Fir-Repubblika tal-Banana

Meta l-mexxej Laburista Robert Abela indirizza lill-partitarji fil-Każin Laburista ta’ Birkirkara, nhar il-Ħadd li għadda, kellu raġun jilmenta li s-sentenzi f’kawżi kriminali, bosta drabi jidhru baxxi jew laxki. Xi drabi qed jingħata l-messaġġ li qiesu ma ġara xejn. Il-Prim Ministru għandu bosta postijiet iktar addattati fejn jista’ jwassal il-preokkupazzjoni tiegħu dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ politika iktar addattata dwar is-sentenzi li qed jingħataw mill-Qrati.

Seta ġibed l-attenzjoni tal-President tar-Repubblika biex il-materja tkun ikkunsidrata fil-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja. Seta qajjem il-materja f’laqgħa formali mal-Prim Imħallef. Seta ukoll illeġisla biex inaqqas il-flessibilità li għandha l-Qorti meta tapplika l-pieni li hemm fil-liġi. Fil-fatt kellu għad-disposizzjoni tiegħu bosta għodda jew mezzi biex jasal għall-bidla mixtieqa. Imma li joqgħod ipeċlaq fil-każin laburista ta’ B’Kara bil-prietka ta’ nhar ta’ Ħadd mhux wieħed minnhom.

F’Birkirkara Robert Abela tkellem ukoll dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess li Membri Parlamentari li jipprattikaw il-liġi kriminali huma esposti għalih. Matul in-nofstanhar ta’ filgħodu b’abbiltà, dawn l-avukati, jiddefendu lill-klijenti tagħhom u jippreżentaw sottomissjonijiet quddiem il-Qrati dwar pieni baxxi jew tnaqqis fil-pieni inkella dwar sentenzi sospiżi.  Imbagħad, waranofsinnhar, emfasizza Robert Abela, dawn l-istess Membri Parlamentari jiġu fil-Parliament jargumentaw b’qawwa fuq il-perikli ta’ żieda fil-kriminalità.

Dwar dan għandu raġun. Imma din il-linja ta’ ħsieb ma tapplikax biss għall-avukati li jipprattikaw il-liġi kriminali.  Tapplika ukoll għal avukati fiċ-ċivil u fil-liġi kummerċjali kif ukoll għal membri parlamentari fi professjonijiet oħra kif kellna l-opportunità li naraw bosta drabi tul is-snin! Din hi esperjenza li diġà għaddejna minnha matul is-snin.

Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jiddedikaw il-ħin kollu tagħhom għall-ħidma parlamentari. M’għandux ikun possibli li Membri Parlamentari jibqgħu jagħmlu kwalunkwe xogħol ieħor, kemm jekk dan ikun imħallas kif ukoll jekk le. Bħala partit dan aħna ilna ngħiduh is-snin, għax nemmnu li fil-prattika hu l-uniku mod kif tista’ tindirizza u tnaqqas b’mod effettiv il-kunflitt ta’ interess ovvju li jirriżulta illi Membru tal-Parlament hu espost għalih fis-sistema tagħna kif inhi illum.

Robert Abela qal iktar minn hekk. Irrefera għad-diskursata li kellu ma’ Maġistrat dwar is-sentenzi baxxi li ħerġin mill-Qrati Kriminali. Il-Maġistrat, qal Abela, iddefendiet ruħha billi emfasizzat li s-sentenzi mogħtija qed jitbaxxew mill-Qorti tal-Appell, li fid-dawl ta’ sentenzi oħra ġja mogħtija qed tnaqqas sentenzi li jkunu ngħataw mill-Maġistrati.

Robert Abela żbalja meta ikkomunika direttament mal-Maġistrat. Żbalja iktar meta tkellem dwar dan fil-pubbliku għax b’hekk bagħat messaġġ żbaljat u inkwetanti li l-Qrati qed jirċievu ordnijiet diretti mingħand l-eżekuttiv. Dan fi kliem sempliċi hu ta’ theddida għall-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura.  Bħala avukat, bla dubju, Robert Abela jirrealizza li qabeż il-linja ta’ dak li hu tollerabbli mill-politiku f’soċjetà demokratika.

F’pajjiż demokratiku fejn is-saltna tad-dritt hi realtà mhux ħrafa, Robert Abela kien jirreżenja fi ftit siegħat minn x’ħin pubblikament ammetta  li hu għamel pressjoni fuq il-Maġistrat. Il-Maġistrat li min-naħa tagħha kompliet miegħu fid-diskussjoni s’issa, kienet tkun ġiet identifikata u dixxiplinata.

Imma, kif tafu, minn dan kollu, ma ġara xejn.

Nhar it-Tnejn fi stqarrija għall-istampa, jiena tlabt lill-President tar-Repubblika biex isejjaħ laqgħa urġenti tal-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja biex din tkun tista’ tieħu l-passi neċessarja dwar dak li ġara.

S’issa għad ma ġara xejn. Forsi l-President kien imsiefer, inkella kien imħabbat b’xi attività dwar il-larinġ li nsibu fil-ġonna Presidenzjali ta’ Sant Anton.

Issa forsi jmiss iċ-ċelebrazzjoni tal-ġimgħa tal-banana fl-aġenda Presidenzjali. Bla dubju din tieħu prijorità fuq l-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura fir-Repubblika tal-Banana!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Frar 2023

In a Banana Republic

When Labour Leader Robert Abela addressed the party faithful at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club last Sunday, he was right to complain that the sentencing policy currently applied by the judiciary may at times appear as being too lenient. However, as Prime Minister he had other fora through which to convey his preoccupation and to emphasise the need of an up-to-date sentencing policy.

He could have drawn the attention of the President of the Republic in order that he may refer the matter for the consideration of the Commission for the Administration of Justice. He could have legitimately brought up the matter in a formal meeting with the Chief Justice. He could also legislate in order to restrict the current flexibility which the Courts have when applying the law. In fact, he has at his disposal various tools to bring about the change he spoke about: pontificating at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club through a Sunday political sermon is not one of these tools.

At Birkirkara Robert Abela also spoke on the conflict of interest which Members of Parliament who are practising criminal lawyers are continuously exposed to. They ably defend their clients during the morning in Court pleading in favour of minimal sentencing, including the application of suspended sentences. Then, in the afternoon, emphasised Robert Abela, in Parliament, these same Members of Parliament vociferously argue on the dangers of an increasing criminality.

He is definitely right on that. But this line of reasoning does not only apply to criminal lawyers. It is also applicable to MPs who are civil and commercial lawyers as well as to other professionals in their specific area of practice. We have been exposed to this over the years in a number of cases. Is it not about time that parliament is made up of full-timers? No Member of Parliament should carry out any other work (paid or unpaid) except that resulting from his/her parliamentary duties. My party has been emphasising this for a considerable number of years. We believe that it is the only way to effectively address the obvious conflict of interest which abounds in Parliament.

Robert Abela said more. He referred to a tete-a-tete with a sitting Magistrate with whom he discussed the lenient sentencing which the Criminal Law Courts are applying. The Magistrate, said Abela, defensively replied that it is all the fault of the appeals court as they consider themselves bound by precedent when they revise the decisions delivered by the inferior courts, ending up in lighter sentences.

Robert Abela was wrong when he conveyed his views directly to one of the Magistrates currently sitting in judgement at the inferior Courts. Bragging about it in public makes it even worse as it conveys the wrong message that the judiciary is at the beck and call of the Executive. This, in plain language, threatens the independence of the judiciary. As a lawyer, Robert Abela is undoubtedly aware that he has gone far beyond the red line.

In any other democratic country where rule of law is fact, not fiction, Robert Abela would have resigned within a couple of hours after having publicly admitting pressuring a sitting Magistrate. Similarly, the Magistrate who allowed the discussion to proceed would by now have been identified and disciplined.

But, as you are aware, nothing has happened yet.

On Monday in a press statement, I have called on the President of the Republic to convene an urgent meeting of the Commission for the Administration of Justice to take the necessary and required action. So far there has been no reaction whatsoever. Possibly his Excellency the President is currently abroad, or, maybe he is extremely busy with some activity promoting the citrous products of the presidential kitchen garden at the San Anton Presidential Palace!

As things stand banana week would definitely be a future activity in the Presidential agenda: this takes priority over the independence of the judiciary, in this Banana Republic!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 February 2023

Inkwetanti li Robert Abela jiltaqa’ ma’ Maġistrat

It-Times online u l-Independent online huma u jirrappurtaw id-diskors ta’ dalgħodu ta’ Robert Abela jirreferu għal laqgħa li Robert Abela qal li kellu ma’ Maġistrat.

L-Independent tgħid hekk: He said that he had the occasion to speak to a magistrate, who told him that the legal framework permits them to give low or high punishments. But, the magistrate said that when they give a high punishment, even though the law allows it, “they appeal and the chances are that the Court of Appeal would reduce the punishment as there are policies or past judgements that militate that punishments not be that high.”

It-Times tgħid hekk: He said that over the past few days he met a magistrate who told him that whenever a tough punishment was handed down, the sentence was inevitably watered down on appeal, with the appeals court citing caselaw.

Newsbook min-naħa l-oħra irrapporta hekk: Hu qal li din il-ġimgħa tkellem ma’ Maġistrat li stqarret miegħu li meta jingħataw pieni ħorox, il-Qorti tal-Appell tnaqqas din il-piena.

Dan il-kumment tal-Prim Ministru Robert Abela jeħtieġ spjegazzjoni immedjata għax hu inkwetanti ħafna. Minn meta l-hawn il-Prim Ministru jiltaqa’ ma’ Maġistrat u jitkellem dwar is-sentenzi? L-affarijiet mhumiex ċari u huma inkwetanti ħafna meta politiku jiltaqa’ ma’ membru tal-ġudikatura.

Min hu jew min hi l-Maġistrat ma nafx imma naħseb li l-Prim Imħallef għandu jara daqsxejn x’ġara.

Anke l-President tar-Repubblika li fost l-inkarigi tiegħu imexxi l-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja għandu l-obbligu li jindaga mingħajr dewmien.

Daphne: the five-year wait for justice

Most of us remember what we were doing five years ago slightly after 3pm on Monday October 16, 2017, when the news flashed that a car had exploded in Bidnija. The possible connection with Daphne was immediate, even then, at that critical moment, when nothing else was yet known.

Slowly we got to know what had actually happened. 

The first reactions, then, five years ago were, and still are, significant.

Everyone was shocked, five years ago, when the Magistrate on duty, Consuelo Scerri-Herrera turned up on site at Bidnija. She failed to realise that this specific investigation was a no-go area for her!  I had then commented that Scerri-Herrera’s reluctance to abstain from leading this magisterial investigation was testimony to the fact that some members of the bench still need to master much more than the law.

Five years later, matters have not changed a bit as is evidenced by the behaviour of another Magistrate. Magistrate Nadine Lia is refusing to accept that she has an obvious conflict of interest and must hence withdraw from the consideration of another case currently under her consideration. Some things never change! The ethical behaviour of the judiciary is indispensable, now more than ever. How can the judiciary expect to be respected if it does not even respect itself?

Five years ago, we even had a Police Sergeant posting his comments on social media on his being overjoyed at the day’s happenings in Bidnija! Much worse was however in store. In fact, the then Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta took overall charge of the police investigation into the assassination, only for it to be revealed much later that he was literally in the pockets of Yorgen Fenech, currently undergoing criminal proceedings on charges of having commissioned Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Remember Uncle Silvio?

How could the Police carry out its duties adequately with Silvio Valletta, then Deputy Police Commissioner, hibernating deep inside criminal pockets, and leading the investigation into the assassination of Daphne?

Following the evidence in the multiple cases in our law courts dealing with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was in itself a documentation of the failure of the state. This was even confirmed by the public inquiry into the assassination. It is a failure of the institutions which have been hijacked into servicing the criminal world.

Daphne’s investigative journalism, as it unfolded over the years, was a threat to all this. She exposed the ineffective institutions. She shone a light on the men and women of straw who think they are running the state when in fact they are puppets on a string controlled by various lobbies, including the criminal lobby.

Her last published words were significant as they spelled out her fears. “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”  She was commenting on Keith Schembri, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff with reference to libel proceedings against Simon Busuttil as he had taken offence to being labelled a crook, and corrupt.  In her last article published minutes before she was blown up Daphne had spelt out that “The crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook.”

The developments over the past sixty months are proving without a shadow of doubt “that crooks are everywhere”.  It has resulted that the Office of the Prime Minister was run by crooks: as a result, Joseph Muscat had no option but to resign. He had been protecting the crooks around him for far too long!

With all these obstacles it is no wonder that after five years the end of the investigations into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is not yet in sight. No one is certain yet whether there was one mastermind plotting the assassination or else whether there were two or more.

We do not have an answer yet, as to whether any politician was in the know, or worse, directly involved, even though there have been a number of public references to former Labour Cabinet Minister, Chris Cardona in this respect.

We have been witnessing the exposure of a web of criminality which has infiltrated and infected all sectors of society. The investigations which we have witnessed developing over the past five years have revealed an intricate network which pervades practically all institutions. Just like the octopus which with its eight long tentacles seeks to control all from a distance. It is no wonder that after sixty months the end is not yet in sight.  The octopus is still in control.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 December 2022

Miljun euro kuljum f’sussidji

Is-susidji li qed jitħallsu mill-kaxxa ta’ Malta għall-petrol, dijżil u elettriku huma sostanzjali. Sa nofs Lulju anke d-dijżil użat minn inġenji kbar tal-baħar kien issussidjat! Permezz ta’ avviż legali, effettiv mid-29 ta’ Lulju il-Ministeru tal-Finanzi waqqaf dan is-sussidju, u għamel tajjeb.

Din il-bidla, bl-eliminazzjoni tas-sussidju tad-dijsil u petrol għal inġenji kbar tal-baħar kienet pass tajjeb il-quddiem biex ma jibqgħux jintużaw fondi pubbliċi fuq sussidji li la kienu meħtieġa u l-anqas ma kienu ġustifikabbli.

Is-sussidji li presentement huma użati għall-petrol, dijżil u l-elettriku jeċċedu l-miljun ewro kuljum. Fil-fatt huma qrib il-miljun u nofs euro (€1,500,000) kuljum.

Il-Prim Ministru, Robert Abela, f’dawn il-ġranet qal li mhux faċli li tillimita s-sussidji biex l-għajnuna ma tispiċċax għand min għandu l-mezzi, inkelli għand min jaħli. Naqblu perfettament li qatt mhu faċli tieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Speċjalment meta jkun meħtieġ li taqta’ l-benefiċċji lil min m’għandux ħtieġa għalihom!

Hu possibli li nikkunsidraw bis-serjetà t-tnaqqis tas-sussidji għall-petrol, dijżil u elettriku biex ikunu jistgħu jintużaw biss minn min jeħtieġhom. Dan it-tnaqqis jassigura li jkun hemm ferm iktar fondi għal dawk li verament għandhom bżonn. Miżura bħal din tnaqqas il-ħtieġa li tkun indirizzata l-ispiża għall-edukazzjoni jew għal xi qasam jew proġett ta’ utilità biex tagħmel tajjeb għas-sussidji.

It-tnaqqis fl-ispiża għall-edukazzjoni universitarja, kif qed jippjana li jagħmel il-Gvern bi tnaqqis fil-fondi għall-Università hu kastig indirizzat lejn il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.  Il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri huma diġa mgħobbija bid-dejn pubbliku akkumulat, b’riżorsi naturali li kważi spiċċaw u b’wirt nazzjonali li qiegħed kontinwament taħt assedju. M’għandniex nagħmlu l-affarijiet agħar milli diġa huma!

Is-sussidji eżistenti jistgħu jonqsu iktar.

Is-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil jistgħu jonqsu sakemm gradwalment jinġiebu fix-xejn.  Dan iwassal għal benefiċċju addizzjonali, ta’ inqas karozzi fit-toroq, u dan billi żieda fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil inevitabilment jikkawża ċaqlieqa lejn użu ikbar tat-transport pubbliku. Irridu fuq kollox niftakru li numru sostanzjali tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati huma għal distanzi qosra. Dan ġie emfasizzat ukoll mill-iStrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li tgħid li 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin huma għal distanzi qosra li jieħdu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, t-trasport pubbliku jista’ joffri alternattiva raġjonevoli. Iktar u iktar issa li minn Ottubru ser ikun bla ħlas! Jeħtieġ imma li jkun effiċjenti, jżomm il-ħin, dejjem, u jilħaq l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ lokalitajiet f’kull ħin. Dan għandu jinkludi servizz ridott imma effiċjenti matul il-lejl.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, it-tnaqqis tas-sussidju fuq il-petrol u id-dijżil hi l-aħjar għażla li tista’ issir.

Imbagħad ikun jinħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati b’mod dirett l-impatti ta’ dawk is-setturi ekonomiċi dipendenti fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil. Dawn jeħtieġu għajnuna diretta u iffokata li tindirizza l-impatti ta’ din id-dipendenza.

Konsiderazzjonijiet simili għandhom japplikaw għas-sussidji li preżentement japplikaw għall-konsum tal-elettriku.

Il-konsum domestiku bażiku tal-elettriku għandu jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma lil hinn minn dan il-konsum bażiku, anke hawn hu ġustifikat li tkun ikkunsidrata għajnuna iffukata u mfassla għas-setturi ekonomiċi differenti. Dan jagħmel ferm iktar sens milli jkun issussidjat il-konsum kollu bla limitu.

Għandha tibqa’ prijorità l-għajnuna li twassal għall-ġenerazzjoni u użu ikbar ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Hemm ħtieġa ta’ sforz ikbar biex tkun iġġenerata enerġija solari permezz ta’ użu iktar effiċjenti tal-bjut tal-bini pubbliku kif ukoll, fejn dan hu possibli, tal-ispazji miftuħa. Flimkien ma investiment ikbar fit-titjib meħtieġ fis-sistema tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku dan jista’ jnaqqas l-impatt ta’ din il-kriżi enerġetika fuq il-pajjiż b’mod sostanzjali.

Li ngħinu li dawk li għandhom ħtieġa, tibqa’ prijorità. Imma l-għajnuna li tingħata għandha tkun waħda li tkun sostenibbli. In-nefqa ta’ miljun euro kuljum fuq sussidji (probabbilment ferm iktar) definittivament mhux sostenibbli.

Il-futur niffaċċjawh b’serenità permezz ta’ viżjoni sostenibbli. Dan jaqbel u hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd. Kemm fl-interess tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti kif ukoll fl-interess tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. L-għażliet li għandna quddiemna mhumiex faċli. Hu biss jekk nagħrfu nidentifikaw il-prijoritajiet tagħna bil-għaqal li nistgħu nkunu f’posizzjoni li nħejju futur sostenibbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 18 ta’ Settembru 2022

One Million euro every day

The subsidies being currently forked out by the public exchequer relative to the current price of fuel and electricity are substantial. Until mid-July subsidised fuel was also available for use by large seacraft. Through a legal notice effective on the 29 July the Finance Ministry tweaked the subsidy rules to stop this. This was a correct step to take.

This tweaking of fuel subsidy rules was a good step in diverting subsidies from being mis-used for non-essential purposes.  The subsidies currently applied to fuel and electricity exceed the sum of one million euro per day. In fact, they are getting closer to one and a half million euro (€1,500,000) per day.

Prime Minister Robert Abela is on record as stating that it is not easy to limit subsidies from being used by the wealthy and the wasteful. I agree that decision-taking is never easy. Especially when limiting access to benefits such that those who are not in need and the wasteful do not end up being subsidised by the state!

It is however possible to seriously consider limiting the fuel and electricity subsidies to be used only by those who need them. Such a limitation would ensure that more funds are available for those who really need them. It would reduce the need to curtail expenditure on education or other useful areas/projects to make good for the subsidies.

Reducing expenditure on university education, as government is planning to do through a reduction in its operational budget, penalises future generations. Future generations are already burdened with the accumulated national debt, with the depletion of natural resources and with the continuous ruining of our national heritage. We should not make matters worse than they already are.

Existing subsidies could be further tweaked.

Subsidies on petrol and diesel could be reduced until they are completely eliminated. This would have the additional benefit of less cars on the road as increased petrol/diesel prices would inevitably shift more of us to make more use of public transport. We should remember that a substantial amount of private car use can be avoided as it is for short distances. This has been clearly emphasised in the National Transport Master Plan which states that 50 per cent of car trips in the Maltese Islands are for short distances of less than fifteen minutes duration. Public Transport can offer the reasonable alternative in these circumstances, in particular being free of charge as from next month! It must however improve its reliability as well as its efficiency. It should also aim to reach as many localities as possible, including through an efficient night service.

In these circumstances reducing gradually and eventually removing subsidies on petrol/diesel could be the way forward.

The issue remains as to those economic areas which are dependent on petrol/diesel. In these cases, government should identify suitable focused aid which addresses the specific needs of the economic areas under consideration.

Similar considerations should apply to subsidies currently applicable to electricity.

Basic domestic use of electricity should remain subsidised. Beyond that, however, it would make sense to focus the required aid to industry and business in a focused manner, in tailor-made fashion. This would make much more sense than a blanket policy of subsidies across the board.

Increased emphasis on assistance to generate and make use of renewal energy should continue to be a priority. An increased effort must be made to generate more renewable energy through an efficient use of the roofs of public buildings as well as, wherever possible, adequate use of public open spaces. Coupled with an increased expenditure on improvements to the electricity distribution system this could reduce the impacts of this energy crisis on the Maltese taxpayer in a substantial manner.

Helping those in need is a priority. In should however be done in a sustainable manner! Spending more than one million euro per day on these subsidies is definitely not sustainable.

A sustainable vision is the way forward. It is in the interest of all. This is in the interest of both the present as well as future generations. The choices we need to make are tough. It is only if we get our priorities right that we can plot the way for a sustainable future.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 18 September 2022

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

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

Abusive continuity

The distribution of multiple cheques to every household by the Labour Government on the eve of the general election is more than abusing the power of incumbency. Through the said distribution, the power of incumbency is being transformed into a corrupt practice, specifically intended to unduly influence voters.

What, in normal circumstances should be a simple administrative act is being transformed into blatant political propaganda, at public expense, straight into your letterbox. A covering letter signed by Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana says it all. A Banana Republic in all but name!

Why should such handouts be distributed on the eve of elections if not to influence voters?

Even if one were to accept that such handouts are acceptable, it is certainly not in any way justifiable to plan their distribution specifically on the eve of an election. This goes against the basic principles of good governance.

The power of incumbency is the executive power of a government seeking re-election. Incumbents always have an advantage. The manner in which they handle it defines their governance credentials.

This has been a government characterised by bad governance throughout its term in office. Right from the very beginning, on 13 March 2013. I consider the full 9 years as one continuum. This was reinforced by Robert Abela himself who emphasised that his leadership of the Labour Party seeks to continue the “achievements” of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity was his declared mission.

On its first days in office, Labour started off on its Panama tracks. The secret Panama companies set up by Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and someone else, known as the (mysterious) owner of Egrant, went on to rock Labour over the years.

The Electrogas saga and its link to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia intertwined with the Panama debacle.

It is now clearly established that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was directly linked to her investigative journalism. Her investigations led her to identify the governance credentials of various holders of political office and their links with big business. Defining their relationship as being too close for comfort would be a gross understatement.

As emphasised in the investigation report on the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, over the years, a culture of impunity has developed in these islands. This has led to misbehaviour in public office being normalised. It has also led to considerable resistance in the shouldering of political responsibility by holders of political office, whenever they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar! Rosianne Cutajar and Justyne Caruana being the latest examples, as amply proven by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler.

To add insult to injury Cutajar and Caruana were the recipients of generous termination benefits, notwithstanding that their term of political office ended in disgrace. Caruana received terminal benefits twice in the span of a short time, as she established a national record of resigning twice from Robert Abela’s Cabinet!

With this track record one should not have expected otherwise from the Muscat/Abela administration. With the abusive distribution of cheques on the eve of the general election Labour’s current term is approaching a fitting end.

The Labour Party in government has consistently acted abusively. Robert Abela has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity has been ensured, as promised.

published in Malta Today : Sunday 20 March 2022

Riforma tal-Parlament

Il-Prim Ministru ilu jinki lill-opinjoni pubblika dwar meta ser ikun xolt il-Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta ser tissejjaħ l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Imma Robert Abela kien ikkwotat jgħid ukoll li sa Ġunju 2022 ikun għadda kollox!

Kif inhuma  l-affarijiet illum, hi responsabbiltà kostituzzjonali tal-Prim Ministru dwar meta jkun xolt il- Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta tissejjaħ elezzjoni ġenerali.  Dan jagħmlu billi jagħti parir dwar dan lill-President tar-Republika.  Ħafna drabi nassumu li dawn it-tip ta’ deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fl-interess nazzjonali avolja hu ċar daqs il-kristall li hu l-interess tal-partit fil-Gvern li jiddetermina kollox: dejjem.  Miżura li ssaħħaħ il-posizzjoni tal-Gvern qabel u waqt l-elezzjoni: the power of incumbency.

Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel kif inbidlu bosta affarijiet oħra.

Il-partit li immexxi qajjem dan il-punt fis-sottomissjonijiet li għamilna quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali: konvenzjoni li, dejjem ġejja, imma qatt ma tasal!

Hu propost li t-terminu tal-Parlament ikun wieħed fiss u li l-Prim Ministru ma jkollu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif u meta dan ikun xolt.  Fil-prattika kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll il-parti l-kbira tal-Ewropa kontinentali għandhom Parlament b’terminu fiss. Anke r-Renju Unit, meta kienet immexxija mill-koalizzjoni bejn il-partit Liberali u dak Konservattiv, ftit snin ilu, introduċiet leġislazzjoni għal Parlament b’terminu fiss.

F’dan il-kuntest tajjeb li jkun emfasizzat ukoll li t-terminu ta’ ħames snin għall-Parlament huwa ftit twil. Dan ma kienx dejjem hekk. Meta twaqqaf il-Parlament Malti għall-ewwel darba fl-1921, mitt sena ilu, il-ħajja tal-Parlament kienet ta’ tlett snin. Sal-lum il-ġurnata, l-Parlament Federali Awstraljan għadu jkun elett kull tlett snin. Il-Kamra tar-Rappresentanti tal-Istati Uniti min-naħa l-oħra tkun eletta kull sentejn.

X’uħud jistgħu jkunu tal-fehma li għall-Parlament, tul ta’ sentejn jew tlieta bejn elezzjoni u oħra huma ftit wisq. Għal min qiegħed fil-Gvern, ħames snin jistgħu jkun perjodu addattat. Imma għal min qiegħed fl-Opposizzjoni hu twil wisq! Tlett snin hu perjodu ferm iktar addattat.

Il-Parlament għandu ħtieġa ukoll ta’ membri li xogħolhom ikun biss dak ta’ membri tal-parlament u li ma jagħmlu xejn iktar. Hemm bżonn ukoll li n-numru ta’ membri tal-parlament jonqos għax in-numru li għandna illum hu kbir wisq.  Membru Parlamentari full-time jaqta’ għal kollox kull kuntatt ma xogħol u/jew professjoni u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk inaqqas sostanzjalment il-possibiltà ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess meta jkun f’posizzjoni li jieħu kwalunkwe deċiżjoni.

Id-daqs tal-lum tal-Parlament, jiġifieri dak ta’ 65 membru parlamentari, kien determinat bħala riżultat tal-emendi kostituzzjonali tal-1974.  Imma dan, illum il-ġurnata, sa mill-1987, mhux id-daqs definittiv għax miegħu jistgħu jiżdiedu iktar bħala riżultat tal-applikazzjoni tal-mekkaniżmu kostituzzjonali tal-proporzjonalità.   Jista’ jiżdiedu iktar ukoll, bi tnax-il membru ieħor riżultat tal-miżuri kostituzzjonali ġodda dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru, jekk dawn ikunu applikati.

Il-Parlament li jmiss, għaldaqstant, jista’ jkunu kbir mhux ħażin jekk jintużaw kemm il-mekkaniżmu dwar il-proporzjonalità kif ukoll dak dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru. Jista’ jkun daqs li jikber sa 77 membru u possibilment anke sa 81 membru. Dan hu enormi għall-pajjiżna.

Is-sistema elettorali, li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament ilhom ibgħabsu għal żmien twil, tipprovdi għal riżultat proporjonali u b’element korrettiv favur il-bilanċ bejn il-ġeneri meta fil-Parlament ikunu eletti żewġ partiti politiċi biss. Meta jkun elett it-tielet partit dawn il-mekkaniżmi kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità u l-bilanċ tal-ġeneru ma jistgħux jaħdmu. Hemm biss eċċezzjoni waħda. Din tkun fil-kaz ta’partit politiku li jikseb iktar minn 50 fil-mija tal-voti fl-ewwel għadd fuq livell nazzjonali. Dan ikollu dejjem il-jedd li jiggverna billi jkun allokat is-siġġijiet neċessarji għal dan l-iskop.  

Hemm numru ta’ soluzzjonijiet alternattivi li kieku ġew applikati kien ikun possibli li l-Parlament tagħna jkollu bilanċ aħjar bejn il-ġeneri u proporzjonalità mingħajr ma jikber fid-daqs.  Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, imma, ġew skartati kompletament. Dan għax ir-riforma kellha dejjem l-iskop li toħloq l-inqas tibdil possibli. Tibdil kosmetiku fl-istil tal-Gattopardo: tibdil li jħalli kollox kif kien!

Dan hu l-Parlament tagħna. Jeħtieġ li jinbidel mill-qiegħ.   

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Frar 2022