Corruption: the institutions are not working

Reading through the media court reports on the Qormi murder earlier this week confirms that the Police in Malta can carry out crime investigations assiduously and bring them to their logical conclusions when they are left to carry out their work free from any pressures whatsoever.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said on Police investigations relative to corruption.

Last week, in my article (Phone call from the Ministry: TMIS 4 September 2022) I referred to the cryptic language used in the evidence delivered in Court by the Police Inspector in the car licence corruption case. This, I argued, is conveying the unmistakable message that holders of political office and their hangers-on are dealt with kids gloves by the police investigators, thereby facilitating the development of clientelism into corruption.

During the public protest held last Tuesday against corruption organised by the NGO Repubblika it was once more explained as to how the authorities (that is the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General’s office) have failed to act on the conclusions of the report of the magisterial inquiry into the operations of Pilatus Bank.

Repubblika President, Robert Aquilina, quoting chapter and verse from the magisterial inquiry report, explained how the Courts have instructed the said authorities to take criminal action against various former officials of Pilatus Bank. However only one former official was arraigned. All the others whom the inquiring magistrate pointed out have not been arraigned to account for their actions.

This has led to the unprecedented step of NGO Repubblika challenging the police authorities and the Attorney General in Court for failing to carrying out their duties. The authorities, are not functioning, Robert Aquilina rightfully claimed!

To substantiate his claim, he presented the relevant extracts from the report of the magisterial inquiry on the operations of Pilatus Bank.

To add insult to injury, the magistrate examining the challenge in Court, instead of requesting the police and the Attorney General to explain their “ifs” and “whys” turned on the NGO leadership in order to identify how the magisterial inquiry report came into their possession. Instead of shielding citizens seeking justice, unfortunately, the magistrate is shielding those who are sending out the clear message that, after all, crime pays, if you have friends located in the right places.

Instead of acting against the corrupt the courts are acting against those who are vigilant enough to note that the institutions are failing to carry out their basic duties.

This is the basic message being conveyed. The institutions are not working as they are not taking the necessary action to ensure that justice is done and that our society is defended against corruption. In addition to this blatant breach of trust, the institutions are also obstructing those who, notwithstanding the odds stacked against them are seeking to remedy the situation.

If this was not enough, we have just learnt of a secret agreement between the Azeri company SOCAR and the Maltese government, then represented by Konrad Mizzi. Irrespective of whether this agreement was implemented or not, it is another case of abusive use of Ministerial powers and should be properly investigated.

Faced with all this, nobody can remain passive. This is the tip of the corruption iceberg that has stifled our country and has been doing so for quite some time.

It is no wonder that Malta’s reputation has gone to the dogs!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 September 2022

Telefonata mill-Ministeru

Il-biċċa qerq dwar il-liċenzji tas-sewqan li nkixfet fil-Qorti iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hi inkwetanti ħafna. Dan qed ngħidu in vista tal-informazzjoni sensittiva li dwarha ingħatat biss indikazzjoni żgħira fix-xhieda li instemgħet s’issa fil-Qorti. Id-dettalji dwar dan kollu li jikkonċerna korruzzjoni fl-eżamijiet tejoretiċi dwar is-sewqan, għadhom mhux magħrufa.

S’issa ġew imħarrka tlett irġiel:  wieħed mid-Diretturi u żewġ uffiċjali ta’ Trasport Malta, li wieħed minnhom kien elett bħala kunsillier fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħaż- Żebbuġ f’isem il-Partit Laburista.  

Kien żvelat fil-Qorti li l-akkużati, waqt li kienu interrogati, iġġustifikaw l-azzjonijiet tagħhom billi emfasizzaw li kienu soġġetti għal pressjoni politika kontinwa.  L-uffiċjal anżjan fost dawk akkużati ilmenta li ħassu taħt pressjoni kbira minħabba t-telefonati kontinwi minn diversi Ministeri.

Fix-xhieda mogħtija s’issa l-pulizija żvelat li f’mobile li ġabru sabu “chats diversi ma’ persuni b’rabta ma’ partit politiku”. Ma hemm l-ebda informazzjoni uffiċjali dwar l-identità ta’ dan il-partit politiku. L-unika ħaġa li nista’ ngħid hi li dan il-partit definittivament mhux l- ADPD!

Xi ħadd li kellu aċċess għall-informazzjoni fuq il-mobile maqbud imma, fuq il-media soċjali, indirettament żvela l-għala l-pulizija hi kawta u mhux tiżvela ismijiet ta’ dawk involuti. Jidher li rrealizzaw li l-ismijiet, hekk kif ikunu żvelati jistgħu joħolqu terrimot politiku li bħalu qatt ma rajna.  Skont l-informazzjoni mhux uffiċjali li qed tiċċirkola b’mod elettroniku jidher li ġew identifikati bħala li ħadu sehem f’din il-biċċa qerq taħt investigazzjoni 4 membri attwali tal-Kabinett flimkien ma tnejn oħra li m’għadhomx fil-Kabinett.  Mid-dehra l-parti l-kbira ta’ dawk inkarigati mis-Segretarjat tal-Ministri kif ukoll numru ta’  Membri Parlamentari huma mdeffsa ukoll.

Fl-investigazzjonijiet tagħhom il-Pulizija jidher li f’uffiċċju ta’wieħed mill-akkużati sabu żewġ djarji b’informazzjoni sostanzjali li kienet tikkonsisti f’ismijiet, numri tal-karta tal-identità kif ukoll id-dati ta’ meta dawk li gawdew mill-irregolaritajiet investigati qagħdu għall-eżami tejoretiku għall-liċenzja tas-sewqan.

Wieħed mill-akkużati qed jiddefendieħ il-kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Intern, l-Avukat  Dr Joe Giglio, avukat bi prattika estensiva fil-qasam tal-liġi kriminali.  Mhux etika li membri parlamentari jinvolvu ruħhom f’dawn il-każijiet. Id-difiża ta’ persuni akkużati bl-involviment fil-korruzzjoni mhiex kompatibbli mal-ħidma politika kontra l-istess korruzzjoni. Ma jistax ikun kredibbli jekk jipprova jkollu saqajh fuq iż-żewġ naħat.  Dan qed ixellef sewwa l-kredibilità politika tiegħu. Jidher li mill-kaz tal-Bank Pilatus ma’ tgħallem xejn!

Minn din l-istorja kollha  hemm żewġ punti ta’ importanza.

Għalfejn il-Pulizija joqgħodu lura milli jagħtu informazzjoni fejn ikun hemm il-politiċi involuti? Il-kliem nieqes miċ-ċarezza li intuża mill-Ispettur tal-Pulizija fil-Qorti din il-ġimgħa jwassal dan il-messaġġ. Ma jkunx ferm iktar għaqli li min qiegħed hemm biex iħares il-liġi ma jibqgħax jimxi bl-ingwanti tal-ħarir mal-membri tal-Kabinett?

Imbagħad xi ngħidu għall-irbit li għandhom il-membri parlamentari mal-professjoni jew xogħol tagħhom? Meta ser jinħallu minn dan l-irbit li jxekkilhom fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom? Kif propost repetutament minn ADPD fid-diversi manifesti elettorali, għandna bżonn  Parlament li mill-iktar fis ikun magħmul minn membri li jiddedikaw ħinhom kollu għall-ħidma Parlamentari. Huwa b’dan il-mod biss li l-Parlament jista’ jkun kredibbli u possibilment effettiv.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Settembru 2022

Phone call from the Ministry

The driving licence racket unveiled in Court earlier this week is extremely disturbing. This is being stated in view of the sensitive information indicated in the testimony heard so far in Court but the details of which are still under wraps. The case involves corruption in driving theory tests.

Three men have so far been arraigned: the Director for Land Transport at Transport Malta and two other Transport Malta officers one of whom is a Żebbuġ Local Councillor elected on behalf of the Labour Party.

It was revealed in Court that the accused, when interrogated, had justified their actions by emphasising that they were under constant “political” pressure. The senior among the accused complained that he felt pressured as he was getting continuous calls from various Ministries.

The police have revealed, in the testimony so far, that a mobile phone in their possession has “revealed chats with people linked to a political party”. No further official information is available as to the identity of this political party.  It is definitely not ADPD!

Someone having access to the mobile phone data has however indirectly revealed on social media the reason why the police have been cautious in revealing the names of those involved in this racket. It seems that the Police have realised that these names, once revealed, could cause a political earthquake the likes of which we have never seen. According to the unofficial information circulating online, the names of at least four current members of the Cabinet as well as two former ones have been so far identified as being possibly involved in the racket being investigated. Apparently, most of the Ministries’ Chief of Staff as well as a number of Members of Parliament may also have a finger in the pie.

Apparently in a Transport Malta office used by one of the accused, the police, during their investigations came across two diaries containing substantial information consisting of names, ID card numbers and dates when the persons benefitting from the irregularities under investigation were due to sit for their theoretical driving exams. The persons indicated were apparently “helped” in order to ensure that they were successful.

One of the accused is being defended by the shadow minister for Home Affairs, Dr Joe Giglio, a lawyer with an extensive criminal law practice. It is extremely unethical for members of parliament to involve themselves in such cases. His defence of clients accused with involvement in corruption is incompatible with his political actions against corruption in the political arena. He cannot be credible if he runs with the hares and then tries hunting with the hounds. He is severely denting his own credibility. Apparently, he has not learnt anything from his experiences as the legal advisor of Pilatus Bank.

This racket brings two basic issues to the fore.

Why are the Police (so far) withholding information on the holders of political office involved? The cryptic language used by the Police Inspector in Court this week transmits this basic message. Isn’t it about time that law enforcement does not treat the members of the Cabinet and their hangers-on with kids’ gloves?

When will all members of Parliament cut themselves free from the restraints of their professional practices or their previous employment? As ADPD has repeatedly proposed over the years, we need a full time Parliament as soon as possible.  It is only in this way that parliament can be credible and possibly effective.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 September 2022

Ftit ħsibijiet dwar il-baġit li jmiss

F’dawn il-ġranet, fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi jkun qed isir ix-xogħol preparattiv dwar il-baġit li normalment ikunu imħabbar matul ix-xahar ta’ Ottubru.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, mid-dehra diġa ddeċieda li jagħti l-aħħar irtokki biex ikompli jiffinanzja l-klijenteliżmu fl-Air Malta.  Dan hu proġett fit-tul li l-ħidma dwaru ilha għaddejja fuqu mill-predeċessuri tiegħu. Proġett li jinvolvi iktar miljuni ta’ euro ġejjin mit-taxxi tagħna li ser ikunu moħlija biex jonoraw wegħdiet politiċi li saru matul il-kampanja elettorali tal-elezzjoni ġenerali li għada kif għaddiet. Din hi irregolarità oħra bħat-tqassim tac-ċekkijiet bieb bieb waqt il-kampanja elettorali. Monument “xieraq” għall-klijenteliżmu politiku.

L-għoli tal-ħajja spara l-fuq, bla kontroll. Probabbilment li l-COLA, ż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għall-pagi,salarji u pensjonijiet, li titħabbar bħala parti mill-baġit li jmiss, tkun madwar €10 fil-ġimgħa. Il-Ministru Clyde Caruana diġa qal li din kienet tkun sostanzjalment għola minn hekk kieku l-Gvern ma issussidjax il-petrol/dijsil u l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma.

Hemm ħtieġa li niddiskutu ftit iktar dawn is-sussidji biex ikunu aħjar, iktar effettivi u li jilħqu lil min verament jeħtieġhom. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi attwali hi politika tajba li l-użu bażiku jkun issussidjat, imma mhux għaqli li fuq tul ta’ żmien dan jibqa’ sussidju sħiħ għall-konsum kollu. Għax is-sussidji mhux qed imorru għand il-vulnerabbli biss: min mhux vulnerabbli għandu bżonn inqas tas-sussidji tal-lum.  Is-sussidji jeħtieġ li jkunu ffukati jekk irridu li l-pajjiż ikun ta’ għajnuna utli għall-vulnerabbli. Għax ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż ma jippermettux li nibqgħu sejrin kif aħna fit-tul.

Xi ġranet ilu, s-sussidju fuq il-fuel li jieħdu l-inġenji tal-baħar tneħħa. Dan hu sewwa u seta ġie evitat mill-bidu. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed.  It-tnaqqis gradwali tas-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil mhux biss inaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq u jtejjeb il-kwalità tal-arja, imma fuq kollox jagħmilha possibli li iktar finanzi jkunu allokati għal oqsma oħra li tant jeħtieġu l-attenzjoni.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ għamlet tajjeb li tkellmet dwar ftit iktar ħsieb fuq kif ikunu issussidjati l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma. Anke f’dan il-qasam hu l-użu bażiku li għandu jkun issussidjat. Sussidji iktar minn hekk ifisser li anke l-użu esaġerat tal-elettriku u l-ilma qed ikun issussidjat. Dan hu użu ħażin ta’ fondi pubbliċi lijista’ jkun indirizzat bla diffikultà.

Naqbel perfettament ma’ Josef Bugeja tal-GWU li iż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għandha titħallas kollha lil min jaħdem (u lill-pensjonanti). Il-COLA mhiex, wara kollox, żieda fil-paga imma tipprova tagħmel tajjeb għall-impatt tal-inflazzjoni fuq il-paga, salarju jew pensjoni.

Imma tibqa’ l-ħtieġa ta’ bidla mill-qiegħ dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pagi (incomes policy) biex din tkun dejjem iktar relevanti għaż-żmien li qed ngħixu fih.

Ilna ħafna nitkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa li l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jservu biex fuqhom tinħadem il-paga minima u l-COLA jkun revedut biex ikun assigurat li dan jirrifletti l-ħtiġijiet tal-lum. L-istudji li ippubblikat il-Caritas tul dawn l-aħħar snin jiffukaw eżattament fuq hekk. Minn dawn l-istudji joħroġ ċar li reviżjoni tal-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi jwassal għal żieda inevitabbli ta’ 40 fil-mija fil-paga minima kurrenti. Li dan ikun indirizzat bla iktar dewmien hu essenzjali. Ifisser, skond dawn l-istudji tal-Caritas, li paga minima diċenti għandha tkun ta’ madwar l- €14,000 fis-sena.

L-inflazzjoni  sostanzjali ta’ din is-sena jfisser li l-vulnerabbli fostna għaddejjin minn żmien diffiċli. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi ikun mill-iktar raġjonevoli li l-COLA titħallas darbtejn fis-sena: fl-1 ta’ Lulju u l-1 ta’ Jannar. Dan ma jżidx l-ammont li jitħallas imma billi dan jinqasam fi tnejn, u parti titħallas sitt xhur qabel, inaqqas ħafna l-piz fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli.

Għadna qed nistennew lill-Onorevoli Ministru tal-Finanzi biex iwettaq dak li wiegħed is-sena l-oħra bl-introduzzjoni ta’ mekkaniżmu speċjali li jipproteġi lill-vulnerabbli mill-impatti tal-għoli tal-ħajja. Għadna nistennew, imma l-Onorevoli Ministru jidher li hu iktar ippreokkupat biex jonora l-wegħdiet konnessi mal-klijenteliżmu politiku fl-Air Malta.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 21 t’Awwissu 2022

Some budgetary considerations

In the Finance Ministry this is the time when they gear up to prepare next year’s budget which is normally presented sometime in October.

The Hon Minister for Finance has apparently already decided to proceed with the finishing touches to further finance clientelism in Air Malta. This is a long-term project what they call “works in progress”. It involves more millions of euro in taxpayer’s money down the drain to honour political pledges made during the March 2022 general election. This is another corrupt practice together with the distribution of cheques to every household during the general election campaign. A “fitting” monument to political clientelism.

The cost-of-living is out of control. Most probably that the COLA, the cost-of-living adjustment to wages, salaries and pensions, announced during the budget speech will be around €10 per week. Minister Clyde Caruana states that it could be substantially more if government did not subsidise fuel and electricity bills.

The blanket subsidises of fuel and electricity bills need to be revisited in order that they are more effective in supporting the vulnerable. In the present circumstances it is good policy to subsidise basic use but it does not make sense for a prolonged blanket policy of subsidies. The current subsidies are not going into the pockets of the vulnerable alone. Those who are not amongst the vulnerable can do without most of the current subsidies. Subsidises need to be focused such that they are of help to the most vulnerable. The country does not have the resources to go on in this way for too long a time.

Some days ago, the fuel subsidisation policy was amended in order that the fuelling of pleasure seacraft was at last excluded from further benefitting from the use of subsidised fuel. This is however not enough. The gradual reduction of subsidies of petrol and diesel would not only ease traffic from our roads and improve the quality of our air: they would also make substantial finance available for other areas.

The Chamber of Commerce has also rightfully pointed out that subsidising water and electricity bills across the board needs to be revisited. Even in this area it is basic use which should be subsidised. Subsidising across the board signifies that excessive use is subsidised too. This is a misuse of public funds which we can easily do without.

Josef Bugeja (GWU) is spot on in insisting that the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) should be paid out in full to all employees (and pensioners). It has to be underlined that COLA is not an increase in wages and salaries. It merely makes good for the impact of inflation on wages, salaries and pensions during the past year.

There is however need for a long overdue overhaul of the incomes policy to make it more relevant to this day and age.

It is about time that the basket of goods and services used to compute the minimum wage and the COLA is revised in order to ensure that it reflects todays needs. The Caritas studies throughout the years have made this basic contribution to the debate: revising the basket of goods and services would identify a 40 per cent shortfall in the current minimum wage. The sooner this is addressed the better. On the basis of the Caritas studies, currently a decent minimum wage should be around €14,000 per annum.

The substantial inflation throughout this year signifies that the vulnerable amongst us are passing though a very difficult patch. In such circumstances it would be reasonable to consider having COLA paid twice a year: 1st July and 1st January. This would not increase the amount due but by splitting it in two, and bringing forward part of its payment by six months, would reduce the burden shouldered by the most vulnerable amongst us.

We are still waiting for the Hon Minister of Finance to honour his commitment made this time last year to address the cost-of-living impacts on the vulnerable through some special mechanism. We are still waiting, unfortunately, as the Hon Minister is more preoccupied in servicing clientelism at Air Malta.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 August 2022

It-timbru tal-President

Waqt li inti qiegħed taqra dan l-artiklu, l-Eċċellenza Tiegħu il-President  qiegħed  fir-Renju Unit wara li attenda għall-inawgurazzjoni tal-logħob tal-Commonwealth. Huwa telaq minn Malta nhar l-Erbgħa fil-għodu.

Hekk kif l-ajruplan tal-Air Malta bl-Eċċellenza tiegħu fi triqtu lejn Birmingham inqata’ mill-art, l-Aġent President il-Professor Frank Bezzina kien fl-uffiċċju tal-President qiegħed jiffirma l-liġi bl-emendi tal-IVF. L-istess liġi li Dr Vella kien ilu ġranet sħaħ jirrifjuta li jiffirma.

L-istorja ma tieqafx hawn. Meta l-President, George Vella, irrifjuta li jiffirma huwa mar lil hinn mill-awtorità li tagħtih il-liġi u dan billi hu ma għandu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif jista’ jaġixxi: għandu jagħti l-kunsens tiegħu bla dewmien. Hekk jistabilixxi l-artiklu 72 tal-Kostituzzjoni tar-Repubblika ta’ Malta.

Anke l-Eċċellenza Tiegħu hu soġġett għal-liġi, f’dan il-każ il-Kostituzzjoni. Li jirrifjuta li jimxi ma dak li tgħid il-liġi, f’dan il-każ il-Kostituzzjoni, hu ksur serjissimu tar-responsabbiltajiet Kostituzzjonali Tiegħu. Fil-fehma tal-partit tiegħi dan hu suffiċjenti biex ikun ikkunsidrat li Dr George Vella jitneħħa mill-kariga ta’ President tar-Repubblika. L-Eċċellenza Tiegħu messu jkun ta’ eżempju dwar kif inbaxxu rasna għas-saltna tad-dritt. Kif nippretendu li ħaddiehor jaqdi dmiru jekk il-Kap tal-iStat jaġixxi b’dan il-mod u jagħti l-agħar eżempju possibli?

Għad baqa’ ċans biex il-Parlament jikkunsidra t-tneħħija ta’ Dr George Vella mill-ħatra u dan minħabba l-imġieba tiegħu li hi kemm inaċċettabbli kif ukoll illegali.

Imma l-Parlament għandu bżonn li jmur lil hinn minn ċensura qawwija ta’ Dr George Vella.  Għandu jikkunsidra fil-fond ir-rwol tal-President tar-Republika. Speċifikament għandu jkun ikkunsidrat li l-President ma għandux ikun sempliċi timbru imma li possibilment ikollu poter li jibgħat lura għand il-Parlament dawk il-liġijiet li fil-fehma tiegħu ma jkunux kompatibbli mal-kostituzzjoni.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet li l-partit li jiena immexxi kien għamel lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali konna iffukajna fuq din il-materja, fost affarijiet oħra.  Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna lill-konvenzjoni, fis-sezzjoni intitolata : Il-President tar-Repubblika: ħatra u responsabbiltajiet, il-partit kien ippropona li l-President għandu jkollu id-dritt li jibgħat lura quddiem il-Parlament liġi biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid kemm-il darba fil-fehma tiegħu din il-liġi ma tkunx kompatibbli ma’ dak li tipprovdi l-Kostituzzjoni.  

Il-President, meta jidħol fil-ħatra, jiddikjara li hu/hi ser jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni. Imma minkejja li jassumi fuqu dan l-obbligu m’għandux għodda kostituzzjonali biex dan ikun jista’ jagħmlu.  Il-proposta tagħna ilha li ppreżentajniha kważi tlett snin. Biha ipproponejna l-għodda kostituzzjonali meħtieġa  li permezz tagħha l-Eċċellenza Tiegħunil-President ikun jista’ jaġixxi  b’mod responsabbli u bis-saħħa tal-liġi, f’ċirkustanzi serji fejn dan ikun meħtieġ. Konna pproponejna ukoll li jekk il-Parlament ma jibdilx jew jimmodifika il-posizzjoni tiegħu għas-sodisfazzjon tal-President dan ikollu l-possibilità li jibgħat il-liġi in kwistjoni quddiem il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali għal deċiżjoni finali. Hekk isiru l-affarijiet bis-serjetà.

B’dan il-mod l-uffiċċju tal-President ma jibqax sempliċi timbru kostrett li jgħid iva bilfors, inkella jopera barra mill-parametri tal-liġi. Dak li għamel il-President f’dawn il-ġranet hu gravi u setgħet inħolqot kriżi kostituzzjonali. Mhux l-ewwel darba li konna fix-xifer lijinqala’ incident simili. Xi snin ilu President ieħor kien indika (privatament) li ma kienx komdu li jiffirma il-liġi dwar l-Unjoni Ċivili (Att IX tal-2014).  Biex jikkalma s-sitwazzjoni u jevita kriżi Kostituzzjonali l-Gvern ta’ dakinnhar kien ippospona ftit il-vot finali fil-parliament sakemm laħaq inħatar President ġdid. Il-liġi dwar l-Unjoni Ċivili, fil-fatt kienet ġiet iffirmata mill-President nhar is-17 t’April 2014, tlettax-il jum wara li bdiet il-Presidenza ta’ Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca.

Jagħmel tajjeb il-Parliament jekk jikkunsidra din il-materja issa u jikkunsidraha sewwa. Hu essenzjali li l-President tar-Repubblika jkollu l-għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jaħdem b’mod responsabbli u skond il-liġi. Iktar ma dan isir malajr, aħjar.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 31 ta’ Lulju 2022

The Presidential rubberstamp

While you are reading through this article, His Excellency President George Vella is in the United Kingdom – after attending for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. He left these islands on Wednesday morning.

As soon as the Air Malta plane taking His Excellency to Birmingham was in the air, the Acting President Professor Frank Bezzina was at the President’s desk signing into law the IVF amendments. Those same amendments which Dr Vella refused to sign in the days before.

This is not the end of the story. By refusing to give his assent the President, George Vella, acted beyond his authority as in terms of law he had no discretion on the matter: he had to signify his assent without delay, as established by article 72 of the Constitution.

Even His Excellency is subject to the law, in this case the Constitution. His refusal to follow what is prescribed by the law is a serious breach of his Constitutional responsibilities, and, in the view of my party this gives rise to valid reasons to consider the impeachment of Dr George Vella from his Presidential duties. His Excellency should show us the way as to what it means to be subject to the rule of law. How do we expect others to carry out their duties if the Head of State acts in this way: the worst possible example?

There is still time for Parliament to consider impeachment proceedings against Dr George Vella and remove him from office in view of his unacceptable and illegal behaviour.

Parliament needs, however, to go beyond clearly censuring Dr George Vella. It is essential to consider in some depth the role of the President of the Republic. Specifically, it should consider whether the President should be just a rubberstamp or else whether he or she should have limited powers of review over Parliament’s legislative authority.

In submissions which the party that I lead presented to the Constitutional Convention we focused on this specific matter, among other issues. In a section of the document submitted to the Convention, entitled, The President of the Republic: appointment and responsibilities, my party proposed that the President should have the right to send legislation back to Parliament for its reconsideration, if, in his view such legislation runs counter to the provisions of the Constitution.

The President, on assuming office, declares that he/she will do all it takes to defend the Constitution. He/she is not however equipped with any (constitutional) tools with which to carry out his responsibilities. The Green proposal presented almost three years ago for the consideration of the Constitutional Convention identifies an essential tool with which His Excellency the President can act responsibly within the parameters of the law. We further proposed that should Parliament refuse to budge the President should refer the matter to the Constitutional Court for a final decision.  This is the manner in which the Presidency should function. Much better than the present-day theatrics.

In this manner the President’s office would not be a mere rubberstamp, constrained to assent or else act outside the parameters of the law.  The President’s actions in the past days conveyed the worst possible message. It almost happened some years ago when another President had (privately) indicated that he would not assent to legislation relative to Civil Unions (Act IX of 2014). In order to avert a Constitutional crisis government had then slightly delayed the final vote in parliament, timing it with the swearing in of a new President. The Civil Unions Act was in fact signed on the 17 April 2014, just thirteen days into the Presidency of Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca.

Parliament would do well to consider the issue further. It is essential that the President of the Republic is adequately equipped with the necessary constitutional tools in order that he can carry out his duties in a responsible manner and within the parameters of the law. The sooner this is done, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 31 July 2022

L-uġiegħ ta’ ras tal-President tar-Repubblika

Il-President George Vella ma iffirmax il-liġi li taġġorna l-liġi tal-IVF għax għandu riżervi kbar dwarha.

Dan hu normali u mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida.

Il-Kostituzzjoni kif inhi illum, imma, ma tagħtihx il-fakolta li joqgħod jaħsibha għax tobbligah li jiffirma l-liġi bla dewmien. Hu għalhekk li l-bieraħ kont kritiku tal-President u tkellimt dwar proposta li għandu jitneħħa mill-kariga.

Il-partit li jiena immexxi diġa ippubblika soluzzjoni possibli għal din il-kriżi, li bla dubju, issa li nħoloq l-ewwel każ ser tirrepeti ruħha f’ċirkustanzi oħra li għad iridu jinqalgħu.

Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna lill-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali konna għamilna proposta ċara li biex iħares u jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni kif stabilit fil-ġurament tal-ħatra, il-President għandu jkollu is-setgħa li, kemm-il darba jkun hemm dubju serju dwar il-kostituzzjonalità ta’ xi liġi approvata mill-Parlament, jibgħat lura quddiem l-istess Parlament il-liġi in kwistjoni biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid.

Din il-proposta ilna li għamilniha u għadha valida sal-lum.

Min irid jaqra id-dettalji dwarha jagħfas hawn u jmur fis-sezzjoni 12 intitolata: Il-President tar-Repubblika: ħatra u responsabbiltajiet. (paġna 15 sa 18).

The Impeachment of Dr George Vella

Parliament has approved controversial legislation relative to IVF on the 6 July 2022.

The approved legislation was sent to the Office of the President of the Republic in order that he concludes the legislative process by assenting to the approved bill.

Article 72 of the Constitution provides that “When a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall without delay signify that he assents.” The bill has been on the President’s desk for many days and he has not given his Presidential assent. He should signify that he assents without delay. There are no ifs and buts.

This lack of Presidential assent “without delay” is in breach of the Constitutional responsibilities of the President of the Republic.

In statements made to the press over the past days it has been made amply clear that Dr George Vella is reluctant to assent to the approved IVF Bill. This is clearly unacceptable and runs counter to his Constitutional responsibilities as President of the Republic.

A Green MP would by now have presented a motion for the impeachment of Dr George Vella and his removal from the office of President of the Republic for failing to shoulder his Constitutional responsibilities “without delay”.

There are no Green MPs. Discriminatory electoral legislation is currently being contested in our law courts, an initiative of ADPD-The Green Party.

Will anyone of the 79 Members of Parliament take the initiative?

Planning application PA00777/22 : another mega-development at Marsaskala

(photo is the official Parliamentary voting record of those voting in favour of the rationalisation exercise: that is those voting in favour of extending the building development boundary into what was then ODZ-Outside the Development Zone)

It would be pertinent to remember that on the 26 July 2006 Malta’s Parliament approved a resolution which we normally refer to as the “rationalisation” exercise, as a result of which extensive stretches of land until then outside the development zone (ODZ) were declared as land suitable for development.

The PN parliamentary group, supported the Lawrence Gonzi led government and voted in favour of developing ODZ land whilst ironically the Labour Opposition had then voted against the proposal. This is not just history. It is still affecting our daily lives. Today, 16 years later some are realising for the first time how land use planning was screwed by the then Environment Minister George Pullicino!

Three of the Members of Parliament who had then voted in favour of developing ODZ land are still MPs today.

Their names come to mind when considering the latest mega-development proposal, this time at iż-Żonqor on the outskirts of Marsaskala, through development application PA00777/22.  The development application this time concerns a 5,000 square metre area of rural land over which it is proposed to construct 135 residential units and 180 basement garages. These will be spread over 10 different levels, four of them below ground floor level after excavating a substantial amount of rock.

The basic decision permitting today’s proposed development was taken on the 26 July 2006 when the rationalisation exercise was approved by Parliament on the proposal of a PN-led government. No studies were then carried out as to the environmental impacts of the development resulting from the rationalisation exercise. Specifically, the cumulative impact of the development proposed was ignored contrary to the then emerging environmental acquis of the EU relative to the assessment of plans and programmes, known as the SEA Directive (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) which Directive entered into force on the days immediately following the approval by the Maltese Parliament of the rationalisation exercise.

The basic question to ask is whether we really need such large-scale developments. Why are we determined as a country to develop every square centimetre of our land? Isn’t it about time that a moratorium on such large-scale development enters in force?

The rationalisation exercise should be scrapped at the earliest and all rationalised land returned to its former ODZ status the soonest. This is what we should expect of any government which (unashamedly) proclaims that the environment and our quality of life is now its priority.

It has taken our residents 16 years to become sensitised to the large-scale havoc which land use planning has degenerated to.  Throughout these 16 years all genuine environmentalists have been pointing this out. Unfortunately, some only react when large scale development is very close to their backyard, otherwise they do not care. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years, yet it was ignored for quite some time.

One mega-project after the other has been eroding our quality of life, the latest one being proposal PA00777/22 which goes by this description: To excavate and construct 180 garages at basement level, 2 Class 4B shops, and 135 overlying units. The site is at iż-Zonqor, Marsaskala, but it should be everyone’s concern.

It is about time that we stop all this in the same way that the proposed Marina at Marsaskala had to be shelfed, hopefully for good!

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 2022