Imnawwar minn ġewwa

Sal-ħin li qed nikteb, l-investigazzjoni interna tal-Pulizija nfirxet minn waħda iffukata fuq it-taqsima tat-traffiku għal taqsimiet oħra tal-korp. Bosta huma mnixxfa kif dawk li suppost iżommu l-ordni u jħarsu l-osservanza tal-liġi qed jiġu nvestigati huma stess dwar allegazzjionijiet ta’ abbuż minn fondi pubbliċi kif ukoll allegazzjonijiet li talbu flus biex ma jagħmlux dmirhom (speċi ta’ protection money).

Supretendent u numru ta’ uffiċjali oħra, rinfaċċjati bil-provi rreżenjaw mill-korp. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ pulizija ġew interrogati.

M’għandniex inkunu sorpriżi b’dan kollu, għax dan huwa kollu riżultat dirett ta’ kultura ta’ impunità li ġiet imxettla b’mod kontinwu mill-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern tul dawn l-aħħar snin. Xejn mhu xejn. B’xi mod jew ieħor kollox jibqa’ għaddej, jew kważi.

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela stqarr li l-fatt illi l-Pulizija stess qed jinvestigaw lill-pulizija li dwarhom hemm l-alegazzjonijiet huwa indikazzjoni ċara li l-istituzzjonijiet fil-pajjiż qed jaħdmu sewwa. Fil-fehma tiegħi din hi analiżi skorretta. Dak li qed jiġri trid tarah ukoll fil-kuntest tal-ħbiberija żvelata bejn dak li kien Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija Silvio Valletta u Yorgen Fenech, (l-allegat mandant tal-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia). F’dan il-kuntest, l-investigazzjoni tindika li l-korp tal-Pulizija huwa mnawwar minn ġewwa.

Fil-waqt li l-parti l-kbira tal-membri tal-korp tal-Pulizija huma persuni serji, għandu jkun sottolinejat li mhux l-ewwel darba li rriżulta li uffiċjali anzjani tal-korp tal-pulizija kienu viċin ta’ persuni li kienu taħt investigazzjoni. Kaz ieħor riċenti li niftakar hu ta’ uffiċjal imlaħħaq fit-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi (spettur) li kien viċin ħafna ta’ operatur fl-industrija tal-logħob tal-ażżard. Tant kien viċin tiegħu li anke kellu l-aċċess biex jutilizza karozza privata ta’ din il-persuna, Ferrari. Il-każ imur lura sal-2015 meta missier l-ispettur, kien agent Kummissarju tal-Pulizija. Għax il-każ taz-ziju Silvio ċertament mhux l-uniku wieħed.

Kien il-kandidat laburista Andy Ellul li f’artiklu ppubblikat fuq it-Times tat-28 ta’ Jannar 2020 li stqarr li “Police commissioners form part of the executive and they have to toe the electoral programme of the government of the day”. Huwa ċertament ta’ sfortuna li Andy Ellul jikkunsidra li l-pulizija għandha funzjoni politika għax l-implimentazzjoni tal-manifest elettorali hi funzjoni tal-politiċi u tagħhom biss.

Dak li qal Andy Ellul jispjega ħafna dwar meta, kif u għaliex (uħud) mill-Pulizija jaġixxu u jinvestigaw. Andy Ellul kien hu nnifsu membru tal-korp tal-pulizija u allura suppost li jaf ferm iktar minn hekk!

Meta l-Panama Papers saru materja pubblika x’investigazzjoni għamlet il-pulizija? Abbażi ta’ dak li ġie osservat min-naħa tal-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru f’Kastilja, il-Pulizija ġew jaqgħu u jqumu. Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri ma ġewx mitluba biex jerfgħu ir-responsabbiltà għall-azzjonijiet tagħhom meta waqqfu kumpaniji sigrieta fil-Panama: ħelsuha ħafif. Għaldaqstant wara dan il-messaġġ ċar li qiesu ma ġara xejn, ħadd ma għandu jkollu l-ebda dubju x’kejl kellu japplika għall-pulizija u għall kull min jagħmel affarijiet li s-soltu ma naċċettawhomx. Kien biss meta l-whistle-blower saffar li l-investigazzjoni kellha tibda. Hawn xi ħadd li jemmen li b’mod ġenwin ħadd ma nduna b’xejn? Hu ċar li bosta ħadu sehemhom u allura b’mod konvenjenti “ħadd ma nduna xejn”.

It-triq biex tissewwa l-ħsara li saret lir-reputazzjoni li Malta kisbet illum il-ġurnata mhix triq faċli. Li tkun stabilita mill-ġdid il-fiduċja fil-korp tal-Pulizija hu pass wieħed żgħir minn ħafna meħtieġa.

Malta bil-mod qed tiġi trasformata f’soċjeta amorali fejn il-prinċipji aċċettabbli ta’ imġieba korretta qed jintremew il-baħar. Hemm min jiddieħaq bihom ukoll.

Rappresentanti tas-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji qalulna li hemm bżonn is-sehem ta’ kulħadd biex naslu li nnaddfu isem Malta mill-ġdid. Huwa ftit diffiċli biex wieħed jifhem kif nistgħu naslu meta hu ċar għal kulħadd li l-korp tal-Pulizija hu mnawwar minn ġewwa.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 16 ta’ Frar 2020

Rotten to the core

At the time of writing, the Police internal investigation has widened from one focused on the traffic section to other police units. Many are shocked that the upholders of law and order are themselves under investigation in respect of allegations on the fraudulent use of public funds as well as the allegation of being in receipt of protection money.

Faced with the available evidence, a Superintendent – as well as a number of other police officers – has resigned. It is reported that substantial number of officers were interrogated, with some being released on police bail.

I am not at all surprised because, in my view, this is the direct consequence of the culture of impunity which the Labour Party in government has continuously nurtured for the past six years during which it has been in office.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has stated that the fact that the police are investigating their own is, in itself, an indicator that the institutions are functioning properly. His assessment is, in my view, incorrect. Together with the revelations regarding the close friendship of former Police Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta and Yorgen Fenech, (the suspected mastermind of Daphne’s assassination), the police investigation is more of an indication that a section of the Police Force may be rotten to the core.

While most of the members of the Police Force are beyond reproach, it has to be underlined that this is not the first instance, in recent years, when senior police officers were reported as being too close to people under investigation. A specific case that comes to mind is that of a senior police officer in the Economic Crimes unit who was so close to an operator in the gaming industry – then under investigation – that it was then reported in the media that he had access to, and made use of, the operator’s private vehicle, a Ferrari. The case goes back to 2015. Uncle Silvio’s case is definitely not a one-off.

It was Labour Party candidate Andy Ellul who, in an opinion published in The Times on 28 January 2020 stated that “Police commissioners form part of the executive and they have to toe the electoral programme of the government of the day”. It is indeed unfortunate that Andy Ellul considers that the police have a political function, as the implementation of the electoral programme is the exclusive function of holders of political office.

Andy Ellul’s utterances explain quite a lot as to when, how and why (some of) the police act and investigate. Andy Ellul, a former policeman himself, certainly knows much better than that!

When the Panama Papers revelations hit the headlines what investigations were carried out by the Police? Taking the cue from the Office of the Prime Minister at Castille the Police were not bothered. If Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri can get away with shouldering responsibility for their actions through the setting up of secret companies in Panama, one should not wonder as to the yardstick applied to misdemeanours of some of the members of the Police Force. It was only when the whistle-blower sounded the alarm that matters took a new direction on the allegations relative to police in the Traffic Section and beyond.

Repairing Malta’s reputation is not an easy task and restoring confidence in the Police Force is only one small step of the many required. Our country is being slowly transformed into an amoral society in which principles of ethical behaviour are being scourned and thrown overboard.

We have been told by representatives of the financial services sector that we need all hands on deck to repair Malta’s reputation. It is difficult to comprehend how this can commence in earnest when key elements of the Police Force are rotten to the core.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 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

Il-Korruzzjoni m’għandhiex kulur

Id-dibattitu dwar il-korruzzjoni fil-gżejjer Maltin ma jispiċċa qatt. Il-korruzzjoni m’għandhiex kulur u tiddependi ħafna fuq kultura ta’ klijenteliżmu u fuq istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa jew imdgħajfa. Sfortunatament, ma teżisti l-ebda rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat.

Ma tidher l-ebda azzjoni ċara u konkreta li tikkorrispondi mad-diskors pubbliku u ma jaqta’ xejn dwar tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni.

Ir-resistenza tal-Ministri Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi u Chris Cardona biex tinfetaħ inkjesta kriminali minn maġistrat dwar l-allegazzjonijiet tal-kompliċità kriminali tagħhom in konnessjoni mal-ftehim tal-Vitals Global Healthcare dwar l-isptarijiet ma tinftiehemx. Prim Ministru b’tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni kien jitlob l-inkjesta hu stess. Inkella kien ikun minn ta’ quddiem biex jappoġġja t-talba li saret.

Kieku l-Partit Laburista kellu tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni ilu li bagħat lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri jixxejru. Il-fatt li l-mexxej Laburista Joseph Muscat ma aġixxiex b’dan il-mod ifisser li hu dispost li jagħlaq għajnejh għall-irregolaritajiet li jagħmlu ta’ madwaru. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, Partit Laburista b’tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni kien jiġbed widnejn il-mexxej tiegħu u jwissieh li jiemu magħduda jekk ma jibdilx triqtu. Il-fatt li l-Partit Laburista ma għamel xejn minn dan ifisser ħaġa waħda: li korruzzjoni hi tollerata.

Ikun għaqli jekk niftakru illi fl-istadji inizzjali tal-iskandlu magħruf bħala Panama Papers diversi membri tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista irreaġixxew għal dan kollu bil-bibien magħluqa.

F’April u Mejju tal-2016 kienet ħarġet l-istorja li mhux il-Partit Laburista kollu hu illuppjata dwar allegazzjonijiet ta’ korruzzjoni. Id-dibattitu intern, kif irrappurtat fil-medja, kien imqanqal, imma ma wassal għall-ebda azzjoni konkreta.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista, għalkemm fl-Opposizzjoni, ma jistax ikun alternattiva għal dan għax minkejja li l-kritika tiegħu hi korretta mhuwiex kredibbli.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista eleġġa mexxej li ftit li xejn jispira fiduċja fost il-pubbliku. Primarjament dan hu minħabba l-informazzjoni li toħroġ minn rapporti investigattivi dwaru ppubblikati minn Daphne Caruana Galizia, informazzjoni li turi kif diversi drabi ma aġixxiex b’mod korrett. Il-politku ma’ għandux il-possibilità li jagħżel meta jixgħel is-switch tal-imġieba etika. L-imġieba tal-politiku meta ma jkunx taħt il-lenti tal-opinjoni pubblika hi l-iktar indikattiva dwar x’isarraf. Il-kaz ta’ klijenti tal-uffiċju legali ta’ Adrian Delia li bbenefikaw minn dħul minn briedel f’Londra huwa eżempju prattiku ta’ dan. Meta l-informazzjoni kienet ippubblikata Delia fetaħ libell imma wara mhux biss irtirah imma ma ħa l-ebda passi alternattivi biex jisganċa ruħu minn dak li ntqal bl-iswed fuq l-abjad dwaru.

L-istess għandu jingħad dwar ix-xhieda ġuramentata tad-Deputat Nazzjonalista Claudio Grech dwar l-iskandlu taż-żejt liema xhieda ngħatat quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi. Dakinnhar Grech qal li ma kienx jiftakar jekk qatt iltaqa’ ma’ George Farrugia, il-moħħ wara l-iskandlu u li wara ngħata l-maħfra biex jikxef kollox. Il-Kap tal-PN ta’ dakinnhar, Simon Busuttil, bl-ebda mod ma rreaġixxa għal din l-imġieba. Ma ttieħdu l-ebda passi kontra Claudio Grech mill-PN f’dan il-kaz li bosta jqisuh bħala li pprova jevita li jikxef informazzjoni ta’ relevanza għal għarfien aħjar ta’ fatti tal-iskandlu.

Fid-dawl ta’ nuqqas ta’ kredibilità, meta l-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari (kif kostitwita illum) titkellem, l-impatt ta’ dak li tgħid bi kritika tal-Gvern ftit hu effetttiv.

Dan nistgħu narawh ukoll fid-dawl ta’ każi ta’ governanza ħażina li jikkomunikaw messaġġ wieħed: il-PL u l-PN huma pezza waħda. Eżempju ċar ta’ dan hu l-kaz tal-involviment ta’ Mario Demarco fin-negozjati kuntrattwali tad-dB fil-kwalità tiegħu ta’ konsulent legali tal-Grupp dB, meta fl-istess ħin kien Viċi Kap tal-Opposizzjoni u kelliemi għall-Finanzi. Għalkemm Mario Demarco għamel apoloġija pubblika dwar dan meta l-qiegħa kienet saħnet, il-ħsara li seħħet kienet sostanzjali. Il-messaġġ ċar li ġie kkomunikat dakinnhar kien li l-aħjar elementi tal-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari ma kinux kapaċi jiddistingwu bejn l-obbligi pubbliċi u l-interessi privati tagħhom.

Ikun opportun ukoll li niftakru fid-diversi rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar abbuż minn propjetà pubblika meta din kienet responsabbiltà politika tad-deputat Jason Azzopardi. Il-PN fl-ebda ħin ma esiġa li Azzopardi jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika għall-frejjeġ li ħalla warajh.

Il-governanza ħażina u l-korruzzjoni huma kuġini. Waħda twassal għall-oħra. Xi minn daqqiet hemm min jitfixkel waħda mal-oħra.

Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem kienet ċara. Dejjem kellna tolleranza żero kemm għall-korruzzjoni kif ukoll għall-governanza ħażina. Sfortunatament, la l-PN u l-anqas il-PL ma jistgħu jgħidu l-istess.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Novembru 2019

 

 

 

Corruption is colour-blind

The debate on local corruption is never-ending. Corruption is colour-blind and is heavily dependent upon a clientelist culture, as well as on the existence of weak or weakened institutions. In addition, unfortunately, there is currently no political will to address either.

The never-ending public utterances on zero-tolerance to corruption are not matched with clear-cut action.

The resistance by Cabinet Ministers Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona to the initiation of a magisterial criminal inquiry into the allegation concerning their criminal complicity in the Vitals Global Healthcare Hospitals deal is mind-boggling. A Prime Minister with a zero-tolerance to corruption would have requested the inquiry himself. Alternatively, he should have been the first to support the NGO-requested investigation.

A Labour Party which has a zero-tolerance to corruption would have sent Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri packing ages ago. The fact that Labour leader Joseph Muscat did not so act signifies that he is willing to turn a Nelson eye to his colleagues’ misdemeanours. In these circumstances a corruption zero-tolerant Labour Party would have given notice to its leader that his days are numbered if he does not change his ways. The fact that the Labour Party did not so act gives one clear message: it is corruption-tolerant.

It would be pertinent to point out that, in the initial stages of the Panama Papers debate, various members of the Labour Party Parliamentary group reacted behind closed doors. Way back in April and May of 2016, leaks in the media had indicated that not all of the Labour Party is anesthetised in its reactions to allegations of corruption. The internal debate, as then reported, was fierce, but it did not lead to concrete action.

The Nationalist Party, although in opposition, is no alternative to all this, as its criticism, though correct, is not credible.

The Nationalist Party has elected a leader who does not inspire much confidence in the public, primarily as a result of the investigative reports published by Daphne Caruana Galizia which unearthed information that illustrated the various instances in which he acted unethically. Holders of political office have no choice as to when to switch on to an ethical behaviour mode. Their behaviour when they were not under the glaring spotlight of public opinion is most indicative of their ethical worth. A case in point is Adrian Delia’s legal representation of clients benefitting from earnings from London-based brothels in respect of which published information he instituted legal action that he later withdrew. Subsequently he took no action which disproves anything that was published about this brothel business.

Likewise, no action was taken in respect of the sworn testimony of senior PN Member of Parliament Claudio Grech when giving witness in front of the Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry on the oil scandal. Grech had then stated that he did not recollect if he had ever met George Farrugia, the prime mover in the oil scandal, who was eventually pardoned to reveal all. The then PN leader, Simon Busuttil, had not reacted to this behaviour and no action whatsoever was initiated against Claudio Grech by the PN in what most consider a case of avoiding spilling information of relevance.

In view of its lack of credibility, whenever the Parliamentary Opposition – as presently constituted- speaks up, the impact of what has been revealed about Government’s dubious practices is severely diluted.

This could be viewed also with reference to serious issues of bad governance which communicate one clear message: they are cut from the same cloth. A case in point is Mario Demarco’s involvement in the dB contract negotiations as legal advisor to the dB Group, at a time when he was Deputy Leader of the Opposition and its spokesperson on Finance. Though Mario Demarco issued a public apology when the matter made headlines, the damage done was substantial. The clear message conveyed was that the better elements of the Parliamentary Opposition are incapable of drawing a line between their public duties and their private interests.

We may also deem it fit to remember the various reports issued by the Auditor-General on the mis-management of government property. At the time, this was the political responsibility of the Hon Jason Azzopardi but at no time was he asked by his party to shoulder political responsibility for the mess that he left behind.

Bad governance and corruption are cousins; one leads to the other and at times one is easily mistaken for the other.

At Alternattiva Demokratika we have always been clear: we are zero-tolerant in respect of both corruption and bad governance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the PN and the PL.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 November 2019

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

Revolving doors: John Dalli and beyond

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga is developing further, much beyond its original obvious intent. The new twist is whether, and to what extent, the use of revolving doors by politicians as soon as their political office draws to an end is permissible.

The use of revolving doors is a reference to the practice of some politicians to join the Board of Directors or team of advisors of business/industry in an area which they would have been responsible for regulating when in office.

The practice in the EU and some other countries is to postpone the possible entry of former Commissioners (holders of political office) in the areas they previously regulated by three years. This signifies that former Commissioners (or Ministers) are forbidden (unless they obtain prior clearance) from joining Boards of Directors and/or organisations  of lobbyists for a number of years.  A case in point was the recent Barroso appointment to the Goldman Sachs Board which whilst being considered as being morally reprehensible was not deemed to be a breach of the EU integrity code.  

As far as I am aware, the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending before Malta’s Parliament does not address the issue. The issues to be addressed are various. Primarily, however, it is urgent to establish a cooling-off length of time during which time persons active in public life should not take up posts in the private sector in order to ensure the observance of an ethical benchmark.

John Dallis taking up the post of Chairman of Marsovin is only one example. There are various others amongst which the posts which John Dalli himself as well as Karmenu Vella (present Commissioner and former Minister for Tourism) had taken up with the Corinthia Group in the past.

In fairness the applicability of such an ethical standard should also be considered for top civil servants, who should approach the use of revolving doors with extreme caution.  

Taking care of tax evaders

HSBC Geneve

 

Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party pride themselves with emphasising that this Government has removed the statutory limitation (prescription) relative to corruption when holders of political office are criminally prosecuted.

It certainly was a step in the right direction. It still however requires the test of time to verify whether it is compatible with the human rights provisions of our Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights as was explained by former Strasbourg Judge Giovanni Bonello in his article Bribery and Genocide : the same? (Times of Malta April 20, 2013)

Such a clear stand against corruption contrasts with the provisions of Legal Notice 256 of 2014 entitled Investment Registration Scheme Regulations 2014 which launched the latest amnesty that can be utilised by Maltese citizens who evaded payment of income tax. Camouflaged through the use of Orwellian terminology as an “Investment Registration Scheme”, this amnesty, as others before it, did not treat holders of political office any differently from other tax evaders. It afforded them the same opportunities to be able to “regularise” their position absolving them from having committed an economic crime.

Apparently, this government considers tax evasion to be a crime which is substantially inferior to corruption. In fact, the recent cases brought to light by Swiss Leaks have revealed the ease with which former Cabinet Ministers have wriggled out of their tax evasion crimes that they had successfully concealed for around 40 years, including when in office.

During all these years, most of the funds which were accumulated in various bank accounts until they ended in an HSBC Genève account, reaped interest at varying rates depending on market conditions, which, as a result, increased the quantum of the undeclared funds. Had both the funds originally invested as well as the accumulated interests  been appropriately declared to the tax authorities in Malta , they would have been subject to between 35 per cent and 65 per cent  taxation in terms of Income Tax legislation. Yet the Investment Registration Scheme of 2014 allows self-confessed tax evaders off the hook subject to a  maximum 7.5 per cent registration fee! They even get a discount if they repatriate the funds! Apparently it pays to be a tax evader.

There are, however, some matters  which are not at all clear, yet.

Before insisting on his imaginary “right” not to be pestered by the press, former Minister Ninu Zammit had informed The Malta Independent on Sunday  that all his affairs were now “regularised”, having  made use of the 2014 amnesty to reap the benefits of his hoard stacked in Genève. He was also reported as having stated that the sources of his hoard was income derived from his professional activity  as well as various deals in landed property.

It is public knowledge that Zammit’s land deals were negotiated through the Malta registered limited liability company by the name of LENI Enterprises Limited of which he was both a shareholder and a director.  It is logical that any income from land deals would not only have a bearing on Ninu Zammit’s tax status but also on the reported performance and possible tax liabilities of LENI Enterprises Limited. In this respect, the  company’s financial reporting would certainly make very interesting reading.  Have its audited accounts been submitted to the Malta Financial Services Authority or its predecessors in terms of law?  Who has certified these accounts? What about the role of the auditors of LENI Enterprises Limited?  Is there the need to revisit the audited accounts of LENI Enterprises Limited due to the fact that at least one of its directors has benefited from the latest tax evasion amnesty?

As far as I am aware,  Legal Notice 256 of 2014 only absolves self-declared tax-evaders resident in Malta from their non-observance of income tax legislation. Other crimes could still be actionable .

Such other crimes would include false declarations to Cabinet in terms of the Ministerial Code of Ethics. There may also be other issues should these result from the investigations which the Commissioner of Inland Revenue is currently carrying out on the basis of the information which is now known.

There is however one important thing which we should never underestimate. The benevolence of the state towards tax evaders has no limits. It knows how to take care of these small details too.

 

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st March 2015

Riforma fil-ħidma tal-Parlament

parlament ta' Malta

Ir-rapport li l-Prim Ministru talab lill-Kumitat magħmul mill-Ombudsman, l-Awditur Ġenerali u l-Kummissarju Elettorali Prinċipali issa huwa magħruf. Mhux kollu hu magħruf,  iżda biċċiet minnu. Dawk il-biċċiet li min irrapporta dwarhom dehrlu li kienu importanti.

Fir-rapporti ppubblikati spikkaw is-salarji proposti għall-politiċi. Dak kien li l-Prim Ministru talab lill-Kumitat biex jirrapporta dwaru. Imma l-Kumitat magħmul mill-Ombudsman, l-Awditur Ġenerali u l-Kummissarju Elettorali Prinċipali ma waqafx hawn. Eżamina ukoll il-ħidma tal-Parlament u irrakkomanda riforma dwar kif jaħdem il-Parlament. Fosthom li l-membri tal-Parlament ikunu possibilment full-timers u dan billi jiddedikaw il-ħin kollu tagħhom għall-ħidma Parlamentari.

Hekk jaħdmu l-parti l-kbira tal-Parlamenti tad-dinja demokratika. Għax il-membru parlamentari mhux qiegħed hemm biss biex jagħmel xi mistoqsija parlamentari jew biex jieħu sehem f’dibattitu dwar xi liġi.  Qiegħed hemm ukoll biex jgħarbel il-ħidma tal-Gvern. U meta nitkellem dwar il-Gvern m’għandix f’moħħi biss il-Ministri jew is-Segretarji Parlamentari, imma ukoll kif joperaw id-Dipartimenti tal-Gvern u l-Awtoritajiet differenti.

Hija responsabbiltà tal-membri kollha tal-Parlament li kontinwament jeżaminaw il-ħidma kollha tal-Gvern u fl-interess ta’ dawk li eleġġewhom ifittxu li din il-ħidma tkun l-aħjar possibli. Dan jgħodd kemm għall-Membri Parlamentari fuq in-naħa tal-Gvern kif ukoll għal dawk fuq in-naħa tal-Opposizzjoni.  Dan l-eżami tal-ħidma tal-Gvern ma jsirx biżżejjed għax il-Membri tal-Parlament, billi jridu jlaħħqu ukoll ma xogħol ieħor m’għandhomx biżżejjed ħin biex jagħmlu dak li ġew eletti għalih.

Ir-rapport li l-Prim Ministru talab lill-Ombudsman, lill-Awditur Ġenerali u lill-Kummissarju Elettorali Prinċipali jeħtieġ li jkun eżaminat fit-totalità tiegħu. Huwa bla dubju kontroversjali imma jeħtieġ diskussjoni matura.

 

ippubblikat fuq iNews il-Ħamis 8 ta’ Jannar 2015