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

Covid detection and school opening

The conflicting messages in early summer issued by Maltese holders of political office that Covid-19 was under control are partly responsible for the current state of play. Specifically, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism are on record as having publicly stated that matters were under control and that we could now “enjoy summer”.

It is this irresponsible attitude that led to the fast track relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions when a more common-sense approach would have indicated a much slower pace.

One does understand that the economic operators feeling the pinch were lobbying continuously the Tourism authorities. However, when government gave way, it sent the worst possible message: that the restrictions were not required. When the Prime Minister announced an amnesty relative to  fines imposed, he made matters worse.

This is the current state of play: at the end of summer the rate of Covid-19 infections is unfortunately the highest ever in the Maltese islands. The 106 cases identified on Wednesday is a red light warning us that controls in place are not adequate. They need to be tightened up and enforced.

As a result of the Covid-19 restrictions the economy has contracted. The government subsidies and handouts helped substantially to reduce the negative impacts.

The road back to “some version of normal” will be slow and painful. It will definitely take a considerable time, depending on the sector under consideration. It requires caution, patience and a sense of responsibility.

The current Covid-19 agenda is considering whether and when it will be possible to re-open our educational institutions.  This is primarily in the interests of our students as well as of parents whose painfully constructed work/life balance has been destabilised. It is also in the interest of protecting everyone’s health: that of students, teachers, as well as those responsible for the administration of the educational institutions.

There are a multitude of valid arguments as to why all educational institutions should re-open the soonest even though the state authorities were very late in issuing the behaviour protocols, further fuelling unnecessary uncertainty.

It is first and foremost in the interest of most students, young and old, that formal education gets going the soonest. Online learning, while being useful and having many merits, is no substitute for direct face to face contact between student and teacher, especially in the initial stages of education.

In the case of vulnerable students direct contact with the educator is essential. These are the Covid-19 education victims: their future, already in the fringes, has been severely damaged. There is a real risk of the system losing track of them completely thereby impairing severely their future.

Opening schools is also in the interest of working parents. Their active involvement at their place of work is being hampered as long as schools remain closed. Where can they leave their children? Grandparents are out of the question as they are vulnerable too!  Single parents are definitely worse off with closed schools as even their very livelihood is put into question. 

Telework is not necessarily always a solution, even though it is helpful.

The explosive increase in the number of detected Covid-19 cases during this week does not help matters. Coupled with the late availability of the school behavioural protocols this is creating considerable doubt in all stakeholders as to whether the authorities can handle the return back to school.

It may be reasonable to explore whether instead of an across the board return to school, a staggered approach can be implemented with the vulnerable and the dependent students being given priority. This could be the only realistic way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 September 2020

Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020

Pétrus: minn Yorgen għal Joseph: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Il-politiċi għandhom iżommu distanza soċjali min-nies tan-negozju, u dan mhux biss waqt pandemija. Dan kien rappurtat li ntqal minn George Hyzler, il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, waqt seduta ta’ kumitat parlamentari li kien qed jiddiskuti r-rapport tiegħu dwar investigazzjoni li għamel fuq Joseph Muscat, ex-Prim Ministru. Ir-rapport ta’ Hyzler hu dwar ir-rigal li Joseph Muscat irċieva mingħand Yorgen Fenech li kien jikkonsisti fi tlett fliexken inbid prim, Château Pétrus, mingħand min hu presentement akkużat li kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinazzjoni ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat mhux l-ewwel politiku li irċieva rigali kompromettenti. L-ex Ministru tal-Finanzi Tonio Fenech kien aċċetta rikba bla ħlas (bejn Malta u Madrid u lura) fuq jet privat flimkien ma żewġ negozjanti biex jara logħba futbal taċ-Champon’s League (l-Arsenal f’Madrid).  Tonio Fenech, li anke rċieva rigali kontroversjali oħra, dakinhar kien soġġett għal kritika qawwija, avolja l-kariga ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma kienitx teżisti!  Anke kellu l-barka tal-Prim Ministru ta’ dakinnhar, “ir-rett” Lawrence Gonzi. U ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Fl-2015 kellna ukoll il-każ tal-ex-Ministru tas-Saħħa  Joe Cassar li, kif kien sar magħruf, kien aċċetta numru ta’ rigali mingħand negozjant ieħor kontroversjali: Joseph Gaffarena. Dakinhar ukoll ma kellniex Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, imma  Joe Cassar ħa deċiżjoni korretta u irreżenja wara li ammetta li żbalja. Cassar ma irrealizzax mill-ewwel bil-gravità ta’ dak li ġara. Imma fl-ebda ħin ma qal: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Meta dawk li jkollhom kariga politika jirċievu rigali li jiswew il-flus ikunu qed joħolqu sitwazzjoni li biha faċilment jikkompromettu l-kariga pubblika li jokkupaw. Il-posizzjoni kompromettenti tkun ferm iktar gravi jekk dak li jġib ir-rigal ikun jiddependi mill-politiku  minħabba deċiżjonijiet li jkunu għadhom pendenti, u ferm agħar jekk ikun jew tkun diġa ibbenefika minn deċiżjonijiet li diġa ttieħdu.

Nifhem li għal uħud mill-politiċi din tista’ tkun sitwazzjoni diffiċli ħafna, b’mod partikolari jekk il-politiku nvolut ma jkunx imdorri jaġixxi b’mod etiku saħansitra f’affarijiet żgħar li niffaċċjaw fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum.  L-imġieba etika mhiex switch li tixgħel jew titfi skond jekk tkunx attiv fil-politika jew le.  Il-politiku qiegħed taħt il-lenti pubblika u l-pubbliku, illum jew għada, jiskopri l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ dak li jkun.  L-attitudni ta’ uħud ġeneralment hi rifless ta’ imġieba mhux etika li saret tant komuni fis-soċjetà tagħna: fil-professjonijiet, fin-negozju (żgħir u kbir), fis-servizzi, fis-settur pubbliku u f’kull qasam tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Is-soċjetà tagħna żviluppat attitudni ta’ “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”. Kollox, jew kważi kollox jgħaddi.  Allura m’hemmx għalfejn nistgħaġbu jekk din l-attitudni hi riflessa ukoll f’dawk eletti f’karigi pubbliċi!

Ir-rapport dwar l-inbid Château Pétrus li Yorgen ta’ lil Joseph hu biss każ wieħed li spikka.  Bla dubju hemm kwantità ta’ każijiet ta’ għoti ta’ rigali lil politiċi konnessi ma’ deċiżjonijiet speċifiċi  inkella li kellhom impatt fuq il-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet.  F’xi każi il-linja li tifred rigal minn  attentat ta’ korruzzjoni hi waħda fina ħafna. Il-parti l-kbira tal-każi imma, diffiċli li jkunu ppruvati.  Huwa għalhekk essenzjali li l-ftit każi li dwarhom hemm il-provi jittieħdu passi dwarhom.

L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju tal-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika hu essenzjali fil-bini tal-infrastruttura etika tant meħtieġa biex ikunu regolati dawk f’ħatriet politiċi.  Hu għal din ir-raġuni li kien hemm elf skuża u dewmien sostanzjali biex din il-kariga inħolqot.

Ir-rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dejjem ser ikunu kontroversjali. Waqt li wieħed jirrispetta l-ġudizzju tal-Kummissarju, huwa għandu jifhem li l-konsiderazzjonijiet tiegħu dejjem ser ikunu taħt il-lenti. Bħalissa, f’xi waqtiet jidher li qed joqgħod lura bħalma għamel fl-investigazzjoni riċenti dwar il-vjaġġ ta’ Joseph Muscat f’Dubai.

Dawn huma materji li dwarhom bħalissa għadna qed nitgħallmu. Anke l-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika nnifsu għadu qed isib saqajħ f’mixja li forsi twassalna biex xi darba neliminaw mill-vokabolarju tagħna espressjonijiet bħal “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”.

Kultant, imma, naħseb li diġa qegħdin tard wisq!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Lulju 2020

Château Pétrus and the “anything goes” syndrome

Politicians should keep a social distance from big business, always, not only during a pandemic. This was reportedly stated by George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life earlier this week during a parliamentary committee sitting, when discussing the contents of his report concluding an investigation of Joseph Muscat, former Prime Minister. Hyzler’s report dealt with the receipt by Joseph Muscat of a gift consisting of three bottles of the premier Bordeaux red wine, Château Pétrus, from Yorgen Fenech, entrepreneur, currently defending himself from the criminal charge of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat is not the first politician to receive such compromising gifts. Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech had accepted a free ride to join a couple of entrepreneurs to watch an Arsenal Champion’s League match in Madrid on a private jet belonging to one of the entrepreneurs. Tonio Fenech, who also received other controversial gifts, was heavily criticised, even though unfortunately there was no Standards Commissioner to investigate back then! He even had the blessing of his boss, the sanctimonious Lawrence Gonzi.

In 2015 we also had the case of former Health Minister Joe Cassar who, it was revealed, had accepted a series of gifts from another controversial business man: Joseph Gaffarena. There was no Commissioner for Standards in Public Life then, but Joe Cassar took the right decision and resigned after publicly accepting that he had committed a serious error of judgement.

When holders of political office accept expensive gifts, they are placing themselves in a position which could easily compromise the public office which they occupy. The seriousness of the compromising situation created increases exponentially if the gift bearer is dependent on the holder of political office for decisions yet to be taken or worse, if he/she has already benefitted from decisions taken.

It is acknowledged that at times the holder of political office may be in a very awkward situation, especially if he is not accustomed to behaving ethically even in minor everyday matters. Ethical behaviour is not a switch-on/switch-off matter dependent on whether one is involved in politics. Holders of political office are under the glare of the public spotlight, which, sooner or later discovers their misdemeanours. Their attitude is however generally a reflection of the unethical behaviour prevalent throughout society: in the professions, in business, in all sectors of everyday life. Our society has developed an attitude that “anything goes”. Consequently, it is no wonder that this is also reflected in those elected to public office!

The Château Pétrus report is just one case which has made it to the headlines. There are undoubtedly countless of other cases of gifts to holders of political office which were the result of specific decisions or else had a material impact on decision-taking. In some cases, the gift bearing borders on corruption. Most of them are however difficult to identify or prove. It is hence imperative that action is taken in respect of the few provable cases.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is an essential building block of the ethical infrastructure required for the regulation of holders of political office. For this specific reason, it took ages to be implemented with a multitude of excuses continuously piling up in order to justify substantial delays.   The reports of the Standards Commissioner will always be controversial. Whilst respecting his judgement he will undoubtedly realise that his considerations will always be subject to scrutiny as at times he appears to be applying excessive self-restraint as he has done in the investigation relative to the recent Muscat Dubai trip.

We are currently riding a steep ethical learning curve. Even the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life himself is on this ethical learning trip at the end of which it may be possible to consign the “anything goes” syndrome to the dustbin of history, even though at times it seems that it may be already too late!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 July 2020

Messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lock Them Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 July 2020

The Parliamentary Opposition

The fact that government has been forced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to loosen its stranglehold on the Commissioner of Police appointment process is a positive democratic development. It is not as good as it could be, but it is definitely a welcome first step: there is however room for substantial improvement in the process.

In this context the Opposition’s decision to boycott the public hearing process is retrograde.

The Parliamentary Opposition, in any democratic jurisdiction worthy of being so described, is the champion of transparency and accountability. A Parliamentary Opposition demands more opportunities to scrutinise major appointments to public office. Boycotting the first substantial opportunity to scrutinise an appointee to the post of Commissioner of Police is not just a lost opportunity. It risks undermining the democratic requests for more public scrutiny of top appointments to public office.

The PN Parliamentary Opposition is arguing that the existence of the possibility for government to terminate the appointment of the new Police Commissioner within a one-year probationary period is unacceptable as it would keep the new appointee on a leash. The justified preoccupation of the Opposition is that the probationary period could be abused of. This is not unheard of. There is however a solution in seeking to subject the possible dismissal of the Police Commissioner at any stage to a Parliamentary decision as a result of which the Minister for the Interior would be required to set out the case for dismissal and the Police Commissioner himself would be afforded the right to defend himself. This would place any government in an awkward position as it would not seek dismissal unless there is a very valid justification for such a course of action. This would ensure, more than anything else, the integrity of the office of Commissioner of Police.

The Opposition has also sought to subject the appointment of the Commissioner of Police to a two-thirds parliamentary approval, indirectly seeking a veto on the appointment to be considered.

It would have been much better if the debate focused on the real decision taker in the whole matter: that is to say the Public Service Commission (PSC). Originally set up in the 1959 Constitution, the PSC has a role of advising the Prime Minister on appointments to public office and on the removal or disciplinary control of appointees to public office. Section 109 of the Constitution emphasises that when the PSC is appointed by the President of the Republic, he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister who would have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition.

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are taken out of the equation in such matters? Parliament should seriously consider squeezing them both out of the process not just in the appointment of the PSC but in the case of the appointment of all Constitutional bodies. That is an instant where it would be justifiable in ensuring that all appointments are subject to a two thirds approval threshold in Parliament.

In boycotting the scrutinising process, the Opposition is doing a disservice to the country.

Since 2018 it has been possible for Parliament to scrutinise a number of public sector appointments. Perusal of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee indicates the very superficial manner in which consideration of appointments is dealt with. Serious objections raised on the non-suitability of candidates are ignored before the proposed appointment is generally rubber-stamped.

Unfortunately, Parliament is not capable of holding government to account. Having a retrograde Parliamentary Opposition certainly does not help in overturning a rubber-stamping practice!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2020

L-assassinju: meta jkollok il-ħbieb fis-suq

Ix-xhieda fil-Qorti ta’ Melvyn Theuma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fil-proċeduri kriminali ta’ Yorgen Fenech, in-negozjant akkużat bħala l-moħħ wara l-assassinazzjoni ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia, hi tat-tkexkix. Huwa faċli li tinjora din ix-xhieda u twarrabha bħala bla ebda utilità minħabba li hu stess kien involut fil-preparazzjoni neċessarja biex il-qtil taħt investigazzjoni jseħħ. Xi drabi, sfortunatament, l-istat ikollu jaqa’ għal din it-tip ta’ kollaborazzjoni biex jipprova jsolvi delitti ppjanati sewwa. Hu l-unika mod kif kultant id-dinja kriminali tista’ tiġi megħluba.

Isem Chris Cardona, Deputat Mexxej tal-Partit Laburista, reġa tfaċċa f’dawn il-proċeduri kriminali. Diġa kien issemma’ waqt li Yorgen Fenech kien qed ikun interrogat u irċieva ittri fiċ-ċella fid-Depot tal-Pulizija li kienu jissuġġerulu biex jitfa l-ħtija fuq Cardona.

Fid-dinja demokratika mhiex xi ħaġa ta’ kuljum li isem politiku anzjan jissemma’ f’investigazzjoni dwar qtil. Mhux magħruf kemm il-Pulizija investigaw it-truf li kellhom dwar Cardona. Kien ikun raġjonevolI li nagħtu lill-Pulizija l-benefiċċju tad-dubju kieku ma kienx għal punt wieħed importanti: il-ħbiberija mill-viċin bejn l-akkużat Yorgen Fenech ma’ dak li kien id-Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija Silvio Valletta li, fl-iktar mumenti kruċjali kien qed imexxi l-investigazzjoni dwar l-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Il-ħbiberija bejn l-akkużat Yorgen Fenech u Silvio Valletta kienet b’saħħitha tant li quddiem it-tfal kien jirreferi għalih bħala iz-ziju Silvio. Li jivvjaġġaw flimkien biex jaraw logħob taċ-Champions League fi Stamford Bridge, Kiev u bnadi oħra, inkella ikla fir-razzett ta’ Fenech kienu affarijiet normali.

Ix-xhieda ta’ Melvyn Theuma ma tantx poġġiet l-investiġazzjoni f’dawl tajjeb. Il-kamra li l-pulizija jużaw għall-interrogazzjoni qiesha passatur bl-informazzjoni toħroġ permezz ta’ Silvio Valletta inkella permezz tal-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru: Joseph Muscat, dakinnhar Prim Ministru jkun aġġornat u b’Keith Schembri ħdejh attent jixrob l-informazzjoni. Ix-xhieda ta’ Theuma indikat li dan wassal biex ċirku limitat barra mill-korp tal-pulizija jkun konxju ta’ numru ta’ dettalji importanti dwar l-investigazzjoni, bħad-data tar-raid fit-tinda tal-patata fejn dawk ikkuntrattati biex iwettqu l-assassinju kienu eventwalment arrestati.

Hemm tlett talbiet oħra għall-proklama. Tħajru minn Melvyn Theuma. It-tlieta ddikjaraw li jistgħu jagħtu biżżejjed informazzjoni li biha jkunu identifikati dawk realment wara l-assassinju. Imma jekk dan iseħħx ħadd ma jista’ jgħid għalissa. Ħaġa waħda biss hi ċara s’issa: li Yorgen Fenech qiegħed jidher għal ħaddieħor. Min hemm warajh? Hemm numru ta’ ismijiet ta’ persuni assoċjati mal-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru li ssemmew fi stadji differenti tal-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa.

Iktar ma qiegħed jgħaddi żmien, iktar qed titħabbel il-kobba!

Il-fatt li Robert Abela, Prim Ministru attwali, kien il-konsulent tal-predeċessur tiegħu ma tantx jagħmilha faċli biex tifhem eżattament x’inhu għaddej. Chris Cardona tneħħa mill-Kabinett imma ma jidhirx li l-Partit Laburista hu b’xi mod ippreokkupat li għandu lid-deputat mexxej kontinwament fl-aħbarijiet għal raġunijiet żbaljati. Iktar ma nisimgħu dwar dan l-assassinju iktar jikkumplikaw ruħhom l-affarijiet. Ma naħsibx li jiċċaraw wisq meta jixhdu iktar persuni fosthom Keith Schembri u Joseph Muscat.

L-impunità li gawdew uħud sal-lum hi dipendenti fuq il-ħbieb proverbjali fis-suq. It-tibdil fit-tmexxija fil-bidu tas-sena setgħet bidlet kollox. Imma jidher li kullma inbidlu huma l-uċuħ: il-bqija kollox baqa’ għaddej. Iż-żmien biss jista’ jwassalna lejn soluzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Ġunju 2020