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

Gambetti lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali

Il-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis, kien ewforiku dwar il-bidliet kostituzzjonali li ftehmu dwarhom il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Gvern Laburista. “Ftehim storiku” qal.

Ikun opportun li ninnutaw li dan il-ftehim bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni sar bil-bibien magħluqin. Għal darb’oħra ma kienx hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika. Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, presentement fil-limbu, ngħatat gambetta oħra.  Kif ġie emfasizzat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa minn Pieter Omtzigt, rapporteur Olandiż tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa dwar  Malta u s-saltna tad-dritt, il-bidliet ta’ din ix-xorta għandhom isiru bis-serjeta.

Filwaqt li l-partiti fil-Parlament kontinwament jitkellmu favur il-ħtieġa tal-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali, b’għemilhom jimminawha kontinwament.  Tal-PLPN jidher li jemmnu li għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddettaw it-tibdil meħtieġ għall-kostituzzjoni. B’għemilhom kontinwament jagħtu l-ġemb lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-Kostituzzjoni, imma, mhiex tagħhom biss, iżda hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Parlament għaldaqstant m’għandu l-ebda dritt li jimponi riformi kostituzzjonali mingħajr konsultazzjoni pubblika adegwata.

Il-qbil li, fil-futur, il-President tar-Repubblika jkun elett b’appoġġ li ma jkunx inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament hu pass il-quddiem mis-sitwazzjoni attwali. Imma jikkuntrasta ma’ proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ilha li ġiet ippreżentata lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali  li biha l-Kunsilli Lokali, flimkien mal-Membri Parlamentari jkunu involuti direttament fil-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat.  Meta l-PLPN iddeċidew dwar din il-proposta kif ukoll dwar emendi oħra, bejniethom, bil-bibien magħluqin, kienu għal darb’oħra qed jagħtu bis-sieq lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat m’għandhiex tibqa’ l-prerogativa tal-Parlament: ir-rapprezentanza demokratika fil-lokalitajiet ukoll għandha tkun involuta attivament f’din l-għażla.

Apparti li hemm bżonn mod aħjar milli għandna illum kif nagħżlu l-Kap tal-Istat wasal iż-żmien li nikkunsidraw jekk il-President tar-Repubblika għandux ikollu l-possibilità  li jirrifjuta li jiffirma liġi jekk ikun tal-fehma li din tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni. Anke dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-President għandu jkollu din ir-responsabbiltà li meta liġi jqisha li tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni jibgħatha lura lill-Parlament biex dan jikkunsidraha mill-ġdid.  Permezz tal-ġurament tal-ħatra l-President tar-Repubblika jwiegħed li jħares il-Kostituzzjoni, iżda mbagħad ma jingħata l-ebda għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dan l-obbligu. L-awtorità morali tal-Kap tal-Istat mhiex biżżejjed biex jissavagwardja l-Kostituzzjoni meta l-Parlament ikun jidhrilu li jista’ jiġi jaqa’ u jqum minn kollox u minn kulħadd.

Mezzi oħra tal-media presentement qed jiffukaw fuq ir-rwol tal-istazzjonijiet tat-televiżjoni u r-radju tal-partiti politiċi. Anke dwar dan, repetutament, Alternattiva Demokratika emfasizzajna li f’demorkazija moderna dan ma jagħmilx sens, għalkemm dejjem irridu nżommu quddiem għajnejna ċ-ċirkustanzi li minħabba fihom il-partit laburista u l-partit nazzjonalista għandhom dawn il-mezzi.  Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-istazzjonijiet tal-partiti politiċi għandhom jingħalqu u dan f’kuntest ta’ riforma mill-qiegħ tax-xandir fil-pajjiż. Il-PLPN għandhom kull interess li dibattitu bħal dan jostakolawh għax inkella jispiċċaw jitilfu l-kontroll li għandhom fuq ix-Xandir.

Il-proposti pendenti quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali huma bosta.

Bi qbil bejn il-PLPN, il-President tar-Repubblika intalab li jikkoordina l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Dan qed isir bl-assistenza ta’ kumitat magħmul minn rappresentanti tal-PLPN, tlieta minn kull naħa. Dan ilu għaddej is-snin, sa minn qabel ma nħatar il-President tar-Repubblika attwali.  S’issa, imma, jekk sar xi progress m’aħniex infurmati bih! Għax jidher li s-segretezza, sfortunatament, invadiet il-Palazz Presidenzjali ukoll.

Flok ma joqgħodu jilgħabu bil-Kostituzzjoni kull tant żmien, ikun ferm aħjar jekk induruha dawra sew flimkien u dan wara konsultazzjonI pubblika. Ir-riformi li jinħmew wara l-bibien magħluqin, il-metodu operattiv preferut tal-PLPN mhuwiex aċċettabbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 t’Awwissu 2020

Undermining the Constitutional Convention

Edward Zammit Lewis, Justice Minister, has been euphoric on the constitutional changes agreed between the Labour government and the Nationalist Party. He describes it as a historic agreement.

It is however pertinent to point out that the agreed changes have been arrived at between Government and the Opposition behind closed doors. Once more public consultation has been discarded. The Constitutional Convention, currently in limbo, has been once more undermined. As emphasised earlier this week by Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch rapporteur of the Council of Europe on Malta and the rule of law: paper reforms are not enough.

In contrast to their public statements on the need for a constitutional convention, the parliamentary parties are continuously doing their utmost to undermine it. They seem to believe that they have some divine right to dictate the required improvements to the constitution. In so doing they continuously short-circuit public consultation. The Constitution belongs to all of us. Parliament has no right to impose constitutional changes without adequate public consultation.

The agreement relative to the election of future Heads of State by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, for example, while being an improvement on the present state of affairs, contrasts sharply with a Green proposal submitted to the Constitutional Convention, which proposal would require that local councils should be directly involved together with members of parliament in the process to elect a Head of State.

By deciding on the change behind closed doors the PNPL in Parliament have effectively short-circuited the public debate on this proposal. The election of the Head of State should not remain the prerogative of Parliament. Democratic representatives at a local level should be actively involved in this selection too.

In addition to improving the method of selection of the Head of State it is about time that we consider whether the incumbent should have the authority to refuse to sign legislation approved by Parliament which, in his/her opinion, is anti-Constitutional.

Greens have proposed to the Constitutional Convention that the Head of State should have the authority to send back to Parliament, for its reconsideration, any legislation which he/she considers to be in conflict with the Constitution. The Head of State, in terms of the constitutional oath of office, is bound to defend the constitution yet no constitutional tool is provided in order that this defence can be carried out. The Head of State’s moral authority is not enough to defend the Constitution whenever Parliament feels that it should ignore its provisions.

Other sections of the media are currently highlighting the role of political TV and radio stations. Maltese Greens have time and again drawn attention to the fact that the political media is a misfit in a modern democracy. Even in this respect a Green submission to the Constitutional Convention advocates the dismantling of the political stations within the framework of a radical broadcasting reform. PNPL have an interest in procrastinating a debate which could lead to their being cut down to size and losing control of the broadcasting waves.

Where do we go from here? The proposals pending at the secretariat of the Constitutional Convention are many.

As a result of a PNPL agreement, the President of the Republic has been appointed to lead the Constitutional Convention. The Head of State is presumably coordinating the input received with the assistance of a committee made up of PLPN representatives. This exercise has been going on for ages, since well before the current President was appointed.  Whatever progress has been possibly achieved is not known as everything, so far, is being done behind closed doors. Unnecessary secrecy has also invaded and taken control of the Presidential Palace!

It is about time that instead of having piecemeal adjustments to the Constitution, this is given a complete overhaul after adequate public consultation.  Paper reform behind closed doors, the preferred method of operation of the PNPL is definitely not acceptable.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 August 2020

Illum f’laqgħa mal-President George Vella

Iktar kmieni illum, flimkien ma uffiċjali oħra ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kien ta’ pjaċir għalija li ltqajt ma Dr George Vella President tar-Repubblika. Għaddejtlu kopja tal-proposti ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-Riforma Kostituzzjonali.

Ma’ Dr George Vella iddiskutejna kif il-proċess tar-riforma kostituzzjonali għandu jkun trasparenti u miftuħ għall-ikbar numru possibli ta’ persuni.

Għandu jsir sforz ikbar minn kulħadd biex tixtered iktar informazzjoni dwar il-kostituzzjoni u l-importanza tagħha fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum tal-pajjiż.

Constitutional reform: identifying the basic building blocks

Malta’s Constitution should be regarded as a living document: one that reflects our values and aspirations. These, naturally, change over time and it is consequently logical that they are reflected in an up-dated Constitution.

Unfortunately, we have only very rarely had the opportunity to consider updates to our Constitution, except in times of political turmoil. The current endeavours of HE President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca in leading a steering committee to pave the way for a Constitutional Convention is unique in our constitutional history: it is an experiment which should be allowed to mature.

In its present form, Malta’s Constitution is mostly the result of political backroom dealings and compromises over an almost 60-year time-frame – and the results are, at times awkward. Gaps have developed over the years, that are being exploited by those who seek power at all costs.

In order to improve our Constitution, we cannot start afresh. Our point of departure is the baton handed over by our predecessors, warts and all. It is not easy, as there are many vested interests to be overcome – primarily of those who seek to avoid the adoption of constitutional norms which ensure that authority is at all times exercised in a responsible manner.

The invitation by the President to Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party to air its views on constitutional reform at a meeting of the Steering Committee earlier this week was welcome.

AD’s views and proposals on the matter have been in the public domain for quite some time. We need to start at the basic building blocks of democracy. Malta’s electoral legislation needs to change in order to ensure that every vote cast by a Maltese citizen is valued.

Having lived through the political turmoil of the 1980s, I am aware of the difficulties faced in producing a workable solution. The electoral constitutional amendments of 1987 have since been tweaked a couple of times but, however, both the original amendments as well as the improvements made have only served the interests of the PN and the PL. Amendments were always drafted with the specific intention of excluding other political parties from an effective participation in the electoral process and this has to stop.

It is essential to ensure that proportionality between the votes cast and the parliamentary seats elected is not a right reserved for the exclusive perusal of the PN and the PL. This, I submit, is the cause of all the problems faced by our young republic. The deliberate exclusion of alternative voices in Parliament has ensured that Malta’s political engagement has developed into a politics of confrontation, squeezing out the politics of consensus.

This is not all. It is also time to tackle, head on, the issue of gender balance in our parliamentary elections. Humiliating quotas intended to correct results are in my view unacceptable: gender-balanced party lists are the only practical way forward.

In addition to addressing the applicability of proportionality to everything we also require an overhaul of the method of voting. Gender-balanced party lists are used in various European countries specifically to address the gender mismatch in parliamentary representation. Gender balance is not just for man and women: it should also include those who identify themselves with neither of these genders.

A revised Constitution should recognise the fact that, today, the country,  embraces ethical pluralism. Hence, instead of the Constitution being linked to one religious set of beliefs, the Roman Catholic, it should spell out its respect for all religions compatible with the democratic state.

During the meeting with the Constitution Reform Steering Committee, AD emphasised that, unlike in 1964, Malta is now a lay state and this fact should be reflected in the constitutional reform through an abrogation of article 2 of the Constitution. This would reflect the great strides forward made by the Maltese nation as a result of the referendum on divorce, as well as through the introduction and recognition of civil rights for the LGBTIQ community.

Alternattiva Demokratika also discussed the need for the President of the Republic to be elected by an electoral college that is much wider than Parliament. Local Councils should be involved in the election of the President.

Revision of the Constitution should widen the use of the referendum by extending it further to include the introduction of propositive referenda, as a result strengthening the democratic process.

In the coming weeks, Alternattiva Demokratika will be publishing a detailed document containing all of its proposals on Constitutional reform, which will include proposals to strengthen the country’s institutions. Protection of the environment in all its aspects will also feature in such proposals as it is essential that a government that ignores –  or does not give sufficient attention to – the guiding principles in Chapter 2 of the Maltese Constitution should be held accountable.

After five wasted years, the first steps in the process leading to the constitutional convention have at last been taken.

L-ostaklu tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni hu delitt kontra d-demokrazija

Ir-rapport Annwali tal-Ombudsman għall-2017 li kien ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hu inkwetanti. F’partijiet minnu, nazzarda ngħid li hu ukoll tal-biża’. L-Ombudsman jikkummenta fit-tul dwar “in-nuqqas tal-amministrazzjoni li tipprovdi informazzjoni”.

Josserva żewġ tendenzi ġenerali.

L-ewwel tendenza hi li diversi Dipartimenti tal-Gvern u Ministeri qed isibuha bi tqil biex jiżvelaw informazzjoni importanti. Il-kliem li l-Ombudsman juża’: “Sfortunatament l-amministrazzjoni pubblika – u dan jinkludi ukoll awtoritajiet pubbliċi – jidher li addottaw attitudni ġeneralment negattiva dwar l-obbligu li tkun żvelata informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jinżamm infurmat. Uħud marru fl-estrem li anke qed jirrifjutaw li jipprovdu kemm informazzjoni importanti kif ukoll imformazzjoni vitali li l-pubbliku hu ntitolat għaliha minħabba li din tikkonċerna setturi importanti tal-ħajja ekonomika u soċjali tal-pajjiż.”

It-tieni tendenza hi agħar: diversi ftehimiet li daħal għalihom il-Gvern fihom klawsola li tobbliga li jinżamm is-skiet dwar il-kontenut tal-ftehim. Dak li hu magħruf bħala “non-disclosure clause”. L-Ombudsman jgħidilna li issa hawn “żvilupp riċenti u Inkwetanti permezz ta’ attentat biex jiġi assigurat skiet totali hi l-prattika li torbot lil dawk li magħhom l-amministrazzjoni pubblika jkollha rabta kuntrattwali biex ma tiżvelax informazzjoni fil-kuntratti infushom mingħajr l-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritá pubblika.”

Issa fir-realtá, din il-prattika ma ġietx addottata f’daqqa waħda fl-2017. Kien hemm okkazjonijiet fil-passat meta l-Gvern rabat lil oħrajn inkella aċċetta li jintrabat hu stess li ma tkunx żvelata informazzjoni. Jidher imma li din il-prattika qed iżżid fil-frekwenza. Mhux biss il-kuntratt ta’ Henley and Partners dwar il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza li fih dawn il-provedimenti imma ukoll il-kuntratt dwar il-privatizzazzjoni tal-lotteriji pubbliċi mal-Maltco kif ukoll il-ftehim dwar il-privatizzazzjoni parzjali tas-sistema tas-saħħa mal-Vitals Healthcare inkella l-ftehim mal-Electrogas dwar il-qalba għall-gass tal-impjant tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku f’Delimara.

Kif jista’ jkun li gvern jippretendi li jkun trasparenti u kontabbli meta juża’ jew jippermetti l-użu ta’ strateġiji bħal dawn li jostakolaw li tkun żvelata l-informazzjoni?

L-Ombudsman hu korrett li jipponta subgħajh lejn dan in-nuqqas bażiku ta’ servizz pubbliku li jridha ta’ wieħed ġust, effiċjenti, trasparenti u kontabbli. Jiena naħseb li dan hu daqstant importanti li jimmerita diskussjoni fil-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali – jekk din xi darba issir. Forsi wasal iż-żmien li tkun il-Kostituzzjoni innifisha li tillimita b’mod strett lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika milli tibqa’ tillimita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni b’dan il-mod.

Hu meħtieġ li jkollna s-salvagwardji kontra dan l-abbuż sfaċċat li qiegħed jostakola l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni li għandha f’idejha l-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Is-salvagwardji jistgħu jinkludu l-possibilitá ta’ reviżjoni amministrattiva immedjata li tikkanċella l-ostaklu għall-aċċess kif ukoll passi biex dawk responsabbli biex jostakolaw dan l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni mingħajr raġuni valida ma jitħallewx iktar jeżerċitaw il-funzjonijiet ta’ uffiċċju pubbliku.

L-Ombudsman jispjega fir-rapport tiegħu li l-liġi tagħti lill-uffiċċju tiegħu l-għodda meħtieġa biex ikollu aċċess għall-informazzjoni li jeħtieġ ħalli “jmexxi l-investigazzjonijiet dwar l-ilmenti li jkunu waslu” avolja din l-informazzjoni xi drabi tingħata b’mod imqanżaħ. Iżda l-Ombudsman iqis li għandu jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal tlett ċirkustanzi partikolari “li juru kif ir-rispons negattiv tal-awtoritajiet pubbliċi meta dawn jintalbu informazzjoni qed ixekkel l-Ombudsman u lill-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tiegħu fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom”.

L-ewwel kaz jirrigwarda l-Armata. Ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru għall-Intern u s-Sigurtá Nazzjonali li jgħaddi l-files kollha dwar l-eżerċizzji ta’ promozzjonijiet għall-għola gradi fl-Armata issolva biss wara d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qorti tal-Appell f’Ottubru 2016 liema deċiżjoni ikkonfermat li Ombudsman kellu l-obbligu li jinvestiga l-ilmenti li rċieva.

It-tieni kaz jirrigwarda ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa li jipprovdi l-informazzjoni mitluba mill-Kummissarju għas-Saħħa biex dan jipprovdi il-ftehim sħiħ ma’ Vitals Healthcare dwar il-privatizzazzjoni ta’ sptarijiet f’Malta u Għawdex li kien meħtieġ fl-investigazzjoni dwar jekk l-interessi tal-pazjenti u l-istaff (mediku) kienux adegwatament imħarsa.

It-tielet kaz hu dwar l-ilmenti kontinwa tal-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman (Saħħa, Ippjanar/Ambjent u Edukazzjoni) dwar id-dewmien li qed jirriżulta f’investigazzjonijiet li jkunu jeħtieġu konklużjoni immedjata. Dan minħabba n-nuqqas tas-settur pubbliku li jagħti tweġiba għat-talbiet diversi għal informazzjoni.

L-obbligu tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika li tiffaċilita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jkun infurmat huma bażiċi f’soċjetá demokratika. Attentati biex dan l-aċċess taċ-ċittadin għall-informazzjoni jkun imblukkat b’dan il-mod jimmina l-proċess demokratiku u dan billi ċ-ċittadin qed ikun ostakolat milli jifforma opinjoni fuq kif qed ikun amministrat l-istat. Dan qiegħed ukoll jostakola lil dawk l-istituzzjonijiet fid-dmir li jiddefendu ċ-ċittadin komuni milli jagħmlu xogħolhom.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena nirringrazzja lill- Ombudsman talli qed ikun daqstant ċar fid-difiża tiegħu ta’ dak li hu bażiku f’soċjetá demokratika kif ukoll talli qed isemma’ leħnu b’vuċi ċara kontra dan l-abbuż ta’ poter.

Ippubblikat f’Illum Il-Ħadd : 10 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Obstructing access to information is a crime against democracy

The Ombudsman’s 2017 Annual Report, published earlier this week, is very worrying. At times it makes scary reading. The Ombudsman comments at length on “the failure by the administration to provide information” and points at two general trends.

The first of these is the reluctance of various Government Departments and Ministries to disclose important information. The exact words  from the Ombudsman’s report,  which I quote verbatim, are: “Regrettably the public administration – and this includes public authorities – appears to have adopted a generally negative approach towards its duty to disclose information and the citizen’s right to be informed. Some have gone to extremes by even refusing to provide important and even vital information to which the public was obviously entitled since it concerned important segments of the economic and social life of the country.”

The second trend is even worse: various agreements entered into by government are containing a non-disclosure clause. The Ombudsman states “An even more worrying, recent development that has come to light in an attempt to ensure a total blackout of silence is the practice of binding parties with whom the public administration enters into contractual agreements not to disclose information on the contracts themselves without prior approval from the public authority.”

Now, in fairness, this practice has not been adopted suddenly in 2017. There have been a number of instances in the past where the government bound others, or else accepted to be bound, not to disclose information. Apparently this is now increasing in frequency. It is not just the contract with Henley and Partners on the sale of Maltese citizenship which contains such provisions but also the contract concerning the privatisation of the public lottery system with Maltco, as well as the agreements on the partial privatisation of the Health service with Vitals Healthcare as well as the Electrogas agreements in relation to the Delimara power station changeover to gas.

How can a government claim to be transparent and accountable when it uses or permits the use of the non-disclosure weapon?

The Ombudsman is right to point out this basic deficiency of a public service which pretends that it is fair, efficient, transparent and accountable. I consider that it is also of such importance that it merits discussion in the Constitutional Convention, if this is ever convened. Maybe it is about time that the Constitution should limit very strictly the use by the public administration of non-disclosure as a tool to obstruct the public’s access to information.

Safeguards are required against the abusive use of the non-disclosure of information held by the public administration. Such safeguards could include access to fast track administrative review as well as both publication of the suppressed information and the prohibition from holding public office of those found guilty of blocking the public’s access to information without valid reason.

The Ombudsman explains in his report that the law provides his office with the tools to ensure that it has access to the information it requires “to conduct its investigations into complaints received”, even though this information is at times made available very reluctantly. However, the Ombudsman considers it appropriate to underline three specific instances “that show how the negative response of public authorities to provide information hindered the Ombudsman and his Commissioners in the exercise of their functions”.

The first instance is that concerning the Armed Forces of Malta. The refusal by the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to provide all files relating to promotion exercises in the top echelons of the AFM was only resolved after a definite decision of the Court of Appeal in October 2016, which confirmed that the Ombudsman had a duty to investigate the complaints received.

The second instance is that concerning the refusal of the Ministry of Health to comply with the request of the Commissioner of Health to supply “clean copies” of the agreements with Vitals Healthcare on the privatisation of hospitals in Malta and Gozo which were required in the investigation into whether the interests of patients and staff were being adequately protected.

The third instance is that of repeated complaints in all the reports of the Commissioners attached to the Ombudsman’s office [Health, Planning/Environment and Education] on the resulting delay in investigations which, by their very nature, require an immediate response. These delays are the direct result of the failure of various sectors in the public administration to submitting an expedient reply to requests for information.

The duty of the public administration to disclose information, and the right of the citizen  to be informed, is basic in a democratic society. Attempts to block the essential flow of information to the citizen through non-disclosure tools undermines the democratic process, as it blocks the essential elements required by the citizen in order to form a clear and unbiased opinion on the way in which the state is being administered. Moreover, it obstructs those institutions entrusted with defending the common citizen from carrying out their duty.

On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, I thank the Ombudsman for taking such a clear and unequivocal stand in favour of the basic tenets of democratic rule and against such blatant abuse of authority.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 June 2018

Illum : wara li l-Arċisqof beżaq mis-sunnara tal-PN

 

L-emendi Kostituzzjonali reġgħu fuq l-agenda.

Nafu li tul dawn l-aħħar snin il-possibilita li tiltaqa’ l-konvenzjoni kostituzzjoni kienet limitata minħabba li ġie mdeffes fin-nofs Franco Debono. Il-Partit Laburista ried lilu u l-Partit Nazzjonalista oppona. Nifhmu li għad qed isiru sforzi biex din il-problema tingħeleb.Imma qed jingħadu diversi affarijiet oħra li huma ta’ interess kbir.

Madwar tlett ġimgħat ilu, Mons Scicluna qal li l-Knisja ma jkollha l-ebda oġġezzjoni li titneħħa r-referenza għal Kattoliċiżku mill-Kostituzzjoni Maltija. Il-Knisja, qal Mons. Scicluna, ma tridx privileġġi imma trid il-libertà reliġjuża. Dikjarazzjoni makakka u f’waqtha ta’ Mons Scicluna li indirizzat waħda mill-issues jaħarqu quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Jaħarqu fis-sens li kien (u għadu) antiċipat li l-PN jopponi din il-bidla. Dan minkejja li din il-bidla kostituzzjonali ma għandhiex bżonn żewġ terzi tal-Parlament għall-approvazzjoni, iżda teħtieġ biss maġġoranza sempliċi. Bid-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Mons Scicluna l-Knisja beżqet mis-sunnara tal-P.N. u mhux ser tħalli lill-P.N. jinqeda biha!

Issa li l-Knisja beżqet mis-sunnara tar-Religio et Patria, illum ħarġet ir-reazzjoni ta’ Adrian Delia, mexxej tal-PN, u dan kif antiċipat. Ser jibda jbeżża’ bil-babaw ġaladarba l-Knisja mhux ser tħallieh jinqeda biha. Dalgħodu kien rappurtat li Adrian Delia qal li l-Prim Ministru jrid ineħħi l-kurċifissi mill-iskejjel! Daqt jibda jgħidilna li sejrin l-infern!

Ir-realta hi li Malta għandha bżonn Kostituzzjoni lajka, jiġifieri kostituzzjoni li filwaqt li tirrispetta l-liberta reliġjuża tkun waħda li ma tpoġġi l-ebda reliġjon fiċ-ċentru tagħha. Tkun kostituzzjoni sekulari. Il-pajjiż hekk hu fir-realtà, wieħed lajk, u l-kostituzzjoni tiegħu għandha tirrispetta dan il-fatt.

Hemm bżonn ftit iktar serjeta meta niddiskutu l-kostituzzjoni. B’mod partikolari mill-partit tal-avukati!

Sadanittant Alternattiva Demokratika qed tistenna li tibda l-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali biex tkun tista’ tinvolvi ruħha fid-diskussjoni dwar it-tibdil meħtieġ fil-kostituzzjoni Maltija. S’issa, AD ma hiex involvuta f’xi diskussjjonijiet li jidher li għaddejjin.

Constitutional Convention: upsetting the apple-cart

 

A Constitutional Convention is long overdue. It has been on the public agenda for years.

Over the years, Malta’s Constitution has been patched up several times in order to resolve political issues arising at that particular point in time. It is about time that the Constitution is considered in its entirety in order to ensure that it serves the needs of the nation now and in the foreseeable future. An overhaul would certainly be in order.

One major issue which, in my view, needs to be addressed is the curtailing of the executive’s power over the composition, set-up and running of authorities and institutions so that these can begin functioning properly. Rather than the executive ceding power, as Minister Owen Bonnici stated recently when piloting the debate on the Bill that seeks to introduce limited screening of public appointments, it means that Parliament should rediscover its proper functions and claim back its authority.

This is the basic flaw in Malta’s Constitutional set-up. Malta is described as a Parliamentary democracy and, on paper, Parliament does have the power to decide but, over the years it has been reluctant to upset the current balance of power that favours Cabinet over Parliament. Unless and until there is a will to address this, no headway can be made and any proposed changes will necessarily be cosmetic in nature.

Currently, the focus of public debate is on the functioning of the institutions of the state. This debate has been going on for some time but has gathered steam as a result of the obvious inertia observed over many years. The principal issue is the manner in which major public appointments are made.

Unfortunately the public debate is sometimes derailed. The debate on the Attorney General’s office, for example, should rather be on the functions of the office than on Dr. Peter Grech, the current incumbent. In particular, Parliament should examine whether the multitude of responsibilities added to the office of the Attorney General over the years have diluted its Constitutional responsibilities. One detailed proposal on the hiving off of responsibility for public prosecutions was made in the Vanni Bonello-led Justice Reform Commission, many moons ago. So far, no action has been taken.

I think that by now it is clear to all that Parliament, on its own, will not deliver on the reform required because such reform, if properly carried out, will upset the manner in which political power is exercised in these islands.

The basic Constitutional set-up underpinning the 1964 Constitution, notwithstanding the multitude of changes carried out throughout the years – including the 1974 change from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic – is still substantially in place. On Independence, in 1964, most of the powers of the British sovereign, then exercised through the Governor, were handed over to the Prime Minister, subject to the theoretical oversight of Parliament. For over 50 years, Parliament has been reluctant to upset the apple-cart and no Prime Minister has ever had the courage to propose the curtailment of his own powers and handing them over completely to Parliament, which is where they belong in a Parliamentary democracy. Nor has Parliament ever taken the initiative: its composition prevents it from acting in such a manner.

The current large size of the Cabinet, coupled with the nomination of backbench MPs on the government side to various posts and sinecures, is a clear declaration of intent. Keeping backbench MPs happy and occupied reduce the likelihood of them asking too many questions. This has been going on for some time: in fact the Gonzi administration acted in a manner very similar to the current administration in this respect.

This, in my view, is the crux of the whole issue which Parliament cannot and will not resolve on its own. It needs a vibrant civil society (not a fake one represented by a couple of non-entities) which can prod and guide it until it embarks on the path where real political power is channelled back to where it really belongs. This is the real reason why electoral reform has always been left on the back burner, as it is only through fair electoral reform that results in a different Parliamentary format whereby Parliament can start to think outside the box in which it is currently restrained.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 November 2017