Ftit ħsibijiet wara t-traġedja f’Ġenova

Wara l-kollass tal-pont f’Ġenova hemm numru ta’ lezzjonijiet, anke għalina, mijiet ta’ kilometri ‘l bogħod mill-pont Morandi.

Minkejja li l-investigazzjonijiet uffiċjali dwar l-għaliex seħħ dan il-kollass tal-pont għadhom bil-kemm bdew, il-media Taljana diġá qed tiddiskuti dak li ġara fid-dettall. Il-pontijiet kollha fl-Italja qegħdin taħt il-lenti, b’mod partikolari dawk li hu magħruf li m’humiex f’kundizzjoni tajba u li allura jistgħu, f’qasir żmien jikkollassaw huma ukoll. Dan jassumi sinifikat ikbar meta wieħed iqis li f’dawn l-aħħar ħames snin, fl-Italja, diġa ikkollassaw seba’ pontijiet oħra, u qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Bla dubju, fost il-lezzjonijiet ewlenin, jeħtieġ nifhmu l-ħtieġa li nieħdu ħsieb u nikkuraw b’mod adegwat il-proġetti pubbliċi. Għax anke f’Malta, wara li l-proġetti pubbliċi jkunu saru, ħafna drabi ftit nagħtu kas tagħhom. Ħarsa ftit lejn il-flyover li tifforma parti mill-bypass tal-Marsa/Ħal-Qormi kif inhi illum, tkun biżżejjed, avolja kif ħabbret Infrastruttura Malta nhar il-Ġimgħa ma hemm l-ebda ħsara strutturali. Huwa biss issa li tħabbar li ser jibda programm ta’ manutenzjoni, issa li n-nies, wara l-istraġi ta’ Ġenova, bdiet tistaqsi l-mistoqsijiet. Forsi, min jaf, mil-lum il-quddiem jibda jkollna skeda regolari ta’ manutenzjoni tal-proġetti pubbliċi kollha. Forsi xi darba l-mini ta’ Santa Venera ma jibqgħux iqattru.

Hemm ukoll x’jingħad dwar il-governanza tajba fil-proġetti pubbliċi.

Deċiżjoni riċenti tal-bord li jirrevedi l-kuntratti pubblici (Public Contracts Review Board) hi ta’ tħassib kbir. L-għoti tal-kuntratt għall-bini u t-tkomplija taċ-Ċentru tas-Saħħa f’Raħal Ġdid ġie mwaqqaf wara li Public Contracts Review Board esprima dubji serji fuq kif tmexxew il-proċeduri tal-evalwazzjoni tal-offerti. Fil-fatt ġie identifikat li żewġ professjonisti (inġinier u Perit) kienu konsulenti kemm tal-Fondazzjoni tas-Servizzi Mediċi tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa kif ukoll ta’ tnejn minn dawk li tefgħu l-offerti. Fil-fehma tiegħi huwa diffiċli ferm biex nifhem kif ħadd mill-Fondazzjoni għas-Servizzi Mediċi ma nduna b’dan il-konflitt ta’ interess. Kont nistenna xi ħaġa aħjar mill-Fondazzjoni, għax jidher li ftit li xejn qed jagħtu importanza lill-ħtieġa ta’ governanza tajba fil-ħidma tal-fondazzjoni.

Issa li l-Public Contracts Review Board ħa deċiżjoni nistenna li l-korpi professjonali li jirregolaw l-inginiera u l-periti jeżaminaw sewwa l-kaz biex jaraw x’passi għandhom jieħdu f’dak li hu ksur ta’ etika professjonali bażika.

Il-kontroll adegwat tal-materjali li jintużaw fuq is-sit ta’ kostruzzjoni hi materja oħra ta’ importanza fundamentali. Din mill-ewwel tfakkarni fl-investigazzjoni li saret dwar il-kwalitá tal-konkos użat fl-isptar Mater Dei. Anke hawn kienet responsabbli l-Fondazzjoni għas-Servizzi Mediċi. Dwar dan ma kienx hemm biss l-inkjesta li saret taħt it-tmexxija tal-Imħallef irtirat Philip Sciberras imma ukoll rapport tal-Awditur Ġenerali fuq talba tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi. Dan ir-rapport kien konkluż u ippubblikat f’Mejju li għadda.

Niftakru li l-Awditur Ġenerali fir-rapport tiegħu kien emfasizza li rriżultalu li kien hemm nuqqas kbir ta’ dokumentazzjoni dwar kull stadju tal-proġett (significant lack of documentation with respect to all stages of the project). Dan wassal lill-istess Awditur Ġenerali biex jikkonkludi li “l-inkapaċita tal-Fondazzjoni li tipprovdi l-informazzjoni bażika dwar proġett ta’ dan il-kobor ifisser falliment istituzzjonali u negliġenza grassa fl-amministrazzjoni ta’ fondi pubbliċi” (the Foundation’s inability to provide basic information relating to a project of this magnitude represents an institutional failure and gross negligence in the administration of public funds).

Min-naħa l-oħra, anke l-inkjesta immexxija mill-Imħallef irtirat Philip Sciberras identifikat nuqqasijiet kbar li dwarhom irrakkomandat li jittieħdu passi.

In partikolari qed nara quddiemi l-konklużjoni numru 5 tar-rapport Sciberras li tgħid li “in-nuqqasijiet gravi li nkixfu bir-rapporti tekniċi tal-lum jindikaw li l-konkos dgħajjef li nstab f’kull parti tas-sit hu riżultat intenzjonat ta’ azzjonijiet bi skop ta’ frodi. Il-Bord ifforma l-impressjoni ċara li l-ġrajjet li wasslu għal dan ma kienux riżultat ta’ koinċidenza, lanqas ma kienu providenzjali, imma warajhom kien hemm id moħbija li tagħti direzzjoni.” (the widespread failings uncovered by the present day technical reports indicate that the pervasive weak concrete found in the site is a result of intended fraudulent actions. Moreover the Board is left with a distinct impression that events as they transpired were not the fruit of coincidence or providence but seem to indicate an element of concertation and direction.)

Ma tantx jidher li sar wisq dwar dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet. X’qed nistennew? Li jaqa’ x’imkien?

Hemm tagħlim waħda bażika minn Ġenova: in-nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba tista’ twassal ukoll għall-imwiet.

Ippubblikat f’Illum : 19 t’Awwissu 2018

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Lessons from the Genova bridge collapse

The collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genova should lead to a number of lessons which have an application hundreds of kilometres away from Genova.

Notwithstanding the fact that the official investigations into the bridge collapse have barely commenced, the media in Italy is discussing the possible causes of the collapse and whether there are any other bridges on the Italian mainland that may shortly have a similar fate. The fact that there have been some seven other bridge collapses in Italy during the past five years adds more fuel to this debate.

Among the many lessons to be learnt is the need to ensure adequate maintenance of public structures at all times. How does Malta score? Not very well, I would say. Have a look at the bridge forming part of the Marsa/Qormi flyover. It does not send out a good message even if, as stated by Infrastructure Malta on Friday, the flyover is structurally safe. The authorities in Malta have only announced the commencement of a maintenance programme for this bridge when questions began being asked as a result of the Genova tragedy.

Hopefully we will henceforth have regular maintenance schedules of all public structures and,  maybe, someday the dripping Santa Venera tunnels will be seen to permanently!

What about good governance in tenders for public projects? A recent decision by the Public Contracts Review Board is cause for concern. The award of the contract for the building and finishing of a health centre in Paola was halted by this Board after serious doubts regarding the evaluation procedure were raised. In fact, two professionals (an engineer and an architect) were identified as being simultaneously advisors of the Health Ministry’s Foundation for Medical Services as well as two of the three tenderers. It is, in my opinion, very difficult to understand how nobody at the Foundation for Medical Services was aware of this glaring conflict of interest. Good governance is apparently not the Foundation’s strong point.

Now that the Public Contracts Review Board has decided the case, I would expect that the professional bodies regulating the professionals involved take appropriate action on what is clearly a very serious breach of professional ethics.

Adequate quality control of materials used on site is another fundamental issue. The investigations regarding the quality of concrete used in the construction of the Mater Dei Hospital project comes to mind. The Foundation for Medical Services was also responsible for this project.

This issue has been dealt with not only by an inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras but also by a report drawn up by the Auditor General at the request of the Finance Minister, which was concluded and published last May.

We may remember that, in the Auditor General’s report, it was emphasised that he found a “significant lack of documentation with respect to all stages of the project”. This led the Auditor General to conclude that “the Foundation’s inability to provide basic information relating to a project of this magnitude represents an institutional failure and gross negligence in the administration of public funds”.

On the other hand, the inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras also identified various deficiencies in respect of which it recommended that action be taken.

I point in particular to conclusion No. 5 of the Sciberras report which states that : “the widespread failings uncovered by the present day technical reports indicates that the pervasive weak concrete found in the site is a result of intended fraudulent actions. Moreover, the Board is left with a distinct impression that events as they transpired were not the fruit of coincidence or providence but seem to indicate an element of concertation and direction.”

Apparently, not much has been done to date regarding the  implementation of the recommendations of these reports. Shall we wait for our own bridge collapse before action?

There is one basic lesson to be learnt from the Genova tragedy: a lack of good governance is a potential killer.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 August 2018

Owen’s latest gimmick

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici explained to the press the measures proposed by the government in order that Parliament will be in a position to examine its political appointees nominated to head various state agencies or institutions as well as those appointed to ambassadorships from outside the civil service.

Naturally, the first reaction to Owen Bonnici’s declaration is that government’s proposal is a positive small first step. However, when the detailed proposal was published, it was clear that this was another gimmick. It is proposed that a Parliamentary Standing Committee will be able to examine potential political appointees through written questions. On the basis of the answers received, and supplementary (written) questions, the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be expected to advise the government on the appointments under consideration.

This is a far cry from what is expected in a modern democracy.

Parliament, either directly or through a standing committee, should not be expected to simply advise. It should decide on the suitability or otherwise of the government nominees. This should be done after the nominees have been examined in a public hearing in the same manner as that of the US Senate Committees or the Parliamentary Committees of various other countries. This can only be done if Parliament reclaims the powers it has ceded to the government over the years.

Parliamentary scrutiny means much more than answering a set of written questions. Examining the nominees to ascertain their suitability for the post they have been nominated goes much further than the superficial examination of their professional competence. It also entails the examination of their past performance in order to ascertain whether they are capable of withstanding political pressure which seeks to sway their judgement in favour of political expediency and consequently influence their behaviour.

Such an exercise cannot be done through written questions but through a viva voce examination where it is not only what is said that matters. Interpreting body language and reactions to unexpected questions or statements is generally more relevant than deciphering boring, long-winded answers that go around in circles and generally avoid providing an answer at all.

During the general election campaign a few months ago, we were told that we needed “Labour-proof institutions”. In reality, government institutions and agencies should be at arms length from the government of the day in all day to day matters. This is done by ensuring that the running of government institutions and agencies is not the prerogative of political cronies but of suitably qualified appointees.

The government proposal is one that ensures that Parliament, through it’s Standing Committees, will not be in a position to carry out any meaningful scrutiny.  Parliament needs to have the authority to block the appointments which it considers to be unsuitable and in order to be able to act in this manner, the government’s proposal needs to be heavily revisited.

It is for this reason that – in the recent general election manifesto (and even in that of the previous general election) – we Greens proposed a much more effective policy: that parliament (or its committees) should have the authority to decide, and not merely advise on, public appointments and that this should be done through a public hearing without limitations.

These are the essential building blocks of a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st October 2017

Public appointments and Parliament’s responsibilities

Il-Parlament Malti

Two press conferences yesterday evening placed more information relative to the oil commissions scandal in the public domain, just a few hours after two other businessmen were arraigned in Court.

With four men in court on charges of corruption, bribery and money laundering the two press conferences resulted in various other declarations which would result in a queue of resignations in any civilised country.

There seems to be anticipated delight in the pot calling the kettle black.

In this scenario, a number of omissions by those elected to Parliament over the years assume additional significance.

One undoubtedly queries the lack of a Whistleblowers Act which if enacted in accordance with electoral commitments would have established long ago clear parameters to be followed by those divulging information on economic crime (corruption, bribery and money laundering). In its absence we are still dependent of the elected politicians’ use of the instrument of “state evidence” on the basis of ad hoc criteria.

Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday focused on another important point: the manner in which appointments to public office are made. To date the powers of Parliament  have been usurped and transferred to Cabinet such that it is the Prime Minister or his Minsters who appoint  members of Boards or Authorities.

Parliament should reclaim its responsibilities as it should be Parliament that should decide on the appointment of Boards and Authorities of a national importance. Nominated members  of Boards of Public Authorities as well as the senior officials of such Authorities should be scrutinised by Parliament either directly or through its committees in order to ascertain that those nominated can truely serve the country and not the political interests of the political party in government.

Parliament should moreover be in a position to monitor the functions of Boards and Authorities on a continuous basis and should seek explanations from the Boards of Public Authorities and their Senior Executives on their method of operation. Parliament should ensure that whenever the operations of any public authority are scutinised by the Ombudsman his recommendations and their implementation should be discussed by Parliament.

Parliament should reclaim back from government its role of overseeer of the governance of public institutions. Unfortunately over the years a two-party Parliament has siphoned off Parliament’s responsibilities and assigned them to a government made out of just one political party.

AD in Parliament will ensure that Parliament reclaims back its functions and holds government to account continuously.

Originally published in di-ve.com on 22nd February 2013