Bejn prezz u valur

Kien Oscar Wilde li madwar mitt sena ilu kiteb li hawn uħud li jafu l-prezz ta’ kollox imma m’għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-valur ta’ dak li hemm madwarhom. Illum l-affarijiet huma ferm iktar soffistikati minn hekk. Għandna studji kkumplikati li janalizzaw il-benefiċċju miksub ikkomparat mal-infieq li jsir u studji dwar impatti ta’ kull xorta li bihom tista’ tipprova tiġġustifika dak li trid, dejjem sakemm tkun ippreparat biex tħallas minn imnieħrek għal dan il-privileġġ.

Illum il-ġurnata prattikament kollox hu ridott għal valur monetarju. Meta nitkellmu dwar spiża, prattikament kulħadd jifhem nefqa f’termini ta’ flus. Li titkellem dwar spiża ambjentali jew spiża soċjali donnu li hi xi ħaġa stramba, qisu diffiċli biex tinftiehem.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin dejjem trid iktar. B’pariri minn xi professjonisti, inkluż eks uffiċjali anzjani tal-ippjanar, issa l-iżviluppaturi qed jippreżentaw it-talbiet tagħhom billi jilgħabuha tal-vittmi tar-regolamentazzjoni. Imma fis-sustanza t-talbiet tagħhom huma dejjem l-istess: biex jimmassimizzaw il-frott tar-rebgħa.

Kważi fl-istess ħin sirna nafu li l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Ilma żarmat. Okkazjoni bħal din hi dejjem waħda ta’ dieqa. Imma r-realtà tibqa’ li f’Malta hawn ftit wisq attivisti ambjentali f’numru ta’ għaqdiet ambjentali li mhux wieħed żgħir. Forsi l-għaqdiet ambjentali jirrealizzaw illi l-multiplikazzjoni tagħhom ma tagħmilx ġid lill-kawża li jmexxu l-quddiem. Lanqas ma jagħmel ġid li dawn l-għaqdiet iħarsu lejn il-konsulenti tal-iżviluppaturi l-kbar huma u jfittxu tmexxija ġdida. Il-kredibilità tagħhom, naħseb, li tista’ tieħu daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu għadma iebsa. Bosta ma jirrealizzawx li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna jiddependi minn din il-ħidma. Ir-riżultati tal-ħidma favur il-ħarsien tal-ambjent, jew in-nuqqas tagħha, jidhru ġeneralment fuq tul ta’ żmien, ma jidhrux malajr. Dan inevitabilment iwassal biex ma tidhirx b’mod ċar ir-rabta bejn il-kawża u l-effett u bħala  konsegwenza ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed interess f’dak li qed jiġri, sakemm ikun tard wisq.

Illum bosta qed jirrealizzaw x’inhuma l-impatti konsiderevoli tal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-art li nieda l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2006 li bħala riżultat tiegħu madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art madwar dawn il-gżejjer saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp mil-lum għal għada. Ftit jiftakru li l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar, kien ħa posizzjoni kontra l-proposta ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u kien anke ivvota kontra tagħha fil-Parlament. Illum il-ġurnata, imma, l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern ħalla kollox kif kien, għax, wara kollox, hu komdu li meta kkritikat tkun tista’ twaħħal f’ ta’ qablek u b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali tiddikjara li ma tista’ tagħmel xejn, għax sadanittant hemm min laħaq rabba’ l-ġust!

Din l-aħħar manuvra tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi li jilgħabuha tal-vittmi mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Kif spjega dak li kien Direttur tal-Ippjanar, u li illum mid-dehra hu konsulent tal-Assoċjazzjoni, l-Perit Stephen Farrugia, l-proposta tinvolvi tpartit ta’ arja f’żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana ma drittijiet ta’ żvilupp iktar vantaġġjuż xi mkien ieħor. Bażikament it-talba tal-Assoċjazzjoni hi biex il-membri tagħha jkunu kkumpensati għar-restrizzjonijiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana kif ukoll fil-konfront ta’ bini protett. Kif intqal f’artiklu ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni Sandro Chetcuti t-talba hi biex dak li mhux jitħallew jiżviluppaw jibqa’ għandhom bi dritt li jkun trasferit fuq art oħra fejn ma hemmx l-istess restrizzjonijiet. S’issa ma ippubblikawx dettalji imma hu ovvju li l-proposta qed tfittex li jinħolqu ammont sostanzjali ta’ drittijiet ta’ żvilupp li jkompli jżid mal-madra li diġa hawn.

L-Assoċjazzjoni bil-proposta tagħha qed tmur kontra dak li hu bażiku fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għax qed tassumi b’mod żbaljat li kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu dritt ugwali biex jiżviluppa rrispettivament mil-livell ta’ protezzjoni applikabbli. Hi proposta li tfisser biss taħwid, iktar milli diġa hawn.

X’baqa’ jiġri?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Marzu 2019

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Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 24 October 2019

Wara d-dibattitu fi Strasburgu

 

Id-dibattitu tal-ġimgħa l-oħra fil-Parlament Ewropew dwar is-saltna tad-dritt wera li prattikament il-partiti politiċi kollha huma mħassba dwar is-saltna tad-dritt f’Malta. Il-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia jkompli jżid ma dan it-tħassib.

It-tħassib hu wieħed akkumulat u huwa ġġustifikat minħabba diversi affarijiet li ġraw fuq tul ta’ żmien.

Il-ħatra u r-riżenja ta’ diversi Kummissarji tal-Pulizija matul dawn il-ħames snin xejn ma għen f’dan il-kuntest.

Ir-rapporti tal-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) li waslu għand il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija u ma ittieħdu l-ebda passi dwarhom ukoll wasslu l-messaġġ li f’dan il-pajjiż xejn m’hu xejn: li l-liġi hi bla siwi.

Jekk il-liġi hi bla siwi għax l-awtorijtajiet li għandhom l-obbligu li jimplimentawha jagħlqu għajnejhom, daqqa waħda u drabi oħra t-tnejn, hu ġustifikat li jingħad li s-saltna tad-dritt hi mhedda.

F’dan il-kuntest ma tista’ tagħti tort lil ħadd li jissuspetta illi l-awtoritajiet kollha ħaġa waħda, jħokku dahar xulxin. Anke jekk mhux neċessarjament hekk.

Imma hemm min qiegħed japprofitta ruħu minn din is-sitwazzjoni biex jiżra’ sfiduċja iktar milli diġa hawn. Ilkoll kemm aħna, fuq quddiem nett il-partiti politiċi, għandna l-obbligu li f’din is-siegħa delikata ma nesagerawx fil-kritika li nagħmlu. Anke fejn il-kritika hi ġustifikata. Il-kritika li issir hemm bżonn li tkun waħda responsabbli avolja jkun hemm min ma jagħtix każ, jew inkella jipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li mhux qed jagħti każ.

Il-fatti jibqgħu dejjem fatti.

Il-Prim Ministru żbalja meta ma tajjarx lill-Konrad Mizzi mill-Kabinett u lil Keith Schembri minn Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tiegħu wara li isimhom deher fil-lista magħrufa bħala Panama Papers. Kien żball oħxon li anke fil-Partit Laburista stess kien hemm dibattitu jaħraq dwaru. Fil-Partit Laburista kien hemm min kellu l-kuraġġ li jesprimi fehmtu dwar dan fil-pubbliku. Hekk għamlu s-sena l-oħra Evarist Bartolo u Godfrey Farrugia. Kien hemm oħrajn li tkellmu fil-magħluq waqt laqgħat tal-Grupp Parlamentari. Fil-gazzetti kienu ssemmew l-ismijiet tad-Deputat Prim Ministru ta’ dak iż-żmien Louis Grech u tal-Ministri Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna u George Vella. Hemm ukoll id-dikjarazzjoni ċara pubblika ta’ Alfred Sant, avolja dan issa qed jitkellem ftit differenti. Naf li hemm oħrajn. Kollha talbu r-riżenja ta’ Konrad Mizzi.

Il-preokkupazzjoni tal-lum hi in parti riżultat ta’ din id-deċiżjoni żbaljata tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat.

Il-kobba issa kompliet titħabbel bil-qtil ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Sfortunatament hemm min qed jitfa l-argumenti kollha f’borma waħda u jgħaqqad, b’mod irresponsabbli l-affarijiet, meta s’issa għad ma hemm l-ebda prova dwar min wettaq dan id-delitt u għal liema raġuni. L-iżbalji li saru fil-kors tal-investigazzjoni xejn m’huma ta’ għajnuna. La d-dewmien tal-Maġistrat Consuelo Scerri Herrera biex ma tibqax tmexxi l-investigazzjoni Maġisterjali u l-anqas li d-Deputat Kummissarju Silvio Valletta ma fehemx li l-presenza tiegħu fl-investigazzjoni tista’ tkun ta’ xkiel għall-kredibilita tal-konkluzjonijiet m’huma ser jgħinu.

F’dan il-kuntest il-kummenti ta’ Frans Timmermans Viċi President Ewlieni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea huma ta’ validità kbira: “Let the investigation run its full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

Il-preokkupazzjoni tagħna lkoll hi ġustifikata. Imma tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li t-taħwid kollu li għandna quddiemna ma tfaċċax f’daqqa, ilu jinġabar ftit ftit. Biex dan jingħeleb jeħtieġ l-isforz flimkien ta’ kull min hu ta’ rieda tajba.

 

ippubblikat f’Illum – Il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Novembru 2017

Beyond the Strasbourg debate

Last week’s debate in the European Parliament on the rule of law in Malta revealed that all political parties are preoccupied with the matter and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made a bad situation worse.

This preoccupation has not developed overnight, it has accumulated over time. The appointment of various Commissioners of Police and their subsequent resignation for a variety of reasons has not been helpful: it has reinforced the perception that “all is not well in the state of Denmark”.

The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reports received by the Commissioner of Police, and in respect of which no investigation was carried out, sent out one clear message: in this country, some people are clearly not subject to the rule of law. Can anyone be blamed if this message – sent by the Commissioner of Police – was clearly understood by one and all?

This transmits an additional clear message: the authorities are in cahoots; they are scratching each other’s back. Even though reality may be different, this is the message which has gone through.

Unfortunately, some people may be cashing in on these developments and, as a result, increasing exponentially the lack of trust in public authorities in Malta. This is a very dangerous development and calls for responsible action on the part of one and all, primarily political parties. Speaking out publicly about these developments is justified, notwithstanding the continuous insults which keep being levelled against such a stand. It is time to stand up and be counted.

The Prime Minister erred when he did not dismiss Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff at the OPM Keith Schembri on the spot, after it was clear that their names featured prominently in the Panama Papers. This serious error by the Prime Minister triggered a debate about the matter in the Labour Party. Some even had the courage to speak publicly: Evarist Bartolo and Godfrey Farrugia did so. Others participated actively in the internal debates within the Labour Party, in particular during meetings of the Parliamentary Group. Last year, the media had mentioned various Labour MPs as having been vociferous in internal debates on the matter: it was reported that former Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech and senior Ministers Leo Brincat, Edward Scicluna and George Vella took the lead.

Even former Labour Leader Alfred Sant made public declarations in support of required resignations. This week, Sant sought to change his tune in a hysterical contribution to the Strasbourg debate. Others have preferred silence.

The Prime Minister’s erroneous position in refusing to fire Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri has been a major contributor to the present state of affairs. The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia has made matters worse and has, justifiably, led to the current preoccupation with the question of whether the rule of law is still effective in Malta at all.

Unfortunately some individuals begin linking all the incidents together – in the process, weaving a story which is quite different from reality, at least that which is known so far. Some claim to be able to joint the dots, thereby creating a narrative unknown to the rest of us, because the dots can be joined in many different ways.

Mistakes made during the initial stages of the investigation of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder further reinforce the perceptions that all is not well. When Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera took quite some time to realise that it was not right for her to lead the investigation into the murder of a journalist who had been the prime mover in torpedoing her elevation to the position of a Judge in the Superior Courts, everyone was shocked.

Even the failure of Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta to realise that for him to lead the police investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder could dent the credibility of the police investigation in view of his marriage to a Cabinet Minister was another serious mistake. This is no reflection on the couple’s integrity but an ethical consideration which should have been taken into consideration in the first seconds of the investigation.

In this context, the comments of European Commission Senior Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans assume greater importance “Let the investigation run its  full course. What is not on is to start with a conclusion and look for facts to support that conclusion.”

It is reasonable that all of us are seriously preoccupied. The present state of affairs did not develop overnight. It requires the concerted efforts of all of us to be put right.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 November 2017 

Alleanza Elettorali: m’hemmx għaġġla

 

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar jekk, meta u kif għandha tkun żviluppata alleanza elettorali bejn Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Nazzjonalista qabad ritmu sewwa fuq il-media soċjali matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet. Dan seħħ l-iktar bħala riżultat  tal-intervista ta’ Michael Briguglio fuq din il-gazzetta l-ġimgħa l-oħra.

Il-veduti ta’ Michael Briguglio, bla dubju, jirriflettu l-esperjenzi tiegħu u jwassluh għall-konklużjoni li t-toroq li jippuntaw lejn alleanza elettorali (jew kif ġieli nirreferu għaliha, koalizzjoni) għandhom ikunu eżaminati sewwa u mingħajr wisq dewmien. Jiena m’għandi l-ebda għaġġla. Dan qed ngħidu minħabba li l-imġieba tat-tmexxija tal-Partit Nazzjonalista hi ta’ tħassib mhux żgħir u li bħala riżultat ta’ dan qed nifforma l-opinjoni li wara kollox jista’ jkun li dan mhux il-mument addattat għal inizjattiva ta’ din ix-xorta.

Il-kobba mħabbla dwar id-donazzjonijiet li qed tiżviluppa bejn il-Partit Nazzjonalista u Silvio Debono tad-db Group tirrikjedi li jitqegħdu l-karti kollha fuq il-mejda biex ikun assigurat li l-fatti kollha huma magħrufa. Kemm hu veru li l-PN irċieva donazzjonijiet moħbija bħala ħlas għal serviżżi li ma nagħtawx u dan billi għamel użu mill-kumpanija kummerċjali tiegħu?  Apparti l-grupp db kemm-il entitá kummerċjali oħra hemm li għamlet din it-tip ta’ donazzjoni moħbija lill-PN?  Dan kollu ma jmurx kontra dak li l-PN ilu jgħid żmien dwar is-suppost tmexxija serja li jrid?  Allura jekk anke fuq xi ħaġa bażika bħas-serjetá fit-tmexxija l-PN jgħid ħaga u jagħmel oħra kif qatt nistgħu nemmnu u nagħtu piż lil dak li jgħid il-PN dwar prinċipji u kwalunkwe xorta ta’ proposta politika?

Hemm diversi materji oħra li jinvolvu l-imġieba ta’ membri parlamentari ewlenin tal-Partit Nazzjonalista li dwarhom tinħtieġ li tingħata spjegazzjoni.

Per eżempju d-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Claudio Grech li ma jiftakarx jekk qatt iltaqa’ ma George Farrugia, u dan fil-kuntest tal-iskandlu taż-żejt, xejn ma tikkonvinċi. L-aċċettazzjoni da parti tal-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni ta’ din id-dikjarazzjoni tixhed dubju fuq kemm qiegħed jiffunzjona l-kumpass etiku tant meħtieġ u essenzjali għal min appunta lilu nnifsu fit-tmexxija tal-koalizzjoni kontra l-korruzzjoni.

L-anqas ma huma ċari l-affarijiet fejn jidħol ir-rwol ta’ Beppe Fenech Adami fil-Capital One Investment Group u l-Baltimore Fiduciary Services. F’sitwazzjoni kważi identika, Joe Cordina, dakinnhar Teżorier tal-Partit Laburista, kien imġiegħel jirreżenja.

Min-naħa l-oħra Mario de Marco għamel apoloġija pubblika dwar il-ġudizzju żbaljat tiegħu meta huwa aċċetta l-inkarigu mill-Grupp db dwar l-akkwista ta’ l-art f’Pembroke fejn illum hemm l-Istitut għall-Istudji Turistiċi. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, bla ebda dubju, apoloġija mhux biżżejjed.

Irridu nikkunsidraw ukoll il-villa proposta biex tinbena barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp minn Toni Bezzina kelliemi għall-agrikultura tal-PN u  flimkien ma oħrajn awtur tad-dokument dwar il-politika “ġdida” ambjentali tal-PN. Proposta li tmur kontra dak kollu li kien propost fid-dokument. Il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni flok ma tajru immedjatament ipprova jeħilsu billi qal li “ma għamel xejn ħażin.

Meta tqies kollox, tista’ tifhem aħjar kemm it-tmexxija tajba u l-iġieba etika huma bosta drabi nieqsa fost l-Opposizzjoni. Kull wieħed minn dawn il-kazijiet, anke jekk meqjus għalih waħdu, kien ikun iktar minn biżżejjed biex tkun xkupata l-barra t-tmexxija kollha tal-Opposizzjoni.

Kif tista’ Alternattiva Demokratika taħdem favur alleanza elettorali ma’ partit politiku li t-tmexxija tiegħu hi kompromessa b’dan il-mod u għandha daqstant x’tispjega dwar l-imġieba tagħha? Kif jista’ l-Partit Nazzjonalista jippretendi t-tmexxija morali ta’ koalizzjoni kontra l-korruzzjoni qabel ma jagħti spjegazzjoni konvinċenti tal-imġieba tal-esponenti ewlenin tiegħu? Il-fatt li l-Partit Laburista għandu ħafna iktar x’jispjega mhu ta’ l-ebda konsolazzjoni u bl-ebda mod ma jiġġustifika l-imġieba tal-Opposizzjoni.

Il-mintna li jinsab fiha pajjiżna hi riżultat dirett tat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista tul dawn l-aħħar erba’ snin. Imma hi ukoll riżultat tas-sistema ta’ żewġ partiti politiċi li iktar ma tispiċċa malajr, iktar aħjar għal kulħadd. Is-sistema ta’ żewġ partiti li kkontrollat il-makkinarju tal-istat bla interruzzjoni mill-1966 sal-lum hi responsabbli ukoll għas-sitwazzjoni attwali. Dan minħabba li bħala konsegwenza tat-tip ta’ Parlament li ġie elett kien prattikament impossibli (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet żgħar) li dan jeżamina b’reqqa l-ħidma tal-Gvern b’mod li jkun imġiegħel jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu bis-serjetá.

Filwaqt li l-ħolqien ta’ alleanza elettorali tista’ tkun ta’ ġid għall-pajjiż, iċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti ma naħsibx li jipprovdu l-mument addattat. Il-bibien għad-diskussjoni Alternattiva Demokratika żżommhom dejjem miftuħin imma bħalissa hu l-mument li wieħed joqgħod attent biex ikun evitat li jingħataw messaġġi żbaljati.

Huwa biss meta jkunu ċċarati l-affarijiet li jkun il-mument addattat biex jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar il-jekk u l-kif ta’ alleanza elettorali.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 26 ta’ Marzu 2017

Electoral Alliance : a cautious approach

The public debate on whether, and to what extent, it is appropriate to have an electoral alliance between Alternattiva Demokratika and the Nationalist Party has been in full swing on social media during the past week, fuelled as it was by Michael Briguglio’s interview on the Maltese weekly Illum last Sunday.

Michael Briguglio presented his views, no doubt based on his experiences and perceptions, concluding that the avenues leading to an electoral alliance (at times also referred to as a coalition) should be explored without delay. The fact that the ethical behaviour of leading members the PN Opposition leaves much to be desired necessitates more caution. There is no need to rush.

The political party donation mess in which the PN and Silvio Debono of the db Group are entangled requires full disclosure in order to ascertain the precise facts. Has the PN (illegally) avoided the provisions of the political party financing legislation through the channelling of funds to its commercial arm under the guise of payment for (fake) services? Is the db Group “donation” a one-off, or is it one of a number?

Wouldn’t this give the lie to the PN’s declared commitment to good governance? If such a basic issue in the PN’s electoral platform is just paying lip service, how can one give weight to any PN declaration of adherence to principle or policy of whatever form or shape?

There are other issues related to the behaviour of senior PN MPs which need clarification.

For example, Claudio Grech’s declaration that he does not recollect ever meeting George Farrugia with reference to the oil sales scandal, is not convincing at all. The acceptance of Claudio Grech’s declaration by the Leader of the Opposition throws considerable light on the functionability of the ethical compass which is an essential tool for the self-appointed leader of an anti-corruption coalition!

Nor are matters on Beppe Fenech Adami’s role in the Capital One Investment Group/Baltimore Fiduciary Services any clearer. In quasi similar circumstances, Joe Cordina, former Labour Party Treasurer was forced to resign.

Mario DeMarco has made a public apology on his error of judgement, which error of judgement was made when accepting the brief of the db Group relative to its acquisition of the land at Pembroke, currently hosting the Institute for Tourism Studies, fro the government. Fine, but apologies are certainly not enough.

One has also to consider the proposed ODZ Villa which Toni Bezzina, PN spokesperson on agriculture and co-author of the PN policy document,  sought to develop contrary to both letter and spirit  of the policy document he had just proposed. The Leader of the Opposition instead of dismissing him on the spot absolved him as “he had done nothing wrong”.

Taken together, the above shed considerable light on the extent to which “good governance” and “ethical behaviour” is often absent in the Opposition’s ranks. In any other democratic country, each one of the above, even if considered separately, would have been more than enough to wipe out the whole Opposition leadership.

Can Alternattiva Demokratika forge an electoral alliance with a political party whose leading members are so compromised and have so much to explain as to their behaviour? Moreover, how can the PN claim moral leadership in a coalition against corruption before it gives satisfactory explanations on the behaviour of its leading exponents? The fact that the Labour Party has even much more to explain is no justification for the Opposition’s behaviour.

The mess in which the country is currently submerged, the direct result of Labour Party stewardship over the past four years, is also the direct consequence of a two-party system which needs to be smashed to smithereens. The two- party system which has controlled the machinery of the state uninterruptedly since 1966 is ultimately responsible for the current state of affairs as it has continuously returned a Parliament which, due to its composition, has, with insignificant exceptions, been unable to hold the government of the day to account.

While the setting up of an electoral alliance could eventually be beneficial to the country, in the present circumstances it is not the right time to rush. At this point in time, linking Alternattiva Demokratika to the PN through an electoral alliance may send wrong messages.

While Alternattiva Demokratika will never close the doors to possible discussions on an electoral alliance, I believe that it is certainly the season to be extremely cautious until such time as the murky waters have cleared. It is only then that the time would be ripe for the necessary decisions.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 26 March 2017

Shock therapy to the political system

 

 

Regulation of the financing of political parties is of fundamental importance in any modern democratic society. Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – has been at the forefront in campaigning for legislation since the day when it was founded way back in 1989. When legislation was finally brought forward it was welcomed, even though it could have been much better.

The Financing of Political Parties Act deals with more than just the financing of political parties. It also establishes the formalities on the basis of which political parties must register with the Electoral Commission. It is indeed ironic that the Labour Party, the political party which piloted this legislation through Parliament, failed to register by the date established in the legislation. In so doing the Labour Party – for some reason as yet unknown – sent an unmistakable message that it wanted to delay its being subject to regulation. It had more than ample time to adjust its Party Statute to bring it in line with the law, but it procrastinated for more than twelve months.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced that it would be setting up a Board to investigate allegations of breaches of the Financing of Political Parties Act that have been brought to its attention. As far as is known there are three such alleged breaches.

The first breach is that brought forward by Alternattiva Demokratika and involves the use of public property by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for holding one of its recent meetings. I have already written about the matter in the 26 February edition of TMIS (Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti). On Friday the Secretary-General of Alternattiva Demokratika Ralph Cassar was informed in writing  that AD’s request for the Electoral Commission to investigate the use of the Girgenti Palace by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group will be taken in hand by the Investigation Board established for the purpose.

We are so used to the use and abuse of public property by the major political parties that it has, over the years, been considered a fait accompli, taken for granted. It may be a “minor abuse” compared to others in the news, but we cannot tolerate even the smallest breach of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The second breach is the one highlighted by the Labour Party regarding the Silvio Debono donations to the Nationalist Party. Silvio Debono has clearly spilled the beans in retaliation to the PN criticism of the ITS land at Pembroke being transferred for peanuts.  It is an issue of fake invoices and tainted donations as described in my article in this newspaper last week. The whole case rests on the existence of possible fake invoices by which illegal donations to the Nationalist Party could have been channelled through its commercial arm. If the investigating board is presented with the fake invoices, which Silvio Debono says he paid on prodding by senior members of the PN leadership, it is difficult to fathom how the PN can avoid carrying the responsibility for the matter.

The third breach has been highlighted by the PN, obviously against the Labour Party. It refers to a number of One journalists who have been selected to occupy positions of trust in various Ministries and authorities. The PN complaint list may have some mistakes, as some names are most probably erroneously listed, but I believe that it is correct to point out this corrupt practice through which the Labour Party media are being subsidised through state salaries – i.e. through the taxes that we pay.

The fact that these three alleged breaches will be investigated under the auspices of the Investigating Board appointed by the Electoral Commission is a step forward. However, it all depends on those selected to carry out the investigation.  I look forward to some shock therapy to the political system as I consider all three complaints to be justified. It is about time that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are brought to their senses and made to realise that they, too, are subject to the law. But then, maybe I am hoping for too much from the Investigating Board!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 March 2017

 

 

Fake invoices and tainted donations

 

 

Around three weeks ago Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – requested the Electoral Commission to initiate an investigation into the illicit use of public property by the Labour Party. The case revolved around the use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Girgenti  as a meeting place for the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group. Various members of Cabinet tweeted photos of this Parliamentary Group meeting.

It is not so far known whether the Electoral Commission will be taking any action on the Girgenti matter other than that it was on the agenda for a Commission meeting.

Now another, more serious issue, has cropped up out of the blue. This is due to the very serious claim made by Silvio Debono that he gave a political donation to the Nationalist Party in the amount of about €70,800 which was camouflaged as a payment for services rendered through the production and use of a fake invoice for the purpose. This payment is alleged to have been made in a concealed or disguised manner being intended for the political party but by way of deception it was channelled through the party’s commercial arm.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, counter-claimed that a payment for €70,800 was made but that this was as payment for services “actually” rendered by its commercial arm, Media Link Communications, to two of the companies forming part of DB group, Silvio Debono’s group of companies. However,  at one point the Nationalist Party also declared that it will reimburse the “tainted money” because it will not be compromised.  The Nationalist Party has to chose between its contradictory reactions: is the €70,800 received from Silvio Debono tainted or is it a payment for services?

Silvio Debono claims that he has the fake invoices and the receipts for the amount paid through which he can substantiate his claims. He further stated that no services were rendered to his companies by Media Link Communications.

This allegation strikes a direct hit at transparency and accountability, the very foundation of the legislation regulating political party financing. The claim by Silvio Debono effectively means that donations of substantial sums of money to political parties can possibly continue unchecked, as long as they are properly disguised and provided that those with a finger in the pie keep their mouth shut. If this allegation is proven, it would signify that the regulatory checks and balances serve no purpose, because the commercial arms of the major political parties will be the proven perfect vehicle to circumvent all due process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Commission has the authority to investigate such an allegation, it would normally be very difficult to prove. No political party will ever confirm that it makes use of its commercial arm to circumvent rules and regulations. In fact, earlier this week the Nationalist Party Treasurer stated on PBS that as the person responsible for the party’s finances, he is not aware of the matter. In fact he said that he has never even met Silvio Debono.

Such an allegation can only be proven when the co-conspirator speaks up, as is happening in this particular case, even though, at the time of writing the alleged fake invoices have not been made available for public scrutiny. In actual fact, Silvio Debono is stating that he is aware that he flouted the law as he (or his companies, with his approval) knowingly accepted to settle fake invoices. In so doing, Debono is claiming that he knowingly carried out an exercise through which he gave the Nationalist Party an illegal donation.

The Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate this specific allegation and take the necessary action.

I would go further than that. Is it not about time that political parties are forced to dismantle their commercial activities, which should be the state funding of political parties, subject to strict controls. At the end of the day, this may be the only way forward.

The fact that information on the fake invoices and illegal donations was volunteered by Silvio Debono himself in obvious retaliation to his being the target of PN criticism about his being in receipt of a prime site on the cheap adds to the seriousness of the case. Clearly, while Silvio Debono “invested in the PN”, he has not received the expected dividends. At the end of the day, the pressing question requiring a very urgent answer is to identify the number of additional similar investments by Debono himself, as well as by others. As long as such investments yield suitable dividends, we may possibly  never know the answer.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 March 2017

 

Bħan-nagħaġ ta’ Bendu

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Il-viżjoni li għandu l-Partit Nazzjonalista dwar il-politika fMalta tipprova tittratta lill-votanti bħan-nagħaġ ta Bendu. Għax il-ħarsien tad-demokrazija u d-drittijiet fundamentali, skond il-PN u s-segwaċi fidili tiegħu, huma assigurati biss permezz tal-Partit Nazzjonalista u għaldaqstant it-taqbida t-tajba tista issir biss permezz tiegħu u taħt it-tmexxija tiegħu.

Għal uħud, il-pluraliżmu hu tajjeb biss għaċċikkulata u, forsi, ftit għax-xandir!

Matul ix-xhur li ġejjin, bħalma jiġri kważi qabel kull elezzjoni ġenerali, bla dubju qed tikber l-għajta tal-Partit Nazzjonalista u ta dawk li jinċensawh dwar il-ħtieġa ta koalizzjoni kontra Joseph Muscat u l-Partit Laburista u dak kollu li dawn jirrappreżentaw.

Il-politika ta Simon Busuttil tidher differenti minn dik tal-predeċessur tiegħu. Lawrence Gonzi kien esprima lilu innifsu diversi drabi kontra anke l-idea innifisha ta koalizzjoni li ġieli ddeskriviha bħala kalċI avvelenat li jippreferi li ma jmissx.

Imma fir-realtá, għalkemm Simon Busuttil qed jipprietka ħafna dwar koalizzjoni kontra l-korruzzjoni, fil-prattika qed imexxi l-quddiem process ta assimilizzazzjoni ta kull min jaħseb li jista jikkompeti lill-Partit Nazzjonalista għall-voti, anke bl-iżjed mod remot. Beda bSalvu Mallia li illum hu parti mill-Partit Nazzjonalista u presentement għaddej bil-proċess tal-assimilazzjoni tal-partit ta Marlene Farrugia. Milli qed jingħad jidher li dan il-proċess wasal fit-tmiem tiegħu.

Koalizzjoni ma issirx billi nimxu bħan-nagħaġ ta Bendu wara l-Partit Nazzjonalista. Imma issir bejn partiti politiċi differenti wara li dawn jaqblu fuq programm politiku komuni kif ukoll dwar il-mod kif dan għandu jitwettaq. Għandi dubju kemm il-Partit Nazzjonalista qatt jista jasal li mhux biss jagħmel xi forma ta kompromess fuq il-proposti li jrid ipoġġi quddiem l-elettorat, imma iktar minn hekk dwar kemm hu lest li jaċċetta li jikkampanja ukoll favur ideat u idejali ta partiti politiċI oħra. Għax jekk ser nitkellmu fuq koalizzjoni pre-elettorali jfisser li jrid ikun ifformulat programm politiku aċċettabbli għall-elementi kollha ta din il-koalizzjoni.

Programm politiku ta koalizzjoni pre-elettorali jinvolvi ferm iktar minn ġlieda kontra l-korruzzjoni u t-tisħiħ tat-tmexxija tajba fl-istrutturi tal-istat. Jinkludi firxa sħiħa ta oqsma li dwarhom partiti politiċi differenti għandhom fehmiet differenti. Xi drabi differenzi żgħar imma xi minn daqqiet differenzi sostanzjali. Dan ma jgħoddx biss għall-politika ambjentali, imma jgħodd ukoll għall-edukazzjoni, għall-politika soċjali kif ukoll għall-politika fiskali, dik ekonomika u dik kulturali, fost oħajn.

Koalizzjoni politika teħtieġ li tkun mibnija fuq dan il-pedament bażiku, jiġifieri ftehim programmatiku, inkella ma jkollix direzzjoni jew skop ċar għajr li tiġbor lil kulħadd fmerħla waħda l-uniku skop reali li jidher li għandu bħalissa l-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Koalizzjoni li issir bxi mod ieħor tkun biss ezerċizzju li jittratta lill-Maltin bħan-nagħaġ ta Bendu.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 12 ta’ Frar 2017

 

Basics for coalition building

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It happens on the eve of most general elections in Malta. We are once more being bombarded with comments emphasising the need to set up a pre-electoral coalition in order to present a united opposition to Joseph Muscats Labour Party.

The Leader of the Opposition, as a self-appointed messiah, has reiterated many a time that the country can only be delivered from the clutches of corruption if it unites under his leadership in opposition to Joseph Muscat, the Labour Party and all that they represent. It is claimed that he can deliver us from all evil!

In public fora, Simon Busuttil speaks in favour of setting up a coalition against corruption, yet privately – far away from the glaring spotlight – he is actively working on trying to assimilate within the Nationalist Party those whom he thinks can help increase his own partys vote tally. He has successfully recruited Salvu Mallia and is apparently currently in the final stages of the process of assimilating Marlene Farrugias Democratic Party within the Nationalist Party.  

In my view this can in no way be described as the manner in which to go about assembling a pre-electoral coalition of political parties. Rather, it is an attempt by the Nationalist Party at cannibalising other political parties, an exercise which, in fairness, has been going on for years. Just like the Labour Party, the Nationalist Party has, to date, demonstrated that the only coalition that made any sense to them was the one within their own parties, as both of them have, over the years, developed into grand coalitions – at times simultaneously championing diametrically opposed causes.

Real pre-electoral coalitions are assembled in a quite different manner. They should be formed on the basis of a commonly agreed political platform – one which plots an agreed electoral programme as well as the manner in which this should be implemented by the coalition partners.

Given its method of operation to date, I have reasonable doubts as to whether the Nationalist Party is able to compromise on its electoral pledges as well as to whether it can ever agree to take on board (at least) the basic issues championed by the other political parties with which it may seek to form a coalition. If a pre-electoral  coalition is ever to be formed, the coalitions electoral platform must be acceptable to all the constituent elements of that coalition.

An agreed electoral platform would address much more than issues of corruption and governance – on which there is a general common position. An agreed electoral platform would necessarily be all-embracing and range from environmental matters to education, social, economic, fiscal and cultural policy, as well as all other matters so essential in running the country.

A pre-electoral coalition must of necessity be constructed on the basis of this agreed electoral platform, a crystallisation of thought and political direction shared by the political parties forming the coalition. The process to achieve such an agreed shared electoral platform is long and laborious, as a multitude of red lines have to be agreed on or else overcome. It is an exercise that should be based on mutual respect in contrast to the often acrimonious relationship so prevalent in local politics.

By its very nature, a pre-electoral coalition, if formed, signifies a commitment to do away with, once and for all, two-party politics and consequently signifies the substitution of the politics of confrontation with the politics of consensus.

This would be a watershed in Maltese politics and this is the real challenge, if we wish to move forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 February 2017