Luigi Di Maio’s threat

US President Donald Trump, over breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, unleashed a blistering criticism of Angela Merkel’s government for being too supportive of Russia’s natural gas pipeline, which provides natural gas to various European states. Germany is too dependent on Russian natural gas, said Donald Trump. Is it appropriate for Angela Merkel’s Germany to do away with energy sovereignty and security in this manner? Being too dependent on Putin’s Russia is not on, he suggested.

Malta also may have its energy sovereignty and security hanging by a string.

Only last month we were reminded by Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi di Maio that Malta’s electricity interconnector supply is plugged in at Ragusa on the Sicilian mainland. The comment was made in the context of the savage debate that developed over the rescue operations involving drowning immigrants picked up from the Mediterranean Sea by NGO operated sea vessels.

The Cinque Stelle politician considered it appropriate to use the Ragusa plug-in for political leverage in the same manner that Vladimir Putin makes use of his Russian gas supply, in relation not just to Angela Merkel’s Germany, but to most of the European mainland.

The fact that Malta is at times too dependent on the Ragusa electricity supply makes matters worse. We have undoubtedly lost count over the last months regarding the number of times we have been subjected to an electricity black-out in Malta: the standard explanation being that there was some technical hitch on either side of the Sicilian Channel which was being taken care of.

Malta will shortly have another Sicilian plug-in, this time a gas pipeline most probably at Gela.

Like the electricity interconnector plugged in at Ragusa the gas-pipeline plugged in at Gela will be another commercial undertaking. Malta will be paying for its gas, just as much as it is paying for its electricity.

Luigi Di Maio’s thinly veiled threat was obviously that the existing electricity plug-in at Ragusa was there at the Italian government’s pleasure which could reverse any commitment entered into so far if the Maltese government persists in irritating it.

It is not known whether there was any follow-up to Di Maio’s declaration, accept that the Maltese government closed all ports to NGO-operated vessels and that criminal proceedings were initiated against the MV Lifeline captain on flimsy sea-vessel registration charges.

This is unfortunately in-line with the Di Maio/Salvini philosophy that good Samaritans have to be treated suspiciously.

At the time of writing, another sea vessel with 450 migrants on board is sailing through Malta’s search and rescue area towards Sicily with Matteo Salvini, Minister for the Interior, insisting that Italy’s ports are closed for such vessels.

What next?

Potentially, as a result of the closure of Maltese and Italian ports, this is another developing tragedy. Di Maio’s veiled threat, maybe, has been taken seriously by the Maltese government.

Such incidents send one clear message: the foundations of solidarity as a value have heavily eroded. It has been transformed into a slogan. Solidarity is one of the basic values of the European Union – it is not limited to the EU’s border states. Successive Maltese governments have tried to nudge other EU member states to shoulder this collective responsibility which is currently shouldered disproportionately by the border states. The response from nine members states when the MV Lifeline debacle came to the fore was encouraging, but it is certainly not enough.

Faced with racist and xenophobic overreactions, opting for solidarity is not an easy choice. It would be certainly helpful if more EU states put solidarity into practice. The problem is that not all of them are convinced that this is the only ethical way forward.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 July 2018


Il-proposta dwar l-abort


Il-pubblikazzjoni mill-Fondazzjoni għad-Drittijiet tan-Nisa ta’ dokument li jipproponi strateġija nazzjonali dwar is-saħħa sesswali hu pass il-quddiem f’dan il-pajjiż. Fid-dokument, intitolat Women’s Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights, il-fondazzjoni tagħmel 7 rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar il-kontraċezzjoni, l-ippjanar tal-familja, l-edukazzjoni sesswali u l-aċċess legali u sigur għall-abort.

Min-natura tagħhom dawn huma proposti kontroversjali li jeħtieġu diskussjoni matura li hi tant nieqsa f’dan il-pajjiż.

Meta f’Settembru li għadda, fl-ewwel indirizz tiegħi bħala Chairman ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kkummentajt dwar dak li kien ġie diskuss fil-Parlament taż-Żgħażagħ ftit qabel u għidt li l-pajjiż jeħtieġlu diskussjoni serja u matura dwar l-abort kien hemm min staqsieni “għaliex dan”? Din id-diskussjoni ma hemmx bżonnha, kien hemm min qal.

It-tweġiba għal dan hi waħda sempliċi: għax aħna niffurmaw parti minn pajjiż demokratiku u l-politika tal-pajjiż, inkluż dik dwar is-saħħa sesswali u reproduttiva hi suġġetta għall-iskrutinju pubbliku. Ħadd m’għandu l-ebda dritt li jagħlaq ħalq ħadd billi jostakola diskussjoni. Għandna bżonn iktar diskussjoni pubblika u inqas tkeskis u tfesfis fil-widnejn.

Bla dubju din hi diskussjoni li ser tkun waħda emottiva u ser tirrifetti l-fatt li l-pajjiż għaddej minn trasformazzjoni radikali fejn il-pluraliżmu qiegħed bil-mod il-mod jinfirex fl-oqsma kollha tal-ħajja inkluż fl-etika u l-valuri li nħaddnu.

Din hi bidla li ħadet spinta bid-dħul ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Għax fl-2004 ma bqajniex iktar gżira iżda sirna parti effettiva mill-kontinent Ewropew. Dan ġieb u għad irid iġib tibdil li jingħoġob imma ukoll tibdil li jdarras.

Mela ħalli d-diskussjoni tibda bis-serjetá.

Karmenu Vella and the plastic tax

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, is enthusiastic about the possibility of a plastic tax being introduced throughout the EU. In his view, this tax – if properly designed – could be one of a number of tools for delivering environmental objectives as well as providing budgetary income. Planet Earth is drowning in plastic.

Vella made these comments in an interview published on Euractive last week on the subject of the EU’s new plastics strategy.

We have been there before and maybe it is time to consider the matter once more in Malta. Some 10 years ago in Malta we had an environmental tax which was known as an “eco-contribution”. It was a valid proposal, badly designed and arrogantly implemented. The lessons learnt from that exercise could, if properly analysed, lead to the development of effective policy tools addressing the generation of waste in the Maltese islands. Policies should be well thought out and not developed as a result of panic – as is clearly the case with the current government incineration proposal.

Ten years ago, the eco-contribution tried to address the generation of plastic waste including “single-use plastic”. This is one of the primary targets of the EU plastics strategy published on the 16 January.

Its title is very clear : A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. Plastic is ubiquitous: it is present in all aspects of our economy and our daily lives. The plastics we use must be such that they can be re-used rather than thrown away. It is an important resource which can be put to good use rather than thrown away or incinerated.

It is for this purpose that the newly-published plastics strategy lays the foundations for a new plastics economy where “the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs and more sustainable materials are developed and promoted”.

A plastics economy would definitely not send “waste plastic” to the incinerator to be converted into energy. Even Malta’s latest version of the Waste Management Strategy, approved in 2014, emphasises that our approach to waste must be one based on the sustainable use of resources and, in line with the EU waste hierarchy, gives priority to recycling over incineration.

In fairness, it has to be said that our government’s advisors on incineration have already sounded the alarm. Apparently this has not, as yet, been understood – either by the government or by the Opposition. It would be pertinent to point out that the Special Assignment Report by Jaspers dated 23 February 2017 on a Waste to Energy (WtE) project in Malta specifically emphasises that “it would be difficult to justify a WtE facility that is not based on low waste growth and high recycling”.

Rather than talking about incineration, it is about time we discussed in detail the implementation of our Waste Management Strategy in order to identify why it has not to date succeeded in increasing Malta’s recycling rates. What initiatives need to be taken in order that the waste generated in Malta is minimised?

Malta’s waste management strategy, now complemented by the EU’s Plastic Strategy, is definitely a much better roadmap than the documentation encouraging incineration. And what about our commitments to encourage a “circular economy” : gone with the wind?

Karmenu Vella’s plastics tax is food for thought.

It is about time that Wasteserve is managed properly. As a first step, it should stick to its brief and seek to implement carefully the Waste Management Strategy, which establishes the year 2050 as the year when we should achieve a “Zero Waste Target”. This target will not be achieved through the use of incineration but through a policy encouraging waste minimisation as well as recycling.

This is not just a task for the Minister responsible for the Environment. The Minister responsible for the Development of the Economy also has a very important role to play in achieving a successful implementation of the Waste Management Strategy.

Unfortunately he is apparently completely absent.

Zero waste municipalities in Europe are continuously indicating that an 80 to 90 per cent recycling rate is achievable. The fact that Malta’s recycling rate is, at best, estimated at around 12 per cent, is a clear indication that there is room for substantial improvement – with or without Karmenu Vella’s plastics tax.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 28 January 2018


Bloodshed in Bidnija


Daphne is dead, brutally murdered in a hamlet few people outside Malta had ever heard of before. The initial shock left us dumbstruck. Before we had gathered our thoughts, the PN had returned to its assault on the government based on allegations of sleaze, cronyism, poor governance and erosion of the rule of law.

The voice of prudence and moderation was never given a chance.

So far, nobody has a clue who killed Daphne, except her killers. The notional responsibility of every government for everything that happens in its jurisdiction has been stretched to include an assassination which most probably could not have been prevented by a democratic government tuned to perfection and a police force with every resource possible and imaginable.

We have been wounded collectively but we are being invited, coerced even, to fragment. Accusations fly, allegations are remade and attached by unfathomable logic to the awful event. Is this what we were expected to do, instantly to turn on one another? By whom?

Nobody has accused the government of having a hand in Daphne’s murder. Nobody has dared because it would be counter-productive. A government having just won a landslide victory, almost disoriented by a floored and self-harming Opposition would not invent such a nightmare for itself. So, because it is impossible to accuse the government directly, the next best thing is to accuse indirectly, to inflate notional responsibility to actual responsibility, to demand resignations that will not happen and foment an atmosphere of profound discontent.

It is an understatement to say that the reaction of the Adrian Delia’s PN to Daphne’s murder is disappointing. We had a right to expect sobriety, moderation, prudence, even a truce in the endless feud. Instead we had a scandalous populist exploitation of a crime of historic proportions.

Nobody in his right mind suspects that the Government had a hand in Daphne’s murder. Despite the very public excoriation suffered by Adrian Delia at the hands of Daphne during the PN leadership race, nobody in his right mind could suspect Adrian Delia of assassination. How about one of their henchmen unhinged? Possible – but not plausible: a political motive for the murder seems farfetched.

Something more personal involving great financial loss, perhaps imprisonment for a merciless criminal seems far more plausible. We have been thrown head first into the “what if” season and among all the “what ifs”, this seems to be the best bet.

But there is worse, far worse, to contemplate. What if Daphne’s killers simply picked her for her prominence? What if she is collateral damage in an attack on Malta? It took decades for evidence to emerge that Italy’s anni di piombo had been largely orchestrated by the CIA. The terrorists at both extremes of the Italian political spectrum never suspected that they had been so deftly manipulated into turning their country into a war zone. Today the CIA should have no interest in destabilizing Malta but the game they played could be played by others.

What if Daphne and Malta are both victims in a larger game? In this scenario, the devil in the piece has to be Russia and its geo-political interest in the Mediterranean. Profoundly humiliated by the West’s role in the Arab Spring, it has kept Assad in place in Syria against all comers at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and millions reduced to refugee status. Did the Kremlin pick Malta and Daphne in Malta to show the EU that it could destabilize a member state? Our government may have achieved more prominence than is good for us when it supported the Russian embargo and when it refused to refuel the Russian fleet on its way to Syria. Perhaps the Russians are innocent, but this is the “what if” season and they must forgive us for not excluding them.

What is certain is that this is a time for prudence, for moderate discourse, for credible leadership. We are all called upon to avoid playing the killers’ game. Upping the ante in the wake of an event such as this is the last thing we should be doing. We should not be turning the country into a political powder keg. Only our enemies, as ruthless as Daphne’s killers, would want us to do so.

Defeated as they are, the PN owe the country responsible leadership appropriate to the grave circumstances of the moment. The government owes the country a steady hand at the helm and consideration of the long-term reforms that will give us the resilience to face an assault such as Daphne’s assassination without the fear of destabilization.

Duopoly makes us vulnerable, authentic democracy could make us less of a target of choice.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 29 October 2017

Pluraliżmu anke fil-valuri

Wieħed mill-argumenti qawwija li lewnu d-dibattitu dwar id-dħul ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja kien li Malta ħtieġilha tidħol fis-seklu għoxrin qabel ma taħseb biex tissieħeb fl-Unjoni. Kien argumentat li kien hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ progress fuq ħafna fronti qabel ma Malta setgħet tissieħeb fl-UE. In-naħa l-oħra tal-argument, ovvjament, dejjem kien li s-sħubija minnha innifisha setgħet tkun il-katalist għat-tibdil tant meħtieġ fis-soċjetá Maltija. Għax il-bidla tista’ ddum biex isseħħ, imma fl-aħħar mhux possibli li tkun evitata. Kif jgħidu, tardare sí, scappare no!

Malta ssieħbet fl-UE fl-2004. Il-bidla fis-soċjetá Maltija għadha għaddejja, kultant b’ritmu mgħaġġel ħafna. Ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju li sar f’Mejju 2011 ħoloq terrimot, li, nistgħu ngħidu illi għadu għaddej.

Il-liġi dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ li l-Parliament approva iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kienet pass ieħor f’din id-direzzjoni. Kienet deskritta bħala “immorali” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxista” (Clyde Puli), “kommunista” (Herman Schiavone) kif ukoll “tal-Korea ta’ Fuq ” (Tonio Fenech).

Dawn it-tikketti juru kif jaħdem moħħ dawk li qed jirreżistu din il-bidla. Mid-dehra ħadd minn dawn il-kritiċi tal-leġislazzjoni dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieg ma fehem li dan il-pass kien ukoll il-konsegwenza loġika tal-emenda kostituzzjonali, approvata mill-Parlament fil-leġislatura l-oħra liema emenda kienet iċċarat li d-diskriminazzjoni minħabba l-ġeneru kienet ipprojibita ukoll. L-intolleranti fost l-Insara fostna jgħidu li dawk li jappoġġaw l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ huma “bla valuri”. Dawn għadhom ma irrealizzawx li l-valuri tagħhom m’humiex l-unika valuri. Qed ngħixu f’soċjetá bi pluralitá ta’ valuri. Ħadd m’għandu monopolju, la dwar il-valuri u l-anqas dwar dak li hu tajjeb jew ħażin.

Uħud mill-kelliema ewlenin tal-Opposizzjoni, minkejja li ddikjaraw l-appoġġ għal-liġi taħt konsiderazzjoni, xorta dehrilhom li kellhom jużaw il-ħin ta’ diskorshom bi kliem dispreġġattiv dwar dak propost. Dan il-lingwaġġ mimli insulti użat fid-dibattitu parlamentari sfortunatament jirrifletti fuq l-Opposizzjoni Nazzjonalista kollha, anke fuq dawk li għamlu sforz ġenwin u qagħdu attenti li jużaw  lingwaġġ konċiljattiv biex jikkomunikaw ħsiebijiethom.

L-opposizzjoni konservattiva qegħda fir-rokna. Min-naħa l-waħda riedet tħabbar mal-erbat irjieħ tal-pajjiż li issa kkonvertiet u ser tkun fuq quddiem biex tiddefendi d-drittijiet tal-komunitá LGBTIQ. Min-naħa l-oħra iżda, l-Opposizzjoni ma setgħetx tinjora l-fatt li għad għandha dipendenza qawwija fuq appoġġ minn l-agħar elementi ta’ intolleranza reliġjuża fil-pajjiż, dawk jiġifieri li għadhom iqiesu d-drittijiet LGBTIQ bħal materja ta’ “immoralitá pubblika”.  Edwin Vassallo kien l-iktar wieħed ċar fi kliemu meta iddikjara li l-kuxjenza tiegħu ma tippermettilux li jivvota favur dak li huwa ddeskriva bħala proposta leġislattiva “immorali”.

Fi ftit sekondi Vassallo (u oħrajn) ħarbat dak li kien ilu jippjana Simon Busuttil sa minn meta kien elett Kap tal-PN.  Dan wassal lil uħud biex jispekulaw dwar jekk l-Insara intolleranti, id-demokristjani u l-liberali fil-PN jistgħux jibqgħu jikkoabitaw wisq iktar.

Dan kollu jikkuntrasta mal-mod kif ġiebu ruħhom il-konservattivi fil-Partit Laburista. Dawn, minħabba kalkuli politiċi, ippreferew li jew jibqgħu ħalqhom magħluq inkella qagħdu attenti ħafna dwar dak li qalu. Jidher li tgħallmu xi ħaġa mid-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju!

L-approvazzjoni mill-Parliament tal-liġi dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ huwa pass ieħor il-quddiem favur il-pluraliżmu tal-valuri. Il-Parlament aċċetta l-pluraliżmu tal-valuri u iddeċieda li kulħadd jixraqlu r-rispett. Għandna bżonn nifhmu, lkoll kemm aħna, li qed ngħixu f’soċjetá bi pluralitá ta’ valuri li lkoll jixirqilhom ir-rispett. Hu possibli li ma naqblux, imma li ninsulentaw lil xulxin minħabba li nħaddnu valuri differenti ma jagħmilx sens. Xejn m’hu ser jibdel il-fatt li ħadd ma għandu monoplju fuq il-valuri li f’numru ta’ każi jikkontrastaw.

Malta illum introduċiet l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ. M’aħniex ser indumu biex nindunaw li dan ser jagħmel lis-soċjetá tagħna waħda aħjar, għal kulħadd.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Lulju 2017

Value Pluralism

One of the arguments made during the debate prior to Malta joining the European Union was that before it did so, Malta should open its doors to the 21st century. It was argued that much progress needed to be made before Malta could join the EU. The flip side of this argument was that EU membership could be the right catalyst for change that Maltese society needed, because change can be obstructed and delayed but, in the long term, it cannot be stopped.

Malta did join the EU in 2004 and the opening of the doors (and windows) of change is currently work-in-progress. The divorce referendum held in May 2011 opened the floodgates to a recognition of the fact that Maltese society was in a state of rapid change, making up for lost time.

The Marriage Equality Reform legislation approved in Parliament earlier this week was another step. It was described as “immoral” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxist” (Clyde Puli), “communist” (Herman Schiavone) or even “North Korean” (Tonio Fenech).

These labels identify the frame of mind of those resisting change. Apparently, none of these critics of marriage equality legislation has yet realised that this step is the direct legal consequence of the Constitutional amendment, approved by Parliament some years back, which spelled out in unequivocal terms the prohibition of discrimination based on gender.

The intolerant Christian right argues that legislation proposing marriage equality is the result of a society which has lost its values. They have not realised that their “values” are not the only ones around: we live in a society where a plurality of values is a fact. The Christian right has no monopoly: either on values or on what is right or wrong.

A number of leading Opposition spokespersons, notwithstanding their declaration of support for the proposed legislation, deemed it fit to hurl never-ending insults against the proposals being debated and all that these represented. This insulting language used during the parliamentary debate is a sad reflection on the whole of the PN Opposition, even on those who sought to apply the brakes and in fact used more conciliatory language to convey their thoughts.

The conservative opposition is in a tight corner. On the one hand it wanted to announce in unequivocal terms its recent “conversion” to championing LGBTIQ rights. At the same time the Opposition could not ignore the fact that it is still chained to an intolerant Christian right which labels LGBTIQ rights as morally reprehensible. Edwin Vassallo was the most unequivocal when he declared that his conscience would not permit him to vote in favour of what he described as an “immoral” legislative proposal.

In a couple of seconds, Vassallo and others blew up what had been carefully constructed by Simon Busuttil since assuming the PN leadership, causing some to speculate whether the cohabitation of the conservative Christian right, Christian Democrats and liberals in the PN can last much longer.

In contrast, even if for political expediency, the conservatives in the Labour Party parliamentary group have either kept their mouth shut or else watched their language. It seems that they have learnt some lessons from the divorce referendum debate.

Parliament’s approval last Wednesday of the Marriage Equality Legislation is another step in entrenching the acceptance of value pluralism. Parliament has accepted value pluralism and decided that it was time to respect everyone.

We need to realise that we form part of a society with a plurality of values, all of which deserve the utmost respect. It is possible to disagree, but insulting people because they have different values than one’s own is not on. A society with a plurality of values is a fact and nobody will or can change that.

Malta has now introduced marriage equality. As a result, our society will show a marked improvement that will have a positive impact on all of us.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 July 2017

For sale : access to the decision-taking process



The Lowenbrau saga has raised another issue as to the extent that revolving door recruitment should be regulated. By revolving door recruitment I am referring to the movement from government service to private sector lobbying and vice-versa of holders of political office as well as of senior civil servants. As a result of such recruitment, an investment is being made in the access to the decision-taking process which is purchased or offered for sale.

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday understandably raised the issue with reference to former Minister John Dalli in the article Revolving doors: John Dalli denies conflict of interest in Lowenbrau deal  (TMIS 22 January). However, the issue is much wider. It is a matter which is of concern in respect of the manner of operation of lobbying which in this country is largely unregulated. It has already happened not just in Mr Dalli’s recruitment with the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited both Mr Dalli as well as current EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

It concerns both holders of political office as well as senior civil servants, including senior officers of authorities exercising executive authority.

There is much to learn from foreign jurisdictions as to the manner in which such recruitment should be regulated. A recent example which made the international headlines was the recruitment by Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission.  An ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Corporate Europe Observatory had then commented that the Barroso recruitment had “catapulted the EU’s revolving door problem onto the political agenda, causing widespread jaw-dropping and reactions of disbelief, making it a symbol of excessive corporate influence at the highest levels of the EU.”  Corporate Europe Observatory had also referred to the recruitment of other former European Commissioners by various corporations and emphasised that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that as a result of this behaviour European politicians are seen to be acting for private interests over the public interest.

This is the real significance of revolving door recruitment:  it needs to be ascertained that the potential abuse by holders of political office of milking public office for private gain is regulated. It is not just another layer of regulation or unnecessary bureaucracy.

The issue is however more complex than the recruitment of holders of political office at the end of their political appointment. It is also of relevance even when such holders of political office are appointed to such office from the private sector as can be ascertained through the current hearings by the US Senate of the Trump administration nominees. It is also applicable to senior civil servants from the wider public sector.

Parliament is currently debating a Standards in Public Life Bill, which at this point in time is pending examination at Committee stage. Unfortunately, revolving door recruitment as well as lobbying have not been considered by the legislator!   Revolving door recruitment is an exercise in selling and purchasing access to the decision-taking process. It is high time that it is placed under a continuous spotlight.

published in The Malta Independent: Wednesday 25 January 2017

Tax avoidance: does Malta play a role?


On 30 August, the European Union, through Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, ordered Apple Corporation to pay €13 billion in unpaid taxes to the Irish state.  The EU ruling considered that the special tax treatment of Apple, whose tax bill was substantially reduced, amounted to unlawful state aid.

In November 2014, through Luxleaks, we learnt of tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg and elsewhere, as a result of which billions of euros in tax were being avoided by multinational corporations.

The EU has subsequently launched various investigations into the favourable tax treatment which Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Belgium have granted to various multinationals.

As a contribution to the on-going debate on tax avoidance in the EU, the Green Group in the European Parliament has recently published a study on the tax avoidance strategies adopted by the industrial giant BASF, the largest chemical company in the world.

Founded in 1865, BASF has its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany, from where it manages a €70.4 billion turnover with production sites in 80 countries.

Malta features in this report together with Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Over the years, BASF has used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes.

Chapter VIII of the report, published by the Green Group in the European Parliament, deals with Malta. It refers to the existence of a BASF subsidiary in Malta which held €5.07 billion in assets. These assets where transferred to a new German subsidiary, BASF Finance Malta GMBH, which was managed from an office in St Julian’s, thereby creating the eligibility for preferential tax treatment which could amount to as much as a refund of six-sevenths of all tax payable in Malta.

All this is a clearly planned movement of profits through generous loopholes as a way of avoiding most of, if not all, of the taxation which would be due under normal circumstances.

This abuse of the differences in national tax systems needs to be addressed urgently. As rightly stated by Malta’s Finance Minister Edward Scicluna at a Luxembourg ECOFIN meeting last September, the way forward lies in coordination at an EU level and not in the harmonisation of the national taxation systems, as some EU member states are insisting.

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 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 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 tax rules. For this to happen, the member states must not only be vigilant, but 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 – 4 December 2016

A Secret Plan for Delimara


The Seveso Directive of the European Union is a legal instrument originally enacted in 1982. Subsequently amended, the present version was enacted in 2012 and is referred to as the Seveso III Directive.

Its full name is “Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC”. It has also been transposed into Maltese legislation through the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2015.

As the technical name implies, the Seveso III Directive seeks to regulate sites which have the potential for major industrial accidents. It seeks to achieve its aim primarily through prevention but also by planning to minimise the impact of accidents which may occur on such sites.

The Directive was originally enacted as a result of the industrial accident in the Italian town of Seveso in 1976, when toxic fumes emitted from a chemical plant contaminated the surrounding residential area. It aims to improve the safety of such sites, both the safety of the employees working in such sites and the safety of residents, and the commercial communities, in the area.

One such site is the Delimara power station. This site has to follow the rules set out in the Seveso III Directive and in the Maltese regulations which transpose it into Maltese law.

Through these regulations, the Civil Protection Department is responsible for prepare emergency plans to be applied in the event of an accident.  There has to be an internal plan, one that applies to the industrial plant itself, and an external emergency plan, that applies beyond the boundaries of the plant.

The internal emergency plan is drawn up in conjunction with the management of the plant and discussed with the staff. Members of staff are undoubtedly trained not just in the correct running of the plant but also with regard to the protocol they should follow if there is an accident.

The external emergency plan concerns residents and business in the vicinity of the industrial plant. The Seveso III Directive requires that such a plan be subject to public consultation. In fact, regulation 10(5) of the Control of Major Hazard Regulations 2015 states  “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

Today is, in fact, the closing day for a public consultation exercise organised by the Environment and Resources Authority in respect of the Delimara Power Station. Among the documents which the Authority published for consultation one finds a report entitled External Emergency Plan prepared by the Civil Protection Department. However, the report made available is only part of the full report as the most important part – the part on operational issues – is missing. The available partial-report makes interesting reading, but  we are informed that the censored part has been removed as its availability would be “a threat to national security”.

Those running the Department of Civil Protection are maybe not aware that they have the duty to inform and that in this day and age they have no authority to act as a big brother. The public has the right to be informed and this right is the prerequisite for its active involvement in the formulation and eventual approval of the external emergency plan.

In a democratic society the right of the public to be informed is a basic element of good governance. By opting for secrecy, the Department of Civil Protection has chosen to take a completely different path – one that ignores the citizen and his right to participate in meaningful actions and decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 November 2016

Brexit u l-artiklu 50 tat-trattat ta’ Liżbona



Fil-Qrati Ingliżi infetaħ l-ewwel kaz dwar ir-referendum Ingliż. Il-Guardian illum tirrapporta li saret l-ewwel talba lill-Qrati Ingliżi li issostni illi l-Prim Ministru Ingliż m’għandux id-dritt li jibda l-proċess tal-ħruġ tar-Renju Unit mill-Unjoni Ewropeja mingħajr ma l-ewwel ikollu l-approvazzjoni tal-Parlament.

Uħud qed jinterpretaw dan bħala li l-Parlament Ingliż jista’ jkollu l-poter li jmur kontra x-xewqat ta-elettorat kif espress fir-riżultat tar-referendum tat-23 ta’ Ġunju. Ċertament li dan mhux il-każ. Għax għalkemm fis-sistema legali Ingliża l-Parlament hu suprem din is-supremazija legali mhux ser tintuża kontra r-rieda popolari espressa b’mod daqstant ċar mill-elettorat.

X’ser jiġri issa hu diffiċli biex tgħid. Imma hu possibli li jekk il-Qrati Ingliżi jaċċettaw it-talba li qed issirilhom u jiddeċiedu li qabel ma issir id-dikjarazzjoni skond l-artiklu 50 tat-Trattat ta’ Liżbona jkun hemm il-kunsens tal-Parlament, il-Gvern ewroxekkitiku tar-Renju Unit (immexxi minn Theresa May jew Andrea Leadsom) ikun soġġett għal Parlament li fil-maġġoranza tiegħu hu magħmul minn Membri Parlamentari li m’humiex favur il-ħruġ tar-Renju Unit mill-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Dan jista’ jwassal għal diversi kundizzjonijiet li possibilment ikun jista’ jimponi l-Parlament. Fosthom li kull ftehim dwar il-ħruġ tar-Renju Unit mill-Unjoni Ewropeja jkun soġġett għall-approvazzjoni tal-istess Parlament! Dan bla dubju joħloq problemi kbar għall-applikazzjoni tal-artiklu 50 tat-trattat ta’ Liżbona. Ikun ifisser ukoll li neċessarjament ikun meħtieg perjodu ta’ negozjati qabel ma jkun applikat l-artiklu 50. Għax minkejja li l-Kummissjoni Ewropeja ma tridx tinnegozja dwar dan, it-trattat ta’ Liżbona ma jagħmilx limitazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta.

Imma bla dubju jekk dan iseħħ ikun qed jagħti l-poter kompletament f’idejn il-Parlament u jassoġġetta lill-Gvern tal-ġurnata għall-iskrutinju strett tal-istess Parlament. Użat b’mod responsabbli, dan il-poter bla dubju jista’ jwassal għal żviluppi interessanti.