The golden handshakes must be transparent

It has been reported, in various sections of the press, that Justyne Caruana, former Minister of Education, has received, or will be shortly receiving payment in the region of €30,000 as a result of her ceasing to hold political office. This has occurred after she was forced to resign subsequent to the publication of a damning report from the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life which report concluded that the Ministry of Education, under her political direction, had screwed the exchequer to benefit her “close friend”.

Since 2008 holders of political office who cease to occupy such office have received golden handshakes, substantial sums which some describe as severance pay. The sums disbursed to date are substantial and, over the years, are said to be close to a total of €1,500,000. Holders of political office in receipt of such payments are not just members of Cabinet, as payments have also been made to former Leaders of the Opposition throughout these years.

The applicable criteria are largely unknown. There is no transparency whatsoever in the process.

There is a serious issue of governance.  The Executive is bound to be accountable through ensuring that both the criteria applied as well as the monies disbursed are well known. It is an expenditure from the public purse, so there should be no secrets about it. It is in the public interest to know how the public purse is being managed at all times.

First: the objectives of the payments should be crystal clear. When holders of political office take up their post, generally, they take leave from their current employment or close their private offices if they are professionals. Their job prior to assuming political office may be lost by the time they relinquish office. On the other hand, losing contact with their professional environment will generally place them in a difficult position to reintegrate when their term of political responsibilities draws to an end. 

Hence the objective of these so-called golden handshakes is to compensate for the fact that the holder of political office cannot go back to his/her former job or professional environment. He or she will generally have to start from scratch or almost. Not all cases are identical and hence the criteria drawn up should allow for some leeway. Do they? We do not know as to date these criteria are considered as some state secret!

The objective of the payments made is to ease the transition of the holder of political office back to a normal life.

The second point is to establish who should apply these criteria. From what is known through reports in the media the matter is regulated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), either directly or through the Cabinet office. This is not on.

Ideally the criteria should be applied by an authoritative person or body separate and distinct from the OPM. The OPM has a finger in the pie, generally, in all the circumstances leading to the appointment to political office or to the dismissal therefrom. It should therefore not be in a position of sugaring resignations with promises of generous hand-outs.

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

From what is known, locally, this is established at a month’s salary for every year’s service, subject to a minimum payment of a six-month salary. It is not known whether eligibility is pegged to a minimum period in office.  These payment rates are substantial when compared to those in other jurisdictions. In addition to having smaller payments other jurisdictions subject such benefits to a minimum period in office, generally of not less than one year.

There are also a number of other serious considerations which need to be made. Should loss of political office as a result of an unfavourable election result have the same impact as being dismissed from office or being forced to resign as a result of unethical or unacceptable behaviour?

Specifically, should ending your political appointment in disgrace be rewarded? It should definitely not be so.

These are some of the issues which transparency brings to the fore. We need to discuss them seriously and only then can they be applied ethically and fairly.

It is for these reasons that earlier this week I have requested the Auditor General to investigate the golden handshakes being paid out by the Office of the Prime Minister to former members of the Cabinet. The payments made and the criteria applied should be examined meticulously.

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022

Ħlasijiet kbar: trasparenza xejn

Għadni kif ktibt lill-Awditur Ġenerali fejn talbtu jinvestiga x’inhu jiġri dwar il-ħlasijiet enormi li qed isiru lill-Ministri u Segretarji parlamentari li jispiċċaw mill-ħatra.

Il-kriterji li qed ikunu applikati m’humiex magħrufa. Ma hemm l-ebda trasparenza dwar x’inhu jiġri.

It-talba li bagħatt hi s-segwenti:

“Nikteb biex nitolbok tinvestiga l-ħlas ta’ “golden handshakes” lill-membri tal-Kabinett li jispiċċaw mill-ħatra. Presentment fl-aħbarijiet hemm il-każ ta’ Justyne Caruana imma għad kif kellna ukoll il-ħlasijiet li saru lil Rosianne Cutajar.

Ma hemm l-ebda trasparenza dwar il-ħlasijiet li saru u li qed isiru lill-Ministri u Segretarji Parlamentari, uħud minnhom għal darba tnejn.

Nitolbok għaldaqstant tinvestiga xi kriterji qed ikunu użati biex isiru dawn il-ħlasijiet kif ukoll li teżamina l-ħtieġa li jkunu introdotti mekkaniżmi effettivi ta’ kontroll u verifika dwar dan il-proċess kollu.”

Xejn ma jsir b’xejn

Ir-rapport dwar ir-Reżidenza tal-Anzjani San Vinċenż, li ħafna drabi nirreferu għaliha bħala l-Imgieret, ippubblikat il-ġimgħa l-oħra mill-Awditur Ġenerali hu wieħed twil. Jista’, iżda faċilment jinġabar f’sentenza waħda: meta tagħmel dak li jaqbel, addio governanza tajba!

L-ewwel reazzjoni tal-Ministru politikament responsabbli minn din il-froġa kienet li l-Awditur Ġenerali mhux interessat fl-anzjani! Qalilna ukoll li hu, l-Ministru, ma ndaħalx. Mid-dehra l-Onorevoli Ministru ma jafx li għandu resposabbiltà li “jindaħal” u jagħti direzzjoni. Direzzjoni favur it-tisħiħ kontinwu tal-governanza tajba fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Flimkien mal-Ministru Falzon iridu jerfgħu ukoll ir-responsabbiltà politika l-Ministru Justyne Caruana u l-ex-Segretarju Parlamentari Anthony Agius Decelis. It-tnejn li huma kienuresponsabbli għall-anzjani bħala Segretarji Parlamentari u allura għandhom sehem fil-ħolqien ta’ din il-froġa.

Li ma tagħmel xejn, għax ma tagħtix kaz inkella għax tiġi taqa’ u tqum hu nuqqas. Nuqqas kbir li l-politiċi jridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għalih.  Politiċi serji u ta’ stoffa jirreżenjaw f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi. Jiena naħseb li ma hu ser jirreżenja ħadd.

Bħas-soltu l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela jipprova jmewwet l-affarijiet. Qalilna li kien żball li l-każ ma telax għall-approvazzjoni tal-Kabinett. Bħal dak li qallu li deċiżjoni tal-Kabinett kienet ser iddawwar froġa f’deċiżjoni tajba!  Il-Ministru Falzon qalilna waħda aħjar: ma hemm xejn ħażin f’din id-deċiżjoni, qal Falzon. Azzarda jgħid ukoll li jidhirlu li l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu jikkoreġi uħud mill-konklużjonijiet tiegħu.

Meta f’Malta l-istituzzjonijiet jaħdmu, sfortunatament ikollhom jiffaċċjaw dawn ir-reazzjonijiet tal-politiċi. Dawn huma kollha ostakli għat-twettieq tal-governanza tajba.   

Jippruvaw kontinwament inaqqsu is-sinifikat tal-konklużjonijiet tal-Awditur Ġenerali billi jgħidu li, forsi, kull ma hemm huma “xi żbalji żgħar proċedurali”! Dawn huma attentati biex jimminaw l-istituzzjonijiet li jaħdmu.

Meta l-Awditur Ġenerali jgħid li l-kien hemm ksur tar-regoli tax-xiri pubbliku ma kienx qed jitkellem fuq xi proċeduri żgħar li ma ġewx osservati. Anke meta jgħid li d-deċiżjoni kienet waħda illegali, kien ċar daqs il-kristall.

Kelliema għall-Gvern jemfasizzaw li din id-deċiżjoni wasslet għal investiment sostanzjali li ġie b’xejn. Anke hawn l-Awditur Ġenerali hu ċarissimu Ma hemm xejn b’xejn, jgħidilna. Juża dan il-kliem preċiż fir-rapport tiegħu: “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free”.

L-Awditur Ġenerali kellu kliem iebes anke għad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti talli dan ma ħax prewkazzjonijiet billi pprovda gwida ċara. Dan kien meħtieġ essenzjali minħabba l-konsiderazzjoni tal-hekk imsejjaħ investiment addizzjonali bla ħlas! In-nuqqas ta’ gwida ċara min-naħa tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti, sostna l-Awditur Ġenerali, jesponi lill-proġett għall-ħafna riskji.

Id-deċiżjoni waslu għaliha permezz ta’ negozjati ma’ min għamel l-offerti. Dan jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali imur kontra dak li jipprovdu r-regolamenti dwar ix-xiri pubbliku.  Kien possibli, jkompli jemfasizza l-Awditur Ġenerali li l-istess servizz jinkiseb mingħand operaturi ekonomiċi oħra u allura is-sistema tal-offerti kompetittivi kienet l-għażla addattata li sfortunatament ġiet skartata.

Dan hu każ ieħor ta’ falliment fit-twettieq ta’ governanza tajba minkejja l-mod kif jipprova jpinġi l-każ il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela. Hemm lezzjoni waħda ċara: xejn ma jiġi b’xejn. Il-kont kollu jitħallas mit-taxxi li jħallsu uħud minna.

Qed jingħad fil-media li saret laqgħa bejn il-pulizija u l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Hu tal-biki li qed jingħad li “f’dan l-istadju” mhemmx ħtieġa ta’ investigazzjoni mill-pulizija.

Qed nittama li l-pulizija ma jdumux ma jindunaw li hu neċessarju li issir l-investigazzjoni tagħhom b’mod immedjat.

Mela mill-iżbalji tal-passat ma tgħallmu xejn?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Mejju 2021

Nothing is ever secured for free

The St Vincent de Paul Residence report published last week by the National Audit Office (NAO) is quite long. It can however be described by one sentence: this is what happens when political expediency overrides good governance.

The first reaction of the Minister politically responsible for this whole mess is quite indicative. Minister Michael Falzon was reported as stating that “the lives of the elderly not NAO’s concern”. He furthermore emphasised that there was no political interference from his end. The Honourable Minister is apparently not aware that holders of political office are there to give direction, including political direction leading to and entrenching good governance. Together with Minister Michael Falzon the political responsibility should be shouldered by Minister Justyne Caruana and former Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis, both of whom were at different points in time Parliamentary Secretaries responsible for the elderly and consequently co-creators of this mess.

Failure to act is an act of omission. This is the basic point at issue.

The Prime Minister, as usual, sought to minimise these gross governance failures by stating that in this specific case it was a mistake not to seek the approval of Cabinet. As if the approval of Cabinet would have ever transformed such a deal into an acceptable one. Minister Falzon went one better: there is nothing wrong in the deal, he said. He even had the cheek to suggest that the NAO should issue a correction on some of its findings!

Whenever the institutions do function, they are unfortunately stonewalled by holders of political office. These are the major obstructions encountered on the road to good governance. 

There is an attempt to downplay the significance of the NAO findings into a need “to improve procedures”. Such attempts have to be seen for what they really are: undermining the institutions which function.

When the NAO suggests that the deal is an infringement of procurement rules and does not represent value for money it was not speaking about some minor procedural infringement. The fact that the NAO even concludes that the deal should be deemed invalid is quite damning.

Government spokespersons speak of the deal with glee pointing out that substantial investment was obtained “for free”.  “In a transaction of such significant value with commercial interests, nothing is ever secured for free” is the blunt reply of the NAO.

The NAO also took the Director of Contracts to task for not taking the necessary precautions through legal safeguards and guidance. These were deemed essential in respect of the additional investment required “at no cost” to government and forming part of the deal examined. This, stated the NAO, gave rise to serious risks in the execution of the project.

The deal under the spotlight makes use of what is known as a “negotiated procedure”. This, emphasises the NAO, was applied in breach of the Public Procurement Regulations. The NAO underlined that the services sought could easily have been provided by other economic operators thereby necessitating the use of the competitive tendering procedures and not a negotiated procedure.

This is yet another case of a failure in good governance notwithstanding the attempts at its minimisation by the Prime Minister Robert Abela. There is one basic lesson to be learnt: there are no free lunches available! The bills are invariably paid through the taxes which a number of us pay!

It has been reported that a meeting was held between the NAO and the police. It is flabbergasting to note that a spokesperson for the police has stated that “at this stage a police investigation is not required.” 

I look forward to the stage when a police investigation is considered necessary!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 May 2021

Messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin

Din kienet waħda minn dawk il-ġimgħat li kellu f’moħħu  Harold Wilson mexxej Laburista fir-Renju Unit meta kien emfasizza li fil-politika, ġimgħa hu perjodu twil ħafna.

Hemm żewġ ġrajjiet partikolari li spikkaw din il-ġimgħa. L-ewwel waħda hi d-determinazzjoni tal-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia li jkisser il-partit li għadu jmexxi. It-tieni grajja hi r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika  (NAO) dwar il-konċessjoni mogħtija lil  Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) mill-Gvern Malti. Ir-rapport tal-NAO ikkonkluda li bejn il-Gvern u l-Vitals Global Healthcare kien hemm ftehim jew arranġamenti bil-moħbi, minn wara dahar kulħadd.

Kemm il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista fl-Opposizzjoni bħalissa huma fi stat ta’ taħwid kbir, li, kif qalet l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija ta’ min Iħaddem f’nofs il-ġimgħa, jista’ jkollu impatti gravi li jwasslu għal kollass politiku u istituzzjonali. Il-Gvern Laburista ilu bi sħab ma dawk li jfittxu li jqaxxru il-kaxxa nazzjonali għal dawn l-aħħar seba’ snin. In-nuqqas ta’ Opposizzjoni Parlamentari li kapaċi taġixxi għamlitha iktar faċli mhux biss biex il-Labour jevita l-kontabilità imma fuq kollox biex ikompli jfittex opportunitjaiet ġodda  biex tkompli tinselaħ il-kaxxa ta’ Malta.

Konrad Mizzi u Joseph Muscat flimkien ma’ dawk li kienu jħufu madwarhom messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin: Konrad ta s-sehem tiegħu fil-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet  mimlijin b’dellijiet ta’ korruzzjoni ta’ kull xorta u Joseph  li kontinwament ipproteġieh. Inkoraġġew stat Mafjuż. Dawk li jmexxu bil-kontijiet u kumpaniji fil-Panama b’dikjarazzjonijiet li ser ikunu f’posizzjoni li jiddepożitaw €5000 kuljum f’dawn il-kontijiet.

L-elezzjoni riċenti għat-tmexxija Laburista intilfet minn dawk li riedu jitfuhom ġewwa. Rebħet il-kampanja favur il-kontinwità: għax din kienet tagħti tama lil min kien jippreferi li tibqa’ l-protezzjoni.

L-investigazzjoni tan-NAO dwar il-kuntratti tal-Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) intalbet mill-Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM). Ir-rapport hu intitolat “An audit of matters relating to the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare by Government. Part 1: A review of the tender process.” Il-fatt li dan hu biss l-ewwel parti jfisser li għad hemm ħafna iktar informazzjoni li qed tistenna li tkun magħrufa.

Ir-rapport ta’ 219 paġna huwa wieħed dettaljat. Il-punt bażiku hu li saħansitra qabel mal-Gvern ħareġ is-sejħa għall-proposti (Request for Proposals) kien diġa ftiehem mal- Vitals Global Healthcare permezz ta’ ftehim sigriet li l-Gvern m’għaddiex kopja tiegħu lill-Ufficcju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika (NAO). Imma mill-verifika ħareġ li l-Vitals Global Healthcare, mas-sottomissjonijiet bi tweġiba għas-sejħa għall-proposti, ippreżenta ittra mill-Bank of India bħala garanzija li kellu aċċess għall-finanzi meħtieġa għall-“Malta Healthcare Project”. Din l-ittra, imma, kellha data li kienet ħmistax-il ġurnata qabel ma ħarġet is-sejħa tal-Gvern Malti dwar il-proġett.  L-eżistenza ta’ dan id-dokument wasslet lill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika (NAO) biex jikkonkludi li din kienet prova “of the VGH’s prior knowledge of the planned project and proof of collusion with Government, or its representatives.”

Din hi l-agħar kundanna possibli tal-proċess tax-xiri użat mill-Gvern u tat-tidwir mal-proċess li jitħaddem normalment taħt id-direzzjoni tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti: responsabbiltà politika tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna.

Is-swaba’ kollha jippuntaw lejn Konrad Mizzi, issa konvenjentement imkeċċi mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista, u tal-protettur tiegħu Joseph Muscat. Imma Edward Scicluna ukoll għandu responsabbiltà politika għal dak li messu għamel u m’għamlux.

Wara kollox kien riċentement, nhar il-Ġimgħa  26 ta’ Ġunju 2020 li  Edward Scicluna, huwa u jirċievi ir-rapport annwali għall-2019 tal-Bord li jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet dwar tenders fis-settur pubbliku (Public Contracts Review Board – PCRB), emfasizza dwar il-ħtieġa li l-Ministeri differenti jeħtieġ li jieħdu ħsieb u jindukraw il-professjonisti fil-qasam finanzjarju tant meħtieġa biex jissorveljaw in-nefqa pubblika. Dakinnhar kien saħaq li l-pajjiż kien kommess għall-għola livelli ta’ kwalità.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika dwar il-Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) malajr qallu x’kienu dawn l-ogħla livelli ta’ kwalità li għalihom għandu responsabbiltà politika Edward Scicluna!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ipprova jdaħħaq meta qal li r-rapport dwar il-Vitals Global Healthcare mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika kien prova ta’ kemm jaħdmu l-istituzzjonijiet.  Naħseb li l-iktar konklużjoni importanti li wieħed jista’ jislet mir-rapport hu li Joseph Muscat irnexxielu jittrasforma lill-Partit Laburista u l-Gvern immexxi minnu f’bejta tal-ħallelin: verżjoni moderna ta’ Ali Baba u l-erbgħin ħalliel. Il-fatt li Robert Abela ippreżenta ruħu bħala l-kandidat tal-kontinwità jfisser ħafna, għal min irid jifhem.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Lulju 2020

Lock Them Up

This has been one of those weeks which former UK Labour leader Harold Wilson had in mind when he emphasised that a week is a long time in politics.

Two specific actions stick out. The first is the determination of PN Leader Adrian Delia to splinter the party, which he still leads, into insignificance. The second being the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) by the Maltese Government. The NAO report concluded that there was collusive behaviour between government and Vitals Global Healthcare.

Both the Labour Party in government as well as the Nationalist Party in Opposition are in a state of a disorganised mess, which, as rightly pointed out by the Malta Employers Association mid-week, could easily lead to a political and institutional meltdown. The Labour Government has been in cahoots with those seeking to make a quick buck at the expense of the public purse for the past seven years. The absence of a Parliamentary Opposition worthy of the name has made it easier not just to avoid accountability but also to come back for more.

Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat together with their accomplices should have been behind bars long ago: the former for directing the plundering of the public purse, the latter (at least) for protecting him. They have given rise to a Mafia state. Those who ought to govern plunder openly thereby transmitting the clear message that “crime pays”.

The recent contest for the Labour leadership was lost by those campaigning under the unofficial slogan “lock them up”. The continuity campaign won as it was the safest bet ensuring “more of the same”, or at least, the possible protection of what has been plundered.

The NAO investigation and the resulting report on the award of the contracts to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) was requested by the trade union Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM). The report is entitled “An audit of matters relating to the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare by Government. Part 1: A review of the tender process.” The fact that this is just Part 1 indicates that there is much more waiting to be known.

The 219 page NAO report is quite detailed. The basic point raised is that even before it issued its “Request for Proposals” government had already agreed with Vitals Global Healthcare through a secret agreement which, for obvious reasons, it did not make available to the NAO. NAO however identified that VGH, in reply to the “Request for Proposals”, submitted a letter from the Bank of India as proof of access to finance for the “Malta Healthcare Project” which letter was dated fourteen days before the Request for Proposals was issued by the Maltese Government. The existence of this document led the NAO to conclude that this was definite evidence “of the VGH’s prior knowledge of the planned project and proof of collusion with Government, or its representatives.”

This is the most damning condemnation possible of the Government procurement process and the circumventing of the normal procurement process under the direction of the Director of Contracts: the political responsibility of Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.

Most fingers are pointing towards Konrad Mizzi, now conveniently dismissed from the Labour Parliamentary Group, and his protector Joseph Muscat. Edward Scicluna too, however, must shoulder political responsibility for acts of omission.

It was only as recent as Friday 26 June 2020 that Edward Scicluna, when receiving the 2019 Annual report of the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB), emphasised the need for all government Ministries to nurture finance professionals to take adequate care of public expenditure. He had then emphasised that “the country is committed to the highest standards”.

The NAO in its VGH report has certified the real standards of the public procurement process under Edward Scicluna’s watch!

Prime Minister Robert Abela had the cheek to state that the NAO report is proof of the functioning of our institutions. Rather, I think the basic conclusion to be reached from the NAO VGH report is that Abela’s predecessor has successfully transformed the Labour Party into a modern version of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. The fact that Robert Abela is the “successful” continuity candidate speaks volumes.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 July 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

Kemm ħasbuna ċwieċ ?

L-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika għadu kif ikkonkluda investigazzjoni dwar iċ-Ċentru Interpretattiv f’Ħad-Dingli. L-investigazzjoni fittxet li tiddetermina jekk kienx hemm xi ftehim wara l-kwinti bejn uffiċjali pubbliċi diversi biex is-sit f’Ħad-Dingli jkun ittrasformat minn ċentru interpretattiv għal stabiliment tal-ikel.

L-investigazzjoni, kif spjegat f’rapport bl-Ingliż li ippubblika l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika ma sab l-ebda prova li tista’ tissostanzja allegazzjonijiet dwar frodi jew korruzzjoni. Hemm imma referenza għal dak li qed jissejjaħ “oversight”, jiġifieri żball. Ċentrali fl-iżvilupp ta’ dan l-iżball insibu l-awtoritá li tieħu ħsieb l-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Dakinnhar MEPA, illum PA.

Meta l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli issottometta l-applikazzjoni bażika (dik li nirreferu għaliha bħala outline development permission) (applikazzjoni PA5314/02) il-kunsill kien qed jitlob li jingħata permess għal żona fejn iservu l-ikel (id-dokumenti jirreferu għal catering area). Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika jagħmel referenza għal dokumenti tal-MEPA biex juri li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli kien qed jintalab jirrevedi l-proposta tiegħu, u b’mod partikolari biex ineħħi mill-pjanti kull referenza għal żona fejn iservu l-ikel. Dan it-tibdil, jemfasizza ir-rapport “included the elimination of catering services”. Biex l-affarijiet ikunu ċari ħafna, l-MEPA insistiet biex tkun emendata ukoll il-proposta ta’ żvilupp innifisha.

Il-proposta oriġinali ta’ żvilupp li ippreżenta l-Kunsill Lokali kienet dwar twaqqiegħ ta’ żewġ binjiet eżistenti u l-bini minflok ta’ binja ta’ tlett sulari b’diżinn modern b’qies ikbar minn dak tal-bini eżistenti. Il-pjanti jipprovdu għal kċina żgħira u żona mdaqqsa fejn joqgħodu bil-qegħda n-nies.

Il-MEPA insistiet, u l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli aċċetta, li l-proposta ta’ żvilupp kellha tkun emendat biex tikkonċerna r-restawr tal-binjiet eżistenti flmkien ma alterazzjonijiet u żidiet għalihom biex ikunu mibdula f’ċentru interpretattiv. Il-bejgħ ta’ ikel u xorb fuq is-sit kellu jkun limitat għal dak li seta jsir bil-magni (vending machines).

Iktar tard il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli ippreżenta applikazzjoni dettaljata (full development permission) li kienet approvata mill-MEPA. Din l-applikazzjoni approvata (PA0425/08), jgħidilna r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika, “ippermetta li ikel u xorb setgħu jinxtraw miċ-ċentru interpretattiv bħala attivitá anċillari (allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity). Dan minkejja li dan kollu kien ipprojibit mill-permess bażiku li kien approvat iktar qabel, meta kienu ġew stabiliti l-parametri bażiċi tal-proġett.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika jgħidilna li meta l-investigaturi għarblu liċ-Ċhairperson tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp fuq il-każ, din qaltilhom li d-diskrepanza kienet żball u li hi kellha l-impressjoni li l-permess approvat kien jirrifletti d-diskussjoni li saret fil-bord u allura kien jipprojibixxi li jkun possibli li sservi l-ikel fis-sit (this variance as an oversight, and that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site).

Il-kelma li tintuża hi “oversight”, liema kelma tfisser “żball li jsir bi żvista għax tkun qabżitlek xi ħaġa”.

Meta fittixt fid-dokumentazzjoni tal-MEPA sibt li mill-minuti tal-laqgħat tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp ma tantx jidher li qabeż xejn biex sar dan “l-iżball”. Fil-fatt il-minuti tat-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 speċifikament jgħidu li l-Kummissjoni kellha l-intenzjoni li tirrifjuta l-applikazzjoni minħabba li dak propost dwar il-“catering facilities” (jiġifieri l-użu magħruf bħala Class 6 use) ma kienux approvati fl-ewwel permess.

Fid-dokument tal-MEPA li nirreferu għalih bħala DPAR (Development Permit Application report) fit-taqsima tiegħu intitolata “Notes to Committee” hemm miktub li l-perit tal-Kunsill Lokali rinfaċċjat b’dan ippreżenta pjanti mibdula li fihom il-faċilitajiet għall-catering tneħħew.

F’laqgħat li saru iktar tard mill-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp, din l-intenzjoni tal-Kummissjoni inbidlet u l-applikazzjoni bil-faċilitajiet tal-catering b’kollox kienet approvata nhar l-20 ta’ Jannar 2010.

Dan tista’ issejjaħlu kollox minbarra “żball”. Kienu jafu x’inhuma jagħmlu.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika jgħidilna li “Din l-investigazzjoni tinnota li bejn it-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 u l- 10 ta’ Marzu 2010, il-MEPA bidlet il-posizzjoni tagħha minn waħda li teskludi l-faċilitajiet li jipprovdu għat-tisjir tal-ikel (Class 6 facilities) għal waħda li tippermettihom bħala faċilitá anċillari.” Flok mill-bieb daħlu mit-tieqa.

Il-mistoqsija bażika hi waħda sempliċi ħafna: x’ġara bejn it-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 u l-10 ta’ Marzu 2010 biex wassal lill-Kummissjoni biex tibdel il-fehma tagħha?

Din il-mistoqsija tibqa’ bla tweġiba wara li nkunu qrajna r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika.

Huma biss iċ-ċwieċ li jistgħu jaċċettaw l-ispjegazzjoni li dan kien żball!

 

Ippubblikat f’Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Ġunju 2018

The Dingli “oversight”

The National Audit Office (NAO) has just concluded an investigation into the Dingli Interpretation centre which sought to determine if there had been collusion between various government officials so that the site will be transformed from an interpretation centre into a catering establishment.

The investigation, as explained in the NAO’s report, did not uncover any evidence to suggest fraud and/or corruption. There is, however, reference to what is being described as an “oversight”. Of central importance in the development of this “oversight” was the authority dealing with land-use planning – then known as MEPA, today rebranded as PA!

When an application for an outline development permission was submitted by the Dingli Local Council in 2002 (application PA5314/02) the local council was requesting the incorporation of a catering area in the submitted plans. Drawing on planning documentation, the NAO report explains in detail how Dingli Local Council was requested by MEPA to revise the submitted proposal. These changes, the NAO report emphasised, “included the elimination of catering services”. To be very clear, MEPA insisted on a change to the development proposal itself.

The original development proposal submitted by the Local Council consisted of the demolition of the two existing buildings and the construction of a new building, consisting of three floors, of a modern design, which occupied a larger footprint than the existing structures. The plans included a kitchenette and a large area designated for seating.

MEPA insisted – and Dingli Local Council agreed – that the description of the proposed development be amended to read ‘restore existing structures, carry out alterations and additions to convert them to an interpretive centre’. The sale of food and drink on site was to be limited to the use of vending machines.

Subsequently, an application for full development permission was submitted by Dingli Local Council and approved by MEPA. We are informed by the NAO report that the approved application (PA0425/08), “allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity” notwithstanding the fact that these were prohibited by the previous approved outline development permit which established the basic acceptable parameters of the project.

The NAO report states that when the Chairperson of the Development Control Commission (DCC) was queried on the matter, she explained this variance as an “oversight” and said that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site.”

Now an “oversight”, according to my dictionary is “a mistake made through a failure to notice something”.

Going through the MEPA documentation available, I came across the minutes of the DCC which do not indicate an oversight. In fact, the minutes of the DCC held on 18 March 2009 specifically state that there was the intention to refuse the application specifically because catering facilities (that is Class 6 use) were not approved in the outline development permission.

In the MEPA documentation which is referred to as DPAR (Development Permit Application report) in the section entitled “Notes to Committee”, it is written that the Local Council architect reacted by submitting a revised set of drawings in which the catering facility was removed.

In later meetings of the DCC, this intention disappeared and the application (including the catering facilities) was approved on 20 January 2010.

This is anything but an “oversight”: they knew all along what was going on.

The NAO report states: “This Investigation notes that between 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, MEPA’s position changed from excluding Class 6 facilities to one that allowed catering as an ancillary facility.”

The basic question is: what happened between the 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, as a result of which the DCC changed its views? It is a question which the NAO report fails to answer.

Only idiots would accept that this is an “oversight”.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2018