From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Għal Albert Buttiġieġ il-bieb tiegħi miftuħ

Bħalkom segwejt dak li qal Albert Buttiġieġ: li kien infurmat li uffiċjal mhux elett tal-PN, f’laqgħa ma spekulatur fl-inħawi ta’ San Ġiljan ħadha fuq spallejh li jwarrab lil Buttiġieġ u jassigura li jagħlaq ħalqu. Għax il-ħidma ġenwina tiegħu bħala Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan qed iddejjaq lil min qed ipappiha sew.

Albert Buttiġieg ma għalaqx ħalqu u għamel sewwa. Imma l-bsaten fir-roti fl-elezzjoni kienu bosta, kif spjega hu stess.

Issa tkellem l-oraklu, Ray Bezzina, l-id il-leminija ta’ George Pullicino fil-passat u ta’ Bernard Grech illum. “Mhux jien” qalilna! Talab li jkun investigat Albert Buttiġieġ biex jikxef dak li jaf.

Albert diġa qal li mhux ser jikxef l-identità ta’ min tah l-informazzjoni, u jagħmel sewwa.

Imma fuq insistenza ta’ Ray Bezzina il-PN ser jiftaħ inkjesta interna!

Il-PN qiegħed fir-rokna u jaf li ma jistax joħroġ minnha. Daħħluh fiha dawk ta’ bla skrupli, dawk li fid-deher juru wiċċ ta’qdusija, u fil-magħluq kollha konfoffi man-nies tal-flus.

Ma’ Albert tkellimt. Nifhmu. Nifhem minn xiex għaddej. Fil-ġimgħat li ġejjin il-PN ser jipprova jagħmlu kkapuljat.

Għal min hu ġenwin bħal Albert, il-bieb tiegħi miftuħ.

Abusive continuity

The distribution of multiple cheques to every household by the Labour Government on the eve of the general election is more than abusing the power of incumbency. Through the said distribution, the power of incumbency is being transformed into a corrupt practice, specifically intended to unduly influence voters.

What, in normal circumstances should be a simple administrative act is being transformed into blatant political propaganda, at public expense, straight into your letterbox. A covering letter signed by Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana says it all. A Banana Republic in all but name!

Why should such handouts be distributed on the eve of elections if not to influence voters?

Even if one were to accept that such handouts are acceptable, it is certainly not in any way justifiable to plan their distribution specifically on the eve of an election. This goes against the basic principles of good governance.

The power of incumbency is the executive power of a government seeking re-election. Incumbents always have an advantage. The manner in which they handle it defines their governance credentials.

This has been a government characterised by bad governance throughout its term in office. Right from the very beginning, on 13 March 2013. I consider the full 9 years as one continuum. This was reinforced by Robert Abela himself who emphasised that his leadership of the Labour Party seeks to continue the “achievements” of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity was his declared mission.

On its first days in office, Labour started off on its Panama tracks. The secret Panama companies set up by Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and someone else, known as the (mysterious) owner of Egrant, went on to rock Labour over the years.

The Electrogas saga and its link to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia intertwined with the Panama debacle.

It is now clearly established that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was directly linked to her investigative journalism. Her investigations led her to identify the governance credentials of various holders of political office and their links with big business. Defining their relationship as being too close for comfort would be a gross understatement.

As emphasised in the investigation report on the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, over the years, a culture of impunity has developed in these islands. This has led to misbehaviour in public office being normalised. It has also led to considerable resistance in the shouldering of political responsibility by holders of political office, whenever they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar! Rosianne Cutajar and Justyne Caruana being the latest examples, as amply proven by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler.

To add insult to injury Cutajar and Caruana were the recipients of generous termination benefits, notwithstanding that their term of political office ended in disgrace. Caruana received terminal benefits twice in the span of a short time, as she established a national record of resigning twice from Robert Abela’s Cabinet!

With this track record one should not have expected otherwise from the Muscat/Abela administration. With the abusive distribution of cheques on the eve of the general election Labour’s current term is approaching a fitting end.

The Labour Party in government has consistently acted abusively. Robert Abela has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity has been ensured, as promised.

published in Malta Today : Sunday 20 March 2022

Il-politka bl-ixkupa

Bħala partit għażilna l-ixkupa bħala s-simbolu politiku għall-elezzjoni tas-26 ta’ Marzu. L-ixkupa hi għodda tal-indafa. Tgħinna nnaddfu. Hi l-għodda tal-kennies, il-ħaddiem umli li jnaddaf it-toroq tagħna wara li aħna nkunu ħammiġnihom

Kull politiku għandu jkun kapaċi japprezza l-indafa. Għandu jkun kapaċi jmidd għonqu għax xogħol u jkun il-kennies tal-ħajja pubblika. Il-membri tal-parlament għandhom ikunu l-kenniesa tal-politika, determinati li jnaddfu, li jħarsu l-integrità tal-ħajja pubblika u fuq kollox jassiguraw li jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa f’waqthom, mingħajr tkaxkir tas-saqajn.  

Il-Manifest ta’ ADPD ġie ippubblikat f’nofs il-ġimgħa iwassal messaġġ ċar li Xkupa ħadra tnaddaf.

Hemm ħafna x’jeħtieġ li jsir biex dan il-pajjiż jinġieb lura għan-normal. Partiti oħra għandhom viżjoni u attitudni differenti u jwasslu messaġġi li ġeneralment jikkuntrastaw ma tagħna. Hemm iżda oqsma fejn hemm qbil u dan hu tajjeb. Għandi nifhem li ilkoll wara kollox nixtiequ l-ġid lil dan il-pajjiż avolja dan ma jkunx dejjem ċar.

Għandna nifhmu li qegħdin naħdmu għall-istess pajjiż, anke jekk b’viżjoni differenti u li kulltant tikkuntrasta! Għandna nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex nikkontribwixxu għal dibattitu pubbliku pożittiv. Il-kritika tagħna għal dak li jingħad hi essenzjali, imma hi kritika li trid issir dejjem b’mod responsabbli.

L-aħħar xhur tal-ħidma parlamentari kienet iddominata minn diskussjoni dwar rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dwar l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ uħud mill-membri parlamentari. Dawn ir-rapporti wasslu għar-riżenja ta’ żewġ membri tal-Kabinett u ta’ Segretarju Permanenti.  Kien hemm reżistenza biex isiru dawn ir-riżenji. Hi sfortuna li l-Prim  Ministru xejn ma kien deċiżiv fiż-żewġ każi: ħa passi biss wara pressjoni sostanzjali mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Hu fatt magħruf li d-dinja tan-negozju u l-poter politku huma viċin wisq ta’ xulxin. Dan hu ta’ ostaklu għall-kontabilità, għat-trasparenza u ġhall-osservanza tal-etika fil-ħajja pubblika. Aħna f’ADPD ilna s-snin ngħiduh dan. Anke is-soċjetà ċivili ilha ssemma leħinha dwar dan. Issa anke l-Kummissjoni ta’ inkjesta li investigat iċ-ċirkustanzi li wasslu għall-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia ikkonfermat din il-konnessjoni mhux mixtieqa bejn il-politika u d-dinja tan-negozju. Qegħdin viċin wisq!   

Għandna ħtieġa ta’ Parlament li jkollu sensittività etika.  Għandna bżonn iktar membri parlamentari ta’ integrità, kapaċi jgħarblu b’mod konsistenti l-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Neħtieġu istituzzjonijiet b’karattru u b’sinsla. Għandna bżonn ta’ Parlament li jinkludi kandidati ta’ ADPD eletti mid-distretti differenti. Kandidati li mhux qegħdin fil-ġirja għal xi interess personali, tagħhom jew ta’ oħrajn, imma biss għas-servizz tal-komunità kollha.

NagħmeI emfasi fuq il-verb “jinkludi” u dan billi l-kandidati ta’ ADPD mhumiex l-uniċi li jistgħu jagħtu kontribut pożittiv għall-iżvilupp tal-politka f’pajjiżna.  Nitkellem b’rispett dwar il-kandidati l-oħra ippreżentati mill-partiti politiċi l-oħrajn. Il-parti l-kbira minnhom huma nisa u irġiel iddedikati li qed jagħtu servizz ġenwin lill-komunità tagħna huma ukoll.

Il-manifest elettorali ta’ ADPD jittratta numru mhux żgħir ta’ proposti li għandhom impatt dirett fuq il-ħajja taċ-ċittadini tagħna. Mhux manifest ta’ Father Christmas iqassam ir-rigali imma hu presentazzjoni ta’ viżjoni li irridu nimxu fuqha.

L-agenda tagħna hi li nkunu ta’ servizz għall-komunità kollha.

L-indafa fil-politika hi essenzjali. Mingħajr indafa ma nistgħux naħdmu sewwa. Aħna irridu li nkunu l-għodda għat-tiġdid tal-politika fil-pajjiż. L-ixkupa ħadra li tnaddaf. B’politika li tagħti servizz illum  waqt li tkun attenta dwar l-impatti fuq għada. B’hekk nistgħu nassiguraw li l-ħidma tal-lum ma xxekkilx lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri mid-dritt tagħhom li jieħdu id-deċiżjonijiet li jkunu meħtieġa minnhom.

F’dan il-mument kritiku il-politika bl-ixkupa hi l-unika triq vijabbli l-quddiem. Il-politika Maltija għandha bżonn tindifa nobis!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Marzu 2022

Regulating lobbying

When Parliament, some years back, approved the Standards in Public Life legislation it did not arrive at any conclusions on the regulation of lobbying. It postponed consideration of this important matter by delegating the matter to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – then still to be appointed. The Commissioner had to draft a set of lobbying guidelines.

It is now almost two years since the publication by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life of a consultation document entitled “Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Maltain which document Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner, outlines his views as to how lobbying should be regulated in Malta.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has requested technical support from the EU’s Directorate General for Structural Reform in the area of “public integrity”. A technical support team from OECD engaged by the EU is currently in Malta to assist and advise the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.  I have had the opportunity of a very fruitful discussion with one of the OECD lobbying experts earlier during the week.

Hopefully in the weeks ahead the Commissioner will be in a position to submit a clear proposal indicating the way ahead for regulating lobbying in Malta.

In his consultation document of two years ago the Commissioner rightly emphasises that due to the particular circumstances of the country, the small size of the country and the population in particular, decision-takers are easily accessible. This leads to the conclusion that there is limited need to regulate the professional lobbyist. Rather, opines the Commissioner, there is a need to address contacts between decision-takers and private individuals who have such easy access.

The Commissioner makes the point that this should be done carefully without obstructing or hindering the direct contact between the politician as decision-taker and the voter at constituency level. This is a valid point but not without its dangers and pitfalls. At constituency level democracy is strengthened. It is also where clientelism is carefully nurtured. This is also a basic characteristic of this small country.

Lobbying is about influencing the decision-taker. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. This is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to politicians, parliamentarians and administrators by those who have an interest in the decisions under consideration.  

Hence the need for lobbying to be transparent and above-board. This is normally done through ensuring that meetings held by holders of political office or senior administrators are well documented and that the resulting minutes and supporting documents are available for public scrutiny.

Formal lobbying would be thus addressed. But that leaves informal lobbying which is the real headache. This can only be regulated if those lobbied are willing to submit themselves to the basic rules of transparency. Self-declarations by those lobbied would in such circumstances be the only way to keep lobbying in check!

This is however not all.

There are more sinister ways through which lobbying is carried out. Well organised sectors of industry and business employ former decision-takers as advisors or in some other high-sounding senior position. This ensures that the “advisor” can share his knowledge and contacts with his “new employer” thereby facilitating the effectiveness of focused lobbying. This practice is normally referred to as “revolving-door recruitment” and is an integral part of the lobbying process which needs regulating the soonest.

There are countless examples of this practice both locally and abroad, in respect of which I have already written various times. This aspect tends to be regulated by establishing a reasonable time-frame during which the former decision-taker or administrator cannot seek employment in areas of economic activity in respect of which he had political or high-level administrative or regulatory responsibilities.

The regulation of lobbying is essential in a democracy. Unregulated, lobbying can, and generally does, develop into corruption.

Lobbying can be a legitimate activity. Adequate regulation of lobbying, properly applied, ensures that it remains within legitimate boundaries.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 November 2021

Il-qrubija bejn il-poter politiku u l-poter tan-negozju wasslu biex nawwru l-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji tal-pajjiż : Silta (5) mill-inkjesta

Kondotta inaċċettabbli tal-Prim Ministru

Għall-Bord il-kondotta tal-allura Prim Ministru f’din iċ-ċirkustanza u l-mod abbużiv kif baqa’ jipproteġi liċ-Chief of Staff tiegħu u jsostnih fil-kariga importanti li kellu fl-amministrazzjoni sakemm ġie arrestat in konnessjoni mal-assassinju, hi inaċċettabbli, kundannabbli u tirrażenta nuqqas gravi w abbuż fl-eżerċizzju tal-funzjonijiet tiegħu bħala kap tal-gvern u garanti talgovernanza tajba. Hawn mhux si tratta ta’ ġudizzju politiku żbaljat li jeżorbita mit-termini ta’ referenza ta’ dan il-Bord. Si tratta fl-agħar ipotesi għal Dr Muscat għall-kopertura, protezzjoni ta’ persuni li allegatament ikkommettew reati gravi. Il-Bord baqa’ żbalordit bir-risposta li ta għad-domanda jekk kienx tkellem mas-Sur Fenech u lis-Sur Schembri dwar 17 Black wara l-assassinju meta bdew joħorġu aktar dettalji dwar min kien is-sid ta’ din il-kumpanija. Dan anke in vista tal-fatt li kienet teżisti ħbiberija u linja ta’ kommunikazzjoni diretta bejniethom anke permezz ta’ WhatsApp li baqgħet anke għal xi żmien meta kien persuna ta’ interess fl-omiċidju. Dr. Muscat wieġeb hekk: “Le. IsSur Fenech qatt ma staqsejtu u qatt ma tkellimt miegħu fuq dan il-punt. Lil Keith Schembri li kien jaqa’ taħti, staqsejtu wara li ħareġ dan kollu u reġa’ qal li kienet kwistjoni ta’ negozju bejniethom it-tnejn u qalli li ma għandha x’taqsam xejn mal-Electorgas”.

Is-Sur Schembri fil-verità jibqa’ jsostni hekk ukoll anke sal-lum. Mhux ilkompitu tal-Bord li jesprimi ruħu fuq x’inhi l-verità f’dan ir-rigward. Il-punt kruċjali hu illi meta saret l-akkuża, xhur qabel l-assassinju, l-Prim Ministru m’għamel xejn meta missu għamel ħafna. Kien bħal minimu obbligat jirrapporta l-allegazzjoni formalment lill-Pulizija b’talba li tinvestigaha b’urġenza jekk xejn għax kienet tista thedded l-istabilità tal-governanza fil-pajjiż. Il-Pulizija dak iż-żmien taħt il-Kummissarju Lawrence Cutajar għamlu ftit li xejn. Ċertament m’għamlux dak li kellhom jagħmlu. Ċertament għamel inqas mill-Kummissarju ta’ qablu Michael Cassar li wara li ġew żvelati ddettalji dwar il-Panama Papers u ġie informa li l-FIAU kienu qed jaħdmu fuqha, fetaħ file bl-isem ta’ ‘Operation Green’. Hu kien irriżenja xi tlett ġimgħat wara li kien irċieva r-rapporti dwar is-Sur Keith Schembri u l-Ministru Mizzi. Lill-Bord tah x’jifhem illi ma felaħx għall-pressjoni li akkużi gravi ta’ din ix-xorta ġabet fuqu. L-istess kif kien għamel Manfred Galdes.

Abbuż ta’ poter li jekk pruvat ibiddel ix-xenarju

Dawn ir-referenzi qsar għaċ-ċirkostanzi tal-Panama Papers u l-kumpanija 17 Black qed isiru f’dan l-istadju mill-Bord għaliex huma indikattivi ta’ kif kien jiġi abbużat l-eżerċizzju tal-poter fl-ogħla livell biex jiġu protetti persuni fil-qalba tal-amministrazzjoni. Huma importanti wkoll għaliex jekk wieħed jikkunsidra illi tnejn mill-persuni involuti kienu jew jista’ jkun li għadhom persuni ta’ interess għall-pulizija fl-investigazzjoni tagħhom tal-omiċidju li ġie ippjanat tul iż-żmien u jekk l-involviment tagħhom jiġi b’xi mod konstatat minn awtorità kompetenti – salvi dejjem il-preżunzjoni tal-innoċenza u d-dritt tagħhom għal smigħ xieraq u ġust – il-kwistjoni ma tibqax biss li jiġi determinat jekk xi att jew ommissjoni illeċitu minn jew fi ħdan xi entità talIStat iffaċilitatx l-assassinju meta kellha tipprevenih. Ix-xenarju jinbidel għal wieħed ta’ parteċipazzjoni attiva ta’ persuni li jikkomponi enti tal-IStat filkommissjoni tad-delitt. Dan apparti, fuq bażi fattwali u mhux issa ipotetika, l-inattività pależi tal-Prim Ministru u tal-entitajiet tal-iStat, fosthom il-Pulizija li għandhom il-funzjoni li jħarsu lis-soċjetà mill-kriminalità u jiggarantixxu l-ordni pubbliku, li jieħdu passi effettivi u fil-ħin kontra persuni ta’ poter fil-politika u fin-negozju, tnissel sens qawwi ta’ impunità, mhux biss fl-istess persuni involuti, imma wkoll f’kullmin kien intenzjonat li jaġixxi biex jipparteċipa f’xi aġir kriminuż. Kif jirriżulta mill-provi dawn fittxew li jkollhom konnessjonijiet fl-ogħla livell ta’ ħbiberija jew interess ma’ min kellu s-setgħa biex ikun jistgħu jaġixxu flassigurazzjoni reali jew perċepita li ser ikunu minnhom protetti. Dawn iċ-ċirkostanzi huma relevanti wkoll għaliex huma prova tanġibbli tażżwieġ li seħħ bejn l-eżerċizzju tal-poter politiku u l-eżerċizzju tal-poter ekonomiku. Żwieġ inċestuż li kien fil-qalba tal-investigazzjonijiet talġurnalista assassinata u li ngħad, ma setax ma kienx il-movent prinċipali talqtil tagħha.

Theddida għall-eżerċizzju tal-poter ekonomiku

Il-Bord konvint kif inhu, illi fuq bażi qawwija ta’ probabbilitajiet jekk mhux ċertezza, l-assassinju tas-Sinjura Caruana Galizia hu inevitabblilment marbut ma’ dawk li hi kienet tqis li huma skandli serji ta’ amministrazzjoni ħażina, riżultat tal-qrubija bejn il-poter politiku u l-poter tan-negozju kbir li wasslu biex nawwru sewwa l-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji tal-pajjiż, hi inevitabbli l-konklużjoni illi l-ġurnalista sabet in-nemesi fatali tagħha fil-politika dikjarata tal-gvern sa minn qabel l-elezzjoni tal-2013, illi hu kien determinat li jkun għal kollox business friendly. Politika li kellha l-għan li tiffavorixxi n-negozju, tinkorraġġixxi s-sħubija tal-gvern mal-investiment privat u tirrealizza proġetti kbar li joħolqu l-ġid.

Ladarba ġiet eskluża t-teżi illi l-omiċidju seta’ seħħ minħabba xi att inkonsult ta’ fanatiżmu politiku partiġġjan – f’dan ir-rigward ma rriżultat l-ebda provi quddiem dan il-Bord – il-fatti rilevanti li rriżultaw kemm qabel u kemm wara l-omiċidju għandhom jiġu ikkunsidrati minn din l-ottika. Il-Bord ripetutament afferma li ma kien hemm xejn oġġezzjonabbli li l-gvern ikollu politika li tkun business-friendly, anzi fi kliem iċ-Chief of Staff Keith Schembri gvern b’‘mentalità tal-business’, sakemm l-eżekuzzjoni ta’ dik il-politika u r-relazzjonijiet bejn l-amministrazzjoni pubblika u negozjanti w investituri jinżammu strettament fil-limiti tal-liġijiet u r-regolamenti applikabbli. Hu f’dan illi l-aġir tal-gvern falla. Hu għaliex il-mentalità ta’ negozjant għandha bħala regola l-mira illi timmassimizza l-profitt fin-negozju, bl-inqas burokrazija, u billi taqta’ għad-dritt ħadet is-sopravvent fuq dik li għandha tkun il-mira ta’ kull gvern li joħloq il-ġid fl-interess tal-komunità b’mod ġust u trasparenti skont il-liġijiet tal-pajjiż, illi ngħata lok għal sitwazzjonijiet li tista’ tgħid kull proġett maġġuri inizjat mill-amministrazzjoni spiċċa kellu dellijiet ta’ irregolaritajiet, abbuż ta’ poter u korruzzjoni. Allegazzjonijiet li jimplikaw li negozjanti involuti f’dawn il-proġetti għamlu jew kienu intenzjonati li jagħmlu qligħ indebitu minn fuq dahar il-poplu anki f’xi okkażjonijiet b’kollużjoni ma’ personaġġi politiċi ewlenin involuti fit-twettieq ta’ proġetti. Il-proġett tal-Electrogas hu wieħed minn dawn il-proġetti li dwaru l-Awditur Ġenerali esprima riservi kbar dwar ir-regolarità tal-proċeduri fit-twettieq talproġett u l-ħarsien tal-liġijiet applikabbli.

(pp 201-6)

Change must be fair

Achieving carbon neutrality is long overdue. It has long been obvious that an economy that is dependent on fossil fuel is not sustainable. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) at its 2015 Paris summit finally agreed to plot the basic roadmap required. If we do not follow this roadmap, havoc is the name of the future.

Climate change is already here. However, its impacts can be much worse than what we are already experiencing: extremes of temperature, drought in some regions with floods in others. We see the disasters developing almost daily. It will get much worse before it can get any better.

The mean global temperature is rising. The measured increase varies between one region and another. In the Mediterranean, recent studies have indicated that here we are very close to surpassing a 1.5-degree Celsius rise over the pre-industrial age temperature. We can feel the impact already.

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the global climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end. Our size does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

Our slow take-up of renewable energy over the years and the institutional resistance to transport electrification are among the most obvious examples.

We do remember the insistence on the part of Maltese governments with the EU Commission that Malta renewable energy targets should be 10 per cent and not 20 per cent of the energy generated. Likewise, after a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target on the roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling of our commitments over the years.

A de facto ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within fourteen years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, if not coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

The proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel would undoubtedly have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute to achieving emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably by a tax on aviation fuel, dependent on the extent of the taxation rates applied.

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have so far have avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

Some have already described the proposals of the EU Commission as political suicide as their far-reaching impacts could trigger considerable social unrest. Achieving carbon neutrality is essential but the paths selected will be very painful, some more than others. In the ensuing discussion we have to ensure that while the essential decisions are taken without delay the poor and the most vulnerable are shielded from having to pay the accumulated cost of inaction over the years.

The biggest challenge we face is to ensure that the Green Deal is fair. The ecological transformation must be socially just and place people, not profits, as its central consideration. Change must however happen the soonest. The longer we postpone taking action the higher the price we will have to pay.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 July 2021

Nistennew stqarrija urġenti mill-Prim Ministru

Wara l-istqarrija fil-Qorti, iktar kmieni illum, minn Vince Muscat il-Koħħu, li hu u sħabu kellhom għajnuna, ta’ ex-Ministru kif ukoll ta’ Ministru li għadu fil-Kabinett sal-lum, nistenna li l-Prim Ministru jagħmel stqarrija u jieħu passi immedjati.

Fl-ebda pajjiż fid-dinja demokratika ma jingħadu dawn l-affarjiet u qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Pajjiżna jixraqlu ħafna aħjar minn hekk.

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021