenzjali fil-bini tal-infrastruttura etika tant meħtieġa biex ikunu regolati dawk f’ħatriet politiċi.  Hu għal din ir-raġuni li kien hemm elf skuża u dewmien sostanzjali biex din il-kariga inħolqot.

Ir-rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dejjem ser ikunu kontroversjali. Waqt li wieħed jirrispetta l-ġudizzju tal-Kummissarju, huwa għandu jifhem li l-konsiderazzjonijiet tiegħu dejjem ser ikunu taħt il-lenti. Bħalissa, f’xi waqtiet jidher li qed joqgħod lura bħalma għamel fl-investigazzjoni riċenti dwar il-vjaġġ ta’ Joseph Muscat f’Dubai.

Dawn huma materji li dwarhom bħalissa għadna qed nitgħallmu. Anke l-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika nnifsu għadu qed isib saqajħ f’mixja li forsi twassalna biex xi darba neliminaw mill-vokabolarju tagħna espressjonijiet bħal “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”.

Kultant, imma, naħseb li diġa qegħdin tard wisq!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Lulju 2020

Château Pétrus and the “anything goes” syndrome

Politicians should keep a social distance from big business, always, not only during a pandemic. This was reportedly stated by George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life earlier this week during a parliamentary committee sitting, when discussing the contents of his report concluding an investigation of Joseph Muscat, former Prime Minister. Hyzler’s report dealt with the receipt by Joseph Muscat of a gift consisting of three bottles of the premier Bordeaux red wine, Château Pétrus, from Yorgen Fenech, entrepreneur, currently defending himself from the criminal charge of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat is not the first politician to receive such compromising gifts. Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech had accepted a free ride to join a couple of entrepreneurs to watch an Arsenal Champion’s League match in Madrid on a private jet belonging to one of the entrepreneurs. Tonio Fenech, who also received other controversial gifts, was heavily criticised, even though unfortunately there was no Standards Commissioner to investigate back then! He even had the blessing of his boss, the sanctimonious Lawrence Gonzi.

In 2015 we also had the case of former Health Minister Joe Cassar who, it was revealed, had accepted a series of gifts from another controversial business man: Joseph Gaffarena. There was no Commissioner for Standards in Public Life then, but Joe Cassar took the right decision and resigned after publicly accepting that he had committed a serious error of judgement.

When holders of political office accept expensive gifts, they are placing themselves in a position which could easily compromise the public office which they occupy. The seriousness of the compromising situation created increases exponentially if the gift bearer is dependent on the holder of political office for decisions yet to be taken or worse, if he/she has already benefitted from decisions taken.

It is acknowledged that at times the holder of political office may be in a very awkward situation, especially if he is not accustomed to behaving ethically even in minor everyday matters. Ethical behaviour is not a switch-on/switch-off matter dependent on whether one is involved in politics. Holders of political office are under the glare of the public spotlight, which, sooner or later discovers their misdemeanours. Their attitude is however generally a reflection of the unethical behaviour prevalent throughout society: in the professions, in business, in all sectors of everyday life. Our society has developed an attitude that “anything goes”. Consequently, it is no wonder that this is also reflected in those elected to public office!

The Château Pétrus report is just one case which has made it to the headlines. There are undoubtedly countless of other cases of gifts to holders of political office which were the result of specific decisions or else had a material impact on decision-taking. In some cases, the gift bearing borders on corruption. Most of them are however difficult to identify or prove. It is hence imperative that action is taken in respect of the few provable cases.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is an essential building block of the ethical infrastructure required for the regulation of holders of political office. For this specific reason, it took ages to be implemented with a multitude of excuses continuously piling up in order to justify substantial delays.   The reports of the Standards Commissioner will always be controversial. Whilst respecting his judgement he will undoubtedly realise that his considerations will always be subject to scrutiny as at times he appears to be applying excessive self-restraint as he has done in the investigation relative to the recent Muscat Dubai trip.

We are currently riding a steep ethical learning curve. Even the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life himself is on this ethical learning trip at the end of which it may be possible to consign the “anything goes” syndrome to the dustbin of history, even though at times it seems that it may be already too late!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 July 2020

Wara l-gwerra ċivili fil-PN

Għad m’hemm l-ebda ħjiel tat-tmiem tal-gwerra ċivili fil-PN. Din qed tagħmel ħafna ħsara, mhux biss lill-PN: fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż kollu.

Kull wieħed miż-żewġ darbiet fejn ġie espress vot ta’ sfiduċja fil-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia iwassal messaġġ politiku ċar li s’issa l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għad ma fehem xejn minnu. Meta Delia stqarr li l-vot ta’ sfuduċja espress mill-grupp parlamentari Nazzjonalista u iktar tard mill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN ma kellhom l-ebda sinifikat partikolari, kien qed jesponi l-miżerja ta’ kredenzjali demokratiċi tiegħu kif ukoll kien qed jirrifletti l-immaturità politika tiegħu. Dan fl-aħħar m’għandux biss rifless fuq il-kredibilità ta’ Adrian Delia imma ukoll fuq dik tal-PN innifsu.

Il-gwerra ċivili fil-PN qed tisraq l-attenzjoni li presentement jixraq li tkun fuq materji oħra ta’ importanza kbira.  L-irkupru mill-impatti sostanzjali tal-pandemija  Covid-19 u t-tisħiħ tal-kapaċità ta’ Malta kontra l-korruzzjoni u l-ħasil tal-flus jeħtieġu ferm iktar attenzjoni u enerġija. Mhux biss mill-Gvern, imma anke mill-Opposizzjoni.

Jeħtieġ li niddiskutu fid-dettall pjan ta’ rkupru mill-pandemija Covid-19 li jinfirex fuq l-oqsma kollha effettwati: pjan li għandu jkun wieħed integrat ma’ strateġija li tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u dan fil-qafas tal-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi.  Alternattiva Demokratika diġà tat il-kontribut tagħha xi ġimgħat ilu permezz tal-pubblikazzjoni tar-rapport: Pjan Aħdar: Ġust u Sostenibbli.

Studju riċenti ta’ Deloitte li kien ikkummissjonat mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti (MHRA) jindika li l-industrija tat-turiżmu bdiet ġejja f’sensiha. Qed tirrealizza li l-irkupru mhux biss seħħ bil-mod, iżda bil-mod ħafna: iktar kajman milli qatt antiċipaw.   L-Air Malta irrevediet il-pjan kummerċjali tagħha u issa qed tantiċipa li teħtieġ madwar seba’ snin biex tkun f’posizzjoni li terġa’ tibda iġġorr l-istess numru ta’ passiġġiera li kienet iġġor qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.  Dan kollu jwassal għal osservazzjoni waħda – evitata minn bosta – dwar kemm l-aspettattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu dwar l-irkupru tal-industrija mhumiex realistiċi.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku napprofittaw ruħna mis-sitwazzjoni u nippjanaw aħjar biex l-industrija tat-turiżmu tissaħħaħ billi ma tibqax tiffoka fuq in-numri imma fuq il-kwalità tat-turist. Pjan ta’ din ix-xorta, bla dubju, jkun jista’ jindirizza l-impatti ambjentali negattivi sostanzjali tal-industrija b’mod effettiv. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu  Julia Portelli-Farrugia ma tantx tidher li taqbel ma dan, għax il-ħin kollu tredden bin-numri.

Il-Moneyval hu Kumitat tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa  magħmul minn esperti li jevalwaw miżuri kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-finanzjament tat-terroriżmu.  Hu grupp ta’ monitoraġġ permanenti bl-inkarigu li jara li l-istati membri tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa qed jieħdu l-miżuri meħtieġa u maqbula fuq livell internazzjonali.

Fl-aħħar rapport dwar Malta ippubblikat fl-2019 il-Moneyval, tagħmel 40 rakkomandazzjoni spjegati f’ 233 paġna. Rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar x’inhu meħtieġ li jsir.  Ir-riskji għal Malta huma ċari: għandna ekonomija li hi vulnerabbli ħafna primarjament minħabba d-daqs tagħha kif ukoll minħabba l-fatt li hi esposta ħafna għal dak kollu li jiġri barra minn xtutna.   Ir-rapport tal-Moneyval jemfasizza li r-remote gaming, per eżempju hu vulnerabbli ħafna għall-ħasil tal-flus u dan “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Mhux biżżejjed li għandna liġijiet li huma ġeneralment liġijiet tajbin. Hemm ħtieġa qawwija ta’ riżorsi għax mingħajr r-riżorsi ma tista’ timplimenta xejn. Ix-xhieda riċenti tal-Assistant Kummissarju tal-Pulizija  Ian Abdilla fl-inkjesta pubblika dwar l-assassinju ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia, ftit jiem wara li tneħħa mit-tmexxija tat-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi, jindika n-nuqqas ta’ impenn biex il-ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet li jsiru kontra l-ħasil tal-flus ikunu implimentati. Sfortunatament id-dikjarazzjonijiet u l-assigurazzjonijiet repetuti tal-Gvern mhumiex kredibbli.

Mhux aħjar l-Opposizzjoni tuża’ l-ħin tagħha dwar dan? Iktar ma jikkonkludu l-glied intern malajr, aħjar għal kulħadd. Hemm ħafna x’isir wara li  Adrian Delia jiġi f’sensieh u jaċċetta l-inevitabbli.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Lulju 2020

After the PN civil war

The civil war within the PN has no end in sight. This does not only inflict considerable damage on the PN: at the end of the day it damages the whole country.

The two instances of a vote of no confidence in PN leader Adrian Delia are clear political statements which unfortunately the Opposition leader has so far been incapable of deciphering. Labelling the no confidence votes expressed separately by the Opposition Parliamentary Group and the PN Executive Committee as being of no significance further dilutes Adrian Delia’s democratic credentials and reflects his political immaturity. This has a bearing not only on Delia’s credibility but also on that of the PN.

The PN civil war is diverting attention from more pressing issues. The recovery from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 and the strengthening of Malta’s capability in the fight against corruption and money laundering surely require more attention and energy. Not just from government but also from the opposition.

We need to discuss in depth a Covid-19 recovery plan which spans all areas and factors in climate change. Maltese Greens have already made their contribution through the report published some weeks ago entitled: Green Plan: Fair and Sustainable.

A recent Deloitte study commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) indicates that the tourism industry is coming to its senses and realising that the recovery is slow, maybe even much slower than originally perceived.  Air Malta’s revised business plan is envisaging that it will take around seven years for the national carrier to return to pre-Covid-19 capacity. All this begs the question, so far avoided, as to whether the expectations of the tourism industry of attaining full recovery are realistic.

Would it not be more realistic if we realise that this is the appropriate time to plan for a tourism industry that foregoes quantity and focuses on quality? Such a course of action would address the substantial negative environmental impacts of the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Julia Portelli-Farrugia is not on the same page. She is unfortunately desperately after numbers.

Moneyval is a Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism. It is a permanent monitoring body tasked with assessing compliance of Council of Europe member States with international standards.

In its 2019 report on Malta, Moneyval, in a 233-page report, made 40 recommendations on measures which need to be taken. The risks are clear: our economy is highly vulnerable to money laundering, even as a consequence of its size and international exposure.  The report emphasises that remote gaming, for example, is inherently vulnerable to money laundering “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Having good laws is not sufficient. Resources are desperately needed as otherwise laws cannot be implemented. The recent testimony of Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla in the ongoing public inquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a few days after being unceremoniously removed from leading the Economic Crimes Unit, clearly indicates the lack of commitment to implement Malta’s declared objectives in addressing money-laundering. Unfortunately, government’s repeated declarations and assurances are not credible.

Some food for thought for the Parliamentary Opposition: the sooner they conclude their in-fighting the better. There is much to be done after Adrian Delia comes to his senses and accepts the inevitable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 July 2020

Messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin

Din kienet waħda minn dawk il-ġimgħat li kellu f’moħħu  Harold Wilson mexxej Laburista fir-Renju Unit meta kien emfasizza li fil-politika, ġimgħa hu perjodu twil ħafna.

Hemm żewġ ġrajjiet partikolari li spikkaw din il-ġimgħa. L-ewwel waħda hi d-determinazzjoni tal-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia li jkisser il-partit li għadu jmexxi. It-tieni grajja hi r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika  (NAO) dwar il-konċessjoni mogħtija lil  Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) mill-Gvern Malti. Ir-rapport tal-NAO ikkonkluda li bejn il-Gvern u l-Vitals Global Healthcare kien hemm ftehim jew arranġamenti bil-moħbi, minn wara dahar kulħadd.

Kemm il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista fl-Opposizzjoni bħalissa huma fi stat ta’ taħwid kbir, li, kif qalet l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija ta’ min Iħaddem f’nofs il-ġimgħa, jista’ jkollu impatti gravi li jwasslu għal kollass politiku u istituzzjonali. Il-Gvern Laburista ilu bi sħab ma dawk li jfittxu li jqaxxru il-kaxxa nazzjonali għal dawn l-aħħar seba’ snin. In-nuqqas ta’ Opposizzjoni Parlamentari li kapaċi taġixxi għamlitha iktar faċli mhux biss biex il-Labour jevita l-kontabilità imma fuq kollox biex ikompli jfittex opportunitjaiet ġodda  biex tkompli tinselaħ il-kaxxa ta’ Malta.

Konrad Mizzi u Joseph Muscat flimkien ma’ dawk li kienu jħufu madwarhom messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin: Konrad ta s-sehem tiegħu fil-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet  mimlijin b’dellijiet ta’ korruzzjoni ta’ kull xorta u Joseph  li kontinwament ipproteġieh. Inkoraġġew stat Mafjuż. Dawk li jmexxu bil-kontijiet u kumpaniji fil-Panama b’dikjarazzjonijiet li ser ikunu f’posizzjoni li jiddepożitaw €5000 kuljum f’dawn il-kontijiet.

L-elezzjoni riċenti għat-tmexxija Laburista intilfet minn dawk li riedu jitfuhom ġewwa. Rebħet il-kampanja favur il-kontinwità: għax din kienet tagħti tama lil min kien jippreferi li tibqa’ l-protezzjoni.

L-investigazzjoni tan-NAO dwar il-kuntratti tal-Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) intalbet mill-Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM). Ir-rapport hu intitolat “An audit of matters relating to the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare by Government. Part 1: A review of the tender process.” Il-fatt li dan hu biss l-ewwel parti jfisser li għad hemm ħafna iktar informazzjoni li qed tistenna li tkun magħrufa.

Ir-rapport ta’ 219 paġna huwa wieħed dettaljat. Il-punt bażiku hu li saħansitra qabel mal-Gvern ħareġ is-sejħa għall-proposti (Request for Proposals) kien diġa ftiehem mal- Vitals Global Healthcare permezz ta’ ftehim sigriet li l-Gvern m’għaddiex kopja tiegħu lill-Ufficcju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika (NAO). Imma mill-verifika ħareġ li l-Vitals Global Healthcare, mas-sottomissjonijiet bi tweġiba għas-sejħa għall-proposti, ippreżenta ittra mill-Bank of India bħala garanzija li kellu aċċess għall-finanzi meħtieġa għall-“Malta Healthcare Project”. Din l-ittra, imma, kellha data li kienet ħmistax-il ġurnata qabel ma ħarġet is-sejħa tal-Gvern Malti dwar il-proġett.  L-eżistenza ta’ dan id-dokument wasslet lill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika (NAO) biex jikkonkludi li din kienet prova “of the VGH’s prior knowledge of the planned project and proof of collusion with Government, or its representatives.”

Din hi l-agħar kundanna possibli tal-proċess tax-xiri użat mill-Gvern u tat-tidwir mal-proċess li jitħaddem normalment taħt id-direzzjoni tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti: responsabbiltà politika tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna.

Is-swaba’ kollha jippuntaw lejn Konrad Mizzi, issa konvenjentement imkeċċi mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista, u tal-protettur tiegħu Joseph Muscat. Imma Edward Scicluna ukoll għandu responsabbiltà politika għal dak li messu għamel u m’għamlux.

Wara kollox kien riċentement, nhar il-Ġimgħa  26 ta’ Ġunju 2020 li  Edward Scicluna, huwa u jirċievi ir-rapport annwali għall-2019 tal-Bord li jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet dwar tenders fis-settur pubbliku (Public Contracts Review Board – PCRB), emfasizza dwar il-ħtieġa li l-Ministeri differenti jeħtieġ li jieħdu ħsieb u jindukraw il-professjonisti fil-qasam finanzjarju tant meħtieġa biex jissorveljaw in-nefqa pubblika. Dakinnhar kien saħaq li l-pajjiż kien kommess għall-għola livelli ta’ kwalità.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika dwar il-Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) malajr qallu x’kienu dawn l-ogħla livelli ta’ kwalità li għalihom għandu responsabbiltà politika Edward Scicluna!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ipprova jdaħħaq meta qal li r-rapport dwar il-Vitals Global Healthcare mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika kien prova ta’ kemm jaħdmu l-istituzzjonijiet.  Naħseb li l-iktar konklużjoni importanti li wieħed jista’ jislet mir-rapport hu li Joseph Muscat irnexxielu jittrasforma lill-Partit Laburista u l-Gvern immexxi minnu f’bejta tal-ħallelin: verżjoni moderna ta’ Ali Baba u l-erbgħin ħalliel. Il-fatt li Robert Abela ippreżenta ruħu bħala l-kandidat tal-kontinwità jfisser ħafna, għal min irid jifhem.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Lulju 2020

Lock Them Up

This has been one of those weeks which former UK Labour leader Harold Wilson had in mind when he emphasised that a week is a long time in politics.

Two specific actions stick out. The first is the determination of PN Leader Adrian Delia to splinter the party, which he still leads, into insignificance. The second being the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) by the Maltese Government. The NAO report concluded that there was collusive behaviour between government and Vitals Global Healthcare.

Both the Labour Party in government as well as the Nationalist Party in Opposition are in a state of a disorganised mess, which, as rightly pointed out by the Malta Employers Association mid-week, could easily lead to a political and institutional meltdown. The Labour Government has been in cahoots with those seeking to make a quick buck at the expense of the public purse for the past seven years. The absence of a Parliamentary Opposition worthy of the name has made it easier not just to avoid accountability but also to come back for more.

Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat together with their accomplices should have been behind bars long ago: the former for directing the plundering of the public purse, the latter (at least) for protecting him. They have given rise to a Mafia state. Those who ought to govern plunder openly thereby transmitting the clear message that “crime pays”.

The recent contest for the Labour leadership was lost by those campaigning under the unofficial slogan “lock them up”. The continuity campaign won as it was the safest bet ensuring “more of the same”, or at least, the possible protection of what has been plundered.

The NAO investigation and the resulting report on the award of the contracts to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) was requested by the trade union Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM). The report is entitled “An audit of matters relating to the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare by Government. Part 1: A review of the tender process.” The fact that this is just Part 1 indicates that there is much more waiting to be known.

The 219 page NAO report is quite detailed. The basic point raised is that even before it issued its “Request for Proposals” government had already agreed with Vitals Global Healthcare through a secret agreement which, for obvious reasons, it did not make available to the NAO. NAO however identified that VGH, in reply to the “Request for Proposals”, submitted a letter from the Bank of India as proof of access to finance for the “Malta Healthcare Project” which letter was dated fourteen days before the Request for Proposals was issued by the Maltese Government. The existence of this document led the NAO to conclude that this was definite evidence “of the VGH’s prior knowledge of the planned project and proof of collusion with Government, or its representatives.”

This is the most damning condemnation possible of the Government procurement process and the circumventing of the normal procurement process under the direction of the Director of Contracts: the political responsibility of Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.

Most fingers are pointing towards Konrad Mizzi, now conveniently dismissed from the Labour Parliamentary Group, and his protector Joseph Muscat. Edward Scicluna too, however, must shoulder political responsibility for acts of omission.

It was only as recent as Friday 26 June 2020 that Edward Scicluna, when receiving the 2019 Annual report of the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB), emphasised the need for all government Ministries to nurture finance professionals to take adequate care of public expenditure. He had then emphasised that “the country is committed to the highest standards”.

The NAO in its VGH report has certified the real standards of the public procurement process under Edward Scicluna’s watch!

Prime Minister Robert Abela had the cheek to state that the NAO report is proof of the functioning of our institutions. Rather, I think the basic conclusion to be reached from the NAO VGH report is that Abela’s predecessor has successfully transformed the Labour Party into a modern version of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. The fact that Robert Abela is the “successful” continuity candidate speaks volumes.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 July 2020

Il-bluff ta’ Yorgen

Kemm hu minnu li Yorgen Fenech kien jaf bid-data tal-elezzjoni ġenerali bikrija li Joseph Muscat sejjaħ f’Ġunju 2017 sa minn Diċembru 2016? Din mhiex informazzjoni li għandha naċċettaw mingħajr ma ngħarbluha. Hu faċli, wara li l-fatti jkunu seħħew, li tagħmel dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ din ix-xorta.

Din id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Yorgen Fenech dwar li kien jaf bid-data tal-elezzjoni bikrija saret waqt l-interrogazzjoni tiegħu u saret pubblika mill-Ispettur Kurt Zahra iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fil-Qorti. Milli ntqal mhux ċar kemm Zahra ta importanza lil din l-informazzjoni kif ukoll jekk din kienitx korraborata.

Dan il-bluff ta’ Yorgen, fil-fehma tiegħi, għandu skop wieħed u preċiż: li jsaħħaħ l-argument u “joħloq” il-provi li mhux hu kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Li toqgħod tilgħab b’din l-informazzjoni hu ħafna agħar milli ixxerred il-gideb. Forsi Jason l-avukat jirrealizza dan u jiġbed widnejn Jason il-Membru Parlamentari.

Dan il-bluff ta’ Yorgen jinkwadra f’dak li jaħsbu uħud: li Kastilja kienet involuta fl-ippjanar tal-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia. Imma dan hu f’kunflitt ma’ informazzjoni oħra li kisbet l-investigazzjoni permezz tar-recordings ta’ Melvin Theuma: meta Yorgen Fenech, iffaċċjat b’elezzjoni ġenerali bikrija fil-bidu ta’ Mejju 2017 ta’ struzzjonijiet biex l-assassinju jkun sospiż. Sfortunatament uħud għandhom memorja qasira ħafna: illum jinsew dak li jkunu saru jafu fil-ġranet li għaddew!

Minkejja dan, naħseb li għadu kmieni biex naslu għal konklużjonijiet dwar min hu involut, apparti dawk li diġa qed iwieġbu għal għemilhom quddiem il-Qrati. Hu ovvju li Joseph Muscat ser jiċħad bil-qawwa kollha anke l-iktar konnessjoni remota mal-assassinju. M’għandniex nimpressjonaw ruħna għax f’dan l-istadju għadu kmieni u hu prudenti li ma neskludu xejn.

Yorgen kontinwament jitfa biċċiet żgħar ta’ informazzjoni biex iċaqlaq l-attenzjoni għal fuq ħaddieħor. Din il-ġimgħa kompla permezz tax-xhieda ta’ Keith Schembri. Schembri informa lill-Qorti kif sieħbu Yorgen ġieli qallu bil-krib ta’ Adrian Delia tal-PN biex jiffinanzjhom. Ma qal xejn imma dwar kemm ħareġ flus għall-Labour, apparti l-inbid Petrus lil Joseph, għax dak donnu hu ovvju u mistenni li fejn jidħol il-Labour idaħħal idu fil-but. Għaliex le, sakemm ikun fil-limiti ta’ dak permissibli?

Huwa u jwieġeb għall-mistoqsijiet tal-ispettur Keith Arnaud, Keith Schembri rrakkonta dak li qallu sieħbu Yorgen dwar kemm dejqu l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Adrian Delia għall-fondi. Il-flus, qal Schembri lill-Qorti, kien jiġborhom Pierre Portelli, sieħeb Delia, €20,000 kull darba. Kif kien mistenni kemm Delia kif ukoll Portelli b’mod immedjat u kategoriku ċaħdu dan kollu. Delia żied jiċħad li qatt talab finanzjament biex jipprova jixkana l-barra lil David Casa mis-siġġu fil-Parlament Ewropew. Dawn, imma, huma allegazzjonijiet li diġa konna smajnihom minn bnadi oħra.

Din hi informazzjoni li hi minnha jew inkellha hi informazzjoni żbaljata li d-duo Keith-Yorgen qed jisqu lill-inkjesta? Dan l-aħħar l-iskwadra tal-Pulizija dwar ir-reati ekonomiċi bħal donnha qamet mir-raqda u bdiet tinvestiga dan l-allegat finanzjament ta’ Delia minn Yorgen. Hu possibli li jkollna konklużjoni dwar x’daħal fis-sasla ta’ Delia malajr u dan minħabba li l-iskwadra dwar ir-reati ekonomiċi issa jidher li ser ikollha x’tagħmel għax ser teżamina xi rapporti li ħalliet jiġbru t-trab fil-passat qrib. Jista’ jkunu okkupati ftit fit-tul b’Konrad Mizzi li tul dan l-aħħar għalqu ftit għajnejhom mhux ħażin dwar dak li qed jingħad li għamel u ħawwad.

Konrad issa tkeċċa mill-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista wara li hu irrifjuta t-talba ta’ Robert Abela biex jirreżenja.

Din ma kienitx l-ewwel darba li fil-Partit Laburista kellhom diskussjoni taħraq dwar Konrad Mizzi. Imma din id-darba ma kienx hemm Joseph Muscat jiddefendieh.

Erba’ snin ilu Joseph Muscat kien irrifjuta li jkeċċi lil Konrad meta kien irriżulta li Konrad kien l-uniku Ministru fl-Unjoni Ewropeja li ssemma fil-Panama Papers. Minn dakinnhar l-iskandli assoċjati miegħu żdiedu biex issa hemm ukoll il-kaz tal-kummissjonijiet li tħallsu fuq it-tanker tal-gass li hemm Delimara, kif ukoll l-istejjer dwar il-kumpanija 17-Black. L-aħħar storja hi dwar l-imtieħen tar-riħ fil-Montenegro li bħala riżultat tagħha is-17-Black selħet madwar €5 miljuni profitti minn fuq dahar l-Enemalta, li għaliha kellu responsabbiltà politika Konrad Mizzi għal żmien twil.

B’dan it-tip ta’ transazzjonijiet il-kumpanija ta’ Yorgen Fenech 17-Black faċilment tilħaq il-miri tagħha biex tkun tista’ titrasferixxi €5000 kuljum fil-kumpaniji li n-Nexia BT waqqfet fil-Panama f’Marzu 2013.

Edward Scicluna, Ministru tal-Finanzi, qalilna li l-Gvern ma għandu l-ebda ħtija għal dan il-ħmieġ. Għandu żball: dawk kollha involuti ngħataw vot ta’ fiduċja wieħed wara l-ieħor. It-tort hu kollu kemm hu tal-Gvern!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 28 ta’ Ġunju 2020

Yorgen’s bluff

Did Yorgen Fenech really know the date of the early election called in June 2017 by Joseph Muscat as far back as December 2016? I would take that information with a pinch of salt.

It is quite easy to bluff your way after the fact. Yorgen Fenech’s declaration on knowing the date for the early election was made to Inspector Kurt Zahra during his interrogation.

It is not clear whether Inspector Kurt Zahra simply noted Yorgen’s bluff or else whether he succeeded in corroborating this with additional information. Yorgen’s bluff, in my view, had a specific purpose: to drive home the point that he was not the mastermind behind the assassination.

Spinning this is at times worse than spreading lies. Maybe Jason the lawyer should caution Jason the MP about this.

Yorgen’s bluff fits like a glove into one of the theories making the rounds: that the OPM was involved in the planning and commissioning of the assassination. However it is in conflict with other bits of information fed into the investigation through the Theuma recordings: the plans in motion for the assassination were suspended by Yorgen as soon as the early election was called in early May 2017.

This signifies that actually he had no prior knowledge! Unfortunately, some have a very short memory span: they tend to forget today what was reported the day before yesterday!

Notwithstanding, it is too early to arrive at conclusions as who is or isn’t involved beyond those already arraigned. It is to be expected that Joseph Muscat categorically denies even the remotest of connections to the assassination.

We should not however be impressed into conclusions either way at such an early stage. I would definitely not exclude anything at this stage.

Yorgen’s dripping titbits of information continued through Keith Schembri’s testimony this week. Schembri recounted how his friend Yorgen described the manner in which he financed the PN. No information is forthcoming as to whether and how he financed the PL: presumably this is taken for granted. Replying to questions fielded by police inspector Keith Arnaud, Keith Schembri recounted how he had been informed by his friend Yorgen Fenech as to funding requests by Adrian Delia, Leader of the Opposition.

Delia’s sidekick, Pierre Portelli, the Court was told, used to collect the monies €20,000 at a time. As expected, Delia and Portelli immediately and categorically denied this. Delia further denied that he had requested funding to squeeze out David Casa from his MEP seat. We have however already heard of these allegations from various other sources. Are they true, or is it just incorrect information being slowly fed into the investigation by the Yorgen-Keith tandem? The Police Economic Crimes Unit has recently done a Rip van Winkle and is investigating the possibility of Yorgen funding Delia’s PN.

It may be possible to have a conclusion on Adrian Delia’s collections quite soon as the Police Economic Crimes Unit may now be in a hurry as they may soon have to recall their Konrad Mizzi archives to act upon reports which they were too busy to examine appropriately in the recent past.

Konrad has now been kicked out of the Parliamentary Group of the Labour Party after refusing to act on Robert Abela’s suggestions to resign. The discussion within Labour earlier this week was not the first with Konrad as the target. This time Joseph Muscat was however not around to defend him. Four years ago, Joseph Muscat had refused to dismiss Konrad Mizzi when it had resulted that Mizzi was the only member of Cabinet within the EU member states to have his name included in the Panama Papers. Since then we have had plenty of additions to the Panama Papers saga. These include commissions paid on the gas tanker anchored at Delimara as well as the 17-Black saga.

The latest addition is the Montenegro windfarm scandal as a result of which 17-Black made a windfall profit of around €5 million at the expense of Enemalta, for which Konrad Mizzi was politically responsible for a considerable length of time. With this type of transaction 17-Black could easily fulfil its objectives of transferring €5000 a day to the Panama companies setup by Nexia BT.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna has stated that government is not to blame. He is wrong: those in the spotlight were repeatedly given votes of confidence. Government has no one to blame but itself.

 

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 June 2020

The Parliamentary Opposition

The fact that government has been forced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to loosen its stranglehold on the Commissioner of Police appointment process is a positive democratic development. It is not as good as it could be, but it is definitely a welcome first step: there is however room for substantial improvement in the process.

In this context the Opposition’s decision to boycott the public hearing process is retrograde.

The Parliamentary Opposition, in any democratic jurisdiction worthy of being so described, is the champion of transparency and accountability. A Parliamentary Opposition demands more opportunities to scrutinise major appointments to public office. Boycotting the first substantial opportunity to scrutinise an appointee to the post of Commissioner of Police is not just a lost opportunity. It risks undermining the democratic requests for more public scrutiny of top appointments to public office.

The PN Parliamentary Opposition is arguing that the existence of the possibility for government to terminate the appointment of the new Police Commissioner within a one-year probationary period is unacceptable as it would keep the new appointee on a leash. The justified preoccupation of the Opposition is that the probationary period could be abused of. This is not unheard of. There is however a solution in seeking to subject the possible dismissal of the Police Commissioner at any stage to a Parliamentary decision as a result of which the Minister for the Interior would be required to set out the case for dismissal and the Police Commissioner himself would be afforded the right to defend himself. This would place any government in an awkward position as it would not seek dismissal unless there is a very valid justification for such a course of action. This would ensure, more than anything else, the integrity of the office of Commissioner of Police.

The Opposition has also sought to subject the appointment of the Commissioner of Police to a two-thirds parliamentary approval, indirectly seeking a veto on the appointment to be considered.

It would have been much better if the debate focused on the real decision taker in the whole matter: that is to say the Public Service Commission (PSC). Originally set up in the 1959 Constitution, the PSC has a role of advising the Prime Minister on appointments to public office and on the removal or disciplinary control of appointees to public office. Section 109 of the Constitution emphasises that when the PSC is appointed by the President of the Republic, he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister who would have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition.

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are taken out of the equation in such matters? Parliament should seriously consider squeezing them both out of the process not just in the appointment of the PSC but in the case of the appointment of all Constitutional bodies. That is an instant where it would be justifiable in ensuring that all appointments are subject to a two thirds approval threshold in Parliament.

In boycotting the scrutinising process, the Opposition is doing a disservice to the country.

Since 2018 it has been possible for Parliament to scrutinise a number of public sector appointments. Perusal of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee indicates the very superficial manner in which consideration of appointments is dealt with. Serious objections raised on the non-suitability of candidates are ignored before the proposed appointment is generally rubber-stamped.

Unfortunately, Parliament is not capable of holding government to account. Having a retrograde Parliamentary Opposition certainly does not help in overturning a rubber-stamping practice!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2020

Estradizzjoni għal Konrad Mizzi?

L-istejjer dwar Konrad Mizzi huma bla limitu: sa mill-ewwel mument li daħal fil-Parliament u l-Kabinett. It-twaqqif tat-trust fi New Zealand u r-registrazzjoni ta’ kumpanija fil-Panama komplew jitfgħu ftit dawl fuq kif jaħdem dan il-bniedem.

Bil-pubblikazzjoni tal-Panama Papers għajnejn ħafna tbexxqu u bdew jistaqsu. Id-dubji għad mhumiex imwieġba anzi inħolqu dubji ġodda bi stejjer ġodda.

Hu fatt li Konrad Mizzi mhux Malta. Ilu nieqes minn Marzu u l-anqas Parlament ma mar. Iċ-ċertifikati mediċi f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi ftit li xejn jitwemmnu.

Jason Azzopardi qed jagħmel allegazzjonijiet serji ħafna. Qed jgħid li Mizzi hu maħrub għax jibża’ li jkun investigat mill-kummissarju l-ġdid. Din hi possibiltà realistika u tweġiba, fiċ-ċirkustanzi, ftit hemm min jista’ jagħtiha ħlief Konrad Mizzi nnifsu u possibilment Robert Abela.

Meta Konrad Mizzi tneħħa mill-Kabinett għax ġie mġiegħel jirriżenja kien pass tajjeb. Li ma ntagħżilx bħala Ministru minn Robert Abela meta dan għażel il-Kabinett ġdid tiegħu kien pass ieħor il-quddiem. Issa jonqos pass ieħor: li jwieġeb għal għemilu meta, possibilment, flimkien ma oħrajn jkun imsejjaħ jagħmel hekk.

Sakemm jibqa’ maħrub fir-Renju Unit dan mhux possibli li jsir. Ovvjament jekk il-Kummissarju l-ġdid jirriżultalu li hemm il-provi dejjem hemm il-possibilità ta’ talba ta’ estradizzjoni. Mir-Renju Unit s’intendi għax mill-Montenegro ma naħsibx li jkun possibli!