ERA’s accountability: keeping up the pressure

On Tuesday, slightly after 11am I received a telephone call from the EIA office at the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) informing me that the Waste to Energy (WtE) Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been resubmitted for public consultation by Wasteserv.

Last October I had presented a number of submissions in response to the Waste to Energy EIA. Hence being informed by ERA of this latest development.

Exchanges between ERA and Wasteserv on the matter are not in the public domain. However, from the various reports in the media one can draw a fairly accurate picture as to what has transpired between 23 December 2020, when the “original” EIA was subject to an online public hearing and last Monday when the ERA website made the “new” EIA available for the latest round of public consultation. The minutes of the public hearing are available on the ERA website.

ERA has rejected the original EIA submitted by Wasteserv and sent it back to the drawing board.

Some may rejoice that ERA has, for the first time ever, rejected an EIA. It would, in my view, be more pertinent to ask why ERA has taken so long to assert its authority.  It has been hibernating for too long a time. There were many instances in the past when it should have acted similarly but it did not. That is an issue worth examining in depth. In particular ERA needs a thorough overhaul of the procedures in use for the vetting of EIA experts and coordinators.

Notwithstanding, I believe that ERA’s rejection of the original WtE EIA is a positive first. It is an encouraging sign that the environmental lobby’s work is bearing fruit. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that all public authorities get to their senses the soonest. They must realise that the public is fed up with authorities that are generally insensitive to good governance.

From the various press reports it has transpired that ERA’s instructions to Wasteserv were that the EIA had to be drawn up again without making use of the services of Engineer Mario Schembri, the coordinator of the original EIA. ERA issued this instruction in order to address my submissions that Engineer Schembri’s involvement at various levels of the waste management industry in Malta constituted a conflict of interest as a result of which he could be neither independent nor impartial as an EIA coordinator, as is clearly spelt out in sub-regulation 17(2) of the EIA Regulations.

Did ERA need to be in receipt of such submissions in order to act? The relative information is public knowledge and has been so for quite some time: ERA could and should have acted on its own initiative long ago!

I had also pointed out that the EIA documentation submitted under the direction of coordinator Engineer Mario Schembri was incomplete as it quoted relevant reports which were not made available to the public to be scrutinised as part of the public consultation exercise. These reports dealt with the site selection exercise for the WtE project, a major issue of controversy. No explanation was ever forthcoming for this omission. However, I note that the “new” EIA now includes both “missing” reports.  The first report was drawn up in December 2015 while the second one was drawn up in December 2019.

The next steps require an analysis of the coordinated assessment submitted by the new coordinator Dr Joe Doublet specifically in order to identify and assess the difference in his assessment of the technical studies which are being resubmitted. The coordinated assessment by Dr Joe Doublet runs into 507 pages. Its perusal will therefore take some time!

This should lead to considering the extent to which the submitted studies together with the new coordinated assessment address the concerns of stakeholders thereby ensuring that the country’s environmental objectives can be met without subjecting anyone to unnecessary impacts and/or hardships.

Various stakeholders have so far, to their credit, spoken up.

It is up to the environment lobby to ensure that Wastserv’s proposed operations are properly scrutinised. This is the purpose of the EIA process which is managed by ERA.

The current public debate is one way of being sure that ERA’s accountability to the public is real, not fake. This is the only way that the whole community can be protected.

I will keep up the pressure, holding ERA continuously to account for its shortcomings.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 May 2021

The octopus in our midst

During the past weeks we have been witnessing the exposure of a web of criminality which has infiltrated and infected all sectors of our society.  Revelations are being made public by instalments, as if a new edition of La Piovra (made in Malta) is being launched.

Information leaking from the Yorgen Fenech investigation as well as from other related investigations has revealed an intricate network which pervades practically all local institutions. Just like the octopus which with its eight long tentacles seeks to control all from far away.

We cannot say that we were not warned about this. At a point in time, it was stated that if Yorgen Fenech falls, all around him will collapse too. One instalment after the other we are realising the extent of control of the octopus.

One witness after another is confirming that the criminal gang under investigation was continuously aware of the different moves of the police investigators, in real time and with substantial notice. Those carrying out the assassination were even aware, with a three-week notice, as to when they were to be arrested. It was sufficient notice, we were told, that enabled them to plan where they would prefer the arrest to take place. They selected the potato shed at Marsa as their preference!

You would undoubtedly remember the first news instalments on Silvio Valletta, then still Deputy Commissioner of Police and in charge of the criminal investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was introduced as Uncle Silvio to Yorgen Fenech’s family. The two men (Silvio and Yorgen), one year after the assassination were on such close terms that on the 29 September 2018, they were together at Stamford Bridge enjoying a game of football: Chelsea playing against Liverpool.

It is no news that Yorgen Fenech has a sharp eye for strategic investment opportunities. He chose his portfolio with care. He invested carefully in Silvio Valletta. Silvio was after all also a member of the Board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU). Such focused investments yield handsome dividends. Most probably there is still much more that we do not know yet as to the dividends actually reaped.

These are the methods of the Mafia, a term which we normally use to describe organised crime which is so organised that it infiltrates all layers of the state. The Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Deputy Police Commissioner, one Cabinet Minister, and a number of others of a lower order were depicted in the testimony to date as being in the service of organised crime. This is as serious as it gets. Whether others higher up were also in the game is still not known for certain yet.

It is not known when the whole truth will be uncovered even though periodically we learn about an additional small bit .

This has been possible because successive governments have been allergic to good governance. The abundance of institutions set up throughout the years have been staffed with a multitude of weak men and women who have generally not been capable of standing up to the exercise of raw power. In the moment of truth, because they were weak, they gave way and allowed the octopus to move unhindered.

The published information, including confidential chats on WhatsApp, with senior officers of the Malta Gaming Authority, the Malta Financial Services Authority, the Planning Authority and others, is another worrying indicator as to how the authorities set up to defend society have been seriously undermined and compromised.

The road ahead is very difficult to navigate.  Undoubtedly, much more is yet unknown. The octopus is still in control.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 21st March 2021

Il-governanza tajba u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent

Fl-assenza ta’ governanza tajba ma nistgħux inħarsu l-ambjent sewwa. Il-governanza tajba hi essenzjali għall-ħarsien ambjentali.  Huwa għalhekk li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ssottomettejt oġġezzjonijiet dettaljati bħala parti mill-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika mniedi mill-ERA fil-kaz tal-istudji dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) dwar l-inċineratur propost għall-Magħtab.  

Li jkunu regolati l-kunflitti ta’ interess li b’mod inevitabbli jitfaċċaw f’kull proċess regolatorju huwa element essenzjali mill-proċess ta’ governanza tajba.

Ir-regolamenti f’Malta dwar l-istudju tal-impatt ambjentali, imsejsa fuq is-sens komun u fuq id-direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea jfittxu li jassiguraw illi dawk involuti fil-proċess tal-EIA ikunu ħielsa minn kull xorta ta’ konflitt ta’ interess. Kunflitt ta’ interess hi sitwazzjoni li tinħoloq meta persuna b’interessi varji jispiċċa  jaqdi interess u fl-istess ħin jikkonfliġġi ma ieħor.

Ħmistax ilu fl-artiklu intitolat Il-fiduċja: għal ġol-inċineratur emfasizzajt li dawk li jaħdmu fuq EIA għandhom ikunu professjonali, indipendenti u imparzjali. B’referenza partikolari għall-applikazzjoni dwar l-inċineratur għidt li m’huwiex aċċettabbli li dawk inkarigati biex jagħmlu EIA ikunu fl-istess ħin li qed jagħtu parir lill-iżviluppatur parti ukoll mill-awtorità regolatorja. Dawk li jixtiequ jagħmlu karriera fil-qasam tat-tħejjija ta’ rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA huma liberi li jagħmlu dan imma mbagħad m’għandhomx jitħallew jikkontaminaw il-proċess tal-EIA.

F’artiklu f’ġurnal ieħor bl-Ingliż il-ġimgħa l-oħra l-Professur Alan Deidun, is-suġġett ta’ din il-kitba, kien kritiku ta’ dan kollu. M’għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar dan għax jagħtini opportunità li nispjega iktar.   

Il-Professur Deidun li hu membru tal-Bord tal-ERA ġibed l-attenzjoni tagħna li kieku hu ma jinvolvix ruħu darba kull tant f’rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA, bħalma għamel fil-kaz tal-inċineratur, ikun hemm il-periklu li nispiċċaw b’numru ta’ konsulenti mhux Maltin li jieħdu f’idejhom partijiet sħaħ tal-proċess tat-tfassil tal-EIA. Fil-fehma tal-Professur Deidun dan jiġġustifika li waqt li hu regolatur, fl-istess ħin jagħti parir lill-iżviluppatur!

Jiena konxju li għandna numru żgħir ta’ konsulenti, uħud minnhom professuri fl-Università tagħna li fil-passat mhux imbiegħed ġiebu ruħhom bl-istess mod tal-Professur Deidun: membri fuq il-Bord tar-regulatur u jagħtu l-pariri lil dawk regolati, imbagħad meta l-kaz jiġi quddiemhom jastjenu!  

Waqt li dan kien ħażin, fil-kaz tal-Professur Deidun l-affarijiet huma agħar. Deidun ġie maħtur biex ikun membru tal-Bord tal-ERA biex hemmhekk huwa jirrappreżenta lill-għaqdiet ambjentali. Jekk jastjeni mill-jieħu sehem fi kwalunkwe kaz li jiġi quddiemu fil-Bord ikun qed joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali. Għaldaqstant, b’żieda mal-kunflitt ta’ interess ikun qed imur ukoll kontra l-iskop li għalih inħatar fuq il-Bord tal-ERA.  Minħabba l-kunflitt ta’ interess tiegħu il-Professur Deidun ser joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali fl-iktar mument kritiku: meta jeħtieġilhom isemmgħu leħinhom.  

Apparti lill-Professur Deidun l-EIA tal- inċineratur jippreżentalna persuna oħra: il-koordinatur tal-EIA, l-Inġinier  Mario Schembri.

Is-Sur Schembri ilu żmien attiv fil-qasam tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart fejn kien ta kontribut pożittiv sostanzjali. Kien strumentali biex twaqqfet il-GreenPak li taħdem bħala kooperattiva: iġġib flimkien diversi negozji li jpoġġu fuq is-suq Malti diversi prodotti. Il-GreenPak taħdem biex f’isem il-membri tal-kooperattiva tirkupra l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar (packaging waste). Kienet fuq quddiem nett biex tinkoraġixxi ir-riċiklar fil-gżejjer Maltin, kontinwament tħeġġeġ lill-Kunsilli Lokali u lill-pubbliku biex jirriċiklaw.  

Is-Sur Schembri ilu CEO tal-GreenPak sa mill-2005. Għandu għarfien u esperjenza sostanzjali fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Huwa operatur fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart u għaldaqstant fil-proċess tal-EIA tal-inċineratur ma jistax ikun la imparzjali u l-anqas indipendenti huwa u janalizza d-dokumenti u r-rapporti li għandu quddiemu.  Anke hu għaldaqstant għandu kunflitt ta’ interess li jkompli jikkontamina l-process tal-EIA.

Ma nistax nifhem kif l-ERA ħalliet dan kollu għaddej u ma ħaditx passi, għax dak li qed ngħid m’huwiex xi sigriet, iżda huma fatti magħrufa minn kulħadd.  

F’soċjeta demokratika li tfittex li tapplika l-prinċipji ta’ governanza tajba huwa normali li jkunu identifikati każi ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess li dwarhom jittieħdu passi. Imma fejn ma jitieħdux passi jinħolqu bosta problemi. Fil-qasam ambjentali meta ma jittieħdux passi, dan jimmina l-isforzi li jkunu saru favur il-ħarsien ambjentali.  

Għax fil-qasam ambjentali, is-saltna tad-dritt (rule of law) hi importanti ukoll!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 25 t’Ottubru 2020

Good governance and environment protection

We cannot adequately protect the environment in the absence of good governance. Good governance is an essential prerequisite for environment protection.

This is why, earlier this week, I submitted detailed objections to the incinerator EIA process in the ERA-driven public consultation process. Adequate regulation of the conflict of interests which inevitably present themselves in any regulatory process is an essential element of good governance.

Based on both common sense as well as the relative EU Directive, Malta’s EIA Regulations seek to ensure that those involved in the EIA process should be free from conflict of interests.  A conflict of interest being a situation in which a person is involved in multiple interests and serving one interest could involve working against another.

As emphasised in my article a fortnight ago (Incinerating fairness, trust and common sense: 11 October) those carrying out an EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. It is not acceptable for those carrying out an EIA to be part of the regulatory process and simultaneously advise those regulated. Those who wish to embark on a career carrying out EIA technical reports are free to do so but they should not be permitted to contaminate the EIA process.

In an article entitled ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality…………. In last week’s edition, Professor Alan Deidun took me to task for my views. I have no difficulty with that, on the contrary it gives me the opportunity to explain further.  

Professor Deidun drew our attention that if he did not involve himself in the “occasional” consultancy there was a risk that we would end up with non-Maltese consultants taking over parts of the EIA process. In Professor Deidun’s lexicon this justifies acting in this manner.

I am aware that we had quite a handful of other consultants, some of them professors from our University, who in the recent past acted in the same manner as Professor Deidun: sitting on regulatory boards and then advising those regulated, subsequently abstaining from the board’s sitting when their report turns up for consideration.

That was bad enough.  In Professor Deidun’s case it is even worse. He is appointed to sit on the ERA Board in representation of environmental NGOs. If he abstains from giving his input in any instance on the ERA Board, the voice of the eNGOs, as a result, cannot be heard. In addition to having a conflict of interest between his role as a regulator and being the advisor of the regulated, Professor Deidun is thus ignoring completely the purpose of his appointment to the ERA Board. Professor Deidun’s conflict of interest will be silencing eNGOs at a crucial point: when it is essential that their voice is heard.

In addition to Professor Deidun the incinerator EIA presents us with another character: the EIA coordinator, Engineer Mario Schembri.

Mr Schembri has been active in waste management in Malta for a very long time. Among his positive contributions he was instrumental in setting up GreenPak which operates as a cooperative, bringing together the business interests which place various products on the Maltese market. GreenPak seeks to recover packaging waste on behalf of the members of the cooperative. It has been a positive contribution in encouraging recycling in Malta, continuously encouraging Local Councils and the public to do their bit.

Mr Schembri has been CEO of GreenPak since 2005. He is definitely knowledgeable and experienced in waste management. He is however a waste management operator and cannot as a result of this fact be an impartial or independent contributor to the EIA process. He too, thus, has a conflict of interest and thus contaminates the EIA process too.

I fail to understand how ERA has allowed the incinerator EIA process to proceed this far without acting to address these cases of conflict of interest as the above are well known facts to all.

In a democratic society seeking to apply good governance rules it is normal to identify and act on a conflict of interest. Failure to act, however, is problematic. In environmental matters such failure undermines the whole effort of environment protection.

The rule of law matters, in environmental issues too! 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 October 2020

Dynamics of the AD/PD merger: one step at a time

by Carmel Cacopardo & Timothy Alden

 

The merger between Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) and the Democratic Party (PD) is on. It has been developing gradually over the past weeks and, Covid-permitting, it will be formalised at the end of September. The discussions leading to the merger have been in hand for some time, inevitably slowing down as a result of Covid-19. They are now practically concluded.

The first practical step in the merger process was taken some months ago as a result of which AD and PD have made an effort to speak with one voice, whenever this was possible. Now that the discussions are practically concluded, a joint meeting of the Executive Committees of AD and PD was held yesterday Saturday 1 August.

Ironically both AD and PD have developed around former dissenting Labour Party Members of Parliament, at different times and in different circumstances. Yet they have, over the years, attracted support from both sides of the political divide. The ecology, good governance and the never-ending political struggle against corruption are core issues of both AD and PD.

Both AD and PD have, over the years, developed into separate and distinct parties: they will now merge into one, continuously cognisant of their roots. The merger will start as the summation of two distinct parties which will be slowly moulded into one.

We need a strong third voice in Parliament: the merger is a step in this direction. It is a step forward in reducing the existing fragmentation and as a result it will enable the better use of the available human resources.

AD and PD have developed on the basis of dissent: a determination to address important issues which others conveniently try to ignore. Over the years it has been AD and subsequently PD who have been at the forefront of the struggle for a better environment, good governance, transparency and accountability. Others have at times sought to parrot the political positions taken by AD and PD. Their political baggage, however, betrays their lack of political commitment: there is a stark contrast between their actions and their words.

The merger is not a time to sing our praises. It is rather a time to take stock of our strong points as well as our weaknesses. It is time to build bridges without in any way compromising our beliefs.

Encouraging the political debate is crucial to our political development. This is also in the country’s interest. Nurturing a constructive debate within our political parties is of fundamental importance. Silencing internal debate, as has been recently done by the PN relative to its youths, is a negation of the future. It is through analysis and debate that we identify our faults and the potential for improvement. It is thus suicidal to censor those who have the commitment and the courage to speak their minds. We mould the future by inspiring and encouraging active participation of all youths and not by subjecting them to disciplinary action when they dare speak up.

The road ahead is not a walk in the park. It is as tough as that covered by our predecessors. It is however as challenging as ever. The merger between AD and PD will build on the achievements to date to create a more efficient vehicle for the third voice of Maltese politics.

Our doors are open not just to those who are disillusioned by the prevailing duopoly. We can only be an instrument for improvement if we involve ourselves in moulding the future. This is our challenge.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 2 August 2020

Lejn normal differenti

L-imxija tal-coronavirus għadha fl-istadji bikrija tagħha. In-numri ta’ dawk identifikati bħala infettati, s’issa, s-servizzi tas-saħħa qed ilaħħqu magħhom. Nittamaw li l-affarijiet jibqgħu hekk, anke jekk in-numri inevitabilment ser jiżdiedu. Dan ser ikun jiddependi fuq diversi fatturi, ewlieni fosthom li lkoll kemm aħna qed nosservaw dak li jgħidulna l-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa biex b’hekk tonqos il-possibilità li l-virus ikun trasmess fuq skala kbira.

Bla dubju, l-mistoqsija fuq fomm kulħadd hi: kemm ser jgħaddi żmien biex il-pajjiż jirkupra minn dan kollu?

F’waħda mill-intervisti li tiegħu, l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela indika li l-kriżi tal-coronavirus tista’ twassal sal-bidu tas-sajf. Jista’ jkun, iżda, li din iddum ferm iktar: possibilment anke sa tnax-il xahar ieħor! Il-medja internazzjonali qed tispekula dwar jekk il-firxa tal-coronavirus tonqosx fis-sajf biex imbagħad tirritorna iktar tard bħall-influwenza “normali” li tkun magħna kull sena. Il-possibilità tat-tieni mewġa tal-coronavirus m’għandiex tkun injorata, għax, jekk dan iseħħ jista’ jkollha impatti konsiderevoli fuq dak li jkun baqa’!

Meta ser niġu lura għan-normal? Il-ħajja f’Malta ser tirritorna għal dak li mdorrijin bih jew ser nieħdu l-opportunità biex nibnu normal ġdid u differenti?

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġlu ż-żmien biex jerġa’ jiġi fuq saqajh, ħafna iktar minn kemm hu meħtieġ biex ikun eliminat il-coronavirus minn fostna. Iż-żmien ta’ stennija nistgħu nagħmlu użu tajjeb minnu billi nibdew nippjanaw bis-serjetà dwar kif ser nibnu mill-ġdid ir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż. Huwa iktar diffiċli li nibnu r-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż milli nsewwu l-ħsara kkawżata mill-firxa tal-coronavirus.

Reċentement ġew ippubblikati żewġ dokumenti bi proposti li jistgħu jkunu ta’ għajnuna kbira f’din il-ħidma li hi tant meħtieġa. L-ewwel dokument ippubblikat huwa dokument konsultattiv li ippubblika xi ġimgħat ilu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan hu intitolat: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. It-tieni dokument huwa intitolat Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees u kien pubblikat mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Hi ħasra li, safejn naf jiena, ma teżisti l-ebda verżjoni bil-Malti ta’ dawn id-dokumenti. Dan ukoll hu nuqqas amministrattiv li għandu jkun rimedjat. Il-Malti hu lsienna u proposti ta’ din ix-xorta jeħtieġ li jkunu ppubblikati bil-Malti ukoll.

Fid-dokument konsultattiv tiegħu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jargumenta favur it-trasparenza permezz tar-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying, materja li s’issa hi nieqsa mill-liġijiet tagħna. Hu biss permezz ta’ transparenza rigoruża tal-proċess politiku li nistgħu nassiguraw il-kontabilità u allura l-iskrutinju pubbliku tal-formazzjoni ta’ proposti politiċi kif ukoll tal-proċess tat-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet. Ilkoll konxji li sakemm il-lobbying ma’ jkunx regolat, dan ser jibqa’ sors ewlieni tal-kontaminazzjoni tal-proċess politiku. Meta nirregolaw il-lobbying, min-naħa l-oħra, nistgħu jkollna proċess politiku infurmat u allura nkunu qed nikkontribwixxu b’mod effettiv għall-kontabilità.

Fit-tieni dokument, l-Awditur Ġenerali jeżamina r-regoli dwar l-imġieba etika li huma mifruxa fl-Att dwar l- Amministrazzjoni Publika, fil-Kodiċi tal-Etika u fil-Kodiċi dwar it-Tmexxija tas-Servizz Pubbliku li flimkien jirregolaw il-mod kif jopera is-servizz pubbliku. L-Awditur Ġenerali ġustament josserva, illi, meta tqis il-kontenut ta’ dawn it-tlett dokumenti flimkien jirriżulta li hemm nuqqas ta’ ċarezza, liema nuqqas joħloq l-inċertezza, u b’hekk tkun imnaqqsa l-effettività tagħhom. Huwa jemfasizza illi r-regoli huma ultimament effettivi skond kemm huma kapaċi jwasslu għal azzjoni konkreta. Jiġifieri r-regoli għandu jkollhom il-kapaċita li jittraduċu l-prinċipji f’azzjoni reali.

Permezz tal-proposti tagħhom il-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u l-Awditur Ġenerali qed iwasslu messaġġ għat-tisħieħ tal-pedamenti tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, jista’ jkun possibli li nibnu “normal ġdid” u differenti minn dak li drajna bih sal-lum. Normal fejn il-governanza tajba ma tkunx iktar eċċezzjoni imma tkun l-imġieba normali li nistennew mingħand dawk fil-ħajja pubblika u fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika għas-servizz tal-pajjiż.

Il-waqfien tal-pajjiż ħtija tal-mixja tal-coronavirus hi ukoll opportunità għal riflessjoni tant meħtieġa. Huwa l-waqt li l-paroli kollu dwar governanza tajba nittrasformawh f’azzjoni konkreta. Il-pajjiż għandu bżonn ta’ normal ġdid, ta’ normal differenti minn dak imdorrijin bih.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 t’April 2020

Towards a new normal

The Coronavirus outbreak is still in its initial stages. The numbers of those testing positive are, so far, manageable. We all hope that this will remain manageable even though the numbers are on the increase. This is however dependent on many factors, primarily on our observing the instructions issued by the health authorities in order to reduce the possibilities of transmission of the virus.

How long will it take for the country to recover?

In one of his interviews Prime Minister Robert Abela has indicated that the current Coronavirus crises may last till the beginning of summer. Recovery, could, however, last longer, even as much as twelve months. The international media is speculating on whether the Coronavirus outbreak will reduce its spread during the summer months as well as whether it will return later in the year just like the “common” flu. The possibility of a second outbreak is not to be overlooked, as if this were to happen, it could have a devastating effect on what’s left.

When will life get back to normal? Will life in Malta be back to what we were used to or will we avail ourselves of the opportunity to seek a new normal?

It will take time for the country to start functioning again, much more than is required to eliminate the Coronavirus from our midst. We can put to good use the available time on our hands to start planning in earnest the rebuilding of our reputation as a country. Reconstructing our reputation is more difficult to achieve successfully than making good the extensive damage caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.

In this respect, lately, two different sets of proposals have been published for our consideration. The first is the document for public consultation published by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life some weeks ago, entitled: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. The second is the Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees published this week by the National Audit Office. As far as I am aware no Maltese version of these documents has been published. This is a recurring administrative deficiency which should be remedied at the earliest. Maltese is our national language and proposals of this fundamental nature should be available for consideration in the Maltese language too.

In his consultation paper, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life argues in favour of transparency through the regulation of lobbying which matter is still missing from our laws. It is only through rigorous transparency of the political process that we can ensure accountability and consequently public scrutiny of the policy formation and decision-taking process. We are all aware that as long as lobbying is unregulated it will remain a primary source of the toxification of the political process. Regulated lobbying, on the other hand, can inform the political process thereby contributing to more effective accountability.

In his review, the Auditor General examines existing ethical rules spread in the Public Administration Act, the Code of Ethics and the Public Service Management Code which together regulate the operation of the civil service. He observes that at times, when one considers these three instruments together, there is a lack of clarity which creates uncertainty, as a result reducing their effectiveness. He emphasises that ultimately effectiveness of the rules is also dependent on follow-up action and an enforcement which is capable of translating principles into tangible action.

Through their proposals the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and the Auditor General seek to strengthen the foundations of public administration. As a result, it may be possible to construct a new normal where good governance is no longer an exception but the normal behaviour which we expect from people in public office as well as from the public administration serving the country.

The Coronavirus outbreak is thus also an opportunity for a long overdue reflection. The grinding to a halt of the whole country is also the right moment to substitute lip-service to good governance with some concrete action. The country desperately needs a new normal.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 5 April 2020

Investigating Konrad’s MTA contract

It is known that Johann Buttigieg, former Chief Executive at the Planning Authority, was squeezed out of his post by Minister Ian Borg. Johann Buttigieg, however, found an ally in Konrad Mizzi, then Minister for Tourism, who facilitated his employment as the new Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority.

By the time Johann Buttigieg had taken up his new post at the Malta Tourism Authority, Konrad Mizzi had already resigned as Minister. Although Konrad Mizzi had announced his resignation after a Cabinet meeting on the 26 November 2019 it is not clear if he had volunteered to step down or if he had been forced to go. He was reported as having said: “I felt it my duty – in the context of current political circumstances – to resign in loyalty to the people, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister.”

It would be reasonable to assume that Johann Buttigieg returned the favour from Konrad Mizzi when, on 9th December, he signed the contract appointing Konrad Mizzi as a consultant to the Authority – as one of his first decisions as CEO! However, this would not necessarily be a correct assumption. In fact, elsewhere in the press it has been opined that the decision to engage Konrad Mizzi as consultant was taken by Joseph Muscat himself, because after Konrad Mizzi’s resignation he was directly responsible for the Tourism Ministry.

As Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg must shoulder substantial responsibility although it is most probable that he was acting on the instructions of Joseph Muscat. He should by now be aware that illegitimate (and unethical) superior orders can – and should be – ignored.

After Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli announced the rescinding of Konrad Mizzi’s contract she was asked to explain the reasons which justified such a revocation. She was very brief in her reply, saying that there were legal and ethical reasons that justified such a course of action. She was reluctant to state more in order to avoid prejudicing any legal action, should this result.

It is very interesting to note that the Honourable Minister has justified the revocation of the contract on ethical grounds. She is, of course, correct, although she chose not to point fingers. The point at issue then is who acted unethically?

I suggest that there are four persons who acted unethically in this specific case.

Irrespective of what they say, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi resigned in disgrace for a number of reasons, including being the cause of reputational damage to the country through their involvement and/or failure to act on the Panama Papers debacle, as well as a direct result of the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a role, the details of which are still emerging.

Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi are at the top of the list of those who acted unethically as they set in motion the revolving recruitment mechanism as a result of which Konrad Mizzi was parachuted straight into the organisation for which he, as Minister, was politically responsible just two weeks earlier. This is unacceptable in any country that has a minimum degree of adherence to good governance: normally there would be a cooling-off period of some two to three years before such appointments are even considered.

Muscat and Mizzi tried to cash in on the fact that, the rules governing the ethical behaviour of holders of political office are still in their infancy. Dr George Hyzler, recently appointed by Parliament as the first Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is still in the initial phase of his term and has yet to draft some of the appropriate rules.

The same applies to Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority and Chief Executive Johann Buttigieg, who should not have allowed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi to bully them into submission. The recruitment of Mizzi was kept secret as long as was possible due to the fact that, knowledge of its existence would undoubtedly have created further turmoil within the Labour Party, then in the process of electing a successor to the disgraced Joseph Muscat.

Where do we go from here? In my view those acting unethically should shoulder their responsibilities. I have thus requested the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Gavin Gulia and Johann Buttigieg in the matter and consequently to recommend the necessary action required.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 February 2020

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