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

L-idjoti (bla sens ta’ etika) fit-tmexxija tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar

L-aħbar fil-media li Jacqueline Gili, Direttur tal-Kuntratti fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi, persuna nnominata mill-Gvern fuq il-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, inġiebet minn Catania bil-jet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord kienet aħbar xokkanti. Fatt li jistabilixxi standards ġodda ta’ governanza ħażina għal din l-amministrazzjoni.

Id-dikjarazzjoni taċ-Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar Johann Buttigieg, li jkun idjota kieku kellu jerġa’ jikri jet privat darba oħra meta jaf li m’għandux appoġġ politiku għal deċiżjoni bħal din, turina b’mod ċar daqs il-kristall in-natura tal-problema reali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Id-deċiżjonijiet ma jittieħdux fuq bażi ta’ prinċipji etiċi ta’ tmexxija imma biss jekk ikunx hemm appoġġ politiku għalihom. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandha tmexxija amorali li tippermetti kollox, sakemm ikun hemm l-appoġġ politiku neċessarju.

Hemm mod sistematiku kif jivvutaw il-parti l-kbira tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar. M’hemmx bżonn wisq għerf biex tbassar min minnhom jista’ jivvota favur jew kontra applikazzjonijiet kontroversjali. Xi kultant ivarjaw ftit imma ġeneralment tista’ tipprevedi bi kważi preċiżjoni kif ser tmur il-votazzjoni.

Dan ifisser li d-deċiżjoni li jinkera l-jet kien eżerċizzju sempliċi biex ikun assigurat li l-voti favur l-applikazzjoni jkunu kollha preżenti madwar il-mejda. Meta wieħed iqis li Jacqueline Gili m’attendietx 29 minn l-aħħar 75 laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar dan kollu jassumi sinifikat ikbar.

Dan kollu, minkejja Ii hu importanti hu huwa kważi insinifikanti f’kuntrast mal-problemi kkawżati mill-konflitt ta’ interess eżistenti fil-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar.

Intqal li żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandhom kunflitt ta’ interess li minħabba fih ma kellhomx jipparteċipaw fil-laqgħa li kkunsidrat u approvat l-applikazzjoni tad-dB għal żvilupp f’Pembroke.

Iż-żewġ każi huma ta’ natura kompletament differenti.

L-ewwel każ ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess hu dak tal-membru parlamentari Laburista Mellieħi Clayton Bartolo. Meta kien mistoqsi dwar il-każ wara d-deċiżjoni, l-Onor. Clayton Bartolo spjega li missieru u zijuh jikru fond kummerċjali mingħand id-dB Group: huma sidien ta’ kumpanija fil-qasam tal-isports tal-baħar li topera mit-Tunny Net, propjetá ta’ Silvio Debono. Il-fatt enfasizzat mill-Onor. Bartolo li l-qraba tiegħu ma jirċievu l-ebda ħlas mingħand id-dB Group hu rrelevanti. Dak li hu relevanti hu li Clayton Bartolo qatt ma seta biss jikkunsidra li jivvota kontra l-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke għax li kieku għamel dan kien ikun qed jipperikola l-interessi kummerċjali ta’ qrabatu. Dan hu l-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Clayton Bartolo. Huwa kellu jiddikjara dan l-interess tiegħu immedjatament fil-bidu tal-laqgħa u sussegwentement kellu jwarrab u ma jipparteċipax fid-diskussjoni u d-deċiżjoni dwar il-proġett propost minn dB f’Pembroke.

It-tieni kunflitt ta’ interess hu ferm iktar serju minn hekk. Jinvolvi lil Matthew Pace membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-ishma li għandu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetá Remax. Dan l-interess ta’ Matthew Pace fin-negozju tal-propjetá huwa f’kunflitt dirett mad-doveri tiegħu ta’ membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Bħala sid ta’ ishma f’Remax hu perfettament naturali li Matthew Pace jieħu interess attiv fil-permessi ta’ żvilupp li jistgħu jwasslu għal iktar negozju għall-aġenzija li fiha għandu sehem. Imma bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar m’għandu jkollu l-ebda interess ta’ din ix-xorta għax dan inevitabilment iċajpar il-ġudizzju tiegħu huwa u jikkonsidra u jiddeċiedi l-applikazzjonijiet li jkollu quddiemu. Hu ċar li qatt ma messu kien appuntat. Il-fatt li ġie appuntat juri l-importanza li jagħti l-Gvern preżenti lill-imġieba korretta ta’ dawk li jiġu maħtura.

Hu floku ukoll li niġbed l-attenzjoni li Matthew Pace hu direttur eżekuttiv tal-kumpanija MFSP Financial Management Limited li f’Ġunju li għadda kienet immultata €38,750 mill-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) talli ma osservatx numru tal-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Ir-rapporti fl-istampa f’Ġunju li għadda jindikaw li l-kontijiet inkwistjioni kienu ta’ Keith Schembri, Kap Amministrattiv tal-Uffiċju tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, u ta’ Adrian Hillman li kien Direttur Maniġerjali tal-Allied Newspapers.

Dan jgħinna mhux ftit biex nifhmu ħafna iktar dak li qiegħed jiġri. It-taħwid li għaddej fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandu l-barka diretta minn Kastilja, u allura huwa l-Prim Ministru li jeħtieġ li jerfa’ r-responsabbiltá diretta għal dan kollu.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Settembru 2018

Amoral idiots at the Planning Authority

The revelation that Jacqueline Gili, Director of Contracts at the Ministry of Finance and government appointee on the Planning Authority Board, was brought over for a meeting by a jet plane from Catania is shocking. It takes bad governance under this administration to a new level.

The declaration by PA Executive Chairman, Johann Buttigieg, that he would be an idiot to hire an executive jet next time in view of his not having any “political backing” for his decision to do so on this occasion identifies the real problem. Governance at the PA is dependent on political backing and not upon solid ethical behaviour. The authority has an amoral leadership and anything is permissible, as long as there is political backing.

The voting patterns of the Planning Authority Board members are clear enough. It is not rocket science to identify a priori which members of the Planning Authority Board are in favour and which are against controversial applications. They vary at times, but generally one can be 75 per cent spot-on in identifying who will vote “yes” and who will vote “no” on most applications.

This signifies that the jet plane decision was simply an exercise in ensuring that the potential yes votes were all on board. This in view of the large number of absences of Jacqueline Gili at Planning Board meetings in the recent past: she has not been present at  29 of the last 75.

I submit, however, that the jet plane issue almost pales into insignificance compared with the issue of conflict of interest at Planning Authority Board meetings. It has been said that two members of the Board had a conflict of interest in view of which they should not have participated in the meeting that considered and approved the dB Pembroke development proposal.

The two cases are however of a completely different nature.

The first conflict of interest is of Mellieħa Labour MP Clayton Bartolo. When prodded, after the decision was taken, the Hon Clayton Bartolo explained that his father and uncle are tenants of commercial premises owned by the dB Group: they are shareholders of a water sports company that operates from Silvio Debono’s Tunny Net Complex. The fact underlined by Hon Bartolo that the Bartolo relatives do not receive any payments from the dB Group is irrelevant. What is relevant is that, had Clayton Bartolo decided to vote against the dB Pembroke proposal, the existing commercial relationship between his immediate relatives and the dB Group would have been at considerable risk. This is what gives rise to Clayton Bartolo’s conflict of interest. He should have declared his interest before the PA Board meeting and not participated in the discussion and decision on the dB Pembroke project.

The second conflict of interest is much more serious. It involves PA Board member Matthew Pace and his shareholding in the Remax Estate Agency. Mr Pace’s interests in an estate agency is in direct conflict with his duties as a member of the Planning Authority Board. As a shareholder in Remax, it is natural for him to have an active interest in development permits as this would inevitably lead to more business for his agency. As a PA Board member, he should not have such an interest in any potential development permit as it would inevitably cloud his judgement in accessing and deciding on the applications for his consideration.

It is clear that Matthew Pace should have never been appointed in the first place and the fact that he was signifies the importance that the present government attaches to the ethical behaviour of its appointees.

It would be pertinent to also point out that Mr Pace is also Executive Director of MFSP Financial Management Ltd, an investment company which, last June, was fined €38,750 by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws. Reports in the press at the time indicated that the accounts in question belonged to Keith Schembri, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and Adrian Hillman former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers.

This makes matters substantially easier to decipher: the useful idiots at the Planning Authority are in the good books of the powers that be at Castille. The buck therefore stops on Joseph Muscat’s desk: it is he who has to shoulder political responsibility for this mess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 September 2018

Paceville: protecting the underdogs

paceville-mp-land-use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 November 2016

Kastilja bir-remote control tal-MEPA

MEPA + gov logo

 

Il-MEPA u Kastilja huma ħaġa waħda,  qalilna l-kelliemi tal-PN Ryan Callus. Dan il-kumment qalu b’referenza għax-xhieda tal-Kap Eżekuttiv tal-MEPA Johann Buttiġieg fil-Parlament [Kumitat dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp] dwar l-Università fiż-Żonqor u kif huwa ġie mqabbad iħejji r-rapport dwar kemm kienet addattata jew le l-art fiż-Żonqor għall-ħsieb li kellu l-Gvern.

L-Onorevoli Ryan Callus hu korrett. Li ma qalx Ryan Callus kien li l-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat ma bidilx il-liġi (s’issa) imma għamel użu minn dak li sab.

Nistieden lil Ryan Callus biex jgħarbel ftit il-ħidma tal-MEPA tul is-snin. Meta jagħmel dan ikollu idea ħafna iktar ċara tal-ħsara kbira li saret mill-partit tiegħu fil-Gvern meta ħoloq strutturi u għamel ħatriet li kienu jippermettu ndħil kontinwu min-naħa tal-Gvern. Fil-fatt il-Gvern ilu ħafna jindaħal lill-MEPA f’dak kollu li tagħmel! Xi drabi dan kien ovvju iktar minn oħrajn tant li kien hemm żmien li l-MEPA kien qiesha qed titmexxa bir-remote control mill-uffiċċju tal-Ministru jew minn Kastilja. Dan kien possibli prinċipalment għax dawk maħtura biex imexxu ma kienux il-persuni addattati.

Ma nafx jekk Ryan Callus iqiesx dan bħala żball da parti tal-Gvern immexxi mill-PN, inkella sabutaġġ da parti tal-PN fil-mod kif kienu (u għadhom) jaħdmu l-istituzzjonijiet.

Fuq dan il-blog jista’ isib artikli kemm irid dwar is-suġġett biex jekk ikun irid l-Onorevoli Callus jiffriska ftit il-memorja tiegħu u ta’ sħabu.

Fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali, Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet miżura li tista’ tnaqqas dan l-indħil billi żżid il-possibilità li jinħatru persuni aħjar minn dawk li nħatru s’issa kemm fuq il-Bord tal-MEPA kif ukoll bħala l-uffiċjali ewlenin tagħha. Dan ikun jista’ isir billi b’liġi tingħata setgħa lill-Parlament [permezz tal-Kumitat dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp] biex dan ikun jista’ jgħarbel fil-pubbliku l-ħatriet li jkun ser jagħmel il-Gvern. U jekk ma jaqbilx ikun jista’ jinblokka dawn il-ħatriet.

Jekk irid jista’ jaqra l-proposta tal-2013 hawn.  Għax Alternattiva Demokratika mhux tikkritika biss imma tagħmel (u għamlet) proposti konkreti ukoll.