L-integrità fil-ħajja pubblika

L-OECD (Organizzazzjoni għall-Kooperazzjoni Ekonomika u l-Iżvilupp) għadha kif ippubblikat tlett rapporti dwar aspetti differenti tal-integrità tal-ħajja pubblika f’Malta. Dan għamlitu bħala parti mill-proġett iffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar it-tisħiħ tal-ħidma tal-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

L-ewwel rapport hu dwar kif il-leġislazzjoni eżistenti tista’ titjieb filwaqt li t-tieni wieħed hu dwar it-titjib organizzattiv meħtieġ fl-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. It-tielet rapport fih rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying.

It-tlett rapporti fihom total ta’ 71 rakkomandazzjoni li l-esperti u l-konsulenti tal-OECD iddiskutew mad-diversi persuni u organizzazzjonijiet li ltaqgħu magħhom f’Malta. Mingħajr ma innaqqas mill-mertu ta’ dawn it-tlett rapporti irrid nemfasizza bi kważi ċertezza li l-parti l-kbira ta’ dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet kienu ilhom preżenti fid-dibattitu politiku lokali għal żmien konsiderevoli. Sfortunatament dawn ġew repetutament injorati mill-partiti fil-parlament.

F’dawn il-paġni jiena ktibt diversi drabi dwar il-ħtieġa li nirregolaw il-lobbying fil-pajjiż. Il-lobbying huwa parti essenzjali mill-proċess demokratiku. Jeħtieġ, iżda, li jkun trasparenti. Sentejn ilu, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika Dr George Hyzler, ippubblika dokument konsultattiv dettaljat dwar il-mod kif nistgħu nirregolaw il-lobbying fil-pajjiż. Wara sentejn, iżda,  għadu ma sar xejn: il-proposti tiegħu għadhom qed jiġu “studjati”! Hi sfortuna li s’issa l-partiti fil-parlament ma jidhrux li huma interessati.  

Il-ħolqien tal-uffiċċju ta’ Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika kien pass tajjeb ħafna, avolja kien hemm ħafna dewnien u tkaxkir tas-saqajn sakemm il-liġi għaddiet mill-Parlament.

Dan l-uffiċċju jeħtieġ li jkun allinejat kemm mal-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman kif ukoll mal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika. Meta tqishom flimkien dawn huma tlett funzjonijiet essenzjali biex il-governanza tajba tinfirex u tissaħħaħ fl-oqsma kollha tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika.

It-tlieta li huma qed jagħmlu xogħol utli.  Jistgħu jkunu anke aħjar kieku jkollhom inqas tfixkil kull meta jkunu jeħtieġu informazzjoni biex jeżaminaw dak li jkollhom quddiemhom.  Ir-rapporti tal-OECD jezaminaw il-liġi Maltija li biha twaqqaf l-uffiċċju ta’ Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u jigbdu l-attenzjoni għad-diversi oqsma fejn jista’ jsir titjib biex ikun assigurat li l-indipendenza tal-Kummissarju tkun imħarsa b’mod prattiku.

Il-pubblikazzjoni tal-files Uber, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, wrew li hemm bosta gvernijiet u istituzzjonijiet oħra (inkluż l-Unjoni Ewropeja) li minkejja li għandhom biżibilju liġijiet u regolamenti dwar il-lobbying, xorta nqabdu fuq sieq waħda. Għax li jkollok il-liġijiet li jiregolaw il-lobbying mhux biżżejjed: neħtieġu ukoll ir-rieda politika biex nimplimentawhom. Bosta drabi din ir-rieda politika ma teżistix!  

Il-kontabilità, it-trasparenza u l-governanza tajba huma ferm iktar minn slogans: huma valuri fundamentali li fuqhom jinbena l-istat demokratiku modern.  L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, l-Ombudsman u l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika huma parti integrali mill-infrastruttura demokratika li hi essenzjali biex dawn il-valuri jrabbu għeruq b’saħħithom fl-istituzzjonijiet u s-soċjetà tagħna.

Madwar tnax-il xahar ilu l-Ombudsman kien indika li ma kellux intenzjoni li jaċċetta li l-ħatra tiegħu tkun imġedda. Ghad ma ġiex identifikat min ser jinħatar floku avolja qed jingħadu bosta affarijiet dwar dak li għaddej bejn il-partiti parlamentari  huma u jiddiskutu dwar min jista’ jinħatar.  Sadanittant Dr George Hyzler ser ikollu jwarrab ukoll  għax inħatar mill-Gvern Malti fil-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri. F’dan il-mument delikat ser ikun hemm post ieħor vojt.

Jekk verament nemmnu li f’dan l-istat demokratiku l-istituzzjonijiet għandhom valur, huwa essenzjali li dawn il-vakanzi jimtlew illum qabel għada. F’ġieh is-serjetà fil-ħajja pubblika hemm bżonnhom bla ħafna iktar dewmien.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum 17 ta’ Lulju 2022

Standards Matter

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has just published three reports dealing with various aspects of the integrity of public life in Malta. This was done as part of the EU funded project on “Improving the Integrity and Transparency Framework in Malta”.

The first published report deals with the need to reinforce existing legislation, while the second one deals with the organisational review required at the office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public life. The third report deals with recommendations for the improvement of transparency and integrity in lobbying.

The three reports contain a total of 71 recommendations arrived at by experts and advisors at OECD after having carried out various meetings with stakeholders in Malta. Without in any way diminishing the positive contribution of all three OECD publications I can safely state that the great majority of the recommendations made in the three OECD publications have been present in the local public debate for a considerable time. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored by the parliamentary parties.

I have written on the need to regulate lobbying many times from these columns. Lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process. It needs, however, to be transparent. Two years ago, Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life published a detailed consultation paper on lobbying entitled: Towards the Regulation of lobbying in Malta. Two years down the line nothing has been done to regulate lobbying: his proposals are still being “studied”. Unfortunately, none of the parliamentary parties is remotely interested, so far.

The creation of the office of Commissioner for Standards in Public life was the achievement of a milestone, even though it took too long a time to drive the relevant legislation through Parliament.

The office needs however to be aligned with the Office of the Ombudsman and that of the National Audit Office. Viewed together these are the three essential offices which seek to ensure good governance, in all its aspects, throughout the different levels of public administration.

All three are doing sterling work. They can however do better if they encounter less obstructions whenever they seek information to examine issues at hand. The OECD reports dissect the legislation setting up the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and pinpoint the several areas where improvements are essential in order to ensure that the independence of the Commissioner is protected in practical ways.

Standards matter. 

The Uber files published earlier this week indicate that many other governments and institutions (the EU included) are not up to scratch notwithstanding the at times detailed legislation regulating lobbying. The point being made is that having legislation regulating lobbying on our statute books is not enough: we need the political will to implement it. Many times, this political will is inexistent.

Accountability, transparency and good governance are not just slogans: they are fundamental values which underpin the modern democratic state. The office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the Ombudsman and the National Audit Office are the essential democratic infrastructure to ensure that these fundamental values have strong roots in our institutions.

Around twelve months ago the Ombudsman has signified his intention that he does not desire a renewal of his term of office. His replacement has not been identified yet as a result of the  horse-trading in which the PN and PL are currently engaged in. In the meantime, Dr George Hyzler has been kicked upstairs, being nominated as the Maltese member  at the European Court of Auditors. As a result, very shortly, another vacancy in the Office of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has been created at such a delicate point in time.

If we really believe that, in a democratic state, institutions really matter, it is imperative that these vacancies are addressed at the earliest. Standards matter.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 July 2022

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Il-kontabilità tal-banek għall-ħsara ambjentali

Meta niddibattu l-ħsara ambjentali li qed tiżdied kontinwament madwarna nagħmlu tajjeb li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn ir-regolaturi nkompetenti u lejn ir-regħba tal-hekk imsejħa żviluppaturi. Wasal iż-żmien li ma dawn inżidu l-banek, għax huma l-banek li jiffanzjaw il-proġetti ta’ żvilupp u allura huma jagħmlu din il-ħsara possibli. Anke l-banek, għaldaqstant għandhom l-obbligu li jerfgħu ir-responsabbiltà fuq spallejhom għall-ħsara ambjentali li qed isseħħ: huma qed jiffinanzjawha.

Meta neżaminaw ir-rapporti annwali tal-banek lokali ewlenin hu ċar li dawn huma nteressati biss fil- profitti. Kontinwament taparsi jħossu għall ambjent. Dan jagħmluh biss u esklussivament biex jipproteġu r-reputazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-banek ipinġu lilhom infushom bħala li qegħdin hemm biex ikunu ta’ għajnuna. Regolarment iroxxu ftit flus favur numru ta’ kawżi ġusti. Iżda minkejja din is-sensittività  artifiċjali lejn setturi diversi tal-komunità, il-profitt jibqa’ dejjem prijorità fuq il-lejaltà lejn in-nies u lejn il-komunità.

L-attitudni tagħhom lejn proġetti ta’ żvilupp hi indikattiva ta’ dan. Il-banek rarament jindikaw fl-istqarrijiet pubbliċi inkella fir-rapporti tagħhom jekk u kif jagħtu każ ta’ impatti ambjentali u soċjali meta jkunu qed jikkunsidraw li jgħinu biex ikun iffinanzjat xi proġett ta’ żvilupp.  

Fl-aħħar rapport annwali tiegħu, per eżempju, l-HSBC jirreferi għal dawk li jissejħu Equator Principles. Dawn l-Equator Principles huma sett ta’ kriterji miftehma fuq skala internazzjonali bejn banek u istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji. Huma qafas regolatorju volontarju dwar kif l-istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji għandhom jeżaminaw u jagħtu piz lir-riskji soċjali u ambjentali assoċjati ma’ proġetti li jkunu quddiemhom għall-finanzjament.  Jistabilixxu l-kriterji minimi li għandhom ikunu applikati huma u jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet dwar dawn ir-riskji.  Fost affarijiet oħra, dawn l-Equator Principles jitkellmu dwar kif il-banek u l-istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji għandhom jiddjalogaw mal-utenti (stakeholders) dwar azzjoni effettiva biex ikunu ndirizzati ir-riskji ambjentali u soċjali minn proġetti li jkunu quddiemhom għall-finanzjament.

L-HSBC, sal-lum, ma ippubblikax rapporti jew xi tip ta’ informazzjoni oħra dwar il-mod prattiku kif il-bank qed japplika dawn il-prinċipji f’Malta. Għad irridu naraw kif il-bank qed jassigura ruħu li r-riskji ambjentali u soċjali ġew identifikati u ndirizzati u speċifikament kif il-klijenti żviluppaturi tal-bank qed jiddjalogaw mal-utenti (stakeholders).

Fir-rapport annwali tal-Bank of Valletta, min-naħa l-oħra, insibu spjegazzjoni tal-miri tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, deskrizzjoni dwar il-kawżi ġusti appoġġjati mill-bank u rendikont tal-azzjoni mittieħda biex il-friegħi tal-bank ikunu effiċjenti fl-użu tal-enerġija u joperaw b’mod li ma jagħmlux ħsara ambjentali. Ir-rapport jiddeskrivi ukoll is-servizzi tal-bank biex il-klijenti tiegħu ikollhom aċċess aħjar għal finanzi biex jimplementaw diversi miżuri ambjentali. Ir-rapport tal-BoV ma jagħmel l-ebda referenza għall-Equator Principles jew xi qafas regolatorju alternattiv.

Il-Lombard Bank, min-naħa l-oħra, fl-aħħar rapport annwali tiegħu jemfasizza l-attenzjoni tal-management biex jimminimizza l-impatti ambjentali mill-operazzjonijiet tiegħu. Jgħidilna li hu ukoll jgħin kawżi ġusti! L-anqas il-Lombard Bank ma jirreferi għall- Equator Principles jew xi linji gwida oħra dwar x’għandu jsir biex il-klijenti żviluppaturi jkunu sorveljati aħjar mill-bank.

Fuq livell ta’ Unjoni Ewropeja il-Bank Ċentrali Ewropew għadu kif approva dokument b’linja gwida dwar ir-riskji klimatiċi u ambjentali li hu applikabbli għas-settur bankarju kollu fl-Unjoni minn din is-sena. Primarjament dan id-dokument jirrigwarda ir-riskji klimatiċi.

Il-banek għandhom responsabbiltà li jassiguraw illi meta jiffinanzjaw proġetti ta’ żvilupp, il-finanzi li jipprovdu ma jkunux użati biex issir jew biex tkun aċċelerata ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali. Meta din il-ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali sseħħ, ir-responsabbilta m’għandiex tintrefa biss mill-iżviluppatur u mir-regolaturi imma ukoll mill-bank. Għax anke l-bank għandu jkun kontabbli. Wara kollox hu l-bank permezz tal-finanzjament li jipprovdi li jagħmel l-iżvilupp possibli. Kull meta l-banek ikunu kompliċi fi ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali ikollhom huma wkoll jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà. Mingħajr l-involviment tagħhom, wara kollox, il-ħsara ma isseħħx!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Awwissu 2021

Holding banks to account for environmental damage

When discussing the current environmental onslaught developing around us, we rightly focus on incompetent regulators and greedy developers. It is about time that we also address the role of the banks: they make environmental degradation possible as they generally finance the development works which cause the said degradation. As a result, it is about time that banks too shoulder their responsibility for the ever-increasing environmental degradation.

Going through the annual reports of the major local banks it is more than clear that banks are only interested in profits. They engage in continuous greenwashing in order to try and minimise their reputational damage.

The banks portrait themselves as being there to help. They regularly sprinkle some cash to sponsor worthy causes. Notwithstanding this artificial sensitivity towards various sectors of the community, profits always take a priority over people in the banks’ operations.  Financing of development projects are a case in point. Banks rarely indicate in their public statements and reports whether and to what extent they factor in environmental and social considerations when deciding whether to make finance available for any particular development project.

HSBC, for example, refers to the applicability of the Equator Principles in its latest annual report. The Equator Principles are a risk management framework adopted by a number of financial institutions “for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects.” They are intended to provide a minimum standard for due diligence and monitoring to support responsible risk decision-making.  Among other matters the Equator Principles deal with stakeholder engagement and require effective action dealing with environmental and social risks by developers who seek financial facilities from banks.

HSBC has not to date publicly reported on the matter as to the practical manner in which it applies these principles in Malta. We have yet to see how the bank establishes that environmental and social risks have been assessed and specifically the extent to which the bank ensures that proper stakeholder engagement has been carried out by its developer clients!

The Bank of Valletta annual report on the other hand gives us its take on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, describes at some length the worthy causes which it supports and explains the action taken to ensure that its branches are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. It also describes its services which facilitate client access to finance environmentally friendly initiatives. The Bank of Valletta Annual Report does not make any reference to the Equator Principles.

Lombard Bank in its latest annual report emphasises that it takes great care in minimising the environmental impacts of its operations. It also stresses its extensive contributions and initiatives to a number of worthy causes. Lombard Bank does not refer to the Equator Principles or any other benchmark or standard which it applies when dealing with its developer clients.

On an EU level the European Central Bank has very recently approved a “Guide on Climate-Related and Environmental Risks” applicable to the banking sector throughout the European Union as from this year.  As its title indicates it is primarily concerned with climate-related risks.

Banks have a responsibility to ensure that when financing development projects, the finance made available is not utilised to cause or accelerate environmental and/or social damage. Whenever such environmental and/or social damage arises it is not just the developers and the regulators which should shoulder responsibility for the said damage. Even banks should be held to account. They make it possible! Banks should pay the price whenever they are collaborators in the ever-increasing environmental degradation. They make it happen!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 August 2021

Il-governanza tajba tinbena fuq it-transparenza

It-transparenza hi l-pedament essenzjali għal governanza tajba. B’kuntrast ma dan, il-governanza ħażina, ġeneralment, tkun akkumpanjata mis-segretezza u dan billi jinżamm jew ikun ostakolat l-aċċess għal informazzjoni ta’ kull xorta, liema informazzjoni għandha tkun pubblika.

Il-ħmieġ assoċjat mal-Panama Papers sirna nafu bih fil-mument li nkixfet l-informazzjoni dwar dawk li fittxew l-irkejjen tad-dinja fejn hi inkoraġġita s-segretezza: irkejjen fejn jinħbew il-flus ġejjin mill-korruzzjoni u mill-evażjoni tat-taxxi. Bl-istess mod l-iskandlu tal-Vitals dwar l-isptarijiet kif ukoll it-taħwid kollu assoċjat mal-power station ma kienux iseħħu kieku l-Partit Laburista fil-gvern għażel it-trasparenza flok is-segretezza bħala għodda essenzjali għat-tmexxija. Segretezza li kultant twaħħxek.

Il-kontabilità li tant niftaħru biha, wara kollox, hi dwar ir-responsabbiltà. Tfisser l-għarfien tar-responsabbiltà għal dak li nagħmlu. Dan ma jistax iseħħ jekk ma ssaltanx it-trasparenza, dejjem, u mhux biss meta jaqbel.

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra, l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ippubblikat dokument bil-ħsibijiet tagħha dwar il-ħtieġa li tkun inkoraġġita u msaħħa l-governanza tajba. Kien f’loku li l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ emfasizzat li l-governanza tajba hi msejsa fuq it-trasparenza, l-kontabilità u s-saltna tad-dritt.

Spiss jingħad li l-informazzjoni hi poter. It-transparenza hi dwar dan il-fatt: li jkun assigurat li l-poter jinfirex. Għax hu biss meta jkollna għarfien ta’ dak li qed jiġri li nkunu nistgħu neżerċitaw id-dritt bażiku tagħna bħala ċittadini li neżiġu illi kull min jiddeċiedi, u allura jeżerċita l-poter, jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu, dejjem.

Il-politiċi mhumiex l-uniċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawn jinkludu liċ-ċivil u lil dawk li jmexxu l-awtoritajiet u l-istituzzjonijiet imwaqqfa biex jiffaċilitaw l-amministrazzjoni tal-istat fit-twettieq tal-funzjonijiet u d-dmirijiet tiegħu.

It-trasparenza teħtieġ li tinfirex anke fid-dinja tal-kummerċ. Spiss nisimgħu lil min jemfasizza li l-politika m’għandiex tindaħal fis-settur privat, fid-dinja tan-negozju. Għal uħud għadu mhuwiex ovvju li anke s-settur privat, u in-partikolari id-dinja tan-negozju, għandu joqgħod lura milli “jindaħal” fil-politika. Fost affarijiet oħra dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun regolat il-lobbying. Dan ma jsirx billi il-lobbying ikun ipprojibit imma billi kull attività ta’ lobbying tkun transparenti. Għax jekk il-lobbying isir sewwa jista’ ikollu impatt posittiv fuq it-tfassil tad-deċiżjonijiet. Hi is-segretezza li tagħti fama ħażina lill-lobbying, segretezza intenzjonata biex ixxaqleb id-deċiżjonijiet lejn interessi kummerċjali u fl-istess ħin biex tostor it-taħwid.

Huwa f’dan id-dawl li l-inizjattiva tal- Ministru l-ġdid għall-Ambjent Aaron Farrugia li jżomm lista tal-laqgħat kollha tiegħu ma’ dawk li jfittxu li jiltaqgħu miegħu, inkluż mal-utenti, u li jippubblika din l-informazzjoni fil-forma ta’ reġistru ta’ trasparenza hi pass kbir ‘il quddiem. Din l-inizjattiva hi f’waqtha u hi ta’ eżempju lill-politiċi oħrajn biex huma ukoll jipprattikaw it-transparenza. Dan imma għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass li jeħtieġ li jkun segwit bil-pubblikazzjoni ta’ proposti u dokumenti li l-Ministru jirċievi waqt dawn il-laqgħat, kif ukoll il-minuti tal-laqgħat li jkunu saru.

Hu magħruf li l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika qed iħejji biex jippubblika abbozz ta’ proposti dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying biex eventwalment tkun tista’ issir konsultazzjoni pubblika dwarhom. Nittama li dan iwassal għal sitwazzjoni fejn f’dan il-qasam Aaron Farrugia ma jibqax l-eċċezzjoni. Il-bqija tal-membri tal-Kabinett m’għandhomx jibqagħlhom għażla. Għandhom ikunu kostretti li huma wkoll jaġixxu biex it-transparenza fil-ħidma politika tkun ir-regola u mhux l-eċċezzjoni.

Għax huwa biss meta it-transparenza jkollha egħruq fondi u b’saħħithom li nistgħu nibdew intejbu d-demokrazija tagħna billi neliminaw id-difetti li tħallew jakkumulaw tul is-snin.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Jannar 2020

Good governance is founded on transparency

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain.

The Panama Papers saga saw the light of day when information on those seeking secretive jurisdictions was made public. These locations are sought to hide  the fruits of corruption or tax evasion from public scrutiny. Similarly, the Vitals hospital scandal, as well as the power station scandal, with all their ramifications, would undoubtedly not have occurred if the Labour Party in government had embraced transparency instead of entrenching secrecy as its basic operational rule.

Transparency is a basic characteristic of good governance whereas secrecy is the distinguishing mark of bad governance, inevitably leading to unethical behaviour and corruption.

Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce published its views on the need to reinforce good governance. Pertinently it emphasised that good governance is founded on transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

It is said that knowledge (and information) is power. This is what transparency is all about: ensuring that power is shared by all as it is only when we are aware as to what is going on that we can exercise our basic right as citizens: holding decision-takers to account. Being in possession of information gives each and every one of us the power to act and exercise our civic rights.

Holders of political office are not the only decision-takers. Decision-takers include the civil service as well as those running authorities and institutions established to facilitate the administration of the state in carrying out its functions and duties.

Even business leaders should be transparent in their actions and decision-taking. Many a time we have heard the expression “we should take politics out of business”, signifying that politics should not interfere in the private sector.

To some it is less obvious that the reverse of that is just as important, meaning that we should also “take business out of politics”. Among other things, this signifies that we should regulate lobbying. This is not done by prohibiting lobbying but by focusing the spotlight of transparency on all lobbying activity. If lobbying is done properly, it could have a beneficial impact on policy making. It is secrecy that gives lobbying a bad reputation: a secrecy intended to derail decisions in a manner beneficial to the different lobby groups as well as to facilitate and shroud underhand deals.

In this respect the initiative of the newly appointed Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to log all of his meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders and to publish a Transparency Register is a welcome step in laying solid foundations for the practice of transparency by holders of political office. It is, however, only a first step and must be eventually followed by the publication in real time of proposals received as well as the minutes of meetings held.

It is known that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will shortly be publishing proposals for the regulating of lobbying. Hopefully, this should lead to a situation where Aaron Farrugia would not be an exception. Others will be compelled to not only follow in his footsteps but to proceed much further in entrenching transparency in the working methods of holders of political office.

A deep-rooted commitment to transparency is the only way by which we can start repairing our defective democracy.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 January 2020

Eco-schools programme: seeding the future

The environmental education of our younger generation is the most rewarding investment and the eco-schools programme run by local environmental NGO Nature Trust, is one such fruitful investment.

In Malta, the eco-schools programme has been in existence for some 17 years. As a result, 76 Maltese schools are flying a Green Flag – a symbol of environmental awareness and commitment. This is an investment in our country’s future that will yield so much in the years to come.

Introducing this year’s ceremony, during which a number of schools were awarded a Green Flag for their environmental achievements, Nature Executive President Vincent Attard emphasised the fact that “The Eco-Schools programme is instrumental at providing students with tools to think about environmental issues and come to conclusions and solutions. This can be witnessed that, today, it is the younger generations that are questioning the actions of the country’s leaders and putting pressure on them. This awareness is growing each year and the sooner leaders take heed of these calls, the faster we will start mitigating not only environmentally but also socially and economically. Quoting the children themselves in the last EkoSkola parliament – We want to be heard not just liked.”

Eco-School is a global programme currently engaging 19.5 million young people across 67 countries. For nearly 25 years Eco-Schools have been empowering young people to improve their environmental awareness and, in so doing, receive the international Eco-Schools Green Flag award.

The Eco-School programme develops the skills of our younger generation, raises environmental awareness, improves the school environment and creates a whole host of other benefits not just for our educational institutions but, moreover, for our community at large.

The eco-school seven steps educational process targets a change of lifestyle and the guidelines available on implementing these seven steps is very informative.

The first basic step is to set up a participative democracy in our schools through which all stakeholders are actively involved, with the students taking a democratic lead. Assisted by educators, students interact with the different stakeholders and, in so doing, identify the environmental issues that need to be addressed in their own little world and beyond. They are then trained to think, discuss and ultimately arrive at conclusions and results.

Reading through the list of initiatives taken in our schools as a result of the Eco-School Programme is quite impressive. The programme has identified issues relating to water, waste, recycling, energy efficiency and climate change, heritage appreciation, and many more. The lessons learnt first-hand by our students are then taken from the school to their homes, their families and society in general.

Environmental education is about much more than a respect for nature. Nature is not something separate, isolated and compartmentalised during excursions: it also features in our way of life.

As a result of the environmental education which the eco-schools programme provides for our students, our younger generation is being equipped with the knowledge and awareness that environmental damage can be reversed. They are learning that they can be active agents of the change we so desperately require in halting – and eventually reversing – the accumulated environmental damage.

These are indeed the seeds of a bright future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd November 2019

Paceville: protecting the underdogs

paceville-mp-land-use

As the short time allotted for public consultation on the proposed first draft of the Paceville Masterplan approaches its conclusion, it is time for some commonsense to prevail at the Planning Authority.

On TV, last Thursday, we heard the Authority’s Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg plotting the first steps of a U-turn on a number of contentious issues contained in the draft. This U-turn is welcome, as it is clearly being planned on the basis of the reactions of the public and the environmental NGOs to the proposed Paceville Masterplan.

The most serious point at issue is the extent to which the nine projects around which the Masterplan is woven will engulf properties belonging to residents and small scale business people. It will hopefully now be clear, once and for all, that no one will be coerced through threats of compulsory purchase (veiled or otherwise) to make way for any one of the nine projects.

Mr Buttigieg declared that “no-one would be forced to sell”. While this declaration is welcome, it is certainly not sufficient. Everyone is aware that there are many ways through which pressure may be brought to bear on residents and business people. It is certainly time for all stakeholders to be vigilant and present a common front.  Being constantly on the look-out may help  identify those triggering incidents such as that of the car which was recently set ablaze in St George’s Park at Paceville at the same time as residents were meeting elsewhere to discuss their reactions to the proposed Paceville Masterplan.

The Planning Authority should be proactive. It should be at the forefront when it comes to taking initiatives that make sense. A case in point is the need to implement the public domain legislation recently enacted by Parliament  in order to better protect both the coastline and the foreshore to a minimum distance of fifteen metres from the shoreline.

It is well known that there is just one stretch of coastline within the draft Paceville Masterplan boundaries that is not intensively developed: the Cresta Quay site, also referred to as the Villa Rosa site 3. This site is crying out for protection and it can be protected, yet the draft masterplan – ignoring public domain legislation  – earmarks this site for a number of high rise blocks.

This proposal, in addition to reducing the recently approved public domain legislation to hot air, runs counter to the draft masterplan philosophy of siting high-rise developments away from the coast. It seems that someone may have been pressured into having second thoughts when the Masterplan was being drafted. There is no other reasonable explanation for this contradiction.

The public consultation has revealed that the drafting of the Paceville Masterplan was flawed, as it ignored issues of fundamental importance.  However, there is till time for the Planning Authority to align the Masterplan to the expectations of stakeholders. The belated declaration by Johann Buttigieg that (after all) he too has reservations on some aspects of the Masterplan is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will be reflected in an overhaul of the draft and in the production of a new one which respects the stakeholders who have invested in Paceville over the years.

The investors promoting the nine projects which the Planning Authority identified may contribute to the regeneration of Paceville only if they tread carefully in full respect of residents and small-scale business people who have shaped the present-day Paceville, warts and all.

So far, this has not happened, as some of the developers think that they have some God-given right to ride roughshod over one and all. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority has generally obliged, as it has rarely been on the side of the those bearing the brunt of the bulldozer culture that has to date reigned supreme in land-use planning issues.

We await the second draft of the Paceville Masterplan, in the hope that the Planning Authority will turn a new page and assume its rightful place in protecting the underdogs.     

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 November 2016

Profits with principles

stakeholders

The business of business is not just business. It is much more.  It is much wider.

Business is responsible towards its shareholders but it is accountable towards its stakeholders: employees, customers, consumers, trade unions, environmental groups and also future generations. Business must develop a dialogue with this wider stakeholder group. Such a dialogue must be based on trust and, consequently, it must be both transparent and leading to genuine accountability.

 It is not just governments that need to be accountable! CSR reporting is a tool that can be of considerable assistance in achieving this purpose.

AD’s Electoral Manifesto proposes putting Corporate Social Responsibility on a sound footing in Malta.

“It is necessary that all companies listed on the Stock Exchange as well as parastatal organisations such as Enemalta and the Water Services Corporation together with all companies employing more than 1000 employees publish such information. It is important to underline that environmental reporting is as important as financial reporting and hence it should also be audited.”

Disclosure and stakeholder engagement are basic elements of CSR.  CSR reporting will define the duty of disclosure of the major business and industrial operators. Through this proposal AD in Parliament  will ensure that transparency is the order of the day not just in government but also in the private sector.

 As profits and principles can co-exist.

published in di-ve.com on February 1, 2013