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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 2022

Ikla tajba tiftaħ l-aptit ta’ Bernard Grech

Ikla tajba tiftaħlek l-aptit sewwa. Hekk jidher li ġara lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech f’ikla li kellu waqt il-kampanja elettorali ma’ numru ta’ negozjanti. Hi ikla li għaliha mar bis-sasla biex jiġbor flejjes kbar. Għax għandu bżonn il-miljuni. Ġew imwegħda somom kbar, mid-dehra. Imma jidher li kien hemm ukoll il-kundizzjonijiet.

Intqal li hemm min ried proklama għal tal-familja. Hemm min ried jagħlaq ħalq uħud mill-kandidati tal-PN. Għax qed idejquh!

Diġa saru dikjarazzjonijiet dwar dak li ġara, għax uħud li kienu hemm, għall-ikla, tkellmu.

Il-verità kollha mhux ser inkunu nafuha qabel ma jkun hemm min jgħid l-istorja kollha. S’issa nafu biss biċċiet. Kull min tkellem qal il-biċċa li taqbillu.

Li jkun hemm min jagħmel talbiet lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni bħal dawk li issemmew hu possibli. Li hu ta’ interess pubbliku iżda hu x’wieġeb il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għat-talbiet li sarulu. Kemm dawk (it-talbiet) li nafu bihom kif ukoll dawk li għad ma nafux!

Iċ-ċaħda li saru t-talbiet ma tantx titwemmen. Għalhekk hu iktar importanti li tingħata spjegazzjoni ċara ta’ x’ġara eżattament. Illum jew għada nkunu nafu, imma l-verzjoni li toħroġ bil-mod qatt ma tkun preċiża, dejjem tkun imlewwna. Il-kuluri żejda, kif tafu, ma jagħmlu ġid lil ħadd.

It-trasparenza u l-kontabilità vera jesiġu li Bernard Grech jagħti kont ta’ għemilu. Illum qabel għada.

Għal Albert Buttiġieġ il-bieb tiegħi miftuħ

Bħalkom segwejt dak li qal Albert Buttiġieġ: li kien infurmat li uffiċjal mhux elett tal-PN, f’laqgħa ma spekulatur fl-inħawi ta’ San Ġiljan ħadha fuq spallejh li jwarrab lil Buttiġieġ u jassigura li jagħlaq ħalqu. Għax il-ħidma ġenwina tiegħu bħala Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan qed iddejjaq lil min qed ipappiha sew.

Albert Buttiġieg ma għalaqx ħalqu u għamel sewwa. Imma l-bsaten fir-roti fl-elezzjoni kienu bosta, kif spjega hu stess.

Issa tkellem l-oraklu, Ray Bezzina, l-id il-leminija ta’ George Pullicino fil-passat u ta’ Bernard Grech illum. “Mhux jien” qalilna! Talab li jkun investigat Albert Buttiġieġ biex jikxef dak li jaf.

Albert diġa qal li mhux ser jikxef l-identità ta’ min tah l-informazzjoni, u jagħmel sewwa.

Imma fuq insistenza ta’ Ray Bezzina il-PN ser jiftaħ inkjesta interna!

Il-PN qiegħed fir-rokna u jaf li ma jistax joħroġ minnha. Daħħluh fiha dawk ta’ bla skrupli, dawk li fid-deher juru wiċċ ta’qdusija, u fil-magħluq kollha konfoffi man-nies tal-flus.

Ma’ Albert tkellimt. Nifhmu. Nifhem minn xiex għaddej. Fil-ġimgħat li ġejjin il-PN ser jipprova jagħmlu kkapuljat.

Għal min hu ġenwin bħal Albert, il-bieb tiegħi miftuħ.

The financing of the PLPN

Through a number of articles in the local press we have been repeatedly made aware that government and its authorities do not treat the parliamentary political parties (and their commercial companies) as the rest of us when it comes to outstanding bills, including those relating to taxes due.

The regulation of party-political financing should not stop at donation reports. We need to shine the spotlight on their pending bills too as these are an additional substantial financing source which in practice serves to finance the political parties through open-ended credit facilities! It is being carried out by the state, directly and by stealth.

To be clear I am referring to outstanding VAT payments and pending water and electricity bills which go back a number of years which have accumulated to millions in outstanding dues. In addition, there are also NI and PAYE contributions collected by the parliamentary political parties and their commercial companies on behalf of the Inland Revenue Department from their employees and retained unlawfully at their end. Any private employer who acts in the same manner is normally subject to legal action, in particular for failure to act on repeated reminders to conform! If you try not paying your water and electricity bills for years on end you will very soon receive a polite notice from ARMS indicating that you will soon have no more access to water and electricity!  But it is kids gloves for the PLPN. 

The amounts due run into many millions of euros and form part of the accumulated debts of the parliamentary political parties. It is difficult to quantify the precise amounts due by PLPN and their commercial companies as the authorities continuously withhold information as to the precise accumulated amount of the arrears due. The only information available in the public domain is sourced through leaks indicating that the amounts due run into millions: an upward eight digit spiral! Public knowledge of the extremely generous credit terms which public authorities grant parliamentary political parties and their companies would reveal the systemic abuses which have been shielded for too long a time.  This information should be disclosed as this is in the public interest. Good governance requires it.

This is an indirect source of political party financing which needs to be quantified and acted upon immediately. It is unfortunate that the regulator of political party financing is the Electoral Commission which is itself composed of nominees of the PLPN, who are thus regulating themselves, in addition to regulating their direct competitors, the other political parties.

It is also about time that the commercial companies belonging to the political parties are dealt with as an integral part of the political parties which they service. Stricter controls and real-time reporting time-frames are essential if we really want to ensure that these commercial companies are not used as vehicles to channel illicit funding to oil the PLPN political machinery.

As expected PLPN are in denial. The PL insists that its companies have not entered into a deal with Yorgen Fenech. The PN on the other hand insist that all is above board at its end: they proclaim that they have not issued any fake dB invoices! Yet both of them continuously fail to play by the rules. Audited accounts for their companies have not been presented for many years. As a result, there is no way to verify whether and to what extent the PLPN commercial companies are innocent of the charges that they are being continuously used to circumvent the rules regulating the funding of political parties.

Both the PL and the PN sanctimoniously proclaim their adherence to the basic principles of good governance. It is about time that they start practicing what they preach!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 April 2022

Kull vot jgħodd

Nhar l-Erbgħa, flimkien ma’ Ralph Cassar Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Partit, f’isem ADPD ippreżentajt kawża kostituzzjonali dwar ir-riżultat elettorali li ġie ppubblikat f’dawn il-ġranet.

is-sistema elettorali, tul is-snin, ġiet żviluppata fl-interess esklussiv  tal-PLPN, iżidu is-siġġijiet għalihom u jinjoraw lill-bqija . Għandna sistema elettorali mbagħbsa, mhux denja ta’ pajjiż demokratiku.

F’demokrazija b’saħħitha, kull vot jgħodd: il-valur tiegħu m’għandux jiġi mkasbar għal kwalunkwe raġuni. Sfortunatament, f’Malta, il-leġislazzjoni elettorali hi iddiżinjata b’mod diskriminatorja, u dan bil-kompliċità tal-Parlament. Hi sistema elettorali diskriminatorja favur il-PLPN li bejniethom ikkontrollaw lill-Parlament sa mill-1966, u jridu jibqgħu għaddejjin hekk.

Vot favur l-ADPD għandu l-istess valur daqs vot favur il-PLPN. Imma l-liġi hi diskriminatorja għax tagħti valur u piż lill-voti tal-PLPN u tinjora l-bqija tal-voti tal-Maltin u l-Għawdin.

Dan hu riżultat ta’ żewġ miżuri speċifiċi: waħda dwar il-proporzjonalità u l-oħra dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru. It-tnejn jiffavorixxu lill-PLPN u huma diskriminatorji fil-konfront tagħna, it-tielet partit, kif ukoll huma diskriminatorji kontra l-partiti l-oħrajn ukoll. Id-diskriminazzjoni li qed niffaċċjaw hi parti integrali mill-liġi elettorali.

Nhar it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Marzu 2022 kien imħabbar li r-riżultat elettorali kien aġġustat billi mal-lista tal-membri parlamentari eletti żdiedu tnejn oħra mil-lista tal-kandidati ippreżentata mill-PN. Din iż-żieda saret biex ikun hemm aġġustament għall-proporzjonalità bejn il-voti miksuba mill-partiti parlamentari fl-ewwel għadd tal-voti u s-siġġijiet parlamentari miksuba.

Meta sar dan l-aġġustament ġew injorati l-voti miksuba mill-partit ADPD fl-ewwel għadd tal-voti, liema voti kienu jammonta għal 4747 vot, ammont li hu ikbar mill-kwota nazzjonali. Din id-diskriminazzjoni tiżvaluta l-proċess demokratiku u dan billi l-voti tal-Partit Laburista u tal-Partit Nazzjonalista qed jingħataw valur billi jittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni biex isir l-aġġustament għall-proporzjonalità filwaqt li  l-voti ta’ ADPD qed ikunu skartati kompletament.

Il-proċess elettorali hu mistenni li jkompli fil-ġranet li ġejjin u dan billi l-emendi kostituzzjonali tas-sena l-oħra jipprevedu li wara li jkun konkluż il-proċess ta’ bye-elections assoċjati mal-elezzjoni ġenerali, l-Kummissjoni Elettorali talloka mhux iktar minn tnax-il siġġu parlamentari addizzjonali, sitta lil kull naħa biex jonqos l-iżbilanċ tal-ġeneru fil-Parlament. Dan ser ikompli jżid il-problema ta’ rappresentanza parlamentari billi ser iżid ir-rappresentanza tal-partiti parlamentari u jkompli jinjora l-bqija. Il-prinċipju tal-proporzjonalità li diġa huwa applikat b’mod dgħajjaf ser ikompli jiġi mnawwar bħala riżultat ta’ dan.

Il-kawża kostituzzjonali hi dwar dan it-taħwid kollu. Qed nitolbu lill-Qorti li issib li hemm ksur ta’ diversi drittijiet  umani liema drittijiet huma mħarsa kemm mill-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta kif ukoll mill-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja tad-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem. Hemm ukoll ksur tal-artiklu 3 tal-protokol numru 1 tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem u dan dwar id-dritt ta’ elezzjonijiet ħielsa.

Qegħdin nistennew rimedju kontra d-diskriminazzjoni li seħħet diġa meta l-Partit Nazzjonalista ngħata siġġijiet Parlamentari u aħna b’mod diskriminatorju ma ngħatajniex, kif ukoll protezzjoni mid-diskriminazzjoni addizzjonali li ser isseħħ fil-ġranet li ġejjin meta jidħol fis-seħħ il-mekkaniżmu korrettorju dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru.

Is-sistema elettorali Maltija mhiex isservi l-interessi tal-pajjiż imma biss tal-interessi tal-PLPN li kkapparraw ukoll l-istituzzjonijiet. Il-voti ta’ kulħadd għandhom valur u jeħtieġ li jkunu rispettati, mhux biss dawk tal-PLPN.

Inħarsu l-voti kollha.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 t’April 2022

Every vote counts

On Wednesday, on behalf of ADPD-The Green Party, together with party General Secretary Ralph Cassar I instituted constitutional proceedings relative to the election results just published.

The issue at stake is that the electoral system has, over the years been developed in the exclusive interest of the PLPN: milking more parliamentary seats for the PLPN and excluding the rest.

 In a healthy democracy, all votes have an equal value: every vote counts. Unfortunately, in Malta, electoral legislation, by design, that is with the clear intention of Parliament, is discriminatory in favour of the PLPN, the political parties which have exclusively controlled Parliament since the 1966 general elections.

A vote cast for ADPD-The Green Party is equal in value to those cast in favour of the PLPN. Existing electoral legislation is discriminatory due to its giving weight to votes cast for the two parliamentary parties and ignoring those cast for others.

This is the result of two specific measures: one dealing with proportionality and the other dealing with gender balance. Both measures are designed to benefit the PLPN and discriminate against us, the third party, and others. The discrimination we are facing is an integral part of electoral legislation by design. 

On Monday 28th March 2022 it was announced that the electoral result was adjusted through the addition of two MPs from the list of candidates presented by the PN.  This addition is the result of a proportionality adjustment between the votes obtained at first count by the political parties making it to parliament and the parliamentary seats won.

When this adjustment was carried out the votes obtained at first count by ADPD-The Green Party amounting to 4747 were ignored. These votes amount to more than the national quota. This discrimination is a devaluation of the democratic process as it gives weight to votes cast in favour of  Partit Laburista and Partit Nazzjonalista but ignores completely the votes cast for ADPD.

In the coming days, the final stage of the electoral process will be implemented. After all the bye-elections associated with the general election are concluded the Electoral Commission will assign up to a maximum of twelve additional parliamentary seats to the two parliamentary parties in order to address gender balance in the parliamentary ranks.  This will add to the existing problems of parliamentary representation by further inflating the parliamentary seats of PLPN to the detriment of the rest. The proportionality principle, already very weak will be further eroded.

The Constitutional proceedings deal with all this. The Courts are being requested to find that there has been a breach of several human rights protected not only in terms of Malta’s Constitution but also in terms of the European Convention of Human Rights. We also point out that all this is in breach of the first protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights relative to free and fair elections.

We expect that the Courts identify suitable remedies to address the discrimination which has already taken place when the Partit Nazzjonalista was awarded additional parliamentary seats and the votes obtained by ADPD were ignored. We also seek the Courts’ protection from further discrimination which will occur in the coming days when the provisions of the gender balance corrective mechanism are applied.

Malta’s electoral system is not serving the country well: it has been manipulated repeatedly by the PLPN to serve their own interests. To this end they have also hijacked the Constitutional institutions. It is not only PLPN votes which are important: everyone’s vote is important and requires the utmost respect.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 April 2022

Bejgħ tal-passaporti u l-prinċpju ta’ lealtà fl-Unjoni Ewropea

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-kumitat tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-libertajiet ċivili u l-ġustizzja,  huwa u jiddiskuti rapport dwar il-bejgħ tal-passaporti (jirreferu għalihom bħala golden passports) mill-istati membri, jemfasizza li dan hu oġġezzjonabbli etikament, legalment u ekonomikament u dan apparti li dan joħloq bosta riskji għas-sigurtà.

Tul is-snin, il-Ministri, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra, emfasizzaw li ċ-ċittadinanza, fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, hi materja riżervata għall-istati membri. Hekk hu, imma mhux b’mod assolut. Il-prinċipju ta’ lealtà fit-trattati Ewropej ilewwen il-ħidma tal-istati membri fl-Unjoni. Anke l-oqsma li huma kompetenza nazzjonali għandhom ikunu meqjusa f’dan id-dawl.

Ħadd ma jikkontesta li ċ-ċittadinanza hi kompetenza tal-pajjiżi membri. Hekk għandu jkun. Imma meta nikkunsidraw il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinaza hemm ħafna implikazzjonijiet oħra, ta’ gravità mhux żgħira. It-trattati tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dan jispjegawh bħala obbligu ta’ kooperazzjoni sinċiera  bejn il-pajjiżi membri, obbligu li bosta drabi huwa mfisser bħala l-prinċipju ta’ lejaltà:  lejaltà, jiġifieri bejn il-pajjiżi membri infushom.

Riċentment, l-amministrazzjoni immexxija minn Robert Abela fasslet emendi mhux żgħar għall-proċess li bih tkun akkwistata ċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment. Il-programm (Individual Investor Programme) inbidel ma skema residenzjali li eventwalment tista’ twassal għal ċittadinanza. Għalkemm l-Unjoni Ewropeja kienet infurmat b’dan it-tibdil, is-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għaċ-ċittadinanza, Alex Muscat, indika li ma kien hemm l-ebda rispons mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja.

Il-Parlament Ewropew ser jiddiskuti dan kollu fil-plenarja tiegħu tax-xahar id-dieħel.  L-abbozz tar-rapport, b’numru ndaqqas ta’ emendi, jemfasizza li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment “hemm it-tendenza li jkunu f’dawk l-istati membri li huma l-iktar esposti għal riskji konnessi mas-segretezza finanzjarja, bħall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, l-ħasil tal-flus u l-korruzzjoni.” 

Fost dawk li kisbu ċ-ċittadinanza Maltija b’investiment insibu lil: Anatoly Hurgin, akkużat bi frodi, kuntrabandu u ħasil ta’ flus kemm fl-Istati Uniti kif ukoll fl-Iżrael, Liu Zhongtian, biljunarju involut fl-aluminju, għaddej proċeduri kriminali fl-Istati Uniti dwar evażjoni  ta’ madwar żewġ biljun euro f’tariffi  Amerikani,  Boris Mints, biljunarju ieħor li qiegħed jiffaċċja akkużi dwar frodi fir-Renju Unit,  Pavel Melnikov, ukoll biljunarju li qiegħed ikun investigat fil-Finlandja dwar ħasil ta’ flus u frodi, u Mustafa Abdel-Wadood li ammetta akkuzi dwar frodi fl-Istati Uniti. Dawn ġew identifikati mill-istampa f’Malta bħala lihumafost dawk li xtraw passaport Malti. Ħadd mhu ser jeskludi li hemm iktar, għax dawn it-tip ta’ skemi huma kalamita għal dawn it-tip ta’ nies..

Dawn, u oħrajn, ħadu iċ-ċittadinanza minkejja li suppost li l-applikazzjonijiet tagħhom kienu eżaminati b’reqqa liema bħala!

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-logħob ta’ Bernard Grech li jirrifjuta li jieħu sehem fi proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar il-ħatra ta’ regulatur ġdid għall-iskema ta’ ċittadinanza b’investiment tibgħat messaġġ żbaljat. Regulatur li jkollu l-barka ta’ Bernard Grech mhux ser itejjeb l-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza.

Irrispettivament minn kemm jinbidlu r-regoli dwar l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti, din tibqa’ mhux aċċettabbli fil-prinċipju. Kif jingħad fir-rapport pendenti quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew iċ-ċittadinanza Ewropeja mhiex għall-biegħ.

Ir-rapport quddiem il-Parlament Ewropew jgħid li l-iskemi taċ-ċittadinanza b’investiment fihom ħafna riskji u mhumiex kompatibbli mal-prinċipju ta’ kooperazzjoni meħtieġa bejn l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan għandhom jispiċċaw sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2025 jgħidilna ir-rapport tal-Parlament Ewropew..

Il-flus jistgħu jkun utli, jgħid Bernard Grech, kieku l-iskemi jkunu trasparenti.  Hi l-istess attitudni li l-PN fil-Gvern daħħal fis-sistema ta’ tassazzjoni meta spiċċa daħħal proposti li jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.  

L-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti  flimkien mal-abbuż kontinwu tas-sovranità tal-pajjiż fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni bit-tnaqqis fir-rati ta’ taxxa għal kumpaniji barranin li b’hekk ġew inkoraġġiti jevadu t-taxxi ta’ pajjiżhom huma uħud mir-raġunijiet li wassluna sal-lista l-griża. Tul dawn l-aħħar xhur imma, l-Ministru tal-Fnanzi beda jċedi u jidher li issa mexjin lejn li naċċettaw rata minima u armonizzat ta’ taxxa.

Bħala partit ilna ninsitu fuq din it-triq. Sfortunatament b’wiċċna minn quddiem nistgħu ngħidu li ghidna ċar u tond kif kienu l-affarijiet. Issa jmiss li tispiċċa l-iskema tal-bejgħ tal-passaporti ukoll. M’għandniex bżonn li jkunu istituzzjonijiet barranin li jgħidulna x’inhu tajjeb u x’inhu ħażin. Kapaċi, jekk irridu, li dan nagħmluh aħna stess. 

Huma biss membri parlamentari eletti mill-lista tal-kandidati ta’ ADPD li jistgħu jassiguraw li jsir it-tibdil kollu li hu meħtieġ. Bernard Grech u l-PN ma jistgħux ikunu is-soluzzjoni. Huma parti mill-problema.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Frar 2022

Golden passports & the EU’s loyalty principle

Earlier this week, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, when discussing a draft legislative initiative report emphasised that golden passports are objectionable ethically, legally and economically and pose several serious security risks.

Over the years government Ministers, in Malta and elsewhere, have emphasised that issues of citizenship and passports are a national reserved matter, within the European Union.  They are right, but, only to a certain extent. The principle of loyalty in the EU treaties underpins the functioning of the individual member states within the Union. Even the national competencies have to be implemented with this principle in mind.

No one contests that nationality issues are a national competence. They should remain so. There is however much more than state competence at stake. Article 4.3 of the Treaty on the European Union explain this as the principle of sincere cooperation, at times referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European member states.

Recently, the Robert Abela administration has sought to reform the process of acquiring citizenship by investment. The original rules were overhauled. The IIP (Individual Investor Programme) was replaced by a residency scheme which could, eventually lead to acquiring citizenship. The EU was informed of all this and Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, responsible for citizenship has indicated that there has been no feedback on the matter from the EU Commission.

The EU Parliament will discuss the matter in plenary next month. The draft report which, with a multitude of amendments proposed, will be considered, emphasises among other matters that such Citizenship by Investment (CBI) “schemes tend to be located in Member States that are particularly prone to risks related to financial secrecy, such as tax avoidance and money laundering, and corruption.”

Among the new Maltese citizens by investment, one finds: Anatoly Hurgin, charged with fraud, smuggling and money laundering in the US and Israel, Liu Zhongtian, an aluminium billionaire indicted in the US on avoidance of €2 billion in American tariffs, Boris Mints, a billionaire facing fraud charges in the UK, Pavel Melnikov, another billionaire under investigation in Finland for money laundering and tax fraud and Mustafa Abdel-Wadood who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in the United States. These have been identified by the Maltese press. I would not exclude that there are more of them as such schemes are a natural attraction to them. So far they have avoided the radar of public scrutiny.

Quite a collection! All of them were okayed by Malta’s “rigorous due diligence”!

In view of the above, Bernard Grech’s postering through his refusal to engage in consultation on the appointment of a new regulator for golden citizenship sends a wrong message. A regulator acceptable to Bernard Grech will not make the citizenship by investment scheme any better.

The golden passport scheme, irrespective of the tinkering with the rules carried out, is unacceptable in principle. EU citizenship, says the EU Parliament report currently under consideration “is not a commodity that can be marketed or sold and has never been conceived as such by the Treaties.”

European values are not for sale, says the said report: “in the light of the particular risks posed by CBI schemes and their inherent incompatibility with the principle of sincere cooperation, CBI schemes should be phased out fully across the Member States”. The proposal before the EU Parliament is that these should be phased out by 2025.

The money justifies it, says Bernard Grech, if only it were more transparent. It is the same attitude which the PN-led government built into our taxation system, when it introduced measures encouraging tax avoidance.

The golden passport scheme coupled with the continuous abuse of Malta’s tax sovereignty through offering substantial tax discounts to foreign commercial entities, encouraging tax avoidance, are part of the reasons which have led to Malta’s grey-listing. During the last months, Malta’s Finance Minister has finally capitulated and he is now steering the country towards the acceptance of a harmonised minimum tax rate.

Greens have been advocating this course of action for ages. Unfortunately, we can hold our heads high and state: we told you so! The golden passport scheme should be next for the chop. We do not need foreign institutions to tell us what is right or wrong. We can do it ourselves.

Only members of parliament elected from the list of ADPD candidates can ensure that the required overhaul is carried out. Bernard Grech and his PN cannot be the solution. They are part of the problem.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 February 2022

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

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