Il-Korruzzjoni m’għandhiex kulur

Id-dibattitu dwar il-korruzzjoni fil-gżejjer Maltin ma jispiċċa qatt. Il-korruzzjoni m’għandhiex kulur u tiddependi ħafna fuq kultura ta’ klijenteliżmu u fuq istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa jew imdgħajfa. Sfortunatament, ma teżisti l-ebda rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat.

Ma tidher l-ebda azzjoni ċara u konkreta li tikkorrispondi mad-diskors pubbliku u ma jaqta’ xejn dwar tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni.

Ir-resistenza tal-Ministri Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi u Chris Cardona biex tinfetaħ inkjesta kriminali minn maġistrat dwar l-allegazzjonijiet tal-kompliċità kriminali tagħhom in konnessjoni mal-ftehim tal-Vitals Global Healthcare dwar l-isptarijiet ma tinftiehemx. Prim Ministru b’tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni kien jitlob l-inkjesta hu stess. Inkella kien ikun minn ta’ quddiem biex jappoġġja t-talba li saret.

Kieku l-Partit Laburista kellu tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni ilu li bagħat lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri jixxejru. Il-fatt li l-mexxej Laburista Joseph Muscat ma aġixxiex b’dan il-mod ifisser li hu dispost li jagħlaq għajnejh għall-irregolaritajiet li jagħmlu ta’ madwaru. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, Partit Laburista b’tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni kien jiġbed widnejn il-mexxej tiegħu u jwissieh li jiemu magħduda jekk ma jibdilx triqtu. Il-fatt li l-Partit Laburista ma għamel xejn minn dan ifisser ħaġa waħda: li korruzzjoni hi tollerata.

Ikun għaqli jekk niftakru illi fl-istadji inizzjali tal-iskandlu magħruf bħala Panama Papers diversi membri tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista irreaġixxew għal dan kollu bil-bibien magħluqa.

F’April u Mejju tal-2016 kienet ħarġet l-istorja li mhux il-Partit Laburista kollu hu illuppjata dwar allegazzjonijiet ta’ korruzzjoni. Id-dibattitu intern, kif irrappurtat fil-medja, kien imqanqal, imma ma wassal għall-ebda azzjoni konkreta.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista, għalkemm fl-Opposizzjoni, ma jistax ikun alternattiva għal dan għax minkejja li l-kritika tiegħu hi korretta mhuwiex kredibbli.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista eleġġa mexxej li ftit li xejn jispira fiduċja fost il-pubbliku. Primarjament dan hu minħabba l-informazzjoni li toħroġ minn rapporti investigattivi dwaru ppubblikati minn Daphne Caruana Galizia, informazzjoni li turi kif diversi drabi ma aġixxiex b’mod korrett. Il-politku ma’ għandux il-possibilità li jagħżel meta jixgħel is-switch tal-imġieba etika. L-imġieba tal-politiku meta ma jkunx taħt il-lenti tal-opinjoni pubblika hi l-iktar indikattiva dwar x’isarraf. Il-kaz ta’ klijenti tal-uffiċju legali ta’ Adrian Delia li bbenefikaw minn dħul minn briedel f’Londra huwa eżempju prattiku ta’ dan. Meta l-informazzjoni kienet ippubblikata Delia fetaħ libell imma wara mhux biss irtirah imma ma ħa l-ebda passi alternattivi biex jisganċa ruħu minn dak li ntqal bl-iswed fuq l-abjad dwaru.

L-istess għandu jingħad dwar ix-xhieda ġuramentata tad-Deputat Nazzjonalista Claudio Grech dwar l-iskandlu taż-żejt liema xhieda ngħatat quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi. Dakinnhar Grech qal li ma kienx jiftakar jekk qatt iltaqa’ ma’ George Farrugia, il-moħħ wara l-iskandlu u li wara ngħata l-maħfra biex jikxef kollox. Il-Kap tal-PN ta’ dakinnhar, Simon Busuttil, bl-ebda mod ma rreaġixxa għal din l-imġieba. Ma ttieħdu l-ebda passi kontra Claudio Grech mill-PN f’dan il-kaz li bosta jqisuh bħala li pprova jevita li jikxef informazzjoni ta’ relevanza għal għarfien aħjar ta’ fatti tal-iskandlu.

Fid-dawl ta’ nuqqas ta’ kredibilità, meta l-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari (kif kostitwita illum) titkellem, l-impatt ta’ dak li tgħid bi kritika tal-Gvern ftit hu effetttiv.

Dan nistgħu narawh ukoll fid-dawl ta’ każi ta’ governanza ħażina li jikkomunikaw messaġġ wieħed: il-PL u l-PN huma pezza waħda. Eżempju ċar ta’ dan hu l-kaz tal-involviment ta’ Mario Demarco fin-negozjati kuntrattwali tad-dB fil-kwalità tiegħu ta’ konsulent legali tal-Grupp dB, meta fl-istess ħin kien Viċi Kap tal-Opposizzjoni u kelliemi għall-Finanzi. Għalkemm Mario Demarco għamel apoloġija pubblika dwar dan meta l-qiegħa kienet saħnet, il-ħsara li seħħet kienet sostanzjali. Il-messaġġ ċar li ġie kkomunikat dakinnhar kien li l-aħjar elementi tal-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari ma kinux kapaċi jiddistingwu bejn l-obbligi pubbliċi u l-interessi privati tagħhom.

Ikun opportun ukoll li niftakru fid-diversi rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar abbuż minn propjetà pubblika meta din kienet responsabbiltà politika tad-deputat Jason Azzopardi. Il-PN fl-ebda ħin ma esiġa li Azzopardi jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika għall-frejjeġ li ħalla warajh.

Il-governanza ħażina u l-korruzzjoni huma kuġini. Waħda twassal għall-oħra. Xi minn daqqiet hemm min jitfixkel waħda mal-oħra.

Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem kienet ċara. Dejjem kellna tolleranza żero kemm għall-korruzzjoni kif ukoll għall-governanza ħażina. Sfortunatament, la l-PN u l-anqas il-PL ma jistgħu jgħidu l-istess.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Novembru 2019

 

 

 

Corruption is colour-blind

The debate on local corruption is never-ending. Corruption is colour-blind and is heavily dependent upon a clientelist culture, as well as on the existence of weak or weakened institutions. In addition, unfortunately, there is currently no political will to address either.

The never-ending public utterances on zero-tolerance to corruption are not matched with clear-cut action.

The resistance by Cabinet Ministers Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona to the initiation of a magisterial criminal inquiry into the allegation concerning their criminal complicity in the Vitals Global Healthcare Hospitals deal is mind-boggling. A Prime Minister with a zero-tolerance to corruption would have requested the inquiry himself. Alternatively, he should have been the first to support the NGO-requested investigation.

A Labour Party which has a zero-tolerance to corruption would have sent Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri packing ages ago. The fact that Labour leader Joseph Muscat did not so act signifies that he is willing to turn a Nelson eye to his colleagues’ misdemeanours. In these circumstances a corruption zero-tolerant Labour Party would have given notice to its leader that his days are numbered if he does not change his ways. The fact that the Labour Party did not so act gives one clear message: it is corruption-tolerant.

It would be pertinent to point out that, in the initial stages of the Panama Papers debate, various members of the Labour Party Parliamentary group reacted behind closed doors. Way back in April and May of 2016, leaks in the media had indicated that not all of the Labour Party is anesthetised in its reactions to allegations of corruption. The internal debate, as then reported, was fierce, but it did not lead to concrete action.

The Nationalist Party, although in opposition, is no alternative to all this, as its criticism, though correct, is not credible.

The Nationalist Party has elected a leader who does not inspire much confidence in the public, primarily as a result of the investigative reports published by Daphne Caruana Galizia which unearthed information that illustrated the various instances in which he acted unethically. Holders of political office have no choice as to when to switch on to an ethical behaviour mode. Their behaviour when they were not under the glaring spotlight of public opinion is most indicative of their ethical worth. A case in point is Adrian Delia’s legal representation of clients benefitting from earnings from London-based brothels in respect of which published information he instituted legal action that he later withdrew. Subsequently he took no action which disproves anything that was published about this brothel business.

Likewise, no action was taken in respect of the sworn testimony of senior PN Member of Parliament Claudio Grech when giving witness in front of the Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry on the oil scandal. Grech had then stated that he did not recollect if he had ever met George Farrugia, the prime mover in the oil scandal, who was eventually pardoned to reveal all. The then PN leader, Simon Busuttil, had not reacted to this behaviour and no action whatsoever was initiated against Claudio Grech by the PN in what most consider a case of avoiding spilling information of relevance.

In view of its lack of credibility, whenever the Parliamentary Opposition – as presently constituted- speaks up, the impact of what has been revealed about Government’s dubious practices is severely diluted.

This could be viewed also with reference to serious issues of bad governance which communicate one clear message: they are cut from the same cloth. A case in point is Mario Demarco’s involvement in the dB contract negotiations as legal advisor to the dB Group, at a time when he was Deputy Leader of the Opposition and its spokesperson on Finance. Though Mario Demarco issued a public apology when the matter made headlines, the damage done was substantial. The clear message conveyed was that the better elements of the Parliamentary Opposition are incapable of drawing a line between their public duties and their private interests.

We may also deem it fit to remember the various reports issued by the Auditor-General on the mis-management of government property. At the time, this was the political responsibility of the Hon Jason Azzopardi but at no time was he asked by his party to shoulder political responsibility for the mess that he left behind.

Bad governance and corruption are cousins; one leads to the other and at times one is easily mistaken for the other.

At Alternattiva Demokratika we have always been clear: we are zero-tolerant in respect of both corruption and bad governance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the PN and the PL.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 November 2019

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Fid-diskors twil iżżejjed tiegħu meta ħabbar il-Baġit, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna dan il-fatt ma jagħtix kas tiegħu.

L-iżviluppaturi tal-propjetà, permezz tal-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom l-MDA esprimaw is-sodisfazzjon tagħhom dwar Baġit li għal darba oħra aċċetta l-proposti tagħhom biex l-iskemi ta’ inċentivi dwar tnaqqis ta’ taxxi marbuta max-xiri tal-propjetà jkunu estiżi. Il-Baġit jippreżenta dawn il-proposti b’libsa ta’ proposti soċjali. Fir-realtà huma miżuri kontra l-ambjent għax għandhom impatt dirett fuq iktar żvilupp ta’ art kif ukoll fuq l-intensifikazzjoni tal-iżvilupp fiż-żoni urbani tagħna.

It-turiżmu tal-Cruise liners huwa mfaħħar fid-diskors tal-Baġit. Il-Ministru Scicluna jentużjażma ruħu ftit iżżejjed meta jħabbar fid-diskors tiegħu li l-industrija tal-cruise liners f’Malta kibret b’75% tul dawn l-aħħar sitt snin. Il-Ministru Scicluna, probabbilment mhux konxju biżżejjed li l-industrija tal-cruise liners hi kontributur mhux żgħir fil-kontaminazzjoni tal-kwalità tal-arja.

Jeżistu diversi studji dwar l-impatti ambjentali tal-cruise liners fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Il-materja kienet mistħarrġa ukoll minn għaqda ambjentali lokali bl-għajnuna ta’ għaqda ambjentali Ġermaniża. Il-kampjuni tal-arja li ħadu mill-inħawi tal-Port il-Kbir jindikaw preżenza mhux żgħira ta’ partikoli mikroskopiċi fl-arja li qed jispiċċaw fil-pulmun ta’ dawk li jgħixu, jaħdmu inkella sempliċiment jgħaddu mil-lokalitajiet madwar il-Port il-Kbir. Bla dubju l-istess ħaġa insibuha f’Birżebbuġa bħala riżultat tal-operazzjonijiet tal-Port Ħieles.

Biex dan ikun indirizzat, soluzzjoni possibli tkun l-introduzzjoni ta’ obbligu li l-vapuri jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art meta dawn ikunu mal-moll. Dwar dan diġa saru studji preliminari. L-istudji, iżda, mhumiex biżżejjed. Jirrikjedu ukoll id-disponibilità għall-azzjoni – disponibilità li presentement ma teżistix. L-istudju dwar il-Port il-Kbir sar fl-2014 filwaqt li dak dwar Birżebbuġa sar fl-2018. Dwar dan kollu d-diskors tal-Baġit hu sieket.

Il-Gvern għadu ma ħabbarx id-data li minnha ‘l-quddiem mhux ser ikun possibli li jkunu impurtati f’Malta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-diżil. Ġejna nfurmati li din id-data tista’ titħabbar fl-2020. It-tfassil tal-istrateġija tal-Gvern f’dan il-qasam qed tieħu fit-tul biex tieħu sura meta kien il-Prim Ministru nnifsu li ħabbarha iktar minn sentejn ilu. Ma hemm l-ebda serjetà fil-mod kif din l-istrateġija qed tkun imfassla. Il-materja mhix biss dwar li ma nimpurtawx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-diżil.

Tinvolvi ukoll l-interess esaġerat kurrenti fl-iżvilupp ta’ pompi tal-petrol ġodda f’diversi inħawi ta’ Malta. Għax xi ħtieġa hemm għal iktar pompi tal-petrol meta d-deċiżjoni dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat qiegħed wara l-bieb? Moratorju immedjat dwar l-iżvilupp ta’ pompi tal-petrol ġodda kienet tkun deċiżjoni tajba u f’waqtha, meta hu aċċettat minn kulħadd li ma hemmx użu għalihom!

Il-Baġit, ifaħħar u jiftaħar bl-investiment massiċċ fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq. B’mod partikolari dwar mini jew fly-overs li x-xogħol dwarhom għaddej inkella qiegħed fi stadju avvanzat ta’ ippjanar.

Il-ġustifikazzjoni għal dan, minn dikjarazzjonijiet diversi li saru matul ix-xhur li għaddew, hi, biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Studji li saru madwar id-dinja kollha repetutament żvelaw li dawn it-tipi ta’ żviluppi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq inevitabilment twassal għal-iktar traffiku.

Il-Minstru dan kollu jinjorah u jibqa’ jinsisti li jarmi daqstant miljuni ta’ ewro. Apparti li jgħarbel ftit l-esperjenza f’pajjiżi oħra, l-Onor. Ministru għandu jikkonsulta ruħu wkoll mal-Master-Plan għat-Trasport li tfassal taħt id-direzzjoni tal-Gvern li minnu jifforma parti u li b’mod mill-iktar ċar ifisser kif it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna hu għan essenzjali. Il-Ministru għall-Finanzi għandu jfittex li jkun jaf l-għaliex il-Gvern jitlob il-pariri u mbagħad dawn ikunu injorati.

Fl-aħħar il-Gvern irrealizza li hemm ħtieġa ta’ strateġija għal Green New Deal. Din hija strateġija li tindirizza l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima b’mod sostenibbli: ekonomikament, ekologikament u soċjalment. Imma biex strateġija ta’ dan ix-xorta tkun tagħmel sens, il-Gvern għandu, l-ewwel u qabel kollox iżarma l-istrateġiji li diġa għandu u li huma dijametrikament opposti għall-Green New Deal.

Ma jagħmilx sens, per eżempju, li filwaqt li l-Gvern repetutament jiddikjara ruħu favur il-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ambjentali, imma mbagħad kontinwament joħroġ inċentivi biex jinkoraġixxi is-suq tal-propjetà. Lanqas ma jagħmel sens li jibqa’ għaddej bil-programm intensiv tal-iżvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq jew li jibqa’ għaddej bil-pjani dwar l-iżvilupp tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li inevitabilment ser isservi biex iktar karozzi jaqsmu bejn il-gżejjer b’faċilità.

Flok l-għotjiet għax-xiri tal-batteriji għall-ħażna tal-elettriku ġġenerat mill-pannelli fotovoltajiċi kien ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Gvern jagħti bidu għal investiment massiv biex ikun assigurat li s-sistema tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku titjib għax hu b’dan li jista’ jkun aċċertat illi fid-djar tagħna jkun possibli li niġġeneraw iktar elettriku mix-xemx. In-nuqqas ta’ miżuri effettivi biex tkun iġġenerata iktar enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli juru kemm mhu veru xejn li l-Gvern hu kommess favur t-tfassil u l-implimentazzjoni ta’ strateġija dwar il-Green New Deal.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi qed jgħaddina biż-żmien meta f’nifs wieħed jinsisti jitkellem dwar Għawdex bħala gżira ekoloġika filwaqt li jibqa’ jinsisti fuq “ħtieġa” għall-mina bejn il-gżejjer. Mina li ser taċċellera l-ħsara ambjentali fil-gżira Għawdxija.

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qed jikber kontinwament, bla ebda kontroll ta’ xejn.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Ottubru 2019

 

The environmental deficit

The environmental deficit is still rising and  the long-winded Budget speech by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna last Monday did not address it.

Through the MDA, their association, property developers have expressed satisfaction at the Budget as, once more, it has taken up their proposals intended to further extend tax incentive schemes linked to the purchase of property. The budget presents these measures as being of a social nature when, in fact, that are anti-environmental measures because their direct impact is the take-up of more land as well as additional pressure on the intensification of the development of our urban areas.

Cruise liner tourism comes in for substantial praise in the Budget speech. Minister Scicluna was over-enthusiastic in announcing that there has been a 75 per cent  increase in the cruise liner industry in Malta over the last six years. He may not be sufficiently aware that the cruise liner industry is a substantial contributor to the degradation of air quality. Various studies have been carried out on the environmental impacts of cruise liners on the high seas and the subject has also been studied by a local environmental NGO with the support of their German counterparts.

Their studies revealed that air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicte the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which is ending in the respiratory systems of those living, working or passing through this area. Similar issues undoubtedly exist in Birżebbuġa as a result of the operations of the Freeport.

A possible solution to address this problem  is the introduction of a compulsory shore-to-ship electricity supply – in respect of which preliminary studies have already been carried out. The studies, however, are not enough. They require a commitment to act – a commitment is currently non-existent. The studies date back to 2014 in respect of the Grand Harbour and to 2018 in respect of Birżebbuġa.

The government has not yet announced the cut-off date for the importation of cars running on petrol and diesel. We were informed that it may be announced some time in 2020. The government strategy in this respect is taking too long too formulate – given that it was announced by the Prime Minister over two years ago.

There is alack of seriousness about the manner in which this issue is being addressed. It  does not just involve determining when no more vehicles running on petrol or diesel will be imported; it also involves the current acute interest in the development of new fuel service stations in various parts of the island. Why do we need such fuel service stations if electrification of private transport is around the corner? An immediate moratorium on the development of new fuel service stations would have been quite appropriate, given that it is accepted by one and all that there will be no use for them!

In addition, the budget praises the heavy investment in road infrastructure, in particular the construction fly-overs and tunnels, the construction of which are either already in hand or else at an advanced state of planning. The justification for this, as has been made through various statements over the months, is to address the ever-increasing traffic congestion.

Studies carried out all over the world have repeatedly revealed that such developments in the road infrastructure inevitably leads to more traffic. Minster Scicluna ignores this experience from other countries and keeps insisting in channelling millions of euros down the drain. He should consult the Transport Master-Plan, drawn up under the direction of his own government, which clearly lists the reduction of the number of vehicles on our roads as an essential objective. The Finance Minister should query why his government commissions experts for their advice which it then ignores.

The Government has, at last realised that it needs a ‘Green New Deal’ strategy – a strategy which addresses the impacts of climate change sustainably, economically, ecologically and socially. But for such a strategy to make sense, it should first dismantle its existing strategies which are in direct opposition to a ‘Green New Deal’.

It does not make sense, for example, for the Government to declare the need to protect the environment and then hands out all sorts of incentives to encourage the property market. Nor does it make sense to keep to its programme of intensive development of the road infrastructure, or to keep pushing for the development of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which will only serve the free movement of more cars between the islands.

Instead of grants for batteries to store electricity generated through solar panels, it would have been much better had the Government embarked on a massive investment to ensure a better distribution network of electricity, as this would – of itself – increase the potential for the generation of more renewable energy by households. The lack of effective measures to generate more energy from renewable sources clearly shows that Government is not really committed to drafting and implementing a real ‘Green New Deal’ strategy.

The Minister of Finance is taking everybody for a ride when, on the one hand he speaks of Gozo as an ecological island and then, on the other, keeps insisting on the ‘need’ for a tunnel between the islands, – which will only serve to accelerate the environmental degradation of Gozo.

The environmental deficit is clearly out of control.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 October 2019

Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018

Wara d-dibattitu fi Strasburgu

 

Id-dibattitu tal-ġimgħa l-oħra fil-Parlament Ewropew dwar is-saltna tad-dritt wera li prattikament il-partiti politiċi kollha huma mħassba dwar is-saltna tad-dritt f’Malta. Il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia jkompli jżid ma dan it-tħassib.

It-tħassib hu wieħed akkumulat u huwa ġġustifikat minħabba diversi affarijiet li ġraw fuq tul ta’ żmien.

Il-ħatra u r-riżenja ta’ diversi Kummissarji tal-Pulizija matul dawn il-ħames snin xejn ma għen f’dan il-kuntest.

Ir-rapporti tal-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) li waslu għand il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija u ma ittieħdu l-ebda passi dwarhom ukoll wasslu l-messaġġ li f’dan il-pajjiż xejn m’hu xejn: li l-liġi hi bla siwi.

Jekk il-liġi hi bla siwi għax l-awtorijtajiet li għandhom l-obbligu li jimplimentawha jagħlqu għajnejhom, daqqa waħda u drabi oħra t-tnejn, hu ġustifikat li jingħad li s-saltna tad-dritt hi mhedda.

F’dan il-kuntest ma tista’ tagħti tort lil ħadd li jissuspetta illi l-awtoritajiet kollha ħaġa waħda, jħokku dahar xulxin. Anke jekk mhux neċessarjament hekk.

Imma hemm min qiegħed japprofitta ruħu minn din is-sitwazzjoni biex jiżra’ sfiduċja iktar milli diġa hawn. Ilkoll kemm aħna, fuq quddiem nett il-partiti politiċi, għandna l-obbligu li f’din is-siegħa delikata ma nesagerawx fil-kritika li nagħmlu. Anke fejn il-kritika hi ġustifikata. Il-kritika li issir hemm bżonn li tkun waħda responsabbli avolja jkun hemm min ma jagħtix każ, jew inkella jipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li mhux qed jagħti każ.

Il-fatti jibqgħu dejjem fatti.

Il-Prim Ministru żbalja meta ma tajjarx lill-Konrad Mizzi mill-Kabinett u lil Keith Schembri minn Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tiegħu wara li isimhom deher fil-lista magħrufa bħala Panama Papers. Kien żball oħxon li anke fil-Partit Laburista stess kien hemm dibattitu jaħraq dwaru. Fil-Partit Laburista kien hemm min kellu l-kuraġġ li jesprimi fehmtu dwar dan fil-pubbliku. Hekk għamlu s-sena l-oħra Evarist Bartolo u Godfrey Farrugia. Kien hemm oħrajn li tkellmu fil-magħluq waqt laqgħat tal-Grupp Parlamentari. Fil-gazzetti kienu ssemmew l-ismijiet tad-Deputat Prim Ministru ta’ dak iż-żmien Louis Grech u tal-Ministri Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna u George Vella. Hemm ukoll id-dikjarazzjoni ċara pubblika ta’ Alfred Sant, avolja dan issa qed jitkellem ftit differenti. Naf li hemm oħrajn. Kollha talbu r-riżenja ta’ Konrad Mizzi.

Il-preokkupazzjoni tal-lum hi in parti riżultat ta’ din id-deċiżjoni żbaljata tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat.

Il-kobba issa kompliet titħabbel bil-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Sfortunatament hemm min qed jitfa l-argumenti kollha f’borma waħda u jgħaqqad, b’mod irresponsabbli l-affarijiet, meta s’issa għad ma hemm l-ebda prova dwar min wettaq dan id-delitt u għal liema raġuni. L-iżbalji li saru fil-kors tal-investigazzjoni xejn m’huma ta’ għajnuna. La d-dewmien tal-Maġistrat Consuelo Scerri Herrera biex ma tibqax tmexxi l-investigazzjoni Maġisterjali u l-anqas li d-Deputat Kummissarju Silvio Valletta ma fehemx li l-presenza tiegħu fl-investigazzjoni tista’ tkun ta’ xkiel għall-kredibilita tal-konkluzjonijiet m’huma ser jgħinu.

F’dan il-kuntest il-kummenti ta’ Frans Timmermans Viċi President Ewlieni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea huma ta’ validità kbira: “Let the investigation run its full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

Il-preokkupazzjoni tagħna lkoll hi ġustifikata. Imma tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li t-taħwid kollu li għandna quddiemna ma tfaċċax f’daqqa, ilu jinġabar ftit ftit. Biex dan jingħeleb jeħtieġ l-isforz flimkien ta’ kull min hu ta’ rieda tajba.

 

ippubblikat f’Illum – Il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Novembru 2017

Beyond the Strasbourg debate

Last week’s debate in the European Parliament on the rule of law in Malta revealed that all political parties are preoccupied with the matter and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made a bad situation worse.

This preoccupation has not developed overnight, it has accumulated over time. The appointment of various Commissioners of Police and their subsequent resignation for a variety of reasons has not been helpful: it has reinforced the perception that “all is not well in the state of Denmark”.

The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reports received by the Commissioner of Police, and in respect of which no investigation was carried out, sent out one clear message: in this country, some people are clearly not subject to the rule of law. Can anyone be blamed if this message – sent by the Commissioner of Police – was clearly understood by one and all?

This transmits an additional clear message: the authorities are in cahoots; they are scratching each other’s back. Even though reality may be different, this is the message which has gone through.

Unfortunately, some people may be cashing in on these developments and, as a result, increasing exponentially the lack of trust in public authorities in Malta. This is a very dangerous development and calls for responsible action on the part of one and all, primarily political parties. Speaking out publicly about these developments is justified, notwithstanding the continuous insults which keep being levelled against such a stand. It is time to stand up and be counted.

The Prime Minister erred when he did not dismiss Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff at the OPM Keith Schembri on the spot, after it was clear that their names featured prominently in the Panama Papers. This serious error by the Prime Minister triggered a debate about the matter in the Labour Party. Some even had the courage to speak publicly: Evarist Bartolo and Godfrey Farrugia did so. Others participated actively in the internal debates within the Labour Party, in particular during meetings of the Parliamentary Group. Last year, the media had mentioned various Labour MPs as having been vociferous in internal debates on the matter: it was reported that former Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech and senior Ministers Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna and George Vella took the lead.

Even former Labour Leader Alfred Sant made public declarations in support of required resignations. This week, Sant sought to change his tune in a hysterical contribution to the Strasbourg debate. Others have preferred silence.

The Prime Minister’s erroneous position in refusing to fire Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri has been a major contributor to the present state of affairs. The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made matters worse and has, justifiably, led to the current preoccupation with the question of whether the rule of law is still effective in Malta at all.

Unfortunately some individuals begin linking all the incidents together – in the process, weaving a story which is quite different from reality, at least that which is known so far. Some claim to be able to joint the dots, thereby creating a narrative unknown to the rest of us, because the dots can be joined in many different ways.

Mistakes made during the initial stages of the investigation of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder further reinforce the perceptions that all is not well. When Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera took quite some time to realise that it was not right for her to lead the investigation into the murder of a journalist who had been the prime mover in torpedoing her elevation to the position of a Judge in the Superior Courts, everyone was shocked.

Even the failure of Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta to realise that for him to lead the police investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder could dent the credibility of the police investigation in view of his marriage to a Cabinet Minister was another serious mistake. This is no reflection on the couple’s integrity but an ethical consideration which should have been taken into consideration in the first seconds of the investigation.

In this context, the comments of European Commission Senior Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans assume greater importance “Let the investigation run its  full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

It is reasonable that all of us are seriously preoccupied. The present state of affairs did not develop overnight. It requires the concerted efforts of all of us to be put right.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 November 2017 

A financial surplus, yet an environmental deficit

As was expected, last Monday’s budget speech solemnly announced a budget surplus for the first time in many years. However, the environmental deficit was, as usual, hidden between the lines.

The budget is aptly titled Preparing for the Future (Inlestu għall-Futur). In dealing with environmental issues, the budget speech does not lay down clearly the path the government will be following. At times, it postpones matters – proposing studies and consultations on subjects that have been in the public domain for ages.

On the subject of vacant properties, the government prefers the carrot to the stick. In order to get dilapidated and empty properties in village centres back on the rental market, it is offering a €25,000 grant to renovate such properties, but then rightly insists that, once renovated these should be made available for social housing for a minimum of 10 years. In previous budgets, various other fiscal incentives have been offered to encourage such properties being placed back on the market.

After offering so many carrots, it would also make sense to use the stick by way of taxing vacant properties in situations where the owner is continuously ignoring the signals sent regarding the social, economic and environmental impacts of empty properties.

The budget speech announced improvements to rental subsidies. However, it then opted to postpone the regulation of the rental market. It announced a White Paper on the subject which, when published, will propose ways of regulating the market without in any way regulating the subject of rents. In view of the currently abnormal situation of sky-high rents, this is sheer madness.

It is fine to ensure that the duties and responsibilities of landlords and tenants are clearly spelt out. Does anyone argue with that in 2017? It should have been done years ago. Instead of a White Paper a Legal Notice defining clear-cut duties and responsibilities would suffice: there is no need to wait.

It is, however, too much to bear when a “social democrat” Finance Minister declares  that he will not even consider rent control. There are ways and means of ensuring that the market acts fairly. Other countries have done it and are still doing it, as rental greed has no preferred nationality. Ignoring this possibility is not a good omen. The market should not be glorified by the Finance Minister; it should be tamed rather than further encouraged to keep running wild with the resulting social havoc it has created.

This brings us to transport and roads. The Finance Minister sends a clear message when he stated (on page 44 of the budget speech) that no one should be under the illusion that upgrading the road infrastructure will, on its own, resolve the traffic (congestion) problem. Edward Scicluna hints on the following page of his speech that he is not too happy with the current situation. He laments that the more developed countries encourage active mobility through walking, cycling and the use of motorbikes, as well as various means of public transport, simultaneously discouraging the use of the private car. However, he does not then proceed to the logical conclusion of his statement: scrapping large-scale road infrastructural projects such as the proposed Marsa flyover or the proposed tunnels below the Santa Luċija roundabout announced recently by Minister Ian Borg.

These projects, like the Kappara flyover currently in its final stages, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads. And this means only one thing: more cars on our roads. It is certified madness.

While the Government’s policy of increasing the capacity of existing roads through the construction of flyovers and tunnels will address congestion in the short term, it will lead to increased traffic on our roads. This moves the problem to the future, when it will be worse and more difficult to tackle. The government is acting like an overweight individual who ‘solves’ the problem of his expanding wasteline by changing his wardrobe instead of going on a painful but necessary diet.

This cancels out the positive impact of other policies announced in the budget speech such as free public transport to young people aged between 16 and 20, free (collective) transport to all schools, incentives for car-pooling, grants encouraging the purchase of bicycles, pedelec bicycles and scooters, reduction in the VAT charged when hiring bicycles as well as the introduction of bicycle lanes, as well as encouraging the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles.

All this contributes to the current environmental deficit. And I have not even mentioned issues of land use planning once.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 October 2017

Beyond roundabouts and flyovers

 

The need for adequate traffic management is apparently, at last, very high on the list of matters preoccupying the Maltese public. The solutions to the problems we face, however, depends on the behaviour of each and every one of us.

Traffic congestion is a constant irritation, as our roads are clogged for longer periods of time and in addition to wasting an ever-increasing amount of time in traffic, we are simultaneously constantly reducing the quality of the air we breathe.

Tackling traffic management adequately would hence address two fundamental issues: air quality and our clogged roads.

I do not dispute that improving the road network eases the flow of traffic. However, it has to be stressed that this is only a short-term measure. Adjusting the roundabout at Manwel Dimech Street in Qormi or the traffic lanes close to the airport or constructing flyovers at Kappara and Marsa will address and rationalise traffic movement now.

However, this further development of the road infrastructure is simply an encouragement for more cars to use our roads. It is only a matter of time when it will be the turn of the new developments to burst at the seams.

The present state of affairs is the direct result of the long-term neglect of transport policy. Public transport – as well as alternative means of transport – has been given the cold shoulder for far too long.

We require a transport policy that actively encourages the reduction of the number of vehicles on the road. Having around 800 cars on the road for every one thousand people in a small country is ridiculous. The small distances between localities in Malta and Gozo should make it much easier to encourage a reduction in dependence on the privately-owned car. Initiatives can be taken on a local level as well as between neighbouring localities. In such instances, it can be much easier to encourage the use of bicycles or the use of public transport or even to walk short distances: our health will surely benefit.

Isn’t it about time that we claim back ownership of our streets? We need more pedestrianised streets inaccessible to cars at any time of the day in every locality in Malta and Gozo. More streets need to be traffic-free, safe for children and parents to walk to school and back. We also need wider pavements for the use of pedestrians (not for tables and chairs to service catering establishments).

In the 2016 Budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna announced that, during 2017, government entities should be finalising sustainable transport plans. In the coming weeks these should be made public and, as a result, we expect that all government entities will commence addressing the mobility requirements of their employees and their customers. If carried out properly, this exercise could also impact on the private sector thereby (hopefully) substantially reducing a substantial number cars from our roads at peak times. In turn, this could have a considerable impact on public transport because with fewer cars on the roads, it should be more efficient.

Concurrently, government should also address the proposal to electrify the whole private transport sector through banning petrol and diesel cars from our roads, after a reasonable transition, and switching over to cars running on electricity. In Malta, this proposal was launched as part of Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto. Since then, it has also been taken up by the French and UK governments. Removing petrol and diesel cars from our roads would substantially improve the quality of the air we breathe in all our localities and consequently in the long term will contribute to a considerable reduction of respiratory ailments.

This is the only way forward by which traffic is brought under serious control simultaneously ensuring sustainable mobility and improving the quality of our air.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 September 2017

Tax avoidance: does Malta play a role?

basf-malta

On 30 August, the European Union, through Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, ordered Apple Corporation to pay €13 billion in unpaid taxes to the Irish state.  The EU ruling considered that the special tax treatment of Apple, whose tax bill was substantially reduced, amounted to unlawful state aid.

In November 2014, through Luxleaks, we learnt of tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg and elsewhere, as a result of which billions of euros in tax were being avoided by multinational corporations.

The EU has subsequently launched various investigations into the favourable tax treatment which Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Belgium have granted to various multinationals.

As a contribution to the on-going debate on tax avoidance in the EU, the Green Group in the European Parliament has recently published a study on the tax avoidance strategies adopted by the industrial giant BASF, the largest chemical company in the world.

Founded in 1865, BASF has its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany, from where it manages a €70.4 billion turnover with production sites in 80 countries.

Malta features in this report together with Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Over the years, BASF has used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes.

Chapter VIII of the report, published by the Green Group in the European Parliament, deals with Malta. It refers to the existence of a BASF subsidiary in Malta which held €5.07 billion in assets. These assets where transferred to a new German subsidiary, BASF Finance Malta GMBH, which was managed from an office in St Julian’s, thereby creating the eligibility for preferential tax treatment which could amount to as much as a refund of six-sevenths of all tax payable in Malta.

All this is a clearly planned movement of profits through generous loopholes as a way of avoiding most of, if not all, of the taxation which would be due under normal circumstances.

This abuse of the differences in national tax systems needs to be addressed urgently. As rightly stated by Malta’s Finance Minister Edward Scicluna at a Luxembourg ECOFIN meeting last September, the way forward lies in coordination at an EU level and not in the harmonisation of the national taxation systems, as some EU member states are insisting.

Tax competition has a role to play as an important tool that small and peripheral countries in the EU have at their disposal. No one should expect these countries to throw away the small advantage they have, but it should be clear that this should be used responsibly and in no way should it buttress the urge of multinationals to circumvent the national taxation system where their profits are generated.

Profits should be taxed where they are actually generated and not elsewhere. The EU needs to end – once and for all – not only tax evasion but also tax avoidance resulting from loopholes in national tax rules. For this to happen, the member states must not only be vigilant, but must also refrain from encouraging tax avoidance through the creation of more loopholes.

Tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance seriously will mean that taxes are paid where they are due, thereby funding the services and infrastructure that is required in a modern, civilised society. This can only happen if more companies pay their dues. Tax competition need not be a race to the bottom.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 December 2016