Mill-Kummissjoni Venezja: Malta demokrazija parlamentari?

Meta tipprova tifhem dak li ntqal mill-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa tirriżulta preokkupazzjoni waħda bażika: Malta demokrazija parlamentari? Meta tgħarbel l-opinjoni li kienet ippubblikata iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa tasal għal konkulżjoni loġika: id-demokrazija parlamentari f’Malta hi prattikament ineżistenti. Minflok għandna ċentraliżmu demokratiku bil-Kabinett jiddetta lill-Parlament. Dik li fuq il-karta hi l-ogħla istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż hi fil-fatt sudditu tal-Kabinett.

Wasal iż-żmien li l-Parliament jieħu l-mazz f’idejh. Din hi l-qalba ta’ dak li għandu jkun ikkunsidrat f’riforma kostituzzjonali massiċċa li hi meħtieġa.

L-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja teżamina diversi materji. Hi intitolata “Malta: Opinion on Constitutional Arrangements and Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement.”

Dan mhu xejn ġdid għalina f’Alternattiva Demokratika. Jekk wieħed jgħarbel il-manifesti elettorali, stqarrijiet u artikli minn esponenti ta’ AD tul is-snin hu ċar li l-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġie indirizzat minn Alternattiva Demokratika. Imma dak li qalet AD ġie repetutament injorat mill-klassi politika diriġenti li kontinwament injorat il-ħtieġa ta’ bidla. Qatt ma kellhom rieda tajba li jindirizzaw il-poteri kolonjali tal-gvernatur li fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom għaddew għand il-Prim Ministru u rabbew l-għeruq fil-kostituzzjoni u l-liġijiet tagħna. Il-mentalità li min jirbaħ ikaxkar kollox trid tispiċċa u tinbidel f’waħda fejn kull settur tas-soċjeta ikollu rwol fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet u fejn il-Parlament ma jibqax servili lejn il-Kabinett imma jkun kapaċi li jieqaf fuq saqajh u jagħti direzzjoni hu lill-Kabinett.

Fl-opinjoni tiegħi mhux korrett li jingħad li d-demokrazija f’Malta hi pprattikata fuq il-mudell ta’ Westminister. Iktar inkunu korretti jekk nirrealizzaw li l-mudell hu dak imfassal mill-Uffiċċju tal-Kolonji imma mlibbes ilbies kostituzzjonali iktar riċenti: gvernatur liebes ta’ Prim Ministru.

Il-problema bażika hi li l-Parlament Malti ġie ikkastrat mill-PNPL. Hu Parlament ineffettiv għax m’għandux ir-rieda politika li jġiegħel lill-Gvern jagħti kont ta’ għemilu: la l-Gvern tal-lum u l-anqas lil dawk li ġew qabel .

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tidħol fil-qalba tal-materja meta tipponta lejn żewġ punti fundamentali li jeħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati.

Id-defiċjenza kostituzzjonali bażika f’Malta hi li l-Prim Ministru għandu f’idejh poteri kbar, wirt mill-gvernaturi kolonjali u f’ħafna każi bla jedd tal-Parlament li jara x’inhu għaddej. Dan iżeblaħ dik li nirreferu għaliha bħala demokrazija parlamentari u hu l-kawża tal-problemi kollha indirizzati mill-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja.

It-tieni problema hi l-membri parliamentari servili lejn l-eżekuttiv dejjem ifaqqsu: jistennew it-tqassim mill-Prim Ministru ta’ ħatrijiet intenzjonati biex iżommuhom okkupati u allura ma jkollomx il-ħin biex isaqsu u jgħarblu dwar il-ħidma tal-Gvern.
Dawn mhumiex problemi li ħoloqhom Joseph Muscat. Inħolqu minn ta’ qablu u ġew ipperfezzjonati tul is-snin biex ikun assigurat li ħadd ma jazzarda jaħseb b’moħħu. Il-ftit eċċezzjonijiet jippruvaw ir-regola!

L-aħħar tibdil sar mill-Parlament b’maġġoranza Laburista elett fl-2013 meta sar tibdil f’diversi liġijiet biex ikun possibli li membri parlamentari (laburisti) jkunu jistgħu jinħatru f’diversi karigi, bi ħlas sostanzjali. Dan jassigura li ħadd minnhom ma jiftaħ ħalqu biex ikun kritiku tal-Gvern għax kollha għandhom idhom fil-borma.

Lawrence Gonzi ipprattika dawn l-affarijiet, filwaqt li Joseph Muscat irfina s-sistema.

L-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja titkellem dwar bosta materji oħra ta’importanza kbira. Imma fl-opinjoni tiegħi, fl-aħħar, dak kollu li jingħad hu rifless f’punt wieħed : it-tmexxija għandha tkun f’idejn il-Parlament li għandu jibni demokrazija parlamentari ta’ vera u jġiegħel lill-Kabinett jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu kontinwament. Il-kumplament ikun il-konsegwenza loġika ta’ dan.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Diċembru 2018

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Venice Commission opinion: is Malta a Parliamentary Democracy?

Reading between the lines of the Council of Europe Venice Commission’s opinion on Malta, one basic preoccupation sticks out: is Malta a parliamentary democracy? Perusal of the opinion, released earlier this week, leads to one logical conclusion: parliamentary democracy in Malta is practically nonexistent. Democratic centralism reigns supreme, with the Cabinet dictating to Parliament. What on paper is the “highest institution in the land” is in fact a vassal of Cabinet.

Is it not about time that Parliament takes control? This is the crux of the matter which needs to be addressed by a major constitutional overhaul.

The Venice Commission’s opinion is wide-ranging. It is in fact entitled “Malta: Opinion on Constitutional Arrangements and Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement.”

There is nothing new to Maltese Greens in all this. Going through Green election manifestos, statements and articles throughout the years clearly shows that most of the points raised by the Venice Commission’s opinion have been repeatedly addressed by Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party. Yet these green proposals have been ignored time and time again as the alternating ruling political classes have continuously manifested a glaring lack of good will to embrace change and remove the vestiges of colonial rule which are still entrenched in Malta’s constitutional and legal setup.

The “winner takes all” mentality has yet to give way to one where all sectors of society are involved in decision-taking and where, in particular, Parliament is not subservient to the tenant at the Auberge de Castille, but is capable of holding Cabinet on a leash.

It is, in my opinion, incorrect to state that democracy in Malta is practiced on the basis of a Westminister model. It is rather a Colonial Office model camouflaged in modern constitutional clothing: a governor in prim-ministerial clothing. The basic problem lies in the fact that Malta’s Parliament has been castrated by the PNPL. It is an ineffective Parliament, as there is no political will to hold any government to account: neither the present nor any previous other.

The Venice Commission’s opinion goes to the heart of the matter when it points out two fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

The basic constitutional deficiency in Malta is an all-powerful Prime Minister who has constitutionally inherited all the powers exercised by the colonial governors, many times without parliamentary oversight. This makes a mockery of our so-called parliamentary-democracy and is the source and cause of all the problems addressed by the Venice Commission opinion.

The second basic problem is a never-ending supply of servile Members of Parliament who look forward to the sinecures distributed by the Prime Minister to all (government) backbenchers, thereby ensuring that all or most of them are at his beck and call. They are thus kept busy and have no time to ask questions and demanding answers, thereby holding the executive to account.

These problems have not been created by Joseph Muscat. They have, however, been specifically designed by his predecessors in office, red and blue, and tweaked over the years to ensure that at no point would it be possible for anyone to upset the applecart. The few exceptions prove the rule.

The latest adjustments to the system were made by a Labour-controlled Parliament after the 2013 elections as a result of the amendments to various laws making it possible to assign various responsibilities, against substantial payments, to practically all Labour parliamentary backbenchers. This ensures that they each and every government backbencher is not in a position to call the government to account as they all have a finger in the pie!

Lawrence Gonzi had also practised the above, while Joseph Muscat perfected the system.

The Venice Commission opinion speaks on various other important topics. In my humble opinion, at the end of the day it only boils down to one point: Parliament should take full control: it should construct a real parliamentary democracy and hold the tenant at the Auberge de Castille and his associates to account, continuously. All the rest will necessarily follow.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 December 2018

L-għassies taċ-ċimiterju

Malta, bir-raġun kollu, akkużat lill-Italja li kisret id-dritt internazzjonali meta iddikjarat li l-port ta’ Lampedusa kien magħluq għall-vapuri tal-għaqdiet mhux governattivi li kienu fuq missjoni ta’ salvataġġ fiċ-ċentru tal-Mediterran. Wara li faqqgħet l-istorja ta’ MV Lifeline, Malta, imbagħad, għamlet l-istess billi għalqet il-portijiet kollha għal dawn l-għaqdiet. Matteo Salvini, il-bully ta’ ħdejna, pubblikament sforza lill-Gvern Malti biex jaddotta l-valuri tiegħu: valuri li jinjoraw id-dinjitá tal-bniedem.

Ġejna ibbumardjati mill-aħbarijiet li l-Kunsill Ewropew kien jaqbel mal-posizzjoni ta’ Malta dwar l-immigrazzjoni. Imma l-qbil tal-Kunsill kien li l-prattika tas-solidarjetá fil-qasam tal-immigrazzjoni kellha tkun fuq bażi volontarja. Ma hemm xejn ġdid f’dan. Ilna nafu b’din il-posizzjoni żmien: sa minn meta Lawrence Gonzi kien għadu jokkupa l-Berġa ta’ Kastilja!

Il-Prim Ministru ta’ Malta Joseph Muscat issa huwa qrib fil-ħsieb mal-Prim Ministru Ungeriż Viktor Orban, il-Kanċellier Awstrijakk Sebastian Kurst u l-Prim Ministru pupazz tal-Italja Giuseppe Conte, li magħhom dal-waqt tingħaqad il-Kanċellier Ġermaniża Angela Merkel, li kellha ċċedi għat-talbiet ta’ Horst Seehofer, mis-CSU, Ministru tal-Intern fil-koalizzjoni tagħha. Ilkoll kemm huma “jittolleraw” is-solidarjetá, sakemm din tkun prattikata minn ħaddieħor.

Nifhem il-ħtiega għat-tejatrin li ħass Muscat biex iċaqlaq lil diversi pajjiżi ħalli jipparteċipaw biex joffru it-tama lill-immigranti fuq MV Lifeline, avolja l-234 persuna umana abbord bagħtew tul l-istennija f’nofs il-Baħar Mediterran, sakemm disa’ stati ddeċidew li kellhom jerfgħu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom.

Imma dan kollu kien segwit mill-azzjoni kriminali kontra l-kaptan tal-vapur MV Lifeline, il-ħaruf tas-sagrifiċċju fuq l-artal tal-populiżmu, kif prattikat minn Joseph Muscat. Għax donnu kien meħtieġ għal Joseph Muscat li jinnewtralizza l-azzjoni tajba li għamel meta aċċetta li l-MV Lifeline jorbot mal-moll tal-Isla.

Dawk li jissugraw ħajjithom biex isalvaw dik ta’ oħrajn jispiċċaw jaqilgħu fuq rashom. L-ordni biex il-vapuri f’idejn l-għaqdiet mhux governattivi ma jbaħħrux fl-ibħra ta’ salvataġġ responsabbiltá ta’ Malta, anke jekk taparsi hi ordni temporanja, tagħti l-mano libera lill-gwardja tal-kosta Libjana biex “twettaq dmirha” u tassigura li dawk li jitilqu mil-Libja ikollhom għażla bejn żewġ destinazzjonijiet : iċ-ċentri ta’ detenzjoni Libjani inkella qiegħ il-baħar.

Biex jassigura li l-mewt bl-għarqa tkun l-unika għażla realistika il-Gvern Malti issa ipprojibixxa ukoll li ajruplani għat-tiftix u is-salvataġġ operati mill-għaqdiet mhux governattivi Sea Watch u Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative jitwaqqfu immedjatament. Dan wara li diġa wasslu biex ġew salvati madwar 20,000 persuna umana.

Il-mistoqsija inevitabbli hi: dan kollu għaliex?

Is-soċjoloġi Ungeriżi Vera Messing u Bence Ságvári fl-istudju tagħhom intitolat Looking behind the Culture of Fear. Cross-national analysis of attitudes towards migration. li kien ippubblikat bl-għajnuna tal-Fondazzjoni soċjaldemokratika Ġermaniza Friedrich Ebert Stiftung u l-European Social Survey, f’Marzu li għadda, jistħarreġ tweġiba għal din il-mistoqsija.

“L-attitudni kontra l-immigranti, ftit li xejn għandha x’taqsam mal-immigranti”, ikkonkludew Messing u Ságvári. “Dawk f’pajjiżi b’livell għoli ta’ fiduċja fl-istituzzjonijiet, ftit li xejn korruzzjoni, ekonomija stabbli u li taħdem tajjeb, livell għoli ta’ koeżjoni u inklużjoni soċjali (inkluż tal-immigranti) jibżgħu l-inqas mill-immigrazzjoni” jinnotaw l-awturi. Min-naħa l-oħra jibżgħu dawk li “qegħdin f’pajjiżi fejn in-nies ma tafdax, la lil xulxin u l-anqas l-istituzzjonijiet tal-istat u fejn il-koeżjoni soċjali u s-solidarjetá huma dgħajfa.”

Hi tabilħaqq sfortuna li l-familji politiċi ewlenin ġew kontaminati minn din il-kultura tal-biża’ u b’hekk irrendew ruħhom ostaġġi tal-bulijiet li hawn madwarna.

Il-posizzjoni ġejografika ta’ Malta ma tinbidilx: mhiex negozjabbli. Flok ma niġu mbeżża’ biex b’mod passiv nagħmluha tal-għassiesa taċ-ċimiterju li qed jiżviluppa madwarna nistgħu inkunu proattivi u nfittxu li ninkoraġixxu oħrajn biex jingħaqdu magħna biex inkunu l-port tat-tama fiċ-ċentru tal-Mediterran. Dik dejjem kienet il-missjoni tagħna tant li wieħed mill-isbaħ ċertifikati li għandu pajjiżna huwa dak iffirmat minn San Luqa fl-Atti tal-Appostli meta huwa u jiddeskrivi n-nawfraġju ta’ San Pawl jgħid li l-Maltin “ġiebu ruħhom magħna bi ħlewwa liema bħalha. Laqgħuna tajjeb lilna lkoll ……..”

Sfortunatament l-egħluq tal-portijiet tagħna għall-vapuri operati mill-għaqdiet mhux governattivi fuq missjoni ta’ salvataġġ (wara l-eċċezzjoni tal-MV Lifeline) tindika li Joseph Muscat, imniġġeż kif inhu minn Matteo Salvini, abbanduna kull tama u minflok għażel ir-rwol ta’ għassies taċ-ċimiterju.

ippubblikat fuq Illum il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Lulju 2018

 

 

The cemetery watchman

Malta rightly accused Italy of being in breach of international law when it closed the Lampedusa port to NGO vessels on rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In the aftermath of the MV Lifeline debacle, Malta then proceeded to follow suit by closing all Maltese ports to NGO vessels. Matteo Salvini, the bully next door, has publicly pressured Malta’s government to submit to his values: those same values which ignore human dignity.

We have been bombarded with the news that the EU Council of Ministers has agreed to, and endorsed, Malta’s position on migration. This is not correct as the EU Council of Ministers only reiterated that, at most, they would consider solidarity as being only voluntary in nature. There is nothing new in such a statement. We have known about it for ages: since the days when Lawrence Gonzi was the tenant at Auberge de Castille!

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, is now almost on the same wavelength as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurst, and Italy’s puppet Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, soon to be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, forced into submission by her CSU coalition partner Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. All of them “tolerate” solidarity, as long as it is only practised by others.

The theatrics resorted to by Muscat to ensure an adequate participation in offering hope to the immigrants on board MV Lifeline were understandable, even though the 234 human beings on board suffered for long days in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea until nine states made up their mind to shoulder their responsibilities.

This was, however, followed by criminal action initiated against the captain of MV Lifeline as the sacrificial lamb on Joseph Muscat’s altar to populism. It seemed that Joseph Muscat had to counter-balance his good deed, when he permitted MV Lifeline to dock at the Senglea wharf.

Those who continuously risk their lives in trying to save the life of others end up at the wrong end of the stick. The order that NGO sea-going vessels do not navigate through the rescue area under Malta’s responsibility, even if falsely camouflaged as a temporary measure, gave a free hand to the Libyan coastguard to “carry out its duty”, that is to ensure that those who try to leave Libya have only two possible destinations: Libyan detention centres or the seabed.

To ensure that death by drowning is the only practical choice, the Maltese government has now also stopped the search and rescue aircraft operated by NGO Sea Watch and the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative. The aircraft has been involved in the rescue of 20,000 human beings.

The inevitable question is : Why is it happening? Hungarian sociologists Vera Messing and Bence Ságvári in their study entitled Looking behind the Culture of Fear. Cross-national analysis of attitudes towards migration. which was published under the auspices of the German social democratic foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the European Social Survey, last March, sought an answer to this question.

“Anti-migrant attitudes have little to do with migrants”, concluded Messing and Ságvári. “People in countries… with a high level of general and institutional trust, low level of corruption, a stable, well-performing economy and high level of social cohesion and inclusion (including migrants) fear migration the least,” the authors note. On the other hand: “People are fearful in countries where people don’t trust each other or the state’s institutions, and where social cohesion and solidarity are weak.”

It is indeed unfortunate that the major political families have been contaminated by this culture of fear, thereby rendering themselves hostages to the bullies around us, as a result promoting a culture of death.

Malta’s geographic position is a given: it is non-negotiable. Instead of being bullied to passively supervise the cemetery developing around us, we can be proactive and encourage others to join us in being a port of hope in the centre of the Mediterranean. That has always been our mission, to the extent that one of the best descriptions of Maltese hospitality is the one attested to by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles when describing St Paul’s shipwreck: “the natives showed us unusual kindness for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all”.

Unfortunately, closing our ports to NGO-operated vessels on rescue missions (after the one-off MV Lifeline debacle) indicates that Joseph Muscat, prodded by Matteo Salvini, has discarded hope and has instead opted for the role of a cemetery watchman.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 8 July 2018

Il-Palazz tal-Girgenti: bejn Gvern u Partit

girgenti-palace-2

Meta nhar it-Tlieta li għadda, jiena u Arnold Cassola iltqajna mas-Sur Joseph Church, il-Kummissarju Elettorali Ewlieni, tkellimna miegħu dwar il-Palazz tal-Girgenti u l-fatt li l-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista għamel użu minnu biex iltaqa hemm.

Għal uħud Alternattiva Demokratika qed tfettaq u tgħaġġibha. Jiena ma naħsibx li dan hu l-każ għax hemm prinċipju importanti ħafna fin-nofs: fejn hi l-linja li tissepara l-partit mill-gvern? Issa jiena konxju li hemm min mhuwiex interessat fil-prinċipji, għax għal uħud, dawn huma burokrazija żejda!

Għandu jkun hemm separazzjoni bejn il-Gvern u l-partit politku li jiffurmah, jew inkella dawn għandhom ikunu ħaġa waħda, jew kważi?  Din hi l-qalba tal-kwistjoni kollha li fil-fehma ta Alternattiva Demokratika teħtieġ li tkun ikkunsidrata battenzjoni kbira.

Il-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti saret biex ikun hemm trasparenza. Saret ukoll biex tiġbed linja ċara dwar dak li jista jsir u dak li ma jistax isir, u dan permezz ta numru ta kontrolli.

Fost affarijiet oħra, l-Att tal-2015 dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi, fl-artiklu 34 tiegħu jgħid li partit politiku ma jistax jaċċetta donazzjoni minn sorsi tal-istat. Mhemmx kif u għaliex, iżda xejn, bla argumenti jew eċċezzjonijiet.

Issa donazzjoni għal-liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi ma tfissirx biss li partit ikun irċieva għotja ta flus. Għax anke jekk jixtri jew jirċievi prodott jew servizz bi prezz ridott, partit politiku jkun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni, u l-valur tad-donazzjoni, fdan il-kaz tkun l-ammont li jkun tnaqqas mill-prezz jew mill-valur tal-oġġett jew servizz. Imma jekk partit politiku jirċievi prodott jew servizz bla ma jħallas xejn għalih ikun qiegħed jirċievi donazzjoni li tikkonsisti fil-valur sħiħ tal-oġġett jew servizz li jkun qed jirċievi.

Fil-kaz tal-laqgħa tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista li saret fil-Girgenti ġara preċiżament hekk. Il-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista ingħata servizz li kien jikkonsisti fl-użu tal-Palazz tal-Inkwiżitur fil-Girgenti biex fih jiltaqgħu, il-bogħod mill-istorbju, u allura biex il-ħidma tagħhom setgħet tagħti l-frott ippjanat. Dan is-servizz ingħata lill-Partit Laburista mill-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru u dan ingħata bla ħlas. Minħabba li ngħata bla ħlas jitqies li huwa donazzjoni.

Il-Prim Ministru ma għandu l-ebda seta’ jagħmel donazzjonijiet ta din ix-xorta. Huwa miżmum milli jagħmel dan minn liġi li ippreżenta l-Gvern immexxi minnu stess fil-Parlament u li daħlet fis-seħħ fl-1 ta Jannar 2016 wara li ġiet approvata. Hemm min qed jargumenta li fil-passat sar l-istess. Probabbilment li dan huwa veru. Imma issa għandna liġi eżattament biex dan ma jerġax isir. Liġi li l-Gvern (ġustament) jiftaħar biha, ħalli mbagħad ikun hu stess li ma josservahiex!

Mhiex ħaġa sabiħa li l-partit u l-Gvern ikunu ħaġa waħda. Meta dan iseħħ, l-anqas ma hu sinjal tajjeb. Ikun ifisser li wasalna fsitwazzjoni li fiha dak li hu tal-pajjiż ikun ikkapparrat mill-ftit. Hekk jibdew il-problemi l-kbar. Jibdew minn affarijiet żgħar li dwarhom jgħidulek biex ma tfettaqx imma imbagħad jinfirxu għal affarijiet ikbar.

Imma jekk ma tkunx tajt kaz fl-affarijiet iżżgħar imbagħad ikun tard wisq.

II-partit fil-Gvern jifforma l-Gvern imma hu separat u distint minnu fkull ħin.

Għalhekk għandha taġixxi malajr il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax is-separazzjoni bejn il-partit u l-istat hu prinċipju sagrosant meta demokrazija parlamentari tkun bsaħħitha.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Frar 2017

Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti

muscat-girgenti-tweet

A week ago, during a short break from a very “fruitful” meeting of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister, tweeted a selfie. The selfie included a number of hangers-on who promptly re-tweeted Joseph’s selfie, announcing to one and all that the Labour Party Parliamentary Group was meeting at Girgenti, the Prime Minister’s official residence in the countryside.

In the tweeted selfie, standing in the front row, perched between Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri and Civil Rights Minister Helena Dalli stands Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Cabinet member who around 18 months ago piloted the Financing of Political Parties Act through Parliament  Throughout the past months, the Honourable Owen Bonnici rightly proclaimed this as a milestone. How come his own government and his own political party ignored the implementation of this milestone?

It seems that Joseph, the tweeter from Girgenti, was either not properly advised of the implications of this landmark  legislation or else ignored completely the advice he received.

On Tuesday I visited the offices of the Electoral Commission and met Joseph Church, the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Together with my colleague Arnold Cassola, I drew the attention of Mr Church to the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party was making use of government property contrary to the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta, we requested that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party be investigated for acting against the provisions of the landmark legislation: Joseph Muscat for permitting the use of the Girgenti Palace and the Labour Party for accepting to use it as a venue for one of the meetings of its Parliamentary Group.

As I have already explained during a Press Conference held after the meeting with the Chief Electoral Commissioner, as well as in the daily edition of this newspaper [Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state. TMI 23 February] the use of the Girgenti Palace is deemed to be a donation, which in terms of article 34 of the Financing of Political Parties Act is not permissible to be received by a political party from the state. Joseph Muscat the Prime Minister could not grant such a donation, and Joseph Muscat the Leader of the Labour Party could not accept it.

Unfortunately, this incident communicated by tweet sends a very clear and negative message: that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party consider themselves to be above the law. The law which they rightly described as being a “landmark legislation” was intended to apply to one and all.  Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party seem to think otherwise. In fact, the Labour Party is not even yet registered as a political party as the Electoral Commission, some months back, considered that it does not satisfy the conditions laid down in the legislation.

Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ, as a very basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating the government from the governing political party. This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for an investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

I am informed that the Electoral Commission will be meeting next Wednesday when it is expected to consider the request to investigate Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his political party for ignoring the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.  It is the moment of truth for the Electoral Commission. Eight out of nine of its members are political appointees: four nominated by the Prime Minister and another four nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The ninth member of the Commission is the chairman, a senior civil servant.

It is time for all nine members of the Electoral Commission to stand up and be counted. As a constitutional body, it is the Commission’s duty to defend the values of a modern day parliamentary democracy. Whether it will do so is anybody’s guess. I will definitely not hold my breath.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 February 2017

Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state

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Meeting the Chief Electoral Commissioner Mr Joseph Church last Tuesday, together with Arnold Cassola, I raised the issue of the use of the Inquisitor’s Palace at Girgenti by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for one of its meetings.  Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ as a basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating government from the governing party.

To what extent should the affairs of the government be administered separately from those of the governing party? This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The Act to regulate the financing of political parties was introduced to ensure that party financing was subject to transparency rules. It also establishes no-go areas. Amongst other matters the 2015 legislation provides in its article 34  that political parties should not accept donations from the state. There are no exceptions to this rule.

In terms of the Financing of Political Parties Act, a donation is not just pecuniary in nature. Whenever a political party purchases a product or a service at a reduced price it would be in receipt of a donation. The quantum of the donation would be equivalent to the reduction in price of the product or service received.  On the other hand if a political party acquires a product or a service without paying its commercial price, then, the value of the donation received amounts to the full price of the said product or service.

This is exactly what happened when the Labour Party Parliamentary Group made use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at the Girgenti Inquisitor’s Palace. The Parliamentary Group received the service of a meeting place without payment. Hence its being considered as a donation.

The Prime Minister does not have the authority to make such donations. His actions in this respect are restricted by law which was presented and approved in Parliament by the government he leads and entered in force as on 1 January 2016.  Some have argued that this is not the first time that such meetings were so organised. This may be so. It is precisely for this purpose that the legislation was enacted in order to prevent its reoccurrence. One should not propose such legislation and then be the first to ignore it!

Government and the governing political party should be separate and distinct. When such distinction is not clear, even in the case of minor matters, this would be a very bad indication. It would signal that the resources of the state are not being managed appropriately. It would be wrong to ignore such signals indicating the existence of minor problems as these will, if ignored, subsequently spread to more substantial matters. It would then be too late to act.

The party in Government forms the Government of the day but should be separate and distinct from it at all times.

Hence the need for the Electoral Commission to act immediately. The separation between government and the governing political party is a basic principle in a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent : Thursday 23 February 2017

L-Avukat Ġenerali għandu l-obbligu illi jispjega x’inhu għaddej

FIAU

 

Ir-riżenja ta’ Manfred Galdes li kien qed imexxi l-Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) bħala Direttur hi nkwetanti għax tfisser li persuna oħra indipendenti li kienet inkarigata biex tissorvelja l-governanza fiskali irriżenjat.

Alternattiva Demokratika ma taċċettax bħala veritiera l-ispjegazzjoni illi Manfred Galdes irriżenja biex jieħu impieg mas-settur privat kif ġie suġġerit mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi. Irriżenja probabbilment għax qed jara l-istituzzjonijiet nazzjonali madwaru jikkollassaw b’diversi jsiru għaġina f’idejn il-Gvern. Ovvjament jekk ser jitlaq mill-impieg mal-FIAU, dan x’imkien irid jaħdem biex jgħajjex lill-familja tiegħu. Fi ftit kliem mar fis-settur privat għax iddeċieda li jirreżenja mill-FIAU.

F’April li għadda l-Ministru tal-Finanzi kien ħabbar illi l-FIAU li tagħha Manfred Galdes kien Direttur kienet qed tivestiga l-istejjer dwar ħasil ta’ flus fil-Panama u dan b’referenza għal rapport fil-media dwar il-Kap tas-Segretarjat tal-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru Keith Schembri (l-Kasco) u l-Ministru Konrad Mizzi. Minkejja li hemm indikazzjonijiet li din l-investigazzjoni ġiet konkluża m’hemmx ċertezza dwar dan avolja l-aħħar riżenja tal-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija Michael Cassar hi assoċjata wkoll ma’ din il-materja.

F’dan il-kuntest is-skiet tal-Avukat Ġenerali, li huwa wkoll ic-Chairman tal-Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit hu nkwetanti. F’dan il-mument delikat l-Avukat Ġenerali għandu l-obbligu illi jispjega x’inhu għaddej.

Political calculation or environmental principle?

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Joseph Muscat’s declaration that the Freeport Terminal will not be permitted to expand in Birżebbuġa’s direction due to its impacts on the residential community will inevitably have an effect on the Planning Authority. Viewed in the context of the recent Planning Authority decision not to approve the proposed Ħondoq ir-Rummien development, a pattern seems to be developing.

Given the fact that these two decisions are closely associated with localities that politically support the Labour Party it is still not clear whether this newly discovered sensitivity to restrict development which negatively impacts residential communities is based on political calculation or on environmental principle. This consideration is inevitable, in particular due to the report in this newspaper on 22 June that the Prime Minister had stated, in a discussion with environmental NGO Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar, that he does not care about impact assessments, as residents get used to everything. As far as I am aware, the Office of the Prime Minister never corrected this report.

The Freeport Terminal debate clearly indicates that Birżebbuġa residents are determined to deliver a different message: they have had enough. During the last seven years there has been an ongoing tug-of-war between Birżebbuġa Local Council, MEPA and the Freeport Terminal Management. This has led to a number of improvements, the most important of which was the setting up of a tripartite Environmental Monitoring Committee that has served to build some bridges and to explore solutions to existing problems caused by the operation of the Freeport Terminal.

There was a time, around two years ago, when pressure was put on Birżebbuġa Local Council to drop its objections to specific operations. I distinctly remember representatives from the oil-rig repair industry  trying to convince the Council of the “benefits” that an oil-rig industry based at the Freeport Terminal could generate.

When these representatives realised that no one was convinced, an amendment to the environmental permit was forced through the then MEPA Board. To their credit, only three of the then board members understood the real issues and voted against the proposal: the two MPs (Joe Sammut and Ryan Callus) and the environmental NGO representative Alex Vella of the Ramblers Association.

The amended environmental permit would have permitted minor repairs to ships and oil-rigs berthed at the Freeport Terminal. However, after the MEPA Board meeting all hell broke loose, leading Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to disassociate himself from its decision and publicly align himself with the minority on the board opposing the changes. He then stated that he was in agreement with “his representative”, Labour MP Joe Sammut.

While the Freeport Terminal, faced with the reaction of residents, eventually relinquished the newly-acquired permit, the internal debate within the Labour Party continued, leading to the recent statement by Joseph Muscat that he is not in agreement with an expansion of the Freeport Terminal operations that would have a negative impact on the Birżebbuġa community.

Irrespective of whether it is a matter of principle or a political calculation which has led the Prime Minister to make such a statement, I submit that this is still a significant turning point that has been achieved as a direct result of Birżebbuġa Local Council’s persistent lobbying. It contrasts with the position taken by the Leader of the Opposition, who looks forward to an increase in the operations of the Freeport Terminal, without batting an eyelid over the resulting, continuously increasing, impact on the residential community.

The Prime Minister’s statement, while being a positive first step, is certainly not enough. It needs to be translated into policy as an integral part of the revised Local Plans currently under consideration. It is also important that the Prime Minister’s newly identified sensitivities are exported to other areas in Malta and Gozo. It is essential that, in a small country such as ours, third party rights opposing “development” are reinforced.

The issue at stake is far larger than Birżebbbuġa or the Freeport Terminal. It is a tug-of-war between those supporting “development” at all costs and our residential communities. The government must, through planning policy, be supportive of all our residential communities without exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 31st July 2016

Ċapċipa għal Konrad

Konrad Mizzi Parlament

Il-bieraħ waqt laqgħa ta’ djalogu pubbliku f’Kastilja, Konrad Mizzi Ministru bla portafol fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru, ngħata ċapċipa kbira. Standing ovation qalet it-Times.

Kif tista’ tagħti ċapċipa ta’ approvazzjoni lil min ma żammx kelmtu? Lil min jiddeletta bis-segretezza u bil-ħabi? Lil min mhux biss ma jara xejn ħażin li jiftaħ kumpanija fil-Panama talli jevita ukoll li jwieġeb mistoqsijiet dwarha.

L-aqwa li Gvern li jisma’!

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu għalfejn noqgħodu niskantaw bil-medjokrità fil-politika Maltija?