Coalition building: beyond the arithmetic

It is pretty obvious that the primary – and possibly the only – objective that the Nationalist Party seeks to attain through its proposed coalition is to numerically surpass the Labour Party when the first count votes are tallied after  the forthcoming general election. Should this materialise, it could be a stepping stone on the basis of which, possibly, it could return to office on its own or in coalition.

The rest, that is to say beyond the first count vote tally, is all a necessary evil for the PN.

In contrast, Alternattiva Demokratikas objectives go beyond arithmetic. Alternattiva Demokratika favours a principle-based coalition, ethically driven,  in conscious preference to a pragmatic-based one that is driven exclusively by arithmetic considerations.

A principle-based coalition asks questions and demands answers continuously. The path to be followed to elect the first Green MPs is just as important as the objective itself. This is not simply  a minor inconsequential detail: it is a fundamental difference in approach.

Alternattiva Demokratika is continuously being tempted to discard its principled approach on the basis of a possible satisfactory result being within reach: now is the time, we are told, to join Simon Busuttils coalition in the national interest.  

Alternattiva Demokratika has always given way to the national interest. It is definitely in the national interest to discard (at the earliest possible opportunity) the two-party system that is the cause of the current political mess. In this context, at AD we do not view the PN (or the PL for that matter) as a solution. Both are an intrinsic part of the problem. Even if they are not exactly equivalent, together they are the problem. Parliament has been under the control of the two-party system  without interruption for the past 52 years. This is ultimately responsible for the current state of affairs as, due to its composition, Parliament has been repeatedly unable to hold the government of the day to account.

It is the worst kind of political dishonesty to pretend that the PN is whiter than white when criticising the Labour Partys gross excesses during the past four years. Labour has been capable of creating the current mess because the last PN-led government left behind quasi-toothless institutions, such that, when push came to shove, these institutions were incapable of biting back against abuse in defence of Maltese society: so much for the PNs commitment to good governance.

The PN is also  still haunted by its own gross excesses including:

1) Claudio Grechs incredible declaration on the witness stand in Parliaments Public Accounts Committee that he did not recollect ever meeting George Farrugia during the development of the oil sales scandal, George Farrugia being the mastermind  behind it all.   

2) Beppe Fenech Adamis role in the nominee company behind the Capital One Investment Group/Baltimore Fiduciary Services . In quasi similar circumstances, former Labour Party Treasurer Joe Cordina was forced to resign and was withdrawn as a general election candidate.

3) Mario DeMarcos error of judgement (with Simon Busuttils blessing) in accepting the brief of Silvio Debonos db Group in relation to the provision of advisory legal services on the Groups acquisition from Government of land at Pembroke, currently the site of the Institute for Tourism Studies, and this when his duty a Member of Parliament was to subject the deal to the minutest scrutiny and thereby hold government to account.

4) Toni Bezzinas application for a proposed ODZ Villa at the same time that, together with others, he was drafting an environment policy document on behalf of the PN in which document he proposed that this should henceforth  be prohibited.

5) Simon Busuttils alleged attempt to camouflage political donations as payment for fictitious services by his partys commercial arm, thereby circumventing the Financing of Political Parties Act.

How can the Nationalist Party be credible by declaring itself as the rallying point in favour of good governance and against corruption when it took no serious action to clean up its own ranks? Apologies are a good start but certainly not enough: heads must roll.

A coalition with a PN that closes more than one eye to the above is bound to fail, as the behaviour of the PN and its leadership is clearly and consistently diametrically opposed to its sanctimonious declarations.

These are very serious matters: they need to be suitably and satisfactorily addressed as a pre-condition to the commencement of any coalition talks.  Time is running out and this is being stated even before one proceeds to identify and spell out the red lines – ie the issues that are non-negotiable.

Addressing the arithmetic issues concerning the general election and then ending up with a new government with such an ambivalent attitude to good governance would mean that we are back to the point from which we started.    Nobody in his right mind would want that and Alternattiva Demokratika would certainly not support such double speak.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 April 2017

Inti tibża’?

afraid-man

Simon qalilna li kull min kien il-Belt il-bieraħ kien qiegħed jiddikjara li ma jibżax. Ma jibżax minn Joseph, jiġifieri.

Issa jiena ma kontx naf li Joseph ibeżża’ n-nies.

Imma jiena nibża’.

Nibża’ ħafna Ii pajjiżna maħkum mill-ħmieġ. Ħmieġ li qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Min hu responsabbli għal dan il-ħmieġ huwa dejjem iktar soffistikat minn ta’ qablu tant li dak li nafu bih u li ġara fis-snin passati jidher li qiesu sar mid-delettanti meta kumparat ma dak li qed iseħħ illum.

Huwa ħmieġ li m’għandux kulur, għax imur lil hinn mil-lealtajiet politiċi.

Jiena nibża’ minn Parlament magħmul minn żewġ partiti biss, kif kellna għal dawn l-aħħar 51 sena. Nibża’ għax f’Parlament bħal dan, l-esperjenza uriet li ma hemm l-ebda kontroll fuq il-Gvern tal-ġurnata, għax il-membri parlamentari tan-naħa tal-Gvern, kważi dejjem kienu kompatti biex jiddefendu l-eżerċizzju tal-poter. Il-membri parlamentari tan-naħa tal-Gvern rari ħafna fittxew li jagħmlu id-differenza billi jikkoreġu lill-Gvern għall-iżbalji tiegħu.

Is-sistema li żviluppat b’żewġ partiti fil-parlament hi l-kawża tal-gwaj li ninsabu fih illum.

Huwa neċessarju li l-Parlament ikun kapaċi jikkoreġi lill-Gvern u meta jkun hemm bżonn anke jiċċensurah mingħajr il-ħtieġa li jinbidel il-Gvern. Imma jiġbidlu widnejn waħda sew.

Huwa neċessarju li l-Prim Ministru (tal-lum, tal-bieraħ kif ukoll ta’ għada) u l-klikka ta’ madwaru ma jibqax omnipotenti imma li jkun verament soġġett għar-rieda ta’ Parlament. Parlament li jkun kapaċi li jiċċaqlaq.

Dan jista’ jsir biss jekk ikollna Parlament li jkun fih iktar minn żewġ partiti. Parlament jiġifieri, li jkun immexxi minn koalizzjoni.  Dan huwa l-unika mod kif dan il-pajjiż jista’ joħroġ mill-gwaj li jinsab fih.

Għandna nibżgħu minn parlament magħmul minn żewġ partiti biss.

Disa’ snin ilu jiena irriżenjajt minn membru tal-Partit Nazzjonalista. Fl-ittra ta’ riżenja tiegħi kont għidt hekk : “……. l-Parlament Malti għal snin twal, kontinwament mill-1964 lil hawn, kien dejjem ikkontrollat minn partit politiku wieħed li għax gawda maġġoranza assoluta dejjem irrombla minn fuq kulħadd. Kif kostitwit matul dawn is-snin kollha l-Parlament Malti wera li m’huwiex kapaċi jassigura l-kontabilita’ vera tal-Gvern tal-ġurnata.”

Din l-ittra inkitbet nhar is-16 ta’ Jannar 2008 u dak li għidt dakinnhar għadu validu sal-lum.

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

L-Onorevoli jerġa’ jagħmilha

Malta Parliament

Hi sfortuna li d-dibattitu politiku fil-pajjiż reġa qiegħed jikkarga.

Il-Parlament hu l-post fejn issir il-kritika. Imma l-kritika, anke jekk iebsa mgħandiex tkun insolenti. L-insulti ma jagħmlu ġid lil ħadd: la lil min jgħidhom u l-anqas lil min jirċievihom.

Il-każi riċenti li dwarhom l-Ispeaker Anġlu Farrugia kien kostrett li jagħti ruling, għal wieħed tnejn huma inkwetanti, għax ifisser li fuq naħa waħda hemm min qed jitlef rasu u fuq in-naħa l-oħra hemm min hu sensittiv iżżejjed.

Ovvjament kullħadd tad-demm u l-laħam u meta tkun ilek taqla ġo fik, fl-aħħar tixpakka. Dak li qed jiġri bħalissa fil-Parlament. Diskors li ma jagħmel la ġid u l-anqas ġieħ lil ħadd.

Kien floku kliem l-iSpeaker li ipprova jberred ftit l-affarijiet billi ta ċans biex dak li jkun jerġa jaħsibha u forsi juża kliem iktar addattat.

Imma jidher li ċerti nies ma jitgħallmu qatt.

Is-siġġijiet tal-PN u l-proporzjonalitá

constitution-article-521

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tat deċiżjoni dwar l-ilment kostituzzjonali tal-PN u iddeċidiet illi l-PN għandu jingħata żewġ siġġijiet addizzjonali fil-Parlament. Din hi d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qrati Maltin dwar il-każ, u allura issa ser tkun implimentata.

Hi deċiżjoni li jixirqiha kull rispett, imma dan ir-rispett ma jfissirx li hi deċiżjoni tajba, għax fil-fatt hi deċiżjoni żbaljata. Għax ma kellhomx jiżdiedu s-siġġijiet, imma kellhom jitnaqqsu! Il-calculator tal-Prim Imħallef ħa żball. Kulħadd jista jiżbalja, mhux hekk?

Ovvjament il-Partit Nazzjonalista bħalissa qiegħed jippontifika dwar il-proporzjonalitá bejn voti miksuba u siġġijiet mirbuħa fil-Parlament. Peró l-proporzjonalitá li jemmen fiha l-PN hi dik bejn il-PN u l-Labour. Din wasslet biex għal żball ta’ ħamsin vot il-PN jippretendi żewġ siġġijiet Parlamentari, imma fl-istess ħin il-5506 vot fl-ewwel għadd ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali huma injorati.

Sewwa, 50 vot, skond il-PN, jixirqilhom rappresentanza imma 5506 vot għandhom ikunu injorati.

Ser ikun hemm min iwieġibni u jgħidli: jekk Alternattiva Demokratika jidhriha xi ħaġa messha tmur il-Qorti hi ukoll. It-tweġiba tiegħi hi waħda ċara: Alternattiva Demokratika diġá għandha parir legali li meta l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta tipprovdi għal proporzjonalitá unikament għal żewġ partiti u tinjora lil bqija din qegħda tiddiskrimina.

Nafu li għandna raġun.

Il-problema hi biss li l-establishment jaħsibha mod ieħor. Meta jidhrilna li jkun il-mument opportun, nieħdu l-passi neċessarji.

Claiming back our coast

portomaso-st-julian-s

 

The  Paceville Master Plan is rightfully subtitled : Malta’s prime coastal location.  However, it considers the coast as a money-spinner and completely ignores Parliament’s decision earlier this year to codify the importance of the coastal area through its inclusion in legislation regulating the public domain.

The Paceville Master Plan issued for public consultation on 26 September was the first opportunity for the Planning Authority, on behalf of the government – which instructs it on policy initiatives – to flesh out the bones of the declarations made in the public domain legislation, approved by Parliament in May. That it did not do so casts considerable doubt as to whether the unanimous approval by Parliament of the public domain legislation is another political gimmick.

The Paceville Master Plan covers a large tract of land bordering Pembroke to the north, Swieqi to the west, St Julian’s to the South and coastal waters to the east.  The Paceville coastline is extensive: it adds up to anything between three and four kilometres, depending on the manner of measurement.

We have been told that the Paceville coastline will be accessible through a passageway that will be created along the coast. As a matter of fact, most of the Paceville coastline is already dotted with commercial development on land which is either public property or else is subject to servitudes in favour of the state. During last Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee, representatives of the Government Property Department presented a drawing indicating all this property along the Paceville coastline. In a number of instances, the drawing submitted indicated passageways of a width varying between four and five metres along the coast which are obviously intended for public access, even though it is not always clear how one would be able to find their points of entry and exit.

Parliament’s approval of amendments to the Civil Code approved in May lays robust legal foundations for the protection of the coast. The government has been entrusted with protect the coast on behalf of future generations, hence it belongs to all of us, in trust, on behalf of those future generations.  The coastal perimeter extends to a minimum of 15 metres from the shoreline. To this, the newly-approved legislation adds the foreshore, which extends as far as the reach of the largest wave – a reach that can be substantial in those parts of the coastline that are exposed to the open sea.

Large sections of the Paceville coastline are developed, but there are still small pockets which are either not developed or else contain development that is not intensive. A proactive Master Plan would have identified this as an opportunity for plotting the way forward in implementing a programme for the protection of the Paceville coast.  Unfortunately, it seems that the consultants to the Planning Authority were not briefed on the matter and as a consequence there is a real danger that this opportunity will be lost.

After the current public consultation is concluded, the Planning Authority will have to examine the comments made and consider the extent to which such comments can and should be taken into consideration in the second draft of the Master Plan.

The Authority should take on board the public domain legislation in respect of the coast and plan for its implementation when it revises the first draft of Paceville Master Plan.  In the short term, this should be done in relation to those areas which are still undeveloped or underdeveloped. I would also expect the Planning Authority to plan for the longer timeframe in respect of those sections of the coastline which are already intensively developed.

This leaves one other basic issue: land reclamation. I feel that, on a policy level, Labour’s land reclamation policy is the marine equivalent of the Nationalist’s widely criticised 2006 rationalisation exercise through which the boundaries of development were irresponsibly extended.  Labour will be extending the limits to development outwards towards the sea whilst the Nationalist-led government extended the said limits towards the countryside.

The proposed Master Plan for Paceville recommends land reclamation off the Dragonara/Portomaso coastline. This is an ill-thought proposal as the area identified for land reclamation will be an extension of possibly the most intensively developed part of the Paceville coast. This proposal should undoubtedly be revisited as commonsense suggests that rather than increasing development in the area, this should, in the long term, be curtailed.

The proposed Paceville Master Plan should be utilised as a planning tool for adequate coastal management. It can, at this point in time, also be the optimum vehicle for translating the public domain legislation into practical policies through which we can start the process of reclaiming the coast for future generations.

This is an opportunity which should not be missed.

published in The Malta Independent : 16 October 2016

Moving away from Ali Baba politics

 

pile-of-gold-coins

Way back in 2008 during the general election, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta had put the issue of a possible parliamentary coalition on the national political agenda.

The PN, then, did its best to try and ridicule the proposal as it preferred to go it alone. At the end of the day, the PN just managed to scrape through the general election by the minimum of margins (1580 votes) on a national level. Eventually, however, it had to pay the consequences, as it ended up as a political hostage of a couple of unprincipled mavericks.

Simon Busuttil is trying not to repeat his predecessor’s mistake. He has called for the formation of a coalition against corruption, hoping that until the forthcoming general election, such a coalition will coalesce around the PN. This is similar to the strategy adopted by Joseph Muscat who transformed the Labour Party into what he described as a “movement”. In practice, however, Muscat’s endeavours have only transformed his Labour Party into a modern day version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves!

To date, both the PN and the Labour Party have acted in such a way that the only coalition that made sense to them was the one within their own parties as both of them have over the years developed into grand coalitions, at times, championing diametrically opposed causes simultaneously.

However, coalitions are forged quite differently, at least those coalitions that are intended to contribute positively to the local political kaleidoscope.

The first foundation on which coalitions are built is reciprocal respect. Without reciprocal respect, those forming part of a coalition end up clowning around, trying to impress those around them with their buffoonery.

A second essential prerequisite for a coalition is an agreed political programme which clearly communicates the agreed common objectives of the coalition members. It would obviously be expected that members of such a coalition act in accordance to such an agreed political programme. Supporting environmental protection as an essential element of a programme to better everyone’s quality of life would undoubtedly feature in such an agreed political programme to which Alternattiva Demokratika could adhere. This would also be in line with the PN’s recent “conversion” in support of environmental activism.

It is not however clear how these newly discovered credentials of the PN are manifested by going around patting the management of Palumbo Shipyards and Malta Freeport Terminals on the back, congratulating them on their achievements which have inconvenienced their neighbours in the surrounding localities. This was recently done by the Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil during his visits to the Għajn Dwieli yard and the Kalafrana Terminal.

Consistency by the coalition members is not only desirable, it is an essential prerequisite for a coalition intended to last!

A coalition is not formed just to win an election. On the contrary, it seeks to win an election in order to be in a position to implement an agreed electoral programme. Winning an election is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is for this reason that coalitions seek to bring together people and political parties who share a sufficient number of ideals on the basis of which they can construct a common electoral platform. Otherwise, what purpose would be served if those forming part of a coalition are not at ease with the new political environment which they seek to create?

For this specific reason, coalitions must be based on sound political principles. Having a coalition or a political party based on anything else is a recipe for the creation of an additional Ali Baba den, of which the present one is more than enough.

A solution to the current ethical crisis, which Malta’s political infrastructure is faced with, will not be delivered by a Parliament which is composed of only two political parties. This ethical crisis can only be overcome if more than two political parties make it to Parliament and if the winner-takes-all mentality and behaviour is consigned to the dustbin of history once and for all . This is both essential and possible without any changes to Malta’s electoral legislation and still allows for like-minded political parties to form a coalition.

It is important that those who have discarded good governance are set aside by the electorate in the forthcoming general election. It is however equally important that the machinery of government is never again entrusted into the hands of one single political party. In Malta’s particular circumstances only this can guarantee that good governance is placed on solid foundations.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 2nd October 2016

Il-ħatriet fil-pajjiż

coatofarms_malta

 

Il-PN qed jgħid li l-ħatriet importanti fil-pajjiż għandhom ikollhom l-approvazzjoni ta’ zewġ terzi tal-Parlament.

Issa din, meta tingħad, tinstema tajba. M’għandix dubju li l-iskop wara l-proposta hu wieħed tajjeb. Bħalissa kemm l-Ombudsman kif ukoll l-Awditur Ġenerali jinħatru b’dan il-mod u s’issa dejjem instabet soluzzjoni raġjonevoli għal dawn il-ħatriet. L-argument allura hu jekk dan il-metodu (taż-żewġ terzi) jagħmilx sens għal ħatriet oħra ukoll.

Issemmew żewġ karigi partikolari: dawk ta’ President tar-Repubblika u ta’ Kummissarju tal-Pulizija.

Ikun tajjeb, kif anke qalet diversi drabi Alternattiva Demokratika, li l-President tar-Repubblika ma jibqax jinħatar mill-Parlament waħdu. Minflok għandu jinħatar minn kulleġġ elettorali li jkun jinkludi ukoll (flimkien mal-Parlament)rappresentanza minn kull Kunsill Lokali.

Dwar il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija l-problema rejali hi li jkun evitat li l-ħatra tiegħu (jew għaliex le, tagħha) tkun tali li titneħħa l-konsiderazzjoni ta’ politika partiġjana bħala kriterju fl-għażla. Tul is-snin, kellna persuni ta’ eċċellenza li okkupaw il-kariga u kellna oħrajn ta’ inkompetenza grassa. Naħseb li l-għażla issir minn żewġ terzi tal-Parlament ma issolvi xejn. Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta tissogra paraliżi amministrattiva. Forsi jkun iktar għaqli li għal karigi ta’ importanza nazzjonali jkun meħtieġ l-approvazzjoni tal-Parlament, b’maġġoranza sempliċi. Imma approvazzjoni bħal din tkun teħtieg public hearing. Jiġifieri li l-persuna nominat tkun mgħarbla fil-pubbliku minn kumitat parlamentari.

Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta ma għandiex tapplika biss għall-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija imma għandha tapplika ukoll għall-ħatriet kollha ta’ ambaxxaturi u għat-tmexxija ta’ awtoritajiet u Dipartimenti tal-Gvern.

L-emfasi tiegħi mhux daqstant fuq il-ħtieġa tal-approvazzjoni mill-Parlament imma fuq li l-persuna proposta tkun mgħarbla fil-pubbliku. B’hekk tonqos il-possibilità tal-ħatra ta’ persuni inkompetenti kif ukoll ta’ persuni li l-unika kwalifika tagħhom tkun it-tessera tal-partit.

Naħseb li sistema bħal din, għalkemm bla dubju kontroversjali, hi iktar prattika mill-proposta tal-approvazzjoni mill-parlament b’maġġoranza ta’ żewġ terzi.

Leo Brincat: loyalties and lip service

epa04912519 Maltese Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and CLimate change Leo Brincat arrives for an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the conference center in Luxembourg, 04 September 2015. EU Foreign Ministers gather in Luxembourg to discuss on the ongoing refugees and migrant crises. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

When Leo Brincat gave evidence before the EU Parliamentary Committee on Budgetary Control last week he was, as anticipated, quizzed on his position regarding the Panama Papers.

Leo Brincat made himself crystal clear by stating that he would have submitted his resignation – or else suspended himself from office until such time as matters would have been clarified – had he been himself involved.

He volunteered the information that there had been a point at which he had considered resigning from Ministerial office due to the manner in which the Panama Papers scandal was handled in Malta. He added that, eventually, however, his considerations did not materialise and he did not resign as he had no desire to be a “hero for a day and end up in the (political) wilderness” thereafter.

Then came the fundamental issue: what about his vote against the motion of No Confidence in Minister Konrad Mizzi which was discussed by Malta’s House of Representatives? He emphasised that he could not vote in favour of the No Confidence motion as he was bound by the party’s Parliamentary Whip! It was a basic standard of local politics, based on the Westminister model, he emphasised.

At this point Leo Brincat made it clear to the EU Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee that he had made a very important and fundamental choice: he preferred loyalty to the party whip to loyalty to his principles: those same principles which he has been harping on for ages. When push came to shove, solidarity with Konrad Mizzi took priority over good governance. This is what irked a substantial number of MEPs and prompted them not to recommend the  approval of Leo Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors. Leo’s declaration means only one thing: that his statements on good governance are only lip service to which there is no real commitment.

From this point onwards, the issue became one of principle, stated Slovenian Green MEP Igor Šoltes, Vice Chairman of the EU Parliamentary Committee on Budgetary Control and rapporteur on the European Court of Auditors, when interviewed by the local media. How is it possible to expect appointment to the European Court of Auditors and simultaneously give a nod of approval to Konrad Mizzi? Leo’s reluctance to distance himself from Konrad’s misbehaviour was his undoing.

Leo Brincat was considered as being technically qualified for the post of member of the European Court of Auditors but his public behaviour relative to the Panama Papers left much to be desired: it rendered him ethically unqualified.

Most of the information on Malta and the Panama Papers scandal is freely available online. In this day and age, MEPs and their staff, like anyone else, can easily look up all the information they need in an instant. They do not need any prodding by David Casa, Roberta Metsola, Therese Commodini Cachia or anyone else!

The facts are damning enough. Leo Brincat, unfortunately, came across as an ambivalent person who speaks in favour of good governance yet through his vote simultaneously gives support to its negation. Konrad Mizzi’s behaviour,, sanctioned in parliament by the vote of Leo Brincat and his colleagues on the government benches, signifies that the Parliamentary Labour Party in Malta does not care about good governance. Leo Brincat’s failure is quite representative of the Labour Parliamentary group’s behaviour in Malta, as they have all contributed to this mess – the effects of which are yet to come.

In fairness, I must also point out that the press had, at a point in time picked up information about a rowdy Labour Party Parliamentary Group meeting during which Leo Brincat and a number of other MPs (including a number of Ministers ) had argued for Konrad Mizzi’s resignation or removal. It is indeed unfortunate that Joseph Muscat did not feel sufficiently pressured to remove Konrad Mizzi from Cabinet, as that meeting was only followed up with cosmetic changes in Konrad Mizzi’s Cabinet responsibilities.

It is useless to try and shift the blame onto Joseph Muscat and his cronies. While Joseph Muscat is ultimately responsible, this does not exonerate Leo Brincat and each individual member of the Labour Party Parliamentary group; each one of them too must shoulder responsibilities for  failure to act in removing Konrad Mizzi from public office.

At the end of the day there is just one lesson: loyalty to your conscience is not up for bartering.

Through the revolving door: politicians for sale at a discount

Barroso.GoldmanSachs

 

US Investment Bank Goldman Sachs announced last week that it had “hired” former EU Commission Chairman Josè Manuel Barroso as an advisor and non-executive hairman of the Goldman Sachs International arm.

The New York Times quoting co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs International Michael Sherwood and Richard J. Gnoddle explained the relevance of the appointment as being “Josè Manuel’s immense insights and experience including a deep understanding of Europe”. Earlier this week, the EU Observer  further commented that Goldman Sachs hired Barroso “as it struggles with the fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the EU”.

Based in London but offering services across Europe, Goldman Sachs may be faced with limited or no access to the EU’s single market as a result of Brexit. Hence the need to hire Barroso as an advisor and lobbyist as the United Kingdom and the European Union prepare for the negotiations leading to the UK’s exit from the European Union which can be triggered any time in the forthcoming weeks through a declaration in terms of article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Barroso’s engagement with Goldman Sachs is one which will be much debated as, like nine other members of the Commission which he led between 2009 and 2014, he has been catapulted into the corporate boardroom through the revolving door. His value to Goldman Sachs is his knowledge of the privileged information to which he had access during his 10-year tenure as President of the EU Commission and, the influence which he may still have on a number of key EU officials.  This gives great value to his advisory/lobbying role with Goldman Sachs.

European Union regulations on the possible activities of its former Commission members draw a cut-off line after an 18-month cooling-off period at the end of their tenure when, as stated by an EU Commission spokesperson, “there is a reasonable assumption that the access to privileged information or possible influence are no longer an issue”.   This is contested by the different political groupings in the EU Parliament who maintain that the cooling-off period for EU Commissioners taking up sensitive jobs after ceasing their duties as Commissioners should be extended from 18 months to five years the present length of time is insufficient to ensure that the EU is really the servant of ordinary people and not of multinational corporations or international financial institutions.

This debate at a European Union level contrasts to the provisions of the Standards in Public Life Bill currently being debated by the Maltese Parliament which Bill, so far, does not make any provision on the regulation of lobbying in Malta in any form or format.

It is not unheard of in Malta for politicians to move through the revolving door from the Cabinet to the private sector boardroom or its anteroom, and back again. Three such cases of former Cabinet Ministers in Malta in the recent past come to mind : John Dalli and his involvement with the Corinthia Group and later the Marsovin Group, Karmenu Vella who similarly was heavily involved first with the Corinthia Group and subsequently with the Orange Travel Group as well as with Betfair and finally Tonio Fenech’s recent involvement in the financial industry.

Being unregulated, lobbying through the revolving door is not illegal but it can still be unethical and unacceptable in a modern democratic society as it can result in undue influence of corporations over the regulatory authorities.

Piloting the debate on the Standards in Public Life Bill on Monday 11 July, Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech recognised the deficiencies of the Bill and declared that a register of lobbyists in Malta was a necessity. While this is a welcome statement and a significant first step forward, it is certainly not enough, as a proper regulation of lobbying in Malta is long overdue. This involves much more than registration of lobbyists or even the regulation of revolving door recruitment in both the private and the public sector.

If done properly, lobbying is perfectly legitimate. It is perfectly reasonable for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. In fact it is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration. It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions.

However, for lobbying to be acceptable in a democratic society, it must be done transparently. In particular, through regulation it must be ensured  that lobbying should not be transformed into a  process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives or advisors of corporations to take their place. Lobbying activities must be properly documented and the resulting documentation must be publicly accessible.

Hopefully, Parliament will take note and act.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 July 2016