Ir-reputazzjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Hu tad-daħq li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa skoprejna illi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hi mħassba dwar li possibilment saret ħafna ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tagħha.

Din kienet aħbar, għax sal-lum, l-impressjoni ġenerali ta’ bosta minna kienet li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tiġi taqa’ u tqum mir-reputazzjoni tagħha.

F’numru ta’ protesti u kontro-protesti ppreżentati l-Qorti f’dawn il-ġranet, residenti ta’ Pembroke talbu d-danni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’konnessjoni mal-mod kif din imxiet fil-konfront tagħhom dwar il-proġett tad-dB. Il-Grupp dB, min-naħa l-oħra lagħabha tal-vittma meta bi qdusija artifiċjali akkuża lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li ma għamlet xejn dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess ovvju ta’ wieħed mill-membri tal-Bord tal-istess Awtorità – l-aġent tal-propjetà. B’riżultat ta’ dan, qalet li sofriet danni sostanzjali meta l-permess ta’ żvilupp dwar l-iżvilupp massiċċ fil–Bajja ta’ San Ġorg tħassar mill-Qorti.

Fit-tweġiba tagħha, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar akkużat lill-Grupp dB li kien hu stess li ħoloq il-kunflitt ta’ interess li dwaru kien qed jilmenta. Dan billi għamel użu mis-servizzi ta’ aġent tal-propjetà li kien ukoll membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtorità kompliet temfasizza li hi ma kelliex idea dwar, u ma kienitx taf illi l-propjetà tad-dB kienet diġà fuq is-suq qabel ma biss il-kaz tela’ quddiem il-Bord għall-approvazzjoni, sintendi bil-vot favorevoli tal-aġent tal-propjetà membru tal-Bord.

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kompliet tgħid li l-Grupp dB, bħala riżultat tal-mod kif opera ikkawża ħafna ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tagħha. Din kienet sorpriża, għax ħafna ma kellhom l-ebda idea li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kella xi reputazzjoni x’tipproteġi!

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar taf li kull membru tal-Bord tagħha, hekk kif jinħatar, jeħtieġ li jimla formula li fiha jagħti informazzjoni dwar l-interessi tiegħu jew tagħha. Il-membru tal-Bord li qed nitkellmu dwaru, l-aġent tal-propjetà Matthew Pace, diġa iddikjara pubblikament li hu mexa mal-proċeduri stabiliti, li jfisser illi f’din il-formola huwa iddikjara l-interess tiegħu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetà.

Jekk dan hu minnu, x’għamlet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hekk kif irrealizzat li wieħed mill-membri l-ġodda tagħha kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà? Kieku jkollna tweġiba onesta għal din il-mistoqsija bla ebda dubju jkollna idea tajba dwar kif l- Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tħares “ir-reputazzjoni” tagħha. Imma, safejn naf jien, ma għamlet xejn: jew minħabba li m’għandha l-ebda reputazzjoni x’tipproteġi, inkella minħabba li tiġi taqa’ u tqum!

Apparti dan kollu, waqt il-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, kull membru tal-Bord għandu l-obbligu li kull meta l-interessi tiegħu jew tagħha jkunu f’kunflitt mar-responsabbiltajiet bħala membru tal-Bord jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal dan billi jagħmel dikjarazzjoni f’dan is-sens waqt il-laqgħa. Wara li jkun għamel dikjarazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta, imbagħad, il-membru tal-Bord għandu l-obbligu li jimxi skond kif jipprovdi l-artiklu 13 tal-Att dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp u ma jipparteċipax fil-laqgħa jew laqgħat li jista’ jkollhom x’jaqsmu mal-interessi tiegħu. Minn dak li hu magħruf, dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi huma rari waqt il-laqgħat tal-Bord tal- Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

L-interess ta’ dan l-aġent tal-propjetà fil-proġett tad-dB illum huma magħrufa. Ikun interessanti, imma, dwar kemm kien hemm iktar propjetajiet li kienu fuq il-kotba tal-aġenzija tiegħu li kienu ukoll suġġett tal-aġenda li hu kellu sehem biex jiddeċiedi dwarha! Din hi informazzjoni li s’issa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma għamlitx pubblika, għax li kieku kellha tagħmel dan bis-serjetà, malajr inkunu nafu kif l-Awtorità ndukrat ir-reputazzjoni tagħha tul is-snin!

Fil-fehma tiegħi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hi awtorità amorali, fejn il-prinċipji huma irrelevanti. Għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, l-unika ħaġa importanti għall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hu li ma tkunx ostaklu għal min irid idawwar lira!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Awwissu 2019

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The Planning Authority and its “reputation”

It is quite hilarious to discover that the Planning Authority is worried about possible damage to its reputation! This is news, because, to date the general impression that most of us have is that the Planning Authority does not give a f..k about its reputation.

In a spate of protests and counter-protests presented in Court over the past days, Pembroke residents have requested the payment of damages from the Planning Authority over its handling of the dB project. The dB Group, on the other hand, has sanctimoniously accused the Planning Authority of not acting on the obvious conflict of interest of one of its Board Members – the estate agent – thereby causing it damage as a result of the annulment by the Court of the development permit for the St. George’s Bay City Centre project.

Not to be outdone, in its reply the Planning Authority has accused the dB Group of giving rise to the very conflict-of-interest subject of its complaint. This, it argued, was carried out by making use of the services of an estate agent who was simultaneously a member of the Planning Authority Board. The PA further emphasised that it was not aware that the dB property was on the market even before the matter was decided upon with the estate agent PA Board member voting in favour: obviously!

The Planning Authority also pointed out that, as a result of the way it acted throughout, the dB Group has caused considerable damage to its reputation.

Really? I was not aware that the Planning Authority had any reputation worth preserving!

Now the Planning Authority is aware that each and every member of its Board would, upon being appointed, have submitted a detailed form listing his/her interests. The member in question, the estate agent Matthew Pace, has already declared in public that he has followed all applicable procedures which means that, among other things, he has declared an interest in an estate agency.

If this is correct, what did the Planning Authority do when it realised that one of its new members had an interest in an estate agency? Having an honest answer to this query would throw considerable light as to how the Planning Authority guarded its “reputation”. To my knowledge it did nothing, either because it has no reputation to protect or else because it was not bothered!

In addition, during meetings of the Planning Authority Board, every member of the Board is duty bound to point out instances where his/her private interests conflict with his/her responsibilities as a Board Member. After making a full disclosure of his/her interest the Board Member is obliged – in terms of article 13 of the Development Planning Act – to refrain from participating in the meeting or meetings which could have a bearing on his/her interest. From what is known, such disclosures are a very rare occurrence at PA Board meetings.

The estate agent’s interest in the dB project is now well-known. It would be interesting to know how many other properties on the estate agent’s books were also items on the agenda he had a role in deciding. This is a question that the PA has not answered yet. Maybe an answer could give a significant boost to its reputation!

In my books the Planning Authority is an amoral authority, where principles are irrelevant. At the end of the day, what counts is not being an obstacle to making hay, while the sun shines!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 August 2019

Lobbying: influencing decision-taking

 

what to do

Lobbying risks corruption. Establishing clear standards of acceptable behaviour in public life ought to include the regulation of lobbying, yet the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending on the Parliament’s agenda ignores this important matter completely.

Potentially, lobbying is not a dirty matter. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.  It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. Obviously, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

I am not aware of the reason why the Parliamentary Select Committee, led by Hon Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, failed to identify lobbying as a matter which requires regulation within the framework of the Standards in Public Life Bill. Perusal of the final report dated 24 March 2014, as well as the minutes of the Select Committee, does not reveal any indication that the matter was ever even mentioned in the Select Committee’s deliberations. In fact in my opinion, perusal of Parliament’s Motion 77, which contains the Select Committee’s terms of reference, indirectly includes lobbying as one of the matters which had to be examined.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency. It needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process and this helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect political decisions.

Other jurisdictions require that lobbying activities are documented and that the official being lobbied is always accompanied. Subsequently a list of lobbying meetings and the resulting documentation is released or made available. Such disclosure is normal in various democracies.

Lobbying can be regulated in two ways: by regulating the lobbyist activities and by regulating the potential recipient of lobbying.

The activities of the lobbyist can be regulated either through a compulsory registration of lobbyists or else through a regular disclosure of the names of those carrying out lobbying activities.

On the other hand, the potential recipient of lobbying ought to be regulated through a disclosure of all information related to lobbying, including minutes of meetings as well as any memoranda exchanged or submitted for the consideration of the decision-taker.

Full transparency is undoubtedly the best tool which – together with guidelines on the permissible receipt of gifts as well as whistle-blowing – will reduce the risk of lobbying being transformed into an instrument of corruption.

This is not all. Malta also requires rules that regulate the lobbying that is carried out through revolving-door recruitment. At times, this is the easiest way in which special interest groups recruit former Ministers, as well as the former high ranking civil servants regulating them, immediately on concluding their term of office. In this manner, they seek to tap contacts and quasi-direct access to or knowledge of information of extreme sensitivity. It also happens in reverse, when the public sector recruits lobbyists directly into the civil service without first having allowed sufficient time for cooling off so that former lobbyists thus recruited risk being Trojan horses in the public sector areas which previously regulated them.

If we are really serious about tackling corruption at its roots, it would be better if the need to regulate lobbying is urgently considered. Together with legislation on the financing of political parties just approved by Parliament (even if this is defective, as I have explained elsewhere), the regulation of lobbying would create a better tool-kit in the fight against corruption.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 26 July 2015