Riflessjoni, wara l-massakru ta’ Pariġi

eiffel peace symbol


It-total tal-vittmi qiegħed jiżdied. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb, in-numru ta’ mejtin huwa ta’ 129,  b’352 feruti, 99 minnhom gravi ħafna.

Dan hu t-tieni massakru f’ Pariġi: l-ieħor seħħ f’Jannar.

Sebgħa mit-terroristi nvoluti huma mejta, it-tmien wieħed kif ukoll numru ta’ persuni assoċjati magħhom huma preżentment imfittxija.

L-attakk ta’ nhar il-Ġimgħa kien wieħed simboliku: kien attakk fuq il-valuri li Franza u Pariġi jirrappreżentaw. L-attakk seħħ fl-istess żona li fiha hemm l-uffiċini ta’ Charlie Hebdo [il-mira tal-attakk l-ieħor f’Jannar] kif ukoll infirex fiż-żona li fiha jsiru id-dimostrazzjonijiet Pariġini.

Ilkoll kemm aħna ixxukkjati b’dak li ġara. Avolja minn dak li nisimgħu ilna nistennew dan it-tip ta’ inċident.

Franza iddikjarat stat ta’ emergenza. F’Malta ġie estiż is-sospensjoni tar-regoli tas-Schengen biex dan issa jibqa’ sejjer sa wara li jintemm is-Summit taċ-CHOGM.

L-attakk fuq il-moviment ħieles tal-persuni fiż-żona Schengen ilu li beda. Intensifika mal-mewġa kurrenti ta’ migrazzjoni mis-Sirja. Wara Pariġi bla dubju dan l-attakk ser ikompli jintensifika.

L-ikbar rebħa tat-terroriżmu jkun jekk jirnexxielu jnissel il-biża’ fit-tul. Biża’ li jekk isseħħ tkompli tnaqqar it-tolleranza u s-solidarjetà.

Bla dubju jeħtieġ li noqgħodu attenti, kemm aħna ċ-ċittadini, imma iktar minnha l-awtoritajiet. Huwa neċessarju imma li ma nħallux il-biża’ tirkibna għax bħala konsegwenza ningħalqu f’gaġġa.

Huwa żmien ta’ riflessjoni favur il-paċi u s-solidarjetà, il-messaġġ ta’ Jean Julie il-karikarturista li pinġa l-karikatura riprodotta hawn fuq.

Il-vjolenza ma tiġġielidiex bil-vjolenza iżda bid-disponibilità ta’ kull wieħed minnha favur il-paċi u bit-tixrid ta’ kultura ta’ solidarjetà. Dan mhux faċli meta qed ngħumu f’baħar ta’ indifferenza. Inċidenti bħal dan jixxokkjawna, imma forsi jġibu lil uħud f’sensihom u jgħinhom biex inaqqsu l-indifferenza għas-sofferenzi madwarna.

Eiffel lights the way

ippubblikat fuq iNews, it-Tnejn 16 ta’ Novembru 2015

The recycled summit



The Valletta Migration Summit is over. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has described it as a ‘historic summit’. It seems to me that it would be more accurately described as the ‘recycled summit’.

In one of the last speeches at the Summit, on Thursday morning, Senegalese President Macky Sall encapsulated in a few words the sentiments of the African side when he stated that African nations would have no need of aid if multinationals corporations active on the African continent paid their fair share of taxes and a fair price for the natural (African) resources. Of course President Sall left out an important last sentence: he avoided any reference to corrupt politicians generally in sync with these multinational corporations.

Earlier in the week had seen the 20th anniversary of the judicial killing of environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues, who were executed on the orders of a secret military tribunal on the basis of trumped-up charges in Nigeria on 10 November 1995. Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues had  stood up in defence of the Ogoni people against Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell, who ignored one and all in its intensive corporate greed.

The conclusions of the Valletta Summit are nothing but a re-cycling of measures that have been discussed for some time: EU leaders have continued to focus on returning migrants and outsourcing problems to frontline states. This is an approach that the EU had previously attempted with Libyan dictator Gaddafi who, way back in 2010, had demanded €5 billion as his price-tag to stem the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean. In contrast, the initial carrot dangled before African heads of state was a mere €1.8 billion. Another €3 billion was simultaneously being offered to Turkey by Frans Timmermans Vice President of the EU Commission.

Bargaining with non-EU countries in the hope of trading EU funds in return for re-admission mechanisms is not the right approach. The original EU proposal of linking funds to a take-back of immigrants who did not qualify for asylum had to be withdrawn as the African side of the Summit refused the bait.

The causes of immigration into the EU are various. They range from repression and civil war to the accumulating impacts of climate change – primarily drought and the resulting collapse of domestic agriculture. Matters are made worse as a result of tribal rivalry, as well as the absence of the strong institutions of a democratic state. Consequently, the resulting vacuum is filled by corrupt politicians who, after taking their fill from accommodating multinational corporations seek to top up their spoils through additional contributions from Brussels.

The situation is tricky for the EU as there is no one else to talk to. It is for this reason that the Action Plan tied the proposed €1.8 billion assistance to specific projects subdivided into sixteen priority areas built around five priority domains.

Will this Action Plan solve anything? It is too early to tell, as it is a long-term issue which will be implemented within a number of timeframes specified in the plan itself. The main point of contention remains the immediate short term, during which the pressures on the EU borders will keep increasing to the point that, as Donald Tusk indicated, the whole Schengen process is under threat.

In this context it is pertinent to underline that Malta has recently been spared the troubles as the flow of immigrants ending in Malta has decreased to a trickle as a result of Italy taking up all immigrants that it has intercepted or rescued in Malta’s search and rescue area. The reasons why Italy is behaving in this manner are not yet officially known: the rumour mill has it that oil exploration rights are part of the equation. Originally, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela had indicated that there was some informal agreement with Italy only for him to come back and state that he had been understood.

As stated by Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and Liberal leader in the European Parliament : “The EU leaders have let us down.”

While the Valletta Summit has agreed to a reasonably detailed Action Plan which can form the basis of action in the long term, it has failed at containing the migration crisis in the short term.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 15 November 2015

Subsidiarity and loyalty

malta passport

The Prime Minister has a generational transformation in sight which he wants to bankroll with the monies generated by his sale of citizenship scheme. His supporters see traitors everywhere as they cannot stomach any form of criticism.

Does any EU member state have the right to introduce and implement a sale of citizenship scheme?  Government spokesmen have repeatedly stated that the Malta Government has been advised that it is in line with EU legislation. In line with the subsidiarity principle, nationality issues, we were told, are the sole and exclusive competence of EU member states.

No one is contesting that nationality issues are a national competence. In fact even Commissioner Viviene Reding made this amply clear. There is however much more to it than state competence. There is the duty to be loyal to the Union and other member states. Article 4.3 of the European Union Treaty explains this as the principle of sincere cooperation, also referred to as the loyalty principle: loyalty, that is, towards the other European Union member states.

Government has opted to milk citizenship in order to generate finance so as to be in a position to implement its electoral programme. It has excluded taxation as an option. Moreover it has reduced income tax as part of its electoral strategy in order to outwit the former government, knowing full well that this necessitated alternative financial avenues. Never did it place its plans to put citizenship on sale before the electorate for its consideration. Ethically the Labour Party cannot claim to have an electoral mandate on the matter.

The local political debate has revealed diametrically opposed positions. Government’s position is dictated by its strategy of requiring cash in order to finance its political initiatives. Time is of essence in its strategy. It cannot afford to wait for would-be investors to take initiatives of their choice. There is no direct link between the prospective citizen and the manner in which the monies he pays are “invested”. It is in fact an exercise of selling citizenship with a commitment to use the proceeds in a specific manner. The funds generated are hypothecated. A residential criterion has so far been ruled out, most probably,  as this would only serve as a delaying factor. It would delay the flow of the monies required depending on how long the residential criterion runs.

The warning shot fired by the EU Parliament is not to be discarded as the EU Parliament is the only democratically elected EU institution. Nor is Commissioner Reding’s statement  one that could be ignored. Reding has stated that:

While I am not calling for the Commission to receive legal power to determine what constitutes nationality or the rules granting it, the Commission nevertheless expects that Member States act in full awareness of the consequences of their decisions.

Our debate today shows the growing importance of these questions in a European Union where national decisions are in many instances not neutral vis-à-vis other Member States and the EU as a whole. It is a fact that the principle of sincere cooperation, which is inscribed in the EU Treaties (Article 4.3 of the Treaty on European Union), should lead Member States to take account of the impact of decisions in the field of nationality on other Member States and the Union as a whole.”

Clearly the competence of member states on issues of citizenship is not absolute. Given its impacts on all the other members of the Union in areas of national security, freedom of movement in the Schengen Area, rights to residence and employment, it stands to reason that both the EU as well as member states require consultation which apparently was not carried out.

The capping of the citizenship scheme at 1,800 passports for sale is certainly not enough. A residential condition of reasonable length is also  required as an additional and essential element. This would however be a sticking point as whilst it could render the proposed scheme less un-acceptable and in line with some of the practices elsewhere, it may fail to deliver what the Maltese Government requires on time.

It is with this in mind that the Greens in Malta have time and again called on Government to suspend the implementation of the scheme and concurrently to initiate a dialogue with Brussels. The problem at an EU level may eventually be resolved around the negotiating table. This would result in less reputational damage for Malta. A meeting called between the EU Commision and the Malta Government seems to be imminent. Hopefully matters will take a positive turn.

That would leave the political issue to be solved locally, either in Parliament or at the ballot box through a public consultation. The Prime Minister has already indicated that he is willing to submit the issue to a national consultation.  It is the decent way forward, part of our learning curve as a nation.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday January 25, 2014

Fil-Parlament Ewropew : Joseph u l-bejgħ taċ-Ċittadinanza

Joseph Muscat + Alfred Sant

Ħadd ma għandu jkun sorpriż li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza kif proposta minn Joseph ser tkun diskussa mill-Parlament Ewropew.

Prattikament il-partiti kollha fil-Parlament Ewropew iridu l-spjegazzjonijiet. Dan jgħodd ukoll għas-soċjalisti fil-Parlament Ewropew.

Hu ċar għal kulħadd li huma l-Gvernijiet nazzjonali li għandhom il-poter li jiddeċiedu materji dwar iċ-ċittadinanza. Imma huwa daqstant ieħor ċar li f’dak kollu li għandu impatt fuq il-pajjiżi l-oħra membri tal-Unjoni kull Gvern għandu l-obbligu li joqgħod lura.

Il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza Maltija qed tiġi reklamata minn Henley and Partners, konsulenti u aġenti tal-Gvern Malti, bħala x-xiri ta’ aċċess liberu fiż-żona Schengen. Huwa dan li qed inissel tħassib fid-diversi pajjiżi membri tal-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Membri Parlamentari Ewropej, kif ukoll diversi Gvernijiet Ewropej, qed jistaqsu dwar xi dritt għandu l-Gvern ta’ Malta li jagħti dan id-dritt ta’ aċċess lil min jixtri ċ-ċittadinanza.

M’hemmx tweġiba faċli. Imma żgur li ser jinqalgħu diffikultajiet mhux żgħar għax ħadd ma jrid li min jista’ jidħol f’pajjiżu jiddeċidieh pajjiż ieħor. Din hi l-problema li ħoloq Joseph Muscat. Qed jassumi li hu u l-Gvern Malti għandhom xi dritt li jiddeċiedu li jagħtu permess lil numru ta’ ċittadini ta’ pajjiżi barra mill-Unjoni Ewropeja biex ikunu jistgħu jidħlu meta u kif iridu fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. U dan bi ħlas ta’ €625,000.

Din ħadd m’hu ser jaċcetta li issir.

Dan hu l-qofol tad-diskussjoni ta’ Jannar li ġej fil-Parlament Ewropew.

The citizenship bubble of Malta

Malta golden passport 1

Many issues are involved in the citizenship debate.

The government clearly considers Maltese citizenship as just another commodity, which it can milk. Initially it even removed the transparency rule from the statute book, which rule ensured the publication of the names of all those who acquired Maltese citizenship.

Whereas local public opinion was completely ignored, the Labour government reacted to the international media coverage by announcing that it will reverse its ditching of transparency. Yet its reaction may be too late as the damage done to Malta’s reputation is not easily reversed.

The international media queried the unconventional methods used to generate the finance required by the Maltese state.

Within EU circles it is clear that issues concerning citizenship are a competence reserved to member states. Yet the  Schengen dimension of EU citizenship cannot be ignored.

The citizenship scheme is attractive because, through it, the prospective citizen attains freedom of movement within the EU.

It is a very serious concern which can only be adequately addressed if the due diligence process is foolproof.

The problem is that, to date, the Maltese Government has already signalled that it is not that much concerned by the impact of persons who are associated with a fraudulent past, a case in point being government advisor Shiv Nair who is listed permanently on the World’s Bank blacklist.

Another recent example is China Communications Construction Company Limited, also on the World Bank blacklist. This Chinese Company will carry out (gratis) the feasibility study for a Malta-Gozo bridge on the basis of the very friendly relations between the two republics, we were told. (I had the impression that countries had no friends, they just have interests!)

This follows the earlier selection of Lahmeyer International as an advisor to the Gonzi Government. Lahmeyer International too was on the World Bank’s  blacklist.

Past performance indicates that due diligence is not an area in which the Republic of Malta has excelled.

Is it a sale or is it an investment? In fact it is a bit of both. It is surely an unconventional way of raising finance. Its major characteristic is that it focuses on the short term benefits and ignores the long term impacts.  The selling price can give immediate results: it can finance the start-up of specific projects. Whether these will be successful is another matter altogether. The impacts of an investment scheme will take more time, its a long term exercise.

The method of payment selected for the purchase of citizenship is clearly based on the St Kitts and Nevis model in the Caribbean.  In St Kitts and Nevis, payment for citizenship is received by the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation and, subsequently, invested. The investment made is not at the discretion of the applicant for citizenship but a decision by the country dishing out the citizenship.

Public opinion considers that citizenship should be acquired through establishing solid roots in the country. Establishing minimum residence criteria and committment to the economic development of Malta through investment and job creation are essential criteria to be linked to the award of economic citizenship.

Government has done well, even though late in the day, to declare that it will reverse its secrecy stance. The declaration by Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech that the regulations being drafted to implement government’s proposal will ensure that the names of those granted citizenship under the new legislation are public is welcome. This new position adopted by the government links with and reinforces the public committments made on the need for more robust due diligence.

It is, however, clear  that regulations alone will not suffice to entrench transparency in the citizenship scheme.  Amendments will also be necessary to the main legislation, in particular to remove reporting restrictions imposed by Parliament on the regulator.

The citizenship debate was also characteristed by the radical position taken by the Nationalist Party that, once back in office, it would not only take steps to scrap the new citizenship scheme but that it would, moreover, withdraw citizenship granted under the provisions of the scheme.

The Attorney General has advised the government that the PN’s proposal would be unconstitutional and would infringe human rights. Such advice was confirmed by the Dean of the Faculty of Law and by constitutional expert Ian Refalo.

The PN has declared that it is in receipt of legal advice reinforcing its position on the withdrawal of citizenship granted.

Whilst the Prime Minister has published the advice received from the Attorney General, the Leader of the Opposition has failed to follow suit. The Leader of the Opposition needs to be consistent. He cannot chastise the government for being secretive whilst simultaneously withholding important information from the public. It is not just the government which needs to be transparent.

The availability of both government and opposition to meet and discuss possible modifications to the citizenship scheme is welcome. Hopefully the wider national interest will prevail.

published in The Times Saturday, 23 November 2013