Birżebbuġa: minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern li jagħżel sit għal trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi f’Ħal-Far, viċin ta’ Birżebbuġa juri nuqqas kbir ta’ sensittività fil-konfront tal-komunità ta’ Birżebbuġa. Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa ilhom is-snin jaqilgħu ġo fihom bl-istorbju madwarhom. Imma ħadd mill-awtoritajiet m’hu qed jagħti każ. Kollha għala biebhom.

Il-parti l-kbira tal-ajruplani jinżlu fl-Ajruport Internazzjonali tal-Gudja minn fuq parti miż-żona residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa. Dan iseħħ kuljum. Ir-residenti tant draw b’dan, li uħud ftit li xejn għadhom jagħtu kaz bl-ajruplani storbjużi jittajjru fil-baxx : avolja xorta qed issir ħsara lill-saħħithom kif tispjega repetutament l-Organizzazzjoni Dinjija tas-Saħħa (WHO). Ma’ dan żid l-impatti tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, kuljum, xi drabi lejl u nhar. Xi drabi diffiċli biex tissaporti. Meta wara ġurnata xogħol tfittex il-mistrieħ u ma issibux, tkun ilħaqt il-limitu tal-paċenzja.  

Dan it-tniġġiż xi kultant jitnaqqas ftit bħala riżultat ta’ titjib fl-iżviluppi teknoloġiċi. Imma huwa ċar li sostanzjalment, Birżebbuġa, ser tibqa’ tgħum fl-istorbju.

Iż-żona residenzjali Tal-Papa f’Birżebbuġa hi l-iktar waħda effettwata mill-istorbju ġġenerat mill-ajruplani u mit-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Hi ukoll iż-zona l-iktar viċin tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.   Apparti ż-żona Tal-Papa li qegħda ġol-limiti tal-iżvilupp hemm ukoll il-komunità residenzjali ċkejkna ta’ Bengħajsa kif ukoll numru żgħir ta’ residenzi rurali: fihom ukoll jgħixu in-nies!  

Iz-zona residenzjali Tal-Papa qegħda 1,500 metru biss il-bogħod mit-trakka proposta. Hemm numru ta’ residenzi rurali, barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp li huma ferm iktar viċin tat-trakka minn hekk.  

L-art li fuqha hemm il-proposta għal trakka tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi illum hi parti miż-żona industrijali ta’  Ħal-Far. Issa jidher li anke l-Malta Industrial Parks ser tibda tilgħab il-logħob elettorali. Mhix xi ħaġa normali li l-Malta Industrial Parks tirrilaxxja art li tifforma parti minn żona industrijali. Għall-ebda raġuni! L-unika żvilupp li jista’ jsir fuq art ta’ din ix-xorta hu żvilupp industrijali. Il-bqija mhux aċċettabbli għax imur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali.  Is-saltna tad-dritt tapplika għall-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art ukoll: għar-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar. Il-Pjani Lokali m’għandhomx jibqgħu jġebbdu fihom. Giebuhom agħar miċ-chewing gum.

L-iżvilupp tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi fuq l-art li ġiet indikata ser iwassal għal tniġġiż sostanzjali mill-ħsejjes ġġenerati li ser ikollhom impatt fuq iż-żona residenzjali f’Birżebbuġa li hi viċin ħafna. Miżuri ta’ mitigazzjoni jistgħu jnaqqsu xi ftit dawn l-impatti, imma dawn l-impatti sostanzjalment ser jibqgħu hemm, idejqu lir-residenti.

Is-sit hu diġa użat għat-tlielaq fi tmiem il-ġimgħa. L-istorbju ġġenerat f’dawn il-ġranet jasal anke sa Ħal-Safi u Ħal-Kirkop, aħseb u ara sa Birżebbuġa. Residenti infurmawni li xi drabi l-attività konnessa mat-tlielaq tal-karozzi ġieli damet sas-sagħtejn ta’ fil-għodu. Lir-residenti, id-dilettanti tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi dejjem ġew għala biebhom minnhom!  Hu ftit diffiċli li wieħed jifhem kif jistgħu jibdlu l-imġiebha tagħhom issa.

It-tniġġiż ikkawżat mill-ħsejjes ser ikollu ukoll impatt fuq iż-żona ta’ importanza ekoloġika li qegħda fil-viċin ħafna. Issa ser ikun possibli li naraw kif dawk li jmexxu l-ERA, l-awtorità li tħares l-ambjent, jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw dak li mhux ġustifikabbli.

Safejn naf jien, f’Malta ma hawn l-ebda sit li jista’ jakkomoda b’mod raġjonevoli t-trakka proposta għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi mingħajr ma tikkawża impatti negattivi fuq in-nies jew fuq l-ambjent jew it-tnejn. Malta żgħira fid-daqs u iktar ma nirrealizzaw dan malajr iktar ċans li tieqaf issir il-ħsara permezz ta’ proġetti li ma hawnx spazju għalihom. In parti dan hu l-prezz li jeħtieg li nħallsu għal nuqqas ta’ ippjanar tul is-snin.

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL jappoġġaw dan il-ġenn. It-tnejn li huma jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jappoġġaw dawn il-proposti. Sal-lum ma iddejqux li jissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa biex jissodisfaw il-lobby tat-tiġrijiet tal-karozzi.  Il-komunità residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa ilha taqla’ ġo fiha.  Li l-Gvern ikompli jżid ma dan hu inuman. Birżebbuġa ser tispiċċa minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar.

Huwa biss b’membri parlamentari ħodor minn ADPD fil-Parlament li jmiss li nistgħu nibdew nindirizzaw dawn l-abbużi. Il-PLPN ma jinteresshomx mill-kwalità tal-ħajja tan-nies imma biss mill-poter!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 3 t’Ottubru 2021

Birżebbuġa: adding insult to injury

Government’s decision to select a site for a car-racing track at Ħal-Far, on the outskirts of Birżebbuġa, betrays a gross lack of sensitivity towards the welfare of the Birżebbuġa community. Birżebbuġa residents have been at the receiving end of noise pollution for ages. Apparently, no one in authority cares. They are not the least bothered.

Most aircraft approach landing at Gudja International Airport over part of the Birżebbuġa residential area. This happens throughout most of any normal day. Birżebbuġa residents are so used to it that at times they barely notice the noise from aeroplanes at low altitude blasting above: nothwithstanding, this is damaging to their health as attested to repeatedly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Added to this, Birżebbuġa residents have to bear the impacts of the Freeport Terminal, likewise a round the clock operation! At times the noise pollution from the Freeport Terminal in areas of Birżebbuġa is unbearable. After a day’s work you seek some resting time and you are obstructed from doing so by the excessive noise around you.

These noise sources may be slightly mitigated through the application of technological improvements. It is however clear for Biżebbuġa residents that these impacts are substantially here to stay.

The Tal-Papa residential area in Birżebbuġa is already the zone most impacted by aircraft and Freeport Terminal noise pollution. It is also the zone closest to the planned car-racing track.  Beyond the residential development within the limits of development there is also the Bengħajsa hamlet as well as a number of rural units, some of which are still used for residential purposes.

The Tal-Papa residential area is as close as 1,500 metres to the proposed racing track. A number of rural residences, outside the development zone are even closer than this to the projected racetrack. 

The land on which the racing track proposal may be developed forms part of the Ħal-Far Industrial Estate. It seems that now, even Malta Industrial Parks is playing electoral games.  It is not normal for Malta Industrial Parks to release land forming part of an industrial estate for any purpose whatsoever! The only permissible development on such land is related to industrial development. Anything beyond that is unacceptable as it goes against the parameters determined by the Local Plan. The rule of law is applicable to planning rules and regulations too. Local Plans should not be further transformed into chewing gum, having unlimited elasticity!

The development of the car-racing track on the indicated land will generate substantial noise pollution which will impact a residential area in Birżebbuġa which is not so far away. Mitigation measures may reduce slightly the impacts but it will keep annoying the residents just the same!

The site is already in use on weekends: the resulting acoustic pollution is being picked up as far away as Kirkop and Safi, let alone in Birżebbuga itself. At times, residents inform me that this goes on well into the night, even as late as 2am. Car-racing enthusiasts never had the minimum of respect towards the residential community! It is difficult to imagine how they could change their behaviour at this point in time.

The acoustic pollution generated will also have an impact on an area of ecological importance close by. We will now be able to see how far the ERA bigwigs twist their spine to enable them to justify the unjustifiable.

As far as I am aware no site in Malta can reasonably accommodate this racing track without being the cause of extreme nuisance to residents, damaging to the environment or both. Malta is small in size. The sooner this basic fact sinks in, the better. It should be realised that there is no room for projects such as this car-racing track!  In part this is the price we have to pay for a lack of planning over the years.

Both the PN and the PL are supporting this madness. Both of them are willing to accommodate the racing track lobby. They have so far considered the Birżebbuġa residential community as unavoidable collateral damage in their drive to satisfy the racing track lobby. The Birżebbuġa residential community has already been at the receiving end of all sorts of acoustic pollution. Adding to this is grossly inhumane. It adds insult to accumulated injury.

Only Green MPs in the next parliament can apply the brakes to this madness. PLPN is not interested in the welfare of residents: they are only interested in raw power.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 October 2021

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

Marsaskala: the yacht marina strings

The publication by Transport Malta, last week, of a pre-qualification questionnaire relative to the “award of a concession contract for the design, build, finance, operate, maintain and transfer of a marina” at Marsaskala requires further explanation. What has been going on behind the scenes? Specifically, on whose initiative has the ball been set rolling? Is this part of the ongoing development spree, intended to bolster existing or planned development elsewhere in Marsaskala?

At some point the truth will come out. It would be hence much better if Transport Malta, and whosoever may be pulling the strings, to put all the cards on the table now.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is tainted, even at this stage, with the general local plan defects: a lack of adequate environmental assessment. The assessment of the cumulative impacts of the various local plan proposals has never been carried out. These impacts add up and seen together they should have been cause for concern, even at the drawing board stage. Unfortunately, nothing was done at that stage to mitigate the anticipated cumulative impacts of the local plan proposals.

Those of us who have been subjecting land use planning to a continuous scrutiny, have, since way back in 2006, emphasised that the local plans were then not subjected to the emerging Strategic Environment Assessment procedures. In fact, the local plans, those still pending approval, after having been retained in draft form for some time, were rushed through all the approval stages during the summer months of 2006 specifically to avoid being subjected to the provisions of the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU which entered into force during August of 2006 or thereabouts!

The specific impacts of the proposed yacht marina will undoubtedly be eventually analysed by an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will be triggered if a planning application for the yacht marina is eventually submitted.  Legislation in force provides ample room for involvement of all, when this commences, starting off from the basic EIA terms of reference right up to the consideration of the detailed studies, and more. We have been through that many times in respect of various development proposals.

However, the cumulative impacts on the Marsaskala community, both residential and commercial, will not be carried out as that was avoided at the outset when the local plan for Marsaskala (part of the Local Plan for the South) was approved. This is the basic underlying worry expressed in not so many words by all those who have stood up to object to the sudden unexplained intrusion of Transport Malta into Marsaskala affairs. Kudos to John Baptist Camilleri, Marsaskala local councillor, for prodding the Marsaskala Local Council to stand up and be counted. The Marsaskala local council ought to have been consulted even in terms of the Local Council Act which makes it incumbent on central government and its agencies to consult with local councils whenever any initiative having local impacts is being considered.

Transport Malta is acting as an agent of central government. Government, led by the Labour Party, has conveniently distanced itself from the political responsibilities which result from the local plans , coupled with the rationalisation exercise, which have been shouldered by its predecessor in government, the Nationalist Party.  It has been very convenient for Labour to politically lump all the local plan fallout on the PN. However, sixteen years down the line, it is pretty evident that the Labour Party, in government for over eight years, has been very reluctant to handle the long overdue revision of the local plans and factoring in considerations resulting from a study of the cumulative impacts abovementioned. This is not only applicable to the local plan relative to Marsaskala, but to all local plans! It has obviously been too hot to handle.

Minister Aaron Farrugia, politically responsible for both land use planning and the environment, has been reported in the media, in the past few days, as stating that the local plan revision will start immediately after the general election, expected shortly. He has stated that the process will take around three years.  His predecessor as Minister responsible for land use planning, Ian Borg, had made some statements in the distant past about this, indicating the then parameters for a revision of the local plans. But nothing has materialised yet except his extreme reluctance to act!

I would, at this stage, remind the Hon Minister of the proposals from the Maltese Greens on the need to reverse the rationalisation exercise as well as on the urgent need to implement a moratorium on large scale development throughout the islands. These proposals have been part of our electoral manifesto repeatedly since 2006. Over-development and the building industry have to be brought under control the soonest.

It is not just about Marsaskala and its proposed yacht marina.  It is time to take stock of the ruin inflicted on these islands by a mismanaged land use planning process, by an irresponsible rationalisation exercise and by local plans which do not consider cumulative environmental impacts.

The proposed yacht marina at Marsaskala is just the latest example of this mismanagement.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 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

Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Il-lista l-griża: id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli ma jsolvi xejn

Dalgħodu indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar il-kundanna ta’ Malta għal-lista l-griża.

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġ tindifa sħiħa, li għadha ma saritx. Għall perjodu twil il-Gvern Malti injora l-kuxjenza nazzjonali f’Malta stess, inkluż kritika interna tal-fasla tas-sistema finanzjarja ta’ Malta u l-abbużi u l-involviment kriminali ta’ uffiċċjali għolja u ta’ xi politiċi. Kellu jistenna l-kritika tal-barranin biex jiċċaqlaq?

Ninsabu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tagħha, minkejja li din kienet mistennija. Imma ma kienx meħtieġ li jkunu l-istituzzjonijiet barranin li jiġbdulna widnejna li l-affarijiet f’Malta mhumiex mexjin sew.  Aħna stess ilna niġbdu l-attenzjoni li l-affarijiet mhux sejrin sew fis-sistema finanzjarja.

Huwa veru li matul l-aħħar xhur ittieħedu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafas regolatorju kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-kriminalità organizzata. Il-problema però hi li mhux kulħadd hu konvint li dan sar b’konvinzjoni favur tmexxija b’integrità. Għad jeżisti dubju dwar jekk dak li sar hux biss reazzjoni għas-sensittivitajiet tal-komunità internazzjonali. Għax, sfortunatament, drajna wisq għal snin twal b’istituzzjoniiet li ma jaħdmux.

Li f’daqqa waħda l-pulizija bdiet tieħu passi f’kazijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus ma jħassarx il-fatt li għal snin sħaħ il-korp tal-Pulizija kien miżmum milli jaġixxi billi diversi uffiċjali tiegħu kienu fil-but tal-kriminali. Huwa dan li wassal biex għal snin twal kellna infurzar żero. Dak li sa ftit ilu kien biss suspett illum il-ġurnata hu konfermat bl-ismijiet li jaf bihom kulħadd.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Dakinhar il-Parlament messu ta messaġġ qawwi favur is-serjetà. Minflok imma, ħareġ messaġġ favur il-ħmieg.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Laħqet saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-gvern u l-istituzzjonijiet imnawwra f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se jħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern u l-Oppożizzjoni matul is-snin żviluppaw dak li jsejħu “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju li jagħmilha possibbli għall-użu ta’ Malta bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-bejgħ tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun fdata. Ir-reputazzjoni ħażina li sfortunatament għandha Malta illum fuq livell internazzjonali ma ġietx mix-xejn. Żviluppat bħala riżultat tal-fatt li l-Gvern naqas tul is-snin li jimxi sewwa. Il-messaġġ ċar li ngħata kien li l-Gvern kien jipproteġi l-kriminalità.

Il-kliem sabiħ li qed jingħad illum favur il-governanza tajba jikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal tul is-snin passati. Il-Prim Ministru tal-lum Robert Abela dejjem enfasizza li l-Gvern immexxi minnu hu wieħed ta’ kontinwità. Wara kollox Robert Abela kien il-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat u sa ċertu punt irid jerfa’ ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika għas-sitwazzjoni tal-lum.

Ir-responsabbiltà politika għall-qagħda attwali trid tintrefa ukoll mill-Professur Edward Scicluna eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li kellu responsabbiltà politika dwar l-istituzzjonijiet li suppost ħadmu kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Huwa stess preżentement hu soġġett għal investigazzjoni kriminali. Imma flok ma mar jistaħba ngħata premju  għal dak li għamel billi nħatar Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali.

Ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jagħtu messaġġ ċar: li ma hawnx serjetà fit-tmexxija tal-pajjiż. Ikun aħjar jekk flok id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar dak li qed jiġri issir tindifa sħiħa. Tindifa meħtieġa b’urgenza li s’issa għadha ma saritx.