Owen’s latest gimmick

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici explained to the press the measures proposed by the government in order that Parliament will be in a position to examine its political appointees nominated to head various state agencies or institutions as well as those appointed to ambassadorships from outside the civil service.

Naturally, the first reaction to Owen Bonnici’s declaration is that government’s proposal is a positive small first step. However, when the detailed proposal was published, it was clear that this was another gimmick. It is proposed that a Parliamentary Standing Committee will be able to examine potential political appointees through written questions. On the basis of the answers received, and supplementary (written) questions, the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be expected to advise the government on the appointments under consideration.

This is a far cry from what is expected in a modern democracy.

Parliament, either directly or through a standing committee, should not be expected to simply advise. It should decide on the suitability or otherwise of the government nominees. This should be done after the nominees have been examined in a public hearing in the same manner as that of the US Senate Committees or the Parliamentary Committees of various other countries. This can only be done if Parliament reclaims the powers it has ceded to the government over the years.

Parliamentary scrutiny means much more than answering a set of written questions. Examining the nominees to ascertain their suitability for the post they have been nominated goes much further than the superficial examination of their professional competence. It also entails the examination of their past performance in order to ascertain whether they are capable of withstanding political pressure which seeks to sway their judgement in favour of political expediency and consequently influence their behaviour.

Such an exercise cannot be done through written questions but through a viva voce examination where it is not only what is said that matters. Interpreting body language and reactions to unexpected questions or statements is generally more relevant than deciphering boring, long-winded answers that go around in circles and generally avoid providing an answer at all.

During the general election campaign a few months ago, we were told that we needed “Labour-proof institutions”. In reality, government institutions and agencies should be at arms length from the government of the day in all day to day matters. This is done by ensuring that the running of government institutions and agencies is not the prerogative of political cronies but of suitably qualified appointees.

The government proposal is one that ensures that Parliament, through it’s Standing Committees, will not be in a position to carry out any meaningful scrutiny.  Parliament needs to have the authority to block the appointments which it considers to be unsuitable and in order to be able to act in this manner, the government’s proposal needs to be heavily revisited.

It is for this reason that – in the recent general election manifesto (and even in that of the previous general election) – we Greens proposed a much more effective policy: that parliament (or its committees) should have the authority to decide, and not merely advise on, public appointments and that this should be done through a public hearing without limitations.

These are the essential building blocks of a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st October 2017

Green and Clean: Parliament’s role

The general election is being over-shadowed by a web of corruption spun around the Office of the Prime Minister. It has been unravelling for months since the publication of the Panama Papers.

Months of debate has highlighted the need for Parliament to reclaim the authority which, over the years, it has ceded to government. All institutions require continuous Parliamentary oversight: even the civil service needs to be properly monitored by Parliament.

The PN are proposing labour-proof institutions. In reality the institutions need to be PN-proof as well – as both major political parties have had exclusive control of institutions over the years, bending them to their will.

The current mess is the direct result of a two-party system that spread its tentacles through the institutions creating empires with the specific aim of buttressing those in power and protecting them in their time of need. It is a two-party system which, over a 50-year period, has developed a winner takes all mentality, as a result of which only those aligned to the winner are deemed to be able to contribute to the well-being and development of the country. The rest, with few exceptions, have been repeatedly excluded, and it is Malta which, ultimately has lost the utilisation of substantial talent.

This is the background to Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto. Entitled Vote Green – Vote clean, without ignoring other important issues, it focuses on matters of governance in addition to its core environmental proposals.

We have plenty of good laws. The problem is that, many times, the pool of talent from which those who implement such laws are selected is generally limited to those carrying the party card. Successive governments have often preferred the politically loyal to the technically and ethically competent. This has been possible due to the fact that Parliament has abdicated its responsibilities and assigned them to the government.

Parliament should reclaim the authority ceded to government to appoint authorities and it should proceed to screen those nominated through a public hearing by a Parliamentary Committee on the lines practised by the Senate of the United States of America. This screening by Parliament should  be applicable first and foremost to all constitutional authorities, as well as to all authorities set up in terms of law. Likewise, the appointment of Commissioner of Police, the Head of the Armed Forces, the Governor of the Central Bank,  the Head of the Civil Service and ambassadors, as well as all civil service grades from Director up to Permanent Secretary,   should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to ensuring a more serious selection process, this would serve as a safety valve protecting the civil service itself from abusive action on the part of an incoming government as happened in 2013, when the Head of the Civil Service and practically all Permanent Secretaries were removed in the first minutes of a new Labour government.

The recruitment of people of trust on a large scale during the past 4 years has further politicised the civil service. It is a practice that has been on the increase even before March 2013. The engagement of people of trust throughout the wider public service was used as a stratagem to avoid the scrutiny of the Public Service Commission, a constitutional body established specifically to ensure a fair recruitment process. This should cease forthwith, with the engagement of people of trust being limited to the private secretariats of holders of political office.

The Standards in Public Life Act, which ironically was supported by both the PN and the PL, was approved by Parliament shortly before dissolution. It provisions were therefore not implemented. In particular, the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – to be tasked with investigating the behaviour of MPs – has not yet materialised and will have to be addressed by the new Parliament elected on 3 June.

Lobbying is not yet regulated. In fact, its regulation has been postponed as no agreement was reached between the PN and the PL about possible lobbying regulations.

AD considers that the next Parliament will have to address head-on whether Members of Parliament should be full-timers, thus severing all links with profession and/or employment and, as a result, substantially reducing instances of conflict of interest faced by Members of Parliament.

Parliament can, in the next few weeks, assume a central role in re-building the country’s institutions. It is the only way forward to ensure that ethical behaviour in public life is the norm, rather than the exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 May 2017

Revolving doors: John Dalli and beyond

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga is developing further, much beyond its original obvious intent. The new twist is whether, and to what extent, the use of revolving doors by politicians as soon as their political office draws to an end is permissible.

The use of revolving doors is a reference to the practice of some politicians to join the Board of Directors or team of advisors of business/industry in an area which they would have been responsible for regulating when in office.

The practice in the EU and some other countries is to postpone the possible entry of former Commissioners (holders of political office) in the areas they previously regulated by three years. This signifies that former Commissioners (or Ministers) are forbidden (unless they obtain prior clearance) from joining Boards of Directors and/or organisations  of lobbyists for a number of years.  A case in point was the recent Barroso appointment to the Goldman Sachs Board which whilst being considered as being morally reprehensible was not deemed to be a breach of the EU integrity code.  

As far as I am aware, the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending before Malta’s Parliament does not address the issue. The issues to be addressed are various. Primarily, however, it is urgent to establish a cooling-off length of time during which time persons active in public life should not take up posts in the private sector in order to ensure the observance of an ethical benchmark.

John Dallis taking up the post of Chairman of Marsovin is only one example. There are various others amongst which the posts which John Dalli himself as well as Karmenu Vella (present Commissioner and former Minister for Tourism) had taken up with the Corinthia Group in the past.

In fairness the applicability of such an ethical standard should also be considered for top civil servants, who should approach the use of revolving doors with extreme caution.  

Some memories of my father

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It is now four weeks since he passed away in the early hours of 11 June. Yet I still find myself dialling his telephone number at least twice a day to exchange some news or to ask for his opinion or advice on some matter.

Three months short of his 85th birthday, he had retired from the civil service 25 years ago after a continuous public service spanning over 40 years. I do remember most of his postings, in particular those at the Customs and the then Water Works Department. He was dedicated to his duties at the Department of Social Services where he spent more than twenty years of his public service.

He was an only child as his elder sister had died at birth. At the tender age of six he was already an orphan when he lost his father who worked as a linotype operator at the government printing press. It was in 1937, two years before the outbreak of World War II. Without a breadwinner at home and inexistent social services life was miserable.

My father was not into politics. He was of the opinion that it would have been much better had I followed in his footsteps! He told me as much in very forceful language many times, in particular on the morrow of Black Monday in October 1979 when standing in the timber balcony of our home in St Paul Street Valletta we could still observe smoke coming out from the gutted Progress Press, home to The Times and The Sunday Times for many years.

He was a civil servant of the old school who took much pride in his work. As a young boy I could observe this at close quarters whenever he took me along. As an account keeper at the Water Works Department in the 1960s he would patiently listen to and address complaints on “errors” in water and electricity bills. Later in the 1980s, he would apply his skills as a welfare officer in the different area offices of the Department of Social Services assisting the elderly and vulnerable who sought the assistance of the state.

In 1977, after taking part in a sympathy strike called by the UĦM in solidarity with bank employees he was transferred to the Bormla Area Office of the Department of Social Services. It was certainly not intended to be a pleasant experience. In fact, he used to recount how in the first weeks after his being transferred to the Bormla Social Services Area Office, various officials of the local Labour Party Club used to turn up at the office “to check” on the progress of the new welfare officer! Subsequently he was transferred to other Area Offices.

My father spent his last weeks in palliative care at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre where he was much impressed by the dedicated service of all members of staff, without exception. My family is grateful to them all as their care and dedication ensured that his last days were bearable right to the very end. May he rest in peace.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 10 July 2016

The elephant in the room

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When Malta’s EU accession negotiations approached the final stages, a merger of the then Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment was announced.

While the merger was the right thing to do, it was done in a hurry and as a result, an organised Planning Directorate overshadowed an understaffed Environment Directorate.  A number of  civil servants employed in the former Environment Department had refused to go along to MEPA, thus further diluting the newly established Environment Directorate. This was further exacerbated by long spells during which the post of Environment Director was vacant. This did not involve weeks, but years. Currently, in fact, there is no Environment Director in place- the post having been vacated around two years ago.

The Environment Department was then one of the youngest departments in the civil service which, overnight, as a result of EU accession had to shoulder responsibility for a substantial portion of the EU acquis for which it was largely not equipped. The situation has slightly improved over the years. The previous administration declared many times that it would bridge the gap in human resources, but, unfortunately, it never lived up to its declarations. As a result, the Environment Directorate was, and still is, overshadowed. In addition, to make matters worse, the consolidated authority was (and still is) led by a Board in which environmental knowledge  was (very) scarce. This was the perfect recipe for a good initiative not to yield any results by design.

Malta requires more consolidation of environmental governance, not its fragmentation. Further consolidation will increase the chances of being more effective in coordinating related areas of policy: land-use planning and environment protection are two such areas. Fragmentation, on the other hand, increases ineffectiveness. However, mergers require commitment and resources – both of which have been manifestly lacking.

The potential fruits of the merger would only have been reaped if the consolidated MEPA had been led by an Environment Directorate. Unfortunately, it was designed differently: a combination of bad design and an absence of good faith.

The solution to this problem is not to reverse the merger but rather to reverse the roles of land-use planning and environment protection in a consolidated MEPA, meaning that land-use planning should be subjected to rigorous environmental control. Unfortunately, this was never on the cards, nor is it contemplated in the de-merger bills. The agenda of the parliamentary political parties has always been very clear: to ensure that land-use planning is subject to the least possible environmental controls in the interests of the development lobby.

This is the elephant in the room. The PN in government implemented this objective by a merger of a highly organised Planning Directorate with a weak but dedicated Environment Department. Labour has opted to achieve the same objective through fragmentation.

At the end of the day, the government’s misguided de-merger will not  cause additional damage: it will be more of the same, as we have been accustomed to throughout the years. The attainment of the full potential of the newly-created authorities will be postponed until such time as they are inevitably reunited under the leadership of a revamped Environment Directorate.

In the meantime, other important issues in the projected legislation can be focused upon. The manner of appointment of boards and top officers of the newly created authorities is one such issue.

Having the Minister’s trust is not a sufficient requirement justifying appointments to boards and authorities – and this not just with reference to appointments of an environmental nature. It would be appropriate if the competence of those selected for office is scrutinised in public. Other democracies, the United States of America for example, regularly use public hearings as an instrument for carrying out such  public scrutiny for a number of appointments of national importance.

In its 2013 election manifesto, Alternattiva Demokratika  specifically proposed the adoption of this method in order to examine the government’s nominees to public bodies. In particular, AD proposed  that government nominees to land-use planning, environment and resource-management boards (including directors and CEOs) should not take up their post until Parliament’s Environment and Land Use Planning Committee had examined such nominations in public and signified its consent thereto. Such a public hearing  should be carried out to establish whether the nominees are suitable for the posts to which they have been nominated.

Were nominees  required to subject themselves to such a public hearing, Malta would  definitely have a much better crop of administrators than that which it has been accustomed over the years. This would also reinforce the notion that administrators of public authorities are, at the end of the day, accountable to the whole country and not just to the government Minister who nominates them for the post.

The merger of land-use planning and environment protection at MEPA should be strengthened by ensuring that the Environment Directorate calls the shots. It is, however, equally important to ensure that those nominated to lead the authority (irrespective of whether we have one or more) are suitable for running the show.  Parliament should thus reclaim back its powers and vet the government’s nominees in public. When this has been done, we will be able to state that we have commenced down the path to improving environmental governance. Otherwise, it will be more of the same for many years to come.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 12 July 2015

Trying to squeeze out the small political parties?

Financing of Political Parties ActStandards in Public Life Bill

 

Legislation regulating the financing of political parties in Malta is long overdue. Alternattiva Demokratika has been harping on about this subject since its foundation in 1989 and has referred  to it in all the general election campaigns since.

Former MP Franco Debono has been a driving force over the last few years in ensuring that the financing of political parties has been an item retained on the national agenda.

The Parliamentary Committee for the consideration of Bills is currently examining the Financing of Political Parties Bill in detail. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, I had the opportunity to be present at a number of sittings and also participated in the ensuing discussion after being invited to do so by the Parliamentary Committee.

While the general thrust of the Bill is reasonable, it contains three basic mistakes which, if unchecked, will impact the whole regulatory process. The first is over-regulation. The second is the retention of absolute control directly in the hands of representatives of the Parliamentary political parties which, in turn, leads to the third fault- this being a one-size-fits-all template.

I will take each in turn.

The over-regulating aspect of the Bill has been watered down, as  Minister Owen Bonnici was very flexible when faced with this criticism. He accepted various amendments to the Bill, scaling down  various  provisions relating to the proposed regulation of political parties.

The government is proposing that the regulating authority on party political financing should be the Electoral Commission. It attempts to justify its stance by pointing out  that the General Elections Act already assigns responsibility to the Electoral Commission to receive, and where necessary vet, the expenses made and donations received by candidates in general, local and European elections in Malta. However, Minister Owen Bonnici, who is piloting the Bill,  was not in a position to explain why the Electoral Commission had never taken any action when faced with a blatant disregard for the rules by candidates in past elections.

The alternative proposal, initially piloted by Alternattiva Demokratika but subsequently also taken up by the PN Opposition, would see the regulatory authority on political party financing vested in the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. This Commissioner would be a  Parliamentary Official, to be elected subject to the support of two-thirds of Members of Parliament when the Standards in Public Life Bill, currently pending on Parliament’s agenda, is approved. Enjoying the support of two-thirds of MPs would signify that the person selected would enjoy widespread support and consequently his or her moral authority would be substantial and effective.

During the discussion Minister Owen Bonnici declared that the Council of Europe’s GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption) was  breathing down his neck  and consequently the government could not afford to await alternative institution building.

A major stumbling block is the composition of the Electoral Commission itself. This is determined in the Constitution, with four of its members being nominated by the Prime Minister and  another four members  being nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The chairman of the Electoral Commission is always a civil servant nominated by the Prime Minister. This signifies that the parliamentary political parties, through their absolute control of the Electoral Commission, end up regulating themselves through their nominees. But what is even worse is the fact that they also control the regulatory process for all other political parties which may consider registering.

It seems that this rigid control of the regulatory process by the parliamentary political parties is not enough.  To be sure of tightening even further the resulting control, the Financing of Political Parties Bill also adopts a one-size fits-all template. It does this by ignoring reality and makes no distinction between the political parties having seven-digit turnover and the rest. Nor does it distinguish between the political parties run by full-time professionals paid for their services, at least in part through funds arising from donations, and political parties run by volunteers with an annual turnover averaging €10,000. The one-size-fits-all approach is, however, not extended to state financing. For the past 20 years, both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party parliamentary groups have been receiving €100,000 in public funds annually.

The proposed  rigid reporting and auditing requirements that may be reasonable for political parties with seven-digit budgets are certainly quite unreasonable for a political party such as Alternattiva Demokratika, run by volunteers on a shoestring budget which averages €10,000 annually.

The limited administrative capacity of small parties is not factored in the Bill under consideration.

The end result may well be that there will be considerable administrative difficulties for political parties not presently in parliament to register as political parties once the Bill under discussion becomes law. (It has to be borne in mind that only political parties registered in terms of an eventual   Financing of Political Parties Act will be able to present candidates in all elections in Malta. All other candidates will be considered as independent candidates and grouped together at the lower part of the ballot paper.)

Mixed messages have come through during the debate on this Bill. Unfortunately, however, the message at these final stages is that there is also a clear but undeclared objective of the Financing of Political Parties Bill– to squeeze out the small political parties.

In the coming months we will see whether this undeclared objective can be overcome.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 5 July 2015

 

 

Il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi: Ħtieġa ta’ kunsens wiesa’

Hisilicon K3

L-editorjal tat-Times tal-lum jitkellem dwar is-sorveljanza tal-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Suġġett traskurat għal snin twal u li llum dwaru fil-Parlament għaddejja diskussjoni dwar abbozz ta’ liġi. Dwar dan l-abbozz, u l-fatt li wasalna sa hawn, kif diġà għedt drabi oħra, għandu mertu kemm Franco Debono kif ukoll il-Gvern tal-lum.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha ukoll is-snin titkellem dwar il-materja. Dan għamlitu sa mill-ewwel programm elettorali tagħha fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-1992, l-ewwel darba li kkontestat elezzjoni ġenerali. Bħala AD ppubblikajna żewġ dokumenti dwar il-proposti li għandu quddiemu llum il-Parlament. L-ewwel wieħed kien dokument bir-reazzjonijiet ta’ AD għall-White Paper. Sussegwentement ħejjejna u ppubblikajna wkoll dokument bi tweġiba għall-proposti kif dettaljati fl-abbozz ta’ liġi.

Fil-prinċipju l-abbozz ta’ liġi ppreżentat hu tajjeb imma jirrikjedi diversi emendi.

Preżentament, fil-fatt, l-abbozz qiegħed jiġi diskuss fil-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar il-Liġijiet. Jiena qed nieħu sehem f’din id-diskussjoni u dan għax intlaqgħet it-talba ta’ AD għal parteċipazzjoni f’din id-diskussjoni u ġejt mistieden biex inkun nista’ nieħu sehem fiha.

Id-diskussjoni fil-Kumitat Parlamentari issa waslet bejn wieħed u ieħor sa nofs l-abbozz tal-liġi u nista’ ngħid li f’ħafna każi l-abbozz ġie mtejjeb billi ġew ikkunsidrati bis-serjetà d-diversi proposti li saru. Dan iżda ma sarx għall-iktar punt importanti tal-liġi. Il-Gvern, permezz tal-Ministru Owen Bonnici, ma jridx jiċċaqlaq mill-proposta li l-awtorità li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha xhur twal issa li għamlet il-proposta li flok il-Kummissjoni Elettorali l-awtorità regolatorja għandha tkun f’idejn il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, uffiċjal parlamentari li dwaru hemm abbozz ta’ liġi pendenti fuq l-aġenda parlamentari. Hu propost f’dan l-abbozz li dan l-uffiċjal jinħatar bil-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. B’hekk ikun hemm kunsens wiesa’ fuq il-persuna li tinħatar li bla dubju taġixxi lil hinn mill-influwenza tal-partiti politiċi kollha.

Kien għalhekk ta’ sodisfazzjon li sussegwentment anke l-Partit Nazzjonalista adotta l-istess pożizzjoni u insista fuq dan waqt id-diskussjoni fil-Parlament.

Imma l-Gvern ma jaqbilx ma’ dan għal żewġ raġunijiet. L-ewwel qed jgħid li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi struttura eżistenti u għalhekk għax hu mgħaġġel biex iħaddem il-liġi l-ġdida [għax qed jiġri warajh il-GRECO mill-Kunsill tal-Ewropa: GRECO = Group of States Against Corruption] jippreferi jagħmel użu mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali. It-tieni, il-Gvern qed jgħid li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi korp kostituzzjonali li diġà in parti għandu responsabbiltajiet dwar il-finanzjament tal-politika u dan għax “suppost” li diġà jissorvelja l-infiq tal-kandidati fl-elezzjonijiet diversi.

Sfortunatement il-Gvern qed jinjora l-fatt li kif komposta l-Kummissjoni Elettorali, għal raġunijiet storiċi, hi dominata minn rappreżentanza tal-partiti politiċi fil-parlament [4 mill-PN, 4 mill-PL u Chairman miċ-Ċivil magħżul mill-Gvern tal-ġurnata]. Dan ifisser li l-partiti politiċi fil-parlament għandhom aċċess għall-informazzjoni fuq il-partiti l-oħra li mhumiex u per konsegwenza kontroll sħiħ fuq il-proċess kollu.

Jagħmel tajjeb il-Gvern kieku jfittex kunsens anke fuq dan il-punt, kif wara kollox għamel b’suċċess fuq partijiet oħra tal-liġi.

ippubblikat fuq iNews l-Erbgħa 1 ta’ Lulju 2015

Tonio Fenech, l-ispiji, w ir-responsabbiltà tal-uffiċjali pubbliċi

Directive 5

 

Il-Partit Laburista bhalissa ghaddej b’kampanja dwar l-“ispjuni” ta’ Tonio Fenech.

Teżisti informazzjoni elettronika li tindika illi numru ta’ uffiċjali pubbliċi fi gradi imlaħħqin kienu qed jassistu lil Tonio Fenech, meta kien għadu l-kelliemi tal-PN dwar il-finanzi. Kienu qed jieħdu sehem f’laqgħat ta’ diskussjoni kemm fil-HQ tal-Partit Nazzjonalista kif ukoll b’mod virtwali.

Minbarra dan, qed jingħad li kienu qed jgħaddu informazzjoni kunfidenzjali li saru jafu biha waqt il-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom.

Dawn huma żewġ affarijiet kompletament differenti.

Li uffiċjal pubbliku jgħaddi informazzjoni kunfidenzjali li jsir jaf bħala riżultat waqt il-qadi ta’ dmirijeitu hi materja gravi ħafna. Jekk dan iseħħ u jkun jista’ jiġi ppruvat, bla ebda dubju, jimmerita azzjoni drastika sakemm ma jsirx biex jinkixfu abbużi fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika, f’liema każ fil-fehma tiegħi ikun skużabbli.

Min-naħa l-oħra, l-parteċipazzjoni ta’ uffiċjali pubbliċi fil-politika illum hi possibli għal ħafna. Huma ftit dawk l-impjegati fis-settur pubbliku li ma jistgħux jipparteċipaw. Dawk li ma jistgħux jipparteċipaw (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet) huma ristretti għall-gradi ta’ fuq nett, sa skala Numru 5. Dan huwa xieraq għax huwa neċessarju li l-għola uffiċjali tas-settur pubbliku jkunu distakkati mill-ħidma tal-partiti politiċi.

Xi snin ilu n-numru ta’ l-impjegati fis-settur pubbliku li ma setgħux jinvolvu ruħhom fil-politika kien ħafna ikbar. Iżda tul is-snin sar tibdil kbir u ġie rikonoxxut li n-numru ta’ dawk li ma kellhomx jipparteċipaw kellu jkun l-inqas possibli. Din il-posizzjoni ġiet kristallizzata fid-Direttiva numru 5 li ħarġet fl-2011 taħt il-provedimenti tal-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika.

Din hi restrizzjoni ġustifikabbli, avolja, bla dubju, min jintlaqat minnha jaħseb mod ieħor. Hi miżura bażika li nsibuha fid-demokraziji kollha. Tajjeb li, for the record, ngħid ukoll li Alternattiva Demokratika ġiet effettwata minn din il-mizura. Dan billi għandna diversi persuni validi li ma setgħux jibqgħu attivi minħabba li ħadu ħatriet fi gradi għoljin fis-settur pubbliku. Dan m’għamluħx biss għax hekk kien xieraq, imma niftakar ċar każ partikolari fejn mill-OPM fl-2008/9 kienu għamlu l-ġimgħat jiġru wara uffiċjal ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika biex jassiguraw ruħhom li kien ser iwaqqaf il-ħidma politika tiegħu. Kienu ukoll għamluha ċara ħafna: li jekk ma jitlaqx il-ħatra politika ma setax ikompli fl-impieg!

Ikun tajjeb li l-PN jifhem dan u jimxi miegħu ukoll.

 

L-ispjuni boloh ta’ Tonio Fenech

spys

 

It-Torċa tal-lum irrappurtat storja dwar numru ta’ uffiċjali pubbliċi mlaħħqa li kienu qed jgħaddu informazzjoni lil Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi. Billi kienu msieħba f’google group dawn kienu jiddiskutu bejniethom issues kurrenti hekk kif jinqalgħu w jgħaddu informazzjoni sensittiva lil Tonio Fenech xi kultant ankè qabel ma jkun jaf biha l-Gvern stess.

Għal Tonio Fenech bla dubju kienet scoop għax kien ikun armat b’informazzjoni biex ikun jista’ jitkellem “in real time” imma għas-servizz pubbliku hi daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Għax is-servizz pubbliku mhux qiegħed hemm biex jivvantaġġa lil xi partit politiku imma biex imexxi u jagħti servizz lill-pajjiż kollu.  Għalhekk ngħidu li l-lealtà tas-servizz pubbliku hi waħda lejn il-Gvern tal-ġurnata li jiddetermina d-direzzjoni. Is-servizz pubbliku imbagħad jimplimenta.

L-artiklu fit-Torċa jidentifika uħud minn dawn l-uffiċjali pubbliċi b’isimhom. Qegħdin fost oħrajn fil-Bank Ċentrali, l-MFSA (Malta Financial Services Authority), u fl-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Istatistika.

Dan hu ħażin, avolja mhux l–ewwel darba li ġara.  Kien hemm indikazzjonijiet fil-passat  li dan ġara. Id-differenza issa hi li qed jingħad li dawn inqabdu “red-handed”, jiġifieri li hemm il-provi. Probabbilment li l-provi huma ta’ natura teknika u jinvolvu traċċi elettroniċi tal-emails mibgħuta, kif fil-fatt ġie ippubblikat fit-Torċa.

Dawn sfortunatament huma l-konsegwenzi tar-rwol tal-politika partiġġjana fis-serviżż pubbliku li timmanifesta ruħha ukoll fil-parti l-kbira tal-ħatriet li saru u jsiru prinċipalment fil-gradi l-għoljin. Mhux kaz ta’ Nazzjonalisti kontra Laburisti jew ta’ Laburisti kontra Nazzjonalisti, iżda hi ferm iktar ikkumplikata minn hekk. L-abbuż bl-impiegi pubbliċi imsejħa “position of trust” hi parti importanti  mill-problema. Il-mod kif ġew ittrattati s-Segretarji Permanenti immedjatament wara l-elezzjoni hi aspett ieħor tal-problema.

Sfortunatament, dawn l-affarijiet ikomplu. L-ispjuni ta’ Tonio Fenech kienu l-boloh li nqabdu. Il-problema l-kbira huma dawk li għandhom aċċess għal informazzjoni sensittiva ħafna jużawha kif jaqblilhom u ma jinqabdu qatt. Kien hemm minnhom qabel Marzu 2013 u jkun hemm oħrajn li jagħmluha issa.

Fis-settur pubbliku ukoll, dak li tiżra’ taħsad.

Political responsibility

 

Mallia inquiry

Good governance is clearly going to the dogs. It is not just a case of matters that could have been handled better, as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stated in the aftermath of the Cafè Premier scandal.

In February 2015 the National Audit Office had underlined notable shortcomings in terms of governance with respect to Joseph Muscat’s government’s failure to involve the Government Property Division in the negotiations to re-acquire Cafè Premier in Valletta.

The purpose of holding inquires, irrespective of their format, is not just to identify those responsible for shortcomings relative to matters under investigation. High on the list of objectives of inquires is the identification and subsequent doing away with administrative practices which are liable to be abused.

The Manwel Mallia inquiry, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in terms of the Inquires Act, was handled by three former judges and focused on the behaviour of the then Honourable Minister Manwel Mallia. It is pertinent to point out that in their report dated 8 December 2014, the three judges had emphasised that Manwel Mallia had to shoulder ministerial or political responsibility in respect of the behaviour of those persons who he had nominated to a position of trust. Tongue-in-cheek, the panel of judges carrying out the Mallia inquiry had commented that Maltese politicians, when in Opposition, emphasise the need to shoulder political responsibility only to forget all about it when they make it to government.

In fact, in view of the conclusions of that inquiry, former Minister Manwel Mallia, in defiance of the basic rules of good governance, refused to resign from office and was subsequently fired by the Prime Minister – who had no other option at his disposal.

The current Gaffarena scandal may lead to similar considerations. Two politicians are under the spotlight: Joseph Muscat, who, in addition to being Prime Minister is also Minister for Lands, and Michael Falzon, who is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Lands. Both have to shoulder political responsibility for the operation of the Government Property Division for which they are jointly politically responsible. Twenty seven months into Labour’s mandate it is not justifiable that they shift the blame onto their predecessors. Labour in government has had sufficient time to carry out basic operational changes, if they considered that these were necessary.

Two inquires are under way. One has been requested by the Opposition and is being carried out by the National Audit Office. The other has been requested by the government and is being carried out by the Internal Audit and Investigation Department.

The two inquires will necessarily overlap but, due to differing terms of reference they should be complimenting each other.

There are too many coincidences in this latest Gaffarena scandal and consequently various issues need to be explained. The Government Property Division seems to have preferred Marco Gaffarena, giving him time to purchase a second portion of the Valletta property before expropriating it, when it could have easily expropriated it directly from the then owners! Likewise, it is clear that someone took the decision to pay Marco Gaffarena partly in kind, by allowing him to select amongst government property that land which suited him most. Who took this decision?  The civil service does not normally take such decisions. This particular decision, in my view, has political fingerprints.

The values attributed to both the expropriated property and to the government properties used to facilitate payment have raised eyebrows. Detailed explanation is required to establish whether there is some computational error or whether there is some other explanation.

Throughout the past week, the press has pointed at a particular member of the private secretariat of Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon who, too often, was observed accompanying Marco Gaffarena at the Government Property Division. This person, appointed in a position of trust by the Honourable Michael Falzon, did not reply to questions from the press intended to clarify whether – and to what extent – he opened doors for Gaffarena. In particular, the queries sought to clarify whether he facilitated the pick and choose land deal between the Government Property Division and Marco Gaffarena.

The conclusions of the two investigations should undoubtedly shed light on the decisions taken, as well as on those who facilitated them. The fact that this is the second case concerning the Government Property Division being investigated by the National Audit Office in the space of a few months should ring the alarm bells because, essentially, it signifies that no lessons were learnt from the Cafè Premier debacle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2015