Meta l-istat jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa

F’indirizz li għamlet nhar it-Tnejn liċ-Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, Segretarju għat-Teżor tal-Istati Uniti, ippreżentat l-argument favur taxxa minima applikabbli għall-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali fuq livell globali, irrispettivament minn fejn huma bbażati.  Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta, kif rappurtat min-New York Times, ikollha s-saħħa li żżomm lil dawn il-kumpaniji milli jċaqilqu l-profitti tagħħom minn post għall-ieħor biex jevadu l-ħlas tat-taxxi dovuti minnhom.

Meta jitnaqqsu it-taxxi biex tinġbed l-industrija u n-negozju, emfasizzat  Ms Yellen, hemm is-sogru li mmissu l-qiegħ: fejn ser tieqaf? Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Il-kompetittività mhiex biss kif kumpanija tmur fil-konfront ta’ kumpaniji oħra.  Hi ukoll il-mod li bih nassiguraw  li l-gvernijiet ikollhom sistemi ta’ ġbir ta’ taxxa li jkunu stabbli b’mod li jistgħu jiġbru biżżejjed fondi x’jinvestu f’servizzi publiċi u jkunu f’posizzjoni li jirreaġixxu fi żmien ta’ kriżi. Hu meħtieġ li ċ-ċittadini bejniethom jerfgħu b’mod ġust il-piż tal-finanzjament tal-gvern.”

Din il-materja hi diġa fuq l-agenda tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hi opposta b’qawwa minn Malta, il-Lussimburgu, l-Irlanda u pajjiżi oħrajn.  L-argument dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni hu parti integrali mill-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus.

Hu ta’ sfortuna li Malta (u pajjiżi oħrajn) repetutament abbużat mis-sovranità tagħha fuq materji ta’ taxxa. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan l-abbuż repetut li l-proposta dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-taxxa qabdet l-art b’mod li issa hi appoġġata ukoll mill-Istati Uniti tal-Amerka.  Malta rmiet il-vantaġġ kompetittiv tagħha billi abbużat minnu repetutament. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż hi għaldaqstant awto-gol mill-kbar.

Malta ma tistax tkun kredibbli fil-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jekk ser tibqa’ tiffaċilita l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fuq skala internazzjonali.  Xi snin ilu il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kien ippubblika studju intitolat Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. Dan ir-rapport kien svela kif tul is -snin, il-kumpanija Ġermaniża ġgant tal-kimika BASF kien irnexxielha tevita u tiffranka l-ħlas ta’ biljun euro f’taxxi fuq 4 snin billi użat lill-Malta għal dan l-iskop. Dan sar billi kumpanija sussidjarja ġiet reġistrata f’Malta u t-taxxi dovuti, għax l-azzjonisti mhux residenti f’Malta, ħadu lura 6 euros minn kull 7 li kellhom iħallsu f’taxxa!

Il-każ tal-Korporazzjoni Amerikana Apple fl-Irlanda, kif nafu, wassal għall-evażjoni ta’ 13-il biljun euro f’taxxi. L-iskandlu Luxleaks fil-Lussimburgu ukoll wera kif dan il-pajjiż żgħir fost il-fundaturi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ukoll kien qed jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Dawn huma ftit mill-eżempji. Bla dubju hemm bosta oħra li s’issa huma moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu madwarna għaddejja evażjoni ta’ biljuni ta’ euro ta’ taxxi, kontinwament. Malta, l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu u xi pajjiżi oħra jiġbru parti żgħira mit-taxxi dovuti bħala ħlas talli jippermettu din l-evażjoni ta’ taxxa fuq skala pjuttost kbira.

F’Malta dan kollu kien possibli bħala riżultant tal-hekk imsejjaħ “kunsens nazzjonali” bejn il-PLPN dwar il-qasam finanzjarju. “Kunsens” li ilu fis-seħħ numru ta’ snin. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta li seħħet u għad qed isseħħ bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu, għaldaqstant, ma jġorriex il-Partit Laburista waħdu. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll għandu resposabbiltà xi jġorr. Għalhekk fuq dawn il-materji in-Nazzjonalisti u l-Labour dejjem iħokku dahar xulxin.  

Sfortunatament l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus huma ħafna drabi konnessi. Bosta drabi fejn issib waħda issib l-oħra ukoll.

It-triq il-quddiem m’għandiex ikollha impatt fuq is-sovranità fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni kif determinat mit-trattati Ewropej permezz tal-ħtieġa tal-unanimità f’materji konnessi mat-taxxa. Imma hemm bżonn urġenti li l-qasam tal-politika fiskali ukoll jinbena fuq prinċipji etiċi b’saħħithom. U mhux dan biss. Għandu jkun assigurat darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tibqax tiddependi minn dħul ġej mill-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Għax id-dipendenza tal-ekonomija Maltija fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa (u l-bejgħ tal-passaporti) hi ta’ inkwiet kbir għall-pajjiż. L-industrija tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa hi sors ta’ dħul kif ukoll ta’ impiegi li it-tnejn li huma inevitabilment jintilfu fi żmien qasir. Wasal iż-żmien li nippjanaw għal futur nadif, futur li mhux iktar dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’April 2021

When the state encourages tax evasion

In a speech delivered on Monday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, made the case for a global minimum tax applicable to multinational corporations irrespective of where they locate their headquarters. Such a proposal, reported the New York Times, would prevent companies from shifting profits to evade taxes.

Lowering tax rates to attract business, emphasised Ms Yellen, is a race to the bottom which has to be addressed. Competitiveness is not just how companies fare against other companies. It is also about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crisis, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.

This issue is already on the agenda of the EU facing fierce opposition from Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland as well as others. The issue of tax harmonisation is an integral part of the fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

It is unfortunate that Malta (and others) have been repeatedly abusing its tax sovereignty. It is as a result of such repeated abuse that the proposal for tax harmonisation is gaining ground such that it now has the support of the United States of America too. As a result of greed Malta has squandered a competitive advantage by abusing it repeatedly and continuously. The resulting reputational damage is hence an own goal.

Malta (and the other countries) cannot be credible in the declared fight against tax evasion and money laundering if it keeps facilitating tax avoidance on an international scale. Some years back the Green Group in the European Parliament had published a study entitled Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. This report reveals that over the years, the German chemical giant BASF used Malta to avoid the payment of one billion euros in taxes. This was done using the “legal” possibility to have tax refunds of up to six sevenths of the tax due in such cases where shareholders are not resident in the Maltese islands. Tax avoidance is tax evasion sanctioned by the state.

The Apple Corporation case in Ireland as a result of which another €13 billion in taxes were avoided is another example of tax evasion sanctioned by the state of Ireland. Luxleaks had also revealed countless of other examples as a result of which Luxembourg too embarked on state encouraged tax-evasion.

These are just some examples of many: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are undoubtedly countless of others, currently below the radar of public scrutiny, as a result of which the payment of billions of euros in taxes are being continuously avoided. Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg and other countries receive a small part of the actual tax due as a result of facilitating this state encouraged tax evasion.

Locally this scam is the result of the PNPL “national consensus” on financial institutions and fiscal policy in force for a number of years in Malta. The responsibility for the resulting reputational damage is thus not one to be shouldered by the Labour Party on its own, it has help from the PN which has continuously buttressed this abusive behaviour.

Unfortunately, tax evasion and money-laundering are inseparable twins!

The way forward need not impact the tax sovereignty afforded by the EU treaties through the unanimity rule on taxation issues. However, it necessitates ensuring that policy on all fiscal issues is also founded on sound ethical principles.

In addition to ensuring that fiscal policy is not in any way unethical it is about time that Malta does not any more, in any way, depend on tax avoidance.

The dependence of Malta’s economy on tax avoidance (and the sale of citizenship) is very worrying. The tax avoidance industry is a source of both revenue to the state and employment opportunities, both of which will be lost in the not-so-distant future. It is about time that we start planning for a cleaner future, a future that is, which is not dependent on the tax avoidance industry!

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2021

The fragility of democracy

The events on Capitol Hill in Washington last Wednesday clearly show the fragility of democracy. We should never take it for granted.

The storming of Capitol Hill by Trump’s mob has damaged American democracy, which damage will be felt for many years to come. Damage which will take considerable time to heal.

Instigating and making use of violence for political ends, to instill fear and condition political opponents is nothing new. It has been used in countries and by politicians of dubious democratic credentials since time immemorial. On these islands we have had more than our fair share of this throughout the years.

In my younger days I used to live in Valletta, one block away from Parliament. We were used to having “spontaneous demonstrations” whenever Parliament had some hot item on its agenda, or whenever the political climate was tense, which was quite often. An orgy of violence many a time was the anticipated conclusion of such “spontaneous demonstrations” as the business community can confirm.  This is what incited crowds do: they transform themselves into deadly weapons used unscrupulously by those who pull the strings to silence or try to condition their political opponents.

Whenever the mob was let loose it left a trail of damage, not just physical damage, but more importantly reputational damage which takes quite a time to heal and repair.

Some of you may remember when a bull was let loose in the streets of Paola in September 1976 as part of the then election victory celebrations. After being force-fed a whole bottle of whisky it ended being directed towards the local PN club where it destroyed everything in its path.

The setting on fire of The Times in Valletta and the subsequent orgy of violence of the 15 October 1979 is another instance when instigation directed at highly charged political-mobs ends destroying everything in sight. The reputational damage is the most serious in such circumstances.

The objective, in such instances is always the retention, buttressing and consolidation of raw political power. Fortunately, this is history now, but it still lingers on in the collective memory, the cause of occasional collective nightmares.

The international media has rightly reacted sharply to the developments down Pennsylvania Avenue. In a couple of hours, in addition to the loss of four lives, injury to at least 14 police officers and damage to property, the Trump mob has inflicted lasting damage to American democracy.

Do not just blame Donald Trump for the chaos at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. His enablers have a sizeable share of the blame. The agitators were not just those in the streets in hoodies and army fatigues. They were also in suits, products of Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities sitting in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, participating in the joint session of the US Congress.

Both Trump as well as his enablers have blood on their hands.

The rule of law and the respect of democratic institutions are not just for export! The United States of America needs to practice what it preaches in order to start restoring its credibility.

As a result of the election of Joe Biden, described as “sleepy Joe” by Donald Trump throughout the electoral campaign, the US could slowly start the difficult uphill path to reconciliation. Having the support of influential minorities will undoubtedly be an asset in achieving this objective. The successful mobilisation by the Biden campaign of the black vote throughout the United States was pivotal in achieving its electoral success, the latest being the election for the first time in the last thirty years of two Georgian Democratic Senators. One must now look ahead towards the future to reconstruct the social and democratic infrastructure dismantled in the recent past.

Democracy is very fragile. It is easily damaged and takes quite a time to heal. We should never take democracy for granted. It is continuously under threat and should be defended assiduously every day.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 10 January 2021

Ambaxxati b’daqs ta’ raħal

L-ambaxxata Amerikana nbniet 9 snin ilu fuq medda kbira ta’ art f’ Ta’ Qali li nxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’  €14.6 miljuni. L-ambaxxata f’Ta’ Qali hi mibnija fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 4 ettari, jiġifieri 40,000 metru kwadru.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar approvat permess ta’ żvilupp biex tinbena ambaxxata Ċiniża f’Pembroke fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 2 ettari, jiġifieri 20,000 metru kwadru.  

Għalkemm il-kumpless tal-ambaxxata Ċiniża ser ikun madwar nofs fid-daqs meta mqabbel ma dak Amerikan f’Ta’ Qali xorta hu kbir wisq. L-art li fuqha ser jinbena dan il-kumpless inxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’ €7,880,000.

Għalfejn dawn il-pajjiżi barranin qed jitħallew jibnu l-ambaxxati tagħhom fuq art daqshekk kbira?  Jekk verament jeħtieġu dan l-ispazju għaliex ma ġewx imħajra biex jirrestawraw xi bini qadim, preferibilment storiku, b’benefiċċju għall-komunità Maltija?

Kemm ser indumu ma jkollna xi talba oħra għall-iżvilupp ta’ kumpless ieħor għal ambaxxata enormi? Forsi mill-Federazzjoni Russa?

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar l-Università Amerikana f’Malta suppost li għamel lil ħafna nies iktar konxji. Imma jidher li ma tgħallmu xejn mid-dibattitu pubbliku li wassal biex l-unika parti ta’ din l-Univeristà li illum qed tiffunżjona qegħda flok it-tarżna f’Bormla. Il-bini storiku li kien jifforma parti mit-tarżna ta’ Bormla, l-imħażen tal-Kavallieri tas-sbatax-il seklu u l-workshops tal-Ammiraljat Ingliż tad-dsatax-il seklu ġew restawrati u ħadu ħajja ġdida. Dan kollu issarraf f’ġid ambjentali għall-pajjiż kollu u l-ħarsien ta’ art f’Marsaskala minn żvilupp li kien jeqridha.

Jekk nistaqsu għaliex dawn l-ambaxxati kbar, daqs raħal, qatt m’hu ser ikollna tweġiba onesta. Għax hu ovvju li apparti x-xogħol konsulari normali u l-iżvilupp ta’ relazzjonijiet tajba mad-dinja tan-negozju u mal-komunitajiet lokali, fir-realtà, dawn l-ambaxxati huma “widna” iffukata biex tisma’ dak li qed jiġri fir-reġjun tal-Mediterran.

Uħud iħobbu jiddeskrivu kemm lill-iStati Uniti kif ukoll lir-Repubblika Ċiniża bħala ħbieb kbar ta’ Malta. Ir-realtà hi ftit differenti. Hu prinċipju bażiku tal-politika barranija li l-pajjiżi m’għandhomx ħbieb, għandhom biss interessi! Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi, imbagħad, iservu biex iġibu l-quddiem dawn l-interessi!

Il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fil-Mediterran tagħmilha idejali bħala ċentru fejn tisma’ u tosserva. Dan, hu interess ewlieni li minħabba fih kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll ir-Repubblika Ċiniża għandhom bżonn spazju kbir.

Id-dibattitu riċenti dwar il-possibiltà ta’ ftehim li jirregola l-militar Amerikan f’pajjiżna (Status of Forces Agreement : SOFA) hu indikattiv. Il-kummenti li smajna u qrajna jagħtu idea żgħir ta’ dak li kien għaddej madwar il-mejda.  

F’pajjiżi kbar, ambaxxati kbar jistgħu jagħmlu sens. Imma Malta, tista’ tgħaddi mingħajrhom. M’għandniex bżonn ambaxxati kbar biex intejbu r-relazzjonijiet mal-Istati Uniti jew iċ-Ċina.

L-ambaxxata tal-Istati Uniti f’Ta’ Qali issa ilha mibnija u ilha topera 9 snin. Imma l-ambaxxata Ċiniża għadha fuq il-pjanta. MInkejja li għadha kif ġiet approvata l-ambaxxatur Ċiniż għad għandu ħin biex jaħseb ftit dwar kif jista’ jindirizza n-nuqqas ta’ spazju li għandu mod ieħor. Jista’ jikunsidra r-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadima, possibilment bini storiku minflok ma jibni ambaxxata daqs raħal.  

Jekk jagħmel hekk ikun qed jittrasforma problema f’opportunità.

Qatt mhu tard, sur Ambaxxatur.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Novembru 2020

Village size embassies: are they required?

The US embassy was built some 9 years ago on a large tract of land at Ta’ Qali purchased from the Maltese Government for €14.6 million. The footprint of the Ta’ Qali Embassy is slightly over 4 hectares in size.

Earlier this week a development permit for a new Chinese Embassy at Pembroke, covering an area of around 2 hectares, was approved by the Planning Authority. The Chinese Embassy compound will be half the size of the US embassy complex but it still has quite a substantial footprint. The land to be developed as a Chinese Embassy was purchased from the Maltese Government for €7,880,000.

Why have these foreign governments been permitted to develop their embassies on such large tracts of land? If they really need space, would it not have been much more helpful if they were advised to restore some old, possibly historic building, as a result giving back something to Maltese society?

How long will it take before some other request for the development of another enormous embassy complex is made? From the Russian Federation maybe?

Does the debate on the American University in Malta not ring a bell? Have we not learnt anything from that public debate as a result of which the only functioning campus is at the former Malta Drydocks? The historic properties on that site, namely the seventeenth century Knights’ Building and the nineteenth century British naval workshops have been restored and given a new use. This has resulted in a net environmental gain, in the process protecting land at Marsaskala from development: a portion of our countryside was saved from ruin.

We will never have an honest reply to the basic question as to what all this space in the village size embassies is needed for. In addition to basic consular work and the development of relations with the business and local community these village size embassies are also inevitably an eavesdropping focus for intelligence gathering in the Mediterranean region.

Some tend to describe both the United States and the Republic of China as being very good friends of Malta. In reality it is a well-established foreign policy principle that countries do not have friends: they have interests. Diplomatic relations serve to further these interests.

Malta’s central location in the Mediterranean makes it ideal as a monitoring post and that is undoubtedly one of the basic interests for such large embassies. Ensuring that this interest is well catered for in Malta is a priority for both the United States of America and the Republic of China.

The recent debate on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) relative to US Forces is indicative. Only the naïve would have failed to note the unofficial comments flying around in order to understand what was going on around the negotiating tables.

In larger countries it may make sense to have large embassies. However, in Malta we could definitely do without them. In a small country such as ours, they are definitely not required to improve the relations with the United States, China or any other country.

The Embassy of the United States of America has now been built and it has been operational for the past nine years. The Chinese embassy is however still on plan. Even if it has just been approved the Chinese Ambassador could still give the matter some further thought and consider the possible rehabilitation of some old building or buildings, possibly historical ones, instead of his massive embassy, the size of a small village!

Possibly that could turn the problem of the location and land uptake of the proposed embassy on its head and develop it into a unique opportunity.

It is never too late Mr Ambassador to take note.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 November 2020

Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ

Hawn sinjali u indikazzjonijiet konfliġġenti dwar x’inhu għaddej bejn Malta u l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fuq negozjati dwar kundizzjonijiet li jirregolaw il-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Dak li hu magħruf bħala  Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Il-presenza f’Malta tas-Segretarju tad-Difiża Amerikan  Mark Esper iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa jindika mhux biss li t-taħdidiet huma għaddejjin, imma fuq kollox li huma fi stadju kritiku. Uffiċjalment ħadd ma jaf iktar minn hekk, ħlief dawk li għandhom idejhom fil-borma!

Billi hemm skiet kważi perfett – silenzju stampa – dwar il-materja, hu naturali li bħalissa għaddejja ħafna spekulazzjoni dwar dak li għaddej.

L-Istati Uniti ilha s-snin turi xewqa għal ftehim SOFA mal-Gvern Malti, imma kull Gvern repetutament qagħad lura. L-indikazzjonijiet illum huma  il-possibiltà ta’ insistenza Amerikana għal rabta  bejn ftehim u l-proċess tal- Moneyval dwar l-osservanza ta’ standards internazzjonali li jirregolaw il-ħasil tal-flus.

Kemm ir-rappreżentanti tal-Gvern Malti kif ukoll dawk tal-Gvern Amerikan jiċħdu li hemm din ir-rabta. Imma fin-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni iktar konkreta nistgħu nkunu nafu biss matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin. Jekk il-Gvernijiet humiex ser iħokku dahar xulxin ikun magħruf diplomatikament, kif jiġri ħafna drabi bejn l-istati  fil-maniġġi internazzjinali globali, kontinwament.

Fil-politika internazzjonali m’hemmx ħbieb, hemm biss interessi. Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi kontinwament ifittxu l-aħjar mod kif jaġevolaw dawn l-interessi. L-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika qed tfittex u tħares l-interessi tagħha meta tipprova issib mod kif tasal għal ftehim SOFA li jirregola l-presenza ta’ militari Amerikani fuq teritorju Malti. Din hi l-politika internazzjonali.  

Hu magħruf li Malta tablet l-assistenza tal-Istati Uniti biex tegħleb il-pressjoni internazzjonali dwar il-proċess tal-Moneyval li jirregola jekk il-pajjiż huwiex qiegħed miexi sewwa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus fuq territorju Malti.

Id-diċeriji jindikaw li l-Istati Uniti lesta tgħin, imma għal din l-għajnuna hemm prezz: il-ftehim li ilhom jixtiequ. Din hi opportunità li mhux la kemm terġa’ titfaċċa. Kif nafu: ħadd ma jagħmel xejn għal xejn.

Ftehim SOFA jistabilixxi l-qafas li fih il-militar Amerikan jopera f’pajjiżi barranin. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta jistabilixxi jekk u kif il-liġijiet ta’ Malta japplikawx għall-militar Amerikan u għall-ħidma tagħhom, inkluż kull apparat (inkluż il-flotta navali) li jistgħu jġibu magħhom. Ftehim ta’ din ix-xorta meta jkun negozjat – jista’ jwassal għal konċessjonijiet u eċċezzjonijiet b’mod li mhux il-liġi Maltija kollha tkun tapplika għall-mistednin tal-Gvern ta’ Robert Abela.

Dan kollu jwassal għal mistoqsija bażika: il-Gvern Malti qed jikkunsidra proposta tal-Istati Uniti li jkun hawn il-militar Amerikan jopera minn teritorju Malti?  Ma għandi l-ebda dubju li ftit huma l-Maltin li jaqblu ma proposta bħal din, jekk teżisti. 

Tul is-snin fil-pajjiż żviluppa kunsens nazzjonali li m’hawnx post għall-militar ta’ pajjiżi barranin fuq artna.  

Nistgħu allura naslu għall-konklużjoni li l-Gvern Malti qed ikun rikattat: Ftehim SOFA jekk trid l-għajnuna dwar il-proċess Moneyval? Sfortunatament ma tantx nistgħu naslu għal konklużjoni differenti.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku (li fi żmien qasir ser jingħaqdu f’partit wieħed) għamlu sejħa biex l-abbozz ta’ ftehim mal-Amerikani jkun ippubblikat immedjatament. Dan hu meħtieġ biex ikun jista’ jsir skrutinju pubbliku: dan hu obbligu demokratiku bażiku.

Nazzarda ngħid li l-idea innifisha tal-ftehim hi oggezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju u dan billi tmur kontra l-prinċipji bażiċi fil-Kostituzzjoni Maltija:  mhux aċċettabbli li jkollna l-miltar ta’ pajjiż ieħor f’artna. Anke d-dettalji tal-ftehim huma inkwetanti: dawn jistgħu jinkludu l-presenza ta’ elementi tas-Sitt Flotta Amerikana bl-elementi nuklejari tagħha, li jkun opposti bil-qawwa mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Jekk Malta, kif inhu xieraq, tirrifjuta ftehim mal-Amerikani, jibqa’ l-pendenza tal-Moneyval  li tista’ twassal għal miżuri li jkollhom impatt negattiv fuq is-settur finanzjarju f’Malta. Robert Abela xorta jibqgħalu l-obbligu li jħoll l-egħeqiedi li rabtu bihom il-predeċessur tiegħu u ta’ madwaru u dan mingħajr għajnuna Amerikana.  

L-għajnuna Amerikana għandha prezz għoli li Malta m’għandhiex tħallas. Is-sovranità tagħna mhiex għall-bejgħ.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Ottubru 2020

Our sovereignty is not for sale

Conflicting signals are flying around as to whether, if at all, there is any sign yet of Malta and the US being close to concluding an agreement on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

The presence in Malta of US Defence Secretary Mark Esper is indicative that discussions are ongoing and moreover that they are at a very critical stage. Officially no one knows much more than that, except, that is, for those having a finger in the pie!

As a result of a news blackout on the matter, it is natural that a lot of ongoing speculation as to what is actually being discussed is developing.

A SOFA agreement with Malta has been on the US wish-list for ages: requests being repeatedly declined by successive Maltese governments. Indications point towards a linkage between the US insistence for a SOFA agreement and the developing Moneyval test on complying with money laundering standards. Both the US and the Maltese government representatives flatly deny such a linkage. In the absence of detailed information from both sides, whether such a linkage exists or not will only be clear as matters develop over the coming weeks and months. The possibility of a quid pro quo would only be evident on a diplomatic level, as happens continuously in the games states play globally.

In international politics, states do not have friends, they only have interests: diplomacy seeks to achieve and service these interests. In pursuing a SOFA agreement, the US is seeking its interests. This is the nature of international politics.

It is known that Malta has requested US assistance in the forthcoming Moneyval test. The rumour mill is of the opinion that such assistance will be forthcoming at a price: a SOFA agreement with Malta which has been yearned for by the US for a long time. It seems that this is an opportunity which is not to be missed by the US.

A SOFA is an agreement that generally establishes the framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in a foreign country and spells out how domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction apply toward U.S. personnel in that country. Exceptions and concessions are normally sought and negotiated.

This begs a basic question: is the Maltese government considering a US proposal to have US military personnel operating on Maltese territory or in Maltese territorial waters? I would not hesitate to state that few Maltese would agree with such a proposal. It is reasonable to state that over the years a consensus has developed on these islands that there is no room for foreign troops on Maltese soil or in Maltese waters.

Should we then conclude that the Maltese government is being blackmailed: a SOFA in return for Moneyval support? Unfortunately, it is difficult to arrive at an alternative conclusion.

Earlier this week Alternattiva Demokratika and the Democratic Party (which will be shortly merging into one party) called for the draft of any Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the USA to be made public immediately. This is necessary for public scrutiny. It is a basic democratic duty.

I would dare say that the very idea of a SOFA agreement is objectionable in principle as it goes flatly against the principles enshrined in Malta’s Constitution: no foreign troops on Maltese soil (or in Maltese waters). The possible details of a SOFA agreement are just as worrying: these could include the presence of elements of a nuclear powered Sixth Fleet which will be opposed tooth and nail by civil society.

Rejecting a SOFA agreement would potentially leave the Moneyval grey-listing possibilities unresolved. But then Robert Abela must seek to disentangle Malta from the suffocating problems created by his predecessor and his kitchen Cabinet without seeking US help!

US help comes at a hefty price which Malta should not pay. Our sovereignty is not for sale.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 October 2020

It-tattoos ta’ Joseph bir-Russu?

Dan l-aħħar fuq il-media elettronika kellna storja dwar it-tattoo ta’ Joseph Muscat. Filwaqt li mhux ċar x’fiha eżatt din it-tattoo, sirna nafu li hemm iktar minnhom li s’issa ma jidhrux!

Storja li tqanqal xi ftit kurżità. Għal uħud kienet ukoll okkazjoni għal siegħa mogħdija taż-żmien, b’argumenti dwar fejn jistgħu jkunu dawn it-tattoos.

Bla dubju aħbar li tnissel tbissima meta tqis li Joseph Muscat mhux l-uniku membru tal-Kabinett li hu dilettant tat-tattoo!

L-aħbarijiet mill-Qorti illum huma ta’ tħassib kbir. Iwasslu għal ħafna mistoqsijiet dwar x’logħob għaddej fl-ibħra Maltin u barra minnhom.

Uħud mill-gazzetti online irrappurtaw dak li ntqal fil-Qorti mill-avukati ta’ Darren Debono dwar pressjoni mill-Ambaxxata Amerikana biex issir magħrufa informazzjoni dwar il-vapuri Russi li ma tħallewx jidħlu Malta biex jieħdu l-fjul.

X’ġara? Ingħataw il-fjuwil xorta barra mill-ibħra territorjali, riedu jkunu jafu mill-Ambaxxata Amerikana?

Min jaf x’ġara?

Forsi iktar faċli nkunu nafu fejnhom it-tattoos ta’ Joseph! Forsi bir-Russu ukoll, għalhekk ma setax jaqrahom Chris Peregin!

Fejn qegħda l-washing machine?

 

L-Independent u l-Malta Today, illum, ġiebu artikli dwar l-investigazzjonijiet li għaddejjin f’Miami dwar ħasil ta’ flus taż-żejt mill-Veneżwela.

Qed jissemmew diversi ċifri. Din storja li ilha għaddejja. Komplessivament tista’ tlaħħaq ċifra ta’ $1.2 biljun.

Qed jiġi allegat li €511 miljun minn din is-somma inħaslet Malta.

L-investigazzjoni ilha għaddejja. Id-Dipartiment tal-Ġustizzja tal-Istati Uniti fi stqarrija datata 25 ta’Lulju 2018 intitolata : Two Members of Billion-Dollar Venezuelan Money Laundering Scheme Arrested  tgħid li “Maltese law enforcement authorities provided assistance”.

L-unika ħaġa li nafu konnessa mal-Veneżwela hu li xi ġimgħat ilu kienet sospiża il-licenzja ta’ bank f’Malta wara li kienu nbdew proċeduri kriminali fl-Istati Uniti dwar allegazzjonijiet oħra imma li ukoll kienu jikkoncernaw il-Venezwela.

Hemm xi rabta? X’inhu jiġri? Naħseb li jixirqilna nkunu nafu.

Luigi Di Maio’s threat

US President Donald Trump, over breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, unleashed a blistering criticism of Angela Merkel’s government for being too supportive of Russia’s natural gas pipeline, which provides natural gas to various European states. Germany is too dependent on Russian natural gas, said Donald Trump. Is it appropriate for Angela Merkel’s Germany to do away with energy sovereignty and security in this manner? Being too dependent on Putin’s Russia is not on, he suggested.

Malta also may have its energy sovereignty and security hanging by a string.

Only last month we were reminded by Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi di Maio that Malta’s electricity interconnector supply is plugged in at Ragusa on the Sicilian mainland. The comment was made in the context of the savage debate that developed over the rescue operations involving drowning immigrants picked up from the Mediterranean Sea by NGO operated sea vessels.

The Cinque Stelle politician considered it appropriate to use the Ragusa plug-in for political leverage in the same manner that Vladimir Putin makes use of his Russian gas supply, in relation not just to Angela Merkel’s Germany, but to most of the European mainland.

The fact that Malta is at times too dependent on the Ragusa electricity supply makes matters worse. We have undoubtedly lost count over the last months regarding the number of times we have been subjected to an electricity black-out in Malta: the standard explanation being that there was some technical hitch on either side of the Sicilian Channel which was being taken care of.

Malta will shortly have another Sicilian plug-in, this time a gas pipeline most probably at Gela.

Like the electricity interconnector plugged in at Ragusa the gas-pipeline plugged in at Gela will be another commercial undertaking. Malta will be paying for its gas, just as much as it is paying for its electricity.

Luigi Di Maio’s thinly veiled threat was obviously that the existing electricity plug-in at Ragusa was there at the Italian government’s pleasure which could reverse any commitment entered into so far if the Maltese government persists in irritating it.

It is not known whether there was any follow-up to Di Maio’s declaration, accept that the Maltese government closed all ports to NGO-operated vessels and that criminal proceedings were initiated against the MV Lifeline captain on flimsy sea-vessel registration charges.

This is unfortunately in-line with the Di Maio/Salvini philosophy that good Samaritans have to be treated suspiciously.

At the time of writing, another sea vessel with 450 migrants on board is sailing through Malta’s search and rescue area towards Sicily with Matteo Salvini, Minister for the Interior, insisting that Italy’s ports are closed for such vessels.

What next?

Potentially, as a result of the closure of Maltese and Italian ports, this is another developing tragedy. Di Maio’s veiled threat, maybe, has been taken seriously by the Maltese government.

Such incidents send one clear message: the foundations of solidarity as a value have heavily eroded. It has been transformed into a slogan. Solidarity is one of the basic values of the European Union – it is not limited to the EU’s border states. Successive Maltese governments have tried to nudge other EU member states to shoulder this collective responsibility which is currently shouldered disproportionately by the border states. The response from nine members states when the MV Lifeline debacle came to the fore was encouraging, but it is certainly not enough.

Faced with racist and xenophobic overreactions, opting for solidarity is not an easy choice. It would be certainly helpful if more EU states put solidarity into practice. The problem is that not all of them are convinced that this is the only ethical way forward.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 July 2018