Towards a wider cannabis consensus

It has been more than 10 years since the publication of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. One of its main recommendations was to end criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.  

The changes in drug legislation approved by Parliament earlier this week as a result of which the possession of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised was a definite step in the right direction. This does not however signify that all provisions of the approved legislation are satisfactory. It means that the general thrust of the legislation is positive and acceptable. Improvements are however still necessary.

The legislation approved earlier this week is a radical change and as such there is still a reluctance in some quarters and sectors about it. This is understandable. It is however a fact that the decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis for personal use has been generally accepted. This is a reflection of the positive development in our society’s attitudes and should form the basis for the way forward.

The Daniel Holmes case as a result of which the cultivation of a number of cannabis plants for personal use led to a draconian prison sentence is too recent for anyone of us to forget. Until this week, drug legislation was out of tune and not an adequate reflection of what our society is prepared to accept.

The publication of the 24-page White Paper in March 2021 entitled “Towards the strengthening of the legal framework on the responsible use of cannabis” should not be viewed as an end in itself but rather as part of a continuous consultation process with all stakeholders. It has to be borne in mind that notwithstanding the sterling work of the NGO ReLeaf Malta on behalf of cannabis users there are others who, while recognising the urgent need for reform, are however much more cautious and would prefer that the required reforms are more gradual.

Ignoring the rudderless parliamentary Opposition, which does not yet have a clue on the issue, I refer to various proposals on the drug reform legislation which proposals were prepared by a number of NGOs and presented to Parliament.  Parliament was wrong to ignore these proposals and to steamroll ahead, notwithstanding. Such an attitude is not conducive to good governance. Parliament ought to have listened much more before deciding. This applies even if at the end of the day not all of the proposals made by the NGOs would have been taken on board.

At this critical juncture it is imperative that the drug reform is supported by as wide as possible a base. The consensus achieved has to be as wide as possible. This is essential in order to isolate those elements in our society who still believe that the criminalisation of cannabis users should be the rule.

It has been estimated that in 2021 there are around 40,000 consumers of cannabis in Malta. That is the current state of play after 40 years of militarised crackdown on cannabis use in the Maltese Islands. Criminalisation of cannabis users has not yielded any tangible positive results over the years.

The way forward in drug reform is to ensure that possession for personal use can be dealt with differently from trafficking. The legislation which Parliament approved earlier this week does precisely that. It can however be improved by ensuring that there are suitable buffers which protect children and vulnerable persons. This is one of the principal points made by the NGOs, who, to their credit, accept decriminalisation of possession for personal use of cannabis as a positive step forward.

Greens in Malta support the need for drug reform in general and specifically the decriminalisation for personal use relative to cannabis. In fact, the Green Electoral Manifesto for the 2017 General Election was the only electoral platform which presented this as an electoral pledge.

It is indeed unfortunate that Government and Parliament have squandered a unique opportunity at consensus building. It is however still possible at this late hour to remedy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 December 2021

Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.


published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali iġġammjat

Kostituzzjoni ta' Malta

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet smajna diversi kummenti dwar il-ħtieġa li  l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali tiċċaqlaq. Jidher ċar li preżentement hi ġġammjata!

Tkellmet l-Eċċellenza Tagħha l-President fl-okkazjoni ta’ l-ewwel anniversarju mill-ħatra tagħha fil-kariga u qalet li kienet tittama li sa tmiem is-sena (li qegħdin fiha) jkun hemm progress.

B’reazzjoni għal dak li qalet il-President tkellem ukoll l-Avukat Franco Debono li sentejn ilu, fil-bidu ta’ din il-leġislatura kien inħatar mill-Gvern bħala l-koordinatur tal-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali.

Dr Debono qal li inħela ħafna żmien u għadu ma sar xejn.

Id-diffikulta li forsi Dr Franco Debono ma japprezzax biżżejjed hi li filwaqt li l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali għadha ma bdietx, anzi filwaqt li l-konvenzjoni innifisha għadha l-anqas biss ma ġiet iffurmata, diġa għandna l-koordinatur tagħha appuntat. Nazzarda ngħid li għandna koordinatur li hu impost fuq il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali.

Jiena dejjem fhimt illi kieku hemm rieda tajba biex l-affarijiet mhux biss isiru, imma jsiru sewwa, kienet tkun il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali innifisha illi taħtar lill-koordinatur tagħha. Dan il-koordinatur jista’ jkun Dr Franco Debono, imma jista’ jkun ukoll xi ħaddieħor.

Huwa inutli li noqgħodu nistaħbew wara subgħajna: kulħadd jaf li din hi ir-raġuni ewlenija għala s’issa kollox hu iġġammjat dwar il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Il-proċess huwa delikat u seta jkun iffaċilitat ħafna iktar kieku id-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu b’kunsens mhux b’imposizzjoni.

Dak li ġara s’issa xejn ma jawgura tajjeb għall-futur tal-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Hemm ħafna x’jista’ jsir. Iżda il-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li jista’ jsir jirrikjedi kunsens għax fl-aħħar ser ikun meħtieġ l-approvazzjoni ta’ tnejn minn kull tlett membri tal-Parlament. Dan il-kunsens mhux ġej bħala riżultat ta’ strateġija ta’ imposizzjoni. Jista’ iżda jinbena ftit ftit jekk ikun hemm min jifhem li bil-kunsens biss nistgħu naslu.

Min għandu widnejn, ħa jisma’.

AD issejjaħ għal Politika konsenswali Nazzjonali dwar l-Immigrazzjoni


Stqarrija ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika


Issa hu l-mument li f’Malta tkun imfassala politika konsenswali dwar l-immigrazzjoni. Dan qalu Carmel Cacopardo, Deputat Chairperson ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, meta kien qed jindirizza l-aħħar konferenza stampa ta’ AD f’din il-kampanja elettorali.

Carmel Cacopardo qal li tul il-kampanja elettorali għall-Parlament Ewropew Alternattiva Demokratika iffukat fuq materji li filwaqt li kienu ta’ relevanza għal Malta jiffurmaw parti ukoll mill-aġenda tal-UE.

Id-drittijiet diġitali kif ukoll il-kontabilita/trasparenza tal-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej ser ikunu elementi essenzjali tul il-ħames snin li gejjin tal-Parlament Ewropew. Billi ffukat fuq dawn il-materji Alternattiva Demokratika fittxet li tiddibatti materji politiċi relevanti mal-partiti politici l-ohra li kkontestaw dawn l-elezzjonijiet. Sfortunatament kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL iktar kienu interessati li jitfgħu t-tajn lil xulxin milli jieħdu sehem f’diskussjoni politika serja.

“AD,” żied jgħid Cacopardo, “kellha l-opportunita’ li tikkummenta fuq id-dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ Jean Claude Junker u Martin Schultz, kandidati ghall-Presidenza tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja għan-nom tal-PPE u l-Partit Soċjalista Ewropew rispettivament. Filwaqt li AD tilqa’ l-kummenti pubbliċi ta’ Junker u Schultz, tosserva għaldaqstant li dal-kummenti ma jirriżultawx mill-Manifesti Elettorali tal-partiti rispettivi.

Alternattiva Demokratika temfasizza li l-pajjiżi fuq il-fruntiera tal-UE m’għandhomx jibqgħu jerfgħu r-responsabbilta għall-migrazzjoni prattikament waħedhom. Emendi għar-regoli ta’ Dublin,  flimkien mal-formolazzjoni u l-approvazzjoni ta’ politika olistika tal-UE dwar il-migrazzjoni li permezz tagħha t-28 stat membru tal-UE jieħdu fuq spallejhom ir-responabbilta’ għall-migrazzjoni mingħand l-istati fuq il-fruntiera, hi t-triq ‘il quddiem.”

Carmel Cacopardo emfasizza li tul din il-Kampanja Elettorali, bħala riżultat tad-dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ Junker u Schultz, il-posizzjoni politika kemm tal-PL kif ukoll tal-PN hi issa iktar viċin dik ta’ AD milli kienet qatt qabel. Alternattiva Demokratika jidhrilha li issa hu l-waqt li l-PL, il-PN u AD jidħlu f’diskussjonijiet biex ikun ifformulat abbozz konsenswali ta’ politika nazzjonali dwar l-immigrazzjoni li għandu jservi bħala l-bażi għal kunsens nazzjonali fuq din il-materja sensittiva.

“MEP elett f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jaħdem biex jiffaċilita dan id-djalogu kemm lokalment kif ukoll fl-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej,” ikkonkluda Cacopardo.

A Go at Coalition Government

Voters in the UK have elected Caroline Lucas as their first Green MP from the constituency of Brighton Pavilion. They have also discovered coalition government, thereby joining the great majority of European states. Malta, as usual, is one of the exceptions.

Many had hoped for a Lib-Lab coalition in the UK. The arithmetic, however, was not there. More importantly, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg underlined that the political party that had obtained the largest support should have the first go at forming a coalition. This led to the gradual unfolding of history before TV cameras. Negotiations between Conservative and Lib-Dem negotiating teams produced a coalition document that listed the programme of action of a coalition supported by 59 per cent of the UK electorate. Rarely has a UK government enjoyed such support.

The coalition policy document, as “normally” happens, is an exercise in “give and take”. It did include five senior Cabinet posts to the junior party, representatives in every ministry, agreement on policy overlaps, discarding for the current legislature a number of objectionable policies and, in particular, a softening of the conservative Eurosceptic stance as well as a possible nod to changes in the electoral system.

In Malta, we tend to associate coalition government with the Italian way of doing politics. In so doing we ignore the rest of Europe. Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic are some of the European countries now governed by a coalition in addition to Italy. Even San Marino, a micro-state, is run by a coalition government.

The UK coalition has come about as a direct result of the May 6 election in which the electors deserted the Labour Party in government but did not flock in sufficient numbers to the Conservative opposition. As is normal with the first-past-the-post electoral system it did not return a “fair” result in that the third party, the Liberal Democrats, with 23 per cent electoral support obtained only about nine per cent of House of Commons seats.

Now proportionality is not a feature of the UK electoral system. In fact, it is designed specifically to encourage a two-party Parliament and tends to squeeze out the third parties. The Liberal Democrats’ relative strength in the May 6 elections has come about as a result of the failure of the major parties to garner support and not as a result of the votes it has obtained. In fact, while the Liberal Democrats have marginally increased their voting share, yet, they have decreased their MP uptake by five!

The first-past-the-post voting system has a number of peculiar features. If a large number of candidates present themselves for election in a particular constituency, votes are split and the elected candidate is possibly one who has obtained a small fraction of votes. For example, George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party, in the 2005 election to the House of Commons, was elected on behalf of the Respect Party after obtaining just 18.4 per cent of the votes in his constituency.

The system also encourages tactical voting, that is voting not in favour of the candidate that you support but against the candidate most disliked. A number of seats tend to be determined by a handful of votes. For example, Glenda Jackson has been re-elected as a Labour MP with a majority of just 43 votes in her constituency!

Within this context, important proposals for reforming the electoral system have been made: the Conservatives want the size of constituencies to be adjusted such that large disparities in size are eliminated. The Liberals want a proportional system while Labour have put forward an alternative vote proposal, which essentially entails that for an MP to be elected s/he has to obtain the support of at least 50 per cent of his constituents through a multi-preference vote. The coalition has compromised on this alternative vote proposal and has agreed to present such a system to a referendum.

This is the first serious attempt at coalition building in the UK since the formation of the 1939-45 national government during World War II. The politics of confrontation has, at last, been challenged thereby paving the way for one primarily based on consensus. Whether it will last is another story altogether.

In Malta, we are awaiting electoral reform too. That will happen when the Nationalist and the Labour parties decide that the electoral rules need to be fair and not designed specifically to keep third parties out. This unfairness seems to be one of the few things the PN and PL agree upon.

Alternattiva Demokratika awaits the new Speaker to act, accelerating the process begun by his predecessor. He needs to prod MPs from both sides to live up to their self-proclaimed democratic credentials.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday May 22, 2010

Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni





Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni jfisser Gvern flimkien bejn żewg partiti politiċi differenti jew iktar. Partiti li fil-waqt li ma jaqblux f’kollox kapaċi jidentifikaw dawk l-oqsma li jistgħu jindirizzaw flimkien għall-ġid tal-pajjiż. 

Ilu ma jkollna Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni f’pajjiżna sa minn qabel ma twelidt jien. B’daqshekk ma jfissirx li dan m’huwiex possibli li jsir. Ifisser biss li sal-lum ghal iktar minn ħamsin sena kellna Gvernijiet ta’ partit wieħed li mexxew waħedhom. 

Kellna Gvernijiet li jikkuntrastaw, wieħed wara l-ieħor. Gvern favur is-sħubija mal-Unjoni Ewropea kien segwit b’ieħor li kien kontra s-sħubija u ffriża l-applikazzjoni. Biex ftit wara reġgħet inqalbet il-folja. Jista’ jibqa’ jkollna gvernijiet li jikkuntrastaw bil-goff b’dan il-mod ? B’politika li titbandal minn favur għal kontra u lura ?   Għandna bżonn li f’pajjiżna nxettlu politika ta’ kunsens. Politika li dwar materji fundamentali  tista’ twassal lill-partiti fi qbil kif ġja sar fuq il-leġislazzjoni finanzjarja tul is-snin.   

Bl-Alternattiva Demokratika bħala parti minn Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni ġimgħatejn oħra jfisser illi jkollna Gvern li jaħdem biex jagħmel suċċess mis-sħubija ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Ifisser ukoll illi jkollna Gvern li mhux biss jitkellem favur l-ambjent iżda jaħdem il-ħin kollu b’mod li jtejjeb il-kwalita’ tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.  

Fuq kollox Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni jfisser illi għall-ħames snin li ġejjin ma jkollniex partit politiku li għandu poter assolut. Għax il-poter ikun f’idejn żewġ partiti, t-tnejn għassiesa li ħadd ma jabbuża.