Il-governanza tajba tinbena fuq it-transparenza

It-transparenza hi l-pedament essenzjali għal governanza tajba. B’kuntrast ma dan, il-governanza ħażina, ġeneralment, tkun akkumpanjata mis-segretezza u dan billi jinżamm jew ikun ostakolat l-aċċess għal informazzjoni ta’ kull xorta, liema informazzjoni għandha tkun pubblika.

Il-ħmieġ assoċjat mal-Panama Papers sirna nafu bih fil-mument li nkixfet l-informazzjoni dwar dawk li fittxew l-irkejjen tad-dinja fejn hi inkoraġġita s-segretezza: irkejjen fejn jinħbew il-flus ġejjin mill-korruzzjoni u mill-evażjoni tat-taxxi. Bl-istess mod l-iskandlu tal-Vitals dwar l-isptarijiet kif ukoll it-taħwid kollu assoċjat mal-power station ma kienux iseħħu kieku l-Partit Laburista fil-gvern għażel it-trasparenza flok is-segretezza bħala għodda essenzjali għat-tmexxija. Segretezza li kultant twaħħxek.

Il-kontabilità li tant niftaħru biha, wara kollox, hi dwar ir-responsabbiltà. Tfisser l-għarfien tar-responsabbiltà għal dak li nagħmlu. Dan ma jistax iseħħ jekk ma ssaltanx it-trasparenza, dejjem, u mhux biss meta jaqbel.

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra, l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ippubblikat dokument bil-ħsibijiet tagħha dwar il-ħtieġa li tkun inkoraġġita u msaħħa l-governanza tajba. Kien f’loku li l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ emfasizzat li l-governanza tajba hi msejsa fuq it-trasparenza, l-kontabilità u s-saltna tad-dritt.

Spiss jingħad li l-informazzjoni hi poter. It-transparenza hi dwar dan il-fatt: li jkun assigurat li l-poter jinfirex. Għax hu biss meta jkollna għarfien ta’ dak li qed jiġri li nkunu nistgħu neżerċitaw id-dritt bażiku tagħna bħala ċittadini li neżiġu illi kull min jiddeċiedi, u allura jeżerċita l-poter, jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu, dejjem.

Il-politiċi mhumiex l-uniċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawn jinkludu liċ-ċivil u lil dawk li jmexxu l-awtoritajiet u l-istituzzjonijiet imwaqqfa biex jiffaċilitaw l-amministrazzjoni tal-istat fit-twettieq tal-funzjonijiet u d-dmirijiet tiegħu.

It-trasparenza teħtieġ li tinfirex anke fid-dinja tal-kummerċ. Spiss nisimgħu lil min jemfasizza li l-politika m’għandiex tindaħal fis-settur privat, fid-dinja tan-negozju. Għal uħud għadu mhuwiex ovvju li anke s-settur privat, u in-partikolari id-dinja tan-negozju, għandu joqgħod lura milli “jindaħal” fil-politika. Fost affarijiet oħra dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun regolat il-lobbying. Dan ma jsirx billi il-lobbying ikun ipprojibit imma billi kull attività ta’ lobbying tkun transparenti. Għax jekk il-lobbying isir sewwa jista’ ikollu impatt posittiv fuq it-tfassil tad-deċiżjonijiet. Hi is-segretezza li tagħti fama ħażina lill-lobbying, segretezza intenzjonata biex ixxaqleb id-deċiżjonijiet lejn interessi kummerċjali u fl-istess ħin biex tostor it-taħwid.

Huwa f’dan id-dawl li l-inizjattiva tal- Ministru l-ġdid għall-Ambjent Aaron Farrugia li jżomm lista tal-laqgħat kollha tiegħu ma’ dawk li jfittxu li jiltaqgħu miegħu, inkluż mal-utenti, u li jippubblika din l-informazzjoni fil-forma ta’ reġistru ta’ trasparenza hi pass kbir ‘il quddiem. Din l-inizjattiva hi f’waqtha u hi ta’ eżempju lill-politiċi oħrajn biex huma ukoll jipprattikaw it-transparenza. Dan imma għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass li jeħtieġ li jkun segwit bil-pubblikazzjoni ta’ proposti u dokumenti li l-Ministru jirċievi waqt dawn il-laqgħat, kif ukoll il-minuti tal-laqgħat li jkunu saru.

Hu magħruf li l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika qed iħejji biex jippubblika abbozz ta’ proposti dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying biex eventwalment tkun tista’ issir konsultazzjoni pubblika dwarhom. Nittama li dan iwassal għal sitwazzjoni fejn f’dan il-qasam Aaron Farrugia ma jibqax l-eċċezzjoni. Il-bqija tal-membri tal-Kabinett m’għandhomx jibqagħlhom għażla. Għandhom ikunu kostretti li huma wkoll jaġixxu biex it-transparenza fil-ħidma politika tkun ir-regola u mhux l-eċċezzjoni.

Għax huwa biss meta it-transparenza jkollha egħruq fondi u b’saħħithom li nistgħu nibdew intejbu d-demokrazija tagħna billi neliminaw id-difetti li tħallew jakkumulaw tul is-snin.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Jannar 2020

Good governance is founded on transparency

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain.

The Panama Papers saga saw the light of day when information on those seeking secretive jurisdictions was made public. These locations are sought to hide  the fruits of corruption or tax evasion from public scrutiny. Similarly, the Vitals hospital scandal, as well as the power station scandal, with all their ramifications, would undoubtedly not have occurred if the Labour Party in government had embraced transparency instead of entrenching secrecy as its basic operational rule.

Transparency is a basic characteristic of good governance whereas secrecy is the distinguishing mark of bad governance, inevitably leading to unethical behaviour and corruption.

Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce published its views on the need to reinforce good governance. Pertinently it emphasised that good governance is founded on transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

It is said that knowledge (and information) is power. This is what transparency is all about: ensuring that power is shared by all as it is only when we are aware as to what is going on that we can exercise our basic right as citizens: holding decision-takers to account. Being in possession of information gives each and every one of us the power to act and exercise our civic rights.

Holders of political office are not the only decision-takers. Decision-takers include the civil service as well as those running authorities and institutions established to facilitate the administration of the state in carrying out its functions and duties.

Even business leaders should be transparent in their actions and decision-taking. Many a time we have heard the expression “we should take politics out of business”, signifying that politics should not interfere in the private sector.

To some it is less obvious that the reverse of that is just as important, meaning that we should also “take business out of politics”. Among other things, this signifies that we should regulate lobbying. This is not done by prohibiting lobbying but by focusing the spotlight of transparency on all lobbying activity. If lobbying is done properly, it could have a beneficial impact on policy making. It is secrecy that gives lobbying a bad reputation: a secrecy intended to derail decisions in a manner beneficial to the different lobby groups as well as to facilitate and shroud underhand deals.

In this respect the initiative of the newly appointed Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to log all of his meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders and to publish a Transparency Register is a welcome step in laying solid foundations for the practice of transparency by holders of political office. It is, however, only a first step and must be eventually followed by the publication in real time of proposals received as well as the minutes of meetings held.

It is known that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will shortly be publishing proposals for the regulating of lobbying. Hopefully, this should lead to a situation where Aaron Farrugia would not be an exception. Others will be compelled to not only follow in his footsteps but to proceed much further in entrenching transparency in the working methods of holders of political office.

A deep-rooted commitment to transparency is the only way by which we can start repairing our defective democracy.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 January 2020

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” hu wieħed mill-iktar abbużat fil-lingwaġġ u d-diskorsi politiċi. Nazzarda ngħid li hu terminu abbużat iktar mill-kelma “demokrazija”. Jintuża f’kuntest żbaljat u bħala riżultat jitwassal messaġġ mhux korrett.

Żvilupp sostenibbli jfisser żvilupp li jħares fit-tul, jiġifieri jqis, jikkunsidra u jindirizza impatti fit-tul. B’mod partikolari jfisser żvilupp li jassigura illi r-riżorsi jintużaw bir-reqqa u li l-interessi tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri jkunu kkunsidrati. Dan mhux biss materja ta’ interess ambjentali. Imma li l-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali jimxu id f’id. Ifisser li dak kollu li nagħmlu jrid iħares fit-tul u jkun kompatibbli simultanjament man-natura, mal-ekonomija, mal-iżvilupp uman kif ukoll mal-kultura.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li nkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li hawn madwarna, f’kull ħin. Huwa dwar ħajja f’armonija kemm man-natura kif ukoll mal-bnedmin ta’ madwarna. Dan li hawn madwarna nqiesuh bħala parti mill-familja. Hi t-triq lejn iktar dinjità mmirata simultanjament lejn il-qerda tal-faqar u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent kollu madwarna. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li l-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika jkunu sinkronizzati. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-kultura tagħna u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu fil-fatt żvilupp ibbilanċjat għax suppost li għandu perspettiva wiesgħa ħafna. Huwa għal dan l-iskop li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta għall-ewwel darba daħlet referenza għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli fil-liġijiet Maltin, ir-responsabbiltà politika għal dan il-qasam (fuq il-karta) kienet dejjem waħda diretta tal-prim ministru. Għax fil-prattika tfisser il-koordinazzjoni sħiħa tal-poltiika tal-Gvern u għandha tkun riflessa f’kull qasam, mit-trasport, sal-agrikultura u l-politika marittima.

Huwa minħabba li l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jidħol f’kull qasam ta’ politika li jeħtieġ li responsabbiltà għalih ikun f’idejn membru anzjan tal-Kabinett. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna ma żamm din ir-responsabbiltà f’idejh u b’mod jew ieħor kollha ddelegaw din ir-responsabbiltà lill-Ministru jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għall-ambjent.

Ikkonsidra, per eżempju l-politika dwar it-trasport li dwarha ktibt b’mod estensiv tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat. Fuq il-karta għandna strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tipprovdi kemm għal titjib fiżiku tax-xibka ta’ toroq fil-gżejjer Maltin kif ukoll li jittieħdu inizjattivi speċifiċi biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Hu ovvju li fejn it-toroq mhux qed jaqdu sewwa għandhom ikunu rranġati. Imma huwa daqstant ieħor ovvju li hemm limitu dwar id-daqs tat-toroq tagħna

Studji mad-dinja kollha juru li jekk il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku ikun indirizzat b’iktar żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq, il-problema tkun effettivament posposta u tiċċaqlaq minn triq għal-oħra inkella tkun posposta għal data oħra.

Li nindirizzaw is-sostenibilità tal-politika tat-trasport ifisser li għandna nifhmu dak li hu bażiku għall-mobiltà: il-mobilità faċli minn post għall-ieħor f’kull ħin. Sfortunatament dan mhux qed isir. Dan hu rifless f’numru ta’ kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika tat-trasport. Uħud minnhom diġa iddiskutejthom f’dan l-artikli imma hemm oħrajn bħall-politika dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni u dik dwar il-pompi tal-fuel. Politika dwar it-trasport li tħares verament fit-tul mhiex kompatibbli ma’ policy li tmexxi l-quddiem l-iżvilupp il-pompi tal-fuel. Il-fatt li f’data fil-viċin suppost li nibdew il-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, mifrux fuq numru ta’ snin, iwassal għal konklużjoni loġika li f’data mhux il-bogħod in-numru ta’ pompi tal-fuel meħtieġa ser ikun wieħed insinifikanti. Ministeru tat-Trasport iggwidat minn prinċipji bażiċi ta’ sens komun kien jifhem dan u jaġixxi b’mod loġiku.

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jeħtieġ li ssir parti integrali mill-istrutturi politiċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Jekk dan isir inkun f’posizzjoni ferm aħjar biex nindirizzaw il-kontradizzjonijiet u dan iwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar fl-interess ta’ kulħadd.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Mejju 2019

The politics of sustainable development

The term “sustainable development” is one of the most misused and abused in political discourse. I would dare say that it is as misused as much as the word “democracy”. It is generally used in the wrong context, and,  as a result, sends a wrong message.

Sustainable development refers to development which has a long-term view, that is a view that considers and addresses long-term impacts. In particular, it signifies development which ensures that resources are carefully used so that the interests of future generations are taken into consideration. This is not just a matter of environmental concern – it is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times. It is about being in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with our fellow human beings. It is treating our surroundings as part of our family. It is the path to dignity, aiming simultaneously at the eradication of poverty and the protection of the planet. Sustainable development requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development, as its perspective is all-encompassing. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it into Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister. In practice, it involves coordinating all areas of policy and should be reflected in transport policy as much as in maritime or agricultural policy.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

Consider, for example, transport policy – about which I have written extensively in recent weeks. On paper, it is described through the National Transport Masterplan which envisages both physical improvements to the road network as well as specific initiatives to limit cars on our roads. It is obvious that bottlenecks have to be addressed, but it is just as obvious that there is a practical limit to the size of our road network.

Studies all over the world have clearly shown that addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network has only postponed the problem and has either moved it physically to another area, or else moved it in time.

Addressing the sustainability of transport policy means that we should get to grips with the basics of mobility issues: the movement with ease from one point to another at all times. Unfortunately, this is not being done. This is reflected in the large number of contradictions encountered in the various aspects of transport policy and ranges from the electrification policy to the policy on the development of fuel stations.

A long-term view of transport policy would have easily made short shrift of the fuel service station policy. The fact that the electrification of motor vehicles will shortly commence and will be spread over a number of years, makes it  pretty obvious to one and all that, at the end of the process, the number of fuel service stations required will be insignificant. A Transport Ministry guided by the basic principles of common sense would have easily understood this basic point and acted accordingly.

The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. If this is done, we will be in a position to weed out glaring contradictions and, as a result, be in a position to produce policies which promote the interests of all.

Undermining the rule of law

The “rule of law” is a basic democratic principle codified in the laws of democratic countries.

We are all servants of the law in order to be free and in a democracy, the law should apply to one and all without exception. A weak “rule of law” thus results in less and less democracy until one is left with only a free-standing façade.

The law is there to be observed: it should be a constraint on the behaviour of individuals as well as on that of institutions. All individuals ought to be subject to the same laws, whereas institutions are there to protect us all, not just from ourselves but also from all possible attempted abuse of authority by the institutions themselves.

It is within this context that the report of the ad hoc delegation of the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament has to be considered. The report is an illustration of how others see the state of our democracy, even though at points it may be inaccurate.

The delegation’s brief was to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion”.

The observations and conclusions of the delegation in its 36-page report are certainly not edifying. The common thread running through the different pages of the report is that in Malta there are more masters of the law than servants; this is how others see us.

In my opinion they are not far off the mark. The report repeatedly emphasises the point that the law should be observed in both letter and spirit.

The institutions in Malta are very weak. I would add that they are weak by design, in other words they are designed specifically to genuflect when confronted by crude political power. This is reflected both in the type of appointees as well as in the actual set-up of the institutions which are supposedly there to protect us.

The above-mentioned report observes, for example, that none of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) reports on Maltese politically exposed persons (PEPs) were investigated by the Police, notwithstanding the fact that the said reports had been forwarded to them “for any action the Police may consider appropriate”.

Is it too much to expect that the police do their duty in at least investigating? The fact that no such investigation was carried out drives home the clear unequivocal message that for the police, PEPs are not subject to the law like any other person. The EU Parliament report is very clear as to why such investigations are essential. In fact it is stated that: “Persons perceived to be implicated in serious acts of corruption and money- laundering, as a result of Panama Papers revelations and FIAU reports, should not be kept in public office and must be swiftly and formally investigated and brought to justice. Keeping them in office affects the credibility of the Government, fuels the perception of impunity and may result in further damage to State interests by enabling the continuation of criminal activity.”

The question to be asked is: why is this possible? Why do Maltese authorities tend to bend the rules or close an eye here and there?

You may find an indication as to why this is so in two small incidents occurring in Malta this year. These illustrate the forma mentis of the Maltese “authorities”.

The first example is associated with the fireworks factory at Iż-Żebbiegħ. After 30 years in Court the rural community of iż-Żebbiegħ won a civil case as a result of which a permit for a fireworks factory was declared null and void by the Court of Appeal. The government reacted by rushing through Parliament amendments to the Explosives Ordinance. These amendments with approved by Parliament with the full support of the Opposition. As a result, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal, a permit for the fireworks factory can still be issued.

The second example is still “work in progress”. The Court of Appeal has, in the application of rent legislation, decided that the Antoine de Paule Band Club in Paola was in breach of its lease agreement. As a result the Court of Appeal ordered the eviction of the band club from the premises they leased within four months.

The government reacted by publishing proposed amendments to the Civil Code, as a result of which the eviction ordered by the Court of Appeal will be blocked.

These are two examples of the government reacting to decisions of our Courts of Law by moving the goalposts – with the direct involvement of the Opposition. The public reactions to these two cases have been minimal. Maltese public opinion has become immune to such “cheating” and bending of the rules because this method of operation has become an integral part of the way in which our institutions function. The Opposition is an active collaborator in this exercise that undermines the rule of law in Malta.

Is it therefore reasonable to be surprised if this “cheating” and bending of the rules is applied not just in minor matters but in very serious ones too? Moving the goalposts whenever it is politically expedient is, unfortunately, part of the way in which this country has operated to date. It is certainly anything but democratic and most obviously anything but respectful towards the rule of law.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 May 2018

Reflections from Carthage

Tunisia-Med

 

At the University of Carthage in Tunisia between Thursday and today the international community has been engaging with Tunisian civil society. The Fifth Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy – Decentralisation by Participation exchanged views and experiences with all sectors of Tunisian civil society: young people, women and trade unionists were at the forefront, with very passionate views on the Tunisian roadmap to democracy.

Why has the Arab Spring in Tunisia provided different results from those reaped in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria?

Yahd Ben Anchour, lawyer, former Chairman of the High Commission for the Preservation of the Revolution, and charged with overseeing  constitutional reform in a post Ben Ali Tunisia, emphasised the fact that the roots of this more successful outcome can be traced to a number of policy decisions in the late 1950s. The then Tunisian strongman Habib Bourguiba had championed free access to education, including higher education. He had, moreover, championed gender equality right from the first days of independence.  Tackling these issues made Bourguiba an exception in the Arab world.

From outside Tunisia, Bourguiba’s personality cult, the large scale clientelism over the years as well as the leadership of a one party-state naturally overshadowed his otherwise significant  social achievements, which are considered by many as the essential building blocks of today’s Tunisia civil society.

Even though a number of Tunisian women are still shackled by tradition, the number of them active in public life is impressive. It is this exceptionalism which has given the Arab Spring in Tunisia the edge over neighbouring countries and consequently the reasonable chance of success.

Mohammed Bouazizi’s  self immolation and subsequent death on the 4 January 2011 brought together all those dissatisfied with the Tunisian regime, leading to its downfall and laying the foundations for the first democratic state in the Arabic family of nations.

The debate in the Global Forum focused on the discontinuity of the electoral process in contrast to the permanence of political dialogue and participation. In a society which has rediscovered its hold over its own destiny, it is emphasised that political participation bridges the gaps of political time and goes beyond political monoplies. All Tunisian participants emphasised the fact that direct democracy reinforces – and is complimentary to – representative democracy.

Power originates from the people, who ultimately remain its sole arbitror. This can be done through referenda, not just to delete legislation but also to propose measures which the elected representatives did not consider necessary.

It is an ongoing debate that sees young people, women and trade unionists together with a new generation  of political activists debating the next steps to be taken by a democratic Tunisia.

It is in Malta’s interest to nurture this democratic development on our southern borders. We are not accustomed to having this type of neighbour!   During a recent meeting with Tunisian Premier Habib Essid, Malta’s Foreign Minister George Vella stated that Malta was willing to support Tunisia’s democratic process.  Back in 2012, in the first months after the revolution, Michael Frendo, then Speaker of Malta’s House of Representatives,  had also been in Tunisia, offering Malta’s  hand of friendship and cooperation to our neighbours.

Some positive developments for a change to our south.

Published in The Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2015

A future for the birds

sample ballot

 

Next Saturday we will be voting to give a future to the wild birds that migrate to Malta. By removing from Malta’s statute book the legal notice that permits the spring hunting of quail and turtle dove, Maltese voters will bring Malta in line with its obligations.

Nowhere does the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of the European Union or Malta’s treaty of adhesion to the European Union permit spring hunting as a sport. The basic rules in the Directive, in fact,  prohibit the killing of wild birds in spring. The only permissible exceptions are related to aviation safety, the protection of public health and safety, and the prevention of serious damage to livestock, agricultural crops, fisheries and water as well as the protection of flora and fauna. Hunting as a sport does not feature anywhere in the list of reasons as a result of which a derogation from the duties spelt out in the EU Directive is permissible. It is a Directive that deals with the conservation of wild birds and not with hunting!

The Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of the European Union has been an integral part of Maltese law since – and as a result of – Malta’s  accession to the EU in 2004. It expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility for the conservation of wild birds. This  responsibility is very clearly spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive, where it is stated that : “In the case of migratory species, [Member States] shall see in particular that the species to which hunting regulations apply are not hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their rearing grounds.” This applies to all bird migratory routes throughout  EU territory without exception.

Prohibiting spring hunting is not a question of numbers. It is not an issue of establishing a number of birds that can be shot without such a shoot-out having an impact on the bird population. It is an issue of principle. And there should be no playing around with principles. Wild birds require protection during the time of year when they are most vulnerable – in the period leading up to, and during,  the breeding season, that is spring.

Besides, the populations of both quail and turtle dove do not have a favourable conservation status in the EU and, as a result, are subject to  management plans. The aim of these management plans is to restore the species to a favourable conservation status. The EU management plan for quail, for example, specifically states that “Spring hunting that overlaps with the return migration or the start of breeding should not be permitted under any circumstances.”

The EU Management Plan for turtle dove, on the other hand, states: “of particular concern is hunting during the spring migration, which is practiced outside the EU and (illegally) in some other Mediterranean countries.”

This is the subject of the referendum: the future of wild birds in Malta in the spring.

There are, however, other issues that will be decided as a result of the 11 April referendum. Banning spring hunting on Maltese territory will remove a major obstacle which is impeding  access to the countryside to our families because of the dangers and arrogance of the men with the guns.  It will put the bullies roaming the countryside in the spring in their proper place.

This bullying is still going on, because in recent days we have had one of the leaders of the hunting lobby stating that, in the event of a victory for the NO vote in the referendum, the abolition of spring hunting might be contested. It comes as no surprise that the hunting lobby has no respect for the democratic will of Malta’s voters. Its members have repeatedly been sending clear signals that they are allergic to the democratic process. For years, they have  been holding  the parliamentary political parties to ransom. They have also presented a petition requesting the practical abolition of the right to call an abrogative referendum. Fortunately, the government had the good sense to ignore that petition!

A No vote on 11 April is hence also a vote on democracy. It will give a clear message to everyone of the ability of Maltese voters to decide. In the process it will liberate the parliamentary political parties from the clutches of their blackmailers.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 April 2015

Celebrating democracy

 

turtle dove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the next challenge.

published in The Independent – Sunday 11 January 2015

Scottish referendum : the kingdom remains united

UK-Scotland

Early this morning the final votes cast in the Scottish referendum were counted and the result announced.

The Scots for various reasons opted not to be independent.

It was a democratic decision which will be respected by all. It may seem strange and difficult to understand that a nation refuses independence offered on a plate.

Yet this is a real lesson in democracy to all those around the world who opt to take decisions by using bullets rather than ballots.

 

Jekk Joseph irid jiffranka l-flus …………..

localcouncils

 

Il-Gvern ta’ Joseph irid jiffranka l-flus.

Irid jiffranka madwar €3 miljuni billi l-elezzjonijiet tal-Kunsilli Lokali jsiru darba kull ħames snin flok darba kull 4 snin maqsumin f’darbtejn, f’nofs Malta kull darba.

Imma jekk verament irid jiffranka l-flus ikun tajjeb li jnaqqas id-daqs tal-Kabinett li hu stmat li jiswa’ mal-€15.4 miljun fis-sena.  Il-Kabinett ta’ Joseph Muscat (l-ikbar wieħed fl-istorja politika ta’ Malta) jiswa’ lill-pajjiż €6.4 miljuni iktar fis-sena mill-Kabinett ta’ qablu.

Kull sena, jiġifieri, il-Kabinett jiswa daqs kemm illum jiswew lill-pajjiż  l-elezzjonijiet għall-Kunsilli Lokali kollha ta’ Malta u Għawdex għal għoxrin sena.

Iva sewwa qed taqra: l-ispiża tal-Kabinett biha tista’ titħallas in-nefqa li issir għall-elezzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali għal ħames darbiet bir-rata ta’ €3 miljuni kull darba! U jibqa’ l-bqija ukoll.

Minn fuq il-Kabinett jista’ jiffranka l-flus, mhux minn fuq il-Kunsilli Lokali.

Jista’ jiffranka kemm irid.

Il-flus li jintefqu fuq it-tħaddim tad-demokrazija huma kollha flus investiti fis-sod. Il-Gvern għandu jkun onest u jgħid b’mod ċar li l-mira tiegħu hi li jnaqqas in-numru ta’ dawk li jivvutaw fir-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa (li għandu jsir f’Marzu 2015) u dan biex jgħin lill-kaċċaturi u lill-FKNK. Imma l-Gvern ta’ Joseph m’għandux il-kuraġġ li jkun onest.