Edward Scicluna has no balls

Edward Scicluna’s testimony, mid-week, during the inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination is outrageous. Through his own testimony he depicts himself as a spineless Minister of Finance, weak, soft and cowardly, incapable of acting decisively in the face of abuse. As a result, he ends up certifying himself as not being capable to shoulder his responsibilities as a Minister.

In so doing he is following the lead of his colleague Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo. Bartolo, testifying in the same inquiry last month stated that rather than resign he preferred to politically survive to be able to fight another day.  He stated this when faced by his Government’s lack of concrete action on the direct involvement of former Minister Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri in the Panama Papers and other irregularities.

Scicluna’s is not an isolated case. Readers will remember Leo Brincat’s hearing at the European Parliament in 2016 when he was scrutinised by its Budget Committee in relation to his nomination to form part of the EU Court of Auditors. When, in view of his statements, he was pressed for an answer by MEPs as to why he did not resign he had replied that he had no desire to be a “hero for a day and end up in the (political) wilderness thereafter”.

Edward Scicluna told the inquiry: “why should I resign if someone else did wrong?” He added that to “enter local politics to perform a job” he had left his comfort zone and a €100,000 job in Brussels as an MEP.

Advising Joseph Muscat to distance himself from the Panama Papers fallout is certainly not enough. Scicluna was definitely aware, even as evidenced in his own testimony, that Joseph Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet was bypassing the system and as a result was avoiding transparency and accountability rules to better achieve “their aims”. As Finance Minister Scicluna could have nipped abuse in the bud but he did not, as he preferred to compartmentalise responsibilities and stay safe in his new comfort zone.

Scicluna’s responsibilities as Finance Minister amount to much more than budgeting for the necessary expenditure. Ensuring that all Government expenditure is transparent and fully accountable is his ultimate responsibility too, irrespective of which quango, Ministry (or Kitchen Cabinet member) is in charge of any specific project.

The Prime Minister has the duty to lead by example: he should ensure transparency and accountability in the workings of all his Cabinet members, including those in his Kitchen Cabinet. Whenever he fails to do so it is a duty of Cabinet members themselves to bring him to order or else to resign from Cabinet and take up the case in public. Any Cabinet Minister who fails to so act is an accomplice and collectively responsible for the resulting abuse.

No Kitchen Cabinet or shadow government should be allowed to run the country, continuously avoiding the checks and balances which, responsible parliaments set up to ensure that the taxes we pay are well spent.

It is irresponsible for Edward Scicluna to denounce Joseph Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet now that he is no more Prime Minister. He should have had the balls to act immediately that he was aware of Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet manoeuvres. The fact that he remained in his comfort zone signifies that he is as morally bankrupt as his colleagues in the now defunct Kitchen Cabinet.

Birds of a feather flock together.  

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 August 2020

Edward Scicluna u l-bajtar tax-xewk

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-President tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea, Ursula von der Leyen, ippreżentat lill-Parlament Ewropew pjan ta’ €750 biljun biex inqumu fuq saqajna. Pjan li jista’ jiġġenera investiment stmat €3.1 triljun fl-ekonomija Ewropea. Permezz ta’ għotjiet flimkien ma’ self, il-Kummissjoni Ewropea qed tfittex li tegħleb l-impatti ekonomiċi negattivi tal-Covid-19 kif ukoll li tagħti bidu għall-azzjoni meħtieġa biex ikun implimentat il-Ftehim l-Aħdar (the Green Deal).

It-triq biex nirkupraw mhiex faċli. Mhux il-każ li mmorru lura għal kif konna. Dak spiċċa. Irridu nimxu l-quddiem lejn normal ġdid. Li nintegraw flimkien il-ħidma biex nirkupraw mill-impatti tal-pandemija flimkien mal-azzjoni meħtieġa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima mhux ser tkun faċli imma hi essenzjali u mhux possibli li tkun posposta. Kif ġie emfasizzat fuq Euroactive nhar l-Erbgħa, it-triq biex nirkupraw tiddependi minn ħafna kundizzjonijiet konnessi mal-ambjent. 25 fil-mija tal-finanzjament propost mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hu fil-fatt marbut ma’ ħidma klimatika.

Edward Scicluna, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, fl-ewwel reazzjoni tiegħu għall-pjan tal-Kummissjoni ikkummenta mħasseb dwar miżuri prattiċi konnessi mal-klima. Bħala gżira ser inweġġgħu ħafna qal, jekk jindirizzaw l-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani u l-vapuri. Il-pjan, qal Edward Scicluna, jixbah lill-bajtar tax-xewk. Scicluna jippreferi li ma jsir xejn ħlief paroli. L-anqas m’hu jieħu pjaċir b’dak li qed jingħad dwar it-tassazzjoni tal-kumpaniji, avolja konxju li m’għadx baqa’ żmien biex fl-Unjoni Ewropea tħajjar kumpaniji jibqgħu jħarbu l-obbligi tagħhom tal-ħlas tat-taxxi.

Hu korrett li jingħad li ser nintlaqtu bil-miżuri dwar il-klima. Hekk għandu jkun, għax il-ħidma tagħna għandha impatt fuq il-klima. Nistgħu imma ninnegozjaw biex dawn l-impatti fuqna jonqsu mingħajr ma nnaqqsu l-impenn (reali) tagħna biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti klimatiċi tal-industrija tal-avjazzjoni u tal-vapuri. Bla ebda dubju dan ser ikun ifisser impatti sostanzjali kemm fuq it-turiżmu kif ukoll fuq il-kummerċ.

Dan ma jistax ikun evitat għax dawn l-industriji għandhom l-obbligu li huma ukoll jġorru fuq spallejhom l-impatti li qed jikkawżaw. Dak hu li wegħdna bħala pajjiż fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima. Wasal il-waqt li nwettqu dak li ġie imwiegħed. Biex niġu fuq saqajna irridu nfasslu l-futur mill-ġdid. Il-ħsara li teħtieg li tissewwa mhiex biss dik ekonomika u ambjentali. Jinħtieġ li tul l-Unjoni Ewropea kollha nibnu s-solidarjetà fuq pedamenti sodi. Dak li Edward Scicluna jqis bħala l-bajtar tax-xewk huma fil-fatt l-għodda bażiċi tas-solidarjetà.

Għax is-solidarjetà hi meħtieġa mhux biss meta aħna bir-raġun kollu nokorbu ma’ kull mewġa ta’ immigranti fl-ibħra Maltin. Is-solidarjetà hi dak li Malta tinjora meta tfittex li tkun attraenti għal min irid jevadi t-taxxi f’pajjiżu: dawk li jħallsu ftit lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta biex jevitaw milli jħallsu l-biljuni band’oħra. Il-politika dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni fl-Unjoni Ewropea hi r-risposta bis-sens għall-politika li tinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa f’Malta, l-Olanda, il-Lussimburgu u l-Irlanda.

L-Oxfam f’rapport ippubblikat fl-2019 u ntitolat “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” temfasizza li “l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu, Malta u l-Olanda huma fost il-pajjiżi li l-iktar jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fid-dinja, b’mod li jagħmluha possibli li kumpaniji kbar jirnexxielhom iħallsu ammont żgħir ta’ taxxa. Per eżempju, ir-regoli internazzjonali tat-taxxa jippermettu lill-Vodafone Group Plc biex jallokkaw kważi 40 fil-mija tal-profitti taxxabbli tagħhom f’Malta u l-Lussimburgu.”

Rajna ukoll rapporti dwar il-BASF, ġgant fl-industrija kimika fil-Ġermanja, li jispjegaw kif din tevadi t-taxxa. Fir-rapport tal-Ħodor Ewropej ippubblikat fl-2016, intitolat “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” kien spjegat kif il-BASF irnexxiela tevadi madwar biljun euro f’taxxa, u minflok ħallset ammonti żgħar bil-kompliċità ta’ Gvernijiet Maltin: ħomor u blu.

Jeħtieġ li l-ewwel u qabel kollox nirkupraw l-imġieba etika tagħna, anke qabel ma nirkupraw ekonomikament u ambjentalment. Ir-riġenerazzjoni tal-valuri tagħna għandha tkun prijorità qabel ma nippruvaw insewwu l-kaxxa ta’ Malta li minnha, bħalissa ħerġin il-flus maħmuġin akkumulati mill-bejgħ tal-passaporti. Flejjes miġburin minn persuni bħall-biljunarju Russu Boris Mints, l-Eġizzjan Mustafa Abdel Wadood, il-biljunarju Ċiniż Liu Zhongtian, in-negozjant Russu Pavel Melenikov u l-Iżraeli Anatoly Hurgin, li irnexxielhom jiżgiċċaw minn eżami suppost rigoruż u ngħataw iċ-ċittadinanza Maltija: però xorta spiċċaw għaddejjin proċeduri kriminali f’diversi pajjiżi oħra primarjament dwar frodi u ħasil tal-flus!

F’dan iż-żmien ta’ ħtieġa l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna spiċċa dipendenti fuq flejjes li oriġinaw minn dawn is-sorsi maħmuġin. Ma tkunx esaġerazzjoni li ngħid li spiċċa dipendenti minn flus li oriġinaw mill-kriminalità.

Fir-reazzjonijiet tagħha għall-proposti tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea Evelyne Huytebroech, waħda miż-żewġ mexxejja tal-Partit tal-Ħodor Ewropej, emfasizzat li din il-proposta flimkien ma dik tal-Parlament Ewropew u l-proposta Franco-Tedeska ilkoll qed jaraw proċess ta’ self komuni. Dan hu pass il-quddiem għas-solidarjetà Ewropea. Għax is-solidarjetà tinbena bil-mod u bit-tbatija. Imma għal Edward Scicluna dan kollu bajtar tax-xewk!

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 31 ta’ Mejju 2020

The recovery plan and Edward Scicluna’s prickly pears

Earlier this week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, presented for the consideration of the European Parliament a recovery plan worth €750 billion but which can unleash an investment estimated at €3.1 trillion in the EU economy. Through a combination of loans and grants the EU Commission seeks to integrate the reversal of the economic downturn resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic together with the action required to implement the Green Deal.

The road to recovery will be tough. It is not the case of going back to normal but of going forward to a new normal. Integrating the recovery from the pandemic impacts with climate change action will not be easy but it is essential and cannot be postponed. As emphasised by Euroactive on Wednesday, the road to recovery has plenty of green strings attached. 25 per cent of the funding proposed by the EU Commission is in fact earmarked for climate action.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, in his first reaction to the recovery plan, voiced concern on practical climate action measures. It hurts, he says, to address air traffic emissions or shipping pollution. As an island this would impact us substantially. The proposed recovery plan is comparable to prickly pears, he stated. He prefers the status quo: all talk and little walk. Edward Scicluna is not amused by rumblings heard on corporate taxation even though he is well aware that the days of attracting corporations seeking tax havens within the EU may well be numbered.

It is correct to state that we will be impacted substantially. We can however negotiate to reduce such impacts without diminishing our commitment to addressing climate change impacts of the airline and shipping industry. This would mean significant impacts on tourism and trade. These however cannot be avoided as climate change impacts have to be internalised: that is they have to be shouldered by the industries generating them. This is what we promised in the Paris Climate Summit. Promises that we must now honour.

Operation recovery must re-design the future. It must not be just an economic recovery or an environmental rebirth. It must also be a recovery of practical solidarity all over the Union. What Edward Scicluna views as prickly pears are in fact instruments of solidarity.

Solidarity is not just what we rightly cry for when immigrants crash through our borders. Solidarity is what we ignore when Malta insists on being attractive to tax evaders: those who pay peanuts to the Maltese exchequer in order to avoid paying billions elsewhere. The issue of tax harmonisation on an EU level is the sensible response to the tax haven fiscal policies of Malta, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Oxfam in its 2019 report entitled “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” emphasises that “Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands are among the most significant tax havens in the world, enabling some of the biggest corporations to pay minimal amounts of tax. For example, currently, international tax rules allow Vodafone Group Plc to allocate nearly 40% of its taxable profits to Malta and Luxembourg.” We have also seen reports on BASF clearly explaining how the German chemical giant avoids paying taxes due. The European Greens report “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published in 2016 had outlined how BASF had successfully avoided close to a billion euros in tax, paying just a small amount thanks to Maltese governments blue and red.

The recovery must be primarily ethical before being economic and environmental. Regenerating our values should be a priority higher on the list than the regeneration of our coffers, currently dishing out dirty money originating from the sale of citizenship schemes. Monies collected from the likes of Russian billionaire Boris Mints, Egyptian national Mustafa Abdel Wadood, Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, Russian businessman Pavel Melenikov and Israeli Anatoly Hurgin, who slipped through what is described as a rigorous due diligence process and gain Maltese citizenship only to be prosecuted in different jurisdictions for various crimes primarily fraud and money laundering.

It is indeed telling that in time of need Finance Minister Edward Scicluna is dependent on monies originating from such dubious sources! It would not be an exaggeration to state that he is dependent on the proceeds of crime.

In her reaction to the EU Commission proposals Evelyne Huytebroech co-Chair of the European Greens emphasised that the EU Commission’s proposal together with the proposals of the EU Parliament and the Franco-German initiative all foresee a mutualised debt instrument: a major breakthrough for European solidarity. Solidarity is constructed slowly and painfully, while Edward Scicluna juggles with his prickly pears.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 May 2020

Solidarity: practising what we preach

In the local political lexicon, at times, the significance of Malta’s EU membership is incorrectly equated to the financial input of the union in the financing of the development of the local infrastructure, both physical and social. The role of the cohesion funds and regional development funds, in their various forms, are, at times perceived as the be-all of Malta’s EU policy!

Solidarity is a founding principle embedded in the European Union Treaties: however, it is not sufficiently reflected in the behaviour of both EU states and EU citizens. Solidarity signifies the existence of a commitment for mutual support in time of need. As most are aware, solidarity is much more than a financial commitment of the stronger members of the union who are net contributors to the EU budget. Beyond financial assistance, unfortunately, solidarity has time and again proven easier said than done for the EU member states.

Solidarity is a two-way process: we speak of the solidarity which we expect of others without giving sufficient attention to the solidarity due from us, in particular to our neighbours. Solidarity due to us is a given, however a multitude of reservations seem to apply to the solidarity which we are expected to deliver to our neighbours in time of need.

The criminalisation of NGOs who save lives (thus filling the gaps created by EU state inaction and dereliction of duty) together with the closure of our ports for humanitarian missions is an affront to the basic principles of solidarity. We should not shift onto NGOs and onto the refugees the failure of the Libyan state to control those who are making a quick buck from the refugees’ plight.

The Covid-19 crisis has once more identified that within the European Union, in time of need, when it really matters, there exists a solidarity deficit. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, has earlier this week publicly apologised to the state of Italy for not helping out at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Addressing the European Parliament, she stated that “too many were not there in time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning”.

Saying sorry is however not enough. A genuine “sorry” needs to be matched by concrete action which changes behaviour, if it has to mean anything at all.

A time of crisis is a time for more Europe. It is a time where the relatively strong should seek the weak to help them out in overcoming the difficulties being faced. In a time of crises no one should beg for help. Solidarity should be forthcoming almost automatically and without any conditions attached.

As we are well aware, this is not news to us, as we have had to bear a lack of solidarity in respect of the impacts of immigration incident on our shores time and again. Together with other EU member states along the extensive borders of the Union, time and again Malta has been left on its own to face the music. There is as yet no general acceptance within the Union that this is an EU problem which requires an EU solution.

In Malta, at times, we fail to understand that the effectiveness of the EU in any specific area is dependent on the reactions from the individual member states.At times, there has been limited agreement on voluntary action to relocate refugees saved from drowning as well as those arriving in Malta on their own or else assisted by NGOs.

So far, the EU has generally been able to agree on one line of action in tackling the influx of refugees: throwing money at the problem. Development aid has also been used with limited success in aiding the rebuilding of those parts of Africa which have collapsed.

Solidarity should be a fundamental value in our operations as a state not just as an EU member state but more so as a state which claims adherence to basic Christian values. Our solidarity is a value which should stand on its own two feet without being conditioned by whether others act appropriately or not. Do unto others what you expect others do to you. Many a times have we heard this said. Isn’t it about time that we practice what we preach?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26th April 2020

Il-Partit Laburista hu moralment u politikament fallut

Joseph Muscat u l-Partit Laburista huma moralment u politikament falluti. Ir-responsabbiltà għas-sitwazzjoni kurrenti jrid iġorrha Joseph Muscat kemm bħala Prim Ministru kif ukoll bħala Mexxej tal-Partit Laburista. Għalhekk irreżenja. Imma anke l-Kabinett u t-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista huma kollettivament responabbli flimkien miegħu.

Ma ħadux passi meta kellhom l-obbligu li jaġixxu, jiġifieri meta kienu ppubblikat l-Panama Papers fl-2016. Dakinhar, il-Prim Ministru messu keċċa kemm lil Konrad Mizzi kif ukoll lil Keith Schembri u sussegwentement kellhom ikunu investigati mill-Pulizija, flimkien mal-merċenerji tan-Nexia BT. Iżda ma ġara xejn minn dan!

Anke l-Partit Laburista f’dak il-mument kellu l-obbligu li jiċċensura lit-tmexxija tal-Partit talli naqas mill-jaġixxi. Minflok ma għamel hekk il-Partit Laburista, b’mod irresponsabbli, ta’ appoġġ inkundizzjonat lit-tmexxija u nhar is-26 ta’ Frar 2016 eleġġa lil Konrad Mizzi b’96.6% tal-voti validi bħala Deputat Mexxej tal-Partit. Dan kollu seħħ jumejn biss wara li kienu ppubblikati l-Panama Papers. Fi ftit ġimgħat imbagħad, kellu jirreżenja bħala riżultat ta’ pressjoni pubblika.

Għaliex jaġixxu b’dan il-mod?

It-tweġiba jagħtihielna l-eks-Ministru Leo Brincat fi kliem li ma jħallix lok għal misinterpretazzjoni. Dan meta kien qed jiġi eżaminat mill-Kumitat tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-kontroll tal-Baġit fl-2016 f’konnessjoni man-nomina tiegħu biex ikun jifforma parti mill-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri.

Meta Leo Brincat kien qed jixhed, kif mistenni, kien mistoqsi dwar il-Panama Papers. Kien ċar meta qal illi kieku kien hu, kien jirreżenja jew tal-inqas jissospendi ruħu sakemm l-affarijiet ikunu ċċarati.

Brincat, imma, qal iktar minn hekk: huwa informa lill-Kumitat Parlamentari li kien hemm mument, li kien qed jikkunsidra jirriżenja minn Ministru minħabba l-mod kif imxew l-affarijiet dwar l-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers f’Malta. Imma, żied jgħid, reġa’ bdielu u ma rriżenjax għax ma kellu l-ebda xewqa li jkun meqjus bħala eroj f’dak il-jum li jirriżenja, imbagħad wara jispiċċa fil-baħħ politiku!

Il-Membri Parlamentari Ewropej, inbagħad iffukaw fuq l-argument ċentrali: jista’ is-Sur Leo Brincat jispjega għaliex meta l-Parlament kellu quddiemu mozzjoni ta’ sfiduċja f’Konrad Mizzi, huwa kien ivvota kontriha u ta l-fiduċja lil Konrad Mizzi? Brincat emfasizza li hu qatt ma seta’ jivvota favur il-mozzjoni ta’ sfiduċja għax kien marbut kif jivvota mil-Whip Parlamentari tal-partit tiegħu!

B’dik it-tweġiba, Leo Brincat kien qed jagħmilha ċara mal-Kumitat Parlamentari tal-Parlament Ewropew għall-Kontroll tal-Baġit li hu kien qed jagħmel għażla fundamentali.

Fil-mument li ġie biex jagħżel bejn il-lealtà lejn il-partit u l-lealtà lejn il-prinċipji tiegħu, il-prinċipji rmiehom il-baħar u għażel il-partit. Fil-mument deċiżiv is-solidarjetà ma’ Konrad Mizzi kellha prijorità fuq l-osservanza tal-prinċipji ta’ governanza tajba. Huwa dan li dejjaq lil numru sostanzjali ta’ membri tal-Parlament Ewropew u wassalhom biex ma jirrakkomandawx il-ħatra ta’ Leo Brincat bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri, l-istess kif kienu għamlu ftit qabel bin-nomina ta’ Toni Abela. Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Leo Brincat lil Parlament Ewropew tfisser ħaġa waħda: li dak kollu li qal dwar il-governanza tajba ma jiswiex karlin, għax fil-mument tal-prova ċaħdu.

L-istess ħaġa għandu jingħad dwar Evarist Bartolo u l-prietka tiegħu ta’ kull fil-għodu fuq il-media soċjali. Fis-siegħa tal-prova, anke Varist, bħall-bqija tal-grupp Parlamentari (inkluż Chris Fearne, li qiegħed fuq quddiem fit-tellieqa għat-tmexxija tal-Partit) irmew il-prinċipji tagħhom biex jippruvaw isalvaw ġildhom.

Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar, il-Partit Laburista, bħall-Partit Nazzjonalista qablu, mhux interessat fil-governanza tajba ħlief bħala għalf għal diskors politiku. Għax il-Partit Laburista hu moralment u politikament fallut.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Diċembru 2019

Labour is morally and politically bankrupt

Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party are morally and politically bankrupt. The responsibility for the current state of affairs rests primarily on Joseph Muscat’s shoulder as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party – hence his resignation.

However, the Cabinet and the Labour Party leadership are, together with Joseph Muscat, also collectively responsible for the ensuing mess.

They failed to act when they should have acted when the Panama Papers were published in 2016. At that point in time Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri should have been fired on the spot by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and thoroughly investigated by the police, together with the mercenaries at Nexia BT. Yet they were not.

At that point in time, the Labour Party was duty bound to censor its leadership for failing to act. Instead of doing so, it irresponsibly shored up the leadership and elected Konrad Mizzi with 96.6 per cent of available votes, endorsing him as Deputy Leader on the 26 February 2016, two days after the Panama Papers saw the light of day. He resigned some weeks later as a result of public pressure.

Why do they act in this way?

The answer was given in crystal clear language by former Labour Minister Leo Brincat when he was being vetted by the European Parliamentary Committee on Budgetary Control in 2016 with reference to his nomination to form part of the European Court of Auditors. I have already written about the matter in my article entitled: Leo Brincat: loyalties and lip service (TMIS 18 September 2016).

When Leo Brincat gave evidence, he was, as anticipated, quizzed regarding the Panama Papers. He made himself crystal clear by saying that he would have submitted his resignation – or else suspended himself from office until such time as matters had been clarified – had he himself been involved.

Brincat further volunteered the information that there had been a point at which he had considered resigning from Ministerial office due to the manner in which the Panama Papers scandal was handled in Malta. He added that eventually, however, his considerations did not materialise and he did not resign as he had no desire to be a “hero for a day and end up in the (political) wilderness” thereafter.

MEPs then focused on the fundamental issue: what about his vote against the motion of No Confidence in Minister Konrad Mizzi which was discussed by Malta’s House of Representatives? Brincat emphasised that he could not vote in favour of the No Confidence motion as he was bound by his Party’s Parliamentary Whip! He emphasised the fact that this was a basic standard of local politics, based on the Westminster model.

As a result of this exchange, Leo Brincat made it clear to the EU Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee that he had made a very important and fundamental choice: he preferred loyalty to the Party whip to loyalty to his principles: those same principles about which he has been harping on for ages. When push came to shove, solidarity with Konrad Mizzi took priority over adherence to the principles of good governance. This is what irked a substantial number of MEPs and prompted them not to recommend the approval of Leo Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors as they had done previously when faced with the nomination of Toni Abela. Leo’s declaration means only one thing: that his voluminous statements on good governance are only lip service to which there is no real commitment.

The same goes for Evarist Bartolo’s daily sermon on social media in respect of good governance. When push came to shove even Evarist and the rest of the Labour Party Parliamentary group (including Chris Fearne, current front-runner in the leadership elections), dumped their principles overboard to save their skin.

At the end of the day, the Labour Party – like the Nationalist Party before it – is not interested in good governance except as material for political speeches. Labour is morally and political bankrupt.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29th December 2019

Il-basla li daħal fiha David Casa

L-istorja dal-għodu fil-Malta Today dwar il-Membru Parlamentari Ewropew David Casa u d-droga kokaina hi waħda gravi. Ma nafx jekk hiex minna jew le. Biż-żmien insiru nafu iktar dwar jekk hiex storja ivvintata inkella jekk hiex storja reali. Ovvjament, din l-istorja, barra milli hi ezerċizzju ta’ tpattija għal tkeċċija mix-xogħol hi storja immirata lejn il-kredibilitá ta’ David Casa u dan fir-rigward tal-posizzjoni iebsa li qed jieħu fil-Parlament Ewropew dwar diversi materji.

Jekk dak li qed jintqal hu minnu David Casa għandu bżonn l-għajnuna biex jindirizza d-dipendenza fuq id-droga. Jekk min-naħa l-oħra mhux minnu, l-problema xorta hi waħda kbira.

Qed jingħad li dak li kien assistant ta’ David Casa u oriġina din l-istorja tkeċċa mix-xogħol tiegħu (bħala assistant ta’ David Casa) għax kien qed ikun repetutament fis-sakra fuq ix-xogħol minħabba problemi kbar li kien qed jiffaċċa, fosthom kont ta’ mitt elf ewro ta’ arretrati ta’ taxxa fuq id-dħul. Anke dan għandu bżonn għajnuna kbira u mhux min jinqeda bih f’mumenti ta’ dgħjufija, irrispettivament minn jekk l-istorja hiex minna jew le! Dejjem sakemm ma sabx lil min ħallaslu jew ħafirlu l-kont tat-taxxa, kollu jew parti minnu!

Qed jissemmew diversi problemi inkluż li dan l-ex-assistent ta’ David Casa kien tkeċċa mis- segretarjat privat ta’ Austin Gatt fl-2002 meta l-Pulizja kien tellgħuh il-Qorti dwar negozju ta’ ċekkijiet f’munita barranija. Akkuża li, għandu jingħad, kien liberat minna.

Meta timpjega lil min ikun fid-dell ta’ dan it-taħwid f’postijiet sensittivi, x’tistenna? Mhux li xi darba jew oħra jdaħħluk f’xi basla?

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

Encouraging the avoidance of paying tax

The issue as to whether or not  Malta is a tax haven has been brought to the fore once again, as a result of the amendment to the Panama Papers Inquiry Report discussed in the European Parliament earlier this week. The defeated amendment would have seen Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands labelled by the European Parliament as “tax havens”.

The matter is much more complex. On the one hand it involves tax competition and on the other hand it is a matter of justice in taxation matters.

As has been repeatedly stated, competition on taxation matters is one of the few areas in which small, as well as peripheral, countries in the European Union have a competitive advantage. Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party is not in favour of loosing this competitive advantage through tax harmonisation in the EU. However, it has to be used in a responsible manner.

The rules permitting the refund of a substantial amount of tax paid by foreign-owned companies based in Malta is one of the main reasons for the current spotlight. This substantial tax refund effectively reduces the tax paid by such companies from 35% to five per cent and is obviously considered very attractive by a number of companies. The basic question that requires a clear answer is how many of these companies are letter-box companies, that is companies which do not have any part of their operations on Maltese soil?

It would be reasonable to encourage companies to base part of their operations in Malta and, as a result, make use of tax advantages. But in respect of those companies which have not moved any part of their operations to Malta, making use of beneficial taxation arrangements is unreasonable and unjust. It leads to such companies avoiding paying tax in the countries in which they create their profits and consequently avoiding their social responsibilities on paying taxes in the countries that are providing them with the very facilities which make it possible for them to create their wealth.

In a nutshell, Malta is providing these companies with the legal framework to avoid their taxation responsibilities in the countries in which they operate through payment of a fraction of these taxes to the Maltese Exchequer. They pocket the rest.

Hiding behind the EU unanimity rule on tax issues will not get us anywhere, as Ireland has learnt in the Apple case. At the end of the day, the situation is not just about  taxation: it also involves competition rules and rules regulating state aid, as the legal infrastructure encouraging the avoidance of taxation is, in effect, a mechanism for state aid. The is also an issue of tax justice, as a result of which tax should be paid where the profits are generated.

Tax competition has a role to play as an important tool that small and peripheral countries in the EU have at their disposal. No one should expect these countries, Malta included, to throw away the small advantage they have, but it should be clear that this should be used responsibly and in no way should it buttress the urge of multinationals to circumvent the national taxation system in the country where their profits are generated.

Profits should be taxed where they are actually generated and not elsewhere. The EU needs to end – once and for all – not only tax evasion but also tax avoidance resulting from loopholes in national taxation rules. For this to happen, the EU member states must not only be vigilant, but they must also refrain from encouraging tax avoidance through the creation of more loopholes.

Tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance seriously will mean that taxes are paid where they are due, thereby funding the services and infrastructure that is required in a modern, civilised society. This can only happen if more companies pay their dues.

Tax competition need not be a race to the bottom.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 December 2017

Leo Brincat: loyalties and lip service

epa04912519 Maltese Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and CLimate change Leo Brincat arrives for an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the conference center in Luxembourg, 04 September 2015. EU Foreign Ministers gather in Luxembourg to discuss on the ongoing refugees and migrant crises. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

When Leo Brincat gave evidence before the EU Parliamentary Committee on Budgetary Control last week he was, as anticipated, quizzed on his position regarding the Panama Papers.

Leo Brincat made himself crystal clear by stating that he would have submitted his resignation – or else suspended himself from office until such time as matters would have been clarified – had he been himself involved.

He volunteered the information that there had been a point at which he had considered resigning from Ministerial office due to the manner in which the Panama Papers scandal was handled in Malta. He added that, eventually, however, his considerations did not materialise and he did not resign as he had no desire to be a “hero for a day and end up in the (political) wilderness” thereafter.

Then came the fundamental issue: what about his vote against the motion of No Confidence in Minister Konrad Mizzi which was discussed by Malta’s House of Representatives? He emphasised that he could not vote in favour of the No Confidence motion as he was bound by the party’s Parliamentary Whip! It was a basic standard of local politics, based on the Westminister model, he emphasised.

At this point Leo Brincat made it clear to the EU Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee that he had made a very important and fundamental choice: he preferred loyalty to the party whip to loyalty to his principles: those same principles which he has been harping on for ages. When push came to shove, solidarity with Konrad Mizzi took priority over good governance. This is what irked a substantial number of MEPs and prompted them not to recommend the  approval of Leo Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors. Leo’s declaration means only one thing: that his statements on good governance are only lip service to which there is no real commitment.

From this point onwards, the issue became one of principle, stated Slovenian Green MEP Igor Šoltes, Vice Chairman of the EU Parliamentary Committee on Budgetary Control and rapporteur on the European Court of Auditors, when interviewed by the local media. How is it possible to expect appointment to the European Court of Auditors and simultaneously give a nod of approval to Konrad Mizzi? Leo’s reluctance to distance himself from Konrad’s misbehaviour was his undoing.

Leo Brincat was considered as being technically qualified for the post of member of the European Court of Auditors but his public behaviour relative to the Panama Papers left much to be desired: it rendered him ethically unqualified.

Most of the information on Malta and the Panama Papers scandal is freely available online. In this day and age, MEPs and their staff, like anyone else, can easily look up all the information they need in an instant. They do not need any prodding by David Casa, Roberta Metsola, Therese Commodini Cachia or anyone else!

The facts are damning enough. Leo Brincat, unfortunately, came across as an ambivalent person who speaks in favour of good governance yet through his vote simultaneously gives support to its negation. Konrad Mizzi’s behaviour,, sanctioned in parliament by the vote of Leo Brincat and his colleagues on the government benches, signifies that the Parliamentary Labour Party in Malta does not care about good governance. Leo Brincat’s failure is quite representative of the Labour Parliamentary group’s behaviour in Malta, as they have all contributed to this mess – the effects of which are yet to come.

In fairness, I must also point out that the press had, at a point in time picked up information about a rowdy Labour Party Parliamentary Group meeting during which Leo Brincat and a number of other MPs (including a number of Ministers ) had argued for Konrad Mizzi’s resignation or removal. It is indeed unfortunate that Joseph Muscat did not feel sufficiently pressured to remove Konrad Mizzi from Cabinet, as that meeting was only followed up with cosmetic changes in Konrad Mizzi’s Cabinet responsibilities.

It is useless to try and shift the blame onto Joseph Muscat and his cronies. While Joseph Muscat is ultimately responsible, this does not exonerate Leo Brincat and each individual member of the Labour Party Parliamentary group; each one of them too must shoulder responsibilities for  failure to act in removing Konrad Mizzi from public office.

At the end of the day there is just one lesson: loyalty to your conscience is not up for bartering.