Switch għal-lista l-griża

Għada it-Tnejn, fil-Parlament, il-Kumitat Permanenti dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jibda jeżamina ir-rapport  K/032 dwar il-Membru Parlamentari Laburista Rosianne Cutajar. Ir-rapport jeżamina is-sottomissjonijiet li rċieva l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler dwar in-nuqqas ta’ Cutajar li tiddikjara dħul tagħha hi u timla l-formola dwar id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi meta kienet għadha Segretarju Parlamentari fil-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja.

Ir-rapport ta’ 45 paġna tal-Kummissarju Hyzler hu akkumpanjat minn żewġ volumi addizzjonali bix-xhieda li fuqha Dr Hyzler fassal id-deliberazzjonijiet u l-konklużjonijiet tiegħu. Hemm ukoll it-tielet volum li mhux aċċessibli għal skrutinju pubbliku. Dan it-tielet volum fih statements tal-bank tal-membru parlamentari Qormija flimkien mac- chats tagħha fuq Whatsapp ma Yorgen Fenech, is-suspettat moħħ wara l-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ħa deċiżjoni li bħala riżultat tagħha Rosianne Cutajar hi issa definittivament barra mill-Kabinet, ta’ l-inqas f’dawn l-aħħar xhur tal-leġislatura. Iżda għadha qed tinsisti li mhux ser twarrab minn membru tal-Parlament. Qalet li fi ħsiebha tibqa’, anke jekk il-Partit Laburista, s’issa, għad ma ikkonfermax jekk hux ser tkun kandidata u dan in vista tar-rapport dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika taħt konsiderazzjoni.

Biex jiddefendi lil Cutajar il-Prim Ministur Abela, b’mod li jevita li jikkommetti ruħu iżżejjed, qal li kulħadd għandu jkun trattat l-istess, mingħajr deskriminazzjoni!

Bla dubju Rosianne Cutajar tħoss li ġiet ittrattata ħażin, kemm kemm mhux b’mod inġust!  Għalfejn din il-pressjoni kollha biex tisparixxi mill-ħajja pubblika meta min ammetta pubblikament li evada t-taxxa spiċċa elett Kap tal-Opposizzjoni? Il-ħajja u l-politika f’Malta xejn m’huma ġusti!   

Bernard Grech u Rosianne Cutajar qegħdin fuq l-istess livell fl-imġieba etika tagħhom, imma s’issa huma trattati b’mod differenti.  

Għalfejn, nistaqsi, l-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari ma tapplikax l-istess kriterji lit-tnejn li huma?  Meta l-Opposizzjoni tinsisti li Rosianne Cutajar għandha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika għal għemilha kif imfisser fir-rapport tal-Kummissarju Hyzler qed tagħmel sewwa. Għaliex mela ma tkunx konsistenti u tapplika l-istess kriterji għall-mexxej tagħha li dwaru l-investigazzjoni ilha lesta?

Bħal Rosianne Cutajar, Bernard Grech ħaqqu daqqa ta’ sieq għal barra. Dak hu t-trattament ugwali li jixraqilhom.  Il-presenza tagħhom it-tnejn fil-ħajja pubblika hi kontribut ċar għall-presenza ta’ Malta fil-lista l-griża tal- FATF!

Therese Comodini Cachia u Karol Aquilina kienu preċiżi meta emfasiżżaw li r-rapport ta’ George Hyzler jeħtieġ li jkun approvat bla dewmien jekk irridu nwasslu l-messaġġ li qed naħdmu bis-serjetà biex Malta ma tibqax fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF.  Nittama li xi darba jifhmu illi meta jkollok persuna li hi evasur tat-taxxa li jistenna li jkun il-Prim Ministru alternattiv fi ftit taż-żmien ieħor, dan ma tantx hu ta’ għajnuna biex nitbegħdu minn din il-lista l-griża. Għadu possibli anke issa li nkunu konsistenti jekk irridu!

Il-ħtieġa li jkollna mġieba aħjar fil-ħajja pubblika mhiex switch li tixgħelu jew titfiegħ fil-mument li nidħlu fil-ħajja pubblika. Tapplika għal kulħadd, dejjem. Mhux biss waqt li aħna attivi fil-ħajja pubblika imma saħansitra sa minn qabel ma jibda l-involviment tagħna.  

Għal din ir-raġuni ngħarblu n-nomini tal-kandidati u l-ħatra tal-uffiċjali minn qabel. Għax m’għandniex nistennew lil min kien jiġi jaqa’ u jqum dwar kif iġib ruħu qabel ma jidħol fil-politika ser jaqbleb is-switch għal imġieba aħjar, hekk kif jidħol fil-politika.

Dan il-każ għandu jservi ta’ sveljarin.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Lulju 2021

A grey-list switch

Tomorrow, Monday, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life will commence the examination of Report K/032 on Labour Party Qormi Member of Parliament Rosianne Cutajar. The report examines submissions received by the Standards Commissioner George Hyzler and points towards the failure by Cutajar to declare income which she received when drawing up her declaration of assets, a declaration which she submitted when she was still a Parliamentary Secretary in the Justice Ministry.

The 45-page report drawn up by Commissioner Hyzler is accompanied by an additional two volumes containing the supporting evidence on the basis of which Dr Hyzler based his deliberations and conclusions. A third volume of evidence has been withheld from public scrutiny. It has been stated that this third volume contains confidential bank statements of the Qormi Labour MP as well as her chats on Whatsapp with Yorgen Fenech, suspected mastermind of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has taken a decision as a result of which Rosianne Cutajar is now definitely out of Cabinet, at least for the final months of the current legislature. However, she has stubbornly emphasised that she will not relinquish her Parliamentary seat. She says that she will be back, even though to date her political party has not yet confirmed whether she will be presented as a candidate, in view of the Standards in Public Life report under consideration.

In Cutajar’s defence Prime Minister Abela, in non-committal mode, has emphasised that she will be treated as anybody else, with no favourable treatment.

Undoubtedly Cutajar considers that she has been treated very unfairly. Why should she now be pressured to disappear from public life when a self-confessed tax evader was elected Leader of the Opposition? Life (and Maltese politics) is certainly not fair.  Bernard Grech and Rosianne Cutajar are on an ethically equivalent level yet so far, they are treated differently.  

Why is it, one might ask, that the Parliamentary Opposition adopts two weights and two measures? May I suggest that the Opposition representatives are right in insisting that Rosianne Cutajar should shoulder the political consequences of her actions as detailed in the report of Commissioner Hyzler? Why don’t they be consistent and apply the same criteria to their Leader too?

Like Rosianne Cutajar, Bernard Grech qualifies for the Order of the Boot. That is the equal treatment they should receive. The presence of both of them in local public life is a significant contributor to FATF grey-listing!

Therese Comodini Cachia and Karol Aquilina were spot on when they emphasised that the Hyzler report needs to be approved in order to send out the message that we are truly working on removing Malta from the FATF grey-list.  I hope they also agree that having a tax-evader as an alternative Prime Minister does not help in distancing this country from the FATF grey-list! 

There is still time to be consistent!

The need to upgrade ethical behaviour in public life is not a switch-on switch-off exercise depending on which political party is in government. It is applicable to all of us in politics. Not just while we are active in politics but starting from before the actual involvement itself.

This is the reason why we seek to screen potential electoral candidates and party officials before selection or election. We should not expect that those who do not behave ethically before taking up politics manage to switch to a more “acceptable” behavioural mode on entering politics.  

Let this be a wake-up call!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 July 2021

Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Xejn ma jsir b’xejn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mela mill-iżbalji tal-passat ma tgħallmu xejn?

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

Nothing is ever secured for free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 May 2021

Rent reform is long overdue

Over the years, successive governments have refrained from carrying out essential far-reaching changes to rent legislation.

The emergency which justified the original restrictive legislation was instead made more restrictive over the years. Court decisions from Valletta to Strasbourg denouncing the current state of play have been piling up. The rent reforms of 1995 and 2008 cannot be discarded, however they were not followed up. They were appropriate small first steps but too much time elapsed with no adequate follow-up action. Successive governments have been reluctant to disturb a hornet’s nest hoping that somehow time will solve the matter.

It is within this context that Government’s proposal to carry out a root and branch reform of the 9,700 remaining pre-1995 tenancies is thus a responsible and courageous political move. Through it government will be shouldering the accumulated shortcomings of all its predecessors, red and blue, which have generally ignored the matter over the years. The Greens in Malta have over the years actively campaigned on this specific issue: justice for the landlords must be carried out together with adequate protection of vulnerable tenants.

At the time of writing the statements made by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Social Accommodation Minister Roderick Galdes have not been followed up with the publication of the specific legal texts which will implement the policy declarations made.

The proposals as described so far, are, in my view acceptable in principle. It is however expected that when the detailed legislative proposals are published, these are accompanied by studies carried out, including costings. An essential healthy public debate needs to be adequately buttressed by well-researched background information.

The proposal as spelled out by Abela and Galdes is based on two fundamental points. It seeks to tread the difficult path of protecting both tenants and landlords.

Tenant protection will be achieved through ensuring that vulnerable tenants will at all times have access to a home, be it their current one or, in some cases, possible alternatives provided through access to social accommodation. This is essentially a transitory provision applicable to the identified 9,700 pre-1995 tenancies and is undoubtedly a restrictive condition on landlords. It is however of central importance. It is to be counterbalanced by a mechanism which determines a more reasonable determination of rental income which will be coughed up by the state in part or in whole depending on the vulnerability of the tenant. It is also a mechanism which over the past years has generally been accepted by the Courts as constituting a fair and reasonable rental income.

Of fundamental importance in the proposal as communicated so far is the manner of determination of the payable rent. This will not be left completely to the whims of market forces as it will be capped at 2 per cent of the property’s value. This signifies that, hopefully, some lessons have been learnt from the fallout resulting from the complete liberalisation of the post-1995 rental market.   

The proposal will be addressing an accumulated social problem with a substantial financial outlay consisting of millions of euros annually.

So far, the rent payable in respect of pre-1995 tenancies have been subsidised by the landlords who, in a number of cases are themselves in need of help! It is appropriate that this support is shouldered by the whole community, through the state, who now steps forward to shoulder the problem in the spirit of national solidarity.

So far most have acknowledged that pre-1995 tenancies are a tough challenge. What matters, now, is that we face this challenge head-on. It cannot be postponed any further.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 March 2021

Lingering doubts on return to normal

The more Robert Abela brags that “the institutions are working” the longer doubts linger on. In a situation of normalcy, which we have a right to, there is no room for a Prime Minister addressing a press conference as that of last Tuesday (with a repeat on Thursday morning), on the police investigations into an assassination.

The Commissioner of Police addressed the press twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday. Commissioner Angelo Gafà was right to do so even if he could not give specific and detailed replies to avoid undermining the investigation at such a critical juncture. We expect the Commissioner of Police to inform us as to what is going on under his watch.

Angelo Gafà’s predecessor could not utter a coherent sentence in his press conferences. He left the running of the show to his deputy, known to the assassination prime suspect as Uncle Silvio.

Robert Abela and his predecessor have been breathing down the neck of the Police Force for far too long for them to realise that this is not normal behaviour in a democratic state. During his Tuesday Press Conference Robert Abela made a statement that could have indicated that he was being briefed on the criminal investigation by the Police. In fact, he stated that no politician, current or former, is in any way associated with the assassination investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia.  This was clearly rebutted by the Police Commissioner on the morrow in his answers to the press when replying to a similar question. He stated that to date no leads to politicians, past and present have been identified. However, he further emphasised that he does not brief the Prime Minister on investigations.

This is the real news from the Police Commissioner conference. Commissioner Gafà is getting one clear message across: the police does not brief the Prime Minister on ongoing investigations! This is a complete U-turn from past police behaviour. We have learnt from detailed testimony in the assassination criminal case that police officials used to brief former premier Joseph Muscat who would generally be accompanied by his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Melvin Theuma, the assassination middleman has testified time and again that he was aware of various important aspects of the investigation from his paymaster Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri’s friend.

The police, maybe, have learnt the lesson that they have been undermined too many a time by the tenant at Castille Place. In this respect Angelo Gafà’s statement is a much-needed breath of fresh air, a welcome step on the road to normalcy. It is however not enough. Even the tenant at Castille Place must play his part: in such circumstances he should realise once and for all that shutting up is the only way forward.

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia did not happen out of the blue but against a background of institutionalised and industrial scale corruption. The police have made progress on the assassination itself. Instead of trying to take credit for the latest developments in the Caruana Galizia case, it is now up to the Prime Minister to deal with the background that led to the assassination. Ignoring that background and its illicit fruits means endorsing it.

The democratic institutions can function if we let them. If the Prime Minister halts his prima donna behaviour it will definitely help a lot. Until such time there are lingering doubts as to whether a return to normal is on the cards yet.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 February 2021

Some reflections on the Mafia State

Reading through the terms of reference for the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, it is amply clear to all as to what the inquiry should be aiming at.

The inquiry’s objective is to determine whether the machinery of government functioned as it should. Did it function in the public interest, or did it function in another manner, in the interest of the few, thereby creating a culture of impunity for the said few?

Some may justifiably argue that the machinery of government, in Malta, never functioned properly. It is further argued that the post 2013 administration made use of a defective machinery of government more efficiently than previous administrations, fine tuning and intensifying political controls in the process, as a result of which the stultification of the functions of the democratic state was accelerated.

The terms of reference agreed to in December 2019 speak of the development of a “de facto state of impunity” and seek to determine whether this could have been avoided through effective criminal law provisions, if such provisions exist.

Do we have a Mafia State? We would definitely have a Mafia State if the machinery of government is tied with organised crime to the extent that state officials become part of a criminal partnership or organisation.

The testimony heard so far in open session during the proceedings of the public inquiry reveals the reluctance of the authorities to investigate thereby paving the way for the development of a culture of impunity. Money-laundering investigations moved at snail’s pace until there was a change in leadership at the Economic Crimes Unit of the Malta Police Force. However, as yet we do not know what was revealed in the testimony behind closed doors. Matters could be considerably worse than what is known so far.

The revelations at the public inquiry must not be seen in isolation. They must be viewed in context of the testimony in the Magistrates Court relative to the criminal proceedings against those accused of carrying out the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, or of masterminding it.

We have learnt that the alleged master-mind has pleaded with the police that he was carrying out the instructions of the Chief of Staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, who categorically denied this. The definite truth is not known yet. So far, we are only sure that the assassination planners were too close to the political nerve centre: just like in a Mafia State. It is at the Office of the Prime Minister that the middleman was offered a government job, one which delivered pay for no work. Part payment for his endeavours as a middleman!

The Ministers testifying at the public inquiry were continuously seeking to pass the buck from the Cabinet to the kitchen cabinet. On the other hand, those forming part of this kitchen cabinet feigned ignorance of their role in circumventing the role of the real cabinet. This is the worrying state of play in which those having responsibility take a step backwards as a result of which their authority ends being wielded by those appointed in lieu of those elected. Collective responsibility has been thrown to the winds.

The latest revelations crown it all. Government’s thinly veiled threats in the past days to the members of the judiciary directing the public inquiry reveal a government in panic mode.

Robert Abela’s unease at this point in time is understandable. After all he was former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s legal advisor. How many skeletons in the cupboard is he aware of?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 December 2020

Niftħu l-iskejjel ftit ftit

Il-messaġġi konfliġġenti fil-bidu tas-sajf minn politiċi fis-sens li l-Covid-19 kien taħt kontroll huma in parti responsabbli għall-qagħda attwali. Kien in partikolari l-Prim Ministru flimkien mal-Ministru tat-Turiżmu li pubblikament emfasizzaw li issa li l-pandemija kienet taħt kontroll stajna ingawdu is-sajf!

Kienet din l-attitudni irresponsabbli li wasslet biex ġew rilassati b’mod mgħaġġel ir-restrizzjonijiet marbuta mal-Covid-19 meta s-sens komun kien jitlob pass iktar kawt.

Nifhem li l-operaturi ekonomiċi li kienu qed iġorru l-piz kienu kontinwament isusu wara l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu. Imma meta l-Gvern ċeda bagħat l-agħar messaġġ possibli: li r-restrizzjonijiet ma kienux meħtieġa. Meta l-Prim Ministru mbagħad ħafer il-multi li weħlu dawk li abbużaw u kisru l-kundizzjonijiet tal-kwarantina u restrizzjonijiet oħra, għaxxaqha!

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni attwali: fi tmiem is-sajf ir-rata tal-infezzjonijiet tal-Covid-19 hi sfortunatament l-ogħla s’issa f’Malta. Il-106 każ ta’ Covid-19 li irriżultaw nhar l-Erbgħa huma bozza ħamra li qed  itteptep u tgħidilna li l-kontrolli li għanda illum mhux adegwati. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ infurzar aħjar.  

L-ekonomija qalgħet daqqa ta’  ħarta għalkemm is-sussidji u l-għajnuniet li ħareġ il-Gvern bla dubju naqqsu l-impatt tad-daqqa. 

Il-mixja lura lejn in-normalità mhiex waħda faċli. Mhux ser isseħħ mil-lum għal għada. Teħtieġ il-paċenzja min-naħa ta’ kulħadd. Teħtieġ ukoll sens ta’ responsabbiltà billi nsegwu l-prewkazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji, fosthom li nilbsu l-maskri protettivi, mhux biss biex nipproteġu lilna nfusna imma fuq kollox biex nipproteġu lill-oħrajn.

L-argument bħalissa huwa jekk l-iskejjel għandhomx jiftħu jew le. Fin-nofs hemm l-interess tal-edukazzjoni tal-istudenti, il-ħtiega tal-genituri li jaħdmu u s-saħħa kulħadd: fuq quddiem nett dik tal-istudenti kif ukoll tal-għalliema kif ukoll ta’ dawk kollha nvoluti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-iskejjel u tal-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi.

Hemm ħafna argumenti validi għax l-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għandhom jiftħu. Dan minkejja li l-protokolli dwar l-imġieba meħtieġa damu ma ħarġu b’mod li kabbru l-inċertezza ta’ kulħadd.

L-ewwel u qabel kollox hu fl-interess tal-istudenti, kbar u żgħar, li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi jerġgħu jiftħu l-bibien tagħhom. Hemm limitu dwar kemm jista’ jsir tagħlim effettiv b’mod virtwali. It-tagħlim b’mod elettroniku bla dubju jista’ jgħin – hu għodda tajba – imma qatt ma jista’ jissostitwixxi l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliema u l-studenti b’mod partikolari ta’ dawk li għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali tat-tagħlim. F’numru ta’ każi ta’ studenti vulnerabbli l-kuntatt dirett bejn l-għalliem u l-istudent hu l-unika mezz ta’ tagħlim effettiv. Dawn huma fost l-iktar li batew bl-għeluq komplet tal-iskejjel u l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi. Il-ħsara li saritilhom mhux faċli li tkun rimedjata. Bħala riżultat tal-għeluq tal-iskejjel, effett dirett tal-Covid-19, hemm numru ta’ tfal li qegħdin fil-periklu li jintilfu għal kollox għas-sistema edukattiva!

L-iskejjel jeħtieġ li jiftħu ukoll għax il-genituri jeħtieġ li huma ukoll imorru għax-xogħol. L-għeluq tal-iskejjel qed iżżomm numru ta’ ġenituri milli jmorru lura għax-xogħol għax inkella ma jibqa’ ħadd biex jieħu ħsieb l-ulied. Niftakru li issa anke in-nanniet huma out of action għax huma fost il-vulnerabbli! Mhuwiex raġjonevoli li nistennew li f’dan il-mument kritiku jerfgħu l-piż in-nanniet, b’periklu għal saħħithom. Fost dawk li qalgħu daqqa kbira bl-egħluq tal-iskejjel hemm il-familji b’genitur wieħed: dawn qed jissograw l-impieg tagħhom ferm iktar minn ħaddieħor.

Mhux kull xogħol hu possibli li jsir bit-telework! Fejn hu possibli dan għandu jibqa’ jsir. Imma kif nafu ilkoll dan mhux possibli dejjem.

Fid-dawl tal-ispluzjoni ta’ każi tal-Covid-19 naħseb li minkejja l-ħtieġa li l-iskejjel jiftħu, m’huwiex prattiku li dawn jiftħu kompletament u dan biex jonqos ir-riskju tal-imxija tal-Covid-19. Huwa l-każ li nesploraw li minflok ma jiftħu kompletament l-iskejjel jiftħu bil-mod biex jerġgħu jibdew jistabilixxu kuntatt (anke jekk wieħed minimu) mal-istudenti u jkun possibli li tkun imħarsa is-saħħa ta’ kulħadd.

Is-soluzzjoni hi li nimxu b’mod gradwali, bil-mod, pass pass. L-istudenti vulnerabbli u dawk fl-etajiet li għandhom dipendenti mill-għalliema għandhom ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jerġgħu jibdew l-iskola għax huma l-iktar li għandhom bżonn!

Dan hu l-unika mod li bih nistgħu naslu. Aħjar pass żgħir il-quddiem, b’kuntatt minimu flok bil-bibien magħluqin.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Settembru 2020