Meta l-istat jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa

F’indirizz li għamlet nhar it-Tnejn liċ-Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, Segretarju għat-Teżor tal-Istati Uniti, ippreżentat l-argument favur taxxa minima applikabbli għall-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali fuq livell globali, irrispettivament minn fejn huma bbażati.  Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta, kif rappurtat min-New York Times, ikollha s-saħħa li żżomm lil dawn il-kumpaniji milli jċaqilqu l-profitti tagħħom minn post għall-ieħor biex jevadu l-ħlas tat-taxxi dovuti minnhom.

Meta jitnaqqsu it-taxxi biex tinġbed l-industrija u n-negozju, emfasizzat  Ms Yellen, hemm is-sogru li mmissu l-qiegħ: fejn ser tieqaf? Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Il-kompetittività mhiex biss kif kumpanija tmur fil-konfront ta’ kumpaniji oħra.  Hi ukoll il-mod li bih nassiguraw  li l-gvernijiet ikollhom sistemi ta’ ġbir ta’ taxxa li jkunu stabbli b’mod li jistgħu jiġbru biżżejjed fondi x’jinvestu f’servizzi publiċi u jkunu f’posizzjoni li jirreaġixxu fi żmien ta’ kriżi. Hu meħtieġ li ċ-ċittadini bejniethom jerfgħu b’mod ġust il-piż tal-finanzjament tal-gvern.”

Din il-materja hi diġa fuq l-agenda tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hi opposta b’qawwa minn Malta, il-Lussimburgu, l-Irlanda u pajjiżi oħrajn.  L-argument dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni hu parti integrali mill-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus.

Hu ta’ sfortuna li Malta (u pajjiżi oħrajn) repetutament abbużat mis-sovranità tagħha fuq materji ta’ taxxa. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan l-abbuż repetut li l-proposta dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-taxxa qabdet l-art b’mod li issa hi appoġġata ukoll mill-Istati Uniti tal-Amerka.  Malta rmiet il-vantaġġ kompetittiv tagħha billi abbużat minnu repetutament. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż hi għaldaqstant awto-gol mill-kbar.

Malta ma tistax tkun kredibbli fil-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jekk ser tibqa’ tiffaċilita l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fuq skala internazzjonali.  Xi snin ilu il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kien ippubblika studju intitolat Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. Dan ir-rapport kien svela kif tul is -snin, il-kumpanija Ġermaniża ġgant tal-kimika BASF kien irnexxielha tevita u tiffranka l-ħlas ta’ biljun euro f’taxxi fuq 4 snin billi użat lill-Malta għal dan l-iskop. Dan sar billi kumpanija sussidjarja ġiet reġistrata f’Malta u t-taxxi dovuti, għax l-azzjonisti mhux residenti f’Malta, ħadu lura 6 euros minn kull 7 li kellhom iħallsu f’taxxa!

Il-każ tal-Korporazzjoni Amerikana Apple fl-Irlanda, kif nafu, wassal għall-evażjoni ta’ 13-il biljun euro f’taxxi. L-iskandlu Luxleaks fil-Lussimburgu ukoll wera kif dan il-pajjiż żgħir fost il-fundaturi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ukoll kien qed jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Dawn huma ftit mill-eżempji. Bla dubju hemm bosta oħra li s’issa huma moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu madwarna għaddejja evażjoni ta’ biljuni ta’ euro ta’ taxxi, kontinwament. Malta, l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu u xi pajjiżi oħra jiġbru parti żgħira mit-taxxi dovuti bħala ħlas talli jippermettu din l-evażjoni ta’ taxxa fuq skala pjuttost kbira.

F’Malta dan kollu kien possibli bħala riżultant tal-hekk imsejjaħ “kunsens nazzjonali” bejn il-PLPN dwar il-qasam finanzjarju. “Kunsens” li ilu fis-seħħ numru ta’ snin. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta li seħħet u għad qed isseħħ bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu, għaldaqstant, ma jġorriex il-Partit Laburista waħdu. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll għandu resposabbiltà xi jġorr. Għalhekk fuq dawn il-materji in-Nazzjonalisti u l-Labour dejjem iħokku dahar xulxin.  

Sfortunatament l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus huma ħafna drabi konnessi. Bosta drabi fejn issib waħda issib l-oħra ukoll.

It-triq il-quddiem m’għandiex ikollha impatt fuq is-sovranità fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni kif determinat mit-trattati Ewropej permezz tal-ħtieġa tal-unanimità f’materji konnessi mat-taxxa. Imma hemm bżonn urġenti li l-qasam tal-politika fiskali ukoll jinbena fuq prinċipji etiċi b’saħħithom. U mhux dan biss. Għandu jkun assigurat darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tibqax tiddependi minn dħul ġej mill-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Għax id-dipendenza tal-ekonomija Maltija fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa (u l-bejgħ tal-passaporti) hi ta’ inkwiet kbir għall-pajjiż. L-industrija tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa hi sors ta’ dħul kif ukoll ta’ impiegi li it-tnejn li huma inevitabilment jintilfu fi żmien qasir. Wasal iż-żmien li nippjanaw għal futur nadif, futur li mhux iktar dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’April 2021

When the state encourages tax evasion

In a speech delivered on Monday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, made the case for a global minimum tax applicable to multinational corporations irrespective of where they locate their headquarters. Such a proposal, reported the New York Times, would prevent companies from shifting profits to evade taxes.

Lowering tax rates to attract business, emphasised Ms Yellen, is a race to the bottom which has to be addressed. Competitiveness is not just how companies fare against other companies. It is also about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crisis, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.

This issue is already on the agenda of the EU facing fierce opposition from Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland as well as others. The issue of tax harmonisation is an integral part of the fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

It is unfortunate that Malta (and others) have been repeatedly abusing its tax sovereignty. It is as a result of such repeated abuse that the proposal for tax harmonisation is gaining ground such that it now has the support of the United States of America too. As a result of greed Malta has squandered a competitive advantage by abusing it repeatedly and continuously. The resulting reputational damage is hence an own goal.

Malta (and the other countries) cannot be credible in the declared fight against tax evasion and money laundering if it keeps facilitating tax avoidance on an international scale. Some years back the Green Group in the European Parliament had published a study entitled Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. This report reveals that over the years, the German chemical giant BASF used Malta to avoid the payment of one billion euros in taxes. This was done using the “legal” possibility to have tax refunds of up to six sevenths of the tax due in such cases where shareholders are not resident in the Maltese islands. Tax avoidance is tax evasion sanctioned by the state.

The Apple Corporation case in Ireland as a result of which another €13 billion in taxes were avoided is another example of tax evasion sanctioned by the state of Ireland. Luxleaks had also revealed countless of other examples as a result of which Luxembourg too embarked on state encouraged tax-evasion.

These are just some examples of many: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are undoubtedly countless of others, currently below the radar of public scrutiny, as a result of which the payment of billions of euros in taxes are being continuously avoided. Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg and other countries receive a small part of the actual tax due as a result of facilitating this state encouraged tax evasion.

Locally this scam is the result of the PNPL “national consensus” on financial institutions and fiscal policy in force for a number of years in Malta. The responsibility for the resulting reputational damage is thus not one to be shouldered by the Labour Party on its own, it has help from the PN which has continuously buttressed this abusive behaviour.

Unfortunately, tax evasion and money-laundering are inseparable twins!

The way forward need not impact the tax sovereignty afforded by the EU treaties through the unanimity rule on taxation issues. However, it necessitates ensuring that policy on all fiscal issues is also founded on sound ethical principles.

In addition to ensuring that fiscal policy is not in any way unethical it is about time that Malta does not any more, in any way, depend on tax avoidance.

The dependence of Malta’s economy on tax avoidance (and the sale of citizenship) is very worrying. The tax avoidance industry is a source of both revenue to the state and employment opportunities, both of which will be lost in the not-so-distant future. It is about time that we start planning for a cleaner future, a future that is, which is not dependent on the tax avoidance industry!

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2021

Lil hinn mill-insulti

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa tellajt fuq facebook meme dwar Keith Schembri u Joseph Muscat b’messaġġ wieħed, ċar u sempliċi. Ritratt ta’ Keith Schembri bil-kliem segwenti: jiena nemmen f’Joseph, għax Joseph jemmen fija.

Dan kien messaġġ politiku qawwi dwar il-ħidma politika tal-Partit Laburista f’dawn l-aħħar snin. Il-metodi operattivi ta’ Keith Schembri, li issa, bħala riżultat tal-ħidma tal-Pulizija ħarġu fil-beraħ, saru l-metodi operattivi tal-Partit Laburista.

Dan sar taħt it-tmexxija ta’ Joseph Muscat. Imma, tajjeb li niftakru li t-tmexxija ta’ Robert Abela hi waħda ta’ “kontinwità” ma dik tal-predeċessur tiegħu. Ir-responsabbiltà politika ta’ dak li għaddej bħalissa trid tintrefa mill-Partit Laburista u minn Robert Abela ukoll u mhiex biss ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Dan il-messaġġ wasal u nftiehem sewwa u għalhekk daħlu kwantità kbira ta’ reazzjonijiet li ħallejthom kollha fuq il-paġna tiegħi. Huma reazzjonijiet ta’ nies li filwaqt li huma konxji tat-tajjeb li għamel il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern iridu jaħarbu mill-ħmieġ kollu li ħiereġ.

Sodisfatt li lil hinn mill-insulti li rċevejt, il-messaġġ wasal b’mod mill-iktar ċar.

Grazzi lil kull min ħa sehem.

Rent reform is long overdue

Over the years, successive governments have refrained from carrying out essential far-reaching changes to rent legislation.

The emergency which justified the original restrictive legislation was instead made more restrictive over the years. Court decisions from Valletta to Strasbourg denouncing the current state of play have been piling up. The rent reforms of 1995 and 2008 cannot be discarded, however they were not followed up. They were appropriate small first steps but too much time elapsed with no adequate follow-up action. Successive governments have been reluctant to disturb a hornet’s nest hoping that somehow time will solve the matter.

It is within this context that Government’s proposal to carry out a root and branch reform of the 9,700 remaining pre-1995 tenancies is thus a responsible and courageous political move. Through it government will be shouldering the accumulated shortcomings of all its predecessors, red and blue, which have generally ignored the matter over the years. The Greens in Malta have over the years actively campaigned on this specific issue: justice for the landlords must be carried out together with adequate protection of vulnerable tenants.

At the time of writing the statements made by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Social Accommodation Minister Roderick Galdes have not been followed up with the publication of the specific legal texts which will implement the policy declarations made.

The proposals as described so far, are, in my view acceptable in principle. It is however expected that when the detailed legislative proposals are published, these are accompanied by studies carried out, including costings. An essential healthy public debate needs to be adequately buttressed by well-researched background information.

The proposal as spelled out by Abela and Galdes is based on two fundamental points. It seeks to tread the difficult path of protecting both tenants and landlords.

Tenant protection will be achieved through ensuring that vulnerable tenants will at all times have access to a home, be it their current one or, in some cases, possible alternatives provided through access to social accommodation. This is essentially a transitory provision applicable to the identified 9,700 pre-1995 tenancies and is undoubtedly a restrictive condition on landlords. It is however of central importance. It is to be counterbalanced by a mechanism which determines a more reasonable determination of rental income which will be coughed up by the state in part or in whole depending on the vulnerability of the tenant. It is also a mechanism which over the past years has generally been accepted by the Courts as constituting a fair and reasonable rental income.

Of fundamental importance in the proposal as communicated so far is the manner of determination of the payable rent. This will not be left completely to the whims of market forces as it will be capped at 2 per cent of the property’s value. This signifies that, hopefully, some lessons have been learnt from the fallout resulting from the complete liberalisation of the post-1995 rental market.   

The proposal will be addressing an accumulated social problem with a substantial financial outlay consisting of millions of euros annually.

So far, the rent payable in respect of pre-1995 tenancies have been subsidised by the landlords who, in a number of cases are themselves in need of help! It is appropriate that this support is shouldered by the whole community, through the state, who now steps forward to shoulder the problem in the spirit of national solidarity.

So far most have acknowledged that pre-1995 tenancies are a tough challenge. What matters, now, is that we face this challenge head-on. It cannot be postponed any further.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 March 2021

Lingering doubts on return to normal

The more Robert Abela brags that “the institutions are working” the longer doubts linger on. In a situation of normalcy, which we have a right to, there is no room for a Prime Minister addressing a press conference as that of last Tuesday (with a repeat on Thursday morning), on the police investigations into an assassination.

The Commissioner of Police addressed the press twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday. Commissioner Angelo Gafà was right to do so even if he could not give specific and detailed replies to avoid undermining the investigation at such a critical juncture. We expect the Commissioner of Police to inform us as to what is going on under his watch.

Angelo Gafà’s predecessor could not utter a coherent sentence in his press conferences. He left the running of the show to his deputy, known to the assassination prime suspect as Uncle Silvio.

Robert Abela and his predecessor have been breathing down the neck of the Police Force for far too long for them to realise that this is not normal behaviour in a democratic state. During his Tuesday Press Conference Robert Abela made a statement that could have indicated that he was being briefed on the criminal investigation by the Police. In fact, he stated that no politician, current or former, is in any way associated with the assassination investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia.  This was clearly rebutted by the Police Commissioner on the morrow in his answers to the press when replying to a similar question. He stated that to date no leads to politicians, past and present have been identified. However, he further emphasised that he does not brief the Prime Minister on investigations.

This is the real news from the Police Commissioner conference. Commissioner Gafà is getting one clear message across: the police does not brief the Prime Minister on ongoing investigations! This is a complete U-turn from past police behaviour. We have learnt from detailed testimony in the assassination criminal case that police officials used to brief former premier Joseph Muscat who would generally be accompanied by his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Melvin Theuma, the assassination middleman has testified time and again that he was aware of various important aspects of the investigation from his paymaster Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri’s friend.

The police, maybe, have learnt the lesson that they have been undermined too many a time by the tenant at Castille Place. In this respect Angelo Gafà’s statement is a much-needed breath of fresh air, a welcome step on the road to normalcy. It is however not enough. Even the tenant at Castille Place must play his part: in such circumstances he should realise once and for all that shutting up is the only way forward.

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia did not happen out of the blue but against a background of institutionalised and industrial scale corruption. The police have made progress on the assassination itself. Instead of trying to take credit for the latest developments in the Caruana Galizia case, it is now up to the Prime Minister to deal with the background that led to the assassination. Ignoring that background and its illicit fruits means endorsing it.

The democratic institutions can function if we let them. If the Prime Minister halts his prima donna behaviour it will definitely help a lot. Until such time there are lingering doubts as to whether a return to normal is on the cards yet.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 February 2021

Dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx

Id-dritt li jkollna aċċess għax-xemx reġa’ għal darba oħra qed jissemma b’insistenza. Dawk fostna li huma konxji li l-użu tax-xemx għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna jagħmel kemm sens ambjentali kif ukoll sens ekonomiku qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Sfortunatament huma ostakolati mill-politika dwar l-użu tal-art li hi interessata biss biex taqdi lir-rebgħa li, jippruvaw jgħidulna li hi żvilupp.

Li nagħmlu użu mill-enerġija li tiġġenera x-xemx jiddependi minn dak li jkun hemm jostakola l-wasla tar-raġġi tax-xemx meta jkollna ħtieġa tagħhom! Meta l-parti l-kbira tal-pjani lokali kienu approvati fis-sajf tal-2006, kien żdied bil-kbir l-għoli tal-bini permissibli f’diversi lokalitajiet. F’xi każi l-ammont ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew żdiedu minn 2 għal 5, inkluż penthouse. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar fejn jista’ jkun hemm garaxxijiet li jkunu parzjalment taħt il-livell tal-triq (semi-basement). Din il-bidla f’dak li jista’ jinbena effettwat ħafna żoni fejn kien hemm bini b’żewġ sulari.

L-impatt ta’ din il-bidla fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini qiegħed jiżdied biż-żmien għax issa qed isir żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bosta propjetajiet li ilhom ftit ta’ żmien li nbnew. Dan qed joħloq ħafna dellijiet fuq bosta djar residenzjali fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-pannelli fotovoltajċi u l-istallazzjonijiet li jsaħħnu l-ilma bix-xemx (solar water heaters) stallati fuq il-bjut ta’ bosta residenzi issa qegħdin fid-dell għall-ħin twil u ġew ma jiswew xejn. Dawn huma investimenti li għamlu ħafna familji Maltin li ġew issagrifikati fuq l-altar tar-rebgħa tal-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp. Sussidji użati bħala għajnuna biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija mix-xemx, inkluż dawk li oriġinaw minn fondi Ewropej, f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi spiċċaw moħlija.

Dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art bla viżjoni fit-tul. Politika li falliet biex tqis u tindirizza impatti ovvji. B’mod speċifiku hi riżultat li teżamina l-proposta dwar l-għoli permissibli tal-bini fid-dawl tal-proċeduri stabiliti mid-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Din hi direttiva li tfittex li teżamina politika (policy), pjani u programmi biex ikun stabilit u eżaminat l-impatt ambjentali tagħhom.

Dawk minnha li huma familjari ma kif taħdem u ħadmet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jafu li l-Pjani Lokali ġew approvati bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Dan sar l-għaliex iktar dewmien kien ikun ifisser illi dawn il-pjani kienu jkun soġġetti għal eżami dwar l-impatti ambjentali tagħhom skond kif tipprovdi d-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Inevitabilment kien jirriżulta minn dan l-eżami li ż-żieda fil-għoli tal-bini li seta jingħata l-permess kien ser ikollu impatt negattiv fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku mix-xemx, kif fil-fatt qed jiġri llum! Dan l-impatt kien ikollu jkun indirizzat u l-għoli tal-bini kien ikollu jonqos.

Kellna parti mill-Gvern taħdem favur il-ħtieġa li nagħmlu użu mix-xemx biex niġġeneraw enerġija nadifa. Imma kellna parti oħra mill-Gvern li kienet ostaġġ tal-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi li riedu iktar spazju fejn jistgħu jiżviluppaw. Il-bqija nafu x’ġara. Dak l-ispazju issa qed jiġi żviluppat u bħala riżultat spiċċajna bil-pannelli fid-dell fuq il-bjut!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, fil-Parlament, Miriam Dalli, Ministru għall-Enerġija, l-Intrapriża u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fi tweġiba għal mistoqsija parlamentari ta’ Ryan Callus kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Enerġija qalet li l-Gvern għaddej b’konsultazzjonijiet interni dwar dan kollu.

Tant ilna niddiskutu dan kollu li mhux nifhem x’għandha f’moħħha l-Onorevoli Ministru. Fil-fatt ftit hemm possibilitajiet x’jiġu kkunsidrati.

L-iktar possibilità ovvja hi li fejn hu possibli jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli permissibli tal-bini għal dak li kien fl-2006. Dan imma, hu diffiċli biex isir, u kieku kellu jsir immedjatament tasal talba għal kumpens ta’ miljuni ta’ euro.

Hu possibli li jkunu introdotti drittijiet dwar l-aċċess għax-xemx f’bini ġdid. Dan għandu jsir immedjatament. Hu possiblili li jkunu emendati r-regoli tal-ippjanar b’mod li jkun assigurat illi fil-bini ġdid, b’mod partikolari fil-bini ta’ flats, ikun possibli li minn fuq il-bjut tagħhom tkun ġġenerata l-enerġija mix-xemx. Dan għandu jkun biżżejjed u jagħmel tajjeb għall-konsum tal-elettriku fil-blokk tal-flats kollu. Dan ikun ifisser li l-arja ma tinżammx mill-iżviluppatur iżda tkun parti mill-blokk f’idejn is-sidien tal-flats biex fuqha jistallaw pannelli foto-voltajiċi. Dan jassigura li kull blokk ġdid ta’ flats ikun carbon neutral, jiġifieri jiġġenera elettriku mix-xemx daqs kemm ikun ikkunsmat. Il-pannelli b’hekk jieħdu post il-penthouse.

B’hekk nistgħu nibdew bil-mod insewwu l-ħsara li saret.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Frar 2021

Solar rights and planning wrongs

Solar rights are once more in the public debate. The number of those aware that utilising solar energy for our needs makes both environmental and economic sense is on the increase. Unfortunately, they are being obstructed by land use planning policy which is only interested in serving greed, camouflaged as development.

The utilisation of the sun’s energy is dependent on what gets in the way of the sun’s rays when we need them!  When most of the Local Plans were approved way back in summer of 2006, the permissible heights of building development in a multitude of areas were substantially increased. At times this increase was from 2 to 5 floors, including a penthouse level. It is worse where semi-basement garages are permissible. This change was in particular applied in respect of large areas with a previous predominance of two floored terraced houses. 

The impact of this change in the permissible height limitation is increasing in severity with time as the redevelopment of old properties is being gradually taken in hand. This is resulting in the shadowing of an ever-increasing number of residential units in a number of residential areas. As a result, solar water heaters and photo voltaic panels installed on a number of roofs in the past years, are now in the shade for a considerable amount of time and consequently are practically useless. Investments made by a number of our families have been sacrificed on the altar of development greed. Subsidies (including those originating from EU funds) which were utilised to assist the tapping of solar energy in a substantial number of cases have thus been thrown down the drain.

This is the result of myopic land use planning which failed to consider obvious impacts. Specifically, it is the result of the failure to subject the proposed height relaxation planning policies to the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive. The Strategic Environment Assessment Directive seeks to examine policies, plans and programmes in order to ensure that their environmental aspects are effectively considered.

Those of us familiar with the workings of the Planning Authority are aware that most of the Local Plans were rushed through to approval during the summer of 2006. This was done as any further delay would have made them subject to Strategic Environment Assessment procedures which would have inevitably highlighted the impact of height relaxation on the generation of solar energy. As a result, the conflict with the need to have solar energy generated would have been highlighted and most probably addressed.

While one section of government was encouraging one and all on the need to tap the sun’s rays to generate clean and renewable energy, another section, hostage to the development lobby was obstructing this and pushing forward their need for more space to develop! The rest is history. That space is currently being developed today, in the process obstructing the further generation of renewable energy on our rooftops.

In Parliament, earlier this week Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Miriam Dalli in reply to a Parliamentary Question from Ryan Callus, spokesperson for Energy on behalf of the Opposition, stated that government was holding internal discussions on the matter.

The matter has been discussed many times to date so I cannot decipher exactly what Minister Miriam Dalli has in mind. There are in fact very few possible options which can be considered.

The most obvious option is to revise as much as possible the height relaxation carried out in 2006. This will be very difficult to carry out, and, if done, it will be immediately followed-up by a request for compensation running into many millions of euro.

Alternatively, one can seek to introduce solar rights on new buildings without further delay. It is possible that planning policy is amended to ensure that all new properties, in particular blocks of flats, should generate sufficient electricity to cater for the number of units in the new block, thus ensuring carbon neutrality. Such a measure would essentially require that the roof is owned together with the individual units in order that owners of the said units may install photo voltaic panels. Consequently, it would signify that the space which till now has been utilised for the development of penthouses would henceforth be reserved for the generation of renewable energy.

In so doing a history of planning wrongs would commence the long and difficult road of correction.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 February 2021

Greening: what really matters

A public consultation is currently under way relative to green roofs and green walls. A 42-page document entitled Green Paper on Greening Buildings in Malta: Initiatives for Green Walls and Roofs for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Buildings was published, explaining the objectives to be attained. The encouragement of green roofs and green walls aims to contribute towards reaching the zero-carbon objective in 2050. 

I have no issue with greening walls and roofs where this is appropriate. However, notwithstanding all the good intentions, there is a risk that the predominant green produced is more plastic! Maybe they could, instead, start by respecting our existing green walls made up of the substantial number of trees being continuously uprooted by the Ministry for Transport!

My issue is with the artificiality of “environment policy” in Malta which concentrates and over-inflates on minor issues and then turns a blind eye to the issues that really matter.

Among the most pressing issues is that of the urgent need of greening transport policy: that is the need to ensure that mobility issues in the Maltese islands are addressed in a sustainable manner.

Two specific policy issues currently in hand need complete reversal.

The current massive investment of resources in roadbuilding is a blatant misuse of public funds as they place car-usage as the primary objective to be facilitated. It is pertinent to point, once more, towards the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which in crystal-clear language explains what’s wrong with transport policy in the Maltese islands.

The following extract is self-explanatory: “Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Greening transport policy in Malta essentially means addressing and reducing car ownership in order to substantially reduce private vehicles from our roads. In a small country such as ours, sustainable mobility cannot be achieved through private vehicles but through alternative transport. Everywhere is within reach. In fact, the Transport Master Plan emphasises that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local or regional in nature.

We need more public transport initiatives and less private cars on our roads instead of further extensions to the public road network through massive road infrastructural projects.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is likewise another unnecessary project. It is a tunnel which facilitates the use of private cars. The feasibility of the said project is tied to a substantial increase in car movements between the islands as it is the payment of fees levied on cars making the trip that pays for the tunnel project. The documentation projects an increase from 3000 to 9000 daily movements of vehicles, a threefold increase. Green walls and green roofs do not cancel out such irresponsible action.

Greening roofs and walls do not involve rocket science. There is no issue with the implementation of a policy encouraging green roofs and green walls although it would be quite useful if plastic use in such walls and roofs is reduced! But transport policy is contentious as it involves unpopular but essential decisions. Restraining the use of private vehicles is, of paramount importance. Coupled with more public transport improvements it will reduce cars on the roads, improve the quality of our air and reduce household expenses. Avoiding this decision will only make matters worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 February 2021

Lil hinn minn Oliver

Lill-Oliver Scicluna ftit nafu. Segwejtu jaħdem mill-bogħod u għandi rispett u ammirazzjoni lejh bħala persuna kif ukoll għad-dedikazzjoni tiegħu għal dak li jemmen fih.

Il-co-option tiegħu fil-Parlament imma hi abbuż sfaċċjat tas-sistema. Kif kienet abbuż il-co-option ta’ bosta oħrajn: ta’ Adrian Delia, ta’ Bernard Grech, ta’ Miriam Dalli, ta’ Clyde Caruana u anke ta’ Joseph Muscat innifsu fl-2008.

Hu abbuż li ħadd ma ikkontestah sal-lum. Kien hemm mumenti meta dan kien fix-xifer li jsir meta l-Eżekuttiv tal-PN kien iddeċieda li jikkoptja lil Jean Pierre Debono meta irriżenja David Stellini, MP għal Ghawdex.

Dakinnhar, b’mod sfaċċat, l-Eżekuttiv tal-PN kien iddeċieda li jkun co-opted Jean Pierre Debono flok Kevin Cutajar.

Kevin Cutajar kien kandidat fuq Għawdex, imma Jean Pierre kien qed jistenna ringrazzjament talli ċeda is-siġġu tiegħu fuq Ħaż-Żebbuġ biex daħal Adrian Delia fil-Parlament. Delia, ovvjament, ma setax jirringrazzja lil Jean Pierre billi jagħmlu ambaxxatur, bħalma Joseph Muscat kien għamel lil Joseph Cuschieri, anke jekk snin wara!

Kull kandidat ikun urtat jekk wara li jkun aċċetta l-inkonvenjent li jikkontesta elezzjoni u ma jitlax, wara, kif titfaċċa opportunità fid-Distrett tiegħu jitfaċċa xi ħadd minn barra d-distrett biex itellfu anke dik l-opportunità. Il-każ ikun agħar jekk min jitfaċċa l-anqas biss ikun qagħad iħabbel rasu biex jikkontesta elezzjoni. Bħal Oliver, bħal Adrian, bħal Bernard, bħal Clyde u bħal Joseph.

Il-co-options li jsiru b’dan il-mod hu abbuż tas-sistema u għandhom jispiċċaw. Din il-kitba mhiex kritika ta’ Oliver imma tal-partiti li qed jabbużaw mis-sistema.

Ħbieb tan-natura …… b’subgħajhom fuq il-grillu

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech ħatar il-kelliema tal-Opposizzjoni (Shadow Cabinet), fosthom kelliemi għall-kaċċa u l-insib. Mexa fuq il-passi tal-Gvern u ssepara din ir-responsabbiltà minn dik ambjentali, fejn hu postha.

B’dan il-pass, il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll tana messaġġ ċar li anke hu jiġu jaqa’ u jqum mir-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tal-pajjiż. Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati skond id-Direttiva Ewropeja dwar l-Għasafar.

Il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament attent li jbiegħed il-kaċċa u l-insib mill-istrutturi regolatorji ambjentali biex jasserixxi l-kontroll politiku. Il-Unit dwar l-Għasafar fl-2013 inqala’ mill-qafas regolatorju ambjentali. L-ewwel tqiegħed fil-Ministeru responsabbli mill-agrikultura u issa spiċċa fil-Ministeru għal Għawdex.

Il-Partiti fil-Parlament huma ċari fil-messaġġ tagħhom: il-kaċċa u l-insib, għalihom mhux meqjusa ambjent, imma jarawhom biss f’termini ta’ voti.  

Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati f’qafas regolatorju ambjentali, speċifikament bħala parti minn strateġija realistika dwar il-biodiversità. Din hi raġuni ewlenija għalfejn nopponu bil-qawwa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Għax hu fir-rebbiegħa li n-natura jkollha l-possibilità li tistejqer u tirriġenera ruħha. Jekk mhux ser tieqaf il-kaċċa tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa tibqa’ tikber il-ħsara lill-biodiversità. Din hi verità ambjentali bażika li iktar ma tkun aċċettata minn kulħadd, aħjar.  

NET TV nhar l-Erbgħa irrapporta li Edwin Vassallo inħatar bħala l-kelliemi tal-PN fil-Parlament dwar il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali. Għax il-PN, bħall-Labour, iħarsu lejn il-kaċċa u l-insib tal-għasafar esklussivament f’termini ta’ voti. Għad m’għandhomx idea dwar l-impatti ambjentali li qed jinjoraw.

B’mod redikolu, meta Bernard Grech iltaqa’ ma’ rappresentanti tal-kaċċaturi, l-FKNK, huwa iddeskriva lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba bħala ħbieb tan-natura. Il-ħbieb tan-natura ma jkunux armati!   

Minn meta ‘l hawn il-ħbieb tan-natura jisplodu l-għasafar fl-ajru jew jaqfluhom f’gaġeġ?  

Huwa ċar li Bernard Grech u l-PN li hu jmexxi, għadu mħawwad fejn jikkonċerna l-ambjent. Mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida din!  Tfisser biss li l-PN għadu ma tgħallem xejn minn dak li għadda minnu f’dawn l-aħħar snin. Billi jilgħaq lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba m’hu ser jasal imkien.

F’qasam fejn diversi għadhom jippretendu li jagħmlu li jridu kont nistenna li Bernard Grech jappoġġa lil dawk li qed jinsistu għal regolamentazzjoni rigoruża tal-kaċċa. Kliemu, sfortunatament, jinkoraġixxi lil dawk li jabbużaw, inkluż lil dawk li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu minn l-għasafar protetti. Għandu jifhem ukoll li l-perjodu ta’ transizzjoni dwar l-insib kif imfisser dettaljatament fit-trattat li bih Malta issieħbet fl-EU ilu li skada.  Dan ifisser li l-insib suppost li ilu li spiċċa minn Malta. Il-kummenti ta’ Bernard Grech, għaldaqstant jinkoraġixxu attività illegali. Is-saltna tad-dritt, Dr Grech, tapplika għall-kaċċa u l-insib ukoll!

F’Jannar 2017, predeċessur ta’ Bernard Grech ippubblika l-politika ambjentali tal-PN fi ktejjeb intitolat “Kwalità tal-Ħajja Aħjar”.  F’dan id-dokument ma ssibx referenza għall-kaċċa u għall-insib. Id-dokument jiddiskuti l-biodiversità f’termini ġenerali u jemfasizza li f’Malta l-ekosistemi mhux imħarsa u l-biodiversità qed tiddgħajjef kontinwament.  L-appoġġ tal-PN lill-kaċċa u l-insib (bħalma jagħmel il-Labour) hu attakk frontali kontra l-biodiversità. Hemm bżonn li jiġu f’sensihom.  

L-insib diġa hu illegali. Anke l-kaċċa jeħtieġ li tkun imrazzna u mhux tkun inkoraġġita.

Ambjentalment il-PN għadu lura ħafna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Jannar 2021