Kunflitt ta’interess fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Il-validità tal-permess tal-ippjanar dwar il-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke ġie ikkontestat fuq bażi ta’ tmintax-il raġuni differenti, li jvarjaw minn kunflitt ta’ interess sa miżinterpretazzjoni u/jew applikazzjoni żbaljata tar-regoli dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

F’dan l-istadju, l-Qorti hi hu tħassar il-permess dehrilha li ma kienx neċessarju li tidħol fid-dettall dwar kull waħda minn minn dawn it-tminatax-il raġuni: waqfet fl-ewwel waħda, il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-membru tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar Matthew Pace u l-interess tiegħu f’aġenzija li ġġib il-quddiem il-negozju tal-propjetà. Żewġ interessi li b’mod ovvju, għal kulħadd ħlief għal Pace, l-Awtorità u l-Gvern, ġie meqjus li huma konfliġġenti. L-aġenzija li fiha Matthew Pace għandu interess kienet diġa qed tirreklama l-bejgħ tal-appartamenti sa minn qabel mal-permess tal-ippjanar ġie approvat, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur l-applikazzjoni.

Il-Qorti użat il-frażijiet “kunflitt ta’ interess” u “nuqqas ta’ trasparenza”. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, imma, b’Malti sempliċi u li jinftiehem mill-ewwel dan hu kaz ta’ regħba da parti tal-membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li hu nvolut kif ukoll inkompetenza grassa da parti ta’ dawk li ħatruh fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar meta l-interessi tiegħu kienu diġà magħrufa.

Ilkoll nafu li l-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinħatru direttament mill-Prim Ministru, u allura ma nistgħux inkunu iktar ċari minn hekk: huwa u jaħtar lil Matthew Pace bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, il-Prim Ministru naqas milli jifhem il-konsegwenzi tal-ħatra ta’ agent tal-propjetà fuq il-bord li jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

Nhar it-Tlieta, l-Qorti annullat deċiżjoni waħda tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha ipparteċipa Matthew Pace. Kemm ilu li nħatar fuq il-Bord, sa mill-2013, Matthew Pace, ħa sehem f’numru sostanzjali ta’ deċiżjonijiet oħra li ttieħdu mill-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-mistoqsija loġika hi dwar il-każi l-oħra li dwarhom ukoll kellu interess u li anke hawn dan l-interess ma ġiex iddikjarat. In-numru ta’ każi kontroversjali deċiżi mhux żgħir imma din il-mistoqsija qatt ma saret s’issa, ta’ l-inqas fil-pubbliku.

Il-każ, kif emfasizzat il-Qorti, hu wieħed li jiffoka fuq l-imġieba ta’ dawk li jokkupaw ħatra pubblika.

Il-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu dikjarazzjioni annwali dwar l-assi u l-interessi tagħhom. Ikun ferm interessanti kieku l-pubbliku jkollu informazzjoni preċiża dwar x’sar mid-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-membri kurrenti tal-Bord. Is-Segretarju tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, huwa u jixhed quddiem it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar qal li dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet ma setgħux jintbagħtu, kif suppost, lill-Awditur Ġenerali, għax dawn ma ġewx aċċettati min-naħa tiegħu. Imma, jirriżulta minn tweġibiet elettroniċi tal-Awditur Ġenerali, li wkoll ġew ippreżentati bħala xhieda, li dan mhux il-kaz: l-Awditur Ġenerali qatt ma irrifjuta li jaċċetta dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet dwar l-assi u l-interessi tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Minn dan kollu jqum il-punt dwar kemm huma effettivi l-kontrolli stabiliti mil-liġi dwar il-posizzjoni etika ta’ dawk maħtura bħala membri tal-Bord. Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi u l-interessi, sal-lum meqjusa bħala għodda importanti qiesha saret ta’ bla ebda siwi u dan minħabba li wara li ġiet sottomessa ma kienitx eżaminata mill-Awditur Ġenerali. Dan iħarbat il-proċess kollu ta’ kontroll, għax hu ovvju li l-Awditur Ġenerali ġie ostakolat milli jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru u għaldaqstant ma setax jiġbed l-attenzjoni għall-konflitti ovvji li jirriżultaw meta taħtar agent tal-propjetà biex jiddeċiedi fuq materji dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nittama li l-Awditur Ġenerali, anke issa, jipprova jirrimedja billi jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru ħalli l-kontrolli jkunu applikati sakemm u safejn hu umanament possibli.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu diġa, minnu innifsu, kontroversjali, għax kważi dejjem jinvolvi numru mhux żgħir ta’ interessi konfliġġenti. Tal-inqas għandna nassiguraw li dawk maħtura biex jiddeċiedu jimxu bir-reqqa.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 23 ta’Ġunju 2019

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Managing conflict of interest at the Planning Authority

The validity of the planning permit in respect of the dB project at Pembroke has been contested on the basis of eighteen different reasons, ranging from conflict of interest to misinterpretation and/or wrongful application of land use planning policy.

In its decision, declaring the dB Pembroke permit null and void earlier this week, the Court did not consider it necessary, at this stage, to delve into each and every one of these 18 reasons: it stopped at the first one: the conflict of interest of one member of the Planning Board, Matthew Pace, whose interest in an estate agency was found to be an obvious no-go area. Apparently the conflict is obvious to everyone, except Pace, the Authority and Government. Even before the final planning decision, his estate agency was already advertising the sale of the apartments – the construction of which was yet to be approved –  with the support of his vote.

The legal terms used in the Court decision are “conflict of interest” and “lack of transparency”. In the end, however, it all boils down to greed on the part of the Planning Authority Board Member and consequently gross incompetence on the part of those appointing him as a member of the Planning Authority Board when his interests were well known.

We all know that the PA Board members are appointed directly by the Prime Minister, so I cannot be clearer than this: in the appointment of Matthew Pace as a member of the Planning Authority Board, the Prime Minister failed to understand the implications of appointing an estate agent as a land-use planning decision-taker.

Last Tuesday, the Court annulled one planning decision in which Matthew Pace had participated. Since his appointment as a member of the Planning Authority Board in 2013, Matthew Pace has participated in a large number of planning decisions. The logical question to ask is in what other cases did he have a conflict of interest that was also not declared. There is a countless list of controversial cases decided upon over the years, but this issue has never arisen, at least not in public.

The case, as emphasised by the Court in its decision, is one that puts the focus on the behaviour of those appointed to public office.

The members of the Board of the Planning Authority are duty bound to submit an annual declaration regarding their assets and interests . It would be interesting if reliable information was available regarding what has happened to the declarations submitted by the current Board members. The Secretary of the Planning Authority Board, when giving evidence at the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, stated that these declarations could not be sent – as required – to the Auditor General, as they were not accepted at that end. However, it is known from replies to emails by the Auditor General, also presented as evidence, that this is not the case.

This raises the serious question as to the effectiveness of the checks required by law on the ethical suitability of the Board members. One such tool – the declaration of assets and interests – has been rendered useless as clearly it is not being examined by the Auditor General when submitted. This stultifies the whole process as the Auditor General was obviously impeded from examining the declarations made and, consequently, could not draw attention to the obvious conflicts arising as a result of having an estate agent appointed to make decisions regarding land-use planning applications.

It is hoped that, even at this late stage, the Auditor General will consider it appropriate to examine the matter in order that adequate checks are as effective as is humanly possible. Land-use planning will always be controversial because it involves numerous conflicting interests. The least we can do is to ensure that those entrusted with taking these decisions act correctly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 June 2019

Egrant ta’ min hi?

Sirna nafu minn diversi stqarrijiet li r-rapport tal-inkjesta dwar Egrant (ta’ min hi?) issa lest u qiegħed għand l-Avukat Ġenerali.

Għamel tajjeb Joseph Muscat li insista li r-rapport ikun ippubblikat. Però dan għandu jgħodd għal kulħadd u għal kull inkjesta, mhux biss dawk li jinteressaw lil Muscat.

X’ikkonkluda l-Maġistrat ma nafx u m’għandi l-ebda intenzjoni li nispekula. Nippreferi li nistenna.

Dan il-każ twal wisq u għamel ħafna ħsara lill-pajjiż kollu. L-istess bħalma qiegħed jagħmel il-każ tal-bank Pilatus.

Xi darba forsi nitgħallmu li l-unika triq f’dawn il-każi hi trasparenza sħiħa mill-bidu nett. Dan flimkien ma riżenja ta’ min hu b’xi mod involut. Imma naħseb li ma nitgħallmu qatt.

Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika: għadna nistennew

Is-sit tal-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja jindika b’mod ċar li l-Att XIII tal-2017 imsejjaħ Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadu ma daħalx fis-seħħ. Din il-liġi irċiviet il-kunsens tal-President tar-Repubblika nhar it-30 ta’ Marzu 2017 wara li damet perjodu twil pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament. Jidher li għad baqgħalna x’nistennew, għax il-partiti politiċi fil-parlament ma tantx jdher li għandhom għaġla.

Il-liġi tipprovdi għall-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan il-Kummissarju jista’ jkun approvat biss kemm-il darba jikseb il-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. Fi ftit kliem irid ikun hemm qbil dwar il-ħatra tiegħu jew tagħha bejn il-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni li, sa fejn naf jien, għandhom ma qablux. S’issa ħadd ma jaf xejn, l-anqas jekk ġewx proposti ismijiet, minn min u x’kienet ir-reazzjoni dwarhom.

Il-liġi approvata tapplika għall-Membri kollha tal-Parliament, inkluż il-membri tal-Kabinett. Tapplika wkoll għal dawk il-persuni maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja (position of trust) fil-Ministeri u s-Segretarjati Parlamentari.

Meta iktar kmieni matul din il-ġimgħa iltqajt mal-Ispeaker tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti, l-Onorevoli Anġlu Farrugia, jiena emfasizzajt li dan id-dewmien biex tkun implimentata din il-liġi dwar l-imġieba xierqa tal-Membri Parlamentari u dawk maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiducja qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ ċar ħafna: li l-Membri Parlamentari m’għandhom l-ebda ħeġġa biex iwieġbu għal egħmilhom.

Jiena niftakar lill-Ispeaker, xi snin ilu, jemfasizza li hu ma kienx sodisfatt mill-kontenut tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-assi sottomessi minn uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari. Issa għandu l-għodda biex jinvestiga dwar il-veraċitá ta’ dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet imma sfortunatament m’huwiex jitħalla jagħmel użu minnhom! Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom, iżda l-fatt li l-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadha ma daħlitx fis-seħħ qiegħed jostakola dan milli jseħħ.

Meta tħares lejn dan in-nuqqas ta’ implimentazzjoni tal-liġi waħdu tista’ tinterpretah bħala tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Membri Parlamentari u l-mexxejja tagħhom li jippreferu ma jitqegħdux taħt il-lenti tal-iskrutinjun pubbliku. Imma meta dan kollu tqisu fil-kuntest tar-rapport annwali tal-Ombudsman għas-sena 2017 huwa ċar li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn m’huwiex limitat iżda hu mifrux ħafna. Id-dritt tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni dwar il-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika qiegħed taħt assedju.

Il-kontabiltá u it-trasparenza m’humiex slogans. L-anqas huma negozjabbli. Huma valuri fundamentali li jiffurmaw parti essenzjali mis-sisien tal-istat demokratiku.

Jiena tlabt lill-Ispeaker biex jiġbed l-attenzjoni tal-Kumitat tax-Xogħol tal-Kamra li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn biex ikun implimentat l-Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika mhuwiex aċċettabbli. Huwa essenzjali li l-liġi tkun implimentata malajr kemm jista’ jkun jekk iriduna nemmnu li għall-partiti politiċi fil-parlament il-kontabilitá tfisser xi ħaga.

B’żieda mar-responsabbiltá li jinvestiga l-imġieba kemm tal-Membri Parlamentari kif ukoll dik tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikollu ukoll l-inkarigu li jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll ir-regolamenti proposti dwar l-attivitá tal-lobbying. Dwar din l-attivitá b’implikazzjonijiet etiċi sostanzjali l-partiti politiċi fil-Parlament ma qablux meta din il-liġi kienet qed tiġi ikkunsidrata quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-abbozzi ta’ liġijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan Il-materja intefgħet f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li meta jinħatar ser ikun hu li jkollu jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll r-regolamenti proposti.

Il-lobbying hi attivitá essenzjali fil-ħajja pubblika. Jeħtieġ iżda li issir b’mod li jkun assigurat illi d-deċiżjonijiet mittieħda mill-politiċi jkunu kemm trasparenti kif ukoll b’rispett sħiħ lejn r-regoli bażiċi tal-etika.

Il-lobbying huwa ta’ influwenza kontinwa fuq id-deċiżjoniiet li jittieħdu. Huwa essenzjali li dan issir b’mod mill-iktar trasparenti biex ikun ċar għal kulħadd dwar liema interessi jkunu qed jiġu mmexxija l-quddiem. Dan bla dubju jfisser li ikun meħtieġ il-pubblikazzjoni ta’ ammont mhux żgħir ta’ informazzjoni li presentement hi fil-pussess ta’ membri tal-Kabinett u li ġeneralment tibqa’ fil-files – meta tkun miktuba. Din hi informazzjoni li ġeneralment tkun il-bażi għall-azzjonijiet u d-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Bla ebda dubju, il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti dwar il-lobbying iridu jindirizzaw u jirregolaw x’jista’jagħmel membru tal-Kabinett meta jispiċċa mill-ħatra, materja magħrufa bħala revolving door policy. Dan minħabba li s-settur regolat mill-Ministru jkollu għatx għal informazzjoni (kunfidenzjali) li dan ikun kiseb kemm ikun ilu fil-ħatra kif ukoll għall-kuntatti u influwenzi akkumulati fuq dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Xi drabi għaldaqstant meta Ministru jew Segretarju Parlamentari, hekk kif itemm il-ħatra tiegħu ikun offrut impieg f’dak l-istess settur li ftit qabel ikun dipendenti minnu jeħtieġ li nieqfu ftit. Dan ovvjament għax miegħu iġorr aċċess akkumulat kemm għal informazzjoni miksuba kif ukoll għal kuntatti u influwenza fuq il-proċess deċiżjonali. Il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti jridu jistabilixxu kemm jeħtieġ li jgħaddi żmien qabel ma dan ikun jista’ jseħħ. .

Huwa dan kollu li qed nistennew. Hemm ħafna li jeħtieġ li jsir imma ma jidher li hemm l-ebda impenn biex dan isir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 1 ta’ Lulju 2018 

Standards in Public Life: still waiting for Godot

The website of the Ministry of Justice clearly indicates that Act XIII of 2017 entitled Standards in Public Life Act is not yet in force. This statute received Presidential assent on  30 March 2017 after an elephantine gestation period. It seems that we are in for a long wait as the parliamentary political parties do not seem to be in any hurry.

The Act provides for the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. The Commissioner can only be appointed if two-thirds of Members of Parliament agree with the nomination, and as far as I am aware there has been no agreement so far between Government and Opposition on the matter. The name or names proposed to date are not in the public domain.

The Act applies to all Members of Parliament, including the members of Cabinet. Moreover, it also applies to those appointed to a position of trust in Ministries and Parliamentary Secretariats.

When I met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Anġlu Farrugia, earlier this week, I emphasised the fact that the delay in implementing this legislation on the ethical behaviour of Members of Parliament and those appointed in positions of trust is sending one clear message: that Members of Parliament are not that eager to be accountable for their actions.

I do remember the Speaker – some years back – emphasising the fact that he was not satisfied with the contents of the asset declarations submitted annually by some MPs. He now has the tools to investigate the veracity (or otherwise) of such declarations but is, unfortunately, being prevented from doing so. MPs should be accountable for their actions, but the non-implementation of the Standards in Public Life Act is preventing such accountability.

On its own, this lack of implementation could be interpreted as a reluctance of MPs and their leaders to be personally placed under the spotlight of public opinion. However, when viewed in the context of the 2017 Ombudsman’s annual report, it is very clear that this reluctance is widespread. The right of access to information on the workings of the public administration is under siege.

Accountability and transparency are not slogans and, moreover, they are non-negotiable. They are fundamental values which underpin the democratic state.

I have asked Mr Speaker to draw the attention of the House Business Committee to the fact that this procrastination in implementing the Standards in Public Life Act is not acceptable. Its implementation is a must if we are to believe that the commitment of parliamentary political parties goes beyond slogans.

In addition to investigating the behaviour of Members of Parliament and that of people appointed to positions of trust, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will have the task of drawing up guidelines and a proposal for regulations on lobbying activities. This is another ethical minefield in respect of which there was no agreement between the parliamentary political parties when the draft legislation was under consideration in the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills. As a result, instead of spelling out the required regulatory regime, the matter was postponed and added to the responsibilities of the future Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, whoever he or she may be.

Lobbying is an essential and unavoidable element of public life. However, it has to be placed under the spotlight to ensure a fuller transparency of the decisions taken by the holders of political office. In addition to subjecting lobbying to clear transparency rules, it is essential that the ethical issues linked to lobbying are addressed forthwith.

Lobbying continually influences decision-making. It is imperative that transparency rules are applied to lobbying so that it be clear to one and all as to whose interests are being advanced and defended. This would undoubtedly include the publication of a substantial amount of information to which Cabinet Ministers are currently privy, which information (generally) forms the basis for their actions and decisions.

Undoubtedly, lobbying guidelines and regulations have to address the issue of revolving doors recruitment, as a result of which politicians may be available for sale at the taxpayers expense. A policy addressing the issue of revolving doors recruitment would also regulate the cooling-off period required for a Minster or Parliamentary Secretary to take up employment (after termination of office) in the sector which was subject to his regulation authority.

This is what we are waiting for. Like Samuel Beckett’s characters in his “Waiting for Godot”. Godot never arrives.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 July 2018

Fake invoices and tainted donations

 

 

Around three weeks ago Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – requested the Electoral Commission to initiate an investigation into the illicit use of public property by the Labour Party. The case revolved around the use of the Prime Minister’s official residence at Girgenti  as a meeting place for the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Group. Various members of Cabinet tweeted photos of this Parliamentary Group meeting.

It is not so far known whether the Electoral Commission will be taking any action on the Girgenti matter other than that it was on the agenda for a Commission meeting.

Now another, more serious issue, has cropped up out of the blue. This is due to the very serious claim made by Silvio Debono that he gave a political donation to the Nationalist Party in the amount of about €70,800 which was camouflaged as a payment for services rendered through the production and use of a fake invoice for the purpose. This payment is alleged to have been made in a concealed or disguised manner being intended for the political party but by way of deception it was channelled through the party’s commercial arm.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, counter-claimed that a payment for €70,800 was made but that this was as payment for services “actually” rendered by its commercial arm, Media Link Communications, to two of the companies forming part of DB group, Silvio Debono’s group of companies. However,  at one point the Nationalist Party also declared that it will reimburse the “tainted money” because it will not be compromised.  The Nationalist Party has to chose between its contradictory reactions: is the €70,800 received from Silvio Debono tainted or is it a payment for services?

Silvio Debono claims that he has the fake invoices and the receipts for the amount paid through which he can substantiate his claims. He further stated that no services were rendered to his companies by Media Link Communications.

This allegation strikes a direct hit at transparency and accountability, the very foundation of the legislation regulating political party financing. The claim by Silvio Debono effectively means that donations of substantial sums of money to political parties can possibly continue unchecked, as long as they are properly disguised and provided that those with a finger in the pie keep their mouth shut. If this allegation is proven, it would signify that the regulatory checks and balances serve no purpose, because the commercial arms of the major political parties will be the proven perfect vehicle to circumvent all due process.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Electoral Commission has the authority to investigate such an allegation, it would normally be very difficult to prove. No political party will ever confirm that it makes use of its commercial arm to circumvent rules and regulations. In fact, earlier this week the Nationalist Party Treasurer stated on PBS that as the person responsible for the party’s finances, he is not aware of the matter. In fact he said that he has never even met Silvio Debono.

Such an allegation can only be proven when the co-conspirator speaks up, as is happening in this particular case, even though, at the time of writing the alleged fake invoices have not been made available for public scrutiny. In actual fact, Silvio Debono is stating that he is aware that he flouted the law as he (or his companies, with his approval) knowingly accepted to settle fake invoices. In so doing, Debono is claiming that he knowingly carried out an exercise through which he gave the Nationalist Party an illegal donation.

The Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate this specific allegation and take the necessary action.

I would go further than that. Is it not about time that political parties are forced to dismantle their commercial activities, which should be the state funding of political parties, subject to strict controls. At the end of the day, this may be the only way forward.

The fact that information on the fake invoices and illegal donations was volunteered by Silvio Debono himself in obvious retaliation to his being the target of PN criticism about his being in receipt of a prime site on the cheap adds to the seriousness of the case. Clearly, while Silvio Debono “invested in the PN”, he has not received the expected dividends. At the end of the day, the pressing question requiring a very urgent answer is to identify the number of additional similar investments by Debono himself, as well as by others. As long as such investments yield suitable dividends, we may possibly  never know the answer.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 March 2017

 

Joseph’s  helicopter view

ey-attractiveness-survey-2016

The Chamber of Commerce is rightly concerned about the reputational damage that will inevitably result from a lack of institutional transparency as well as ever-diminishing good governance.

This was emphasised by Chamber President Anton Borg on Monday when addressing an event at which the Prime Minister was present. Mr Borg was quoted as stating: “Our business community fears that we are regressing on an important non-cost element of competitiveness. I refer to the country’s reputation in terms of the transparency and the integrity of our institutions.”

Well said, Mr Borg. It is about time that the business community says publicly what most of its members say in private. Mr Borg’s message was clear – even though he was very diplomatic in driving it home. He referred to the recent Ernst and Young attractiveness survey which reported a 15 per cent drop over 2015 in the perception of Malta’s political stability and regulatory transparency. He even referred to the 10 point drop in Malta’s placing in the International Corruption Index published by Transparency International.

The next day, Malta Employers’ Association outgoing President Arthur Muscat drove the message further home by emphasising that a 10 place fall in the corruption index is not an indicator of good governance.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who was present when Mr Borg delivered his stern warning, immediately activated an ostrich line of defence by retorting that investment was still being attracted to the country and emphasising that business does not invest in corrupt countries.

Well I am not so sure about the Honourable Prime Minister’s statement.

Anton Borg and Arthur Muscat are very decent chaps and they will do everything it takes to stay above the political fray. But they are conscious that these are not normal times. On behalf of their members, they have stood up to be counted.  It is very positive that, through Mr Borg and Mr Muscat, the business community is prepared to take a definite stand against the ever-increasing lack of transparency in public administration as well as in favour of good governance.

In an introductory note on the EY 2016 attractiveness survey entitled The future is today, EY’s Ronald A. Attard says:    “Malta remains attractive to foreign investors. Indeed, this year’s scores are the highest in the last three years. Yet, this ‘helicopter view’ hides significant shifts on the ground, that cannot be ignored. To get the full picture, we need to install a telescope on the helicopter.”

Apparently Prime Minister Joseph Muscat prefers to limit himself to the helicopter view, as a result ignoring the significant shifts on the ground. The view from the ground – as attested by the attractiveness survey – reveals that over a period of 12 months the percentage of those surveyed who consider  that the stability and transparency of the political, legal and regulatory environment  is very attractive or attractive has dipped from 85 per cent to 70 per cent.

The reality on the ground is changing, but this is not immediately obvious to those enjoying a helicopter view.

The Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016 published by Transparency International, on the other hand, sees Malta classified at 47th place, down ten places from 2015. This is certainly not a good sign and only maybe encouraging to government advisor Shiv Nair, blacklisted by the World Bank for corruption activities.

Joseph Muscat is apparently worried and wants to protect us from “abusive” journalists.  It would be much better if he ensures that the institutions established specifically to protect us are allowed to function as intended. This is apparently not so obvious from high up in the helicopter but is pretty obvious to an ever-increasing number of those on the ground.

This country has much to offer – its potential is immense; but we must weed out the parasites at the earliest opportunity.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 March 2017

 

A stinking amnesty

It smells

 

The planning amnesty which Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri launched last week to regularise development illegalities that cannot be addressed through a proper application of planning policies is a throwback to the Stone Age of land use planning in Malta.

While land use planning in Malta has been and  always will be the most controversial of activities of public bodies, it has to be stated that, since 1992, the Planning Authority (warts and all) has developed into the most transparent government authority. It could be much more transparent but no one in his right senses doubts that, to date, it still surpasses all the other government departments and authorities in issues of transparency.

Applications for the issuance of a development permit are publicised through a site notice and on the Planning Authority website, as well as in the Malta Government Gazette. On the Planning Authority website one can also examine the exact proposal, as all the drawings submitted can be viewed online. On the basis of this available  information, it is possible to submit to the Planning Authority observations about – and objections to – the development proposal , which observations and objections have to be addressed when the final report on the particular application is drawn up recommending approval or refusal of the development proposal.

To date there is one exception, commonly referred to as the DNO  (Development Notification Order) application which is a fast-track application process. Generally, this type of application is non-controversial and involves minor or straightforward applications. However, recently the Planning Authority considered that it was advisable to reduce the number of cases to which the DNO process applies, thereby widening the number of proposals for development which are subject to public consultation.

Legal Notice 285 of 2016, published under the authority of Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri, stands in stark contrast to all this and stinks. Entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016, these regulations establish the procedures to be followed in order to regularise existing development illegalities. We have to thank Dr Schembri for small mercies, as she excluded illegal ODZ developments from the regularisation process. However, she did not consider it appropriate to similarly exclude illegal developments in UCAs (Urban Conservation Areas) or illegalities concerning scheduled or protected properties.

Nor is there a distinction between minor illegalities and major illegalities. Had the proposed regularisation process sought to sanction minor illegalities, matters would have been substantially different and most probably the proposal would have been acceptable. This would be so even though most of the minor illegalities would most probably not require an amnesty. Most can easily be dealt with within the parameters of existing policies and regulations. These cases of minor illegalities are, in fact, the perfect camouflage for the major illegalities.

To ensure that this camouflage works as planned, Legal Notice 285 of 2016 makes short shrift of the transparency process by ensuring that it is not applicable to applications for the regularisation of illegal developments. The legal notice, in its regulation 5, emphasises only one exception, which is those cases where an illegal development was subject to an enforcement order. In such cases where an enforcement order would have been issued “following the submission of a formal complaint by third parties” the said third parties will be informed that an application has been submitted for the regularisation of the illegalities and they will be given the opportunity to be considered “interested parties”.

In all other cases, contrary to the provisions of the Development Planning Act of 2016, no one has the right to be considered an interested party. This can be stated with certainty as being a specific objective in view of the fact the regulation 3 of Legal Notice clearly spells out its objectives, which are: “to lay down procedures by which any person may request the regularisation of an existing irregular development.”

The legal notice makes no provision either for access to information about the proposals submitted or on the timeframe for submissions of observations and/or objections by interested third parties other than by the solitary exception referred to previously.

This is the state of affairs which led four environmental NGOs – Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association – to submit in Court a judicial protest in which they insisted that the government cannot ignore the transparency provisions of the Development Planning Act 2016 when considering whether to regularise illegal development. These applications have to be publicised and the public has a right to scrutinise them as well as submit comments and objections when they consider these to be appropriate.

There is only one simple question to ask: why this stink?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 September 2016

Tletin sena lura, ma Deborah Schembri

Deborah Schembri 11

 

L-iskema li tħabbret il-ġimgħa l-oħra mis-Segretarju Parlamentari Deborah Schembri dwar il-ħruġ ta’ permessi ta’ żvilupp fejn hemm bini illegali jew irregolari hi inkwetanti għax tagħti daqqa ta’ ħarta lit-trasparenza fil-proċess tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art.

Sal-lum dettalji dwar l-applikazzjonijiet (tip, użu, lokalità u identità ta’ żviluppatur) ikunu ppubblikati u hemm żmien stabilit sa meta kull persuna li għandha interess tkun tista’ toġġezzjona għall-iżvilupp propost. Wara, sal-lum hemm ukoll il-possibilità ta’ appell.

Dan m’huwiex possibli li jsir f’dawn l-applikazzjonijiet dwar il-bini illegali. Ser jagħtu ċans biss lil min żmien ilu jkun għamel rapport u li a bażi tiegħu tkun ħarġet ordni ta’ infurzar (enforcement order).  Dan imur kontra il-prinċipju bażiku stabilit fil-liġi tal-ippjanar: l-informazzjoni għandha tkun pubblika kollha. Għax jekk l-informazzjoni ma tkunx pubblika l-iskrutinju pubbliku ma jistax isir.

B’daqqa ta’ pinna Deborah Schembri bagħtet l-ippjanar ta’ l-użu tal-art tletin sena lura. Fejn kollox isir bil-moħbi.

Min qal li l-aqwa fl-Ewropa?

Through the revolving door: politicians for sale at a discount

Barroso.GoldmanSachs

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully, Parliament will take note and act.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 July 2016