Good governance is founded on transparency

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain.

The Panama Papers saga saw the light of day when information on those seeking secretive jurisdictions was made public. These locations are sought to hide  the fruits of corruption or tax evasion from public scrutiny. Similarly, the Vitals hospital scandal, as well as the power station scandal, with all their ramifications, would undoubtedly not have occurred if the Labour Party in government had embraced transparency instead of entrenching secrecy as its basic operational rule.

Transparency is a basic characteristic of good governance whereas secrecy is the distinguishing mark of bad governance, inevitably leading to unethical behaviour and corruption.

Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce published its views on the need to reinforce good governance. Pertinently it emphasised that good governance is founded on transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

It is said that knowledge (and information) is power. This is what transparency is all about: ensuring that power is shared by all as it is only when we are aware as to what is going on that we can exercise our basic right as citizens: holding decision-takers to account. Being in possession of information gives each and every one of us the power to act and exercise our civic rights.

Holders of political office are not the only decision-takers. Decision-takers include the civil service as well as those running authorities and institutions established to facilitate the administration of the state in carrying out its functions and duties.

Even business leaders should be transparent in their actions and decision-taking. Many a time we have heard the expression “we should take politics out of business”, signifying that politics should not interfere in the private sector.

To some it is less obvious that the reverse of that is just as important, meaning that we should also “take business out of politics”. Among other things, this signifies that we should regulate lobbying. This is not done by prohibiting lobbying but by focusing the spotlight of transparency on all lobbying activity. If lobbying is done properly, it could have a beneficial impact on policy making. It is secrecy that gives lobbying a bad reputation: a secrecy intended to derail decisions in a manner beneficial to the different lobby groups as well as to facilitate and shroud underhand deals.

In this respect the initiative of the newly appointed Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to log all of his meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders and to publish a Transparency Register is a welcome step in laying solid foundations for the practice of transparency by holders of political office. It is, however, only a first step and must be eventually followed by the publication in real time of proposals received as well as the minutes of meetings held.

It is known that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will shortly be publishing proposals for the regulating of lobbying. Hopefully, this should lead to a situation where Aaron Farrugia would not be an exception. Others will be compelled to not only follow in his footsteps but to proceed much further in entrenching transparency in the working methods of holders of political office.

A deep-rooted commitment to transparency is the only way by which we can start repairing our defective democracy.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 January 2020

Il-Lobbying u l-eżerċizzju tal-poter

Meta niddiskutu l-politika dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying bosta drabi jqum l-argument dwar dawk il-politiċi li hekk kif jispiċċaw mill-politika attiva jingħataw responsabbiltajiet f’azjendi kbar. Din nirreferu għaliha bħala politika tar-“revolving door”, imsemmija għall-dawk il-bibien tal-lukandi li jduru u li hekk kif tidħol fiċ-ċirku tagħhom, malajr tispiċċa ġewwa.

L-eżempju klassiku li jissemma hu l-ingaġġ ta’ Josè Manuel Barroso li sa ħames snin ilu kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea mill-bank multinazzjonali Goldman Sachs. Il-kumitat tal-etika tal-Unjoni Ewropea kien iddeskriva l-imġieba ta’ Barroso bħala waħda li kienet etikament ħażina avolja kien konkluż li ma kien hemm l-ebda ksur tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika.

Imġiba bħal din hi meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-proċess tal-lobbying li jeħtieġ li jkun regolat b’mod adegwat.

F’Malta dawn l-affarijiet nagħmluhom “aħjar” minn hekk għax l-anqas regoli dwar imġieba ta’ din ix-xorta ma għandna! Fost oħrajn, dan huwa riżultat tal-fatt li ma kienx hemm qbil bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni fil-Parlament dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying meta kienet qed tkun diskussa il-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Allura ipposponew id-diskussjoni billi tefgħuha f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler, bl-inkarigu li jkun hu li jabbozza r-regoli proposti dwar il-lobbying f’Malta.

F’Malta dan fil-fatt seħħ ukoll fil-passat riċenti mhux biss meta John Dalli kien ingaġġat mal-Grupp tal-Marsovin imma ukoll meta l-Grupp Corinthia, fi żminijiet differenti, ingaġġa kemm lis-Sur Dalli kif ukoll lill-Karmenu Vella, li għadu kif temm perjodu ta’ ħames snin bħala Kummissarju tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Ma nkisrux regoli minħabba li l-imġiba etika f’dan il-pajjiż hi ġeneralment injorata. Ir-reazzjoni lokali għal dan l-ingaġġ ta’ politiċi ġeneralment kienet: għala le?

Hu loġiku li nikkonkludu li jekk f’Malta niġu naqgħu u nqumu milli nirregolaw kif fid-dinja tan-negozju u l-industrija jingaġġaw malajr politiċi li jkunu għadhom kif spiċċaw mill-ħatra, aħseb u ara kemm ser nagħtu kaz meta nies tan-negozju jiġu ngaġġati huma stess f’posizzjonijiet viċin il-politiċi biex b’hekk jinfluwenzaw u jirregolaw l-aġenda pubblika.

Wara skiet twil, f’wieħed mill-messaġġ qosra, qishom it-talba ta’ filgħodu, li qed jippubblika fuq facebook, Varist Bartolo, qalilna kemm hu perikoluż li nies tan-negożju jkunu viċin iżżejjed tal-poter. Probabbilment li qed jitkellem mill-esperjenza, wara li hu u sħabu fil-Kabinett kienu qed jiffaċċjaw lill-Keith Schembri għal kważi seba’ snin sħaħ fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. U dan mhux l-uniku kaz.

Meta l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ikollu l-ħin biex ifassal regoli dwar il-lobbying, dan kollu, bla dubju, jkun wieħed mill-punti fundamentali li jkunu meħtieġa illi jkunu indirizzati. In konformità ma dak li jiġri band’oħra, probabbilment li jikkonsidra regolament li ma jippermettix li l-qabża mis-settur politiku għal dak kummerċjali jseħħ immedjatament. Dan ikun ifisser li ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jkollhom jistennew bejn sena u nofs u sentejn minn meta tkun ġiet fi tmiemha l-ħidma fis-settur li fiha l-persuna tkun ħadmet l-aħħar. Dan isir bl-intenzjoni li jkun imnaqqas l-impatt negattiv tal-lobbying li inevitabilment jirriżulta u li jkun intrinsikament assoċjat ma dawn it-tip ta’ ħatriet.

Qegħdin tard ukoll biex ikun regolat il-lobbying b’mod ġenerali. Ir-rimedju bażiku kontra l-impatti negattivi tal-lobbying hi t-trasparenza.

Il-lobbying, kemm-il darba jsir sewwa u b’mod etiku m’għandux iwassal għal governanza ħażina. Għax huwa perfettament leġittimu li ċittadin, gruppi ta’ ċittadini, kumpaniji u anke għaqdiet mhux governattivi jfittxu li jinfluwenzaw it-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan isir il-ħin kollu u jinvolvi l-komunikazzjoni ta’ informazzjoni u opinjonijiet jew veduti lill-leġislaturi u lil dawk li jamministraw minn kull min għandu kwalunkwè xorta ta’ interess.

Dan hu perfettament leġittimu għax iżomm lil min jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet infurmat bl-impatti ta’ dak li jkun qiegħed ikun ikkunsidrat. Imma huwa importanti li dan il-lobbying ma jkunx trasformat fi proċess li bħala riżultat tiegħu il-politiku jagħmel il-wisa’ u d-deċiżjonijiet fil-fatt jeħodhom ħaddieħor mid-dinja tal-business.

Il-lobbying jirrikjedi ammont konsiderevoli ta’ transpareza: hu essenzjali li jkun sganċjat mis-segretezza jew kunfidenzjalità artifiċjali. Fejn il-lobbying hu regolat dan isir billi l-laqgħat jew attivitajiet oħra li jservu għall-lobbying jingħataw pubbliċità biex b’hekk ikun possibli li jsir skrutinju mill-opinjoni pubblika. Il-minuti ta’ dan it-tip ta’ laqgħat ikunu pubbliċi kif għandu jkun ukoll kull dokument u studju assoċjat. Għandna d-dritt li nkunu nafu min u kif qed ifittex li jinfluwenza l-proċess tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan jassigura li l-lobbying ma jkunx użat bħala għodda sigrieta biex iħarbat il-proċess demokratiku li bih jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet politiċi.

Din hi waħda mill-problemi ewlenin li tat kontribut biex tixxettel il-kriżi politika preżenti f’Malta: in-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-ħtieġa ta’ mġiba etika korretta f’kull ħin fil-ħajja pubblika. Problema li jeħtieġilna li niffaċċjawha immedjatament.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd ta’ Diċembru 2019

Lobbying and the levers of power

When discussing the politics of lobbying regulation, what is known as the “revolving door” policy is frequently discussed. This is normally understood to mean the accelerated passage of a politician, generally from a senior political role, to a leading role in the corporate world.

The classic example of this was the recruitment by multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission. An EU ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible, even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Such behaviour is considered to be an integral part of the lobbying process which requires adequate regulation.

In Malta we do it even better than that, because no rules governing such behaviour exist! This is the result of no agreement on lobbying regulation being reached when the Standards in Public Life legislation was discussed by Parliament. As a result, they postponed the discussion and conveniently added the requirement of formulating lobbying rules to the duties of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler.

In Malta it has already happened in the recent past, not just in John Dalli’s recruitment by the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited, at different times, both John Dalli and outgoing EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella. No rules were infringed, bypassed or ignored here as, to put it mildly, regulating ethical behaviour has never been Malta’s strong point. Rather, the local reaction was: why not?

It stands to reason that some would think that if Malta does not regulate the use of “revolving doors” to catapult politicians into the corporate world, why on earth should we regulate it for businessmen intending to do away with the lobbying middlemen and take the levers of power directly into their very hands?

After a long silence, it was very “thoughtful” of Minister of Education Evarist Bartolo to warn us of the perils we face in one of his recent early morning thoughts for the day posted on facebook. Together with his Cabinet colleagues he has had to face Keith Schembri for almost seven years at the Office of the Prime Minister, to name just one such appointment.

When the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life finds time to draft rules regulating lobbying, the issue of “revolving doors” should undoubtedly be high on his list of must dos. In line with lobbying regulations in other jurisdictions he will, hopefully, be proposing a cooling off period as a brake on such appointments. This would mean high-level appointments from the corporate world to the political world (and vice-versa) would need to wait until 18 to 24 months have elapsed between ceasing activity in one sector and entering the other. This is normally intended to dampen the negative lobbying impacts which such appointments lead to. It is inevitable and is intrinsically linked with these types of appointments.

It is also about time for the regulation of lobbying in general. Applying transparency to lobbying is the basic antidote needed.

Lobbying, if done properly and above board, should not lead to bad governance. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. 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, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency: it needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing information on lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The timely publication of minutes, as well as documents and studies relative to meetings held by holders of political office, is essential. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process. This helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect the democratic process leading to political decisions.

This is one of the major issues resulting from the political crisis currently engulfing the Maltese islands: essentially an absence of ethics in the public sphere which should be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 December 2019

Il-Kostituzzjoni tagħna: ir-riforma meħtieġa

Hawn min iqis li l-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta hi tajba kif inhi u li għaldaqstant, jaħseb, li ma hemm l-ebda ħtieġa li nduruha dawra sew. Kien ikun sewwa kieku din kienet is-sitwazzjoni. Imma sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk. Il-kostituzzjoni teħtieġ ferm iktar minn ftit irtokki ‘l hawn u ‘l-hemm.

lkoll nafu li l-kostituzzjoni ma titħaddimx biss minn persuni ta’ rieda tajba. Nistgħu ngħidu li xi minn daqqiet din ir-rieda tajba tkun ftit skarsa f’dawk li jmexxu u f’dawk li niddependu fuqhom għat-tħaddim tal-kostituzzjoni. Xi drabi dawn ifittxu t-toqob minn fejn jgħaddu u b’hekk jagħmlu ħilithom biex jevitaw milli jwettqu dmirhom.

Ilkoll nixtiequ li dan ma kienx hekk, imma l-esperjenzi tagħna lkoll, kontinwament, juru mod ieħor. Huma esperjenzi li l-ħin kollu juru li hemm ħtieġa illi l-kostituzzjoni tkun ħafna iktar ċara milli hi illum biex tilqa’ iktar għall-kontra l-abbużi u tonqos il-possibilità tal-misinterpretazzjoni tagħha.

Malta qed tinbidel u jeħtieġ li l-kostituzzjoni tagħna tirrifletti din il-bidla. Hu meħtieġ li l-Kostituzzjoni illum tirrifletti l-valuri ta’ Malta tas-seklu 21.

Tul is-snin, Alternattiva Demokratika tkellmet dwar diversi aspetti tal-kostituzzjoni li jeħtieġ li jkunu ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid, inkella li hemm bżonn li jiżdiedu ma’ dak li tipprovdi għalihom il-kostituzzjoni attwali. Dan jeħtieġ li jsir mhux biss fid-dawl tal-esperjenzi tal-pajjiż tul is-snin imma ukoll għax il-pajjiż għaddej minn metamorfosi kontinwa.

Ewlenija fost dawn l-esperjenzi hemm ir-rwol sekondarju li fih, tul is-snin, ġie mqiegħed il-Parlament fil-konfront tal-Kabinett. Ma’ dan trid iżżid ukoll id-drawwa tal-Parlament li kontinwament jgħaddi poteri sostanzjali lill-Kabinett kif ukoll lill-Ministri individwali mingħajr l-iċken sorveljanza inkella b’sorveljanza irriżorja. Hemm ukoll il-korpi regolatorji li l-persuni li jmexxuhom mhux biss jinħatru, ġeneralment, mingħajr referenza lill-Parlament, imma li wkoll, b’mod konsistenti, ftit li xejn isir skrutinju tagħhom, la qabel ma jinħatru u wisq inqas wara.

Din kienet is-sitwazzjoni sal-emendi riċenti għall-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika liema emendi ħolqu l-Kumitat Permanenti dwar il-Ħatriet Pubbliċi biex ikunu skrutinati mill-Parlament xi ħatriet politiċi li jsiru minn żmien għal żmien. Minn dak li rajna s’issa, l-iskrutinju li qiegħed isir hu wieħed superfiċjali ħafna, lil hinn minn dak li hu mistenni.

Ir-rapport riċenti tal-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa, li jiffoka fuq is-saltna tad-dritt, l-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura u tal-korpi bl-inkarigu li jinfurzaw il-liġi, jiftaħ id-diskussjoni beraħ dwar kif għandhom isiru dawn il-ħatriet u dwar jekk il-Gvern u/jew il-Parlament għandux fil-fatt ikollhom xi rwol f’dan il-proċess.

Fil-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika mhux aċċettabbli li l-Parlament jibqa’ jagħti blank cheque lill-Kabinett, lill-Ministri u lill-awtoritajiet regolatorji. Il-Parlament għandu jżomm il-kontroll effettiv f’idejh: huwa l-Parlament li għandu jmexxi u mhux il-Kabinett għax, kif iħobbu jfakkruna wħud ta’ kulltant, il-Parlament hu l-ogħla istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Mill-Indipendenza l-pajjiż dejjem tmexxa mill-Kabinett li kontinwament ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Parlament, li, għall-formalità, bi ftit eċċezzjonijiet, approva dawn l-istruzzjonijiet u mexa magħhom.

Dan ovvjament kien possibli minħabba l-polarizzazzjoni tal-pajjiż f’żewġ sferi politiċi li ttrasformaw dak li fuq il-karta hi demokrazija parlamentari f’sistema ta’ ċentraliżmu demokratiku, immexxija mill-Kabinett.

Spiċċajna biex flok il-Kabinett hu qaddej tal-Parlament l-affarijiet huma kważi kompletament bil-maqlub.

Din, fil-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, hi waħda mir-raġunijiet ewlenin għaliex kontinwament hemm resistenza għal sistema elettorali aħjar li tagħti spażju lill-ilħna oħrajn, lil hinn mill-ilħna tradizzjonali.

Għax l-effett prattiku tad-dħul ta’ partiti politiċi addizzjonali fil-Parlament, eventwalment, ikun ifisser rifondazzjoni tad-demokrazija parlamentari bid-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fil-Parlament stess u l-Kabinett ikun relegat għal postu: jirrapporta lill-Parlament, jieħu l-istruzzjonijiet mingħandu u jwettaqhom!

Fi ftit kliem, dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm separazzjoni effettiva bejn l-eżekuttiv u l-leġislattiv, punt fundamentali meta qed nitħaddtu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ demokrazija parlamentari. Din is-separazzjoni illum teżisti fuq il-karta biss.

Il-Kostituzzjoni teħtieġ li tirrifletti ukoll il-ħtieġa għal trasparenza u l-kontabilità. Dan hu meħtieġ mhux biss min-naħa tal-politiċi imma wkoll mingħand dawk kollha li jirċievu kwalunkwe delega ta’ xi forma ta’ awtorità eżekuttiva, anke l-iżjed waħda ċkejkna.

Ma’ dan kollu trid iżżid is-sistema elettorali, li teħtieġ tibdil sostanzjali. Dan hu meħtieġ prinċipalment minħabba li r-regoli kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità huma limitati u diskriminatorji fl-applikazzjoni tagħhom.

Dawn japplikaw biss f’sitwazzjoni fejn fil-Parlament ikun hemm żewġ partiti politiċi u u allura, b’mod prattiku, japplikaw favur il-Partit Laburista u l-Partit Nazzjonalista, li fassluhom favur tagħhom.

Imma l-proċess elettorali jeħtieġ li jkun eżaminat mill-ġdid ukoll, għax illum, iktar minn qatt qabel, hawn il-ħtieġa ta’ intervent leġislattiv biex ikun indirizzat in-nuqqas tal-presenza adegwata tal-ġeneri differenti fil-fora politiċi Maltin, ewlieni fosthom fil-Parlament Malti.

Pajjiżna qed jinbidel kontinwament. Kultant din il-bidla isseħħ b’ritmu kajman. Drabi oħra din issir b’għaġġla kbira, kif qed iseħħ fil-mument. Huma bidliet li l-poplu Malti qed iħaddan kontinwament.

Bidliet li żdiedu fir-ritmu hekk kif Malta issieħbet fl-Unjoni Ewropea u bdiet dieħla fis-seklu wieħed u għoxrin, u b’mod iktar qawwi minn meta seħħ l-approvazzjoni tar-referendum dwar id-divorzju fl-2011.

Malta tal-lum hi differenti minn Malta tal-1964. F’numru ta’ aspetti hi wkoll Malta aħjar. Hi Malta li mxiet ‘il-quddiem u addattat ruħha ġeneralment b’suċċess għal dak li seħħ madwarha. F’dan il-proċess mifrux fuq kważi 60 sena, minn stat prattikament konfessjonali Malta żviluppat fi stat lajk b’koeżistenza ta’ valuri li jikkuntrastaw.

F’Malta illum isaltan pluraliżmu etiku. Hija din il-pluralità ta’ valuri ta’ Malta tal-lum li għandna nżommu quddiem għajnejna aħna u niddibattu dwar x’forma għandu jkollha kostituzzjoni emendata jew mibdula fil-ġimgħat u fix-xhur li ġejjin.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Novembru 2019

Our Constitution: the reform ahead

Some may consider that Malta’s Constitution is fine in its present state but, unfortunately, much more than a couple of tweaks are required. We are all aware that constitutional mechanics are not only subject to the workings of people of good faith: some excel in seeking the most devious of ways to justify the avoidance of their Constitutional responsibilities.

Most of us wish that this was not the case but, unfortunately, it is the reality. Experience has taught us that a number of our Constitutional provisions need to be clearer to be able to withstand abuse and misinterpretation. Malta is in a continuous state of change, which must be reflected in our Constitution. The Constitution should be a reflection of today’s values: it should reflect a 21st century Malta.

Over the years, Maltese Greens have spoken up on various aspects of the existing Constitution which need revisiting or new elements that need to be introduced. This is essential – not only in order to apply the lessons learnt from our experiences but also to reflect the continuous metamorphosis through which the country is going.

Topping the list of considerations is the need to address the secondary role in which Parliament has been placed over the years with the Cabinet, effectively, taking over. In this context, it is very relevant to focus on Parliament’s handing over substantial responsibilities to the Cabinet or directly to individual Ministers without the minimum oversight. This also applies to regulatory bodies or institutions which are generally appointed and entrusted with substantial responsibilities without even a basic referral to Parliament.

This situation prevailed up until the recent amendments to the Public Administration Act, which created a Parliamentary Permanent Committee to examine political appointments in the public service. From what has been seen so far, the operations of this Committee leave much to be desired.

The recent report of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which has a focus on the state of play of the rule of law in Malta, judicial independence – as well as the autonomy of those entrusted to enforce the law – encourages debating reconsideration of the manner in which these appointments are made and whether, and to what extent, the Government and/or Parliament have any role to play in the process.

It is not acceptable in this day and age that Parliament hands over a number of blank cheques to the Cabinet, Ministers and regulatory bodies. Parliament should retain ultimate oversight and control, currently a function usurped by the Cabinet. Since 1964, the Cabinet has always taken the lead – issuing ‘instructions’ to Parliament, which has generally rubber-stamped these instructions and followed them through.

This has been made possible by the prevalent intensive political polarisation that has transformed what – on paper – is a parliamentary democracy to one where democratic centralism, led by Cabinet, prevails. We have ended up with Parliament serving the Cabinet, when it should be the other way around. In my view, this is one of the basic reasons for the continuous resistance to the reform of the electoral system which would give adequate democratic space to political formations outside the traditional ones. The practical impact of the entry of new political parties into Parliament would be a re-foundation of parliamentary democracy, with Parliament standing on its own two feet and issuing instructions to Cabinet, not the other way around. This would signify an effective separation of executive and legislative powers: a fundamental issue in the Constitution of any parliamentary democracy and one which, so far in Malta, exists only on paper.

Our Constitution needs to reflect the basic need for transparency and accountability. This should be applicable not just to those elected to political office but also to those having a delegated authority on any matter, however small.

The electoral system requires substantial change. This is primarily due to the fact that the constitutional rules on proportionality are defective and discriminatory. They only apply in a Parliament composed of two political parties: in practice they thus apply only in favour of the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party who designed them to suit their needs. The electoral process also needs revisiting to address the gender imbalance in our parliamentary representation.

Malta is continuously changing. This change is proceeding at a varying rate that has been accelerating since we joined the European Union, but more so since the positive divorce referendum of 2011.

Malta in the 21st century is substantially different to the Malta of 1964. In many aspects it is also a better Malta that has generally successfully adapted to change. In this context, in a 60-year timeframe Malta has developed from a confessional state to a lay one with the co-existence of contrasting values.

In Malta today one can speak of ethical pluralism and it is this plurality of values of today’s Malta that should be the basic foundation stone of the constitutional reform process on which we will be embarking in the coming weeks and months.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 November 2019

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

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