Il-kontabilità ……….. taħt l-effett tal-loppju

Il-Kummisarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar fl-uffiċċju ta’ l-Ombudsman, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ikkonkluda li mhu affari ta’ ħadd jekk membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jattendux jew le l-laqgħat tal-Bord. Dik biċċa tagħhom: hi responsabbiltà tagħhom dwar kif jaġixxu biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom. Meta għaldaqstant, Jacqueline Gili kienet pprovduta bis-servizz ta’ ajruplan privat biex ikun iffaċilitat li hi tattendi għal-laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha kienet diskussa u approvata l-monstrosità tal-dB Group f’Pembroke kien hemm indħil mhux permissibli fil-proċeduri tal-istess awtorità.

Is-Sur Johann Buttigieg, Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ikkonferma pubblikament li d-deċiżjoni li jġib lil Jacqueline Gili bil-ajruplan privat minn Catania, u jeħodha lura Catania biex tkompli tgawdi l-btala mal-familja tagħha, kienet deċiżjoni tiegħu. F’pajjiż fejn il-governanza tajba hi pprattikata, mhux ipprietkata biss, is-Sur Buttigieg kien jirreżenja immedjatament, inkella kien jitkeċċa bla dewmien hekk kif l-aħbar kienet magħrufa pubblikament. Dan apparti mid-dell kbir li nxteħet fuq il-validità tad-deċżjoni li ttieħdet bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-indħil fil-ħidma tal-Bord.
Imma, huwa fatt magħruf li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar mhiex kapaċi tiddeċiedi fuq kaz daqshekk ċar ta’ tmexxija ħażina. M’għandiex il-kuraġġ li taġixxi.

Ma nistgħux nistennew imġieba mod ieħor. Dawk maħtura fl-awtoritajiet pubbliċi huma kkundizzjonati dwar kif iġibu ruħhom mill-mod kif jaraw lill-politiċi li jkunu ħatruhom iġibu ruħhom. U ngħiduha kif inhi: ma tantx għandhom eżempji tajba fuq xiex jimxu.
L-istorja tal-Panama Papers hi waħda relattivament riċenti. Il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, malli sar jaf li l-Ministru Konrad Mizzi u ċ-Chief of Staff tiegħu Keith Schembri, waqqfu kumpaniji fl-Amerika Ċentrali, fil-Panama, li hi rinomata bħala post fejn taħbi l-flus u tevita t-taxxi, flok ma keċċihom minnufih, qiesu qagħad jiggusthom daqslikieku ma ġara xejn. Dwar x’seta ġara iktar mill-kumpaniji ta’ Mizzi u Schembri u t-tielet kumpanija misterjuża (Egrant), s’issa għad ma nġiebu l-ebda provi. Dan intqal mill-Qrati repetutament, avolja d-deċiżjonijiet tal-Qrati ġew interpretati b’mod li qieshom naddfu lil uħud assoċjati mal-politika minn kull ħtija possibli. Il-fatti huma mod ieħor, kompletament differenti.

S’issa, bla dubju, hemm assenza ta’ provi kredibbli li jindikaw xi ħtija kriminali. Imma ma nistgħux ngħidu l-istess dwar l-imġieba ta’ dawk involuti. Il-provi magħrufa juru bl-iktar mod ċar li tal-inqas hemm imġieba żbaljata u mhix etika u dan minnu nnifsu jiġġustifika sanzjonijiet politiċi.

Dan ma japplikax biss għal dawk il-persuni li huma esposti għall-politika u li issemmew fil-Panama Papers. Japplika ukoll għal xenarji differenti f’kull kamp politiku.

Fuq livell kompletament differenti, jiena diversi drabi għamilt referenza għal tliet rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar ir-responsabbiltajiet politiċi ta’ Jason Azzopardi, ilkoll konnessi mal-amministrazzjoni ta’ art pubblika. F’kull wieħed minn dawn it-tliet rapporti l-ex-Ministru Jason Azzopardi kien iċċensurat b’qawwa kbira. Ilkoll niftakru meta f’Ottubru 2017 waqt laqgħa pubblika tal-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi uffiċjal pubbliku kien xehed li l-ex Ministru Azzopardi kien jaf b’dak kollu li kien għaddej. Imma Jason Azzopardi jibqa’ jilgħabha tal-iblah u jagħmel ta’ birruħu li ma kellux idea dwar dak li kien għaddej madwaru.

L-Opposizzjoni s’issa għadha ma ġegħlitux jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà ta’ għemilu. La ġiegħlet lilu u l-anqas lil oħrajn. Bilfors, f’dan il-kuntest, allura wieħed jistaqsi dwar kif l-Opposizzjoni tippretendi li neħduha bis-serjetà meta tkun kritika ta’ ħaddieħor. Għax l-ewwel u qabel kollox, l-Opposizzjoni għandha tkun kapaċi tapplika għaliha dak li ġustament tippretendi b’insistenza mingħand ħaddieħor.

Sfortunatament il-klassi politika presentment fil-ħatra mhiex kapaċi tipprattika dak li tipprietka. Meta l-partiti politiċi fil-parlament huma b’kuxjenza mraqqda, qiesha taħt l-effett tal-loppju, m’għandniex għalfejn niskantaw b’dak li naraw madwarna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum :13 ta’ Jannar 2019

 

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Anesthetised accountability

Earlier this week, the Planning and Environment Commissioner at the Ombudsman’s office held that it is nobody’s business as to whether or not the Planning Authority’s Board members attend Board meetings: this is a matter for their exclusive concern. The provision of a jet plane to encourage and facilitate the attendance of Ms Jacqueline Gili at the PA Board meeting which considered and approved the dB monstrosity at Pembroke is thus considered as an undue interference and influence in the Planning Authority’s operations.

The Planning Authority Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg is on record as having taken the responsibility for the decision to bring Ms Gili over to Malta from Catania by air and facilitating her return to continue her interrupted family holiday.

In a country where good governance is upheld, Mr Buttigieg would have resigned forthwith and, in the absence of such a resignation, he would have been fired on the spot as soon as information on the matter became public knowledge.

In addition one would also have had to deal with the fallout on the validity of the decision so taken as a result of such an undue interference.

It is, however, well known that the Planning Authority is incapable of reacting to such blatant bad governance. It is common knowledge that that it lacks the proverbial balls, making it incapable of acting properly.

But we cannot realistically expect otherwise, because the appointees to public authorities mirror the behaviour of their political masters. We cannot expect accountability from the appointees if those that appoint them continuously try to wriggle out of shouldering their responsibilities. There are, of course, some exceptions.

The Panama Papers saga is recent enough. Instead of firing Minister Konrad Mizzi and his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri on the spot for setting up companies in the Central American tax-haven, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat acted as if nothing of significance ever happened. What could have happened – in addition to the setting up Mizzi’s and Schembri’s companies and the third mysterious one (Egrant) is not so far provable. This has been stated repeatedly by our Courts, although the relative decisions have been repeated misinterpreted as absolving various politically exposed people (PEP) from any wrong doing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no doubt that, so far, there is an absence of proof indicating potential criminal liability. However, as a minimum, there is sufficient proof in the public domain pointing towards both errors of judgement and unethical behaviour which, on its own, is sufficient to justify immediate political sanctions.

This is not only applicable to all the PEP featuring in the Panama Papers saga. It is also applicable to other different scenarios across the political divide.

On a completely different level, I refer to the three reports by Auditor-General concerning the political responsibilities of Jason Azzopardi, all three of which deal with the management of government-owned land. In all three cases, former Minister Jason Azzopardi was heavily censored. I remember when a senior civil servant testified during a sitting of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in October 2017, in public session, that then Minister Azzopardi was aware of all the goings-on. Yet Jason Azzopardi sanctimoniously plays the idiot and feigns ignorance of the goings-on around his desk.

As yet, the Opposition has not yet held him (and others) to account. The Opposition cannot expect to be taken seriously when it rightly censors others before it musters sufficient courage to put its own house in order.

Unfortunately, the political class currently in office is not capable of practising what its preaches. With such anesthetised political parties, it is no wonder that this country has long gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 January 2019

Mill-Kummissjoni Venezja: Malta demokrazija parlamentari?

Meta tipprova tifhem dak li ntqal mill-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa tirriżulta preokkupazzjoni waħda bażika: Malta demokrazija parlamentari? Meta tgħarbel l-opinjoni li kienet ippubblikata iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa tasal għal konkulżjoni loġika: id-demokrazija parlamentari f’Malta hi prattikament ineżistenti. Minflok għandna ċentraliżmu demokratiku bil-Kabinett jiddetta lill-Parlament. Dik li fuq il-karta hi l-ogħla istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż hi fil-fatt sudditu tal-Kabinett.

Wasal iż-żmien li l-Parliament jieħu l-mazz f’idejh. Din hi l-qalba ta’ dak li għandu jkun ikkunsidrat f’riforma kostituzzjonali massiċċa li hi meħtieġa.

L-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja teżamina diversi materji. Hi intitolata “Malta: Opinion on Constitutional Arrangements and Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement.”

Dan mhu xejn ġdid għalina f’Alternattiva Demokratika. Jekk wieħed jgħarbel il-manifesti elettorali, stqarrijiet u artikli minn esponenti ta’ AD tul is-snin hu ċar li l-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġie indirizzat minn Alternattiva Demokratika. Imma dak li qalet AD ġie repetutament injorat mill-klassi politika diriġenti li kontinwament injorat il-ħtieġa ta’ bidla. Qatt ma kellhom rieda tajba li jindirizzaw il-poteri kolonjali tal-gvernatur li fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom għaddew għand il-Prim Ministru u rabbew l-għeruq fil-kostituzzjoni u l-liġijiet tagħna. Il-mentalità li min jirbaħ ikaxkar kollox trid tispiċċa u tinbidel f’waħda fejn kull settur tas-soċjeta ikollu rwol fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet u fejn il-Parlament ma jibqax servili lejn il-Kabinett imma jkun kapaċi li jieqaf fuq saqajh u jagħti direzzjoni hu lill-Kabinett.

Fl-opinjoni tiegħi mhux korrett li jingħad li d-demokrazija f’Malta hi pprattikata fuq il-mudell ta’ Westminister. Iktar inkunu korretti jekk nirrealizzaw li l-mudell hu dak imfassal mill-Uffiċċju tal-Kolonji imma mlibbes ilbies kostituzzjonali iktar riċenti: gvernatur liebes ta’ Prim Ministru.

Il-problema bażika hi li l-Parlament Malti ġie ikkastrat mill-PNPL. Hu Parlament ineffettiv għax m’għandux ir-rieda politika li jġiegħel lill-Gvern jagħti kont ta’ għemilu: la l-Gvern tal-lum u l-anqas lil dawk li ġew qabel .

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tidħol fil-qalba tal-materja meta tipponta lejn żewġ punti fundamentali li jeħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati.

Id-defiċjenza kostituzzjonali bażika f’Malta hi li l-Prim Ministru għandu f’idejh poteri kbar, wirt mill-gvernaturi kolonjali u f’ħafna każi bla jedd tal-Parlament li jara x’inhu għaddej. Dan iżeblaħ dik li nirreferu għaliha bħala demokrazija parlamentari u hu l-kawża tal-problemi kollha indirizzati mill-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja.

It-tieni problema hi l-membri parliamentari servili lejn l-eżekuttiv dejjem ifaqqsu: jistennew it-tqassim mill-Prim Ministru ta’ ħatrijiet intenzjonati biex iżommuhom okkupati u allura ma jkollomx il-ħin biex isaqsu u jgħarblu dwar il-ħidma tal-Gvern.
Dawn mhumiex problemi li ħoloqhom Joseph Muscat. Inħolqu minn ta’ qablu u ġew ipperfezzjonati tul is-snin biex ikun assigurat li ħadd ma jazzarda jaħseb b’moħħu. Il-ftit eċċezzjonijiet jippruvaw ir-regola!

L-aħħar tibdil sar mill-Parlament b’maġġoranza Laburista elett fl-2013 meta sar tibdil f’diversi liġijiet biex ikun possibli li membri parlamentari (laburisti) jkunu jistgħu jinħatru f’diversi karigi, bi ħlas sostanzjali. Dan jassigura li ħadd minnhom ma jiftaħ ħalqu biex ikun kritiku tal-Gvern għax kollha għandhom idhom fil-borma.

Lawrence Gonzi ipprattika dawn l-affarijiet, filwaqt li Joseph Muscat irfina s-sistema.

L-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja titkellem dwar bosta materji oħra ta’importanza kbira. Imma fl-opinjoni tiegħi, fl-aħħar, dak kollu li jingħad hu rifless f’punt wieħed : it-tmexxija għandha tkun f’idejn il-Parlament li għandu jibni demokrazija parlamentari ta’ vera u jġiegħel lill-Kabinett jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu kontinwament. Il-kumplament ikun il-konsegwenza loġika ta’ dan.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Venice Commission opinion: is Malta a Parliamentary Democracy?

Reading between the lines of the Council of Europe Venice Commission’s opinion on Malta, one basic preoccupation sticks out: is Malta a parliamentary democracy? Perusal of the opinion, released earlier this week, leads to one logical conclusion: parliamentary democracy in Malta is practically nonexistent. Democratic centralism reigns supreme, with the Cabinet dictating to Parliament. What on paper is the “highest institution in the land” is in fact a vassal of Cabinet.

Is it not about time that Parliament takes control? This is the crux of the matter which needs to be addressed by a major constitutional overhaul.

The Venice Commission’s opinion is wide-ranging. It is in fact entitled “Malta: Opinion on Constitutional Arrangements and Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement.”

There is nothing new to Maltese Greens in all this. Going through Green election manifestos, statements and articles throughout the years clearly shows that most of the points raised by the Venice Commission’s opinion have been repeatedly addressed by Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party. Yet these green proposals have been ignored time and time again as the alternating ruling political classes have continuously manifested a glaring lack of good will to embrace change and remove the vestiges of colonial rule which are still entrenched in Malta’s constitutional and legal setup.

The “winner takes all” mentality has yet to give way to one where all sectors of society are involved in decision-taking and where, in particular, Parliament is not subservient to the tenant at the Auberge de Castille, but is capable of holding Cabinet on a leash.

It is, in my opinion, incorrect to state that democracy in Malta is practiced on the basis of a Westminister model. It is rather a Colonial Office model camouflaged in modern constitutional clothing: a governor in prim-ministerial clothing. The basic problem lies in the fact that Malta’s Parliament has been castrated by the PNPL. It is an ineffective Parliament, as there is no political will to hold any government to account: neither the present nor any previous other.

The Venice Commission’s opinion goes to the heart of the matter when it points out two fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

The basic constitutional deficiency in Malta is an all-powerful Prime Minister who has constitutionally inherited all the powers exercised by the colonial governors, many times without parliamentary oversight. This makes a mockery of our so-called parliamentary-democracy and is the source and cause of all the problems addressed by the Venice Commission opinion.

The second basic problem is a never-ending supply of servile Members of Parliament who look forward to the sinecures distributed by the Prime Minister to all (government) backbenchers, thereby ensuring that all or most of them are at his beck and call. They are thus kept busy and have no time to ask questions and demanding answers, thereby holding the executive to account.

These problems have not been created by Joseph Muscat. They have, however, been specifically designed by his predecessors in office, red and blue, and tweaked over the years to ensure that at no point would it be possible for anyone to upset the applecart. The few exceptions prove the rule.

The latest adjustments to the system were made by a Labour-controlled Parliament after the 2013 elections as a result of the amendments to various laws making it possible to assign various responsibilities, against substantial payments, to practically all Labour parliamentary backbenchers. This ensures that they each and every government backbencher is not in a position to call the government to account as they all have a finger in the pie!

Lawrence Gonzi had also practised the above, while Joseph Muscat perfected the system.

The Venice Commission opinion speaks on various other important topics. In my humble opinion, at the end of the day it only boils down to one point: Parliament should take full control: it should construct a real parliamentary democracy and hold the tenant at the Auberge de Castille and his associates to account, continuously. All the rest will necessarily follow.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 December 2018

Venice Commission: Malta’s Parliament is castrated

 

Going through the Council of Europe Venice Commission report leads to one logical conclusion: this is no parliamentary democracy. It is in fact an exercise in democratic centralism with Cabinet dictating to Parliament which in turn obliges.

There is nothing new in all this. Going through Green electoral manifestos, statements and articles throughout the years clearly shows that most of the points raised by the Venice Commission report have been addressed by Alternattiva Demokratika. The proposals made have been ignored time and again as the alternating ruling political classes have continuously manifested a glaring lack of good will.

The heart of the problem lies in Parliament which has been castrated by the PNPL. It is ineffective as there is no political will to hold any government to account: neither the present nor any previous other.

The Venice Commission report goes to the heart of the matter when it points out two particular issues.

The basic constitutional deficiency is an all powerful Prime Minister who constitutionally has inherited all the powers exercised by the colonial governors, many times without parliamentary oversight. This makes a mockery of our so-called parliamentary-democracy.

The second basic problem is the servile members of parliament elected who look forward to the sinecures distributed by the Prime Minister to all (government)backbenchers thereby ensuring that all of them (or most of them) are at his beck and call.

The problems have not been created by Joseph Muscat or Adrian Delia. They have however been specifically designed by their predecessors and tweaked over the years to ensure that at no point would it be possible for anyone to upset the applecart.

The latest adjustments to the system were made by a Labour controlled Parliament after the 2013 elections as a result of the amendments to various laws making it possible to assign executive responsibilities to practically all parliamentary backbenchers. This ensures that they each and every government backbencher is not in a position to call government to account as they all have a finger in the pie!

Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika: għadna nistennew

Is-sit tal-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja jindika b’mod ċar li l-Att XIII tal-2017 imsejjaħ Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadu ma daħalx fis-seħħ. Din il-liġi irċiviet il-kunsens tal-President tar-Repubblika nhar it-30 ta’ Marzu 2017 wara li damet perjodu twil pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament. Jidher li għad baqgħalna x’nistennew, għax il-partiti politiċi fil-parlament ma tantx jdher li għandhom għaġla.

Il-liġi tipprovdi għall-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan il-Kummissarju jista’ jkun approvat biss kemm-il darba jikseb il-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. Fi ftit kliem irid ikun hemm qbil dwar il-ħatra tiegħu jew tagħha bejn il-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni li, sa fejn naf jien, għandhom ma qablux. S’issa ħadd ma jaf xejn, l-anqas jekk ġewx proposti ismijiet, minn min u x’kienet ir-reazzjoni dwarhom.

Il-liġi approvata tapplika għall-Membri kollha tal-Parliament, inkluż il-membri tal-Kabinett. Tapplika wkoll għal dawk il-persuni maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja (position of trust) fil-Ministeri u s-Segretarjati Parlamentari.

Meta iktar kmieni matul din il-ġimgħa iltqajt mal-Ispeaker tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti, l-Onorevoli Anġlu Farrugia, jiena emfasizzajt li dan id-dewmien biex tkun implimentata din il-liġi dwar l-imġieba xierqa tal-Membri Parlamentari u dawk maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiducja qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ ċar ħafna: li l-Membri Parlamentari m’għandhom l-ebda ħeġġa biex iwieġbu għal egħmilhom.

Jiena niftakar lill-Ispeaker, xi snin ilu, jemfasizza li hu ma kienx sodisfatt mill-kontenut tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-assi sottomessi minn uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari. Issa għandu l-għodda biex jinvestiga dwar il-veraċitá ta’ dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet imma sfortunatament m’huwiex jitħalla jagħmel użu minnhom! Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom, iżda l-fatt li l-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadha ma daħlitx fis-seħħ qiegħed jostakola dan milli jseħħ.

Meta tħares lejn dan in-nuqqas ta’ implimentazzjoni tal-liġi waħdu tista’ tinterpretah bħala tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Membri Parlamentari u l-mexxejja tagħhom li jippreferu ma jitqegħdux taħt il-lenti tal-iskrutinjun pubbliku. Imma meta dan kollu tqisu fil-kuntest tar-rapport annwali tal-Ombudsman għas-sena 2017 huwa ċar li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn m’huwiex limitat iżda hu mifrux ħafna. Id-dritt tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni dwar il-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika qiegħed taħt assedju.

Il-kontabiltá u it-trasparenza m’humiex slogans. L-anqas huma negozjabbli. Huma valuri fundamentali li jiffurmaw parti essenzjali mis-sisien tal-istat demokratiku.

Jiena tlabt lill-Ispeaker biex jiġbed l-attenzjoni tal-Kumitat tax-Xogħol tal-Kamra li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn biex ikun implimentat l-Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika mhuwiex aċċettabbli. Huwa essenzjali li l-liġi tkun implimentata malajr kemm jista’ jkun jekk iriduna nemmnu li għall-partiti politiċi fil-parlament il-kontabilitá tfisser xi ħaga.

B’żieda mar-responsabbiltá li jinvestiga l-imġieba kemm tal-Membri Parlamentari kif ukoll dik tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikollu ukoll l-inkarigu li jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll ir-regolamenti proposti dwar l-attivitá tal-lobbying. Dwar din l-attivitá b’implikazzjonijiet etiċi sostanzjali l-partiti politiċi fil-Parlament ma qablux meta din il-liġi kienet qed tiġi ikkunsidrata quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-abbozzi ta’ liġijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan Il-materja intefgħet f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li meta jinħatar ser ikun hu li jkollu jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll r-regolamenti proposti.

Il-lobbying hi attivitá essenzjali fil-ħajja pubblika. Jeħtieġ iżda li issir b’mod li jkun assigurat illi d-deċiżjonijiet mittieħda mill-politiċi jkunu kemm trasparenti kif ukoll b’rispett sħiħ lejn r-regoli bażiċi tal-etika.

Il-lobbying huwa ta’ influwenza kontinwa fuq id-deċiżjoniiet li jittieħdu. Huwa essenzjali li dan issir b’mod mill-iktar trasparenti biex ikun ċar għal kulħadd dwar liema interessi jkunu qed jiġu mmexxija l-quddiem. Dan bla dubju jfisser li ikun meħtieġ il-pubblikazzjoni ta’ ammont mhux żgħir ta’ informazzjoni li presentement hi fil-pussess ta’ membri tal-Kabinett u li ġeneralment tibqa’ fil-files – meta tkun miktuba. Din hi informazzjoni li ġeneralment tkun il-bażi għall-azzjonijiet u d-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Bla ebda dubju, il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti dwar il-lobbying iridu jindirizzaw u jirregolaw x’jista’jagħmel membru tal-Kabinett meta jispiċċa mill-ħatra, materja magħrufa bħala revolving door policy. Dan minħabba li s-settur regolat mill-Ministru jkollu għatx għal informazzjoni (kunfidenzjali) li dan ikun kiseb kemm ikun ilu fil-ħatra kif ukoll għall-kuntatti u influwenzi akkumulati fuq dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Xi drabi għaldaqstant meta Ministru jew Segretarju Parlamentari, hekk kif itemm il-ħatra tiegħu ikun offrut impieg f’dak l-istess settur li ftit qabel ikun dipendenti minnu jeħtieġ li nieqfu ftit. Dan ovvjament għax miegħu iġorr aċċess akkumulat kemm għal informazzjoni miksuba kif ukoll għal kuntatti u influwenza fuq il-proċess deċiżjonali. Il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti jridu jistabilixxu kemm jeħtieġ li jgħaddi żmien qabel ma dan ikun jista’ jseħħ. .

Huwa dan kollu li qed nistennew. Hemm ħafna li jeħtieġ li jsir imma ma jidher li hemm l-ebda impenn biex dan isir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 1 ta’ Lulju 2018 

Standards in Public Life: still waiting for Godot

The website of the Ministry of Justice clearly indicates that Act XIII of 2017 entitled Standards in Public Life Act is not yet in force. This statute received Presidential assent on  30 March 2017 after an elephantine gestation period. It seems that we are in for a long wait as the parliamentary political parties do not seem to be in any hurry.

The Act provides for the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. The Commissioner can only be appointed if two-thirds of Members of Parliament agree with the nomination, and as far as I am aware there has been no agreement so far between Government and Opposition on the matter. The name or names proposed to date are not in the public domain.

The Act applies to all Members of Parliament, including the members of Cabinet. Moreover, it also applies to those appointed to a position of trust in Ministries and Parliamentary Secretariats.

When I met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Anġlu Farrugia, earlier this week, I emphasised the fact that the delay in implementing this legislation on the ethical behaviour of Members of Parliament and those appointed in positions of trust is sending one clear message: that Members of Parliament are not that eager to be accountable for their actions.

I do remember the Speaker – some years back – emphasising the fact that he was not satisfied with the contents of the asset declarations submitted annually by some MPs. He now has the tools to investigate the veracity (or otherwise) of such declarations but is, unfortunately, being prevented from doing so. MPs should be accountable for their actions, but the non-implementation of the Standards in Public Life Act is preventing such accountability.

On its own, this lack of implementation could be interpreted as a reluctance of MPs and their leaders to be personally placed under the spotlight of public opinion. However, when viewed in the context of the 2017 Ombudsman’s annual report, it is very clear that this reluctance is widespread. The right of access to information on the workings of the public administration is under siege.

Accountability and transparency are not slogans and, moreover, they are non-negotiable. They are fundamental values which underpin the democratic state.

I have asked Mr Speaker to draw the attention of the House Business Committee to the fact that this procrastination in implementing the Standards in Public Life Act is not acceptable. Its implementation is a must if we are to believe that the commitment of parliamentary political parties goes beyond slogans.

In addition to investigating the behaviour of Members of Parliament and that of people appointed to positions of trust, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will have the task of drawing up guidelines and a proposal for regulations on lobbying activities. This is another ethical minefield in respect of which there was no agreement between the parliamentary political parties when the draft legislation was under consideration in the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills. As a result, instead of spelling out the required regulatory regime, the matter was postponed and added to the responsibilities of the future Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, whoever he or she may be.

Lobbying is an essential and unavoidable element of public life. However, it has to be placed under the spotlight to ensure a fuller transparency of the decisions taken by the holders of political office. In addition to subjecting lobbying to clear transparency rules, it is essential that the ethical issues linked to lobbying are addressed forthwith.

Lobbying continually influences decision-making. It is imperative that transparency rules are applied to lobbying so that it be clear to one and all as to whose interests are being advanced and defended. This would undoubtedly include the publication of a substantial amount of information to which Cabinet Ministers are currently privy, which information (generally) forms the basis for their actions and decisions.

Undoubtedly, lobbying guidelines and regulations have to address the issue of revolving doors recruitment, as a result of which politicians may be available for sale at the taxpayers expense. A policy addressing the issue of revolving doors recruitment would also regulate the cooling-off period required for a Minster or Parliamentary Secretary to take up employment (after termination of office) in the sector which was subject to his regulation authority.

This is what we are waiting for. Like Samuel Beckett’s characters in his “Waiting for Godot”. Godot never arrives.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 July 2018

Bżonn ta’ impenn ikbar favur il-kontabilitá

 

Dal-għodu għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għamilt żjara ta’ kortesija lill-Ispeaker fl-uffiċini tiegħu fil-Parlament.

Tkellimna dwar il-ħidma tal-Parlament. Jiena għażilt li niffoka fuq żewġ punti. L-ewwel dwar in-nuqqas tad-dħul fis-seħħ tal-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u wara dwar ir-apport annwali tal-Ombudsman għall-2017. Żewġ argumenti li huma relatati ħafna.

Bid-dewmien tad-dħul fis-seħħ tal-Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika il-Parlament qed jagħti messaġġ wieħed ċar: li m’għandux għaġġla biex il-Membri Parlamentari jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom kull meta dan ikun meħtieġ. Jidher li għad ma hemmx qbil bejn Gvern u Oppożizzjoni dwar il-ħatra tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, liema Kummissarju jeħtieġlu li jinħatar bi qbil ta’ żewġ terzi tal-Kamra.

Jidher li l-partiti rappreżentati fil-Parlament m’għandhomx għaġġla biex din il-liġi tkun implimentata. L-ewwel damet tlett snin għaddejja mill-Parlament (Mejju 2014 sa Marzu 2017). Issa ilha ħmistax-il xahar li rċieviet l-approvazzjoni tal-President tar-Repubblika, iżda għada fuq l-ixkaffa.

Dan kollu jassumi sinifikat ikbar jekk wieħed jarrah fil-kuntest tar-rapport tal-Ombudsman għall-2017 fejn hu ċar li d-dritt għall-informazzjoni dwar l-amministrazzjoni pubblika qiegħed taħt assedju.

Hu ċar li l-kontabilitá u l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni jimxu id f’id fi stat demokratiku. Huma l-pedamenti tad-demokrazija li l-Parlament għandu l-obbligu li jindokra.

Tlabt lill-Ispeaker biex jiġbed l-attenzjoni tal-Parlament li mhux aċċettabbli li nibqgħu bit-tkaxkir tas-saqajn. Hu neċessarju li l-Parlament jassigura l-ħarsien tad-dritt tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni kif ukoll li l-kontabilitá ma tibqax slogan.

 

Fake invoices and tainted donations

 

 

Around three weeks ago Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – requested the Electoral Commission to initiate an investigation into the illicit use of public property by the Labour Party. The case revolved around the use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Girgenti  as a meeting place for the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group. Various members of Cabinet tweeted photos of this Parliamentary Group meeting.

It is not so far known whether the Electoral Commission will be taking any action on the Girgenti matter other than that it was on the agenda for a Commission meeting.

Now another, more serious issue, has cropped up out of the blue. This is due to the very serious claim made by Silvio Debono that he gave a political donation to the Nationalist Party in the amount of about €70,800 which was camouflaged as a payment for services rendered through the production and use of a fake invoice for the purpose. This payment is alleged to have been made in a concealed or disguised manner being intended for the political party but by way of deception it was channelled through the party’s commercial arm.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, counter-claimed that a payment for €70,800 was made but that this was as payment for services “actually” rendered by its commercial arm, Media Link Communications, to two of the companies forming part of DB group, Silvio Debono’s group of companies. However,  at one point the Nationalist Party also declared that it will reimburse the “tainted money” because it will not be compromised.  The Nationalist Party has to chose between its contradictory reactions: is the €70,800 received from Silvio Debono tainted or is it a payment for services?

Silvio Debono claims that he has the fake invoices and the receipts for the amount paid through which he can substantiate his claims. He further stated that no services were rendered to his companies by Media Link Communications.

This allegation strikes a direct hit at transparency and accountability, the very foundation of the legislation regulating political party financing. The claim by Silvio Debono effectively means that donations of substantial sums of money to political parties can possibly continue unchecked, as long as they are properly disguised and provided that those with a finger in the pie keep their mouth shut. If this allegation is proven, it would signify that the regulatory checks and balances serve no purpose, because the commercial arms of the major political parties will be the proven perfect vehicle to circumvent all due process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Commission has the authority to investigate such an allegation, it would normally be very difficult to prove. No political party will ever confirm that it makes use of its commercial arm to circumvent rules and regulations. In fact, earlier this week the Nationalist Party Treasurer stated on PBS that as the person responsible for the party’s finances, he is not aware of the matter. In fact he said that he has never even met Silvio Debono.

Such an allegation can only be proven when the co-conspirator speaks up, as is happening in this particular case, even though, at the time of writing the alleged fake invoices have not been made available for public scrutiny. In actual fact, Silvio Debono is stating that he is aware that he flouted the law as he (or his companies, with his approval) knowingly accepted to settle fake invoices. In so doing, Debono is claiming that he knowingly carried out an exercise through which he gave the Nationalist Party an illegal donation.

The Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate this specific allegation and take the necessary action.

I would go further than that. Is it not about time that political parties are forced to dismantle their commercial activities, which should be the state funding of political parties, subject to strict controls. At the end of the day, this may be the only way forward.

The fact that information on the fake invoices and illegal donations was volunteered by Silvio Debono himself in obvious retaliation to his being the target of PN criticism about his being in receipt of a prime site on the cheap adds to the seriousness of the case. Clearly, while Silvio Debono “invested in the PN”, he has not received the expected dividends. At the end of the day, the pressing question requiring a very urgent answer is to identify the number of additional similar investments by Debono himself, as well as by others. As long as such investments yield suitable dividends, we may possibly  never know the answer.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 March 2017

 

Il-brodu ta’ Jason Azzopardi

Titħassru lil Jason, l-Onorevoli, li qed jħossu intimidat minn ġurnalisti li qed jiġru warajh għal spjegazzjonijiet dwar dak li ġara fid-Dipartimenti li għalihom kien responsabbli bħala Ministru matul l-2012 u l-2013. Bi tlett rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali li jikkritikaw l-operat ta dak li kien il-Ministeru tiegħu, Jason l-Onorevoli għad għandu ħafna xi jwieġeb. S’issa ħarab milli jwieġeb.

Jeħtieġ li jwieġeb dwar in-nuqqas ta tmexxija tajba da parti tiegħu (good governance), li dwarha,  l-Onorevoli jipprietka ħafna, imma mill-bqija, kif ngħidu, brodu.

Għall-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni din ukoll hi siegħa tal-prova. Għax kif jippretendi li jitwemmen li jrid imexxi Gvern serju, jekk l-anqas mill-Opposizzjoni ma hu kapaċi jassigura li l-Membri Parlamentari tal-partit tiegħu jagħtu kont ta egħmilhom?