Tonio Fenech u l-froġa tal-2006

Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi, reġa’ tfaċċa, f’attività politika li saret fil-Palazz Verdala biex  jgħidilna kif jaħsibha. Qalilna li bl-ambjent ma tirbaħx elezzjonijiet. Imma huwa bil-permessi (tal-bini), żied jgħid, tirbaħ il-voti!   Bil-qdusija artifiċjali tas-soltu jimplika li l-ħsara ambjentali kienet essenzjali biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet! Għax għal Tonio Fenech kull sagrifiċċju jgħodd sakemm iwassal biex tirbaħ l-elezzjonijiet.

Dan mhu xejn ġdid. Il-problema hi li l-kejl sfortunatament hu biss mil-lum għal għada. S’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul, biex inqiesu sewwa l-impatt li d-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum għandhom fuq għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna. Sfortunatament il-politika f’pajjiż tirraġuna: għada min raħ?

Wara li (flimkien ma oħrajn) Tonio Fenech kien responsabbli mhux biss għall-pjani lokali, imma ukoll għall-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bih żdiedet sew l-art għall-iżvilupp, issa qed jipprova jimpressjona li qed jindem!   Il-proposta tiegħu li jorbot il-pjani lokali fil-Kostituzzjoni toħloq iktar problemi milli diġa inħolqu!

Il-pjani lokali u strumenti oħra li bihom nippjanaw l-użu tal-art neċessarjament ikunu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ tipi. Jistgħu jkunu ċari u preċiżi, bil-konsegwenza li għax rigidi jkun jeħtieġilhom tibdil regolari biex jirriflettu realtajiet u żviluppi ġodda.  Inkella jkunu ġeneriċi u jkun jiddependi mill-interpretazzjoni tagħhom u l-integrità ta’ min iħaddem il-proċess kollu.

Kull possibilità hi dipendenti fuq l-integrità u l-viżjoni ta’ dawk involuti fil-fażijiet differenti li jwasslu sad-deċiżjonijiet.  Ma hemmx spjegazzjoni oħra: qegħdin f’nofs din il-froġa minħabba li Tonio Fenech u sħabu kienu bla viżjoni.  Inżid ngħid li b’mod konxju inkarigaw bil-proċess deċiżjonali numru ta’ persuni li ma kellhomx idea tal-impatt fit-tul ta’ dak li kienu qed jagħmlu. Kien jinteresshom biss mill-impatti immedjati: il-voti u l-elezzjonijiet kienu l-miri ewlenin tagħhom. Ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ġid komuni.

F’dan kollu nifhem li l-integrità tfisser li tkun onest, b’subgħajk dritt, ta’ prinċipju. Kwalitajiet li huma nieqsa mill-pjani lokali.

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art huwa aspett importanti minn dak meħtieġ għall-ħarsien ambjentali: dan mhux konċernat biss mir-realtajiet tal-lum.  Jagħti sura lill-futur u jfassal il-qafas li fih jiżviluppaw il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. F’dan il-kuntest Il-korruzzjoni tal-ambjent biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet billi jitqassmu l-permessi tal-iżvilupp bħall-pastizzi hi l-agħar azzjoni possibli, nieqsa minn kwalunkwe ħjiel ta’ integrità.  Dan hu l-kontribut sinifikanti tat-tim tal-2006 fil-politika Maltija lill-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti u futuri.  Għaddew ħmistax-il sena minn meta Tonio Fenech u ta’ madwaru fl-2006 ħolqu din il-froġa ambjentali. L-impatti illum tad-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ħmistax-il sena ilu huma enormi. Sfortunatament ma hemm ħadd fil-Parlament illum li għandu l-kuraġġ li jibda it-tiswija u t-tindifa bis-serjetà tal-ħsara li ilha takkumula għal 15-il sena.

U issa? Sakemm jibqgħu jiġu eletti l-istess tip ta’ nies fil-Parlament ma hu ser jiġri xejn. Għad għandna bosta  li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ħsara ambjentali, sakemm din tasal wara l-bieb tagħhom.  Huwa biss meta lkoll nirrealizzaw li l-vantaġġi immedjati għall-ftit ifissru tbatija fit-tul għal kulħadd li nkunu nistgħu nagħmlu l-ewwel passi fit-triq tal-fejqan.

Irridu nkunu kapaċi nifhmu kif dak li nagħmlu illum għandu effett fuq is-7 ġenerazzjonijiet li jiġu warajna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh billi nqisu sewwa d-deċiżjonijiet u l-imġieba kollha tagħna. Ma jista’ jkun hemm l-ebda eċċezzjoni.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Tonio Fenech’s class of 2006

Tonio Fenech, former Finance Minister, has been resurrected onto a political platform to share his views in a recent political activity held at Verdala Palace.

The environment, he said, does not win elections. Development permits, on the other hand, win votes, Tonio Fenech emphasised! Tonio Fenech, sanctimoniously as ever, implies that it was essential to systematically ruin the environment, in order to win elections! Sort of, winning elections is an objective in respect of which no sacrifice is to be spared, in his opinion!

We have been there more than once before. Realistically speaking, the problem, in my view is entrenched short-termism and this is applicable not just to environmental politics but rather to a whole spectrum of issues of varying importance. We need to take the long-term view in our decision-making process at all levels and in all matters.

Having been responsible, together with others, for the approval not just of the Local Plans but also for the rationalisation (land use planning) exercise as a result of which extensive land was given up for development, it seems that Tonio Fenech is in atonement mode. However, his proposal of resolving the matter by enshrining Local Plans in the Constitution would create worse problems than those already inflicted upon Maltese society!

Local plans, and other land use planning instruments, necessarily need be one of two types. They could be either very clear and precise, in which case they would require periodic revision to reflect developments and new realities. Alternatively, local plans could be generic in which case much would depend on their interpretation and the integrity of those handling the process.

In each option much is dependent on the integrity and vision of those handling all the different stages of the decision-making process. There are no two ways about it: we are in the present mess due to the lack of vision of Tonio Fenech and his colleagues. I would also add that they consciously entrusted the decision-making process to various persons who had no idea of the long-term impact of what they embarked upon. They had their sights focused on short-term gains: winning votes and elections being among their primary objectives. Consciously they set aside the common good.

In my book integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, being morally upright. Qualities which are definitely missing in the local plans.

Land use planning is an important aspect of environmental stewardship, and it does not deal exclusively with present day realities. It also shapes the future and determines the parameters within which future generations can act. In this respect using a corrupted environment to consciously win elections through dishing out development permits is in my view the worst possible political declaration, devoid of any integrity. This is the significant contribution of the class of 2006 in Maltese politics to the quality of life of present and future generations. It has been fifteen years since Tonio Fenech and his class of 2006 created this environmental mess. The impacts today are enormous. It is unfortunate that no one in parliament has the courage to initiate the process to reverse this 15-year damage.

Where do we go from here? Realistically speaking we cannot go anywhere if the same type keeps making it to Parliament. We have had more than enough of those who ignore environmental blasphemy until it arrives at their doorstep or their street! The moment we realise that short-term gains for the few signify long-term pains for all, we may start registering some progress. We need to realise that the way forward is to be good ancestors to at least the next seven generations: ensuring that we take the long-term view in all our decisions. There is no room for any exception.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 June 2021

Taħt il-lenti

Irridu u ma rridux, Malta hi kontinwament taħt il-lenti  internazzjonali. L-imġieba tagħna bħala pajjiż kontinwament tiġi mqabbla ma dak li hu aċċettat u li fil-fatt isir f’pajjiżi oħra.  Dan bla dubju għandu jservi ta’ xprun għalina lkoll f’dak kollu li nagħmlu.

Kemm jekk hi l-Moneyval, il-GRECO, l-Kummissjoni ta’ Venezja inkella xi istituzzjoni sopranazzjonali oħra, l-argumenti huma sostanzjalment identiċi. Xi drabi huma dwar it-titjib meħtieġ inkella titjib li diġa qiegħed isir.  Sfortunatament, iżda, bosta drabi oħra, l-istorja hi differenti: għax l-imġieba etika tal-istituzzjonijiet tagħna bosta drabi hi ferm il-bogħod minn dak mixtieq.  Dan jinkludi lill-Parliament, li tul is-snin wera li mhux kapaċi jeżiġi l-kontabilità tal-Gvern.  

Mill-ħażin immorru għall-agħar, kontinwament, kif jidher mill-imġieba tal-kumitat Parlamentari inkarigat biex jissorvelja l-implimentazzjoni tal-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika.  B’mod speċifiku l-mod kif aġixxa l-iSpeaker f’uħud minn dawn il-laqgħat hu inaċċettabbli.   

Il-Grupp GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa għadu kif ħareġ rapport ieħor dwar Malta. Il-GRECO hu kumitat fi ħdan il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa li jissorvelja kontra l-korruzzjoni fil-pajjiżi li jiffurmaw il-Kunsill tal-Ewropa.  Dan l-aħħar rapport tal-GRECO hu dwar regoli etiċi konnessi mal-Parlament, mal-ġudikatura u ma’ oqsma oħra relatati.

Hu tal-biki li tisma’ l-kelliema tal-Gvern jilgħaqu lill-GRECO għax, jgħidu, li dan qed ifaħħar lill-Gvern dwar inizjattivi fil-qasam tal-etika pubblika. Ma sar xejn minn dan. Minflok iżda  ġie emfasizzat mill-GRECO li r-riformi f’Malta mexjin bil-mod wisq, qegħdin lura. Qed jitkaxkru is-saqajn.  Dak li qalet il-GRECO.

Fl-istess ħin kellna rapport ieħor mill-Kummissjoni Venezja. Din id-darba dan ir-rapport intalab mill-Gvern stess dwar tibdil li qed ikun ikkunsidrat fil-liġijiet in konnessjoni ma’ multi amministrattivi sostanzjali li qed jimponu diversi awtoritajiet. Il-problema hi dwar il-fatt li dawn l-awtoritajiet mhumiex meqjusa bħala Qorti kif teħtieġ il-Kostituzzjoni Maltija f’ċirkustanzi bħal dawn. Dan minħabba li mhumiex immexxija minn persuna meqjusa imparzjali, bħal ma hu Imħallef jew magistrat. Minflok huma immexxija minn persuni ta’ fiduċja!

Il-Gvern ilu jipprova jilgħab b’emendi differenti li ressaq għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-Parlament. Weħel fl-emendi meħtieġa għall-Kostituzzjoni għax m’għandux l-appoġġ ta’ żewġ terzi tal-Parlament u issa spiċċa dahru mal-ħajt. Ir-rispett lejn is-saltna tad-dritt qatt ma kienet kwalità ewlenija tal-Gvern kif qed jidher ċar fil-mod kif qed jiżviluppaw l-affarijiet! Din mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida li ma konniex nafu biha!

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġibdet l-attenzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis li jkun iktar xieraq jekk il-Gvern Malti josserva t-toroq indikati mill-Kostituzzjoni Maltija flok ma jibqa’ jilgħab bil-liġijiet.  Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tiġbed l-attenzjoni li filwaqt li l-opinjoni tagħha hi kontribut lejn id-diskussjoni pubblika li qed tiżviluppa, hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li fl-aħħar tista’ tiddeċiedi jekk l-għażliet tal-Gvern Malti humiex korretti jew le! Fi ftit kliem qed tgħidlu: x’ġejt tagħmel hawn?

Id-deċiżjoni meħtieġa, tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja hi waħda li trid tittieħed minn Malta u l-awtoritajiet tagħha. Hi ukoll materja ta’ sovranità. Għax hi l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali Maltija biss li tista’ tiddeċiedi dwar jekk l-emendi proposti għall-Att dwar l-Interpretazzjoni jmorrux kontra l-Kostituzzjoni Maltija jew le.

Imma hemm xi ftit posittiv f’dak li ġara ukoll. Il-Gvern Laburista fittex il-parir tal-barranin! Għal darba mhux jeqred bl-indħil barrani!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Under the spotlight

Whether we like it or not, as a country, Malta is continuously under the international spotlight. Our behaviour as a country is continuously compared to what is considered to be the norm, that is what is acceptable elsewhere.

Whether it is Moneyval, GRECO, the Venice Commission or any other supranational institution the arguments are basically identical. At times it is just about improvements which are required or are in hand. Unfortunately, however, many other times it is a completely different matter:  the ethical behaviour of our institutions leave much to be desired. This includes Parliament, which over the years has proven itself to be incapable of holding government to account. It gets worse by the hour as is evidenced by the behaviour of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which oversees the implementation of the Standards in Public Life. Specifically, the behaviour of the Speaker in the proceedings of that committee is, to put it mildly, unacceptable. 

The Council of Europe’s GRECO Group has just issued its Fourth Evaluation Report on Malta. GRECO is the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body. This GRECO report deals with corruption prevention in respect of Members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors in Malta.

It is nauseating to hear government spokespersons eulogising GRECO and emphasising a perceived praise for government “ethical initiatives”. It did nothing of the sort. It rather emphasised, in not so many words, that reforms in hand were moving too slowly and pointing out that they should be speeded up! I see no praise there.

Almost simultaneously we had another Venice Commission report, this time requested by Government, on how to implement changes to our legislation in order to ensure that it is possible for substantial penalties to be charged by a number of administrative authorities. The issue is whether these can be decided by a number of these authorities, staffed by so-called “persons of trust”, or else whether one had to stick to existing constitutional provisions which ensure that it is only a court of law presided by an impartial judge or magistrate that decides such matters.

Government has tried to use many tricks to force Parliament’s hand, clearly indicating that respect for the rule of law is not one of its strong attributes! Nothing new there, one might add.

The Venice Commission has drawn attention of Justice Minister Zammit Lewis that it would be appropriate if his government observes the paths laid down by the Constitution instead of engaging in tinkering with other pieces of legislation. Tactfully the Venice Commission points out that while it is expressing an opinion “contributing to the public discussion” it is Malta’s Constitutional Court which at the end of the day has the authority to decide whether the path on which government has embarked is correct or not!

The Venice Commission aptly threw the ball back in our court. It states in its report that its role “is not to assess whether the reform in question is necessary or appropriate. This decision falls within the sovereignty of the Maltese authorities and people. Further, the question of whether the proposed amendment of the Interpretation Act is compatible with the Constitution of Malta as interpreted by the constitutional case-law is for the Constitutional Court of Malta to decide, eventually.” (Vide para 94 of report)

For a change we have sought (foreign) advice, rather than complain on foreign interference. That is certainly an improvement!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 June 2021

The last straw

The situation is now unbearable. The discriminatory gender mechanism introduced in the Constitution by consent of the PNPL duopoly is definitely the last straw. The PNPL duopoly have now been at it for quite some time: they are undermining our very democracy.

Some years back they introduced the proportionality adjustment mechanism in the Constitution. They fine-tuned it over the years. Yet it is only applicable when just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third party makes it to parliament the Constitution ceases to guarantee proportionality except to the one party which obtains over fifty per cent of the votes in a general election. All the others are excluded from benefitting from the proportionality adjustment mechanism.

Act XXII of 2021, given the Presidential assent on the 20 April 2021, introduces another adjustment mechanism to general election results. It is a gender adjustment mechanism and is likewise applicable when candidates of two political parties make it to Parliament.

Twelve additional members of Parliament will be added from the under-represented sex. These will “be apportioned equally between the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”. There is no provision for the applicability of the gender adjustment mechanism when parliament is made up of more than two political parties.

Way back in March 2019 government had set up a “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” which was entrusted to draw up proposals on the need to achieve gender balance in parliament. In July of the same year, after an exercise in public consultation, this Technical Committee published its findings and final proposals.

The Technical Committee in its report acknowledges the receipt of a position paper submitted by the Maltese Green Party which emphasised the need of a “broader electoral reform” than the one under consideration. Unfortunately, the Technical Committee failed to engage and discuss the only alternative submitted to its entrenched position. An alternative which could possibly have delivered a solution without creating additional discrimination was ignored completely.

The Technical Committee’s proposal, which was eventually adopted by parliament, adds another layer of discrimination to our electoral laws. To date proportionality is only constitutionally guaranteed to political parties in a two-party parliament.  The second layer of discrimination will likewise guarantee a gender balance only when two political parties are present in parliament.

Encouraging gender balance is an important objective which I and all my colleagues share. It cannot however be the cause of creating further discrimination in our electoral legislation. This was a unique opportunity which could have been utilised by the so-called “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” to eradicate the existent electoral discrimination rather than further strengthen it. As a result, the Technical Committee ended up strengthening the existent parliamentary duopoly.

It is unacceptable that the electoral law treats us differently from the large parties. Equality before the law is supposed to be a basic democratic principle underpinning all legislation.

The electoral system has been treating us unfairly for too long a time. Adding further to this unfairness is definitely the last straw. It is now time to address this unfairness head-on and possibly settle matters once and for all.

With this in mind we are planning to challenge constitutionally the two adjustment electoral mechanisms as both of them are designed to function as discriminatory tools.

It is however possible to have both proportionality and gender balance in our parliament without making use of discriminatory action.

Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver fairness in our electoral system. The Courts are our only remaining hope to address and remove discrimination from electoral legislation.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 April 2021

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021

Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ

Hawn sinjali u indikazzjonijiet konfliġġenti dwar x’inhu għaddej bejn Malta u l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fuq negozjati dwar kundizzjonijiet li jirregolaw il-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Dak li hu magħruf bħala  Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Il-presenza f’Malta tas-Segretarju tad-Difiża Amerikan  Mark Esper iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa jindika mhux biss li t-taħdidiet huma għaddejjin, imma fuq kollox li huma fi stadju kritiku. Uffiċjalment ħadd ma jaf iktar minn hekk, ħlief dawk li għandhom idejhom fil-borma!

Billi hemm skiet kważi perfett – silenzju stampa – dwar il-materja, hu naturali li bħalissa għaddejja ħafna spekulazzjoni dwar dak li għaddej.

L-Istati Uniti ilha s-snin turi xewqa għal ftehim SOFA mal-Gvern Malti, imma kull Gvern repetutament qagħad lura. L-indikazzjonijiet illum huma  il-possibiltà ta’ insistenza Amerikana għal rabta  bejn ftehim u l-proċess tal- Moneyval dwar l-osservanza ta’ standards internazzjonali li jirregolaw il-ħasil tal-flus.

Kemm ir-rappreżentanti tal-Gvern Malti kif ukoll dawk tal-Gvern Amerikan jiċħdu li hemm din ir-rabta. Imma fin-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni iktar konkreta nistgħu nkunu nafu biss matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin. Jekk il-Gvernijiet humiex ser iħokku dahar xulxin ikun magħruf diplomatikament, kif jiġri ħafna drabi bejn l-istati  fil-maniġġi internazzjinali globali, kontinwament.

Fil-politika internazzjonali m’hemmx ħbieb, hemm biss interessi. Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi kontinwament ifittxu l-aħjar mod kif jaġevolaw dawn l-interessi. L-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika qed tfittex u tħares l-interessi tagħha meta tipprova issib mod kif tasal għal ftehim SOFA li jirregola l-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Din hi l-politika internazzjonali.  

Hu magħruf li Malta tablet l-assistenza tal-Istati Uniti biex tegħleb il-pressjoni internazzjonali dwar il-proċess tal-Moneyval li jirregola jekk il-pajjiż huwiex qiegħed miexi sewwa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus fuq territorju Malti.

Id-diċeriji jindikaw li l-Istati Uniti lesta tgħin, imma għal din l-għajnuna hemm prezz: il-ftehim li ilhom jixtiequ. Din hi opportunità li mhux la kemm terġa’ titfaċċa. Kif nafu: ħadd ma jagħmel xejn għal xejn.

Ftehim SOFA jistabilixxi l-qafas li fih il-militar Amerikan jopera f’pajjiżi barranin. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta jistabilixxi jekk u kif il-liġijiet ta’ Malta japplikawx għall-militar Amerikan u għall-ħidma tagħhom, inkluż kull apparat (inkluż il-flotta navali) li jistgħu jġibu magħhom. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta meta jkun negozjat – jista’ jwassal għal konċessjonijiet u eċċezzjonijiet b’mod li mhux il-liġi Maltija kollha tkun tapplika għall-mistednin tal-Gvern ta’ Robert Abela.

Dan kollu jwassal għal mistoqsija bażika: il-Gvern Malti qed jikkunsidra proposta tal-Istati Uniti li jkun hawn il-militar Amerikan jopera minn teritorju Malti?  Ma għandi l-ebda dubju li ftit huma l-Maltin li jaqblu ma proposta bħal din, jekk teżisti. 

Tul is-snin fil-pajjiż żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali li m’hawnx post għall-militar ta’ pajjiżi barranin fuq artna.  

Nistgħu allura naslu għall-konklużjoni li l-Gvern Malti qed ikun rikattat: Ftehim SOFA jekk trid l-għajnuna dwar il-proċess Moneyval? Sfortunatament ma tantx nistgħu naslu għal konklużjoni differenti.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku (li fi żmien qasir ser jingħaqdu f’partit wieħed) għamlu sejħa biex l-abbozz ta’ ftehim mal-Amerikani jkun ippubblikat immedjatament. Dan hu meħtieġ biex ikun jista’ jsir skrutinju pubbliku: dan hu obbligu demokratiku bażiku.

Nazzarda ngħid li l-idea innifisha tal-ftehim hi oggezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju u dan billi tmur kontra l-prinċipji bażiċi fil-Kostituzzjoni Maltija:  mhux aċċettabbli li jkollna l-miltar ta’ pajjiż ieħor f’artna. Anke d-dettalji tal-ftehim huma inkwetanti: dawn jistgħu jinkludu l-presenza ta’ elementi tas-Sitt Flotta Amerikana bl-elementi nuklejari tagħha, li jkun opposti bil-qawwa mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Jekk Malta, kif inhu xieraq, tirrifjuta ftehim mal-Amerikani, jibqa’ l-pendenza tal-Moneyval  li tista’ twassal għal miżuri li jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-settur finanzjarju f’Malta. Robert Abela xorta jibqgħalu l-obbligu li jħoll l-egħeqiedi li rabtu bihom il-predeċessur tiegħu u ta’ madwaru u dan mingħajr għajnuna Amerikana.  

L-għajnuna Amerikana għandha prezz għoli li Malta m’għandhiex tħallas. Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Ottubru 2020

Our sovereignty is not for sale

Conflicting signals are flying around as to whether, if at all, there is any sign yet of Malta and the US being close to concluding an agreement on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

The presence in Malta of US Defence Secretary Mark Esper is indicative that discussions are ongoing and moreover that they are at a very critical stage. Officially no one knows much more than that, except, that is, for those having a finger in the pie!

As a result of a news blackout on the matter, it is natural that a lot of ongoing speculation as to what is actually being discussed is developing.

A SOFA agreement with Malta has been on the US wish-list for ages: requests being repeatedly declined by successive Maltese governments. Indications point towards a linkage between the US insistence for a SOFA agreement and the developing Moneyval test on complying with money laundering standards. Both the US and the Maltese government representatives flatly deny such a linkage. In the absence of detailed information from both sides, whether such a linkage exists or not will only be clear as matters develop over the coming weeks and months. The possibility of a quid pro quo would only be evident on a diplomatic level, as happens continuously in the games states play globally.

In international politics, states do not have friends, they only have interests: diplomacy seeks to achieve and service these interests. In pursuing a SOFA agreement, the US is seeking its interests. This is the nature of international politics.

It is known that Malta has requested US assistance in the forthcoming Moneyval test. The rumour mill is of the opinion that such assistance will be forthcoming at a price: a SOFA agreement with Malta which has been yearned for by the US for a long time. It seems that this is an opportunity which is not to be missed by the US.

A SOFA is an agreement that generally establishes the framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in a foreign country and spells out how domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction apply toward U.S. personnel in that country. Exceptions and concessions are normally sought and negotiated.

This begs a basic question: is the Maltese government considering a US proposal to have US military personnel operating on Maltese territory or in Maltese territorial waters? I would not hesitate to state that few Maltese would agree with such a proposal. It is reasonable to state that over the years a consensus has developed on these islands that there is no room for foreign troops on Maltese soil or in Maltese waters.

Should we then conclude that the Maltese government is being blackmailed: a SOFA in return for Moneyval support? Unfortunately, it is difficult to arrive at an alternative conclusion.

Earlier this week Alternattiva Demokratika and the Democratic Party (which will be shortly merging into one party) called for the draft of any Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the USA to be made public immediately. This is necessary for public scrutiny. It is a basic democratic duty.

I would dare say that the very idea of a SOFA agreement is objectionable in principle as it goes flatly against the principles enshrined in Malta’s Constitution: no foreign troops on Maltese soil (or in Maltese waters). The possible details of a SOFA agreement are just as worrying: these could include the presence of elements of a nuclear powered Sixth Fleet which will be opposed tooth and nail by civil society.

Rejecting a SOFA agreement would potentially leave the Moneyval grey-listing possibilities unresolved. But then Robert Abela must seek to disentangle Malta from the suffocating problems created by his predecessor and his kitchen Cabinet without seeking US help!

US help comes at a hefty price which Malta should not pay. Our sovereignty is not for sale.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 October 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020