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

Reforming Parliament

The Prime Minister has been teasing public opinion for some time as to when Parliament will be dissolved and when we will consequently be proceeding to the next general election.

Robert Abela has been quoted as stating that it will definitely be over by June 2022.

As things stand, at this point in time, it is within the Constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine when Parliament is dissolved and a general election held. This he does by advising the President of the Republic accordingly. It is generally assumed that such decisions are taken in the national interest even though it is amply clear that it is always in the interest of the political party in power. It reinforces the power of incumbency.

Is this right? Should it remain so?

My party has raised this matter in its submissions to the Constitutional Convention which Convention has been pending for a number of years!

It is being proposed that Parliament should be a fixed-term Parliament and that the Prime Minister should have no discretion whatsoever in dissolving Parliament.  In practice both the United States as well as most of continental Europe have fixed-term Parliaments. Even the United Kingdom, some years ago, led by a Liberal-Conservative coalition, introduced legislation for a Parliament having a fixed-term.

Within this context it would be also pertinent to emphasise that a five-year term is a little bit too long. This was not always so. When Malta’s Parliament was originally established in 1921, 100 years ago, it had a three-year life span. The Australian Federal Parliament in this day and age is still elected every three years. The United States House of Representatives on the other hand is elected every two years.

Some could argue that a two- or three-year life span for parliament would be too short. Five years may be right for those governing. It is however too long for those in Opposition! A three-year term could be the right balance.

Parliament also needs fulltime MPs and probably less of them. A fulltime member of parliament would cut off completely all of his/her links with profession and/or employment and as a result substantially reduce instances of conflict of interest when faced with decision taking.

Parliament’s present size of 65 members was determined as a result of the 1974 Constitutional amendments. Since 1987, it is however not a definite size, as it is increased as a result of the constitutional adjustment mechanism for proportionality. It will be increased by a further twelve members if the newly introduced constitutional gender balance requirements are applied.

The next Parliament could be quite large if both the proportionality and gender balance adjustment mechanisms are in use. It could inflate to a size between 77 and 81 members! This is enormous for a country our size.

The electoral system, which the two parties currently in parliament have been tinkering with for ages, provides for proportionality and gender balance only if just two parties are elected into Parliament. If a third party is elected, both the constitutional provisions for proportionality and gender balance will not be activated. There is just one exception and this is relative to the political party which obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes on a national level: in such an instant, irrespective of the number of political parties making it to Parliament the party having an absolute majority of votes is ensured of having the parliamentary seats required for governing.

There are a number of alternative solutions available which make it possible for our Parliament to be both gender-balanced and proportional without any increase in its size. These solutions have however been completely discarded as the “reform” brief was always to change as little as possible. Cosmetic change is the order of the day in Gattopardo style: change which leaves everything the same.

Such is the state of our parliament. It needs a complete overhaul, which is long overdue.  

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 February 2022

Meta Abela u l-PN kienu jħokku dahar xulxin

Robert Abela hu s-suġġett kurrenti tal-billboards tal-PN. Imma, bħal ma jiġri dejjem, il-kampanja tal-PN fuq il-billboards tgħid biċċa waħda żgħira mill-istorja vera. Tiffoka fuq il-ġid li akkumula Abela permezz tal-kuntratti ta’ xogħol professjonali assoċjat mal-Gvern, speċjalment permezz tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Il-billboard iwassal il-messaġġ politiku li Robert Abela jiġi jaqa’ u jqum u li huwa insensittiv. Jgħidilna li filwaqt li hu għamel żmien jiffanga bi dħul ta’ €17,000 fix-xahar int tikkrepa b’żieda miżera ta’ €1.75 fil-ġimgħa għall-għoli tal-ħajja.

Il-punt bażiku reali, imma, li l-billboard jinjora kompletament hu kif il-PLPN jimmanipulaw il-finanzi tal-pajjiż u l-proċeduri tax-xiri ta’ servizzi biex iżommu lill-ħbieb kuntenti u lill-għedewwa taħt kontroll.

Il-billboard tal-PN, jgħidilna li l-uffiċċju legali ta’ Robert Abela, xi żmien ilu, kellu dħul ta’ mhux inqas minn €17,000 fix-xahar mis-servizz professjonali legali li kien jagħti lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-billboard, imma,  ma jgħidilna xejn dwar kif dan kollu oriġina minn sejħa għal espressjoni ta’ interess u sussegwentement direct order lil George Abela li kienet imbierka mill-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi.   Dan seħħ fi żmien meta Abela ma kienx f’relazzjoni tajba la mal-Partit Laburista u inqas u inqas mat-tmexxija tal-istess partit!

F’sezzjoni tal-media kien irrappurtat li dan kollu beda fl-istess żmien meta George Abela aċċetta l-istedina biex jifforma parti mill-core group, parti mill-proċess preparatorju li kellu jwassal biex Malta tissieħeb fl-Unjoni Ewropea. George Abela ipparteċipa f’dan il-core group minkejja li l-Partit Laburista, li tiegħu sa ftit qabel hu kien Deputy Leader, kien jopponi din il-proposta b’qilla kbira.

Meta George Abela kien nominat u sussegwentement ġie appuntat President tar-Republika mill-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi, ibnu Robert ħa f’idejh it-tmexxija tal-uffiċċju legali ta’ missieru. Huwa u jagħmel dan, avukat ieħor li kien sħab ma’ George Abela spiċċa barra. Jingħad li ma qablux fuq kif ser jaqsmu dak li jdaħħal l-uffiċċju! Ftit wara, dan l-avukat l-ieħor spiċċa CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Min hawn il-quddiem il-familja Abela ma kelliex diffikulta biex tgawdi r-rigal sostanzjali tal-Gvern ta’  Lawrence Gonzi. Il-familja Abela setgħet isserraħ rasha għax fil-mument tal-bżonn il-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi kien hemm għall-għajnuna. Wara kollox, mhux għalhekk qegħdin il-ħbieb?  

Ta’ Abela kienu attentissimi li ħobżhom jieħdu ħsiebu sewwa! Dejjem irnexxielhom!  Biex jaslu iddefendew kull taħwid fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art tul is-snin, kemm dak taħt il-Gvern ta’ Gonzi kif ukoll dak taħt is-suċċessur tiegħu Joseph Muscat.

Tul is-snin id-direct order lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela mhux biss ġie ikkonfermat, talli kiber fl-iskop u fil-ħlas li ġġenera.

Waqt dan kollu kien hemm leħen wieħed kritiku ta’ dak li kien qed jiġri: kien kritiku tad-direct order tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela. Dan kien Joe Mizzi,  l-Membru Parlamentari Laburista mill-Kalkara. Kien qiesu seqer, jaf x’inhu jiġri, għax hu kien ir-rappresentant tal-Opposizzjoni Laburista fuq il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Joe Mizzi dam ftit mhux ħażin biex ħa tweġiba għal dan kollu. Dan seħħ meta tħalla barra minn l-ewwel Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela liema Kabinett tħabbar nhar il-15 ta’ Jannar 2020!  Imma sa dak in-nhar hu kien ilu jappoġġa l-kandidatura ta’ Chris Fearne għat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista.

Din hi l-istorja li l-billboard jaħbi. Storja ta’ kemm meta kien meħtieġ il-familja Abela u l-PN kienu  jħokku dar xulxin!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Frar 2022

Abela’s bread: buttered on both sides!

Robert Abela is the current billboard boy of the PN. The PN’s campaign, all over their billboards, however, only emphasises part of the real story: it is focused on Abela’s wealth generated through government contracts, specifically through the Planning Authority. It makes the political point that Robert Abela does not care. He is insensitive, states the billboard: he gluttons through €17,000 per month; you get a miserly €1.75 per week cost of living increase.

The real basic issue however, conveniently avoided by the billboard, is how the PLPN manipulate the country’s finances and procurement procedures to keep friends happy and foes on a leash.

The PN billboard points to the fact that the legal office of Robert Abela, at a recent point in time, had an income of at least €17,000 per month from legal services rendered to the Planning Authority.  The billboard does not, however, in any way indicate, that the contract was originally the result of an expression of interest and subsequently of a direct order. This was carried out with the compliments of the Lawrence Gonzi led PN government to George Abela, Robert’s father, at a time when the Abelas had very sour relations with the Labour Party and its leadership!

Sections of the media have reported that this lucrative relationship commenced at the same time that George Abela accepted the invitation to take part in the EU accession core group, part of the preparatory process leading to Malta’s accession to the European Union. George Abela participated in this core group notwithstanding that, the Labour Party, of which some time previously he had been deputy leader, was an aggressive opponent of the EU accession proposal. I am informed that additional members of the core group were Harry Vassallo, Lino Briguglio, Joe Saliba and Godfrey Baldacchino.

When George Abela was nominated and appointed President of the Republic by the Gonzi Government, his son Robert took over the running of the law firm. In the process the other lawyer who was a partner in the Abela law firm was immediately squeezed out of the firm. It is rumoured that they disagreed on the distribution of the profits of the law firm. As a result, the other lawyer was offered and he eventually assumed the role as CEO of the Planning Authority. The Abelas consequently had no obstacle to retaining full control of the lucrative gifts of the Lawrence Gonzi government. The Abelas had their mind at rest that at times of need Lawrence Gonzi and his government could always be relied upon. After all that is what friends are for!

The Abelas always sought to have their bread buttered on both sides. They were quite successful in this respect throughout the years. In the process they defended tooth and nail many a planning mess, both those created by the Gonzi government as well as also those created by his successor Joseph Muscat.

The PN direct order to the Abela law firm was confirmed throughout the years and widened in scope. The payments made increased accordingly.

I remember one solitary voice at that time denouncing the lucrative direct order of the Planning Authority to the Abela law firm: it was the Kalkara Labour MP Joe Mizzi. Joe Mizzi knew what was going on from day one: he was the representative of the Labour Party Parliamentary Opposition on the Board of the Planning Authority.

Payback for Joe Mizzi took quite some time to arrive. He was left out of the first Robert Abela Cabinet on the 15 January 2020!  But by then he had also endorsed Chris Fearne in the Labour leadership contest.

This is the real background to the billboard boy’s story!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 February 2022

The golden handshakes must be transparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

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

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

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

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

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

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022