Taking back control

turtle dove


Throughout this Sunday morning the Electoral Commission will supervise the counting of the votes cast  in yesterday’s  spring hunting abrogative referendum. The first reliable projections of the result should be available at around  10.00am with a final result early in the afternoon.

Irrespective of the result, this is history in the making as, for the first time ever, Maltese voters will be directly taking a decision on environmental policy. They will decide whether spring hunting in the Maltese islands will be consigned to the history books.

This is the end of a two year journey that began in  April 2013 when the first steps were taken to form a broad-based anti-spring hunting Coalition of  environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party in Malta. Initially, Alternattiva Demokratika’s initiative was met with scepticism: there was widespread fear of confronting the parliamentary political parties which had created the current spring hunting mess.

Constructive dialogue with both the Maltese authorities as well as with the EU Commission had failed to yield results, yet when push came to shove there was still considerable reluctance to think outside the box.  This mess could not be cleared by applying the same thinking that led to its creation. The spring hunting mess was created by successive governments that were held to ransom by the hunting lobby. There was only one solution: government was the problem so it could never be part of the solution – civil society had to take back control of the decision-making process to have order restored.

This was going to be a mammoth task. The fact that the abrogative referendum tool had never been used since its introduction in 1998 understandably added to the reluctance.

As late as 18 June 2013, some environmental NGOs were still hoping that the Maltese Government, or the EU Commission itself, would act in a reasonable manner and stop spring hunting.  In fact, reports in the press at that time were speculating on then EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik initiating an inquiry into spring hunting in Malta.

Early in the day, few people were conscious of the empowerment potential of the abrogative referendum. Almost none of the eNGOs was aware that the abrogative referendum process is independent  of government or Parliament.  Some eNGOs  supported the initiative almost immediately but it was an uphill struggle to convince others, taking weeks and a great deal of patience until practically all eNGOs were on board.

The collection of signatures to initiate the process for calling this abrogative referendum was launched on 10 August 2013 at Il-Buskett. Initially the uptake was very slow, as voters took some time to understand that this was no ordinary petition.

Then, on 23 and 24 October 2013, one of the worst massacres of wild birds in Malta took place. It is best described in a Birdlife Press release which stated  as follows :

“Despite the presence of six BirdLife Malta teams and as many ALE units in the Buskett area this morning at least one Booted Eagle, Ajkla tal-Kalzetti, was shot down inside Buskett Gardens as it left its roost this morning. Several others, including Short-toed and Booted Eagles, were shot at and many more were seen carrying injuries after last night’s shooting spree by hunters in Dingli, Buskett, Girgenti, Siġġiewi and Zebbuġ.

This morning’s second confirmed victim was a Short-toed Eagle, Ajkla Bajda, shot down in Gozo.

The shootings follow what can only be described as a massacre yesterday evening, after more than 50 eagles were seen by birdwatchers counting passing migrating birds in their regular watch-point above the wooded valley of Buskett. At least 10 eagles are known to have been shot down and many more targeted by dozens of hunters in locations around Buskett. Several as yet unconfirmed reports were also received from members of the public who saw eagles and other large birds of prey being shot at and shot down.”

This marked the turning point in signature collection as within ten days of the massacre of these eagles the required number of signatures had been received . The verification process was commenced immediately and the petition was finalised for submission to the Electoral Commission.

By July 2014, the Electoral Commission had concluded its vetting of the signatures submitted and six months later, in January this year, the Constitutional Court threw out the hunters’ objections.

For the past three months we have been actively campaigning to drive the message home: spring is the time when birds are on the way to their breeding grounds. They need to be protected. This message has been conveyed through the different spokesman and women ambassadors who, together with hundreds of volunteers, have done wonders to ensure that practically every voter is aware the he or she has the power to take a decision in order to clean up the mess which Parliament and the government have created over the years.

Today we will know what the decision is.  Saving any last minute surprises, it is clear that after today’s result Maltese civil society will cherish its newly discovered empowerment. Tomorrow, Monday, will not be just the start of a new week.  Hopefully, it be the start of a new era of ever-vigilant NGOs, now armed with the knowledge that they can hold government to account for inadequate legislation whenever they consider that this is necessary.

The abrogative referendum is the tool through which civil society can bring government to order. Today’s result will just confirm whether it can make use of it.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2015

11 April : The empowerment of civil society

sample ballot


This first abrogative referendum campaign is about much more than birds. It is about the empowerment of civil society in Malta. Yet those who oppose the abrogative referendum have opted to  sow fear.  As it is only through fear that they envisage that it is possible to wreck these first steps of civil society in reclaiming its rightful role in the decision-taking process.

Last Thursday it was made known that Sandro Mangion, the Editor-in-Chief at Union Print was threatened as a result of expressing himself in favour of a NO vote on 11 April. Just three days earlier he had written a post on his facebook wall to state that after much deliberation he had arrived at the conclusion that he should support the birds and vote NO  in Malta’s first abrogative referendum.

Sandro Mangion on 23 March published the reasons which led him to conclude that supporting the NO vote on 11 April is the way forward. In a 430 word post, Mangion explains that his primary motivation in arriving at such a conclusion is the need to ensure that during spring all Maltese families have an unrestricted access to the countryside.

Sandro Mangion explains that his decision was the result of a long process through which he examined and discussed all the available information on the issue. Building development, states Mangion, has already gobbled up a substantial area of what was previously countryside.  It is not fair, states Mangion, that due to  the spring hunting season the remaining available public land in the countryside is not accessible to all Maltese families during all of spring .

Spring is the best time of the year when the countryside is in all its splendour.  All Maltese families, including the families of hunters, should have unrestricted access to the countryside during this time of the year, emphasises Sandro Mangion.  Access to the countryside in spring should not be dependent on possession of a shotgun.

Some hunters, added Mangion shoot at anything that flies. Even if few in number, these hunters  are a serious threat to the survival of a number of species of birds which migrate over Malta. Abolishing spring hunting would make it easier to enforce the law as illegalities would no longer be camouflaged by what is permitted hunting in spring.

Sandro Mangion emphasises that he is not against legal hunting during the rest of the year.

He concludes his arguments by stating that what was acceptable yesterday is no longer acceptable today. It is quite normal for laws and regulations to change (gradually) to reflect society’s development.

Sandro Mangion’s arguments are fair and objective. He develops his arguments in deep respect towards the hunting community and the YES campaign. No insults. No threats. Just logical arguments which explain why he arrived at a conclusion that he should cast his vote in support of the abolition of spring hunting in Malta.

On Thursday Mangion published the first words of the threat which he received: “If the referendum on the hobby that my family members and I hold dearest goes through, then YOU will be the first person that we…”  the message read.

This is a reaction which denotes an allergy to reason. This is an immature reaction from someone who is so accustomed to bullying his way through (directly or through his representatives).

Sandro Mangion was not the only person supporting the NO vote on 11 April to be insulted (and threatened). Earlier during the week obscene language against Moira Delia was scribbled on a wall in the scenic Ramla Bay valley in Gozo.

Unfortunately the hunting community in Malta is accustomed to bullying its way through. This has been happening repeatedly throughout the years when they succeeded in holding the Parliamentary political parties on a leash.

The abrogative referendum of  11 April is the reply of Maltese civil society to the bullying techniques employed by the hunting lobby to date. It is the first time that civil society has got together to coordinate a reply to arrogance through the ultimate democratic tool.

It is a process that will inevitably lead to the empowerment of Maltese civil society which is slowly realising that it can act decisively to reverse unacceptable decisions taken by Parliament and/or Government such as permitting spring hunting.

A majority in favour of a NO vote, abolishing spring hunting in Malta, will ensure that birds are protected in spring. It will also send a clear message that Malta cares about the environment.

Civil society in Malta will come of age on 11 April.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 March 2015

11 April 2015 : Empowerment Day


The spring hunting referendum called as result of a citizens’ petition and scheduled for 11 April 2015 will protect birds. It will honour a basic requirement spelled out in the EU’s Birds Directive, which insists on this protection along birds’ migratory routes on the way to their breeding grounds.

The spring hunting referendum signifies different things to different persons. It is first and foremost a concrete step in addressing a bird conservation issue which has been ignored throughout the years, despite Malta’s international obligations. It will also facilitate access to the countryside for one and all throughout spring. In addition it is also a democratic tool through which civil society stands up to the countryside bullies. When all three achievements are attained, and eventually taken for granted, there will be one lasting consequence: the spring hunting referendum will be the defining moment of empowerment of Maltese civil society.  It will be the gift of present day civil society to future generations.

When addressing Parliament on the abrogative referendum on 12 January, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recognised this fact and declared that the dominant role of politicians in decision taking is changing (“naħseb li bħala politiċi irridu nifhmu li l-proċess li wassal għal dan ir-referendum huwa sinjal taż-żminijiet. Huwa sinjal li d-dominanza tal-politiċi fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet qed tonqos.”)

On the 11 April civil society in Malta will come of age.

11 April will be the point when civil society realises that, at the end of the day, it is the source of all authority in decision taking structures. 11 April can be the day when this authority is  made use of to rectify past mistaken decisions.  In so doing, civil society in Malta will be giving notice to one and all that ultimately the common good can and will prevail.

When the petition calling for the abrogative referendum on spring hunting was doing the rounds, some thought that it was just another petition, which would be forgotten as soon as it was submitted. However, when the Constitutional Court delivered its decision on the 9 January giving the green light to the first abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands, the message was received clearly by one and all.

11 April means that change is possible. Moreover it also means that change is not dependent on general election results. The dormant authority of civil society is being reactivated.

Last Wednesday, a group of jurists led by former European Court of Human Rights Judge Giovanni Bonello explained to the press that the spring hunting referendum posed no threat to any hobby. In practically all cases which were listed in a study released by the group of jurists, it is evident that the abrogative referendum itself cannot even be applied to the said hobbies. Most hobbies are unregulated, meaning that there is no legislation of relevance to abrogate. In this respect the abrogative referendum procedure is not applicable!

As regards other hobbies like horse racing, the manufacture and letting off of fireworks and off-roading, existing laws and regulations specify who the licensing authorities are, and the rules to be followed. Subjecting these rules to an abrogative referendum would mean that these activities would be unfettered by regulations, if a hypothetical referendum were approved. That could not in any way be construed as a threat to such hobbies or pastimes.

The jurists were replying to the scaremongering campaign of the hunting lobby.

It is pretty obvious that the hunting lobby is not enthusiastic about citizens being empowered to call an abrogative referendum and decide, where applicable, contentious issues. They prefer to discuss issues behind closed doors, where they can lobby and barter their votes for concessions. This is what they did throughout the years and this is the essential background to the present state of affairs.

This is the reason why some months back the hunting lobby petitioned Parliament to overhaul the referendum legislation. In their petition they asked for protection of some imaginary “minority rights” which the Constitutional Court on 9 January, declared as being inexistent.

On 11 April, we will for the first time ever vote in an abrogative referendum called through a citizens’ initiative. We will decide whether we agree or not with the regulations which permit hunting of quail and turtledove in spring on their way to breed. I do not agree with spring hunting and will be voting NO.

I invite you to join me in voting NO, thereby abolishing spring hunting in Malta for the benefit of birds and future generations.


Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1 February 2015

Celebrating democracy


turtle dove

Last Friday the Constitutional Court gave the abrogative referendum on spring hunting the green light. In a 24-page decision it threw out each and every objection which the hunters’ organisations submitted for the Court’s consideration.

The nit-picking strategy of the hunters’ lobby has failed, with the Constitutional Court declaring in clear terms that the objections listed by the hunters’ organisations do not constitute valid reasons for halting the abrogative referendum. In particular, the Constitutional Court underlined the fact that the hunters had not in any way attempted to prove their claim that some minority right was in danger of being trampled upon as a result of the proposed abrogative referendum. The Constitutional Court pointed out that the FKNK had failed to identify any provision of the Constitution – or of the European Convention – that spells out a “fundamental right to hunt”. Nor, added the Constitutional Court, had the FKNK specified which of the provisions of the Constitution or of the European Convention would be infringed by the proposed abrogative referendum.

The voice of 41,494 electors is now being heard loud and clear. These electors triggered the call for an abrogative referendum to abolish spring hunting by removing from the statute book the regulations which permit it. These regulations are contained in Legal Notice 221 of 2010 entitled Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtledove and Quail.

This is the third referendum to be held in Malta during the last 12 years. The abrogative referendum authorised by the Constitutional Court on Friday is, however, of a completely different nature from the other two.

Both the 2003 European Union referendum and the 2011 divorce referendum were consultative in nature. In 2003, the government consulted the electorate on Malta’s accession to the EU. It had no legal obligation to do so but it did, however, have a political commitment which it honoured by putting the question of Malta’s accession to the popular vote.

In 2011 Parliament asked the electorate for political direction as to whether or not divorce legislation should be approved by Parliament. It was the political way out for both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party when faced with the private member’s Bill on the introduction of divorce. Both had then hoped for a no, yet they got a resounding yes.

The referendum this time is not consultative in nature. This time, the referendum will deliver a decision as to whether regulations permitting spring hunting are to be deleted from the statute book. This initiative originated outside Parliament on the initiative of the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting, made up of 13 environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta. It is the first time that the provisions of the Referenda Act on abrogative referenda are being made use of.

This is the direct result of the backroom dealings practised by the parliamentary parties and the hunting lobby over the years. The hunting lobby has managed to cling on to a spring hunting season through lobbying the parliamentary parties and trading votes for concessions on hunting issues. Public opinion, consistently contrary to the agreements reached by the hunters’ organisations with both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party, was ignored. Faced with this attitude, the only remaining option was to use the provisions of the Referenda Act, which have been left idle since being enacted in 1996.

Contrary to what some may think, it is not possible to hold an abrogative referendum on any matter whatsoever on merely a whim. The areas that can be subjected to an abrogative referendum are limited by a number of provisions of the law. A basic limitation is the number of signatories required to initiate the process. Ten per cent of the registered electorate is a substantial number of signatures. But then this is a necessary safeguard in order to ensure that the proposal being placed before the electorate is supported by a reasonable number of voters.

Fiscal measures, the Constitution, international treaties, electoral legislation, referendum legislation and issues of human rights are matters that cannot be subjected to a referendum.

Friday’s decision by the Constitutional Court means that the issue of spring hunting will now be decided by the electorate itself. While the specific issue being addressed by the abrogative referendum is spring hunting, the significance of the process is much more than that. It is an empowerment of the electorate, an exercise in direct democracy. The realisation will soon sink in that, on a number of matters, we voters have the right to recall the decision-making process from Parliament. It is a right that has been available but left idle for the past 19 years.

The abrogative referendum – which will be held between mid-April and mid-July – is a celebration of democracy. It strengthens democracy at its roots as it gives each and every one of us the right to participate in specific decisions. To be effective, however, it requires the participation of the largest possible number of voters.

That is the next challenge.

published in The Independent – Sunday 11 January 2015

Malta’s EU story : the environment


Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo



Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

The abrogative referendum: (5) Strengthening democracy in Malta.

submission of referendum signature requests

(5) Strengthening democracy in Malta.

The abrogative referendum aims to abolish spring hunting in the Maltese Islands. This is essential in order to protect birds (all birds) but in particular quail and turtledove during the mating season, the time of year when they are most vulnerable.  Each bird saved in spring means many more birds during the rest of the year.

As a result of abolishing spring hunting the abrogative referendum will also restore the countryside back to the Maltese during spring. We are all entitled to enjoy the countryside. It belongs  to all of us.

We have arrived at this point because the political parties present in parliament have over the years conspired behind our backs together with the hunters’ associations in order to ensure that they have a free hand in the countryside during spring.

Political parties represented in Parliament have failed to heed civil society and environmental NGOs over the years. As a result of this only one option is left : deciding at the ballot box.

When the time comes, (and it will soon come)  ensure that you use your vote to abolish spring hunting once and for all.

This is a very important moment in the development of Malta’s democracy.  It is the first time that this democratic right will be utilised. It strengthens democracy at its very roots.

All other referenda in Malta were organised by government to consult voters before taking a specific decision (integration with the UK, Independence, joining the EU, introducing divorce legislation). This time the referendum will be held as a result of a popular initiative: voters will be instructing government that spring hunting is to be no more. lt is indeed a defining moment.

Tomorrow may be too late


The Guardian of Future Generations has spoken. The Guardian is under the leadership of Mr Michael Zammit Cutajar, former Climate Change Ambassador, as well as Mr. Michael C. Bonello, former Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, Dr. Roberta Lepre, Director Victim Support Malta and Ms. Simone Mizzi, Executive President, Din L-Art Ħelwa.

In a press statement issued on the 11 December 2013 the Guardian has added its voice to that of civil society. It has emphasised that prior to concluding and implementing piecemeal land use planning and environmental policies it was imperative that first and foremost a comprehensive holistic strategy is put in place. Until such time that a strategic vision is in place, stated the Guardian, it would be reasonable for current policy initiatives to be put on hold.

The Guardian is diplomatic in the language it uses. It certainly makes political statements none of which are however partisan. All environmental issues, including land use planning issues, are definitely political issues in respect of which all stakeholders have a duty to speak up.

The Guardian of Future Generations speaks up on behalf of the voiceless future. In Malta, giving a voice to the future was an initiative taken by Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party. It was acknowledged by the then Minister for the Environment Mario de Marco when piloting the Sustainable Development Act in 2012 which adopted the said proposal.

Our actions today can have a considerable impact on the future. It is imperative that the choices we make today ensure that future generations can also freely make their own decisions. We cannot ethically ignore the future. If we keep living for today, ignoring tomorrow, precious resources which must be protected today, will be lost forever. Michael Zammit Cutajar who chairs the Guardian Commission has in fact emphasised that: “un-built space and unspoilt views are among the scarcest resources of our densely populated country”.

We need to be extra careful. Too many mistakes have been made in the past. The legacy of the past is tough enough. We are in time to avoid adding to it.

The Guardian has announced in its press statement that, in accordance to its mandate, it has presented a submission with its views to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and other government officials. This refers to the provisions of article 8 of the Sustainable Development Act of 2012 which establishes that the Guardian shall direct the focus of the Prime Minister (who is the sustainable development competent authority) to safeguard future generations. The Guardian is also empowered to “propose goals and actions to government entities for them to take up in order to contribute towards the goal of sustainable development.”

The next step is undoubtedly the publication by Government of the views submitted by the Guardian. It would be preferable if government takes the initiative as the matter is of specific interest to the public. Obviously if the government fails to take this initiative there is always the possibility to demand its publication through applying the provisions of the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations of 2005 (Legal Notice 116 of 2005). Government taking the initiative would always be preferable as this would demonstrate its willingness to engage with stakeholders.

The above is a good start to the Guardian of Future Generations making its presence felt. It is however just the tip of the iceberg.

The Guardian requires its own resources to pursue other areas of policy. Foremost amongst them is the sustainable management of water resources. Whilst acknowledging that Government is currently preparing a water consultation document it is to be emphasised that there are areas of action which cannot await the said consultation process. There is little water left to protect and further procrastination will only make matters worse. Tomorrow will be too late.

In February 2012 the Auditor General had through a performance audit pointed out the deficiencies in the public administration of water resources. In his report entitled “Safeguarding Malta’s Groundwater” the Auditor General whilst noting that we have an abundance of policy documents pointed out  implementation delays as a consequence of the non-adherence to the stipulated target dates.

Not much has been done since February 2012. Obviously the political responsibility has to be shouldered by the former government which talked a lot but did not do much except commission reports. It invariably failed to take the tough action required.

Safeguarding tomorrow is a difficult task. Tomorrow’s generations, the generations of the future, have no vote, hence they have not been considered as an important constituency by those whose time horizon rarely exceeds five years. The Guardian of Future Generations has the unenviable task to sound the wake up call.

Tomorrow, which as singing doctor Gianluca Bezzina tells us, is just one day away, may be too late. All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.

published in The Times of Malta – Saturday 4 January 2014

On this same blog, on the issue of Future Generations you may read the following posts:

The Future started yesterday.

Exercise in practical democracy.

Gwardjan għal Ġenerazzjonijiet Futuri.

Increasing environmental awareness.

Future Generations must be heard.

Just lip service and cold feet.

Sal-ponta ta’ imnieħru


Għall-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Simon Busuttil, il-mod kif żviluppat l-istorja tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza għall-prezz ta’ €650,000 hi sħaba sewda għax il-Gvern irrombla minn fuq l-Opposizzjoni. Simon Busuttil kompla jgħid li dak li ġara hu ta’ theddida għad-demokrazija.

Il-Gvern wasal għall-konklużjoni li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza  hi mezz tajjeb biex bih jiġbor il-miljuni għal numru ta’ snin, biżżejjed biex ikollu l-mezzi ħalli jiffinanzja l-programm politiku li jrid iwettaq mingħajr ma jżid taxxi. Jidher li ngħata pariri dwar dan kemm mill-konsulenti tiegħu kif ukoll minn dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala lobbyists.

Il-Gvern geżwer il-proposta tiegħu fis-segretezza. Fatt li saħħah l-argument li minkejja d-due diligence kollha li jista’ jkun hemm xorta hemm il-possibilita ta’ karattri mhux mixtieqa li japplikaw għal u jakkwistaw din iċ-ċittadinaza.

Li kieku l-Gvern aċċetta s-suggeriment li jneħħi s-segretezza, proposta li saret mill-Alternattiva Demokratika,  mill-Opposizzjoni, kif ukoll mis-soċjeta’ ċivili, argument qawwi kontra din l-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza kien ikun eliminat.

Il-konsegwenza tal-iskema kif approvata mill-Parlament hi li Malta tidher li biex iddaħħal il-flus hi lesta li tiddefendi l-interessi ta’ min ma jridx jikxef l-identita tiegħu.Issa dan kollu jmur kontra r-reputazzjoni li Malta kisbet tul is-snin bħala ċentru finanzjarju serju u ta’ min jafdah. Sfortunatament din ir-reputazzjoni tajba inevitabilment ser tittappan u dan minħabba li s-segretezza tal-iskema taċ-ċittadinanza inevitabilment ser tkun assoċjata mal-idea ta’ tax haven. Dan kollu jista’ jwassal għal impatt negattiv fuq is-servizzi finanzjarji li huma ibbażati f’Malta bħala riżultat ta’ din ir-reputazzjoni tajba. B’mod li dak li l-Gvern idaħħal mill-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza jintilef minn banda oħra.

Imbagħad hemm l-issue tal-prinċipji involuti. Fir-realta’ hawnhekk ingħataw messaġġi konfliġġenti. Għax fil-prinċipju hemm qbil maċ-ċittadinanza ekonomika. Id-differenza ta’ opinjoni hi dwar x’inhu meqjus bħala investiment aċċettabbli. Il-Gvern għażel mudell ta’ donazzjoni “żgħira” minn għand numru imdaqqas bħalma hu ipprattikat f’diversi pajjiżi fil-Karibew filwaqt li l-kontro-proposta hi l-mudell Awstrijak ta’ investiment sostanzjali.

Il-kuntrast bejn iż-żewġ mudelli hu li l-mudell li għażel il-Gvern iwassal għall-fondi direttament fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta li dwarhom ikun il-Gvern li jiddeċiedi kif ikunu investiti. Min-naħa l-oħra l-mudell Awstrijak idum iktar biex jagħti r-riżultati. Apparti dan dwar l-investimenti mill-mudell Awstrijak il-Gvern, ftit li xejn ikollu kontroll fuq kif jitħaddem.

Bħalissa l-istampa internazzjonali qed tirrapporta dak li Malta qed toffri għall-bejgħ passaport għall-Unjoni Ewropeja. Nistennew u naraw kif ser jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet u l-konsegwenzi.

L-issue kollha taċ-ċittadinanza hi deċiżjoni politika li ma naqbilx magħha għax hi ibbażata fuq konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ benefiċċju “short term”.  Fil-waqt li l-anqas dan l-impatt “short term” ma hu assigurat għad irridu naraw jekk l-impatt negattiv antiċipat fuq is-servizzi finanzjarji iseħhx. Filwaqt li nixtieq li dan ma jiġrix, issa hu ċar li għandna Gvern li jħares sal-pont ta’ imnieħru.

Ir-referendum: għodda b’saħħitha f’pajjiż demokratiku


Il-bieraħ fil-għodu Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet sejħa lis-soċjeta ċivili biex tingħaqad u issejjaħ referendum abrogattiv dwar il-liġi li l-Parlament  kellu u fil-fatt approva l-bieraħ stess biex ikun possibli illi l-Gvern ibiegħ iċ-ċittadinanza lil min ikun lest li jħallas €650,000.

Is-sejħa ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika intlaqgħet tajjeb mill-parti l-kbira ta’ dawk li ikkummentaw.

Hemm min iżda għadu ma fehemx b’mod ċar dak li qiegħed jiġi propost.

Il-proposta hi li jitħaddmu l-proċeduri tal-liġi dwar ir-Referenda b’mod li deċiżjoni li ħa l-Parlament, f’dan il-każ approvazzjoni ta’ liġi, tkun imħassra.

Kien hemm min qal li għax  il-Gvern ma jaqbilx ma dan allura jaħsbu li dan ma jistax isir. Kien hemm min ikkummenta li l-maġġoranza Parlamentari ta’ 9 voti li għandu l-Gvern ifisser li prattikament jista’ jagħmel li jrid.

Is-sejħa ta’ referendum abrogattiv (jiġifieri referendum li jħassar liġi jew strument legali bħalma huma regolamenti) ma jiddependix mill-Gvern.  Jiddependi minn jekk ikunx hemm 10% tal-votanti reġistrati fl-aħħar reġistru elettorali li jaqblu li jissejjaħ tali referendum. Dawn l-10% tal-votanti bħalissa jammontaw għal madwar 35,000 persuna.

Mela jekk 35,000 persuna jiffirmaw il-petizzjoni biex jissejjaħ ir-referendum il-proċess għal dan ir-referendum jibda u ma jkun jista’ jżommu ħadd ħlief il-Qorti.

Allura, qalu uħud, ser jibda jkollna referendum fuq kull ħaġa ta’ xejn?

It-tweġiba hi li le, mhux ser jibda jkollna referendum fuq kull ħaġa ta’ xejn.

Hemm affarijiet li dwarhom ma jistax jissejjaħ referendum.   Dawn l-affarijiet jinkludu kull leġislazzjoni fiskali (bħat-taxxi), il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, il-Liġi li inkorporat il-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem fil-liġi Maltija, trattati Internazzjonali li Malta rratifikat, il-liġi dwar l-Elezzjoni Ġenerali u l-liġi dwar l-interpretazzjoni.

Il-liġijiet Maltin jipprovdu għal tlett tipi ta’ referenda.

L-ewwel tip ta’ referendum hu biex ikunu approvati uħud mill-emendi għall-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta.

It-tieni tip ta’ referendum huwa dak li jsir biex il-Gvern jikkonsulta ruħu, bħalma sar bir-referendum dwar t-tisħib ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, dak dwar l-Indipendenza jew dak dwar l-Integration, kif ukoll ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju. Dan jissejjaħ referendum konsultattiv.

It-tielet tip ta’ referendum huwa dak li jħassar liġijiet (jew regolamenti). Dan it-tip ta’ referendum jissejjaħ referendum abrogattiv. S’issa għadu qatt ma sar referendum abrogattiv  f’Malta.

Bħalissa qed jinġabru l-firem biex isir l-ewwel referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċca fir-rebbiegħa. Twaqqfet koalizzjoni magħmula minn Alternattiva Demokratika u tlettax-il għaqda ambjentali. Il-proposta f’dan il-każ hi li jitħassru regolamenti li jippermettu din it-tip ta’ kaċċa. Kif tħabbar, s’issa inġabru 20,000 firma. Jiġifieri jonqos madwar 15,000 firma oħra.

Fil-proposta tal-bieraħ Alternattiva Demokratika stiednet lis-soċjeta ċivili biex tingħaqad flimkien ħalli titfassal kampanja għal referendum abrogattiv dwar l-emendi għal-liġi taċ-ċittadinanza approvati il-bieraħ mill-Parlament. Jekk u kif dan jista’ jsir għad irridu naraw.

Għax ir-referendum abrogattiv hu għodda importanti ta’ pajjiż demokratika. Għodda li permezz tagħha hu possibli li tittieħed deċiżjoni finali dwar kontroversji fil-pajjiż. Din hi għodda li ma ġietx użata biżżejjed f’Malta. Hemm bżonn nifhmu iktar kemm din hi għodda b’saħħitha biex inkunu nistgħu nagħmlu użu tajjeb tagħha.

M’humiex ħafna l-pajjiżi li ċ-ċittadini tagħhom għandhom din il-possibilita’ li jħassru deċiżjoni tal-Parlament. Il-ġar tagħna l-Italja hu wieħed minn dawn il-pajjiżi fejn il-poplu permezz ta’ referendum abrogattiv għal darba darbtejn ħassar id-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament Taljan dwar il-politika u l-impjanti nuklejari.

Ir-referendum abrogattiv jagħtina d-dritt li niddeċiedu aħna bil-vot tagħna dwar affarijiet li ma nkunux naqblu ma kif iddeċidhom il-Parlament. Għax għalkemm il-Parlament huwa l-għola istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż, anke l-Parlament ikollu jbaxxi rasu quddiem il-vot kif espress f’referendum.

Id-demokrazija tagħna żviluppajniha sa dan il-punt. Nagħmlu użu bil-għaqal mid-drittijiet tagħna biex anke l-Parlament jifhem li għandu l-obbligu li jirrispetta d-drittijiet u l-fehmiet tagħna ilkoll.

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013