Stormwater Management: entrenched incompetence

(photo by author dated 4 October 2018: overflowing sewer at Archbishop Gonzi Square Kalkara)

The Ministry for Public Works and Planning has embarked on another public consultation on stormwater management. I have lost count as to the number of times this exercise has been carried out along the years, directly or indirectly. At the end of the day the authorities continuously develop cold feet as they fail to address the basic issue: enforcement!

The consultation document points to a basic statistic which proves this point: only 36 per cent of dwellings have a water cistern. This notwithstanding that the matter has been codified in our legislation since 1880: that is since the approval of Ordinance I of 1880 by the British colonial government. Before that date most buildings had a water cistern. Everyone was then aware that water in Malta is scarce and all sought to do their part in collecting rainwater. Nowadays no one cares, as long as there is water in the tap!

The consultation document, entitled Green Stormwater Infrastructure Guidance Manual, drawing on Census 2011 information, further points out that it is in the sector of apartment blocks that one finds the largest number of infringements in non-provision of water cisterns. Compliance ranges from 80 per cent in the case of villas to 4 per cent in the case of apartments. On a geographic level it is probably no surprise that Gozo is only 25 per cent compliant!

As is also pointed out by the consultation document the present state of water harvesting is the result of a lack of adequate enforcement. I would emphasise that it is a case of an incompetent, almost inexistent, enforcement. It is very easy to point at developers who try to avoid excavating or constructing water cisterns, reducing his costs and increasing profits. They have a number of accomplices, who ignore this fact and then proceed to certify works as having been completed satisfactorily. In these instances, compliance certificates are issued just the same by the Planning Authority. Likewise, the Water Services Corporation authorises the connection of foul water drains from such developments to the public sewer without generally bothering to ascertain as to where rainwater is being collected or directed.

Rainwater is to be collected in a water cistern which should be fitted with an overflow which directs excess rainwater onto the street. Instead, a number of developments direct all rainwater directly onto the street. At times, unfortunately increasing in frequency, rainwater is disposed of directly into the public sewer.

This is the cause of flooded streets and overflowing sewers with which we are very familiar during and after heavy rainfall.

Enforcement hits hard as non-compliance is widespread. This is the primary reason as to why no government has seriously embarked on tackling this problem. In the past government, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, that is the non-provision of water cisterns, embarked on the drilling of a number of tunnels to facilitate the collection of rainwater and its dumping into the sea. Millions of euros in EU funds were utilised in this exercise, literally money down the drain.  Notwithstanding this misapplication of EU funds, the problem of flooded streets and overflowing sewers is still a common occurrence during and immediately after heavy rainfall.

Having expertly drawn up codes and manuals is generally helpful. It is however no substitute for clear indiscriminate enforcement: no exceptions allowed. It is what we lack. It is the result of clientelism forming an integral part of the philosophy of government and administration. It is a political disease which is not limited to stormwater management but as we all know is spread throughout the public administration.

If those employed to implement our laws, rules and regulations get on with their jobs, the problem of stormwater management would be substantially smaller, and definitely quite manageable!

The basic problem which the consultation document does not discuss is that there is no political will to ensure that simple rules on rainwater harvesting are observed by all. The rest follows.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd July 2022

After the agricultural fair has ended

The onslaught on agricultural land is continuous. It is unfortunately many a time abated by land use planning operatives. It would be an understatement to emphasise that they should know better.

Among the countless examples faced on a continuous basis I can list the following: the over-development of road infrastructure, quarries, boatyards, solar farms and fireworks factories proposed in rural areas and in lieu of agricultural land. Added to these examples one can add the craze of changing the use of agricultural land into picnic or barbeque areas. This creation of recreational areas is squeezing out agriculture! All this would not happen without the complicity of the Planning Authority and those appointed to lead it.

The agricultural fair organised last week exposed another aspect: the anguish of the farming community. A discussion organised within the precincts of the grounds of the agricultural fair focused on food security. The spiralling cost of imported animal feed fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as international business pressures are adding to the problems of those involved in animal husbandry.

Farmers are being pushed out of the land they have been tilling at an increasing rate. No one in his right senses would dare invest in the modernisation of an agricultural holding in such a climate. The banks, on the other hand, emphasised the farmers who took part in the discussion, are not forthcoming with loans to facilitate matters, most probably as they consider the risks involved too high.

In the meantime, eviction of farmers from the land they have tilled for generations continues unabated as government takes too long to come up with a reform of the agricultural lease legal setup.

Government has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the agricultural community. In addition, it has repeatedly carved agricultural land into new or widened roads. The irrigated agricultural land at Attard had to make way for the so-called Central Link. Shortly more agricultural land on the outskirts of  Qormi will make way for improvements to the Mrieħel bypass project.  Add this to the planned havoc continuously emanating from the Planning Authority and you can easily understand what the agricultural community has to bear.

It is indeed ironic that a government which boasts of a programme which is intended to create more open spaces is at the same time determined to ruin more natural open spaces on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

It is clear that government has taken a basic political decision: cars have a priority over agriculture. This decision is clearly manifested in the manner of operation of Infrastructure Malta which is gobbling up extensive agricultural land which stands in the way of its projects. It is further manifested in the absolute silence of the Agricultural Ministry when it is faced with this behaviour. The agricultural minister is apparently more interested in our heritage which leaves him little time to focus on the needs of agriculture and the farmers who depend on it for their livelihood.

Given the ever-increasing population on these islands it was always very clear that local agriculture could never, on its own, suffice to cater for our needs. Supplementing local agricultural produce with imported produce should be done with care as there is always a danger that the local market can be flooded with low priced goods which make the life of our farmers more miserable than it already is!

The organisation of the agricultural fair was a good idea. It must however be supplemented with a heavy dose of good faith which is missing in the attitudes of the holders of political office in the Ministry of Agriculture through the rest of the year, that is when there is no agricultural fair!

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 May 2022

Abusive continuity

The distribution of multiple cheques to every household by the Labour Government on the eve of the general election is more than abusing the power of incumbency. Through the said distribution, the power of incumbency is being transformed into a corrupt practice, specifically intended to unduly influence voters.

What, in normal circumstances should be a simple administrative act is being transformed into blatant political propaganda, at public expense, straight into your letterbox. A covering letter signed by Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana says it all. A Banana Republic in all but name!

Why should such handouts be distributed on the eve of elections if not to influence voters?

Even if one were to accept that such handouts are acceptable, it is certainly not in any way justifiable to plan their distribution specifically on the eve of an election. This goes against the basic principles of good governance.

The power of incumbency is the executive power of a government seeking re-election. Incumbents always have an advantage. The manner in which they handle it defines their governance credentials.

This has been a government characterised by bad governance throughout its term in office. Right from the very beginning, on 13 March 2013. I consider the full 9 years as one continuum. This was reinforced by Robert Abela himself who emphasised that his leadership of the Labour Party seeks to continue the “achievements” of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity was his declared mission.

On its first days in office, Labour started off on its Panama tracks. The secret Panama companies set up by Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and someone else, known as the (mysterious) owner of Egrant, went on to rock Labour over the years.

The Electrogas saga and its link to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia intertwined with the Panama debacle.

It is now clearly established that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was directly linked to her investigative journalism. Her investigations led her to identify the governance credentials of various holders of political office and their links with big business. Defining their relationship as being too close for comfort would be a gross understatement.

As emphasised in the investigation report on the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, over the years, a culture of impunity has developed in these islands. This has led to misbehaviour in public office being normalised. It has also led to considerable resistance in the shouldering of political responsibility by holders of political office, whenever they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar! Rosianne Cutajar and Justyne Caruana being the latest examples, as amply proven by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler.

To add insult to injury Cutajar and Caruana were the recipients of generous termination benefits, notwithstanding that their term of political office ended in disgrace. Caruana received terminal benefits twice in the span of a short time, as she established a national record of resigning twice from Robert Abela’s Cabinet!

With this track record one should not have expected otherwise from the Muscat/Abela administration. With the abusive distribution of cheques on the eve of the general election Labour’s current term is approaching a fitting end.

The Labour Party in government has consistently acted abusively. Robert Abela has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity has been ensured, as promised.

published in Malta Today : Sunday 20 March 2022

Bejgħ tal-passaporti u l-prinċpju ta’ lealtà fl-Unjoni Ewropea

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-kumitat tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-libertajiet ċivili u l-ġustizzja,  huwa u jiddiskuti rapport dwar il-bejgħ tal-passaporti (jirreferu għalihom bħala golden passports) mill-istati membri, jemfasizza li dan hu oġġezzjonabbli etikament, legalment u ekonomikament u dan apparti li dan joħloq bosta riskji għas-sigurtà.

Tul is-snin, il-Ministri, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra, emfasizzaw li ċ-ċittadinanza, fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, hi materja riżervata għall-istati membri. Hekk hu, imma mhux b’mod assolut. Il-prinċipju ta’ lealtà fit-trattati Ewropej ilewwen il-ħidma tal-istati membri fl-Unjoni. Anke l-oqsma li huma kompetenza nazzjonali għandhom ikunu meqjusa f’dan id-dawl.

Ħadd ma jikkontesta li ċ-ċittadinanza hi kompetenza tal-pajjiżi membri. Hekk għandu jkun. Imma meta nikkunsidraw il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinaza hemm ħafna implikazzjonijiet oħra, ta’ gravità mhux żgħira. It-trattati tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dan jispjegawh bħala obbligu ta’ kooperazzjoni sinċiera  bejn il-pajjiżi membri, obbligu li bosta drabi huwa mfisser bħala l-prinċipju ta’ lejaltà:  lejaltà, jiġifieri bejn il-pajjiżi membri infushom.

Riċentment, l-amministrazzjoni immexxija minn Robert Abela fasslet emendi mhux żgħar għall-proċess li bih tkun akkwistata ċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment. Il-programm (Individual Investor Programme) inbidel ma skema residenzjali li eventwalment tista’ twassal għal ċittadinanza. Għalkemm l-Unjoni Ewropeja kienet infurmat b’dan it-tibdil, is-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għaċ-ċittadinanza, Alex Muscat, indika li ma kien hemm l-ebda rispons mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja.

Il-Parlament Ewropew ser jiddiskuti dan kollu fil-plenarja tiegħu tax-xahar id-dieħel.  L-abbozz tar-rapport, b’numru ndaqqas ta’ emendi, jemfasizza li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment “hemm it-tendenza li jkunu f’dawk l-istati membri li huma l-iktar esposti għal riskji konnessi mas-segretezza finanzjarja, bħall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, l-ħasil tal-flus u l-korruzzjoni.” 

Fost dawk li kisbu ċ-ċittadinanza Maltija b’investiment insibu lil: Anatoly Hurgin, akkużat bi frodi, kuntrabandu u ħasil ta’ flus kemm fl-Istati Uniti kif ukoll fl-Iżrael, Liu Zhongtian, biljunarju involut fl-aluminju, għaddej proċeduri kriminali fl-Istati Uniti dwar evażjoni  ta’ madwar żewġ biljun euro f’tariffi  Amerikani,  Boris Mints, biljunarju ieħor li qiegħed jiffaċċja akkużi dwar frodi fir-Renju Unit,  Pavel Melnikov, ukoll biljunarju li qiegħed ikun investigat fil-Finlandja dwar ħasil ta’ flus u frodi, u Mustafa Abdel-Wadood li ammetta akkuzi dwar frodi fl-Istati Uniti. Dawn ġew identifikati mill-istampa f’Malta bħala lihumafost dawk li xtraw passaport Malti. Ħadd mhu ser jeskludi li hemm iktar, għax dawn it-tip ta’ skemi huma kalamita għal dawn it-tip ta’ nies..

Dawn, u oħrajn, ħadu iċ-ċittadinanza minkejja li suppost li l-applikazzjonijiet tagħhom kienu eżaminati b’reqqa liema bħala!

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-logħob ta’ Bernard Grech li jirrifjuta li jieħu sehem fi proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar il-ħatra ta’ regulatur ġdid għall-iskema ta’ ċittadinanza b’investiment tibgħat messaġġ żbaljat. Regulatur li jkollu l-barka ta’ Bernard Grech mhux ser itejjeb l-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza.

Irrispettivament minn kemm jinbidlu r-regoli dwar l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti, din tibqa’ mhux aċċettabbli fil-prinċipju. Kif jingħad fir-rapport pendenti quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew iċ-ċittadinanza Ewropeja mhiex għall-biegħ.

Ir-rapport quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew jgħid li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment fihom ħafna riskji u mhumiex kompatibbli mal-prinċipju ta’ kooperazzjoni meħtieġa bejn l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan għandhom jispiċċaw sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2025 jgħidilna ir-rapport tal-Parlament Ewropew..

Il-flus jistgħu jkun utli, jgħid Bernard Grech, kieku l-iskemi jkunu trasparenti.  Hi l-istess attitudni li l-PN fil-Gvern daħħal fis-sistema ta’ tassazzjoni meta spiċċa daħħal proposti li jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.  

L-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti  flimkien mal-abbuż kontinwu tas-sovranità tal-pajjiż fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni bit-tnaqqis fir-rati ta’ taxxa għal kumpaniji barranin li b’hekk ġew inkoraġġiti jevadu t-taxxi ta’ pajjiżhom huma uħud mir-raġunijiet li wassluna sal-lista l-griża. Tul dawn l-aħħar xhur imma, l-Ministru tal-Fnanzi beda jċedi u jidher li issa mexjin lejn li naċċettaw rata minima u armonizzat ta’ taxxa.

Bħala partit ilna ninsitu fuq din it-triq. Sfortunatament b’wiċċna minn quddiem nistgħu ngħidu li ghidna ċar u tond kif kienu l-affarijiet. Issa jmiss li tispiċċa l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti ukoll. M’għandniex bżonn li jkunu istituzzjonijiet barranin li jgħidulna x’inhu tajjeb u x’inhu ħażin. Kapaċi, jekk irridu, li dan nagħmluh aħna stess. 

Huma biss membri parlamentari eletti mill-lista tal-kandidati ta’ ADPD li jistgħu jassiguraw li jsir it-tibdil kollu li hu meħtieġ. Bernard Grech u l-PN ma jistgħux ikunu is-soluzzjoni. Huma parti mill-problema.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Frar 2022

Golden passports & the EU’s loyalty principle

Earlier this week, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, when discussing a draft legislative initiative report emphasised that golden passports are objectionable ethically, legally and economically and pose several serious security risks.

Over the years government Ministers, in Malta and elsewhere, have emphasised that issues of citizenship and passports are a national reserved matter, within the European Union.  They are right, but, only to a certain extent. The principle of loyalty in the EU treaties underpins the functioning of the individual member states within the Union. Even the national competencies have to be implemented with this principle in mind.

No one contests that nationality issues are a national competence. They should remain so. There is however much more than state competence at stake. Article 4.3 of the Treaty on the European Union explain this as the principle of sincere cooperation, at times referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European member states.

Recently, the Robert Abela administration has sought to reform the process of acquiring citizenship by investment. The original rules were overhauled. The IIP (Individual Investor Programme) was replaced by a residency scheme which could, eventually lead to acquiring citizenship. The EU was informed of all this and Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, responsible for citizenship has indicated that there has been no feedback on the matter from the EU Commission.

The EU Parliament will discuss the matter in plenary next month. The draft report which, with a multitude of amendments proposed, will be considered, emphasises among other matters that such Citizenship by Investment (CBI) “schemes tend to be located in Member States that are particularly prone to risks related to financial secrecy, such as tax avoidance and money laundering, and corruption.”

Among the new Maltese citizens by investment, one finds: Anatoly Hurgin, charged with fraud, smuggling and money laundering in the US and Israel, Liu Zhongtian, an aluminium billionaire indicted in the US on avoidance of €2 billion in American tariffs, Boris Mints, a billionaire facing fraud charges in the UK, Pavel Melnikov, another billionaire under investigation in Finland for money laundering and tax fraud and Mustafa Abdel-Wadood who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in the United States. These have been identified by the Maltese press. I would not exclude that there are more of them as such schemes are a natural attraction to them. So far they have avoided the radar of public scrutiny.

Quite a collection! All of them were okayed by Malta’s “rigorous due diligence”!

In view of the above, Bernard Grech’s postering through his refusal to engage in consultation on the appointment of a new regulator for golden citizenship sends a wrong message. A regulator acceptable to Bernard Grech will not make the citizenship by investment scheme any better.

The golden passport scheme, irrespective of the tinkering with the rules carried out, is unacceptable in principle. EU citizenship, says the EU Parliament report currently under consideration “is not a commodity that can be marketed or sold and has never been conceived as such by the Treaties.”

European values are not for sale, says the said report: “in the light of the particular risks posed by CBI schemes and their inherent incompatibility with the principle of sincere cooperation, CBI schemes should be phased out fully across the Member States”. The proposal before the EU Parliament is that these should be phased out by 2025.

The money justifies it, says Bernard Grech, if only it were more transparent. It is the same attitude which the PN-led government built into our taxation system, when it introduced measures encouraging tax avoidance.

The golden passport scheme coupled with the continuous abuse of Malta’s tax sovereignty through offering substantial tax discounts to foreign commercial entities, encouraging tax avoidance, are part of the reasons which have led to Malta’s grey-listing. During the last months, Malta’s Finance Minister has finally capitulated and he is now steering the country towards the acceptance of a harmonised minimum tax rate.

Greens have been advocating this course of action for ages. Unfortunately, we can hold our heads high and state: we told you so! The golden passport scheme should be next for the chop. We do not need foreign institutions to tell us what is right or wrong. We can do it ourselves.

Only members of parliament elected from the list of ADPD candidates can ensure that the required overhaul is carried out. Bernard Grech and his PN cannot be the solution. They are part of the problem.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 February 2022

Riforma tal-Parlament

Il-Prim Ministru ilu jinki lill-opinjoni pubblika dwar meta ser ikun xolt il-Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta ser tissejjaħ l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Imma Robert Abela kien ikkwotat jgħid ukoll li sa Ġunju 2022 ikun għadda kollox!

Kif inhuma  l-affarijiet illum, hi responsabbiltà kostituzzjonali tal-Prim Ministru dwar meta jkun xolt il- Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta tissejjaħ elezzjoni ġenerali.  Dan jagħmlu billi jagħti parir dwar dan lill-President tar-Republika.  Ħafna drabi nassumu li dawn it-tip ta’ deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fl-interess nazzjonali avolja hu ċar daqs il-kristall li hu l-interess tal-partit fil-Gvern li jiddetermina kollox: dejjem.  Miżura li ssaħħaħ il-posizzjoni tal-Gvern qabel u waqt l-elezzjoni: the power of incumbency.

Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel kif inbidlu bosta affarijiet oħra.

Il-partit li immexxi qajjem dan il-punt fis-sottomissjonijiet li għamilna quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali: konvenzjoni li, dejjem ġejja, imma qatt ma tasal!

Hu propost li t-terminu tal-Parlament ikun wieħed fiss u li l-Prim Ministru ma jkollu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif u meta dan ikun xolt.  Fil-prattika kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll il-parti l-kbira tal-Ewropa kontinentali għandhom Parlament b’terminu fiss. Anke r-Renju Unit, meta kienet immexxija mill-koalizzjoni bejn il-partit Liberali u dak Konservattiv, ftit snin ilu, introduċiet leġislazzjoni għal Parlament b’terminu fiss.

F’dan il-kuntest tajjeb li jkun emfasizzat ukoll li t-terminu ta’ ħames snin għall-Parlament huwa ftit twil. Dan ma kienx dejjem hekk. Meta twaqqaf il-Parlament Malti għall-ewwel darba fl-1921, mitt sena ilu, il-ħajja tal-Parlament kienet ta’ tlett snin. Sal-lum il-ġurnata, l-Parlament Federali Awstraljan għadu jkun elett kull tlett snin. Il-Kamra tar-Rappresentanti tal-Istati Uniti min-naħa l-oħra tkun eletta kull sentejn.

X’uħud jistgħu jkunu tal-fehma li għall-Parlament, tul ta’ sentejn jew tlieta bejn elezzjoni u oħra huma ftit wisq. Għal min qiegħed fil-Gvern, ħames snin jistgħu jkun perjodu addattat. Imma għal min qiegħed fl-Opposizzjoni hu twil wisq! Tlett snin hu perjodu ferm iktar addattat.

Il-Parlament għandu ħtieġa ukoll ta’ membri li xogħolhom ikun biss dak ta’ membri tal-parlament u li ma jagħmlu xejn iktar. Hemm bżonn ukoll li n-numru ta’ membri tal-parlament jonqos għax in-numru li għandna illum hu kbir wisq.  Membru Parlamentari full-time jaqta’ għal kollox kull kuntatt ma xogħol u/jew professjoni u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk inaqqas sostanzjalment il-possibiltà ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess meta jkun f’posizzjoni li jieħu kwalunkwe deċiżjoni.

Id-daqs tal-lum tal-Parlament, jiġifieri dak ta’ 65 membru parlamentari, kien determinat bħala riżultat tal-emendi kostituzzjonali tal-1974.  Imma dan, illum il-ġurnata, sa mill-1987, mhux id-daqs definittiv għax miegħu jistgħu jiżdiedu iktar bħala riżultat tal-applikazzjoni tal-mekkaniżmu kostituzzjonali tal-proporzjonalità.   Jista’ jiżdiedu iktar ukoll, bi tnax-il membru ieħor riżultat tal-miżuri kostituzzjonali ġodda dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru, jekk dawn ikunu applikati.

Il-Parlament li jmiss, għaldaqstant, jista’ jkunu kbir mhux ħażin jekk jintużaw kemm il-mekkaniżmu dwar il-proporzjonalità kif ukoll dak dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru. Jista’ jkun daqs li jikber sa 77 membru u possibilment anke sa 81 membru. Dan hu enormi għall-pajjiżna.

Is-sistema elettorali, li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament ilhom ibgħabsu għal żmien twil, tipprovdi għal riżultat proporjonali u b’element korrettiv favur il-bilanċ bejn il-ġeneri meta fil-Parlament ikunu eletti żewġ partiti politiċi biss. Meta jkun elett it-tielet partit dawn il-mekkaniżmi kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità u l-bilanċ tal-ġeneru ma jistgħux jaħdmu. Hemm biss eċċezzjoni waħda. Din tkun fil-kaz ta’partit politiku li jikseb iktar minn 50 fil-mija tal-voti fl-ewwel għadd fuq livell nazzjonali. Dan ikollu dejjem il-jedd li jiggverna billi jkun allokat is-siġġijiet neċessarji għal dan l-iskop.  

Hemm numru ta’ soluzzjonijiet alternattivi li kieku ġew applikati kien ikun possibli li l-Parlament tagħna jkollu bilanċ aħjar bejn il-ġeneri u proporzjonalità mingħajr ma jikber fid-daqs.  Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, imma, ġew skartati kompletament. Dan għax ir-riforma kellha dejjem l-iskop li toħloq l-inqas tibdil possibli. Tibdil kosmetiku fl-istil tal-Gattopardo: tibdil li jħalli kollox kif kien!

Dan hu l-Parlament tagħna. Jeħtieġ li jinbidel mill-qiegħ.   

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Frar 2022

Reforming Parliament

The Prime Minister has been teasing public opinion for some time as to when Parliament will be dissolved and when we will consequently be proceeding to the next general election.

Robert Abela has been quoted as stating that it will definitely be over by June 2022.

As things stand, at this point in time, it is within the Constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine when Parliament is dissolved and a general election held. This he does by advising the President of the Republic accordingly. It is generally assumed that such decisions are taken in the national interest even though it is amply clear that it is always in the interest of the political party in power. It reinforces the power of incumbency.

Is this right? Should it remain so?

My party has raised this matter in its submissions to the Constitutional Convention which Convention has been pending for a number of years!

It is being proposed that Parliament should be a fixed-term Parliament and that the Prime Minister should have no discretion whatsoever in dissolving Parliament.  In practice both the United States as well as most of continental Europe have fixed-term Parliaments. Even the United Kingdom, some years ago, led by a Liberal-Conservative coalition, introduced legislation for a Parliament having a fixed-term.

Within this context it would be also pertinent to emphasise that a five-year term is a little bit too long. This was not always so. When Malta’s Parliament was originally established in 1921, 100 years ago, it had a three-year life span. The Australian Federal Parliament in this day and age is still elected every three years. The United States House of Representatives on the other hand is elected every two years.

Some could argue that a two- or three-year life span for parliament would be too short. Five years may be right for those governing. It is however too long for those in Opposition! A three-year term could be the right balance.

Parliament also needs fulltime MPs and probably less of them. A fulltime member of parliament would cut off completely all of his/her links with profession and/or employment and as a result substantially reduce instances of conflict of interest when faced with decision taking.

Parliament’s present size of 65 members was determined as a result of the 1974 Constitutional amendments. Since 1987, it is however not a definite size, as it is increased as a result of the constitutional adjustment mechanism for proportionality. It will be increased by a further twelve members if the newly introduced constitutional gender balance requirements are applied.

The next Parliament could be quite large if both the proportionality and gender balance adjustment mechanisms are in use. It could inflate to a size between 77 and 81 members! This is enormous for a country our size.

The electoral system, which the two parties currently in parliament have been tinkering with for ages, provides for proportionality and gender balance only if just two parties are elected into Parliament. If a third party is elected, both the constitutional provisions for proportionality and gender balance will not be activated. There is just one exception and this is relative to the political party which obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes on a national level: in such an instant, irrespective of the number of political parties making it to Parliament the party having an absolute majority of votes is ensured of having the parliamentary seats required for governing.

There are a number of alternative solutions available which make it possible for our Parliament to be both gender-balanced and proportional without any increase in its size. These solutions have however been completely discarded as the “reform” brief was always to change as little as possible. Cosmetic change is the order of the day in Gattopardo style: change which leaves everything the same.

Such is the state of our parliament. It needs a complete overhaul, which is long overdue.  

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 February 2022

Meta Abela u l-PN kienu jħokku dahar xulxin

Robert Abela hu s-suġġett kurrenti tal-billboards tal-PN. Imma, bħal ma jiġri dejjem, il-kampanja tal-PN fuq il-billboards tgħid biċċa waħda żgħira mill-istorja vera. Tiffoka fuq il-ġid li akkumula Abela permezz tal-kuntratti ta’ xogħol professjonali assoċjat mal-Gvern, speċjalment permezz tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Il-billboard iwassal il-messaġġ politiku li Robert Abela jiġi jaqa’ u jqum u li huwa insensittiv. Jgħidilna li filwaqt li hu għamel żmien jiffanga bi dħul ta’ €17,000 fix-xahar int tikkrepa b’żieda miżera ta’ €1.75 fil-ġimgħa għall-għoli tal-ħajja.

Il-punt bażiku reali, imma, li l-billboard jinjora kompletament hu kif il-PLPN jimmanipulaw il-finanzi tal-pajjiż u l-proċeduri tax-xiri ta’ servizzi biex iżommu lill-ħbieb kuntenti u lill-għedewwa taħt kontroll.

Il-billboard tal-PN, jgħidilna li l-uffiċċju legali ta’ Robert Abela, xi żmien ilu, kellu dħul ta’ mhux inqas minn €17,000 fix-xahar mis-servizz professjonali legali li kien jagħti lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-billboard, imma,  ma jgħidilna xejn dwar kif dan kollu oriġina minn sejħa għal espressjoni ta’ interess u sussegwentement direct order lil George Abela li kienet imbierka mill-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi.   Dan seħħ fi żmien meta Abela ma kienx f’relazzjoni tajba la mal-Partit Laburista u inqas u inqas mat-tmexxija tal-istess partit!

F’sezzjoni tal-media kien irrappurtat li dan kollu beda fl-istess żmien meta George Abela aċċetta l-istedina biex jifforma parti mill-core group, parti mill-proċess preparatorju li kellu jwassal biex Malta tissieħeb fl-Unjoni Ewropea. George Abela ipparteċipa f’dan il-core group minkejja li l-Partit Laburista, li tiegħu sa ftit qabel hu kien Deputy Leader, kien jopponi din il-proposta b’qilla kbira.

Meta George Abela kien nominat u sussegwentement ġie appuntat President tar-Republika mill-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi, ibnu Robert ħa f’idejh it-tmexxija tal-uffiċċju legali ta’ missieru. Huwa u jagħmel dan, avukat ieħor li kien sħab ma’ George Abela spiċċa barra. Jingħad li ma qablux fuq kif ser jaqsmu dak li jdaħħal l-uffiċċju! Ftit wara, dan l-avukat l-ieħor spiċċa CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Min hawn il-quddiem il-familja Abela ma kelliex diffikulta biex tgawdi r-rigal sostanzjali tal-Gvern ta’  Lawrence Gonzi. Il-familja Abela setgħet isserraħ rasha għax fil-mument tal-bżonn il-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi kien hemm għall-għajnuna. Wara kollox, mhux għalhekk qegħdin il-ħbieb?  

Ta’ Abela kienu attentissimi li ħobżhom jieħdu ħsiebu sewwa! Dejjem irnexxielhom!  Biex jaslu iddefendew kull taħwid fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art tul is-snin, kemm dak taħt il-Gvern ta’ Gonzi kif ukoll dak taħt is-suċċessur tiegħu Joseph Muscat.

Tul is-snin id-direct order lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela mhux biss ġie ikkonfermat, talli kiber fl-iskop u fil-ħlas li ġġenera.

Waqt dan kollu kien hemm leħen wieħed kritiku ta’ dak li kien qed jiġri: kien kritiku tad-direct order tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela. Dan kien Joe Mizzi,  l-Membru Parlamentari Laburista mill-Kalkara. Kien qiesu seqer, jaf x’inhu jiġri, għax hu kien ir-rappresentant tal-Opposizzjoni Laburista fuq il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Joe Mizzi dam ftit mhux ħażin biex ħa tweġiba għal dan kollu. Dan seħħ meta tħalla barra minn l-ewwel Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela liema Kabinett tħabbar nhar il-15 ta’ Jannar 2020!  Imma sa dak in-nhar hu kien ilu jappoġġa l-kandidatura ta’ Chris Fearne għat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista.

Din hi l-istorja li l-billboard jaħbi. Storja ta’ kemm meta kien meħtieġ il-familja Abela u l-PN kienu  jħokku dar xulxin!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Frar 2022

Abela’s bread: buttered on both sides!

Robert Abela is the current billboard boy of the PN. The PN’s campaign, all over their billboards, however, only emphasises part of the real story: it is focused on Abela’s wealth generated through government contracts, specifically through the Planning Authority. It makes the political point that Robert Abela does not care. He is insensitive, states the billboard: he gluttons through €17,000 per month; you get a miserly €1.75 per week cost of living increase.

The real basic issue however, conveniently avoided by the billboard, is how the PLPN manipulate the country’s finances and procurement procedures to keep friends happy and foes on a leash.

The PN billboard points to the fact that the legal office of Robert Abela, at a recent point in time, had an income of at least €17,000 per month from legal services rendered to the Planning Authority.  The billboard does not, however, in any way indicate, that the contract was originally the result of an expression of interest and subsequently of a direct order. This was carried out with the compliments of the Lawrence Gonzi led PN government to George Abela, Robert’s father, at a time when the Abelas had very sour relations with the Labour Party and its leadership!

Sections of the media have reported that this lucrative relationship commenced at the same time that George Abela accepted the invitation to take part in the EU accession core group, part of the preparatory process leading to Malta’s accession to the European Union. George Abela participated in this core group notwithstanding that, the Labour Party, of which some time previously he had been deputy leader, was an aggressive opponent of the EU accession proposal. I am informed that additional members of the core group were Harry Vassallo, Lino Briguglio, Joe Saliba and Godfrey Baldacchino.

When George Abela was nominated and appointed President of the Republic by the Gonzi Government, his son Robert took over the running of the law firm. In the process the other lawyer who was a partner in the Abela law firm was immediately squeezed out of the firm. It is rumoured that they disagreed on the distribution of the profits of the law firm. As a result, the other lawyer was offered and he eventually assumed the role as CEO of the Planning Authority. The Abelas consequently had no obstacle to retaining full control of the lucrative gifts of the Lawrence Gonzi government. The Abelas had their mind at rest that at times of need Lawrence Gonzi and his government could always be relied upon. After all that is what friends are for!

The Abelas always sought to have their bread buttered on both sides. They were quite successful in this respect throughout the years. In the process they defended tooth and nail many a planning mess, both those created by the Gonzi government as well as also those created by his successor Joseph Muscat.

The PN direct order to the Abela law firm was confirmed throughout the years and widened in scope. The payments made increased accordingly.

I remember one solitary voice at that time denouncing the lucrative direct order of the Planning Authority to the Abela law firm: it was the Kalkara Labour MP Joe Mizzi. Joe Mizzi knew what was going on from day one: he was the representative of the Labour Party Parliamentary Opposition on the Board of the Planning Authority.

Payback for Joe Mizzi took quite some time to arrive. He was left out of the first Robert Abela Cabinet on the 15 January 2020!  But by then he had also endorsed Chris Fearne in the Labour leadership contest.

This is the real background to the billboard boy’s story!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 February 2022

Wara r-riżenja ta’ Justyne

Issa Justyne irriżenjat għat-tieni darba mill-Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela. Il-Kabinett ta’ Abela, l-ikbar wieħed fl-istorja, naqas bi tnejn, Justyne u Rosianne.

Meta irriżenjat Rosianne ma kien daħal ħadd ġdid fil-Kabinett.

Kif diġa għidt, il-każ ta’ Justyne għadu miftuħ, mhux biss għax il-Kumitat Permanenti tal-Parlament dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għad irid jiddiskuti r-rapport (m’għandux għaġġla) imma ukoll għax hemm riżenji oħra li jeħtieġ li jsiru.

Frank Fabri u Paul Debattista huma mistennija li jwarrbu ma jdumux. Tal-ewwel għax iffirma l-kuntratt abbużiv u illegali u tat-tieni għax kien hu li iffaċilita dan il-qerq kollu billi kiteb ir-rapport li għal xi żmien kien qed jingħad li taparsi kitbu Daniel Bogdanovic u b’hekk ikun jista’ jsir il-ħlas ta’ ħmistax-il elf euro.

Minn kif tkellem Robert Abela jidher li m’għandux għaġġla biex jaħtar Ministru flok Justyne. Dan isaħħaħ ix-xniegħa, li issa ilha ftit ġranet għaddejja, li mhux biss ġejja reshuffle tal-Kabinett dalwaqt, imma li hu ippjanat ukoll li jinbidlu diversi f’karigi mlaħħqin.

Ma ninsewx ukoll li f’Jannar, xahar ieħor, għandu jibda jinstema l-ġuri dwar il-hold-up li falla fuq l-HSBC. Intqal diġa li f’dan il-ġuri jistgħu jsiru rivelazzjonijiet dwar membru ieħor tal-Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela. Din tista’ twassal għal riżenja oħra!

Nistennew u naraw.

Il-Milied it-Tajjeb