Is-sistema politika għandha bżonn xokk qawwi

Ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-iffinanzjar tal-partiti politiċi hi ta’ importanza fundamentali fi kwalunkwe soċjeta demokratika. Sa minn meta twaqqfet fl-1989, Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem kienet fuq quddiem nett tinsisti biex il-Parlament japprova l-leġislazzjoni meħtieġa. U meta din il-leġislazzjoni ġiet, tajnieha merħba, avolja setgħet kienet ħafna aħjar.

L-Att dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi m’huwiex biss dwar il-finanzi tal-partiti politiċi. Jistabilixxi wkoll ir-regoli dwar ir-reġistrazzjoni tal-partiti mal-Kummissjoni Elettorali.  Huwa tabilħaqq ironiku li l-Partit Laburista li fil-parlament ippilota din il-leġislazzjoni, naqas milli jirreġistra ruħu sad-data stabbilita. B’dan il-fatt, għal xi raġuni li s’issa għadha mhiex magħrufa, bagħat messaġġ ċar li ried ibiegħed id-data li fiha jkun soġġett għar-regoli bħal ħaddieħor. Kellu żmien iktar minn biżżejjed biex jagħmel l-emendi tekniċi li kienu meħtieġa għall-istatut tiegħu. Imma kaxkar saqajh għal iktar minn sena.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, il-Kummissjoni Elettorali ħabbret illi waqqfet Bord biex jjinvestiga l-allegazzjonijiet li irċeviet dwar nuqqas ta’ osservanza tal-Att dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi. Safejn hu magħruf saru tlett allegazzjonijiet.

L-ewwel allegazzjoni ta’ ksur tal-liġi saret minn Alternattiva Demokratika u kienet dwar il-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Palazz tal-Girgenti. Diġá ktibt dwar dan fil-ħarga tas-26 ta’ Frar ta’ Illum bl-artiklu intitolat Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit. Nhar il-Ġimgħa, Ralph Cassar, Segretarju Ġenerali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kien infurmat bil-miktub mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali li t-talba ta’ AD lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex ikun investigat l-użu mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista tal-Palazz tal-Girgenti kienet mgħoddija lill-Bord ta’ Investigazzjoni.

Tant drajna bl-użu u l-abbuż mill-partiti politiċi l-kbar ta’ propjetá pubblika li kultant ftit nagħtu kaz. Dan jista’ jkun meqjus bħala “abbuż żgħir” ħdejn l-oħrajn presentement fl-aħbarijiet, imma għandu jkun ċar li l-anqas l-iktar ksur minimu tal-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi m’għandu jkun ittollerat.

It-tieni allegazzjoni kienet dik li qed jenfasizza l-Partit Laburista dwar id-donazzjonijiet ta’ Silvio Debono lill-Partit Nazzjonalista.  Silvio Debono kixef dak li ġara b’ritaljazzjoni ovvja għall-kritika li l-PN għamel għat-trasferiment tal-art f’Pembroke bis-soldi. Hija storja ta’ kontijiet possibilment foloz u donazzjonijiet illegali kif fissirt fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-Ħadd li għadda f’Illum. Il-kaz kollu jdur madwar l-eżistenza ta’ dawn il-kontijiet foloz li permezz tagħhom saru donazzjonijiet illegali lill-Partit Nazzjonalista u li għaddew għand il-kumpanija tal-Partit. Jekk il-bord li ser imexxi l-investigazzjoni jingħata dawn il-kontijiet “foloz” li Silvio Debono qal li ħallas fuq talba ta’ diriġenti tal-PN, diffiċli biex nifhem kif il-PN jista’ jevita li jerfa’ ir-responsabbiltá ta’ egħmilu.

It-tielet talba għal investigazzjoni saret mill-PN, kontra l-Partit Laburista. Din tirreferi għal numru ta’ ġurnalisti tal-ONE li ġew magħżula biex jokkupaw posizzjonijiet ta’ fiduċja f’diversi Ministeri jew awtoritajiet. L-ilment tal-PN (li għalkemm fih xi żbalji fl-ismijiet) naħseb li hu sostanzjalment korrett u jirreferi għall-prattika korrotta li biha l-media tal-Partit Laburista hi sussidjata permezz ta’ salarji li joħroġ l-istat, jiġifieri mit-taxxi li nħallsu.

Il-fatt li dawn it-tlett ilmenti/allegazzjonijiet ser ikunu investigati mill-Bord għall-Investigazzjonijiet maħtur mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali huwa pass ‘il quddiem. Kollox ser jiddependi minn dawk magħżula biex imexxu din l-investigazzjoni.

Is-sistema politika tagħna għandha bżonn xokk qawwi biex forsi tiġi f’sensiha. Għax kull wieħed mit-tlett ilmenti hu fil-fehma tiegħi ġustifikat u l-ebda wieħed ma jikkanċella lill-ieħor. Wasal iż-żmien li kemm il-Partit Laburista kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista jinġiebu f’sensihom biex jifhmu li anke huma soġġetti għall-liġi.

Imma forsi qed nistenna wisq mill-Bord Investigattiv!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 19 ta’ Marzu 2017

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Shock therapy to the political system

 

 

Regulation of the financing of political parties is of fundamental importance in any modern democratic society. Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – has been at the forefront in campaigning for legislation since the day when it was founded way back in 1989. When legislation was finally brought forward it was welcomed, even though it could have been much better.

The Financing of Political Parties Act deals with more than just the financing of political parties. It also establishes the formalities on the basis of which political parties must register with the Electoral Commission. It is indeed ironic that the Labour Party, the political party which piloted this legislation through Parliament, failed to register by the date established in the legislation. In so doing the Labour Party – for some reason as yet unknown – sent an unmistakable message that it wanted to delay its being subject to regulation. It had more than ample time to adjust its Party Statute to bring it in line with the law, but it procrastinated for more than twelve months.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced that it would be setting up a Board to investigate allegations of breaches of the Financing of Political Parties Act that have been brought to its attention. As far as is known there are three such alleged breaches.

The first breach is that brought forward by Alternattiva Demokratika and involves the use of public property by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for holding one of its recent meetings. I have already written about the matter in the 26 February edition of TMIS (Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti). On Friday the Secretary-General of Alternattiva Demokratika Ralph Cassar was informed in writing  that AD’s request for the Electoral Commission to investigate the use of the Girgenti Palace by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group will be taken in hand by the Investigation Board established for the purpose.

We are so used to the use and abuse of public property by the major political parties that it has, over the years, been considered a fait accompli, taken for granted. It may be a “minor abuse” compared to others in the news, but we cannot tolerate even the smallest breach of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The second breach is the one highlighted by the Labour Party regarding the Silvio Debono donations to the Nationalist Party. Silvio Debono has clearly spilled the beans in retaliation to the PN criticism of the ITS land at Pembroke being transferred for peanuts.  It is an issue of fake invoices and tainted donations as described in my article in this newspaper last week. The whole case rests on the existence of possible fake invoices by which illegal donations to the Nationalist Party could have been channelled through its commercial arm. If the investigating board is presented with the fake invoices, which Silvio Debono says he paid on prodding by senior members of the PN leadership, it is difficult to fathom how the PN can avoid carrying the responsibility for the matter.

The third breach has been highlighted by the PN, obviously against the Labour Party. It refers to a number of One journalists who have been selected to occupy positions of trust in various Ministries and authorities. The PN complaint list may have some mistakes, as some names are most probably erroneously listed, but I believe that it is correct to point out this corrupt practice through which the Labour Party media are being subsidised through state salaries – i.e. through the taxes that we pay.

The fact that these three alleged breaches will be investigated under the auspices of the Investigating Board appointed by the Electoral Commission is a step forward. However, it all depends on those selected to carry out the investigation.  I look forward to some shock therapy to the political system as I consider all three complaints to be justified. It is about time that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are brought to their senses and made to realise that they, too, are subject to the law. But then, maybe I am hoping for too much from the Investigating Board!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 March 2017

 

 

Fake invoices and tainted donations

 

 

Around three weeks ago Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – requested the Electoral Commission to initiate an investigation into the illicit use of public property by the Labour Party. The case revolved around the use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Girgenti  as a meeting place for the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group. Various members of Cabinet tweeted photos of this Parliamentary Group meeting.

It is not so far known whether the Electoral Commission will be taking any action on the Girgenti matter other than that it was on the agenda for a Commission meeting.

Now another, more serious issue, has cropped up out of the blue. This is due to the very serious claim made by Silvio Debono that he gave a political donation to the Nationalist Party in the amount of about €70,800 which was camouflaged as a payment for services rendered through the production and use of a fake invoice for the purpose. This payment is alleged to have been made in a concealed or disguised manner being intended for the political party but by way of deception it was channelled through the party’s commercial arm.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, counter-claimed that a payment for €70,800 was made but that this was as payment for services “actually” rendered by its commercial arm, Media Link Communications, to two of the companies forming part of DB group, Silvio Debono’s group of companies. However,  at one point the Nationalist Party also declared that it will reimburse the “tainted money” because it will not be compromised.  The Nationalist Party has to chose between its contradictory reactions: is the €70,800 received from Silvio Debono tainted or is it a payment for services?

Silvio Debono claims that he has the fake invoices and the receipts for the amount paid through which he can substantiate his claims. He further stated that no services were rendered to his companies by Media Link Communications.

This allegation strikes a direct hit at transparency and accountability, the very foundation of the legislation regulating political party financing. The claim by Silvio Debono effectively means that donations of substantial sums of money to political parties can possibly continue unchecked, as long as they are properly disguised and provided that those with a finger in the pie keep their mouth shut. If this allegation is proven, it would signify that the regulatory checks and balances serve no purpose, because the commercial arms of the major political parties will be the proven perfect vehicle to circumvent all due process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Commission has the authority to investigate such an allegation, it would normally be very difficult to prove. No political party will ever confirm that it makes use of its commercial arm to circumvent rules and regulations. In fact, earlier this week the Nationalist Party Treasurer stated on PBS that as the person responsible for the party’s finances, he is not aware of the matter. In fact he said that he has never even met Silvio Debono.

Such an allegation can only be proven when the co-conspirator speaks up, as is happening in this particular case, even though, at the time of writing the alleged fake invoices have not been made available for public scrutiny. In actual fact, Silvio Debono is stating that he is aware that he flouted the law as he (or his companies, with his approval) knowingly accepted to settle fake invoices. In so doing, Debono is claiming that he knowingly carried out an exercise through which he gave the Nationalist Party an illegal donation.

The Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate this specific allegation and take the necessary action.

I would go further than that. Is it not about time that political parties are forced to dismantle their commercial activities, which should be the state funding of political parties, subject to strict controls. At the end of the day, this may be the only way forward.

The fact that information on the fake invoices and illegal donations was volunteered by Silvio Debono himself in obvious retaliation to his being the target of PN criticism about his being in receipt of a prime site on the cheap adds to the seriousness of the case. Clearly, while Silvio Debono “invested in the PN”, he has not received the expected dividends. At the end of the day, the pressing question requiring a very urgent answer is to identify the number of additional similar investments by Debono himself, as well as by others. As long as such investments yield suitable dividends, we may possibly  never know the answer.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 March 2017

 

Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit

girgenti-palace-2

Meta nhar it-Tlieta li għadda, jiena u Arnold Cassola iltqajna mas-Sur Joseph Church, il-Kummissarju Elettorali Ewlieni, tkellimna miegħu dwar il-Palazz tal-Girgenti u l-fatt li l-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista għamel użu minnu biex iltaqa hemm.

Għal uħud Alternattiva Demokratika qed tfettaq u tgħaġġibha. Jiena ma naħsibx li dan hu l-każ għax hemm prinċipju importanti ħafna fin-nofs: fejn hi l-linja li tissepara l-partit mill-gvern? Issa jiena konxju li hemm min mhuwiex interessat fil-prinċipji, għax għal uħud, dawn huma burokrazija żejda!

Għandu jkun hemm separazzjoni bejn il-Gvern u l-partit politku li jiffurmah, jew inkella dawn għandhom ikunu ħaġa waħda, jew kważi?  Din hi l-qalba tal-kwistjoni kollha li fil-fehma ta Alternattiva Demokratika teħtieġ li tkun ikkunsidrata battenzjoni kbira.

Il-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti saret biex ikun hemm trasparenza. Saret ukoll biex tiġbed linja ċara dwar dak li jista jsir u dak li ma jistax isir, u dan permezz ta numru ta kontrolli.

Fost affarijiet oħra, l-Att tal-2015 dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi, fl-artiklu 34 tiegħu jgħid li partit politiku ma jistax jaċċetta donazzjoni minn sorsi tal-istat. Mhemmx kif u għaliex, iżda xejn, bla argumenti jew eċċezzjonijiet.

Issa donazzjoni għal-liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi ma tfissirx biss li partit ikun irċieva għotja ta flus. Għax anke jekk jixtri jew jirċievi prodott jew servizz bi prezz ridott, partit politiku jkun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni, u l-valur tad-donazzjoni, fdan il-kaz tkun l-ammont li jkun tnaqqas mill-prezz jew mill-valur tal-oġġett jew servizz. Imma jekk partit politiku jirċievi prodott jew servizz bla ma jħallas xejn għalih ikun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni li tikkonsisti fil-valur sħiħ tal-oġġett jew servizz li jkun qed jirċievi.

Fil-kaz tal-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Girgenti ġara preċiżament hekk. Il-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista ingħata servizz li kien jikkonsisti fl-użu tal-Palazz tal-Inkwiżitur fil-Girgenti biex fih jiltaqgħu, il-bogħod mill-istorbju, u allura biex il-ħidma tagħhom setgħet tagħti l-frott ippjanat. Dan is-servizz ingħata lill-Partit Laburista mill-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru u dan ingħata bla ħlas. Minħabba li ngħata bla ħlas jitqies li huwa donazzjoni.

Il-Prim Ministru ma għandu l-ebda seta’ jagħmel donazzjonijiet ta din ix-xorta. Huwa miżmum milli jagħmel dan minn liġi li ippreżenta l-Gvern immexxi minnu stess fil-Parlament u li daħlet fis-seħħ fl-1 ta Jannar 2016 wara li ġiet approvata. Hemm min qed jargumenta li fil-passat sar l-istess. Probabbilment li dan huwa veru. Imma issa għandna liġi eżattament biex dan ma jerġax isir. Liġi li l-Gvern (ġustament) jiftaħar biha, ħalli mbagħad ikun hu stess li ma josservahiex!

Mhiex ħaġa sabiħa li l-partit u l-Gvern ikunu ħaġa waħda. Meta dan iseħħ, l-anqas ma hu sinjal tajjeb. Ikun ifisser li wasalna fsitwazzjoni li fiha dak li hu tal-pajjiż ikun ikkapparrat mill-ftit. Hekk jibdew il-problemi l-kbar. Jibdew minn affarijiet żgħar li dwarhom jgħidulek biex ma tfettaqx imma imbagħad jinfirxu għal affarijiet ikbar.

Imma jekk ma tkunx tajt kaz fl-affarijiet iżżgħar imbagħad ikun tard wisq.

II-partit fil-Gvern jifforma l-Gvern imma hu separat u distint minnu fkull ħin.

Għalhekk għandha taġixxi malajr il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax is-separazzjoni bejn il-partit u l-istat hu prinċipju sagrosant meta demokrazija parlamentari tkun bsaħħitha.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Frar 2017

Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti

muscat-girgenti-tweet

A week ago, during a short break from a very “fruitful” meeting of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister, tweeted a selfie. The selfie included a number of hangers-on who promptly re-tweeted Joseph’s selfie, announcing to one and all that the Labour Party Parliamentary Group was meeting at Girgenti, the Prime Minister’s official residence in the countryside.

In the tweeted selfie, standing in the front row, perched between Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri and Civil Rights Minister Helena Dalli stands Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Cabinet member who around 18 months ago piloted the Financing of Political Parties Act through Parliament  Throughout the past months, the Honourable Owen Bonnici rightly proclaimed this as a milestone. How come his own government and his own political party ignored the implementation of this milestone?

It seems that Joseph, the tweeter from Girgenti, was either not properly advised of the implications of this landmark  legislation or else ignored completely the advice he received.

On Tuesday I visited the offices of the Electoral Commission and met Joseph Church, the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Together with my colleague Arnold Cassola, I drew the attention of Mr Church to the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party was making use of government property contrary to the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta, we requested that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party be investigated for acting against the provisions of the landmark legislation: Joseph Muscat for permitting the use of the Girgenti Palace and the Labour Party for accepting to use it as a venue for one of the meetings of its Parliamentary Group.

As I have already explained during a Press Conference held after the meeting with the Chief Electoral Commissioner, as well as in the daily edition of this newspaper [Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state. TMI 23 February] the use of the Girgenti Palace is deemed to be a donation, which in terms of article 34 of the Financing of Political Parties Act is not permissible to be received by a political party from the state. Joseph Muscat the Prime Minister could not grant such a donation, and Joseph Muscat the Leader of the Labour Party could not accept it.

Unfortunately, this incident communicated by tweet sends a very clear and negative message: that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party consider themselves to be above the law. The law which they rightly described as being a “landmark legislation” was intended to apply to one and all.  Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party seem to think otherwise. In fact, the Labour Party is not even yet registered as a political party as the Electoral Commission, some months back, considered that it does not satisfy the conditions laid down in the legislation.

Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ, as a very basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating the government from the governing political party. This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for an investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

I am informed that the Electoral Commission will be meeting next Wednesday when it is expected to consider the request to investigate Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his political party for ignoring the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.  It is the moment of truth for the Electoral Commission. Eight out of nine of its members are political appointees: four nominated by the Prime Minister and another four nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The ninth member of the Commission is the chairman, a senior civil servant.

It is time for all nine members of the Electoral Commission to stand up and be counted. As a constitutional body, it is the Commission’s duty to defend the values of a modern day parliamentary democracy. Whether it will do so is anybody’s guess. I will definitely not hold my breath.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 February 2017

Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state

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Meeting the Chief Electoral Commissioner Mr Joseph Church last Tuesday, together with Arnold Cassola, I raised the issue of the use of the Inquisitor’s Palace at Girgenti by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for one of its meetings.  Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ as a basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating government from the governing party.

To what extent should the affairs of the government be administered separately from those of the governing party? This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The Act to regulate the financing of political parties was introduced to ensure that party financing was subject to transparency rules. It also establishes no-go areas. Amongst other matters the 2015 legislation provides in its article 34  that political parties should not accept donations from the state. There are no exceptions to this rule.

In terms of the Financing of Political Parties Act, a donation is not just pecuniary in nature. Whenever a political party purchases a product or a service at a reduced price it would be in receipt of a donation. The quantum of the donation would be equivalent to the reduction in price of the product or service received.  On the other hand if a political party acquires a product or a service without paying its commercial price, then, the value of the donation received amounts to the full price of the said product or service.

This is exactly what happened when the Labour Party Parliamentary Group made use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at the Girgenti Inquisitor’s Palace. The Parliamentary Group received the service of a meeting place without payment. Hence its being considered as a donation.

The Prime Minister does not have the authority to make such donations. His actions in this respect are restricted by law which was presented and approved in Parliament by the government he leads and entered in force as on 1 January 2016.  Some have argued that this is not the first time that such meetings were so organised. This may be so. It is precisely for this purpose that the legislation was enacted in order to prevent its reoccurrence. One should not propose such legislation and then be the first to ignore it!

Government and the governing political party should be separate and distinct. When such distinction is not clear, even in the case of minor matters, this would be a very bad indication. It would signal that the resources of the state are not being managed appropriately. It would be wrong to ignore such signals indicating the existence of minor problems as these will, if ignored, subsequently spread to more substantial matters. It would then be too late to act.

The party in Government forms the Government of the day but should be separate and distinct from it at all times.

Hence the need for the Electoral Commission to act immediately. The separation between government and the governing political party is a basic principle in a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent : Thursday 23 February 2017