Il-pandemija u l-kummerċ tal-Milied

Bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19, dan il-Milied ser ikun wieħed differenti minn dawk li ġew qablu.  Normalment il-Milied  huwa ż-żmien meta  nissoċjaliżżaw iktar mill-bqija tas-sena. Żmien li fih niltaqgħu iktar mal-ħbieb u mal-familjari. Huwa ż-żmien li fih hu normali li niltaqgħu fi gruppi għal attivitajiet differenti.  

Dan hu kompletament bil-maqlub tal-mod kif issa jeħtieġ li naġixxu biex nikkumbattu kontra l-coronavirus. Li nnaqqsu drastikament u possibilment nevitaw il-kuntatti tagħna hu l-minimu meħtieġ f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi biex tonqos l-imxija tal-coronavirus.  Bosta minna hekk jagħmlu, minkejja li l-Gvern kontinwament jagħtina sinjali konfliġġenti.   

Wieħed minn dawn is-sinjali konfliġġenti ngħata waqt il-konferenza stampa biex ikun imniedi  Christmas in the City iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Il-Ministri  Josè Herrera u Julia Farrugia-Portelli, imwieżna miċ-Chairman tas-Super One Jason Micallef, u oħrajn, tkellmu dwar il-ħinijiet tax-xiri u dwar kemm ser ikun faċli l-parking għal min jitħajjar imur il-Belt biex jixtri r-rigali tal-Milied. L-ispirtu tal-Milied xejn ma jiddependi mis-siegħat ta’ xiri fil-ħwienet. L-anqas ma jiddependi minn kemm ikollna aċċess faċli għall-parking.  

Is-sinifikat propju tal-Milied hu tal-istaġun tas-solidarjetà li fiċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti, maħluqa mill-pandemija, hu importanti iktar minn qatt qabel.

Fl-istess ħin li l-Ministri Herrera u Farrugia-Portelli kienu kienu qed jitkellmu dwar Christmas in the City, epidemologisti kienu qed iwissuna li matul ix-xahar ta’ Diċembru r-rata tal-imwiet f’Malta mill-Covid-19 mistenni li tiżdied bi tlett darbiet: minn żewgt imwiet kuljum għal sitta kuljum. In-numru tal-imwiet mill-Covid-19 diġa żdied b’mod konsiderevoli sa minn meta tnaqqsu r-restrizzjonijiet f’Lulju li għadda. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb in-numru ta’ mwiet ħtija tal-Covid-19 laħaq il-108, u sa x’ħin dan l-artiklu jinqara n-numru sfortunatament ikompli jikber.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan ma jagħmilx sens li tistieden lin-nies biex jinżlu l-Belt għax-xiri tar-rigali tal-Milied. Huwa l-waqt li nagħmlu eżatt bil-maqlub:  innaqqsu l-moviment tan-nies bit-tama li dan jgħin fit-trażżin tal-pandemija.  Huwa dan li messu qed iħeġġeġ il-Gvern.

Ikoll nirrikonoxxu li l-pandemija kellha impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq l-għixien ta’ bosta.  Is-setturi tal-ikel u tal-ospitalità  kellhom sfida qawwija matul ix-xhur tas-sajf. Iż-żmien meta normalment imorru tajjeb, kien iż-żmien meta qalgħu l-ikbar daqqa.  Iktar ma noqorbu lejn il-Milied mhux talli l-pandemija ma naqqsitx, talli donna iktar irrankat. L-irkupru ekonomiku jidher li għad baqalu.

In-numru ta’ dawk li qed ikunu infettati qiegħed jikber.  Fl-istess ħin lkoll nifhmu li l-iskop wara x-xewqa li jkunu mħajra n-nies lejn il-Belt u ċ-ċentri kummerċjali hi motivata mill-ħtieġa tad-dinja tal-kummerċ biex ittaffi d-daqqa li qalgħet billi tipprova issarraf ftit mill-kummerċ li normalment jiġġenera l-Milied. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ saħħa, imma, għandhom dejjem jibqgħu l-prijorità: issa mhux iż-żmien li jkunu nkoraġġiti l-ebda tip ta’ celebrazzjonijiet.  Flok ma ninkoraġixxu lin-nies biex tersaq lejn ic-ċentri kummerċjali l-Gvern għandu jkun fuq quddiem biex iħeġġeġ l-attenzjoni u prudenza. Mhux Ministru wieħed, imma l-Gvern kollu! Il-vouchers, l-għotjiet, l-għajnuniet u s-supplimenti għall-pagi li l-Gvern qed iqassam f’isimna lkoll, wara kollox, għandhom l-iskop li jtaffu dan il-piz li nħoloq bħala riżultat tal-pandemija.

Għalfejn f’dan il-mument kritiku narmu l-kisbiet li ġibna bis-sagrifiċċji ta’ bosta? Għax huwa dan li nkunu qed nagħmlu kull meta jingħata ħjiel li wara kollox tajjeb li ninġabru u niċċelebraw. Issa mhux il-waqt għal dan.

Il-Covid-19 mhux ser joqtol il-Milied jekk inqas nies jixtru ir-rigali! L-ispirtu tal-Milied ma jitkejjilx  mill-volum ta’ rigali li jinxtraw imma minn kemm aħna kapaċi nkun solidali mal-vulnerabbli tal-lum.

U issa?

L-ikbar att ta’ solidarjetà, bħalissa, hu li harsu lill-vulnerabbli fostna billi nimxu mad-direttivi tal-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa intenzjonati biex iżommu lill-pandemija milli tkompli tixtered.  Il-vaċċin jidher li hu fil-qrib. Dan inissel tama li possibilment matul l-ewwel nofs tas-sena l-ġdida nibdew l-ewwel passi fil-mixja bil-mod lejn in-normalità.  

Imma sadakinnhar hu obbligu tagħna li nħarsu kemm lilna nfusna kif ukoll lil ħaddieħor b’imġieba prudenti. Din hi s-solidarjetà prattika li dan l-istaġun tal-Milied jistenna minn għandna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Novembru 2020

Covid-19 and the City

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Christmas is essentially different from all past ones.

Christmas is normally time for meeting with friends and family, for socialising. It is the time when we normally gather in large groups for a variety of purposes. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Avoiding and reducing unnecessary contacts to the bare minimum helps to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. That is what we all say and believe, notwithstanding government’s continuous conflicting signals. 

One of the last such conflicting signals was given during a Press Conference launching Christmas in the City earlier this week. Ministers Josè Herrera and Julia Farrugia-Portelli, buttressed by Super One Chairman Jason Micallef and others spoke about shopping hours and parking requirements when launching Christmas in the City.  The Christmas spirit is not dependent on shopping hours, nor does it have any parking requirements.

In my book Christmas is the solidarity season which in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic assumes additional significance.

Almost simultaneously with the Christmas in the City launching, epidemiologists were warning us that the daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malta was expected to triple during the month of December: from two to six deaths daily. At the time of writing the Covid-19 death count is 106 and rising. The death count has increased substantially since restrictions were reduced in July 2020.

Within this context it is not on to encourage large numbers to descend on Valletta for their Christmas shopping. It is the time to do exactly the opposite: discourage movements, hoping that as a result, movements are restricted to the bear minimum.

All of us acknowledge that Covid-19 has seriously impacted the livelihood of many. Economic sectors such as the food and the hospitality industries have experienced severe challenges during the summer season, when ordinarily this business would have been booming. As we approach Christmas, the pandemic not only does not show any sign of slowing down: it may well spike once more. An opportunity for economic recovery remains under threat.

More people are succumbing to the virus every day. The desire to draw people to Valletta and other commercial centres in an effort to tap the Christmas spirit for commercial gain, thereby providing a lifeline to businesses is understandable. Health considerations should however take priority: now is however not the time to encourage celebrations of whatever nature. Instead of encouraging people to get out to the commercial centres, government should encourage more cautious behaviour. Government handouts and wage supplements have the specific purpose of helping shoulder the burden created by all this.

Why do we threaten the sacrifices of the many at this critical time by encouraging unreasonable behaviour?

Covid-19 will not kill Christmas if fewer people do their Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is not measured in terms of the volume of Christmas shopping but in terms of our acts of solidarity.

Where do we go from here?

The greatest act of solidarity, at this time, is to protect the vulnerable amongst us by following the advice of the health authorities intended to contain the Covid-19 spread as much as possible. A vaccine may be on the horizon, possibly heralding the beginning of a slow return to normality in the first half of the new year.

Until then, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and others by ensuring cautious behaviour. This is the practical solidarity expected from all of us this Christmas season.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2020

Il-falsità tal-Onorevoli Jason Azzopardi

L-Onorevoli Jason Azzopardi jipprova jipproġetta lilu nnifsu bħala xi qaddis miexi fl-art.

Kull meta jiftaħ ħalqu qed jagħmel il-ħsara. Mhux għax dak li jgħid ikun żbaljat imma għax m’għandux kredibilità.

Inutli joqgħod jagħmel it-tejatrin fuq dawk li gawdew minn fuq dahar Yorgen Fenech jew minn fuq it-Tumas Group, meta huwa stess qed jikkonferma li hu ukoll gawda minn fuqhom. Il-ħlas għal kemm dam fil-lukanda Hilton ta’ Tel Aviv hu kaz wieħed. Ma naf jekk hemmx iktar.

Nafu li għandu tlett rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwaru li ma tantx ipinġuh bħala xi qaddis.

Issa sirna nafu li għaddejja ukoll inkjesta dwar l-operat tad-Dipartmenti li kienu jaqgħu taħtu meta kien Ministru. Xi snin ilu l-kaz kien ukoll quddiem il-Kumitat tal-Kontijiet Pubbliċi tal-Parlament meta id-Direttur Ġenerali ta’ dak li kien d-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet kien xehed li “Jason Azzopardi kien jaf b’kull ma kien qiegħed jiġri dwar propjetà tal-Gvern fi Spinola li dwarha jidher li hemm it-taħwid.”

Jekk Jason Azzopardi hu l-wiċċ ta’ x’jemmen il-PN b’governanza tajba ma nafx kif s’issa għadhom ma rrealizzawx li bi biedem falz fuq quddiem ma tistax taqta’ figura tajba! L-anqas tista’ titwemmen.

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.

Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ

Hawn sinjali u indikazzjonijiet konfliġġenti dwar x’inhu għaddej bejn Malta u l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fuq negozjati dwar kundizzjonijiet li jirregolaw il-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Dak li hu magħruf bħala  Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Il-presenza f’Malta tas-Segretarju tad-Difiża Amerikan  Mark Esper iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa jindika mhux biss li t-taħdidiet huma għaddejjin, imma fuq kollox li huma fi stadju kritiku. Uffiċjalment ħadd ma jaf iktar minn hekk, ħlief dawk li għandhom idejhom fil-borma!

Billi hemm skiet kważi perfett – silenzju stampa – dwar il-materja, hu naturali li bħalissa għaddejja ħafna spekulazzjoni dwar dak li għaddej.

L-Istati Uniti ilha s-snin turi xewqa għal ftehim SOFA mal-Gvern Malti, imma kull Gvern repetutament qagħad lura. L-indikazzjonijiet illum huma  il-possibiltà ta’ insistenza Amerikana għal rabta  bejn ftehim u l-proċess tal- Moneyval dwar l-osservanza ta’ standards internazzjonali li jirregolaw il-ħasil tal-flus.

Kemm ir-rappreżentanti tal-Gvern Malti kif ukoll dawk tal-Gvern Amerikan jiċħdu li hemm din ir-rabta. Imma fin-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni iktar konkreta nistgħu nkunu nafu biss matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin. Jekk il-Gvernijiet humiex ser iħokku dahar xulxin ikun magħruf diplomatikament, kif jiġri ħafna drabi bejn l-istati  fil-maniġġi internazzjinali globali, kontinwament.

Fil-politika internazzjonali m’hemmx ħbieb, hemm biss interessi. Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi kontinwament ifittxu l-aħjar mod kif jaġevolaw dawn l-interessi. L-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika qed tfittex u tħares l-interessi tagħha meta tipprova issib mod kif tasal għal ftehim SOFA li jirregola l-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Din hi l-politika internazzjonali.  

Hu magħruf li Malta tablet l-assistenza tal-Istati Uniti biex tegħleb il-pressjoni internazzjonali dwar il-proċess tal-Moneyval li jirregola jekk il-pajjiż huwiex qiegħed miexi sewwa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus fuq territorju Malti.

Id-diċeriji jindikaw li l-Istati Uniti lesta tgħin, imma għal din l-għajnuna hemm prezz: il-ftehim li ilhom jixtiequ. Din hi opportunità li mhux la kemm terġa’ titfaċċa. Kif nafu: ħadd ma jagħmel xejn għal xejn.

Ftehim SOFA jistabilixxi l-qafas li fih il-militar Amerikan jopera f’pajjiżi barranin. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta jistabilixxi jekk u kif il-liġijiet ta’ Malta japplikawx għall-militar Amerikan u għall-ħidma tagħhom, inkluż kull apparat (inkluż il-flotta navali) li jistgħu jġibu magħhom. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta meta jkun negozjat – jista’ jwassal għal konċessjonijiet u eċċezzjonijiet b’mod li mhux il-liġi Maltija kollha tkun tapplika għall-mistednin tal-Gvern ta’ Robert Abela.

Dan kollu jwassal għal mistoqsija bażika: il-Gvern Malti qed jikkunsidra proposta tal-Istati Uniti li jkun hawn il-militar Amerikan jopera minn teritorju Malti?  Ma għandi l-ebda dubju li ftit huma l-Maltin li jaqblu ma proposta bħal din, jekk teżisti. 

Tul is-snin fil-pajjiż żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali li m’hawnx post għall-militar ta’ pajjiżi barranin fuq artna.  

Nistgħu allura naslu għall-konklużjoni li l-Gvern Malti qed ikun rikattat: Ftehim SOFA jekk trid l-għajnuna dwar il-proċess Moneyval? Sfortunatament ma tantx nistgħu naslu għal konklużjoni differenti.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku (li fi żmien qasir ser jingħaqdu f’partit wieħed) għamlu sejħa biex l-abbozz ta’ ftehim mal-Amerikani jkun ippubblikat immedjatament. Dan hu meħtieġ biex ikun jista’ jsir skrutinju pubbliku: dan hu obbligu demokratiku bażiku.

Nazzarda ngħid li l-idea innifisha tal-ftehim hi oggezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju u dan billi tmur kontra l-prinċipji bażiċi fil-Kostituzzjoni Maltija:  mhux aċċettabbli li jkollna l-miltar ta’ pajjiż ieħor f’artna. Anke d-dettalji tal-ftehim huma inkwetanti: dawn jistgħu jinkludu l-presenza ta’ elementi tas-Sitt Flotta Amerikana bl-elementi nuklejari tagħha, li jkun opposti bil-qawwa mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Jekk Malta, kif inhu xieraq, tirrifjuta ftehim mal-Amerikani, jibqa’ l-pendenza tal-Moneyval  li tista’ twassal għal miżuri li jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-settur finanzjarju f’Malta. Robert Abela xorta jibqgħalu l-obbligu li jħoll l-egħeqiedi li rabtu bihom il-predeċessur tiegħu u ta’ madwaru u dan mingħajr għajnuna Amerikana.  

L-għajnuna Amerikana għandha prezz għoli li Malta m’għandhiex tħallas. Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Ottubru 2020

Our sovereignty is not for sale

Conflicting signals are flying around as to whether, if at all, there is any sign yet of Malta and the US being close to concluding an agreement on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

The presence in Malta of US Defence Secretary Mark Esper is indicative that discussions are ongoing and moreover that they are at a very critical stage. Officially no one knows much more than that, except, that is, for those having a finger in the pie!

As a result of a news blackout on the matter, it is natural that a lot of ongoing speculation as to what is actually being discussed is developing.

A SOFA agreement with Malta has been on the US wish-list for ages: requests being repeatedly declined by successive Maltese governments. Indications point towards a linkage between the US insistence for a SOFA agreement and the developing Moneyval test on complying with money laundering standards. Both the US and the Maltese government representatives flatly deny such a linkage. In the absence of detailed information from both sides, whether such a linkage exists or not will only be clear as matters develop over the coming weeks and months. The possibility of a quid pro quo would only be evident on a diplomatic level, as happens continuously in the games states play globally.

In international politics, states do not have friends, they only have interests: diplomacy seeks to achieve and service these interests. In pursuing a SOFA agreement, the US is seeking its interests. This is the nature of international politics.

It is known that Malta has requested US assistance in the forthcoming Moneyval test. The rumour mill is of the opinion that such assistance will be forthcoming at a price: a SOFA agreement with Malta which has been yearned for by the US for a long time. It seems that this is an opportunity which is not to be missed by the US.

A SOFA is an agreement that generally establishes the framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in a foreign country and spells out how domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction apply toward U.S. personnel in that country. Exceptions and concessions are normally sought and negotiated.

This begs a basic question: is the Maltese government considering a US proposal to have US military personnel operating on Maltese territory or in Maltese territorial waters? I would not hesitate to state that few Maltese would agree with such a proposal. It is reasonable to state that over the years a consensus has developed on these islands that there is no room for foreign troops on Maltese soil or in Maltese waters.

Should we then conclude that the Maltese government is being blackmailed: a SOFA in return for Moneyval support? Unfortunately, it is difficult to arrive at an alternative conclusion.

Earlier this week Alternattiva Demokratika and the Democratic Party (which will be shortly merging into one party) called for the draft of any Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the USA to be made public immediately. This is necessary for public scrutiny. It is a basic democratic duty.

I would dare say that the very idea of a SOFA agreement is objectionable in principle as it goes flatly against the principles enshrined in Malta’s Constitution: no foreign troops on Maltese soil (or in Maltese waters). The possible details of a SOFA agreement are just as worrying: these could include the presence of elements of a nuclear powered Sixth Fleet which will be opposed tooth and nail by civil society.

Rejecting a SOFA agreement would potentially leave the Moneyval grey-listing possibilities unresolved. But then Robert Abela must seek to disentangle Malta from the suffocating problems created by his predecessor and his kitchen Cabinet without seeking US help!

US help comes at a hefty price which Malta should not pay. Our sovereignty is not for sale.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 October 2020

We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Anke Bendu bil-problemi ma’ tat-taxxa

Il-gazzetti tal-lum qalulna li wara kollox, dwar it-taxxi anke Bendu, jiġifieri Bernard Grech, għandu storja ta’ taxxi b’lura.

Il-Malta Today qaltilna: PN leadership candidate has a history of unpaid taxes. Is-Sunday Times qaltilna: Bernard Grech sorts out his tax dues. L-Illum, min-naħa l-oħra tgħidilna li: Grech ma jgħidx kif ħallas €62,000 f’taxxa u VAT li kellu pendenti fuq medda ta’ snin.

Hemm ħafna x’jiġi spjegat minn Bendu Grech. Fi ftit kliem kif jista’ jitwemmen meta jitkellem dwar il-ġustizzja soċjali meta kellu dawn il-problemi kollha mal-awtoritajiet tat-taxxa? Il-fatt li ftit ilu ftiehm ma jistax inessi li sa dakinhar kien jaħsibha mod ieħor.

It-taxxa hi strument ta’ ġustizzja redistributtiva u min jevadi jew jipprova jevadi t-taxxa jkun qed jaħrab mir-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu. Fuq dan m’hemmx x’tagħżel bejn Bendu u Drinu : it-tnejn pezza waħda.

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020