Fir-Repubblika tal-Banana

Meta l-mexxej Laburista Robert Abela indirizza lill-partitarji fil-Każin Laburista ta’ Birkirkara, nhar il-Ħadd li għadda, kellu raġun jilmenta li s-sentenzi f’kawżi kriminali, bosta drabi jidhru baxxi jew laxki. Xi drabi qed jingħata l-messaġġ li qiesu ma ġara xejn. Il-Prim Ministru għandu bosta postijiet iktar addattati fejn jista’ jwassal il-preokkupazzjoni tiegħu dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ politika iktar addattata dwar is-sentenzi li qed jingħataw mill-Qrati.

Seta ġibed l-attenzjoni tal-President tar-Repubblika biex il-materja tkun ikkunsidrata fil-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja. Seta qajjem il-materja f’laqgħa formali mal-Prim Imħallef. Seta ukoll illeġisla biex inaqqas il-flessibilità li għandha l-Qorti meta tapplika l-pieni li hemm fil-liġi. Fil-fatt kellu għad-disposizzjoni tiegħu bosta għodda jew mezzi biex jasal għall-bidla mixtieqa. Imma li joqgħod ipeċlaq fil-każin laburista ta’ B’Kara bil-prietka ta’ nhar ta’ Ħadd mhux wieħed minnhom.

F’Birkirkara Robert Abela tkellem ukoll dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess li Membri Parlamentari li jipprattikaw il-liġi kriminali huma esposti għalih. Matul in-nofstanhar ta’ filgħodu b’abbiltà, dawn l-avukati, jiddefendu lill-klijenti tagħhom u jippreżentaw sottomissjonijiet quddiem il-Qrati dwar pieni baxxi jew tnaqqis fil-pieni inkella dwar sentenzi sospiżi.  Imbagħad, waranofsinnhar, emfasizza Robert Abela, dawn l-istess Membri Parlamentari jiġu fil-Parliament jargumentaw b’qawwa fuq il-perikli ta’ żieda fil-kriminalità.

Dwar dan għandu raġun. Imma din il-linja ta’ ħsieb ma tapplikax biss għall-avukati li jipprattikaw il-liġi kriminali.  Tapplika ukoll għal avukati fiċ-ċivil u fil-liġi kummerċjali kif ukoll għal membri parlamentari fi professjonijiet oħra kif kellna l-opportunità li naraw bosta drabi tul is-snin! Din hi esperjenza li diġà għaddejna minnha matul is-snin.

Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jiddedikaw il-ħin kollu tagħhom għall-ħidma parlamentari. M’għandux ikun possibli li Membri Parlamentari jibqgħu jagħmlu kwalunkwe xogħol ieħor, kemm jekk dan ikun imħallas kif ukoll jekk le. Bħala partit dan aħna ilna ngħiduh is-snin, għax nemmnu li fil-prattika hu l-uniku mod kif tista’ tindirizza u tnaqqas b’mod effettiv il-kunflitt ta’ interess ovvju li jirriżulta illi Membru tal-Parlament hu espost għalih fis-sistema tagħna kif inhi illum.

Robert Abela qal iktar minn hekk. Irrefera għad-diskursata li kellu ma’ Maġistrat dwar is-sentenzi baxxi li ħerġin mill-Qrati Kriminali. Il-Maġistrat, qal Abela, iddefendiet ruħha billi emfasizzat li s-sentenzi mogħtija qed jitbaxxew mill-Qorti tal-Appell, li fid-dawl ta’ sentenzi oħra ġja mogħtija qed tnaqqas sentenzi li jkunu ngħataw mill-Maġistrati.

Robert Abela żbalja meta ikkomunika direttament mal-Maġistrat. Żbalja iktar meta tkellem dwar dan fil-pubbliku għax b’hekk bagħat messaġġ żbaljat u inkwetanti li l-Qrati qed jirċievu ordnijiet diretti mingħand l-eżekuttiv. Dan fi kliem sempliċi hu ta’ theddida għall-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura.  Bħala avukat, bla dubju, Robert Abela jirrealizza li qabeż il-linja ta’ dak li hu tollerabbli mill-politiku f’soċjetà demokratika.

F’pajjiż demokratiku fejn is-saltna tad-dritt hi realtà mhux ħrafa, Robert Abela kien jirreżenja fi ftit siegħat minn x’ħin pubblikament ammetta  li hu għamel pressjoni fuq il-Maġistrat. Il-Maġistrat li min-naħa tagħha kompliet miegħu fid-diskussjoni s’issa, kienet tkun ġiet identifikata u dixxiplinata.

Imma, kif tafu, minn dan kollu, ma ġara xejn.

Nhar it-Tnejn fi stqarrija għall-istampa, jiena tlabt lill-President tar-Repubblika biex isejjaħ laqgħa urġenti tal-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja biex din tkun tista’ tieħu l-passi neċessarja dwar dak li ġara.

S’issa għad ma ġara xejn. Forsi l-President kien imsiefer, inkella kien imħabbat b’xi attività dwar il-larinġ li nsibu fil-ġonna Presidenzjali ta’ Sant Anton.

Issa forsi jmiss iċ-ċelebrazzjoni tal-ġimgħa tal-banana fl-aġenda Presidenzjali. Bla dubju din tieħu prijorità fuq l-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura fir-Repubblika tal-Banana!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Frar 2023

In a Banana Republic

When Labour Leader Robert Abela addressed the party faithful at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club last Sunday, he was right to complain that the sentencing policy currently applied by the judiciary may at times appear as being too lenient. However, as Prime Minister he had other fora through which to convey his preoccupation and to emphasise the need of an up-to-date sentencing policy.

He could have drawn the attention of the President of the Republic in order that he may refer the matter for the consideration of the Commission for the Administration of Justice. He could have legitimately brought up the matter in a formal meeting with the Chief Justice. He could also legislate in order to restrict the current flexibility which the Courts have when applying the law. In fact, he has at his disposal various tools to bring about the change he spoke about: pontificating at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club through a Sunday political sermon is not one of these tools.

At Birkirkara Robert Abela also spoke on the conflict of interest which Members of Parliament who are practising criminal lawyers are continuously exposed to. They ably defend their clients during the morning in Court pleading in favour of minimal sentencing, including the application of suspended sentences. Then, in the afternoon, emphasised Robert Abela, in Parliament, these same Members of Parliament vociferously argue on the dangers of an increasing criminality.

He is definitely right on that. But this line of reasoning does not only apply to criminal lawyers. It is also applicable to MPs who are civil and commercial lawyers as well as to other professionals in their specific area of practice. We have been exposed to this over the years in a number of cases. Is it not about time that parliament is made up of full-timers? No Member of Parliament should carry out any other work (paid or unpaid) except that resulting from his/her parliamentary duties. My party has been emphasising this for a considerable number of years. We believe that it is the only way to effectively address the obvious conflict of interest which abounds in Parliament.

Robert Abela said more. He referred to a tete-a-tete with a sitting Magistrate with whom he discussed the lenient sentencing which the Criminal Law Courts are applying. The Magistrate, said Abela, defensively replied that it is all the fault of the appeals court as they consider themselves bound by precedent when they revise the decisions delivered by the inferior courts, ending up in lighter sentences.

Robert Abela was wrong when he conveyed his views directly to one of the Magistrates currently sitting in judgement at the inferior Courts. Bragging about it in public makes it even worse as it conveys the wrong message that the judiciary is at the beck and call of the Executive. This, in plain language, threatens the independence of the judiciary. As a lawyer, Robert Abela is undoubtedly aware that he has gone far beyond the red line.

In any other democratic country where rule of law is fact, not fiction, Robert Abela would have resigned within a couple of hours after having publicly admitting pressuring a sitting Magistrate. Similarly, the Magistrate who allowed the discussion to proceed would by now have been identified and disciplined.

But, as you are aware, nothing has happened yet.

On Monday in a press statement, I have called on the President of the Republic to convene an urgent meeting of the Commission for the Administration of Justice to take the necessary and required action. So far there has been no reaction whatsoever. Possibly his Excellency the President is currently abroad, or, maybe he is extremely busy with some activity promoting the citrous products of the presidential kitchen garden at the San Anton Presidential Palace!

As things stand banana week would definitely be a future activity in the Presidential agenda: this takes priority over the independence of the judiciary, in this Banana Republic!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 February 2023

Iż-żiemel ta’ Trojja

Il-mitoloġija Griega tgħallimna ħafna: tajjeb li kultant nagħtu ftit każ. Waħda minn dawn it-tagħlimiet  hi dwar ir-rigali: kuntant dawn ikunu rigali finta għax, xi drabi, warajhom jinħbew motivi li xejn ma jkunu sbieħ!  Tagħlima partikolari toħroġ fl-Ilijade, ir-rakkont ta’ Omeru dwar il-gwerra ta’ Trojja, rakkuntata ukoll fl-Anejadi, kapulavur tal-poeta Ruman Virgilju. 

Virgilju jagħtina l-parir biex noqgħodu attenti mill-Griegi meta dawn b’ħafna ħlewwa jiġu joffru r-rigali. L-osservazzjoni ta’  Virgilju hi referenza għaż-żiemel ta’ Trojja, żiemel tal-injam li s-suldati Griegi ħallew barra s-swar tal-Belt assedjata ta’ Trojja.

Kif nafu, moħbija f’dan iż-żiemel/rigal kien hemm suldati armati Griegi li matul il-lejl, meta fi tmiem l-assedju ta’ Trojja iddaħħal fil-belt b’ċelbrazzjoni, issarraf f’ħerba għax minnu ħargu s-suldati armati.  Dan hu t-tifsira taż-żiemel ta’ Trojja!

In-nomina xi xhur ilu ta’ George Hyzler minn Robert Abela, għan-nom tal-Gvern, biex Hyzler ikun membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri hu rigal minn dawn. Bħaż-żiemel ta’ Trojja dan kien rigal li l-Opposizzjoni kellha toqgħod attentat minnu: kien intenzjonat li jkollu effetti oħra li mal-ewwel daqqa t’għajn ma jidhrux.

Kważi kulħadd jaqbel li George Hyzler ħadem sewwa bħala Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Anke l-Gvern jaqbel! Tant qabel li offrielu promozzjoni: karrotta tad-deheb li kien diffiċli li jirrifjuta. Hyzler ingħata promozzjoni biex ikun jista’ jitwarrab minn fejn kien u riżultat ta’ hekk ikun hemm xewka inqas tiġri mas-saqajn. Fil-fehma tiegħi ma hemm l-ebda mod ieħor kif tista’ tinterpreta dak li ġara.  

In-nomina ta’ Hyzler bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri hi parti mill-logħba ta’ manuvri politiċi ta’ Abela. Ħafna drabi jimmanuvra b’ta’ madwaru. Permezz tan-nomina ta’ Hyzler, imma, irnexxielu jpoġġi lill-Oppożizzjoni f’posizzjoni ta’ diffikultà li Bernard Grech ma rnexxielux jinduna biha minn kmieni u allura ma rnexxielux jevita.  

L-Oppożizzjoni messa ġibdet l-attenzjoni ta’ Hyzler li kien mistenni li hu jservi t-terminu kollu li għalih inħatar bħala Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi politiċi tal-lum Hyzler qatt ma messu aċċetta n-nomina bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri. L-iskop tan-nomina messu kien ċar anke għal min għadu jibda fil-politika! Sfortunatament donnu li kulħadd induna x’kien qed jiġri, ħlief l-Opposizzjoni.

Dan hu l-kuntest għad-dibattitu parlamentari kurrenti dwar l-emendi proposti għall-liġi dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Uffiċjalment l-emendi proposti kellhom l-iskop li jħollu l-problema f’każ li ż-żewġ terzi ma jintlaħqux (anti-deadlock mechanism). Meta ż-żewġ terzi meħtieġa biex jinħatar il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma jintlaħqux f’żewġ votazzjonijiet konsekuttivi,  b’ġimgħa bejniethom, hu propost li minn hemm il-quddiem tkun meħtieġa  maġġoranza sempliċi biss biex tkun approvata l-ħatra.

L-emendi proposti qed ifittxu li jeliminaw oġġettiv ewlieni tal-liġi eżistenti. Dan hu li, għalkemm il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Hajja Pubblika hu approvat mill-Parlament, hu għandu jgawdi ukoll il-fiduċja tal-Opposizzjoni.  (Jeżistu liġijiet oħra li jipprovdu posizzjoni ċentrali garantita għall-Opposizzjoni: fost dawn hemm il-Presidenza tal-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar il-Kontijiet Pubbliċi kif ukoll ir-rwol ta’ Deputat Speaker.)

Li l-persuna nominata tkun persuna ta’ integrità bħalma hu Joe Azzopardi l-Prim Imħallef Emeritu, mhux biżżejjed. Il-fatt li mhux aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni hu minnu innifsu raġuni suffiċjenti u valida biex ma jkunx addattat għall-ħatra, sakemm hemm raġuni valida għal din l-opposizzjoni.  Ma hemmx ħtieġa li jkun nominat mill-Opposizzjoni, imma għandu jkun persuna aċċettabbli għaliha.

Il-Gvern qal li Bernard Grech l-ewwel qabel man-nomina u mbagħad bidel fehemtu. Anke kieku dan kien minnu, dan hu irrelevanti, għax il-persuna nominata għandha tkun aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni kollha u mhux biss għall-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Il-Grupp Parlamentari għandu kull dritt li ma jaqbilx mal-Kap tiegħu kull meta jħoss il-ħtieġa għal dan. F’partiti politiċi demokratiċi, din mhiex xi ħaġa rari li issir.

L-iskop kollu li l-ħatra tikseb l-approvazzjoni ta’ żewġ terzi hu li jinħoloq l-iktar kunsens wiesa’ possibli meta jinħatar Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Li titneħħa din il-ħtieġa għall-kunsens iwassal biex ikun imminat il-proċess kollu.

Riżultat tal-ħtieġa ta’ żewġ terzi biex tkun approvata l-ħatra, l-Opposizzjoni m’għandiex biss is-saħħa li tkun determinanti fid-deċiżjoni: għandha ukoll l-obbligu li taġixxi b’mod responsabbli. Jiġifieri għandha l-obbligu li iġgib il-quddiem raġunijiet validi biex issostni l-posizzjoni tagħha.  Anke l-Opposizzjoni hi soġġetta għall-kontabilità.

Id-dibattitu parlamentari sadanittant qed idur mal-lewża. L-Gvern irid jikkontrolla l-proċess kollu waħdu. Dan minkejja li diġa fil-prattika jikkontrolla d-deċiżjoni finali dwar kull investigazzjoni: kemm riżultat tal-maġġoranza parlamentari kif ukoll in vista tal-komposizzjoni tal-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern  donnu ddeċieda li m’għadux essenzjali li min jinħatar tkun persuna aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari. Il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm kunsens qiegħed jitwarrab. Dan jimmina  l-integrità tal-proċess kollu li bih huma regolati l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.  L-Opposizzjoni, s’issa, għadha ma spjegatx  il-għala qed topponi n-nomina tal-ħatra tal-Prim Imħallef Emeritu Joe Azzopardi. Għandha obbligu politiku li dan tagħmlu.

Kemm il-Partit Laburista kif ukoll il-PN ħadu posizzjoni intransiġenti: jew kif ngħid jien, inkella insa kollox, qed jgħidu. Flimkien qed iżarmaw dak li ħa ħafna żmien biex inbena.

Dan hu li kapaċi tagħtina sistema Parlamentari ta’ żewġ partiti!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 22 ta’ Jannar 2023

Supporting Bill 28

The amendment to the Criminal Code forming part of Bill 28 which Parliament started discussing on Monday 28 November codifies the existing practice at the state hospital. It defines the necessary legal framework for therapeutic abortion. It does not introduce the practice of therapeutic abortion: this has been the practice for quite some time.

The Bill avoids use of the term “abortion”, using instead the term “termination of a pregnancy”, which as we are all aware has exactly the same meaning!

Legislation to date relative to therapeutic abortion is not clear at this point in time. On this basis ADPD-The Green Party was the only political party which tackled the matter during the March 2022 electoral campaign, including a whole section on sexual health and reproductive rights in the electoral manifesto. We went much further than that, emphasising the need for the decriminalisation of abortion too.

The Labour Party in Government, which has been practically silent on the matter during the electoral campaign, has now decided to act, taking a minimalist approach. It has limited itself to ensuring that current practice is protected at law. While this is definitely not enough it is a welcome first step and deserves our full support, even though there is still room for improvement in the proposed text of the proposal.

The Labour Party is right in saying that it is not introducing abortion through Bill 28: therapeutic abortion has been here and practised for some time even in the state hospital. Consequently, the approval of Bill 28 as presented will, in practice, not change anything, it will merely recognise the current state of affairs. As a result, it will give peace of mind to medical practitioners in state hospitals as their current modus operandi would be clearly spelt out in the law, as it should be.

In a sense the current fierce and at times emotional debate on abortion is much ado about nothing. It has however resulted in the local conservative forces speaking from the same hymn book. The opposition to the Bill is primarily twofold. On one hand there is the PN official stand which, together with Archbishop Scicluna has adopted the position paper published by a group of academics. In practice they seek to limit permissible medical interventions to cases of a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, eliminating health issues as justification. On the other hand, exponents of the fundamentalist Christian right, including a minority in the PN rank and file oppose the Bill in principle.

Put simply, the debate identifies three different proposals. The first, proposed by the Labour government in Bill 28, enshrines in law the current practice and places the onus on the medical profession to decide each case on its own merits. The second, supported by the PN opposition and the Church hierarchy seeks to substantially limit the discretion of the medical profession in Bill 28 primarily by eliminating health and mental health considerations. The third position brought forward by the fundamentalist Christian faction is in total opposition to all that is being proposed.

During the Parliamentary debate held this week I took note of the various positive contributions, in particular those of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg and Opposition spokespersons Joe Giglio and Mario Demarco. Of particular note, in my view, is Fearne’s reference to the hospital’s standard operating procedures. It is being emphasised that these procedures do in fact address important aspects of the criticism aired during the debate, in particular that decisions taken by the medical profession relative to therapeutic abortion procedures should be taken by two or more professionals in order to ensure that no professional shoulders the decision alone. This, I understand is already standard practice!

There is always room for improvement in the proposed text of the Bill as indicated in the level-headed approach of Joe Giglio during the Parliamentary debate on Wednesday. As I emphasised in my article last week it would have been much better if Government had embarked on an exercise of public consultation before presenting the Bill. There would definitely have been more time to listen to and digest the different views. A valid point which was also emphasised by Mario Demarco.

In this scenario, even though viewing it as just a first step, which can be improved: without any shadow of doubt, ADPD supports the proposal put forward by Bill 28 in principle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 December 2022

Inħarsu l-art agrikola: kollha

Tul is-snin il-Gvern dejjem kien fuq quddiem fil-ħidma biex tinqered il-biedja. Kontinwament il-Gvern jagħmilha iktar faċli biex art agrikola tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Huwa l-Gvern li kontinwament jidentifika art agrikola tajba għal toroq ġodda (mhux meħtieġa) inkella biex jestendi toroq eżistenti.

Il-White Paper li ippubblika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura, intitolata Riforma fil-Qasam tar-Raba’  tfittex li tirregola l-assalt tas-settur privat fuq l-art agrikola. Imma ma issemmi xejn dwar l-assalt li għaddej mis-settur pubbliku: dak għall-Gvern hu aċċettabbli! Imma m’għandux ikun għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ li tkun imħarsa.

Awtoritajiet eżistenti, bħall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, diġa għandhom il-poteri bil-liġi biex jieħdu passi u ma jħallux l-art agrikola tinbidel f’art għall-picnics jew għall-barbeques! Imma tul is-snin din l-awtorità ma għamlet xejn minn dan. Għalqet għajnejha.

Id-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura imbagħad, dejjem jispiċċa jiddefendi id-deċiżjonijiet tal-Gvern favur il-qerda tar-raba’ għal toroq inutli. Is-Central Link hi waħda mill-aħħar eżempji li miegħu aħna familjari. Hemmhekk raba’ saqwi f’Ħ’Attard inqerdet fl-interess tal-karozzi. L-għixien ta’ numru ta’ bdiewa inqered. L-anqas ħoss mill-awtoritajiet fid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura ma nstema’ biex jiddefendu lill-bdiewa li laqqtuha.

B’dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritajiet li mhux kapaċi jaħdmu, x’sens hemm fil-ħolqien ta’ iktar awtoritajiet bħalhom? Mhux aħjar li jitneħħew is-sriep mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u mid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura u flokhom ikunu ngaġġati persuni kwalifikati u motivati biex jaħdmu? Għax jekk l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u d-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa, bi tmexxija tajba u kapaċi, parti mdaqqsa mill-kontenut tal-White Paper ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa għalih!

Lejn l-aħħar tas-sena 2021 l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff, f’deċiżjoni tiegħu dwar applikazzjoni kostituzzjonali fuq raba’ fil-Qrendi kien emfasizza li l-valur realistiku tar-raba’ għandu jkun rifless ta’ dak li l-istess raba’ tista’ tipproduċi. Dan hu punt li l-White Paper tibni fuqu meta titkellem dwar il-valur esaġerat li r-raba’ qed jinbiegħ jew jiġi stmat kif ukoll dwar kif għandha tkun ikkalkulata l-valur tal-qbiela. Il-White Paper fil-fatt tipproponi li l-qbiela għandhom ikunu 1.5 fil-mija tal-valur realistiku tar-raba’. Għad irridu naraw, iżda, kemm dan kollu ser jiflaħ għall-battalji legali li inevitabilment ser ifaqqsu da parti ta’ min ma jridx din ir-regolamentazzjoni.

Punt interessanti li joħrog mill-White Paper hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa li hu propost li titħallas fuq ir-raba’ li ma tibqax tintuża għal skop agrikolu. Din il-proposta hi simili għall-proposti tal-partit tiegħi dwar taxxa fuq propjetajet vojta liema proposti saru f’diversi manifesti elettorali tul is-snin.  

Safejn niftakar, din hi l-ewwel darba li l-Partit Laburista qed jipproponi li jagħmel użu mit-tassazzjoni bħala għodda biex jilħaq oġġettiv politiku: f’dan il-każ il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Ma naħsibx li din il-proposta partikolari ser timmaterjalizza u dan minħabba li l-Partit Laburista kontinwament jitkellem b’ċerta qawwa kontra l-użu tat-tassazzjoni bħala strument politiku fi kwalunkwe forma. Imma l-fatt li l-proposta qed issir, minnu nnifsu hu pass tajjeb.

Il-proposti fil-White Paper fuq ir-riforma meħtieġa dwar ir-raba’ huma l-ewwel pass lejn diskussjoni serja u matura. Imma għadhom il-bogħod  minn dak li hu meħtieġ.  

L-ewwel pass għandu jsir biex ikun stabilit element ta’ rieda tajba. B’dan il-ħsieb nistieden lill-Gvern biex jippreżenta mozzjoni fil-Parlament biex iħassar l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni approvat mill-Parlament fl-2006 u li permezz tiegħu eluf ta’ metri kwadri ta’ raba’ spiċċaw tajba biex jinbnew. Naħseb li l-Ministru tal-Agrikultura tal-lum, Anton Refalo, għandu l-kredibilità biex jagħmel dan il-pass. Hu wieħed mill-ftit Membri Parlamentari li għadhom fil-Kamra u li fl-2006 kienu ivvutaw kontra li din l-art tingħata għal-iżvilupp. Għamel dan flimkien ma sħabu tal-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista ta’ dakinnhar!

Bħala t-tieni pass il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar għall-Iżvilupp tal-Art jista jħaffef ftit il-pass li bih għandhom ikunu reveduti r-regoli dwar id-diżinn għall-iżvilupp rurali (Rural Design Guidelines). Forsi, ma tafx kif, jingħalqu darba għal dejjem it-toqob fir-regoli, li bihom qed ikun imħeġġeg l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja.

Imbagħad, kieku dan kellu jsir, il-Gvern ikun kredibbli fil-proposti li qed jagħmel dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ il-ħarsien mingħandna. Dan hu meħtieġ dejjem, mhux biss meta jkun politikament konvenjenti.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 t’Ottubru 2022

Protecting agricultural land: all of it

Over the years government has been actively at the forefront in the assault on agricultural land. It continuously makes it easier for agricultural land to be developed. It also takes up good quality agricultural land in order to develop new (and many times unnecessary) roads or else to extend existing ones.

The White Paper published earlier this week by the Ministry for Agriculture, entitled Agricultural Land Reform seeks to control the private sector assault on agricultural land. By omission, the assault being carried out by the public sector is being deemed acceptable!

Existing authorities like the Planning Authority already have the legal powers to stop agricultural land being transformed into picnic or barbeque areas. Yet it has done nothing to stop this over the years.

The Department of Agriculture always ends up defending the uptake of good agricultural land by Government for unnecessary roads. The Central Link is one of the latest examples as a result of which naturally irrigated agricultural land at Attard was destroyed in order to make way for more cars. The livelihood of a number of full-time farmers was destroyed. Not even a whimper from the authorities at the Department of Agriculture was heard.

Faced with existing authorities which are not functioning properly what sense does it make to create more authorities, as proposed by the agricultural reform White Paper? Would it not be better to remove the snakes from the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture and replace them with suitably qualified and motivated personnel? If the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture are allowed to function properly, with suitable leadership and expertise, most of the contents of the White Paper would not even be required!

Towards the end of 2021 Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, in his decision on a constitutional application relative to agricultural land at Qrendi had emphasised that the realistic value of agricultural land ought to be a reflection of what that agricultural land can produce. This is a point validly taken up by the White Paper when discussing the value currently being attached to agricultural holdings. The White Paper also proposes that the rental value of agricultural holdings should be determined at 1.5 per cent of their realistic value.  It remains to be seen whether and to what extent these limitations on the determination of value and rental value will be able to withstand the legal assault which will inevitably follow once the White paper proposal in this respect is implemented.

An interesting point made by the White Paper is to introduce a tax on agricultural land which is not being used for agricultural purposes! This is similar to the proposals which my party repeatedly brought forward relative to taxes on vacant dwellings!

This is the first time, as far as I can recollect, that the Labour Party is proposing the utilisation of taxation as a tool to attain a political objective: the protection of agricultural land. I do not however think that this proposal will materialise as the Labour Party has been vociferous over the years against the use of taxation as a political instrument in any form or shape. However, it is positive that the proposal is being tabled.

The proposals in the White Paper on agricultural reform are definitely a first step towards a mature debate. They are however very far from what is required to protect agricultural land.

The first step should be to establish an element of good faith, which is currently inexistent. In this line of thought I would invite government to present a motion in Parliament to cancel the rationalisation exercise approved by Parliament in 2006 as a result of which thousands of square metres of agricultural land all over the islands were defined as being suitable for development. I believe that the current Minister for Agricultural, Anton Refalo, has the credibility to do it. He is in fact one of the few remaining Members of Parliament who way back in 2006 had voted against adopting the rationalisation exercise, together with the rest of the then Labour Party Parliamentary Group!

As a second step the Minister for Land Use Planning could accelerate the revision of the Rural Design Guidelines, thereby closing the loopholes which continuously encourage the urbanisation of the countryside.

Only then, maybe, can government be credible in its proposals to protect agricultural land. All agricultural land needs our protection. This is required all of the time, not only when it is politically convenient.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 October 2022

The Impeachment of Dr George Vella

Parliament has approved controversial legislation relative to IVF on the 6 July 2022.

The approved legislation was sent to the Office of the President of the Republic in order that he concludes the legislative process by assenting to the approved bill.

Article 72 of the Constitution provides that “When a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall without delay signify that he assents.” The bill has been on the President’s desk for many days and he has not given his Presidential assent. He should signify that he assents without delay. There are no ifs and buts.

This lack of Presidential assent “without delay” is in breach of the Constitutional responsibilities of the President of the Republic.

In statements made to the press over the past days it has been made amply clear that Dr George Vella is reluctant to assent to the approved IVF Bill. This is clearly unacceptable and runs counter to his Constitutional responsibilities as President of the Republic.

A Green MP would by now have presented a motion for the impeachment of Dr George Vella and his removal from the office of President of the Republic for failing to shoulder his Constitutional responsibilities “without delay”.

There are no Green MPs. Discriminatory electoral legislation is currently being contested in our law courts, an initiative of ADPD-The Green Party.

Will anyone of the 79 Members of Parliament take the initiative?

Planning application PA00777/22 : another mega-development at Marsaskala

(photo is the official Parliamentary voting record of those voting in favour of the rationalisation exercise: that is those voting in favour of extending the building development boundary into what was then ODZ-Outside the Development Zone)

It would be pertinent to remember that on the 26 July 2006 Malta’s Parliament approved a resolution which we normally refer to as the “rationalisation” exercise, as a result of which extensive stretches of land until then outside the development zone (ODZ) were declared as land suitable for development.

The PN parliamentary group, supported the Lawrence Gonzi led government and voted in favour of developing ODZ land whilst ironically the Labour Opposition had then voted against the proposal. This is not just history. It is still affecting our daily lives. Today, 16 years later some are realising for the first time how land use planning was screwed by the then Environment Minister George Pullicino!

Three of the Members of Parliament who had then voted in favour of developing ODZ land are still MPs today.

Their names come to mind when considering the latest mega-development proposal, this time at iż-Żonqor on the outskirts of Marsaskala, through development application PA00777/22.  The development application this time concerns a 5,000 square metre area of rural land over which it is proposed to construct 135 residential units and 180 basement garages. These will be spread over 10 different levels, four of them below ground floor level after excavating a substantial amount of rock.

The basic decision permitting today’s proposed development was taken on the 26 July 2006 when the rationalisation exercise was approved by Parliament on the proposal of a PN-led government. No studies were then carried out as to the environmental impacts of the development resulting from the rationalisation exercise. Specifically, the cumulative impact of the development proposed was ignored contrary to the then emerging environmental acquis of the EU relative to the assessment of plans and programmes, known as the SEA Directive (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) which Directive entered into force on the days immediately following the approval by the Maltese Parliament of the rationalisation exercise.

The basic question to ask is whether we really need such large-scale developments. Why are we determined as a country to develop every square centimetre of our land? Isn’t it about time that a moratorium on such large-scale development enters in force?

The rationalisation exercise should be scrapped at the earliest and all rationalised land returned to its former ODZ status the soonest. This is what we should expect of any government which (unashamedly) proclaims that the environment and our quality of life is now its priority.

It has taken our residents 16 years to become sensitised to the large-scale havoc which land use planning has degenerated to.  Throughout these 16 years all genuine environmentalists have been pointing this out. Unfortunately, some only react when large scale development is very close to their backyard, otherwise they do not care. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years, yet it was ignored for quite some time.

One mega-project after the other has been eroding our quality of life, the latest one being proposal PA00777/22 which goes by this description: To excavate and construct 180 garages at basement level, 2 Class 4B shops, and 135 overlying units. The site is at iż-Zonqor, Marsaskala, but it should be everyone’s concern.

It is about time that we stop all this in the same way that the proposed Marina at Marsaskala had to be shelfed, hopefully for good!

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 2022

Issa li ħareġ ir-riżultat finali tal-elezzjoni!

F’dawn il-mumenti li qed joħorġu l-aħħar riżultati qed issir magħrufa l-komposizzjoni tal-Parlament.

Il-Parlament issa hu magħmul minn 79 membru parlamentari.

Ir-riforma li saret setgħet tat riżultati aħjar. Minflok kompliet għaffġet.

Għal uħud, li daħlu fil-Parlament 12-il mara bil-mekkaniżmu tal-ġeneru hu mument ta’ ċelebrazzjoni.

Naħseb li mhux. Anzi hu mument ta’ negazzjoni tal-proċess demokratiku.

Mhux qed nikkritika l-fatt li l-Parlament aġxxa biex jindirizza l-iżbilanċ tal-ġeneru fil-komposizzjoni tal-Parlament wara l-elezzjoni. Il-kritika tiegħi u tal-partit li mmexxi hi iffukata fuq il-mod kif dan sar.

Il-Parlament spiċċa biex raqqa’ s-sistema elettorali b’mod li sistema elettorali mimlija difetti saret agħar milli kienet.

Il-Partit Laburista illum ghandu 38+ 6 = 44 siġġu parlamentari u l-Partit Nazzjonalista illum ghandu 27+ 2+ 6 = 35 siġġu parlamentari : b’kollox 79.

Il-Partit Laburista kiseb 162,707 voti fl-ewwel għadd: jiġifieri kull wieħed mill-44 siġġu parlamentari tal-PL qed jirrappreżenta 3698 vot. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista kiseb 123,233 vot fl-ewwel għadd: jiġifieri kull wieħed mill-35 siġġu parlamentari tal-PN qed jirrappreżenta 3521 vot.

L-ADPD fl-ewwel għadd kisbet 4747 voti. Bl-istess kejl li l-PN u l-PL qed japplikaw għalihom infushom aħna għandna dritt għal siġġu parlamentari aħna ukoll. Dik hi r-realtà tar-riforma li trodd il-proporzjonalità lill-PLPN u iċċaħħadha lill-bqija.

Kien hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra li kienu jirrispettaw il-volontà tal-elettorat. Sfortunatamanet dawn ġew skartati. Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-kovenzjoni kostituzzjonali kif ukoll fis-sottomissjonijiet fil-proċess konsultattiv dwar kif għandu jkun indirizzat l-iżbilanċ tal-ġeneru fil-parlament repetutament għidna li hu possibli li jkollna parlament ta’ 65 membru, li jirrappreżenta proporzjonalment lill-elettorat li jagħżlu kif ukoll li jkun iktar rappreżentattiv tal-ġeneri. Imma dejjem sibna l-bibien magħluqin. Ħadd ma ried jiddiskuti.

Soluzzjoni ġusta tirrikjedi tibdil sostanzjali u mhux li tipprova temmen li solvejt problema billi toħloq oħra. Imma hemm wasalna illum!

Beyond 26 March

Increasing our vote tally by almost doubling it between general elections is no mean feat. That is what has been achieved by ADPD-The Green Party on 26 March. Notwithstanding the small numbers involved, the achievement is substantial, getting close to the best green result achieved in the 2013 general election. 

The 26 March electoral result, however, once more, exposes an electoral system which does not deliver proportional results when it really matters: results that is, supporting minority views. Political parties representing the PLPN establishment, have continuously benefitted from various adjustments to the electoral system, from which they obtain one proportional result after the other: proportionality which they benefit from but simultaneously, continuously and consistently deny to others.

Fair treatment would possibly have seen us achieve much better results than we have achieved so far. Unfortunately, the electoral system is designed to be discriminatory. This includes the setup of the Electoral Commission itself as well as the manner in which it operates under the continuous remote control of the PLPN. Even simple access to the individual district provisional results, which I requested, was continuously obstructed and objected to by the Electoral Commission late on Sunday 27 March when the counting process was still in progress.

Furthermore, PLPN have normal access to electronic counting data held by the Electoral Commission in order to be able to vet the validity of the final results. Repeated requests to extend such access to the green monitoring team in the counting hall were ignored. Even the OSCE election observation team present in the counting hall found this very strange and queried our monitoring team continuously on the matter.

Tomorrow, we will start the long process in court which could deliver some form of justice: the restitution of the parliamentary seats which our party has been robbed of by the PLPN political establishment throughout the years.

Normally, after elections, we waste a lot of time engaged in soul searching discussing whether taking the PLPN establishment head-on, one election after another, is worth the effort. This time we are immediately taking the plunge to ensure once and for all that each vote cast in Maltese general elections, irrespective of whom it is cast for, has an equal value. It is a long journey which may possibly take us to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, if this is considered essential, in order to settle the issue of electoral justice in these islands once and for all.

We have had to take this line of action as parliament in Malta has been consistently incapable of acting fairly. Parliament is, since 1966 under the complete control of the establishment political parties: PLPN.

By next Tuesday all bye-election results will be known. Subsequently the constitutional gender balance mechanism will be applied in favour of the establishment PLPN. This will be limited in implementation, similarly to the proportionality mechanism: limited in favour of the PLPN

The PLPN duopoly which has completely hijacked the institutions wants to be sure that its control is adequately embedded such that it can withstand any future shocks.

It is unacceptable that electoral legislation treats us in this despicable manner: differently from the manner in which it treats the establishment political parties. Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver any semblance of fairness in our electoral system. The Courts, consequently, are our only remaining hope to address and start removing discrimination from electoral legislation, which is why tomorrow we will embark on our long overdue Court case.

The team we have built in the past months at ADPD has functioned quite well in achieving one of our best electoral results. It is now making the necessary preparations to ensure a better Green presence in our towns and villages in the months ahead. As a result of the excellent teamwork developed, we have starting preparing plans for the future which should lead to an organic growth of the party. This will make it possible for us to achieve even better results in the next political cycle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 April 2022