Chernobyl revisited

Chernobyl in Ukraine on 26 April 1986, 36 years ago, was the site of a major nuclear disaster. All that came to mind once more when the Russian and Byelorussian forces invaded Ukrainian territory over two months ago.

The invading forces took over the Chernobyl nuclear power station site. Troops were observed excavating trenches around the site where the nuclear accident happened 36 years ago. It was only this week that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that the radiation levels at Chernobyl, after being tested, have been certified as being within safe limits; but it is definitely not safe for a picnic!

The nuclear clean-up at Chernobyl is ongoing. Starting immediately in 1986, it is scheduled to last at least until the year 2065. Possibly much beyond that!

36 years on, Chernobyl is still of concern not just to those living in its vicinity, but to all of Europe.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster had brought many to their senses as to the dangers of nuclear energy, notwithstanding the sophisticated technology utilised in the industry. This was further reinforced by the Fukushima disaster, much closer in time on 11 March 2011. In the aftermath of Fukushima various countries opted for a phase-out of their dependence on nuclear energy. Germany led the way, our Italian neighbours to the North opting for a nuclear free future through a referendum in June 2011.

All this had a particular significance for Malta as it meant that plans for the construction of a nuclear power station at Palma di Montechiaro along the southern Sicilian coast, less than 100 kilometres to the North of Gozo, were mothballed. Southern Sicily as we know is an earthquake prone zone.

Occasionally there are rumblings of a renewed interest in the use of nuclear energy. The French government has for years been acting as a nuclear salesman all around the Mediterranean. It is known that agreements to set-up and operate various nuclear plants exist relative to various North African countries. Nicholas Sarkozy had even arrived at an agreement with Gaddafi just weeks before he was ousted.

Within the EU the debate is ongoing, at times spearheaded by the fact that the generation of nuclear energy emits relatively little carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity generated. Nuclear energy does however cause significant environmental negative impacts through the waste streams which it generates, namely spent nuclear fuel, rock waste at uranium mines and mills and the release of large amounts of uncontrolled radioactive emissions whenever accidents occur. The Chernobyl, Fukushima and the Three-Mile Island nuclear accidents are irrefutable testimony that the environmental damage resulting from nuclear accidents is not just enormous but also at times difficult to control.

The IAEA reports that as of 2022 there are 493 nuclear power reactors in operation in 32 different countries.  We tend to be aware of the major nuclear accidents at Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011), and possibly that at Three-Mile Island in the US (1979). Countless other “minor” accidents have however occurred over the years. In some cases, the accidents were under control just in time, avoiding their development into a major accident.

Our neighbours rejected nuclear energy twice in two different referenda, one in 1987 after Chernobyl, the other in 2011 after Fukushima. In 2011 the Italian government was planning to construct 10 nuclear reactors. These plans were only thwarted as a result of the 2011 referendum.

It is a responsibility of the Maltese government to be on the alert as these plans could be reactivated in the near future.  This would be a danger developing on our doorstep.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 1st May 2022

Riforma tal-Parlament

Il-Prim Ministru ilu jinki lill-opinjoni pubblika dwar meta ser ikun xolt il-Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta ser tissejjaħ l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Imma Robert Abela kien ikkwotat jgħid ukoll li sa Ġunju 2022 ikun għadda kollox!

Kif inhuma  l-affarijiet illum, hi responsabbiltà kostituzzjonali tal-Prim Ministru dwar meta jkun xolt il- Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta tissejjaħ elezzjoni ġenerali.  Dan jagħmlu billi jagħti parir dwar dan lill-President tar-Republika.  Ħafna drabi nassumu li dawn it-tip ta’ deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fl-interess nazzjonali avolja hu ċar daqs il-kristall li hu l-interess tal-partit fil-Gvern li jiddetermina kollox: dejjem.  Miżura li ssaħħaħ il-posizzjoni tal-Gvern qabel u waqt l-elezzjoni: the power of incumbency.

Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel kif inbidlu bosta affarijiet oħra.

Il-partit li immexxi qajjem dan il-punt fis-sottomissjonijiet li għamilna quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali: konvenzjoni li, dejjem ġejja, imma qatt ma tasal!

Hu propost li t-terminu tal-Parlament ikun wieħed fiss u li l-Prim Ministru ma jkollu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif u meta dan ikun xolt.  Fil-prattika kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll il-parti l-kbira tal-Ewropa kontinentali għandhom Parlament b’terminu fiss. Anke r-Renju Unit, meta kienet immexxija mill-koalizzjoni bejn il-partit Liberali u dak Konservattiv, ftit snin ilu, introduċiet leġislazzjoni għal Parlament b’terminu fiss.

F’dan il-kuntest tajjeb li jkun emfasizzat ukoll li t-terminu ta’ ħames snin għall-Parlament huwa ftit twil. Dan ma kienx dejjem hekk. Meta twaqqaf il-Parlament Malti għall-ewwel darba fl-1921, mitt sena ilu, il-ħajja tal-Parlament kienet ta’ tlett snin. Sal-lum il-ġurnata, l-Parlament Federali Awstraljan għadu jkun elett kull tlett snin. Il-Kamra tar-Rappresentanti tal-Istati Uniti min-naħa l-oħra tkun eletta kull sentejn.

X’uħud jistgħu jkunu tal-fehma li għall-Parlament, tul ta’ sentejn jew tlieta bejn elezzjoni u oħra huma ftit wisq. Għal min qiegħed fil-Gvern, ħames snin jistgħu jkun perjodu addattat. Imma għal min qiegħed fl-Opposizzjoni hu twil wisq! Tlett snin hu perjodu ferm iktar addattat.

Il-Parlament għandu ħtieġa ukoll ta’ membri li xogħolhom ikun biss dak ta’ membri tal-parlament u li ma jagħmlu xejn iktar. Hemm bżonn ukoll li n-numru ta’ membri tal-parlament jonqos għax in-numru li għandna illum hu kbir wisq.  Membru Parlamentari full-time jaqta’ għal kollox kull kuntatt ma xogħol u/jew professjoni u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk inaqqas sostanzjalment il-possibiltà ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess meta jkun f’posizzjoni li jieħu kwalunkwe deċiżjoni.

Id-daqs tal-lum tal-Parlament, jiġifieri dak ta’ 65 membru parlamentari, kien determinat bħala riżultat tal-emendi kostituzzjonali tal-1974.  Imma dan, illum il-ġurnata, sa mill-1987, mhux id-daqs definittiv għax miegħu jistgħu jiżdiedu iktar bħala riżultat tal-applikazzjoni tal-mekkaniżmu kostituzzjonali tal-proporzjonalità.   Jista’ jiżdiedu iktar ukoll, bi tnax-il membru ieħor riżultat tal-miżuri kostituzzjonali ġodda dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru, jekk dawn ikunu applikati.

Il-Parlament li jmiss, għaldaqstant, jista’ jkunu kbir mhux ħażin jekk jintużaw kemm il-mekkaniżmu dwar il-proporzjonalità kif ukoll dak dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru. Jista’ jkun daqs li jikber sa 77 membru u possibilment anke sa 81 membru. Dan hu enormi għall-pajjiżna.

Is-sistema elettorali, li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament ilhom ibgħabsu għal żmien twil, tipprovdi għal riżultat proporjonali u b’element korrettiv favur il-bilanċ bejn il-ġeneri meta fil-Parlament ikunu eletti żewġ partiti politiċi biss. Meta jkun elett it-tielet partit dawn il-mekkaniżmi kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità u l-bilanċ tal-ġeneru ma jistgħux jaħdmu. Hemm biss eċċezzjoni waħda. Din tkun fil-kaz ta’partit politiku li jikseb iktar minn 50 fil-mija tal-voti fl-ewwel għadd fuq livell nazzjonali. Dan ikollu dejjem il-jedd li jiggverna billi jkun allokat is-siġġijiet neċessarji għal dan l-iskop.  

Hemm numru ta’ soluzzjonijiet alternattivi li kieku ġew applikati kien ikun possibli li l-Parlament tagħna jkollu bilanċ aħjar bejn il-ġeneri u proporzjonalità mingħajr ma jikber fid-daqs.  Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, imma, ġew skartati kompletament. Dan għax ir-riforma kellha dejjem l-iskop li toħloq l-inqas tibdil possibli. Tibdil kosmetiku fl-istil tal-Gattopardo: tibdil li jħalli kollox kif kien!

Dan hu l-Parlament tagħna. Jeħtieġ li jinbidel mill-qiegħ.   

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Frar 2022

Reforming Parliament

The Prime Minister has been teasing public opinion for some time as to when Parliament will be dissolved and when we will consequently be proceeding to the next general election.

Robert Abela has been quoted as stating that it will definitely be over by June 2022.

As things stand, at this point in time, it is within the Constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine when Parliament is dissolved and a general election held. This he does by advising the President of the Republic accordingly. It is generally assumed that such decisions are taken in the national interest even though it is amply clear that it is always in the interest of the political party in power. It reinforces the power of incumbency.

Is this right? Should it remain so?

My party has raised this matter in its submissions to the Constitutional Convention which Convention has been pending for a number of years!

It is being proposed that Parliament should be a fixed-term Parliament and that the Prime Minister should have no discretion whatsoever in dissolving Parliament.  In practice both the United States as well as most of continental Europe have fixed-term Parliaments. Even the United Kingdom, some years ago, led by a Liberal-Conservative coalition, introduced legislation for a Parliament having a fixed-term.

Within this context it would be also pertinent to emphasise that a five-year term is a little bit too long. This was not always so. When Malta’s Parliament was originally established in 1921, 100 years ago, it had a three-year life span. The Australian Federal Parliament in this day and age is still elected every three years. The United States House of Representatives on the other hand is elected every two years.

Some could argue that a two- or three-year life span for parliament would be too short. Five years may be right for those governing. It is however too long for those in Opposition! A three-year term could be the right balance.

Parliament also needs fulltime MPs and probably less of them. A fulltime member of parliament would cut off completely all of his/her links with profession and/or employment and as a result substantially reduce instances of conflict of interest when faced with decision taking.

Parliament’s present size of 65 members was determined as a result of the 1974 Constitutional amendments. Since 1987, it is however not a definite size, as it is increased as a result of the constitutional adjustment mechanism for proportionality. It will be increased by a further twelve members if the newly introduced constitutional gender balance requirements are applied.

The next Parliament could be quite large if both the proportionality and gender balance adjustment mechanisms are in use. It could inflate to a size between 77 and 81 members! This is enormous for a country our size.

The electoral system, which the two parties currently in parliament have been tinkering with for ages, provides for proportionality and gender balance only if just two parties are elected into Parliament. If a third party is elected, both the constitutional provisions for proportionality and gender balance will not be activated. There is just one exception and this is relative to the political party which obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes on a national level: in such an instant, irrespective of the number of political parties making it to Parliament the party having an absolute majority of votes is ensured of having the parliamentary seats required for governing.

There are a number of alternative solutions available which make it possible for our Parliament to be both gender-balanced and proportional without any increase in its size. These solutions have however been completely discarded as the “reform” brief was always to change as little as possible. Cosmetic change is the order of the day in Gattopardo style: change which leaves everything the same.

Such is the state of our parliament. It needs a complete overhaul, which is long overdue.  

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 February 2022

A fixed-term Parliament

At this point in time, within the party we are discussing our electoral Manifesto for the forthcoming general election. When will it be held: shortly or much later? At the time of writing no official announcement has been made. Maybe by the time this article is printed matters would be clear.

When presenting proposals for the consideration of the ever-pending Constitutional Convention, we had as a party considered the matter in some detail: should the Prime Minister have the discretion to advise on the dissolution of Parliament?  This was one of the “rights” of Kings and Queens which have been inherited by Heads of Government as a result of democratisation. Since independence it has been the Prime Minister’s right in Malta to advise that Parliament be dissolved and that an election be called.

Over two years have now elapsed since we proposed to the Constitutional Convention that Parliament should have a fixed term and that the election date should be fixed.

Such a provision is normally associated with the American experience on the first Tuesday of the month of November: every alternate year electing the House of Representatives, every four years for electing the President and for electing a third of the Senate every two years.

In the United Kingdom the Liberal-Conservative coalition had in 2011 introduced a fixed-term Parliament Act as a result of which, for the first time ever, the Prime Minister’s role in determining the date of dissolution of Parliament and the subsequent holding of a general election were severely curtailed.

Nick Clegg, then Liberal leader and Deputy Prime Minister had, in piloting the relevant act in Parliament, described such a move stripping Prime Ministers of the power to pick election dates to maximise party advantage as a profound reform. He further emphasised that such a reform was essential to restore faith in politics.

The introduction of a constitutional provision for a fixed-term Parliament would entail removing political self-interest from election timing.

Of course, all Prime Ministers, with tears in their eyes, plead national interest whenever they make use of this discretion.

It would be interesting if we could have an explanation as to what “national interest justification” exists for having a snap-election in Malta at this point in time. Robert Abela’s justification could be as follows.

The first reason to justify a snap election is that come January 2022 a criminal jury relative to the failed HSBC hold-up is scheduled. Possible revelations could spot-light the alleged role of senior Labour Party politicians in the planning of this failed hold-up. Probably Robert Abela thinks that having clear information as to who was involved in planning the HSBC hold-up is not in our interest. It is definitely not in the interest of the Labour Party as it could unmask the Labour Party for what it really is: an eye-opener to some!

The second reason to justify a snap election is the turbulent energy market which could play havoc with the costs to generate electricity locally. Given that we import gas through a contract which is to expire shortly, the price of gas used at Delimara to generate electricity will probably sky-rocket. Alternatively, we use the interconnector to tap energy generated on the mainland. The use of the interconnector was very recently curtailed due to the substantial increase in the price of the energy available!  A substantial increase would impact government finances negatively and Robert Abela would prefer not to have this fact in the public domain during an electoral campaign.

The third reason would be the impacts of grey-listing which are bound to increase with time. The longer it takes to take action as per the agreed road-map with the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) the more the impacts. Labour cannot divorce itself from this. They think that having an election out of the way would at least shield Labour from more electoral impacts of grey-listing.

Having a snap election could potentially shield the Labour Party from these and other impacts which could have a substantial political fallout. The snap election will not address these problems, it will just postpone them into the future.

A fixed-term Parliament would do away with all this. Instead of trying to avoid problems it is better to address them head-on.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 October 2021

Fil-lista l-griża: wara snin ma jsir xejn dwar il-ħasil tal-flus

Ċertament li mhux ġust mal-Maltin li l-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) poġġiet lil Malta fuq il-lista l-griża.

Li dħalna fil-lista l-griża hu bla l-iċken dubju ħtija tal-Gvern. L-Opposizzjoni ukoll għandha terfa’ parti mit-tort u dan minħabba li fl-2013 ħalliet warajha istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa. B’istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa l-ħmieġ hu iffaċilitat.

Ilkoll għandna nkunu mnikktin bid-deċiżjoni tal-FATF (Financial Action Task Force) li tpoġġi lill-Malta fuq il-lista l-griża, minkejja li din id-deċiżjoni kienet mistennija.

Il-kelliema tal-Gvern, matul il-ġimgħa, kienu qed jenfasizzaw li ttieħdu ħafna deċiżjonijiet biex jissaħħaħ il-qafa regolatorju. Li ma qalulniex hu li dan sar wara bosta snin ta’ infurzar żero. Li għal snin sħaħ l-awtoritajiet regolatorji bħall-FIAU kellhom fosthom kollaboraturi ta’ kriminali magħrufa, bħal Silvio Valletta, eks-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.

Kellna lill-grupp Parlamentari Laburista li irrifjuta li jikkundanna lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri għall-involviment tagħhom fl-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers. Ilkoll kemm huma ikkontribwew biex Malta ġiet inkluża fuq il-lista l-griża.

Tiftakru lil Varist Bartolo fuq Hard Talk jispjega għaliex ivvota favur Mizzi u Schembri? Kienet strateġija biex jissopravivi qalilna (strategy for survival) bit-tama li jkun għadu hemm meta tasal il-battalja li jmiss. Jew forsi tiftakru lill-Leo Brincat jispjega meta kien taħt skrutinju fil-Parlament Ewropew in konnessjoni man-nomina tiegħu għall-Qorti tal-Awdituri? Dakinnhar kien qalilna li ma jridx li jispiċċa eroj għal ġurnata biex imbgħad wara jispiċċa fil-baħħ!

Kellna lill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija ma jinvestigax każijiet ta’ ħasil ta’ flus għal snin sħaħ. Huwa biss reċentement li Kummissarju tal-Pulizija l-ġdid għamel l-investigazzjonijiet u prosekuzzjonijiet possibbli.

Sfortunatament, l-azzjoni kontra l-ħasil tal-flus waslet tard. Sadanittant saret ħsara konsiderevoli. Il-kompliċità kriminali tal-Gvern f’dan kollu għamlet ħsara serja lill-ekonomija u lis-soċjetà. Huma dawk fil-livelli ta’ dħul aktar baxx li se iħossu l-biċċa l-kbira ta’ l-impatti negattivi ta’ dan kollu. Dawn jeħtieġu l-empatija tagħna. Dawn għandhom bżonn l-iktar protezzjoni f’dan il-mument.

Il-Gvern, bl-appoġġ tal-Oppożizzjoni, matul is-snin żviluppa “kunsens nazzjonali” dwar is-settur finanzjarju inkluż li jagħmilha possibbli li Malta tintuża bħala ċentru internazzjonali tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Flimkien mal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza dan ikkontribwixxa aktar għat-tkissir tar-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala ġurisdizzjoni li tista’ tkun afdata.

Xi ħadd jiftakar iċ-ċirkustanzi li wasslu għar-riżenja ta’ Joseph Cuschieri, CEO tal-Awtorità tas-Serviżżi Finanzjarji (MFSA) wara li ż-żjara tiegħu f’Las Vegas ma Yorgen Fenech ġiet għall-attenzjoni pubblika? Il-vjaġġ kien iffinanzjat minn Yorgen Fenech meta Cuschieri kien għadu jmexxi l-Awtorità tal-Logħob li suppost kienet ir-regolatur tal-casino ta’ Yorgen Fenech.  B’regolaturi bħal dawn, kif jista’ jsir l-infurzar?

Dan l-isfreġju sħiħ fuq Malta kien immexxi direttament minn Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna, eks-Ministru tal-Finanzi li ġie ppremjat bil-ħatra tiegħu bħala Gvernatur tal-Bank Ċentrali. Muscat spiċċa. Scicluna għandu bżonn isegwih malajr. Huwa għandu jew jirriżenja jew jitkeċċa minnufih.

Huwa xieraq wkoll li nfakkru li dan it-taħwid kollu kien is-suġġett tal-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia li nqatlet għall-isforzi tagħha biex tinfurmana u tesponi l-elit kriminali. Intilfet il-ħajja ta’ mara, omm u ġurnalista.

Huwa essenzjali li tittieħed azzjoni immedjata biex tibda terġa’ tinbena r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta. Dan għandu jinkludi r-revoka immedjata tal-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza u l-għeluq tal-lakuni legali li biddlu lil Malta f’bażi ta’ evazjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 27 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Grey listing: after years of zero enforcement on money laundering

The grey listing announced earlier during the week as a result of a decision by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is definitely not fair on the Maltese people.

The grey list is government’s making. However, the opposition certainly has a finger in the pie too as it is ultimately responsible for the weak institutions which it left in place in 2013. These weak institutions facilitated the current mess.

We should all be saddened by the decision of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) to have Malta on its grey list, even though this course of action was expected.  

Government spokespersons have been emphasising that a lot of regulatory sprucing and reinforcement has been taken in hand.  However, they did not tell us that this has been done after several years of zero enforcement. After years having regulatory authorities such as FIAU staffed by collaborators of known criminals, such as Silvio Valletta, former Deputy Commissioner of Police.

We have had all Labour MPs in Parliament refusing to condemn Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri when their Panama Papers involvement was made public. All of them have contributed to this grey listing. 

Do you remember Evarist Bartolo explaining on Hard Talk why he voted in favour of Mizzi and Schembri? He had a strategy for survival, hoping “to live and fight another day”. Or Leo Brincat’s explanation when being scrutinised by the EU Parliament Budgetary Control Committee prior to his appointment at the European Court of Auditors? Leo Brincat had than stated that he did not want to live as a hero for one day, to be subsequently condemned to the wilderness for the rest of his life!

We have had the Commissioner of Police not investigating money laundering cases for years on end. It is only recently that a new Police Commissioner has made investigations and prosecutions possible.

Unfortunately, the action against money laundering has been late in coming. Considerable damage has resulted in the meantime. Government criminal complicity in all this has seriously damaged the economy and society.  It is those in the lower income levels who will feel most of the impacts of all this. They need our empathy. It is they who need most protection at this point in time.

Government with the support of the opposition has over the years developed a “national consensus” on the financial sector including the setup which makes it possible for international tax evasion to make use of Malta as a base. Together with the sale of citizenship scheme this has further contributed to the erosion of Malta’s reputation as a trustworthy jurisdiction.

Anybody remembers the circumstances which led to the 2018 resignation of the MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority) CEO Joseph Cuschieri following his Las Vegas trip with Yorgen Fenech becoming public knowledge? The trip had been financed by Fenech when Cuschieri was still the Gaming Authority Chief, supposedly regulating Yorgen Fenech’s casino!

All this mess was directed by Joseph Muscat and Edward Scicluna, former Finance Minister who has been rewarded for his endeavours by his appointment as Governor of the Central Bank. Muscat is gone. Scicluna, politically responsible for ensuring that money-laundering structures were functioning, needs to follow him at the earliest. He should either resign or be dismissed forthwith.

It is also pertinent to point out that all this was the subject of the investigative journalism of Daphne Caruana Galizia who was blown up for her efforts to inform us and expose the criminal elite. We have lost a life: a mother, a wife, a journalist.

Immediate action is essential to start rebuilding Malta’s reputation. This should include the immediate repeal of the sale of citizenship scheme and closing the legal loopholes which have transformed Malta into a tax haven.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 June 2021

Meta l-istat jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa

F’indirizz li għamlet nhar it-Tnejn liċ-Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, Segretarju għat-Teżor tal-Istati Uniti, ippreżentat l-argument favur taxxa minima applikabbli għall-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali fuq livell globali, irrispettivament minn fejn huma bbażati.  Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta, kif rappurtat min-New York Times, ikollha s-saħħa li żżomm lil dawn il-kumpaniji milli jċaqilqu l-profitti tagħħom minn post għall-ieħor biex jevadu l-ħlas tat-taxxi dovuti minnhom.

Meta jitnaqqsu it-taxxi biex tinġbed l-industrija u n-negozju, emfasizzat  Ms Yellen, hemm is-sogru li mmissu l-qiegħ: fejn ser tieqaf? Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Il-kompetittività mhiex biss kif kumpanija tmur fil-konfront ta’ kumpaniji oħra.  Hi ukoll il-mod li bih nassiguraw  li l-gvernijiet ikollhom sistemi ta’ ġbir ta’ taxxa li jkunu stabbli b’mod li jistgħu jiġbru biżżejjed fondi x’jinvestu f’servizzi publiċi u jkunu f’posizzjoni li jirreaġixxu fi żmien ta’ kriżi. Hu meħtieġ li ċ-ċittadini bejniethom jerfgħu b’mod ġust il-piż tal-finanzjament tal-gvern.”

Din il-materja hi diġa fuq l-agenda tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hi opposta b’qawwa minn Malta, il-Lussimburgu, l-Irlanda u pajjiżi oħrajn.  L-argument dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni hu parti integrali mill-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus.

Hu ta’ sfortuna li Malta (u pajjiżi oħrajn) repetutament abbużat mis-sovranità tagħha fuq materji ta’ taxxa. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan l-abbuż repetut li l-proposta dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-taxxa qabdet l-art b’mod li issa hi appoġġata ukoll mill-Istati Uniti tal-Amerka.  Malta rmiet il-vantaġġ kompetittiv tagħha billi abbużat minnu repetutament. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż hi għaldaqstant awto-gol mill-kbar.

Malta ma tistax tkun kredibbli fil-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jekk ser tibqa’ tiffaċilita l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fuq skala internazzjonali.  Xi snin ilu il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kien ippubblika studju intitolat Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. Dan ir-rapport kien svela kif tul is -snin, il-kumpanija Ġermaniża ġgant tal-kimika BASF kien irnexxielha tevita u tiffranka l-ħlas ta’ biljun euro f’taxxi fuq 4 snin billi użat lill-Malta għal dan l-iskop. Dan sar billi kumpanija sussidjarja ġiet reġistrata f’Malta u t-taxxi dovuti, għax l-azzjonisti mhux residenti f’Malta, ħadu lura 6 euros minn kull 7 li kellhom iħallsu f’taxxa!

Il-każ tal-Korporazzjoni Amerikana Apple fl-Irlanda, kif nafu, wassal għall-evażjoni ta’ 13-il biljun euro f’taxxi. L-iskandlu Luxleaks fil-Lussimburgu ukoll wera kif dan il-pajjiż żgħir fost il-fundaturi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ukoll kien qed jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Dawn huma ftit mill-eżempji. Bla dubju hemm bosta oħra li s’issa huma moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu madwarna għaddejja evażjoni ta’ biljuni ta’ euro ta’ taxxi, kontinwament. Malta, l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu u xi pajjiżi oħra jiġbru parti żgħira mit-taxxi dovuti bħala ħlas talli jippermettu din l-evażjoni ta’ taxxa fuq skala pjuttost kbira.

F’Malta dan kollu kien possibli bħala riżultant tal-hekk imsejjaħ “kunsens nazzjonali” bejn il-PLPN dwar il-qasam finanzjarju. “Kunsens” li ilu fis-seħħ numru ta’ snin. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta li seħħet u għad qed isseħħ bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu, għaldaqstant, ma jġorriex il-Partit Laburista waħdu. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll għandu resposabbiltà xi jġorr. Għalhekk fuq dawn il-materji in-Nazzjonalisti u l-Labour dejjem iħokku dahar xulxin.  

Sfortunatament l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus huma ħafna drabi konnessi. Bosta drabi fejn issib waħda issib l-oħra ukoll.

It-triq il-quddiem m’għandiex ikollha impatt fuq is-sovranità fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni kif determinat mit-trattati Ewropej permezz tal-ħtieġa tal-unanimità f’materji konnessi mat-taxxa. Imma hemm bżonn urġenti li l-qasam tal-politika fiskali ukoll jinbena fuq prinċipji etiċi b’saħħithom. U mhux dan biss. Għandu jkun assigurat darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tibqax tiddependi minn dħul ġej mill-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Għax id-dipendenza tal-ekonomija Maltija fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa (u l-bejgħ tal-passaporti) hi ta’ inkwiet kbir għall-pajjiż. L-industrija tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa hi sors ta’ dħul kif ukoll ta’ impiegi li it-tnejn li huma inevitabilment jintilfu fi żmien qasir. Wasal iż-żmien li nippjanaw għal futur nadif, futur li mhux iktar dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’April 2021

When the state encourages tax evasion

In a speech delivered on Monday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, made the case for a global minimum tax applicable to multinational corporations irrespective of where they locate their headquarters. Such a proposal, reported the New York Times, would prevent companies from shifting profits to evade taxes.

Lowering tax rates to attract business, emphasised Ms Yellen, is a race to the bottom which has to be addressed. Competitiveness is not just how companies fare against other companies. It is also about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crisis, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.

This issue is already on the agenda of the EU facing fierce opposition from Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland as well as others. The issue of tax harmonisation is an integral part of the fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

It is unfortunate that Malta (and others) have been repeatedly abusing its tax sovereignty. It is as a result of such repeated abuse that the proposal for tax harmonisation is gaining ground such that it now has the support of the United States of America too. As a result of greed Malta has squandered a competitive advantage by abusing it repeatedly and continuously. The resulting reputational damage is hence an own goal.

Malta (and the other countries) cannot be credible in the declared fight against tax evasion and money laundering if it keeps facilitating tax avoidance on an international scale. Some years back the Green Group in the European Parliament had published a study entitled Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. This report reveals that over the years, the German chemical giant BASF used Malta to avoid the payment of one billion euros in taxes. This was done using the “legal” possibility to have tax refunds of up to six sevenths of the tax due in such cases where shareholders are not resident in the Maltese islands. Tax avoidance is tax evasion sanctioned by the state.

The Apple Corporation case in Ireland as a result of which another €13 billion in taxes were avoided is another example of tax evasion sanctioned by the state of Ireland. Luxleaks had also revealed countless of other examples as a result of which Luxembourg too embarked on state encouraged tax-evasion.

These are just some examples of many: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are undoubtedly countless of others, currently below the radar of public scrutiny, as a result of which the payment of billions of euros in taxes are being continuously avoided. Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg and other countries receive a small part of the actual tax due as a result of facilitating this state encouraged tax evasion.

Locally this scam is the result of the PNPL “national consensus” on financial institutions and fiscal policy in force for a number of years in Malta. The responsibility for the resulting reputational damage is thus not one to be shouldered by the Labour Party on its own, it has help from the PN which has continuously buttressed this abusive behaviour.

Unfortunately, tax evasion and money-laundering are inseparable twins!

The way forward need not impact the tax sovereignty afforded by the EU treaties through the unanimity rule on taxation issues. However, it necessitates ensuring that policy on all fiscal issues is also founded on sound ethical principles.

In addition to ensuring that fiscal policy is not in any way unethical it is about time that Malta does not any more, in any way, depend on tax avoidance.

The dependence of Malta’s economy on tax avoidance (and the sale of citizenship) is very worrying. The tax avoidance industry is a source of both revenue to the state and employment opportunities, both of which will be lost in the not-so-distant future. It is about time that we start planning for a cleaner future, a future that is, which is not dependent on the tax avoidance industry!

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2021

Il-Futur tagħna mhedded

It-tniġġiż jikkontamina ħajjitna. Ġeneralment naġixxu meta dak li jkun qed iniġġeż narawh jew inħossuh bis-sensi tagħna.  Ir-riċerka għaddejja kontinwament u pubblikazzjonijiet ġodda jindikaw impatt minn tniġġiż li qed jherri s-sistemi riproduttivi tagħna. Dan it-tniġġiż, imma ma jidhirx.  Hu kimika li nassobu flimkien mal-ikel u li jista’ jħarbat l-ormoni umani fl-iktar mumenti kruċjali.

Fl-1962 Rachel Carson fil-ktieb tagħha Silent Spring kienet fissret l-impatt tal-pestiċidi fuq l-annimali li jgħixu fis-selvaġġ. Minkejja l-opposizzjoni qawwija tal-kumpaniji li jimmanifatturaw dawn il-kimiċi l-kitba ta’ Carson wasslet għall-bidu ta’ regolamentazzjoni tal-pestiċidi kif ukoll għat-twaqqif tal-agenzija Amerikana li tħares l-ambjent.

Sittin sena ilu Carson, zoologa, argumentat li l-użu tal-pestiċidi kien qed ikollu konsegwenzi mhux mixtieqa u dan billi kien qed jeffettwa l-għasafar u l-frieħ tagħhom. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan bdiet tonqos il-popolazzjoni tal-għasafar minħabba li kien qed ikun avvelenat dak li jieklu.

L-avvelenament mhux bil-fors joqtol mill-ewwel. Jista’ jdum iż-żmien u dan billi jimblokka numru ta’ funzjonijiet naturali mill-jaħdmu.

Al Gore, li kien Viċi President Amerikan, fid-daħla għall-ktieb Our Stolen Future (1997) ta’ Theo Colborn, Diane Dumanoski u John Peterson Myers, jitkellem fuq  “xhieda xjentifika” dwar kimika sintetika li qed toħloq diversi problemi riproduttivi . Dawn (sadakinnhar li kiteb Al Gore) kienu ġew osservati fl-annimali u fuq l-ekoloġija in ġenerali, imma l-konklużjonijiet kellhom sinifikat anke għas-saħħa tal-bniedem.

Biż-żmien bdiet tkun identifikata din ir-relevanza għas-saħħa tal-bniedem. 

Nhar is 7 t’Awwissu 1978, il-President Amerikan Jimmy Carter iddikjara stat ta’ emerġenza fl-inħawi magħrufa bħala Love Canal fl-istat ta’ New York.  Fis-snin 40 u 50 f’miżbla fl-inhawi li biż-żmien kienet intesiet, kienu intremew mal-21,000 tunellata ta’ skart kimiku f’tankijiet kbar tal-metall. Biz-żmien il-metall spiċċa u l-kimika pjuttost likwida xterdet. Ikkontaminat l-inħawi fejn, kienu sadanittant ġew żviluppati żoni residenzjali, skejjel u l-ispazji pubbliċi assoċjati magħhom. Iktar min-nofs tat-twelidijiet fiż-żona bejn l-1974 u l-1978 spiċċaw f’korrimenti inkella b’xi forma ta’ difett jew kancer. Dan wassal biex fl-aħħar jiem tal-Presidenza ta’ Jimmy Carter ittieħdu inizjattivi ġodda ta’ ħarsien ambjentali biex inaqqsu l-possibiltà ta’ repetizzjoni ta’ dan kollu..

Nhar il-31 ta’ Mejju 1989 fix-xmara St Lawrence ħdejn Quebec il-Canada instabet balena mejta, beluga whale.  Mill-awtopsja li saret fuqha irriżulta  li din il-balena kellha kemm organi ġenitali maskili kif ukoll dawk feminili.  Ġie identifikat li dan kien seħħ minħabba tħarbit fl-ormoni tagħha riżultat tat-tniġġiż assorbit fl-ikel li kielet il-balena omm waqt it-tqala. Il-balena ġejja mill-istess klassi ta’ annimali bħall-bniedem, hi mammal ukoll.  

Kontinwament nisimgħu stejjer ġejjin mill-pajjiż ġar tagħna l-Italja dwar ikel ikkontaminat. Fl-2008 kienu sabu l-mozzarella tal-bufalo li kienet kkontaminata. Kien instab li din il-mozzarella kienet oriġinat minn 83 razzett qrib Napli. Il-bhejjem kienu jirgħu f’żona li żmien qabel kienet intużat mill-Mafja Taljan biex fiha intrema skart tossiku li kien fih id-dijossina.  F’lokalita oħra, Casale di Principe kien ġie ikkontaminat l-ilma tal-pjan u dan wassal għall-problemi diversi b’korrimenti u twelid ta’ trabi mejta kif ukoll b’rata għolja ta’ kanċer fil-popolazzjoni lokali.

L-iskart kimiku hu l-kawża ewlenija ta’ dan kollu.

Din il-ġimgha ġie ippubblikat ktieb ieħor dwar dan kollu bl-isem  Count Down. L-awtriċi hi Shanna Swan, speċjalista tal-istudju tal-mard fis-sistemi riproduttivi umani. F’dan il-ktieb tosserva kif difetti li qed jiġu osservati fis-sistemi riproduttivi umani jistgħu jkunu marbuta ma tniġġiż kimiku li jasal għandna permezz tal-ikel li nikkunsmaw. Is-sottotitlu tal-ktieb fil-fatt hu : How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

Shanna Swan u t-tim ta’ riċerkaturi tagħha sabu li tul dawn l-aħħar 40 sena, fil-pajjiżi żviluppati, naqset bin-nofs iż-żerriegħa li jipproduċu l-irġiel. Din hi konklużjoni wara eżami dettaljat ta’  185 studju li kien jinvolvi 45,000 raġel b’saħħtu.

Għandna bżonn li r-riċerkaturi Maltin jippubblikaw informazzjoni dwar l-istudji tagħhom dwar it-tniġġiż f’Malta u l-impatti tiegħu fuq saħħitna, speċjalment fejn dan jeffettwana fl-iktar mumenti kruċjali tal-żvilupp tagħna. Dan hu essenzjali għall-formazzjoni ta’ politika dwar is-saħħa li tkun iktar aġġornata. Għax il-politika nazzjonali dwar is-saħħa għandha tkun ibbażata  fuq viżjoni olistika, viżjoni li tagħraf ir-rabta ekoloġika bejn il-bniedem, l-annimali u l-pjanti.

Neħtieġu poliitka ambjentali sura li tkun implimentata kif imiss. Din trid fost oħrajn tfisser li l-kimika li tintuża fil-produzzjoni trid tkun waħda iktar sigura u li l-ġabra ta’ kull forma ta’ skart trid issir bir-reqqa. Huwa biss b’dan il-mod li nistgħu nibdew nindirizzaw din il-problema kbira.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’April 2021

The threat to our future

Pollution contaminates our lives. We tend to act and react depending on the visibility of the pollutant. Research is ongoing and new publications continuously point towards the impact of pollution in corrupting our very reproductive systems. It is chemical pollution which we absorb through the food chain and which disrupts the human hormone system in the most critical of moments. They are known as endocrine disrupters.

Way back in the 1962 it was Rachel Carson who in her seminal Silent Spring explained the impact of the pesticides then in use on wild life. Notwithstanding the fierce opposition of chemical companies Carson’s opus led to the tightening of regulation of pesticides and the setting up of the US Environment Protection Agency.

Sixty years ago, Carson, a zoologist, argued that the use of pesticides had unintended consequences as whilst pesticides targeted pests they ended up affecting birds and their offspring. The result being a decrease in the bird population brought about by intoxication as a consequence of the poisoning of their food chain.

Toxic contamination does not necessarily kill immediately. It may block or distort a number of our natural functions.

In the foreword to the book Our Stolen Future (1997) by Theo Colborn, Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, Al Gore, former US Vice President speaks of “a large and growing body of scientific evidence linking synthetic chemicals to aberrant sexual development and behavioural and reproductive problems. Although much of the evidence these scientific studies review is for animal populations and ecological effects, there are important implications for human health as well”.

It was only a question of time before the relevance of all this to human health was clear.

President Jimmy Carter on August 7, 1978 had declared a state of emergency at Love Canal in the state of New York. A landfill containing over 21,000 tons of chemical waste dumped in the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s caused the contamination of residential and educational environments in the vicinity and resulted in miscarriages, birth defects, respiratory ailments and cancer. Fifty-six per cent of children born in the Love Canal environs between 1974 and 1978 had a birth defect. This led the US to enact the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act known as the Superfund in the last days of the Carter Presidency.

On May 31, 1989 a beluga whale was found floating belly up on the South Bank of the St Lawrence river in Quebec, Canada. An autopsy carried out on the whale revealed that it had both a male and a female set of genital organs. It was a hermaphrodite. This was eventually traced to pollution-induced hormone disruption which derailed the beluga whale’s normal course of sexual development. “One cannot rule out,” noted the autopsy report “that pollutants present in the mother’s diet had interfered with hormonal processes (guiding the) normal evolution of the sexual organs of her foetus”. The beluga whale is a mammal like the human being.

In neighbouring Italy news is continuous on discoveries of tainted food chains. In 2008 it was found that buffalo mozzarella originating from some 83 dairy farms in an area near Naples was tainted with dioxin. The buffalo were grazing in an area of illegal dumps of toxic waste controlled by the Mafia. On the other hand, in the areas around Casale di Principe it was the contamination of the water table which was identified as having led to a large incidence of still births, birth defects and cancer among the local population.

Chemical waste is the primary culprit of all this.

This week, in a new book, named Count Down, reproductive epidemiologist Shanna Swan argues that the observed downsizing of the male organ can be linked to everyday chemicals reaching us through the food chain. The publication is sub-titled: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

Shanna Swan and her team of researchers found that over the past four decades, sperm levels among men in Western countries have dropped by more than 50 percent. They came to this conclusion after examining 185 studies involving close to 45,000 healthy men.

We could do with some information on what researchers in Malta are doing on issues of pollution and their impacts on our health, specifically on endocrine disrupters. This is essential information which is required to inform our health policy. Our national health policy should be based on a holistic vision, that is one which recognizes the ecological interconnections between people, animals and plants.

We require coherent environmental policies which are properly implemented. This should be manifested in safer chemicals in use and proper waste management practices. Then we may start addressing this serious problem.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 April 2021