Lingering doubts on return to normal

The more Robert Abela brags that “the institutions are working” the longer doubts linger on. In a situation of normalcy, which we have a right to, there is no room for a Prime Minister addressing a press conference as that of last Tuesday (with a repeat on Thursday morning), on the police investigations into an assassination.

The Commissioner of Police addressed the press twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday. Commissioner Angelo Gafà was right to do so even if he could not give specific and detailed replies to avoid undermining the investigation at such a critical juncture. We expect the Commissioner of Police to inform us as to what is going on under his watch.

Angelo Gafà’s predecessor could not utter a coherent sentence in his press conferences. He left the running of the show to his deputy, known to the assassination prime suspect as Uncle Silvio.

Robert Abela and his predecessor have been breathing down the neck of the Police Force for far too long for them to realise that this is not normal behaviour in a democratic state. During his Tuesday Press Conference Robert Abela made a statement that could have indicated that he was being briefed on the criminal investigation by the Police. In fact, he stated that no politician, current or former, is in any way associated with the assassination investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia.  This was clearly rebutted by the Police Commissioner on the morrow in his answers to the press when replying to a similar question. He stated that to date no leads to politicians, past and present have been identified. However, he further emphasised that he does not brief the Prime Minister on investigations.

This is the real news from the Police Commissioner conference. Commissioner Gafà is getting one clear message across: the police does not brief the Prime Minister on ongoing investigations! This is a complete U-turn from past police behaviour. We have learnt from detailed testimony in the assassination criminal case that police officials used to brief former premier Joseph Muscat who would generally be accompanied by his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Melvin Theuma, the assassination middleman has testified time and again that he was aware of various important aspects of the investigation from his paymaster Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri’s friend.

The police, maybe, have learnt the lesson that they have been undermined too many a time by the tenant at Castille Place. In this respect Angelo Gafà’s statement is a much-needed breath of fresh air, a welcome step on the road to normalcy. It is however not enough. Even the tenant at Castille Place must play his part: in such circumstances he should realise once and for all that shutting up is the only way forward.

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia did not happen out of the blue but against a background of institutionalised and industrial scale corruption. The police have made progress on the assassination itself. Instead of trying to take credit for the latest developments in the Caruana Galizia case, it is now up to the Prime Minister to deal with the background that led to the assassination. Ignoring that background and its illicit fruits means endorsing it.

The democratic institutions can function if we let them. If the Prime Minister halts his prima donna behaviour it will definitely help a lot. Until such time there are lingering doubts as to whether a return to normal is on the cards yet.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 February 2021

Some reflections on the Mafia State

Reading through the terms of reference for the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it is amply clear to all as to what the inquiry should be aiming at.

The inquiry’s objective is to determine whether the machinery of government functioned as it should. Did it function in the public interest, or did it function in another manner, in the interest of the few, thereby creating a culture of impunity for the said few?

Some may justifiably argue that the machinery of government, in Malta, never functioned properly. It is further argued that the post 2013 administration made use of a defective machinery of government more efficiently than previous administrations, fine tuning and intensifying political controls in the process, as a result of which the stultification of the functions of the democratic state was accelerated.

The terms of reference agreed to in December 2019 speak of the development of a “de facto state of impunity” and seek to determine whether this could have been avoided through effective criminal law provisions, if such provisions exist.

Do we have a Mafia State? We would definitely have a Mafia State if the machinery of government is tied with organised crime to the extent that state officials become part of a criminal partnership or organisation.

The testimony heard so far in open session during the proceedings of the public inquiry reveals the reluctance of the authorities to investigate thereby paving the way for the development of a culture of impunity. Money-laundering investigations moved at snail’s pace until there was a change in leadership at the Economic Crimes Unit of the Malta Police Force. However, as yet we do not know what was revealed in the testimony behind closed doors. Matters could be considerably worse than what is known so far.

The revelations at the public inquiry must not be seen in isolation. They must be viewed in context of the testimony in the Magistrates Court relative to the criminal proceedings against those accused of carrying out the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, or of masterminding it.

We have learnt that the alleged master-mind has pleaded with the police that he was carrying out the instructions of the Chief of Staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, who categorically denied this. The definite truth is not known yet. So far, we are only sure that the assassination planners were too close to the political nerve centre: just like in a Mafia State. It is at the Office of the Prime Minister that the middleman was offered a government job, one which delivered pay for no work. Part payment for his endeavours as a middleman!

The Ministers testifying at the public inquiry were continuously seeking to pass the buck from the Cabinet to the kitchen cabinet. On the other hand, those forming part of this kitchen cabinet feigned ignorance of their role in circumventing the role of the real cabinet. This is the worrying state of play in which those having responsibility take a step backwards as a result of which their authority ends being wielded by those appointed in lieu of those elected. Collective responsibility has been thrown to the winds.

The latest revelations crown it all. Government’s thinly veiled threats in the past days to the members of the judiciary directing the public inquiry reveal a government in panic mode.

Robert Abela’s unease at this point in time is understandable. After all he was former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s legal advisor. How many skeletons in the cupboard is he aware of?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 December 2020

Il-falsità tal-Onorevoli Jason Azzopardi

L-Onorevoli Jason Azzopardi jipprova jipproġetta lilu nnifsu bħala xi qaddis miexi fl-art.

Kull meta jiftaħ ħalqu qed jagħmel il-ħsara. Mhux għax dak li jgħid ikun żbaljat imma għax m’għandux kredibilità.

Inutli joqgħod jagħmel it-tejatrin fuq dawk li gawdew minn fuq dahar Yorgen Fenech jew minn fuq it-Tumas Group, meta huwa stess qed jikkonferma li hu ukoll gawda minn fuqhom. Il-ħlas għal kemm dam fil-lukanda Hilton ta’ Tel Aviv hu kaz wieħed. Ma naf jekk hemmx iktar.

Nafu li għandu tlett rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwaru li ma tantx ipinġuh bħala xi qaddis.

Issa sirna nafu li għaddejja ukoll inkjesta dwar l-operat tad-Dipartmenti li kienu jaqgħu taħtu meta kien Ministru. Xi snin ilu l-kaz kien ukoll quddiem il-Kumitat tal-Kontijiet Pubbliċi tal-Parlament meta id-Direttur Ġenerali ta’ dak li kien d-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet kien xehed li “Jason Azzopardi kien jaf b’kull ma kien qiegħed jiġri dwar propjetà tal-Gvern fi Spinola li dwarha jidher li hemm it-taħwid.”

Jekk Jason Azzopardi hu l-wiċċ ta’ x’jemmen il-PN b’governanza tajba ma nafx kif s’issa għadhom ma rrealizzawx li bi biedem falz fuq quddiem ma tistax taqta’ figura tajba! L-anqas tista’ titwemmen.

Loyalty and integrity

“Without a fundamental commitment to the truth – especially in our public institutions and those who lead them – we are lost. As a legal principle, if people don’t tell the truth, our justice system cannot function and a society based on the rule of law begins to dissolve.”

This was written by James Comey in 2018 in his book A Higher Loyalty. Truth, Lies and Leadership.

Comey, was fired as FBI director by Donald Trump. At a bizarre dinner at the White House, Trump had demanded Comey’s personal loyalty, putting aside his duties as FBI Director. Trump pressured Comey to let go of Michael Flynn – his National Security Advisor for 22 days – then under investigation by the FBI. Comey reflects on Trump’s demands for personal loyalty and emphasises that there is a higher loyalty in all of our lives “………….. not to a person, not to a party not to a group. The higher loyalty is to lasting values, most important the truth.”

All this came to mind when reading through Ivan Martin’s encounter with Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer earlier this week. Unfortunately, some know the price of everything but they do not have an inkling on the value of anything.

When the chips are down, our true values emerge. If the real values have been carefully camouflaged, the impact when they emerge in such circumstances may be shocking. What has been carefully hidden from view, all of a sudden emerges in full public view.

Offering money to an investigative journalist to “remunerate him for his services” has switched on many red lights. The attempt at bribing the journalist is bad enough. It also raises the inevitable suspicions that bundles of €500 notes could also possibly be used to influence the judicial process. Only time will tell whether the possible becomes a probable.  Most of us would remember when, in 2002, the then Chief Justice together with another Judge, were bribed to reduce a prison sentence at appeal stage. The then accused who directed the bribery of the judiciary had insignificant wealth when compared to today’s accused.

We must be vigilant. It has happened and it can happen once more.

There is a common thread running through most of the bits of information forming the developing jigsaw puzzle linking all those mentioned in the Caruana Galizia assassination: money and loads of it. It is becoming clearer that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigation of the corrupt power station contracts is what led to her assassination. Tainted money was used to purchase access to influence and people that matter. The indications arising are too numerous to be ignored. This is nothing new, however, in the present scenario it is of the utmost significance.

Kudos to Ivan Martin who had the presence of mind not to accept a wad of €500 banknotes. His loyalty to his values as an investigative journalist was automatic. He did not pause to consider whether it was worth sticking his neck out. All of us should be proud of him.

Ivan’s integrity will be remembered for many years to come. His loyalty to his values will undoubtedly reinforce Maltese journalism in these testing times.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 November 2020

Niftħu l-iskejjel ftit ftit

Il-messaġġi konfliġġenti fil-bidu tas-sajf minn politiċi fis-sens li l-Covid-19 kien taħt kontroll huma in parti responsabbli għall-qagħda attwali. Kien in partikolari l-Prim Ministru flimkien mal-Ministru tat-Turiżmu li pubblikament emfasizzaw li issa li l-pandemija kienet taħt kontroll stajna ingawdu is-sajf!

Kienet din l-attitudni irresponsabbli li wasslet biex ġew rilassati b’mod mgħaġġel ir-restrizzjonijiet marbuta mal-Covid-19 meta s-sens komun kien jitlob pass iktar kawt.

Nifhem li l-operaturi ekonomiċi li kienu qed iġorru l-piz kienu kontinwament isusu wara l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu. Imma meta l-Gvern ċeda bagħat l-agħar messaġġ possibli: li r-restrizzjonijiet ma kienux meħtieġa. Meta l-Prim Ministru mbagħad ħafer il-multi li weħlu dawk li abbużaw u kisru l-kundizzjonijiet tal-kwarantina u restrizzjonijiet oħra, għaxxaqha!

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni attwali: fi tmiem is-sajf ir-rata tal-infezzjonijiet tal-Covid-19 hi sfortunatament l-ogħla s’issa f’Malta. Il-106 każ ta’ Covid-19 li irriżultaw nhar l-Erbgħa huma bozza ħamra li qed  itteptep u tgħidilna li l-kontrolli li għanda illum mhux adegwati. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ infurzar aħjar.  

L-ekonomija qalgħet daqqa ta’  ħarta għalkemm is-sussidji u l-għajnuniet li ħareġ il-Gvern bla dubju naqqsu l-impatt tad-daqqa. 

Il-mixja lura lejn in-normalità mhiex waħda faċli. Mhux ser isseħħ mil-lum għal għada. Teħtieġ il-paċenzja min-naħa ta’ kulħadd. Teħtieġ ukoll sens ta’ responsabbiltà billi nsegwu l-prewkazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji, fosthom li nilbsu l-maskri protettivi, mhux biss biex nipproteġu lilna nfusna imma fuq kollox biex nipproteġu lill-oħrajn.

L-argument bħalissa huwa jekk l-iskejjel għandhomx jiftħu jew le. Fin-nofs hemm l-interess tal-edukazzjoni tal-istudenti, il-ħtiega tal-genituri li jaħdmu u s-saħħa kulħadd: fuq quddiem nett dik tal-istudenti kif ukoll tal-għalliema kif ukoll ta’ dawk kollha nvoluti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-iskejjel u tal-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi.

Hemm ħafna argumenti validi għax l-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għandhom jiftħu. Dan minkejja li l-protokolli dwar l-imġieba meħtieġa damu ma ħarġu b’mod li kabbru l-inċertezza ta’ kulħadd.

L-ewwel u qabel kollox hu fl-interess tal-istudenti, kbar u żgħar, li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi jerġgħu jiftħu l-bibien tagħhom. Hemm limitu dwar kemm jista’ jsir tagħlim effettiv b’mod virtwali. It-tagħlim b’mod elettroniku bla dubju jista’ jgħin – hu għodda tajba – imma qatt ma jista’ jissostitwixxi l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliema u l-studenti b’mod partikolari ta’ dawk li għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali tat-tagħlim. F’numru ta’ każi ta’ studenti vulnerabbli l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliem u l-istudent hu l-unika mezz ta’ tagħlim effettiv. Dawn huma fost l-iktar li batew bl-għeluq komplet tal-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi. Il-ħsara li saritilhom mhux faċli li tkun rimedjata. Bħala riżultat tal-għeluq tal-iskejjel, effett dirett tal-Covid-19, hemm numru ta’ tfal li qegħdin fil-periklu li jintilfu għal kollox għas-sistema edukattiva!

L-iskejjel jeħtieġ li jiftħu ukoll għax il-genituri jeħtieġ li huma ukoll imorru għax-xogħol. L-għeluq tal-iskejjel qed iżżomm numru ta’ ġenituri milli jmorru lura għax-xogħol għax inkella ma jibqa’ ħadd biex jieħu ħsieb l-ulied. Niftakru li issa anke in-nanniet huma out of action għax huma fost il-vulnerabbli! Mhuwiex raġjonevoli li nistennew li f’dan il-mument kritiku jerfgħu l-piż in-nanniet, b’periklu għal saħħithom. Fost dawk li qalgħu daqqa kbira bl-egħluq tal-iskejjel hemm il-familji b’genitur wieħed: dawn qed jissograw l-impieg tagħhom ferm iktar minn ħaddieħor.

Mhux kull xogħol hu possibli li jsir bit-telework! Fejn hu possibli dan għandu jibqa’ jsir. Imma kif nafu ilkoll dan mhux possibli dejjem.

Fid-dawl tal-ispluzjoni ta’ każi tal-Covid-19 naħseb li minkejja l-ħtieġa li l-iskejjel jiftħu, m’huwiex prattiku li dawn jiftħu kompletament u dan biex jonqos ir-riskju tal-imxija tal-Covid-19. Huwa l-każ li nesploraw li minflok ma jiftħu kompletament l-iskejjel jiftħu bil-mod biex jerġgħu jibdew jistabilixxu kuntatt (anke jekk wieħed minimu) mal-istudenti u jkun possibli li tkun imħarsa is-saħħa ta’ kulħadd.

Is-soluzzjoni hi li nimxu b’mod gradwali, bil-mod, pass pass. L-istudenti vulnerabbli u dawk fl-etajiet li għandhom dipendenti mill-għalliema għandhom ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jerġgħu jibdew l-iskola għax huma l-iktar li għandhom bżonn!

Dan hu l-unika mod li bih nistgħu naslu. Aħjar pass żgħir il-quddiem, b’kuntatt minimu flok bil-bibien magħluqin.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Settembru 2020

Covid detection and school opening

The conflicting messages in early summer issued by Maltese holders of political office that Covid-19 was under control are partly responsible for the current state of play. Specifically, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism are on record as having publicly stated that matters were under control and that we could now “enjoy summer”.

It is this irresponsible attitude that led to the fast track relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions when a more common-sense approach would have indicated a much slower pace.

One does understand that the economic operators feeling the pinch were lobbying continuously the Tourism authorities. However, when government gave way, it sent the worst possible message: that the restrictions were not required. When the Prime Minister announced an amnesty relative to  fines imposed, he made matters worse.

This is the current state of play: at the end of summer the rate of Covid-19 infections is unfortunately the highest ever in the Maltese islands. The 106 cases identified on Wednesday is a red light warning us that controls in place are not adequate. They need to be tightened up and enforced.

As a result of the Covid-19 restrictions the economy has contracted. The government subsidies and handouts helped substantially to reduce the negative impacts.

The road back to “some version of normal” will be slow and painful. It will definitely take a considerable time, depending on the sector under consideration. It requires caution, patience and a sense of responsibility.

The current Covid-19 agenda is considering whether and when it will be possible to re-open our educational institutions.  This is primarily in the interests of our students as well as of parents whose painfully constructed work/life balance has been destabilised. It is also in the interest of protecting everyone’s health: that of students, teachers, as well as those responsible for the administration of the educational institutions.

There are a multitude of valid arguments as to why all educational institutions should re-open the soonest even though the state authorities were very late in issuing the behaviour protocols, further fuelling unnecessary uncertainty.

It is first and foremost in the interest of most students, young and old, that formal education gets going the soonest. Online learning, while being useful and having many merits, is no substitute for direct face to face contact between student and teacher, especially in the initial stages of education.

In the case of vulnerable students direct contact with the educator is essential. These are the Covid-19 education victims: their future, already in the fringes, has been severely damaged. There is a real risk of the system losing track of them completely thereby impairing severely their future.

Opening schools is also in the interest of working parents. Their active involvement at their place of work is being hampered as long as schools remain closed. Where can they leave their children? Grandparents are out of the question as they are vulnerable too!  Single parents are definitely worse off with closed schools as even their very livelihood is put into question. 

Telework is not necessarily always a solution, even though it is helpful.

The explosive increase in the number of detected Covid-19 cases during this week does not help matters. Coupled with the late availability of the school behavioural protocols this is creating considerable doubt in all stakeholders as to whether the authorities can handle the return back to school.

It may be reasonable to explore whether instead of an across the board return to school, a staggered approach can be implemented with the vulnerable and the dependent students being given priority. This could be the only realistic way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 September 2020

Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020

Edward Scicluna: bla boċċi

Ix-xhieda ta’ Edward Scicluna f’nofs il-ġimgħa fl-inkjesta dwar l-assassinazzjoni ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia hi offensiva u triegħex. Mix-xhieda tiegħu stess Scicluna joħroġ bħala Ministru tal-Finanzi  bla sinsla, dgħajjef u beżżiegħ: inkapaċi li jkun deċiżiv fil-konfront tal-abbuż. B’riżultat ta’ dan  spiċċa jiċċertifika lilu nnifsu bħala  li mhux kapaċi jerfa’ fuq spallejh r-responsabbiltajiet ta’ Ministru.

F’dan kollu mexa fuq il-passi tal-kollega tiegħu il-Ministru tal-Affarijiet Barranin Evarist Bartolo. Fl-istess inkjesta, Bartolo, xehed ix-xahar l-ieħor meta qal li kien jippreferi strateġija ta’ sopravivenza: li jsalva l-ħajja politika tiegħu biex ikun possibli li jkompli l-ġlieda politika “fil-futur”. Dan qalu meta kien rinfaċċat bin-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni konkreta min-naħa tal-Gvern (li minnu hu kien u għadu jifforma parti) fil-konfront tal-involviment tal-eks-Ministru Konrad Mizzi u l-eks-Chief of Staff tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Musca,t Keith Schembri, fl-iskandlu magħruf bħala Panama Papers.

Il-kaz ta’ Edward Scicluna mhux  wieħed iżolat. Il-qarrejja jiftakru s-seduta ta’ smigħ ta’  Leo Brincat fl-2016 fil-Parlament Ewropew meta ġie mgħarbul mill-Kumitat tal-Budget in vista tan-nominazzjoni tiegħu biex ikun jifforma parti mill-Qorti Ewropea tal-Awdituri.  Meta, in vista tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tiegħu kien ippressat għal tweġiba mill-Membri tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-għala ma rreżenjax, Leo Brincat kien wieġeb li ma kellu l-ebda xewqa li jkun “eroj għal ġurnata biex imbagħad, wara jispiċċa f’baħħ politiku”.

Edward Scicluna quddiem l-inkjesta qal : “għalfejn għandi nirreżenja jien, meta hu ħaddieħor li għamel il-ħażin?” Żied jgħid li hu “daħal fil-politika biex jagħti servizz” u dan minkejja li kien komdu Brussel bħala Membru tal-Parlament Ewropew b’salarju ta’  €100,000.

Li jagħti l-pariri lil Joseph Muscat biex jiddistakka ruħu mill-impatti tal-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers mhux biżżejjed.  Edward Scicluna kien bla dubju jaf, anke kif jirriżulta mix-xhieda tiegħu, li dawk ta’ madwar Joseph Muscat kienu qed iduru mar-regoli biex jevitaw obbligi dwar trasparenza u kontabilità, u dan biex jilħqu l-għanijiet tagħhom.  Bħala Ministru tal-Finanzi Scicluna seta’, kieku ried, jaħsad ras dan l-abbuż mill-ewwel, bla ma jħallieħ jikber. Iżda minflok ipprefera jitfa’ ir-responsabbiltà fuq ħaddieħor: ipprova  jiddistakka ruħu biex jevita l-inkwiet u jibqa’ komdu.

Ir-responsabbiltajiet ta’ Edward Scicluna bħala Ministru tal-Finanzi imorru lil hinn milli jħejji l-budget bi stimi ta’ dħul u infieq. Għandu ukoll l-obbligu li jassigura li l-infieq tal-Gvern ikun wieħed trasparenti b’kontabilità sħiħa, u dan irrispettivament minn liema awtorità, Ministeru jew ċrieki madwar il-Prim Ministru jkunu fdati minn xi proġett speċifiku.

Il-Prim Ministru għandu l-obbligu li jmexxi bl-eżempju: għandu jassigura ruħu li kemm il-Kabinett tiegħu kif ukoll dawk kollha madwaru jimxu bi trasparenza u kontabiltà sħiħa. Jekk jonqos  milli jagħmel dan hu obbligu tal-membri kollha tal-Kabinett li jew jisfurzawh jaġixxi sewwa inkella li jirriżenjaw mill-Kabinett u jkomplu l-kritika tagħhom minn barra. Kull membru tal-Kabinett li jonqos li jaġixxi b’dan il-mod ikun kompliċi u responsabbli flimkien ma dawk li jkunu qed jabbużaw.

Dawk madwar il-Prim Ministru m’għandhomx jitħallew imexxu b’mod li jevitaw li jagħtu kont ta’ għemilhom u b’hekk iġibu fix-xejn il-ħidma tal-Parlament li kontinwament isus fuq it-trasparenza u l-kontabilità bla eċċezzjoni.

Hu irresponsabbli li Edward Scicluna issa jipprova jiddistakka ruħu pubblikament minn Joseph Muscat u dawk ta’ madwaru. Issa li Muscat m’għadux Prim Ministru hu faċli li jagħmel dan! Messu kellu l-boċċi li jaġixxi immedjatament li nduna x’kien għaddej.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 16 t’Awwissu 2020

Edward Scicluna has no balls

Edward Scicluna’s testimony, mid-week, during the inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination is outrageous. Through his own testimony he depicts himself as a spineless Minister of Finance, weak, soft and cowardly, incapable of acting decisively in the face of abuse. As a result, he ends up certifying himself as not being capable to shoulder his responsibilities as a Minister.

In so doing he is following the lead of his colleague Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo. Bartolo, testifying in the same inquiry last month stated that rather than resign he preferred to politically survive to be able to fight another day.  He stated this when faced by his Government’s lack of concrete action on the direct involvement of former Minister Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri in the Panama Papers and other irregularities.

Scicluna’s is not an isolated case. Readers will remember Leo Brincat’s hearing at the European Parliament in 2016 when he was scrutinised by its Budget Committee in relation to his nomination to form part of the EU Court of Auditors. When, in view of his statements, he was pressed for an answer by MEPs as to why he did not resign he had replied that he had no desire to be a “hero for a day and end up in the (political) wilderness thereafter”.

Edward Scicluna told the inquiry: “why should I resign if someone else did wrong?” He added that to “enter local politics to perform a job” he had left his comfort zone and a €100,000 job in Brussels as an MEP.

Advising Joseph Muscat to distance himself from the Panama Papers fallout is certainly not enough. Scicluna was definitely aware, even as evidenced in his own testimony, that Joseph Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet was bypassing the system and as a result was avoiding transparency and accountability rules to better achieve “their aims”. As Finance Minister Scicluna could have nipped abuse in the bud but he did not, as he preferred to compartmentalise responsibilities and stay safe in his new comfort zone.

Scicluna’s responsibilities as Finance Minister amount to much more than budgeting for the necessary expenditure. Ensuring that all Government expenditure is transparent and fully accountable is his ultimate responsibility too, irrespective of which quango, Ministry (or Kitchen Cabinet member) is in charge of any specific project.

The Prime Minister has the duty to lead by example: he should ensure transparency and accountability in the workings of all his Cabinet members, including those in his Kitchen Cabinet. Whenever he fails to do so it is a duty of Cabinet members themselves to bring him to order or else to resign from Cabinet and take up the case in public. Any Cabinet Minister who fails to so act is an accomplice and collectively responsible for the resulting abuse.

No Kitchen Cabinet or shadow government should be allowed to run the country, continuously avoiding the checks and balances which, responsible parliaments set up to ensure that the taxes we pay are well spent.

It is irresponsible for Edward Scicluna to denounce Joseph Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet now that he is no more Prime Minister. He should have had the balls to act immediately that he was aware of Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet manoeuvres. The fact that he remained in his comfort zone signifies that he is as morally bankrupt as his colleagues in the now defunct Kitchen Cabinet.

Birds of a feather flock together.  

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 August 2020