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

Wrong messages from the National Audit Office

 

The National Audit Office (NAO) has recently published its report for 2017. In a democracy, the role of the NAO is of paramount importance. Its role of ascertaining the presence (or absence) of good governance at all levels is crucial in determining the health of the public sector.

The report lists the investigations carried out during 2017 in respect of which separate reports have been published and discussed publicly. These include the annual report on the public accounts, the consolidated annual report on local government, special audits and investigations and performance audits. Last year also saw the publication of a stand-alone report on the results achieved by the three main revenue-generating departments of the government, namely the Inland Revenue Department, the Value Added Tax Department and the Department of Customs.

In his overview, Auditor General Charles Deguara welcomes the positive developments, highlighting the administration’s commitment to implementing the NAO’s recommendations as far as possible. This has been done for two consecutive years and it is to be hoped that it becomes an annual occurrence.

The report explains the efforts made to continuously train the staff, thereby ensuring that, as far as possible, an internal team of experts is available to monitor and investigate as required. This is essential in order that the NAO keeps the administration on its toes.

The NAO, in its present format, was set up 20 years ago. Since 1997, it has been part of Parliament, accountable directly to Parliament. Previously, although technically independent it formed part of the Ministry of Finance.

During the past 20 years, it has had much to do. Its specific investigations are the ones about which we hear the most but the workings of the NAO go much deeper. Its continuous examination of the country’s public accounts, and the recommendations made to fine tune or correct methods of operation are always work in progress.

In order for the NAO to be as effective as possible, it should ensure that it keeps at arm’s length from the administration’s day to day operations. For this reason I was worried when reading in the 2017 report a short list of a number of domestic working groups in which the NAO participated. These range from the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) Implementation Project Board, the Financial Legislation Working Group, the Local Government Good Governance Working Group and others. The NAO should have oversight and not sit around the same table forming part of working groups to implement or draft a proposal for implementation.

Some years back the Auditor-General, together with the Ombudsman and the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, had decided to go beyond their terms of remit and accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to examine the issue of the salaries of MPs and holders of political office. I had taken the Ombudsman Said Pullicino to task about his stand when, together with Arnold Cassola I had met the trio. They then justified their stand by referring to legal advice from the Attorney General’s office and others! The three wise men did not realise that they had compromised their office because they cannot – and should not – switch from being regulators to being advisors, even if temporarily.

The NAO would do well to take a step back, thereby ensuring that it is at arm’s length from the administration. Otherwise it risks sending the wrong messages.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 April 2018

A Christmas carol for Jason Azzopardi

i-am-the-ghost-of-christmas-past

 

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, Jason Azzopardi is haunted with scenes from his past. Scrooge had to deal with the Ghost of Christmas Past while Jason has been spotlighted by the Auditor-General in three separate reports. These deal with issues forming part of the political responsibilities which he shouldered when part of the Lawrence Gonzi Cabinet.

The first report was presented one year ago and dealt with the issuance of encroachment permits on the eve of the 2013 general election.  The Auditor-General then commented on Minister Jason Azzopardi’s intervention in the issuance of encroachment permits, emphasising that his intervention was “unwarranted”.

Pompous as ever, Jason Azzopardi insisted that he acted within the parameters of the law. He was not capable of recognising that he erred. Nor was he publicly chastised in any way by his own political party which has called for everybody’s resignation, except his own.

Two other reports were published by the Auditor-General last week.  Both deal with government land: its acquisition in one case, its transfer in another.

The first report investigates the acquisition of 233, 236 and 237, Republic Street Valletta.  The Auditor-General, in this investigation identified significant shortcomings in the process of negotiation, critically and negatively conditioning Government’s negotiating position. “This serious shortcoming,” states the Auditor-General, “was raised in concerns raised by the Permanent Secretary,” who was over-ruled.

Notwithstanding the corrective measures subsequently taken, the process remained flawed. This, emphasised the Auditor-General, represented a fundamental weakness in the process of negotiation (with HSBC), “effectively limiting Government’s bargaining power”.  Bad governance at its worst!

The second report deals with the investigation on the transfer of land at Ta’ L-Istabal, Qormi.   The Auditor-General concluded that “failure in terms of good governance, to varying degrees, is a recurring theme that emerged” throughout his review of the matter. The Auditor-General also noted “extraordinary haste” when as a result of problems being identified authorisations were obtained and contracts signed in a matter of two days.

The Auditor-General lists a number of public officers as being responsible for the mess created when conditions attached to a contract concerning government property were cancelled illegally without Parliament’s approval in terms of legislation regulating the disposal of government land.

Describing this mess, the Auditor-General states that he “did not find any direct evidence of political pressure exerted in the processes reviewed.” The emphasis obviously is on the words “direct evidence” as reading through the report it is amply clear that a selection of the top brass within the civil service would not act in such blatant defiance of the law unless they had at least tacit approval of the holders of political office to which they were responsible. The civil service officials mentioned by the Auditor-General as being directly responsible are: The Director General, the Notary and the Assistant Director Contracts of the Government Property Division.

The Auditor-General makes this very important consideration: “ …………… an element of political pressure was asserted by the Chair Vassallo Builders Group Ltd, who alleged that Marsovin Ltd had prior agreement with the ‘Minister’ and the GPD. The Director Marsovin Group Ltd negated this allegation, as did the Minister of Finance, the Economy and Investment and the Parliamentary Secretary for Revenues and Land, who indicated that they were not aware of the case at the time. Queried in this respect, the Chair Vassallo Builders Group Ltd indicated no knowledge of who the ‘Minister’ was. While the NAO cannot rule out pressure being exerted by any of the aforementioned, or possibly by other persons who did not come to this Office’s attention, the facts of the case render immediately evident that pressure was in fact exerted to the detriment of Government’s interests.”

Ultimately the responsibility for this mess lies on Jason Azzopardi’s lap. He has a lot of pending explanations. He will obviously not resign as clearly he only pays lip service to good governance.

In addition, this report from the Auditor-General possibly throws some light on another incident: the loan of €250,000 by a certain Nazzareno Vassallo to the PN’s commercial arms on the eve of the 2013 general elections. We were then informed that the loan was of a commercial nature on commercial terms.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. How can anyone believe Jason Azzopardi and his political party preaching adherence to good governance when as recently as 2012 they made a mess on all that they could lay their hands on?

Referring to Joseph Muscat’s gross administrative incompetence and the scandals popping up every other day is no solution. The more we unravel from the past the more clear it becomes that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, each in its own way, as a result of their shady methods of operation, cannot be trusted with the reins of power.

published in The Malta Independent : Tuesday 27 December 2016

Michael Falzon u l-Awditur Ġenerali

Michael Falzon 6

L-Awditur Ġenerali jagħmel l-investigazzjonijiet tiegħu dwar l-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Jiġifieri dwar is-settur pubbliku u dwar il-Gvern tal-ġurnata, prinċipalment. Imma jinvestiga ukoll dwar il-Gvern tal-bieraħ, jekk iħoss il-ħtieġa jew jekk ikun mitlub.

Nifhem li mhux bil-fors ikun hemm qbil mal-konklużjonijiet li jasal għalihom l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Min jagħmel l-investigazzjoni jista’ jiżbalja ukoll. Sakemm l-iżbalji jkunu żbalji umani, wieħed jifhem, avolja xorta ħadd ma hu ser jieħu pjaċir b’dawn it-tip ta’ żbalji! Huwa għalhekk li l-kritika li għamel Michael Falzon lill-uffiċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali, għalkemm kienet tinħass esaġerata, huwa xieraq li tkun eżaminata iktar milli fil-fatt jidher li ġiet eżaminata.

L-Awditur Ġenerali f’ittra lill-Ispeaker jispjega li l-impjegat fl-uffiċċju tiegħu li fuq il-media soċjali dehru ritratti tiegħu waqt partita futbol flimkien mal-ex Ministru Jason Azzopardi ma kienx involut fl-investigazzjoni li minna ilmenta Michael Falzon. Din l-ispjega tindirizza biss parti mill-ilment imma ma titfa l-ebda dawl (ta’ l-inqas publikament) dwar kemm hu ta’ ħsara li uffiċjali investigaturi mill-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali jidhru viċin wisq tal-politiċi.

Inċidenti ta’ din ix-xorta jitfgħu dell bla bżonn fuq l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali. Itappnu l-kontribut kbir li l-uffiċċju dejjem ta lill-pajjiż. F’ċirkustanzi bħal dawn l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu jkun ċar u iebes. Sfortunatment ma kienx.

Huwa ovvju li l-uffiċċju tal-Awditur Ġenerali dejjem ser ikun kritiku tal-Gvern. Gvern għaqli jagħti każ ta’ din il-kritika, anke fejn mhux bil-fors jaqbel magħha. Imma l-Awditur Ġenerali għandu l-obbligu li jassigura ruħu li dawk li jgawdu l-fiduċja tiegħu iġibu ruħhom sewwa. Dejjem, mhux biss waqt il-ħin tax-xogħol. Inkella għandu l-obbligu li jdabbrilhom rashom malajr.

Political responsibility

 

Mallia inquiry

Good governance is clearly going to the dogs. It is not just a case of matters that could have been handled better, as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stated in the aftermath of the Cafè Premier scandal.

In February 2015 the National Audit Office had underlined notable shortcomings in terms of governance with respect to Joseph Muscat’s government’s failure to involve the Government Property Division in the negotiations to re-acquire Cafè Premier in Valletta.

The purpose of holding inquires, irrespective of their format, is not just to identify those responsible for shortcomings relative to matters under investigation. High on the list of objectives of inquires is the identification and subsequent doing away with administrative practices which are liable to be abused.

The Manwel Mallia inquiry, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in terms of the Inquires Act, was handled by three former judges and focused on the behaviour of the then Honourable Minister Manwel Mallia. It is pertinent to point out that in their report dated 8 December 2014, the three judges had emphasised that Manwel Mallia had to shoulder ministerial or political responsibility in respect of the behaviour of those persons who he had nominated to a position of trust. Tongue-in-cheek, the panel of judges carrying out the Mallia inquiry had commented that Maltese politicians, when in Opposition, emphasise the need to shoulder political responsibility only to forget all about it when they make it to government.

In fact, in view of the conclusions of that inquiry, former Minister Manwel Mallia, in defiance of the basic rules of good governance, refused to resign from office and was subsequently fired by the Prime Minister – who had no other option at his disposal.

The current Gaffarena scandal may lead to similar considerations. Two politicians are under the spotlight: Joseph Muscat, who, in addition to being Prime Minister is also Minister for Lands, and Michael Falzon, who is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Lands. Both have to shoulder political responsibility for the operation of the Government Property Division for which they are jointly politically responsible. Twenty seven months into Labour’s mandate it is not justifiable that they shift the blame onto their predecessors. Labour in government has had sufficient time to carry out basic operational changes, if they considered that these were necessary.

Two inquires are under way. One has been requested by the Opposition and is being carried out by the National Audit Office. The other has been requested by the government and is being carried out by the Internal Audit and Investigation Department.

The two inquires will necessarily overlap but, due to differing terms of reference they should be complimenting each other.

There are too many coincidences in this latest Gaffarena scandal and consequently various issues need to be explained. The Government Property Division seems to have preferred Marco Gaffarena, giving him time to purchase a second portion of the Valletta property before expropriating it, when it could have easily expropriated it directly from the then owners! Likewise, it is clear that someone took the decision to pay Marco Gaffarena partly in kind, by allowing him to select amongst government property that land which suited him most. Who took this decision?  The civil service does not normally take such decisions. This particular decision, in my view, has political fingerprints.

The values attributed to both the expropriated property and to the government properties used to facilitate payment have raised eyebrows. Detailed explanation is required to establish whether there is some computational error or whether there is some other explanation.

Throughout the past week, the press has pointed at a particular member of the private secretariat of Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon who, too often, was observed accompanying Marco Gaffarena at the Government Property Division. This person, appointed in a position of trust by the Honourable Michael Falzon, did not reply to questions from the press intended to clarify whether – and to what extent – he opened doors for Gaffarena. In particular, the queries sought to clarify whether he facilitated the pick and choose land deal between the Government Property Division and Marco Gaffarena.

The conclusions of the two investigations should undoubtedly shed light on the decisions taken, as well as on those who facilitated them. The fact that this is the second case concerning the Government Property Division being investigated by the National Audit Office in the space of a few months should ring the alarm bells because, essentially, it signifies that no lessons were learnt from the Cafè Premier debacle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2015