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

The fragility of democracy

The events on Capitol Hill in Washington last Wednesday clearly show the fragility of democracy. We should never take it for granted.

The storming of Capitol Hill by Trump’s mob has damaged American democracy, which damage will be felt for many years to come. Damage which will take considerable time to heal.

Instigating and making use of violence for political ends, to instill fear and condition political opponents is nothing new. It has been used in countries and by politicians of dubious democratic credentials since time immemorial. On these islands we have had more than our fair share of this throughout the years.

In my younger days I used to live in Valletta, one block away from Parliament. We were used to having “spontaneous demonstrations” whenever Parliament had some hot item on its agenda, or whenever the political climate was tense, which was quite often. An orgy of violence many a time was the anticipated conclusion of such “spontaneous demonstrations” as the business community can confirm.  This is what incited crowds do: they transform themselves into deadly weapons used unscrupulously by those who pull the strings to silence or try to condition their political opponents.

Whenever the mob was let loose it left a trail of damage, not just physical damage, but more importantly reputational damage which takes quite a time to heal and repair.

Some of you may remember when a bull was let loose in the streets of Paola in September 1976 as part of the then election victory celebrations. After being force-fed a whole bottle of whisky it ended being directed towards the local PN club where it destroyed everything in its path.

The setting on fire of The Times in Valletta and the subsequent orgy of violence of the 15 October 1979 is another instance when instigation directed at highly charged political-mobs ends destroying everything in sight. The reputational damage is the most serious in such circumstances.

The objective, in such instances is always the retention, buttressing and consolidation of raw political power. Fortunately, this is history now, but it still lingers on in the collective memory, the cause of occasional collective nightmares.

The international media has rightly reacted sharply to the developments down Pennsylvania Avenue. In a couple of hours, in addition to the loss of four lives, injury to at least 14 police officers and damage to property, the Trump mob has inflicted lasting damage to American democracy.

Do not just blame Donald Trump for the chaos at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. His enablers have a sizeable share of the blame. The agitators were not just those in the streets in hoodies and army fatigues. They were also in suits, products of Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities sitting in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, participating in the joint session of the US Congress.

Both Trump as well as his enablers have blood on their hands.

The rule of law and the respect of democratic institutions are not just for export! The United States of America needs to practice what it preaches in order to start restoring its credibility.

As a result of the election of Joe Biden, described as “sleepy Joe” by Donald Trump throughout the electoral campaign, the US could slowly start the difficult uphill path to reconciliation. Having the support of influential minorities will undoubtedly be an asset in achieving this objective. The successful mobilisation by the Biden campaign of the black vote throughout the United States was pivotal in achieving its electoral success, the latest being the election for the first time in the last thirty years of two Georgian Democratic Senators. One must now look ahead towards the future to reconstruct the social and democratic infrastructure dismantled in the recent past.

Democracy is very fragile. It is easily damaged and takes quite a time to heal. We should never take democracy for granted. It is continuously under threat and should be defended assiduously every day.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 10 January 2021

Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

Loyalty and integrity

“Without a fundamental commitment to the truth – especially in our public institutions and those who lead them – we are lost. As a legal principle, if people don’t tell the truth, our justice system cannot function and a society based on the rule of law begins to dissolve.”

This was written by James Comey in 2018 in his book A Higher Loyalty. Truth, Lies and Leadership.

Comey, was fired as FBI director by Donald Trump. At a bizarre dinner at the White House, Trump had demanded Comey’s personal loyalty, putting aside his duties as FBI Director. Trump pressured Comey to let go of Michael Flynn – his National Security Advisor for 22 days – then under investigation by the FBI. Comey reflects on Trump’s demands for personal loyalty and emphasises that there is a higher loyalty in all of our lives “………….. not to a person, not to a party not to a group. The higher loyalty is to lasting values, most important the truth.”

All this came to mind when reading through Ivan Martin’s encounter with Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer earlier this week. Unfortunately, some know the price of everything but they do not have an inkling on the value of anything.

When the chips are down, our true values emerge. If the real values have been carefully camouflaged, the impact when they emerge in such circumstances may be shocking. What has been carefully hidden from view, all of a sudden emerges in full public view.

Offering money to an investigative journalist to “remunerate him for his services” has switched on many red lights. The attempt at bribing the journalist is bad enough. It also raises the inevitable suspicions that bundles of €500 notes could also possibly be used to influence the judicial process. Only time will tell whether the possible becomes a probable.  Most of us would remember when, in 2002, the then Chief Justice together with another Judge, were bribed to reduce a prison sentence at appeal stage. The then accused who directed the bribery of the judiciary had insignificant wealth when compared to today’s accused.

We must be vigilant. It has happened and it can happen once more.

There is a common thread running through most of the bits of information forming the developing jigsaw puzzle linking all those mentioned in the Caruana Galizia assassination: money and loads of it. It is becoming clearer that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigation of the corrupt power station contracts is what led to her assassination. Tainted money was used to purchase access to influence and people that matter. The indications arising are too numerous to be ignored. This is nothing new, however, in the present scenario it is of the utmost significance.

Kudos to Ivan Martin who had the presence of mind not to accept a wad of €500 banknotes. His loyalty to his values as an investigative journalist was automatic. He did not pause to consider whether it was worth sticking his neck out. All of us should be proud of him.

Ivan’s integrity will be remembered for many years to come. His loyalty to his values will undoubtedly reinforce Maltese journalism in these testing times.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 November 2020

Ambaxxati b’daqs ta’ raħal

L-ambaxxata Amerikana nbniet 9 snin ilu fuq medda kbira ta’ art f’ Ta’ Qali li nxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’  €14.6 miljuni. L-ambaxxata f’Ta’ Qali hi mibnija fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 4 ettari, jiġifieri 40,000 metru kwadru.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar approvat permess ta’ żvilupp biex tinbena ambaxxata Ċiniża f’Pembroke fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 2 ettari, jiġifieri 20,000 metru kwadru.  

Għalkemm il-kumpless tal-ambaxxata Ċiniża ser ikun madwar nofs fid-daqs meta mqabbel ma dak Amerikan f’Ta’ Qali xorta hu kbir wisq. L-art li fuqha ser jinbena dan il-kumpless inxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’ €7,880,000.

Għalfejn dawn il-pajjiżi barranin qed jitħallew jibnu l-ambaxxati tagħhom fuq art daqshekk kbira?  Jekk verament jeħtieġu dan l-ispazju għaliex ma ġewx imħajra biex jirrestawraw xi bini qadim, preferibilment storiku, b’benefiċċju għall-komunità Maltija?

Kemm ser indumu ma jkollna xi talba oħra għall-iżvilupp ta’ kumpless ieħor għal ambaxxata enormi? Forsi mill-Federazzjoni Russa?

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar l-Università Amerikana f’Malta suppost li għamel lil ħafna nies iktar konxji. Imma jidher li ma tgħallmu xejn mid-dibattitu pubbliku li wassal biex l-unika parti ta’ din l-Univeristà li illum qed tiffunżjona qegħda flok it-tarżna f’Bormla. Il-bini storiku li kien jifforma parti mit-tarżna ta’ Bormla, l-imħażen tal-Kavallieri tas-sbatax-il seklu u l-workshops tal-Ammiraljat Ingliż tad-dsatax-il seklu ġew restawrati u ħadu ħajja ġdida. Dan kollu issarraf f’ġid ambjentali għall-pajjiż kollu u l-ħarsien ta’ art f’Marsaskala minn żvilupp li kien jeqridha.

Jekk nistaqsu għaliex dawn l-ambaxxati kbar, daqs raħal, qatt m’hu ser ikollna tweġiba onesta. Għax hu ovvju li apparti x-xogħol konsulari normali u l-iżvilupp ta’ relazzjonijiet tajba mad-dinja tan-negozju u mal-komunitajiet lokali, fir-realtà, dawn l-ambaxxati huma “widna” iffukata biex tisma’ dak li qed jiġri fir-reġjun tal-Mediterran.

Uħud iħobbu jiddeskrivu kemm lill-iStati Uniti kif ukoll lir-Repubblika Ċiniża bħala ħbieb kbar ta’ Malta. Ir-realtà hi ftit differenti. Hu prinċipju bażiku tal-politika barranija li l-pajjiżi m’għandhomx ħbieb, għandhom biss interessi! Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi, imbagħad, iservu biex iġibu l-quddiem dawn l-interessi!

Il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fil-Mediterran tagħmilha idejali bħala ċentru fejn tisma’ u tosserva. Dan, hu interess ewlieni li minħabba fih kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll ir-Repubblika Ċiniża għandhom bżonn spazju kbir.

Id-dibattitu riċenti dwar il-possibiltà ta’ ftehim li jirregola l-militar Amerikan f’pajjiżna (Status of Forces Agreement : SOFA) hu indikattiv. Il-kummenti li smajna u qrajna jagħtu idea żgħir ta’ dak li kien għaddej madwar il-mejda.  

F’pajjiżi kbar, ambaxxati kbar jistgħu jagħmlu sens. Imma Malta, tista’ tgħaddi mingħajrhom. M’għandniex bżonn ambaxxati kbar biex intejbu r-relazzjonijiet mal-Istati Uniti jew iċ-Ċina.

L-ambaxxata tal-Istati Uniti f’Ta’ Qali issa ilha mibnija u ilha topera 9 snin. Imma l-ambaxxata Ċiniża għadha fuq il-pjanta. MInkejja li għadha kif ġiet approvata l-ambaxxatur Ċiniż għad għandu ħin biex jaħseb ftit dwar kif jista’ jindirizza n-nuqqas ta’ spazju li għandu mod ieħor. Jista’ jikunsidra r-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadima, possibilment bini storiku minflok ma jibni ambaxxata daqs raħal.  

Jekk jagħmel hekk ikun qed jittrasforma problema f’opportunità.

Qatt mhu tard, sur Ambaxxatur.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Novembru 2020