The golden handshakes must be transparent

It has been reported, in various sections of the press, that Justyne Caruana, former Minister of Education, has received, or will be shortly receiving payment in the region of €30,000 as a result of her ceasing to hold political office. This has occurred after she was forced to resign subsequent to the publication of a damning report from the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life which report concluded that the Ministry of Education, under her political direction, had screwed the exchequer to benefit her “close friend”.

Since 2008 holders of political office who cease to occupy such office have received golden handshakes, substantial sums which some describe as severance pay. The sums disbursed to date are substantial and, over the years, are said to be close to a total of €1,500,000. Holders of political office in receipt of such payments are not just members of Cabinet, as payments have also been made to former Leaders of the Opposition throughout these years.

The applicable criteria are largely unknown. There is no transparency whatsoever in the process.

There is a serious issue of governance.  The Executive is bound to be accountable through ensuring that both the criteria applied as well as the monies disbursed are well known. It is an expenditure from the public purse, so there should be no secrets about it. It is in the public interest to know how the public purse is being managed at all times.

First: the objectives of the payments should be crystal clear. When holders of political office take up their post, generally, they take leave from their current employment or close their private offices if they are professionals. Their job prior to assuming political office may be lost by the time they relinquish office. On the other hand, losing contact with their professional environment will generally place them in a difficult position to reintegrate when their term of political responsibilities draws to an end. 

Hence the objective of these so-called golden handshakes is to compensate for the fact that the holder of political office cannot go back to his/her former job or professional environment. He or she will generally have to start from scratch or almost. Not all cases are identical and hence the criteria drawn up should allow for some leeway. Do they? We do not know as to date these criteria are considered as some state secret!

The objective of the payments made is to ease the transition of the holder of political office back to a normal life.

The second point is to establish who should apply these criteria. From what is known through reports in the media the matter is regulated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), either directly or through the Cabinet office. This is not on.

Ideally the criteria should be applied by an authoritative person or body separate and distinct from the OPM. The OPM has a finger in the pie, generally, in all the circumstances leading to the appointment to political office or to the dismissal therefrom. It should therefore not be in a position of sugaring resignations with promises of generous hand-outs.

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

From what is known, locally, this is established at a month’s salary for every year’s service, subject to a minimum payment of a six-month salary. It is not known whether eligibility is pegged to a minimum period in office.  These payment rates are substantial when compared to those in other jurisdictions. In addition to having smaller payments other jurisdictions subject such benefits to a minimum period in office, generally of not less than one year.

There are also a number of other serious considerations which need to be made. Should loss of political office as a result of an unfavourable election result have the same impact as being dismissed from office or being forced to resign as a result of unethical or unacceptable behaviour?

Specifically, should ending your political appointment in disgrace be rewarded? It should definitely not be so.

These are some of the issues which transparency brings to the fore. We need to discuss them seriously and only then can they be applied ethically and fairly.

It is for these reasons that earlier this week I have requested the Auditor General to investigate the golden handshakes being paid out by the Office of the Prime Minister to former members of the Cabinet. The payments made and the criteria applied should be examined meticulously.

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022

Regulating lobbying

When Parliament, some years back, approved the Standards in Public Life legislation it did not arrive at any conclusions on the regulation of lobbying. It postponed consideration of this important matter by delegating the matter to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – then still to be appointed. The Commissioner had to draft a set of lobbying guidelines.

It is now almost two years since the publication by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life of a consultation document entitled “Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Maltain which document Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner, outlines his views as to how lobbying should be regulated in Malta.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has requested technical support from the EU’s Directorate General for Structural Reform in the area of “public integrity”. A technical support team from OECD engaged by the EU is currently in Malta to assist and advise the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.  I have had the opportunity of a very fruitful discussion with one of the OECD lobbying experts earlier during the week.

Hopefully in the weeks ahead the Commissioner will be in a position to submit a clear proposal indicating the way ahead for regulating lobbying in Malta.

In his consultation document of two years ago the Commissioner rightly emphasises that due to the particular circumstances of the country, the small size of the country and the population in particular, decision-takers are easily accessible. This leads to the conclusion that there is limited need to regulate the professional lobbyist. Rather, opines the Commissioner, there is a need to address contacts between decision-takers and private individuals who have such easy access.

The Commissioner makes the point that this should be done carefully without obstructing or hindering the direct contact between the politician as decision-taker and the voter at constituency level. This is a valid point but not without its dangers and pitfalls. At constituency level democracy is strengthened. It is also where clientelism is carefully nurtured. This is also a basic characteristic of this small country.

Lobbying is about influencing the decision-taker. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. This is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to politicians, parliamentarians and administrators by those who have an interest in the decisions under consideration.  

Hence the need for lobbying to be transparent and above-board. This is normally done through ensuring that meetings held by holders of political office or senior administrators are well documented and that the resulting minutes and supporting documents are available for public scrutiny.

Formal lobbying would be thus addressed. But that leaves informal lobbying which is the real headache. This can only be regulated if those lobbied are willing to submit themselves to the basic rules of transparency. Self-declarations by those lobbied would in such circumstances be the only way to keep lobbying in check!

This is however not all.

There are more sinister ways through which lobbying is carried out. Well organised sectors of industry and business employ former decision-takers as advisors or in some other high-sounding senior position. This ensures that the “advisor” can share his knowledge and contacts with his “new employer” thereby facilitating the effectiveness of focused lobbying. This practice is normally referred to as “revolving-door recruitment” and is an integral part of the lobbying process which needs regulating the soonest.

There are countless examples of this practice both locally and abroad, in respect of which I have already written various times. This aspect tends to be regulated by establishing a reasonable time-frame during which the former decision-taker or administrator cannot seek employment in areas of economic activity in respect of which he had political or high-level administrative or regulatory responsibilities.

The regulation of lobbying is essential in a democracy. Unregulated, lobbying can, and generally does, develop into corruption.

Lobbying can be a legitimate activity. Adequate regulation of lobbying, properly applied, ensures that it remains within legitimate boundaries.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 November 2021

The Republic is sick

Following the compilation of evidence in our law courts relative to the multiple cases dealing with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is in itself a detailed continuously developing documentary of the failure of our institutions, the failure of the state.

Daphne’s assassination is also a failure of the police corps to keep a tag on criminal activity.

How could the police corps carry out its duties with officers like Silvio Valletta hibernating deep inside criminal pockets? Silvio Valletta has to date not been prosecuted for his criminal activity which has been the cause of considerable reputational damage and to the effectiveness of the police corps.

Today we know of Valletta’s cavorting with Yorgen Fenech. Valletta was not an ordinary simple cop languishing in some out of the way police station. He practically ran the Police Corps as Deputy Commissioner of Police and represented it on the governing board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).

The fact that this top policeman acted in such a manner is a clear indication of the forma mentis of the contemporary top brass at Floriana Police HQ. An Ombudsman report made public earlier this month on the investigation relative to the complaint of a Police Superintendent has dwelt at some length as to how police officials were selected: loyalty to the boss before loyalty to service was a basic requirement. With police officer selection being carried out on the basis of such a “qualification” it is no surprise that that the Police Corps was compromised for such a long time.

Uncle Silvio was the perfect investment for Yorgen Fenech. For a long time, Silvio Valletta was the key that facilitated access to Yorgen Fenech to all sorts of intelligence. A perfect example which illustrates what it means when we emphasise that the criminal world is many steps ahead of the police force.  In this specific case, for quite a time, the criminal world had the police force on a remote control, through Silvio Valletta.

It is difficult to comprehend how we could ever have an institutional failure of larger proportions.

This did not happen overnight. It is however central to the web of intrigue which developed over the years and leading up the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and beyond.

When Valletta’s conflict of interest as the then husband of a cabinet minister was spotlighted, the resistance to let got was enormous. It had to be a laborious court case which at the end of the day had him removed from coordinating the assassination investigation.

The final report of the public inquiry into Daphne’s assassination has now been published. It does not identify who signed Daphne’s death warrant: that was not its purpose. It does however examine how a state of impunity has developed over time such that her assassination was the direct consequence. It points out how business and politics became intertwined until you could not tell which was which.

The main takeaway from the inquiry report is that the state has been taken over by a Mafia mentality. The state has been hijacked by a cultural mindset that allows and encourages a Mafia attitude to take root and prosper.

Few of the proposals of the inquiry are new to the political debate. Most have been put forward over the years but they were shot down, diluted or had the breaks applied by different governments. Effective whistleblowing is still subject to political strings as has been evidenced over the years. Lobbying regulation is still talked of but not implemented.  The regulation of ethical behaviour has developed into a farce, notwithstanding the efforts of George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

It is about time that the links between business and all branches of the state are transparent. Everything, without any exception, must be above board. This has been on the books for years, yet continuously ignored.

The Maltese state has been severely weakened by those who sought their fast-track enrichment at all costs. It is up to all of us, to stop them in their tracks. The soonest. The state has failed us. The Republic is sick.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 August 2021

Switch għal-lista l-griża

Għada it-Tnejn, fil-Parlament, il-Kumitat Permanenti dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jibda jeżamina ir-rapport  K/032 dwar il-Membru Parlamentari Laburista Rosianne Cutajar. Ir-rapport jeżamina is-sottomissjonijiet li rċieva l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler dwar in-nuqqas ta’ Cutajar li tiddikjara dħul tagħha hi u timla l-formola dwar id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi meta kienet għadha Segretarju Parlamentari fil-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja.

Ir-rapport ta’ 45 paġna tal-Kummissarju Hyzler hu akkumpanjat minn żewġ volumi addizzjonali bix-xhieda li fuqha Dr Hyzler fassal id-deliberazzjonijiet u l-konklużjonijiet tiegħu. Hemm ukoll it-tielet volum li mhux aċċessibli għal skrutinju pubbliku. Dan it-tielet volum fih statements tal-bank tal-membru parlamentari Qormija flimkien mac- chats tagħha fuq Whatsapp ma Yorgen Fenech, is-suspettat moħħ wara l-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ħa deċiżjoni li bħala riżultat tagħha Rosianne Cutajar hi issa definittivament barra mill-Kabinet, ta’ l-inqas f’dawn l-aħħar xhur tal-leġislatura. Iżda għadha qed tinsisti li mhux ser twarrab minn membru tal-Parlament. Qalet li fi ħsiebha tibqa’, anke jekk il-Partit Laburista, s’issa, għad ma ikkonfermax jekk hux ser tkun kandidata u dan in vista tar-rapport dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika taħt konsiderazzjoni.

Biex jiddefendi lil Cutajar il-Prim Ministur Abela, b’mod li jevita li jikkommetti ruħu iżżejjed, qal li kulħadd għandu jkun trattat l-istess, mingħajr deskriminazzjoni!

Bla dubju Rosianne Cutajar tħoss li ġiet ittrattata ħażin, kemm kemm mhux b’mod inġust!  Għalfejn din il-pressjoni kollha biex tisparixxi mill-ħajja pubblika meta min ammetta pubblikament li evada t-taxxa spiċċa elett Kap tal-Opposizzjoni? Il-ħajja u l-politika f’Malta xejn m’huma ġusti!   

Bernard Grech u Rosianne Cutajar qegħdin fuq l-istess livell fl-imġieba etika tagħhom, imma s’issa huma trattati b’mod differenti.  

Għalfejn, nistaqsi, l-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari ma tapplikax l-istess kriterji lit-tnejn li huma?  Meta l-Opposizzjoni tinsisti li Rosianne Cutajar għandha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika għal għemilha kif imfisser fir-rapport tal-Kummissarju Hyzler qed tagħmel sewwa. Għaliex mela ma tkunx konsistenti u tapplika l-istess kriterji għall-mexxej tagħha li dwaru l-investigazzjoni ilha lesta?

Bħal Rosianne Cutajar, Bernard Grech ħaqqu daqqa ta’ sieq għal barra. Dak hu t-trattament ugwali li jixraqilhom.  Il-presenza tagħhom it-tnejn fil-ħajja pubblika hi kontribut ċar għall-presenza ta’ Malta fil-lista l-griża tal- FATF!

Therese Comodini Cachia u Karol Aquilina kienu preċiżi meta emfasiżżaw li r-rapport ta’ George Hyzler jeħtieġ li jkun approvat bla dewmien jekk irridu nwasslu l-messaġġ li qed naħdmu bis-serjetà biex Malta ma tibqax fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF.  Nittama li xi darba jifhmu illi meta jkollok persuna li hi evasur tat-taxxa li jistenna li jkun il-Prim Ministru alternattiv fi ftit taż-żmien ieħor, dan ma tantx hu ta’ għajnuna biex nitbegħdu minn din il-lista l-griża. Għadu possibli anke issa li nkunu konsistenti jekk irridu!

Il-ħtieġa li jkollna mġieba aħjar fil-ħajja pubblika mhiex switch li tixgħelu jew titfiegħ fil-mument li nidħlu fil-ħajja pubblika. Tapplika għal kulħadd, dejjem. Mhux biss waqt li aħna attivi fil-ħajja pubblika imma saħansitra sa minn qabel ma jibda l-involviment tagħna.  

Għal din ir-raġuni ngħarblu n-nomini tal-kandidati u l-ħatra tal-uffiċjali minn qabel. Għax m’għandniex nistennew lil min kien jiġi jaqa’ u jqum dwar kif iġib ruħu qabel ma jidħol fil-politika ser jaqbleb is-switch għal imġieba aħjar, hekk kif jidħol fil-politika.

Dan il-każ għandu jservi ta’ sveljarin.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Lulju 2021

A grey-list switch

Tomorrow, Monday, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life will commence the examination of Report K/032 on Labour Party Qormi Member of Parliament Rosianne Cutajar. The report examines submissions received by the Standards Commissioner George Hyzler and points towards the failure by Cutajar to declare income which she received when drawing up her declaration of assets, a declaration which she submitted when she was still a Parliamentary Secretary in the Justice Ministry.

The 45-page report drawn up by Commissioner Hyzler is accompanied by an additional two volumes containing the supporting evidence on the basis of which Dr Hyzler based his deliberations and conclusions. A third volume of evidence has been withheld from public scrutiny. It has been stated that this third volume contains confidential bank statements of the Qormi Labour MP as well as her chats on Whatsapp with Yorgen Fenech, suspected mastermind of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has taken a decision as a result of which Rosianne Cutajar is now definitely out of Cabinet, at least for the final months of the current legislature. However, she has stubbornly emphasised that she will not relinquish her Parliamentary seat. She says that she will be back, even though to date her political party has not yet confirmed whether she will be presented as a candidate, in view of the Standards in Public Life report under consideration.

In Cutajar’s defence Prime Minister Abela, in non-committal mode, has emphasised that she will be treated as anybody else, with no favourable treatment.

Undoubtedly Cutajar considers that she has been treated very unfairly. Why should she now be pressured to disappear from public life when a self-confessed tax evader was elected Leader of the Opposition? Life (and Maltese politics) is certainly not fair.  Bernard Grech and Rosianne Cutajar are on an ethically equivalent level yet so far, they are treated differently.  

Why is it, one might ask, that the Parliamentary Opposition adopts two weights and two measures? May I suggest that the Opposition representatives are right in insisting that Rosianne Cutajar should shoulder the political consequences of her actions as detailed in the report of Commissioner Hyzler? Why don’t they be consistent and apply the same criteria to their Leader too?

Like Rosianne Cutajar, Bernard Grech qualifies for the Order of the Boot. That is the equal treatment they should receive. The presence of both of them in local public life is a significant contributor to FATF grey-listing!

Therese Comodini Cachia and Karol Aquilina were spot on when they emphasised that the Hyzler report needs to be approved in order to send out the message that we are truly working on removing Malta from the FATF grey-list.  I hope they also agree that having a tax-evader as an alternative Prime Minister does not help in distancing this country from the FATF grey-list! 

There is still time to be consistent!

The need to upgrade ethical behaviour in public life is not a switch-on switch-off exercise depending on which political party is in government. It is applicable to all of us in politics. Not just while we are active in politics but starting from before the actual involvement itself.

This is the reason why we seek to screen potential electoral candidates and party officials before selection or election. We should not expect that those who do not behave ethically before taking up politics manage to switch to a more “acceptable” behavioural mode on entering politics.  

Let this be a wake-up call!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 July 2021

Il-każ numru 22: il-konsulent Konrad Mizzi

Nhar it-Tnejn 12 t’Ottubru fis-2.30pm ser jiltaqa’ il-Kumitat Permanenti dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Fuq l-aġenda għandu item wieħed:

Rapport dwar Investigazzjoni mill Kummissarju għall Istandards (Każ K/022).

Daqshekk biss tgħid l-aġenda.

Il-każ K/022 tressaq minni għall-attenzjoni tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards. Fil-fatt nhar it-28 ta’ Jannar 2020 kont ktibt lil Dr George Hyzler u wara li rreferejtu ghall-kuntratt ta’ konsulenza li l-Awtorita tat-Turizmu tat lil Onorevoli Konrad Mizzi wara li spicca minn Ministru, li dakinhar stess il-Ministru Julia Farrugia ħabbret li gie annullat, talbtu biex  jinvestiga l-ghoti ta’ dan il-kuntratt u dan bl-iskop li tkun ezaminata l-imgieba ta’ Joseph Muscat (Prim Ministru), Konrad Mizzi (ex-Ministru u Membru Parlamentari), Gavin Gulia (Chairman tal-Awtorita tat-Turizmu) u Johann Buttigieg (Chief Executive Officer tal-Awtorita tat-Turizmu).

Nhar it-Tnejn jiena ġejt infurmat mill-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li l-investigazzjoni li jiena, għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, kont tlabt f’Jannar li għadda kienet konkluża u li r-rapport finali kien ġie sottomess lill-kumitat permanenti tal-Parlament dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Fuq talba tiegħi jiena ltqajt ma’ Dr George Hyzler Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika fejn tlabtu kopja tar-Rapport. Dr Hyzler infurmani li ma setax jagħtini kopja għax huwa l-Ispeaker biss li jista’ jagħmel dan skond il-liġi.

Jiena naf, anke minn informazzjoni fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika stess li rapport dwar investigazzjoni fejn jirriżulta nuqqas ta’ xi ħadd li jkun ġie investigat qatt ma jkun rilaxxjat mill-kummissarju. Għalhekk, fil-fehma tiegħi jidher li l-Kummissarju sab li hemm nuqqas gravi u miexi strettament ma’ dak li tgħid il-liġi, bħal meta ikkonkluda li Joseph Muscat kien naqas meta aċċetta l-inbid Petrus.

Hu fl-interess tat-transparenza li l-Ispeaker għandu jippubblika dan ir-rapport immedjatament.

Il-bieraħ kellimt lill-Ispeaker Anglu Farrugia u tlabtu kopja tar-rapport. Huwa assigurani li hekk kif ikollu l-awtorizzazzjoni tal-Kumitat tal-Kamra jippubblika r-rapport.

Nistenna li nhar il-Tnejn il-Kumitat Parlamentari jaqbel bla diffikulta li r-rapport kollu jara d-dawl tax-xemx.

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

Lejn normal differenti

L-imxija tal-coronavirus għadha fl-istadji bikrija tagħha. In-numri ta’ dawk identifikati bħala infettati, s’issa, s-servizzi tas-saħħa qed ilaħħqu magħhom. Nittamaw li l-affarijiet jibqgħu hekk, anke jekk in-numri inevitabilment ser jiżdiedu. Dan ser ikun jiddependi fuq diversi fatturi, ewlieni fosthom li lkoll kemm aħna qed nosservaw dak li jgħidulna l-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa biex b’hekk tonqos il-possibilità li l-virus ikun trasmess fuq skala kbira.

Bla dubju, l-mistoqsija fuq fomm kulħadd hi: kemm ser jgħaddi żmien biex il-pajjiż jirkupra minn dan kollu?

F’waħda mill-intervisti li tiegħu, l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela indika li l-kriżi tal-coronavirus tista’ twassal sal-bidu tas-sajf. Jista’ jkun, iżda, li din iddum ferm iktar: possibilment anke sa tnax-il xahar ieħor! Il-medja internazzjonali qed tispekula dwar jekk il-firxa tal-coronavirus tonqosx fis-sajf biex imbagħad tirritorna iktar tard bħall-influwenza “normali” li tkun magħna kull sena. Il-possibilità tat-tieni mewġa tal-coronavirus m’għandiex tkun injorata, għax, jekk dan iseħħ jista’ jkollha impatti konsiderevoli fuq dak li jkun baqa’!

Meta ser niġu lura għan-normal? Il-ħajja f’Malta ser tirritorna għal dak li mdorrijin bih jew ser nieħdu l-opportunità biex nibnu normal ġdid u differenti?

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġlu ż-żmien biex jerġa’ jiġi fuq saqajh, ħafna iktar minn kemm hu meħtieġ biex ikun eliminat il-coronavirus minn fostna. Iż-żmien ta’ stennija nistgħu nagħmlu użu tajjeb minnu billi nibdew nippjanaw bis-serjetà dwar kif ser nibnu mill-ġdid ir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż. Huwa iktar diffiċli li nibnu r-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż milli nsewwu l-ħsara kkawżata mill-firxa tal-coronavirus.

Reċentement ġew ippubblikati żewġ dokumenti bi proposti li jistgħu jkunu ta’ għajnuna kbira f’din il-ħidma li hi tant meħtieġa. L-ewwel dokument ippubblikat huwa dokument konsultattiv li ippubblika xi ġimgħat ilu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan hu intitolat: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. It-tieni dokument huwa intitolat Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees u kien pubblikat mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Hi ħasra li, safejn naf jiena, ma teżisti l-ebda verżjoni bil-Malti ta’ dawn id-dokumenti. Dan ukoll hu nuqqas amministrattiv li għandu jkun rimedjat. Il-Malti hu lsienna u proposti ta’ din ix-xorta jeħtieġ li jkunu ppubblikati bil-Malti ukoll.

Fid-dokument konsultattiv tiegħu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jargumenta favur it-trasparenza permezz tar-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying, materja li s’issa hi nieqsa mill-liġijiet tagħna. Hu biss permezz ta’ transparenza rigoruża tal-proċess politiku li nistgħu nassiguraw il-kontabilità u allura l-iskrutinju pubbliku tal-formazzjoni ta’ proposti politiċi kif ukoll tal-proċess tat-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet. Ilkoll konxji li sakemm il-lobbying ma’ jkunx regolat, dan ser jibqa’ sors ewlieni tal-kontaminazzjoni tal-proċess politiku. Meta nirregolaw il-lobbying, min-naħa l-oħra, nistgħu jkollna proċess politiku infurmat u allura nkunu qed nikkontribwixxu b’mod effettiv għall-kontabilità.

Fit-tieni dokument, l-Awditur Ġenerali jeżamina r-regoli dwar l-imġieba etika li huma mifruxa fl-Att dwar l- Amministrazzjoni Publika, fil-Kodiċi tal-Etika u fil-Kodiċi dwar it-Tmexxija tas-Servizz Pubbliku li flimkien jirregolaw il-mod kif jopera is-servizz pubbliku. L-Awditur Ġenerali ġustament josserva, illi, meta tqis il-kontenut ta’ dawn it-tlett dokumenti flimkien jirriżulta li hemm nuqqas ta’ ċarezza, liema nuqqas joħloq l-inċertezza, u b’hekk tkun imnaqqsa l-effettività tagħhom. Huwa jemfasizza illi r-regoli huma ultimament effettivi skond kemm huma kapaċi jwasslu għal azzjoni konkreta. Jiġifieri r-regoli għandu jkollhom il-kapaċita li jittraduċu l-prinċipji f’azzjoni reali.

Permezz tal-proposti tagħhom il-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u l-Awditur Ġenerali qed iwasslu messaġġ għat-tisħieħ tal-pedamenti tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, jista’ jkun possibli li nibnu “normal ġdid” u differenti minn dak li drajna bih sal-lum. Normal fejn il-governanza tajba ma tkunx iktar eċċezzjoni imma tkun l-imġieba normali li nistennew mingħand dawk fil-ħajja pubblika u fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika għas-servizz tal-pajjiż.

Il-waqfien tal-pajjiż ħtija tal-mixja tal-coronavirus hi ukoll opportunità għal riflessjoni tant meħtieġa. Huwa l-waqt li l-paroli kollu dwar governanza tajba nittrasformawh f’azzjoni konkreta. Il-pajjiż għandu bżonn ta’ normal ġdid, ta’ normal differenti minn dak imdorrijin bih.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 t’April 2020

Towards a new normal

The Coronavirus outbreak is still in its initial stages. The numbers of those testing positive are, so far, manageable. We all hope that this will remain manageable even though the numbers are on the increase. This is however dependent on many factors, primarily on our observing the instructions issued by the health authorities in order to reduce the possibilities of transmission of the virus.

How long will it take for the country to recover?

In one of his interviews Prime Minister Robert Abela has indicated that the current Coronavirus crises may last till the beginning of summer. Recovery, could, however, last longer, even as much as twelve months. The international media is speculating on whether the Coronavirus outbreak will reduce its spread during the summer months as well as whether it will return later in the year just like the “common” flu. The possibility of a second outbreak is not to be overlooked, as if this were to happen, it could have a devastating effect on what’s left.

When will life get back to normal? Will life in Malta be back to what we were used to or will we avail ourselves of the opportunity to seek a new normal?

It will take time for the country to start functioning again, much more than is required to eliminate the Coronavirus from our midst. We can put to good use the available time on our hands to start planning in earnest the rebuilding of our reputation as a country. Reconstructing our reputation is more difficult to achieve successfully than making good the extensive damage caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.

In this respect, lately, two different sets of proposals have been published for our consideration. The first is the document for public consultation published by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life some weeks ago, entitled: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. The second is the Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees published this week by the National Audit Office. As far as I am aware no Maltese version of these documents has been published. This is a recurring administrative deficiency which should be remedied at the earliest. Maltese is our national language and proposals of this fundamental nature should be available for consideration in the Maltese language too.

In his consultation paper, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life argues in favour of transparency through the regulation of lobbying which matter is still missing from our laws. It is only through rigorous transparency of the political process that we can ensure accountability and consequently public scrutiny of the policy formation and decision-taking process. We are all aware that as long as lobbying is unregulated it will remain a primary source of the toxification of the political process. Regulated lobbying, on the other hand, can inform the political process thereby contributing to more effective accountability.

In his review, the Auditor General examines existing ethical rules spread in the Public Administration Act, the Code of Ethics and the Public Service Management Code which together regulate the operation of the civil service. He observes that at times, when one considers these three instruments together, there is a lack of clarity which creates uncertainty, as a result reducing their effectiveness. He emphasises that ultimately effectiveness of the rules is also dependent on follow-up action and an enforcement which is capable of translating principles into tangible action.

Through their proposals the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and the Auditor General seek to strengthen the foundations of public administration. As a result, it may be possible to construct a new normal where good governance is no longer an exception but the normal behaviour which we expect from people in public office as well as from the public administration serving the country.

The Coronavirus outbreak is thus also an opportunity for a long overdue reflection. The grinding to a halt of the whole country is also the right moment to substitute lip-service to good governance with some concrete action. The country desperately needs a new normal.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 5 April 2020