The resignation of David Thake

The resignation of David Thake is a positive step.  It takes courage to admit to having acted incorrectly and shoulder the political responsibility for your actions. There are others who should follow in his footsteps. Parliament, as a result would be a much better place.

The fact that the tax misdemeanours of the companies owned by David Thake were revealed through media leaks does not make the case any less serious. It however adds another worrying dimension to the saga: institutional breach of ethics, this time by the tax authorities. The Minister for Finance Clyde Caruana is politically responsible for this. He has to act fast to address the matter.

Registered editors already have a right to request income tax returns of sitting MPs. This right should be extended to VAT returns, not only those submitted personally by sitting MPs but also by companies in which they have a controlling interest. This would do away with selective leaking of damaging tax information which generally targets those who those close to government seek to damage or destroy!

It has been established that the two companies owned by David Thake, namely Vanilla Telecoms Limited and Maltashopper Limited have collected Value Added Tax due on their services and retained the tax collected for a long period of time. His companies, stated David Thake, had a problem with their cash flow and thus they were not in a position to pay up the taxes they had collected.

Vanilla Telecoms Limited owes the exchequer €270,000 while Maltashopper Limited owes another €550,000. This is a substantial sum which has been collected from taxpayers through VAT and includes fines and interest due for non-payment.

There are serious doubts as to whether Thake’s claim that he was simply applying the Covid-19 tax deferral scheme is correct.

Given that most of the pending VAT dues of Thake’s companies date back to substantially before the outbreak of Covid-19 Thake has yet to explain as to why it took him so much time to address the cash flow problems of his companies. He has shed too many crocodile tears in emphasising that faced with cash flow problems he opted to pay his employees rather than the VAT office. His delay in acting to address his cash flow problems has the specific consequence of endangering the livelihood of the very employees, which he is so keen to protect!

It is not correct to describe David Thake as a tax evader. It is unfair to compare him to Bernard Grech, his party leader, who was investigated for tax evasion over the years and opted to pay up on the eve of the PN leadership contest.

In view of the fact that Thake’s companies have yet to submit their accounts it is not yet clear as to the actual cause of his cashflow problems.

The point at issue is whether it is right for David Thake to bankroll his companies through the taxes they have collected as economic operators. The fact that there are others who do likewise, and maybe worse, is no consolation!  He was a member of parliament elected on a good governance platform. The mismatch between his behaviour and his stated beliefs cannot be clearer than this.  This is no minor administrative omission as David Thake emphasised when he announced his resignation.

Its fine to preach good governance. Putting this into practice is a completely different matter. Thake’s resignation, even though he took some time to decide that he should resign, puts some sense back into local politics. Thake’s resignation is a positive contribution to improve standards. Ian Castaldi Paris and Rosianne Cutajar should be next.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 January 2022

The golden handshakes must be transparent

It has been reported, in various sections of the press, that Justyne Caruana, former Minister of Education, has received, or will be shortly receiving payment in the region of €30,000 as a result of her ceasing to hold political office. This has occurred after she was forced to resign subsequent to the publication of a damning report from the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life which report concluded that the Ministry of Education, under her political direction, had screwed the exchequer to benefit her “close friend”.

Since 2008 holders of political office who cease to occupy such office have received golden handshakes, substantial sums which some describe as severance pay. The sums disbursed to date are substantial and, over the years, are said to be close to a total of €1,500,000. Holders of political office in receipt of such payments are not just members of Cabinet, as payments have also been made to former Leaders of the Opposition throughout these years.

The applicable criteria are largely unknown. There is no transparency whatsoever in the process.

There is a serious issue of governance.  The Executive is bound to be accountable through ensuring that both the criteria applied as well as the monies disbursed are well known. It is an expenditure from the public purse, so there should be no secrets about it. It is in the public interest to know how the public purse is being managed at all times.

First: the objectives of the payments should be crystal clear. When holders of political office take up their post, generally, they take leave from their current employment or close their private offices if they are professionals. Their job prior to assuming political office may be lost by the time they relinquish office. On the other hand, losing contact with their professional environment will generally place them in a difficult position to reintegrate when their term of political responsibilities draws to an end. 

Hence the objective of these so-called golden handshakes is to compensate for the fact that the holder of political office cannot go back to his/her former job or professional environment. He or she will generally have to start from scratch or almost. Not all cases are identical and hence the criteria drawn up should allow for some leeway. Do they? We do not know as to date these criteria are considered as some state secret!

The objective of the payments made is to ease the transition of the holder of political office back to a normal life.

The second point is to establish who should apply these criteria. From what is known through reports in the media the matter is regulated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), either directly or through the Cabinet office. This is not on.

Ideally the criteria should be applied by an authoritative person or body separate and distinct from the OPM. The OPM has a finger in the pie, generally, in all the circumstances leading to the appointment to political office or to the dismissal therefrom. It should therefore not be in a position of sugaring resignations with promises of generous hand-outs.

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

From what is known, locally, this is established at a month’s salary for every year’s service, subject to a minimum payment of a six-month salary. It is not known whether eligibility is pegged to a minimum period in office.  These payment rates are substantial when compared to those in other jurisdictions. In addition to having smaller payments other jurisdictions subject such benefits to a minimum period in office, generally of not less than one year.

There are also a number of other serious considerations which need to be made. Should loss of political office as a result of an unfavourable election result have the same impact as being dismissed from office or being forced to resign as a result of unethical or unacceptable behaviour?

Specifically, should ending your political appointment in disgrace be rewarded? It should definitely not be so.

These are some of the issues which transparency brings to the fore. We need to discuss them seriously and only then can they be applied ethically and fairly.

It is for these reasons that earlier this week I have requested the Auditor General to investigate the golden handshakes being paid out by the Office of the Prime Minister to former members of the Cabinet. The payments made and the criteria applied should be examined meticulously.

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022

Ħlasijiet kbar: trasparenza xejn

Għadni kif ktibt lill-Awditur Ġenerali fejn talbtu jinvestiga x’inhu jiġri dwar il-ħlasijiet enormi li qed isiru lill-Ministri u Segretarji parlamentari li jispiċċaw mill-ħatra.

Il-kriterji li qed ikunu applikati m’humiex magħrufa. Ma hemm l-ebda trasparenza dwar x’inhu jiġri.

It-talba li bagħatt hi s-segwenti:

“Nikteb biex nitolbok tinvestiga l-ħlas ta’ “golden handshakes” lill-membri tal-Kabinett li jispiċċaw mill-ħatra. Presentment fl-aħbarijiet hemm il-każ ta’ Justyne Caruana imma għad kif kellna ukoll il-ħlasijiet li saru lil Rosianne Cutajar.

Ma hemm l-ebda trasparenza dwar il-ħlasijiet li saru u li qed isiru lill-Ministri u Segretarji Parlamentari, uħud minnhom għal darba tnejn.

Nitolbok għaldaqstant tinvestiga xi kriterji qed ikunu użati biex isiru dawn il-ħlasijiet kif ukoll li teżamina l-ħtieġa li jkunu introdotti mekkaniżmi effettivi ta’ kontroll u verifika dwar dan il-proċess kollu.”

Wara r-riżenja ta’ Justyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nistennew u naraw.

Il-Milied it-Tajjeb

Meta Justyne tipprova ddaħħaq

Mela Justyne daħlet il-Qorti u qegħda tattakka l-validità kostituzzjonali tal-liġi li biha qed jiġu regolati l-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika.

Din hi l-liġi li bis-saħħa tagħha ġiet investigate Justyne, u oħrajn, liema liġi s’issa wasslet għal żewġ riżenji ta’membri tal-Kabinett: Justyne u Rosianne.

Justyne qed tgħid li l-liġi toħloq proċeduri li bihom qed jinkisru d-drittijiet tagħha.

Li ma tgħidx Justyne li hi bħala membru parlamentari ivvutat favur din il-liġi. Safejn naf jien ma lissnitx kelma waħda kontra l-liġi jew xi parti tagħha.

Għidilna ftit Justyne: meta tivvota fil-Parlament, taf xi tkun qed tagħmel? Jew qed tipprova iddaħħaq?

Wara Justyne: nistennew issa r-riżenja ta’ Frank Fabri

Ir-riżenja ta’ Justyne kienet inevitabbli.

Setgħet iddum ftit ieħor taħsibha, imma kienet fir-rokna, ma kelliex minn fejn toħroġ.

Din hi t-tieni riżenja bħala riżultat tar-rapporti tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. L-oħra kienet Rosianne Cutajar!

Li tirriżenja darbtejn mill-Kabinett fi 23 xahar, kif għamlet Justyne, naħseb li hu record. Juri li l-ġudizzju ta’ Robert Abela li jagħtiha ċans ieħor kien wieħed żbaljat għall-aħħar.

Ir-riżenja ta’ Justyne mhiex il-konklużjoni. Għad hemm iktar : ir-riżenja ta’ Frank Fabri, Segretarju Permanenti li approva l-kuntratt ta’ sieħeb Justyne, Daniel Bogdanovic, issa hu iktar meħtieġa minn qatt qabel.

Fil-ġlieda għall-governanza tajba, fil-ġlieda kontra l-abbuż u l-korruzzjoni, iċ-ċivil għandu rwol importanti. Is-segretarji permanenti għandhom sehem kruċjali f’din il-ġlieda. Min minnhom jonqos li jaghti sehem mhemmx post għalih. Min jiffaċilita l-ħmieġ għandu jitwarrab minnu fih

Justyn: m’għandiex żejt f’wiċċha

Lil Justyne donnu ma tistax tiġiha waħda tajba.

Darba kellha lil Silvio. Iz-ziju Silvio għal ulied Yurgen. Kellha tirreżenja minn Ministru minħabba Silvio meta sar magħruf li kien il-widna tal-kriminali. Iwassal dak li kien qed jingħad dwarhom fid-depot tal-Pulizija. Gafa baqa’ ċass u s’issa għadu ma għamel xejn!

Issa għandna dan ir-rapport li sar fuq talba ta’ Alison Bogdanovic dwar abbuzi fl-għoti ta’ kuntratt lil Daniel Bogdanovic! B’rapport bħal dan ma nafx x’qed jistenna Bobby biex iġiegħlha titlaq it-tieni darba.

Dan ir-rapport hu ċertifikat li l-Ministru abbużat. Mhux biss hi abbużat imma sabet ukoll lil Frank Fabri is-Segretarju Permanenti fil-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni jitgħawweġ ganċ biex jgħattilha.

Hemm bżonn ta’ tindifa sewwa. Bobby mhux kapaċi jagħmilha!

An invitation: keep the doors open

The abortion debate gets nastier by the minute. This was expected. It may even get worse!

The priest who described pro-choice PN candidate Emma Portelli Bonnici as a later day Hitler, kicked off this week’s instalment! The Archbishop’s Curia at Floriana forced the removal of the facebook post where he published these views: yet the damage was done. Will we ever learn to discuss anything respectfully? Is this too difficult to expect?

The Labour Party is being extremely cautious. It is very rare to hear any Labour Party speaker express himself or herself on the subject of abortion. Labour is aware of the different and contrasting views within its ranks when debating abortion. That in itself is healthy and could potentially lead to a mature debate. The current Labour Party leadership, however, as readers are aware, is acutely conservative on the matter even though there is a progressive element among its voters which is of the opposite view. This includes a couple of present and former electoral candidates and MPs/MEPs.

The PN on the other hand, going by Bernard Grech’s declaration earlier this week has not yet learnt its lessons from the divorce referendum campaign, ten years ago. I respect its political position on the matter but I still cannot understand its constant denigration of those within its ranks who have the courage to speak their mind. Stifling political debate is very damaging.  It has long-term effects which go much beyond the current debate!

As pointed out elsewhere, Bernard Grech’s declaration signifies one thing: the abortion debate is closed within the PN ranks, and anybody who dares think otherwise should start packing. From where I stand that is the clear message conveyed by Bernard Grech.

Within ADPD, the Green Party, last May, after a three year long internal debate, we approved a clear political position in favour of decriminalisation of abortion, as a result of which any woman opting for an abortion would not be subject to criminal action. We further emphasise that abortion should not be normalised but that it should be limited to specific, extraordinary and well-defined circumstances.

We have highlighted that Maltese legislation on abortion is not fit for purpose. It needs to be brought up to date after more than 160 years since its enactment. It requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years.

We identify three such extraordinary circumstances in which abortion is justified, namely, when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, when a pregnancy is the result of violence (rape and incest) and when faced with a pregnancy which is not viable.

There is definitely an urgent need for more emphasis on reproductive and sexual health education at all levels of our educational structures. This is a gap which needs plugging at the earliest!

We have been criticised by some as not going far enough. Others have stated that we have gone much too far.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is key in the abortion debate. It is essential that women who undergo abortion are not threatened any more with persecution and prosecution. They need the state’s protection as a result of which more will seek help before taking critical decisions. This will save lives as well as avoid unnecessary medical complications.

The abortion debate in Malta is unfortunately characterised by long periods of silence, alternating with outbursts of hate, insults and extreme intolerance. This is definitely not on. Political parties should take the lead by encouraging contributions to a clear and objective debate.

While others close their doors to the debate, ours will remain wide open.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 November 2021

L-Eċċellenza tiegħu Manwel Mallia

L-istejjer dwar Manwel Mallia qatt ma kienu nieqsa.

L-aħħar waħda toħroġ mill-ktieb ta’ Mark Camilleri fejn hemm allegazzjonijiet ta’ gravità kbira dwar il-kuntrabandu taż-żejt mil-Libya.

Il-gravità mhiex biss dwar jekk Manwel Mallia kienx involut jew le. Iktar minn hekk hi dwar jekk il-Gvern kienx jaf u għalaq għajnejh it-tnejn.

L-aħħar storja dwar li l-Foreign Office Inġliż għadu ma ppronunzjax ruħu dwar il-ħatra ta’ Manwel Mallia bħala Kummissarju Għoli Malti f’Londra tfisser ħafna. Tfisser li dak li l-Gvern Malti jipprova jżomm mistur, fil-fatt ma hu mistur xejn!

X’jafu fuq il-Gvern Malti u l-Ministri tiegħu s-servizzi sigrieti ta’ pajjiżi oħra?

Għax b’dak li qed jingħad jidher li Manwel Mallia ċeda is-siġġu (tiegħu) fil-Parlament għaż-z…..

A fixed-term Parliament

At this point in time, within the party we are discussing our electoral Manifesto for the forthcoming general election. When will it be held: shortly or much later? At the time of writing no official announcement has been made. Maybe by the time this article is printed matters would be clear.

When presenting proposals for the consideration of the ever-pending Constitutional Convention, we had as a party considered the matter in some detail: should the Prime Minister have the discretion to advise on the dissolution of Parliament?  This was one of the “rights” of Kings and Queens which have been inherited by Heads of Government as a result of democratisation. Since independence it has been the Prime Minister’s right in Malta to advise that Parliament be dissolved and that an election be called.

Over two years have now elapsed since we proposed to the Constitutional Convention that Parliament should have a fixed term and that the election date should be fixed.

Such a provision is normally associated with the American experience on the first Tuesday of the month of November: every alternate year electing the House of Representatives, every four years for electing the President and for electing a third of the Senate every two years.

In the United Kingdom the Liberal-Conservative coalition had in 2011 introduced a fixed-term Parliament Act as a result of which, for the first time ever, the Prime Minister’s role in determining the date of dissolution of Parliament and the subsequent holding of a general election were severely curtailed.

Nick Clegg, then Liberal leader and Deputy Prime Minister had, in piloting the relevant act in Parliament, described such a move stripping Prime Ministers of the power to pick election dates to maximise party advantage as a profound reform. He further emphasised that such a reform was essential to restore faith in politics.

The introduction of a constitutional provision for a fixed-term Parliament would entail removing political self-interest from election timing.

Of course, all Prime Ministers, with tears in their eyes, plead national interest whenever they make use of this discretion.

It would be interesting if we could have an explanation as to what “national interest justification” exists for having a snap-election in Malta at this point in time. Robert Abela’s justification could be as follows.

The first reason to justify a snap election is that come January 2022 a criminal jury relative to the failed HSBC hold-up is scheduled. Possible revelations could spot-light the alleged role of senior Labour Party politicians in the planning of this failed hold-up. Probably Robert Abela thinks that having clear information as to who was involved in planning the HSBC hold-up is not in our interest. It is definitely not in the interest of the Labour Party as it could unmask the Labour Party for what it really is: an eye-opener to some!

The second reason to justify a snap election is the turbulent energy market which could play havoc with the costs to generate electricity locally. Given that we import gas through a contract which is to expire shortly, the price of gas used at Delimara to generate electricity will probably sky-rocket. Alternatively, we use the interconnector to tap energy generated on the mainland. The use of the interconnector was very recently curtailed due to the substantial increase in the price of the energy available!  A substantial increase would impact government finances negatively and Robert Abela would prefer not to have this fact in the public domain during an electoral campaign.

The third reason would be the impacts of grey-listing which are bound to increase with time. The longer it takes to take action as per the agreed road-map with the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) the more the impacts. Labour cannot divorce itself from this. They think that having an election out of the way would at least shield Labour from more electoral impacts of grey-listing.

Having a snap election could potentially shield the Labour Party from these and other impacts which could have a substantial political fallout. The snap election will not address these problems, it will just postpone them into the future.

A fixed-term Parliament would do away with all this. Instead of trying to avoid problems it is better to address them head-on.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 October 2021