Monday, February 26, 2018

Bitcoin bubbles - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 26 February 2018

Bitcoin and blockchain: two new words that have entered the vocabulary of finance. Malta’s government is aiming to be a bitcoin capital of the world, so it’s about time that we inform ourselves on what this entails.
In short, blockchain is a technology that makes cryptocurrencies possible, and bitcoin is a currently existing cryptocurrency.
The latter is a digital currency which is independent of central banks and central government. Cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible and one’s documentation and assets can be preserved within their digital platforms.
Given that they are not subject to state control, cryptocurrencies cannot be monitored by the police. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they might be attractive to criminals such as money launderers who want to hide their financial transactions and assets.
Indeed, according to Europol, about three to four per cent of the €113 billion in illicit proceeds are currently being laundered through cryptocurrencies. Given that Malta’s reputation is being tainted with corruption, money laundering, sale of passports and sale of the common good, we should be worried.
In this regard, last May Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that his Cabinet would make Malta the “Bitcoin continent of Europe”. In the months that followed, some media stories and commentaries were published regarding high-level meetings and intentions possibly related to this.
In the meantime, Digital Economy Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri recently launched government’s plans for a consultation period on blockchain. Plans include the setting up of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority which will promote Malta as a hub for companies in this sector. How such companies can be regulated is a mystery which needs explanation.
The government has also announced that it will set up a national monitoring technology ethics committee composed of up experts in areas such as law, ethics, science, religion, human rights. Having experts monitor such activities can be fine, but again, it is unclear how government can regulate the sector.
Sure, the government can say that it is embracing the blockchain technology and not bitcoin the cryptocurrency. But the technology will be used by such currencies, which, again, cannot be regulated.
Cryptocurrencies may look attractive to those who like to speculate in finance, even though to me it seems that their only value is based on the idea that someday someone else will buy them. But can they be exchanged for real money? And should government encourage investment in sectors covered by real money, or in sectors that have found safe havens in cryptocurrencies? Will Malta become the global capital of money laundering and similar criminal activities through the government’s plans?
Another problem I see with bitcoin is that it has blind faith in technology, when a more realistic view would suggest that technologies are not neutral, nor are they infallible.
Malta’s public sphere has the duty to ask who is lobbying for the introduction of blockchain. We should know who the Prime Minister and other members of Cabinet have been meeting in this regard, and the government should back up its talk on regulation with clear evidence.
Let us keep in mind that very often policies have both intended and unintended consequences, and this happens even when legislation is watertight. In this case we are speaking of a new area with more questions than answers.
Indeed if things go wrong with blockchain, who will pay for the mess, and what role will Malta’s institutions have to safeguard the public interest? Sounds very much like other policies Malta is currently pursuing: the construction of everywhere, the sale of citizenship for cash, and so forth. They may look good in the short-term, but their sustainability is questionable at best.
I really hope that Malta does not end up with another Vitals or American University of Malta through the bitcoin promise. Surely, there must be other ways to find niches that can sustain our economic and social development.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Is-sahha mentali jixirqilha d-dinjita’ - Michael Briguglio

F’Malta is-sahha mentali ghadha tabu’ socjali, minkejja li qed tkun iktar vizibli fl-isfera pubblika.

Tajjeb nirrikonoxxu li l-media mhux necessarjament tirraprezenta realtajiet socjali differenti, u meta taghmel dan mhux neccessarjament tirraprezenthom b’mod realistiku.

Filwaqt li hu pozittiv li persuni kuragguzi jitkellmu b’mod miftuh dwar il-problemi personali taghhom dwar sahha mentali, huwa daqstant importanti li l-media ma tibbanalizzax dawn l-argumenti izda li tipprova teduka dwar il-bzonn ta’ politika serja u assistenza professjonali. Dan jghodd ghall-partiti politici ukoll. Importanti li jkun hemm politika serja u umana, u mhux wahda sensazzjonalista.

Hemm nies li ma jitkellmux dwar is-sahha mentali ghal bosta ragunijiet, fosthom biza’ ta’ stigma u nuqqas ta’ gharfien. Hemm min jirrifjuta assistenza anke meta din tkun neccessarja. Hemm min m’huwiex konxju li ghandu bzonn assistenza. Fuq livell iktar generali, forsi pajjizna ghadu mhux matur bizzejjed li jiddiskuti l-importanza rispettiva ta’ dixxiplini bhall-psikologija u l-psikjatrija.

L-isptar Monte Karmeli huwa monument li jirraprezenta fallimenti kbar fil-politika dwar is-sahha mentali. Kemm il-darba intuza ghal skopijiet politici permezz ta’ nepotizmu, tpattija u inkompetenza. Dan l-ahhar inqalghu incidenti koroh fosthom suicidju ta’ pazjent li harab mill-isptar.

Il-Kummissarju tas-Sahha John Cachia u unjins li jirraprezentaw haddiema ta’ l-isptar kemm il-darba tkellmu dwar il-problemi kbar li hemm f’Monte Karmeli, izda l-Gvern jidher li mhux qed jaghti wisq importanza ghal din il-kritika gustifikata u kostruttiva.

Il-bini qed jaqa’ bicciet u hemm nuqqas ta’ dinjita’ kemm ghall-pazjenti u l-haddema. Il-kap ezekuttiv ta’ l-isptar m’huwiex kwalifikat fil-qasam u jidher li tpogga hemm minhabba l-lealta’ tieghu lejn il-Partit Laburista.

Tajjeb li l-oppozizzjoni, is-socjeta’ civili u l-istampa ikomplu jsaqsu mistoqsijiet dwar x’inhu jigri f’Monte Karmeli u fil-politika dwar is-sahha mentali. Fost ohrajn, importanti li s-socjeta’ Maltija tkun taf jekk hemmx immanigjar ta’ riskji b’mod professjonali. Jekk is-supervizjoni tal-pazjenti hijiex immanigjata u awditjata kif suppost. Jekk l-irwoli fl-isptar humiex jigu assenjati fuq bazi ta’ kompetenza jew fuq bazi partiggjana. Tajjeb ukoll li l-Gvern jibqa’ jigi mistoqsi dwar in-nuqqas ta’ haddiema fl-isptar u dwar id-drittijiet tal-pazjenti.

Pajjizna ma jistax jibqa’ jittratta is-sahha mentali bhala qasam politiku tat-tieni klassi, u m’ghandniex naccettaw li s-sistema pubblika tas-sahha mentali tkun wahda ta’ kastig, biza’ u nuqqas ta’ dinjita’.

Nibqa’ dizappuntat li dawk li huma responsabbli ghall-politika dwar is-sahha mentali jibqghu jipprokastinaw permezz ta’ diskors burokratiku u skuzi ohra. Il-persuni li ghandhom problem ta’ sahha mentali jixirqilhom ahjar.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-Mument, 25 ta' Frar 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What's up at Mount Carmel? Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 19 February 2018

Clint Camilleri’s statement about the ‘Mount Carmel’ van paraded during the Nadur carnival was so wrong. Not only because it was in bad taste. And not only because he is the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Animal Rights, but even more so because it unfortunately reflects the state of policymaking in mental health. This is very wrong.
Let us put things into perspective. In Malta, mental health remains a social taboo, so much so that many people do not talk about it and some refuse assistance when it is clearly needed. But policymaking in the field does not help. How many of us, for example, know the difference and the respective importance of psychiatry and psychology? Is education about this reaching all levels of society?
Mount Carmel hospital is a monument to the failure in the field. It has been in a rotten state for many years and has often been used as a dumping ground for nepotism and incompetence. If truth is often stranger than fiction, Mount Carmel may be weirder than some total institutions depicted in novels and films.
The building is falling to pieces. It has recently witnessed escapes and suicide. Workers’ morale is at rock bottom. And it is now led by a chief executive whose only qualification is his loyalty to the party in government. As far as I know his other background, in banking, has nothing to do with mental health.
Well, judging by the government’s appointment of hundreds of loyalists in positions of trust, and judging by the sale of public hospitals and to land speculators, we needn’t be surprised. There is one exception in the area of mental health though: Commissioner John Cachia, whose voice is conspicuous by lack of government support. The exception really proves the rule.
Like so many aspects of the government’s deficit in governance, Mount Carmel qualifies for an independent investigation. Important questions need to be asked. For example, is risk management being carried out thoroughly? How is supervision of patients being managed and audited? Are tasks and roles being assigned according to expertise and competence or according to political criteria? What is being done about staff shortages? What remedies exist for patients and their loved ones in defence of their rights?
It is very sad that while mental health has gained increased attention in the media in the recent years, also thanks to some high-profile people who spoke about their own problems, the issue remains associated with stigma and deficit in governance. It also has to be made clear that when this matter grabs media attention, it is not always for the right reasons.
For example, when certain politicians declare their commitment to the cause, they are rarely taken to task about concrete decisions such as investment in the field, prioritisation by their respective political parties, and so forth. Opening up on an issue is plausible and brave, but this should be followed up by substantive legislation, policies and action.
It is imperative that policymakers are sensitised to research in the field and taken to task about it. Real journalism shouldn’t simply report on the previous job experiences of the new CEO at Mount Carmel: it should ask him concrete questions about mental health evidence, research and policy.
Similarly, raising awareness about mental health should not simply be about snackable and at times banal campaigns on television. Awareness should ensure that different people with different backgrounds are equipped to face the risks, services and challenges associated with mental health issues.
We should be thankful to selfless doctors, nurses and staff who do their utmost for mental health patients, especially when resources are so limited. But on the other hand, we cannot keep accepting a mental health system that looks more like a dystopian hellhole, devoid of basic services and facilities and which mortifies patients rather than empowering them to a better life.
I remain flabbergasted by the fact that those in charge of mental health are not being held accountable for their failures and how the government manages to camouflage the matter with bureaucratic talk and excuses. People with mental health problems deserve much better.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tibdil kostituzzjonali f'pajjiz inqas liberali - Michael Briguglio

Il-Mument, 18 ta' Frar 2018

Fil-letteratura akkademika dwar sistemi politici, kemm il-darba jissemew erba’ tipi ta’ sistemi politici fis-socjetajiet kontemporanji.  Tnejn minnhom huma demokratici, u t-tnejn l-ohra m’humiex.

Is-sistema demokratika-liberali hi dik li tinstab fl-hekk imsejha pajjizi tal-punent. Dawn jinkludu pajjizi bhall-Germanja, l-iStati Uniti, l-Ingilterra, l-Awstralja, l-Italja u ohrajn. Gvern qatt m’ghandu poter assolut minhabba li jezistu provvisti u istituzzjonijiet li jipprotegu d-drittijiet politici, civili u socjali ta’ l-individwu. Il-qrati, l-istampa u s-socjeta’ civili huma awtonomi.

Jezistu pajjizi ohrajn li huma demokratici izda huma illiberali. Dawn jinkludu r-Russja, it-Turkija u l-Venezwela. Hawnhekk jezistu elezzjonijiet, izda kemm il-darba isiru b’mod li jiffavorixxu lill-partit fil-Gvern. Nghidu ahna jigu arrestati esponenti ta’  l-oppozizzjoni, u jigu mxekkla l-liberta’ ta’ l-istampa, u s-socjeta’ civili. Il-qrati jidhru li huma ghodda ta’ l-istat u d-drittijiet tal-minoranzi huma ssagrifikati ghall-omnipotenza ta’ l-istat.

Hemm xebh f’bosta oqsma bejn demokraziji illiberali u pajjizi awtoritarji. Dawn ta’ l-ahhar jinkludu  c-Cina u Kuba fost l-ohrajn. L-ikbar differenza bejn iz-zewg sistemi hi li f’pajjizi awtoritarji l-elezzjonijiet jippermettu partit wiehed biss biex jikkompeti, u l-istat huwa iktar suprem minn dak ta’ demokraziji illiberali.

L-iktar Sistema oppressiva hija dik totalitarja, li tinstab f’pajjizi bhall-Korea ta’ Fuq u l-Eritrea. Hawnhekk kull qasam tal-hajja hi kkontrollata mill-istat u ma tezisti l-ebda forma ta’ liberta’.

Jezistu wkoll modi iktar sofistikati ta’ kif nistghu nanalizzaw sistemi politici, fejn fost l-ohrajn wiehed jista’ jara differenzi anke bejn pajjizi b’sistemi simili ghal ta’ xulxin.

Ezempju tajjeb huwa l-ktieb ‘The State: Past, Present, Future’ (2016), fejn is-socjologu Bob Jessop jipproponi metodu ta’ kif nistghu nanalizzaw sistemi politici. Fost affarijiet ohra jenfasizza li l-istat m’huwiex Sistema statika u monolitika izda huwa l-prodott ta’ relazzjonijiet u kontradizzjonijiet socjali, politici u ekonomici.

F’parti mill-ktieb, Jessop jirreferi ghal kitba ta’ socjologu iehor, Nicos Poulantzas, f’dak li ghandu x’jaqsam ma’ ‘Stati Normali’ u ‘Regimi Eccezzjonali’.

Dawk ta’ l-ewwel jinkludu demokrazija liberali u elezzjonijiet hielsa; it-trasferiment tal-poter b’mod stabbli u skond il-ligi; pluralita’ ta’ ideologiji li huma relattivament indipendenti mill-istat, is-separazzjoni tal-poter, u c-cirkolazzjoni flessibli tal-poter.

Dawk ta’ l-ahhar kultant jissospendu l-elezzjonijiet, m’ghandhomx metodi legali ta’ kif jista’ jigi ttrasferit il-poter, u huma karatterizzati minn ideologija ta’ l-istat u mill-koncentrazzjoni tal-poter.

Kemm Jessop u Poulantzas jirreferu ukoll ghall-‘Statizmu Awtoritarju’, fejn il-partit maggoritarju – anke f’demokrazija liberali - isir il-partit ta’ l-istat u b’hekk il-poter jigi iktar ikkoncentrat.

Din it-tip ta’ analizi politika tista tghinna biex nevalwaw dak li qed jigri f’pajjizna. Formalment, Malta hi demokrazija liberali, u s-shubija fl-UE hi xhieda ta’ dan.  Izda bhal ma qed jigri f’pajjizi bhall-Ungerija u l-Polonja, hemm bosta fatturi li ma jistghux jitqiesu  bhala liberali.

Fost l-ohrajn, dan jinkludi l-fatt li s-separazzjoni tal-poter hija limitata u li l-Partit fil-gvern qed jahtaf kollox taht idejh u qed jipprova jwettaq tibdil strutturali li jista’ jkollhom implikazzjonijiet ghal generazzjonijiet tal-futur.

Ghalhekk, meta nisimghu lill-Prim Ministru Joseph juza diskors popolist dwar tibdil kostituzzjonali, ghandna noqoghdu b’seba’ ghajnejn. Fost affarijiet ohra ghandna nizguraw li kull process ikun verament miftuh u demokratiku, u ma jkunx manipulat mill-partit fil-gvern. Ghandna nizguraw ukoll li jekk isir referendum, dan isir biss wara u jekk ikun hemm qbil ta’  milll-inqas zewg terzi tal-parlament dwar dak li qed jigi propost.

Joseph Muscat qed jghid li mhux ser johrog ghall-elezzjoni li jmiss. Izda din qaluha wkoll politici ohra f’pajjizi mhux daqshekk demokratici. Irrizulta li wara hatfu iktar poter taht idejhom.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Jason Micallef's Valletta - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 12 February 2018

Valletta: the city that won European cultural capital status. The city that was made increasingly accessible through pedestrianisation and other projects. And the same city where people gather to voice their concerns on so many issues.
Judging by the public messages of V18 chairman Jason Micallef, one is led to think that he considers the city to be his personal fiefdom. Indeed, even though Micallef is meant to represent the general public, he is acting in a very divisive and sectarian way, lashing out at all those who he considers to be traitors to his cause.
Needless to say, a chorus of government-sponsored media and keyboard warriors repeat his rants. How many of them have been given positions of trust in the public service?
A recent example of this relates to the proposal of two Labour local councillors to remove the shrine for Daphne Caruana Galizia at Great Siege Square.
In response, the Civil Society Network announced that it will be applying for a permanent memorial to Caruana Galizia. The Labour propaganda machine tried to imply that the proposed memorial would replace the monument where the current shrine is in place, but nothing can be further from the truth.
Such tricks are so cheap: Glenn Bedingfield did something similar a day later when he posted fake news on the doctors’ strike against the Vitals scandal.
Let’s go back to Micallef. When the Daphne memorial proposal was announced, he immediately said that he would oppose this with every means possible, “as V18 chairman and on a personal basis”. He was immediately taken to task by Caruana Galizia’s sister Corinne Vella, who accused him of wasting taxpayers’ money on “vanity projects cluttering up a public square”, but objects to flowers laid in memory of a woman who “held him and his corrupt patrons to account”.
One of these projects must be the Hekk Jgħid il-Malti display. Its creator Joel Saliba said he hoped to provoke the public through the installations. Well, I for one, do not like the installations, but yes, some of them did set me thinking.
The pig, for example, reminded me of Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The three cows reminded me of the Panama Gang where everything is for sale. And the crass depiction of a figure bent over with his head caught in an onion reminded me of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra, where we are sucked into a black hole of endless simulations. One of them could be V18 and Labour’s soulless politics of spectacle and seduction through corruption.
Unfortunately, a number of these installations were vandalised, and Micallef immediately related this to “sick minds who could not stand the progress currently being made in Valletta, from which the whole country would benefit”.
I do not recall Micallef being so angry when Daphne’s shrine was vandalised and when Auberge de Castille was vandalised through holes courtesy of light works.
Let us all hope that the persons behind the Hekk Jgħid il-Malti vandalism are caught by the police. Incidentally, this is one of the best policed areas on the island.
A few days earlier, Micallef also ranted against the Kenniesa projections on Castille, with the words ‘House of impunity’ and ‘Who killed Daphne?’. He said that the group abused democracy and that their protest was a vile, systematic and illegal assault on public monuments by a few dozen people.
How the V18 man can relate freedom of expression to an abuse of democracy baffles me. Indeed, when a city is declared a cultural capital of Europe, one expects an outburst of creativity, critique and expression, and not State-orchestrated propaganda and attacks on freethinkers.
It is very worrying that V18 funds are being used in typical Labour style to seduce participants into silence. This is so similar to Labour’s governing style with regards to non-meritocratic jobs in the public service, quick-fix permits for construction, and all sorts of corruption and favours courtesy of taxpayers’ money.
Respect to those who refuse to be part of the circus.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

L-Ewropa tghir ghal Malta? - Michael Briguglio

Il-Mument, 11 ta' Frar 2018

L-ekonomija ta’ Malta qisha z-zring metaforiku li ma jirrealizzax li t-temperatura ta’ l-ilma tiela bil-mod il-mod. Imbaghad it-temperatura toghla wisq u z-zring imut. Anzi, s-sitwazzjoni ta’ Malta hi aghar, ghax il-Gvern qed jigi mwissi dwar il-korruzzjoni, il-hasil tal-flus u d-dipendenza zejda fuq certi setturi.

Ghandna ghal xiex ninkwetaw dwar il-process ta’ konsultazzjoni li l-Gvern nieda dwar il-bejgh tac-cittadinanza, jew kif inhi maghrufa ufficjalment, l-Individual Investors Programme (IIP). Ejja nzommu f’mohhna li meta habbar l-iskema wara l-elezzjoni tal-2013, Muscat kien wieghed li l-iskema tkun wahda temporanja.

Issa huwa car li l-iskema m’hijiex sempliciment skema fost l-ohrajn fil-politika tal-Gvern. L-iskema hija r-raguna ewlenija ghalfejn pajjizna ghandu surplus fiskali. Dan ifisser li Joseph Muscat u Edward Scicluna gabu lil pajjizna dipendenti fuq il-bejgh tac-cittadinanza.

Sa dan it-tant jippacifikaw l-opinjoni pubblika billi jisseducu lill-votanti biex jiehdu parti mid-dhul ekonomiku iggenerat mill-iskema. Izda b’hekk il-pajjiz qed isir ivvizzjat fuq politika ghazziena u insostenibbli li ma tistax tibqa’ hemm ghal dejjem. Ir-rizultat ahhari ta’ dan jista’ jgib rovina ekonomika specjalment jekk il-pajjiz ma jiggenerax modi ohrajn u sostenibbli ta’ tkabbir ekonomiku.

Tajjeb ninnutaw li l-Fond Monetarju Internazzjonali (IMF) dan l-ahhar esprima d-dubji dwar l-IIP. Huwa veru li l-IMF innota s-success tal-Gvern fit-tkabbir ekonomiku, izda l-istess IMF qal li d-dhul mill-IIP huwa wiehed volatili u difficli li tbassar, u li l-iskema iggib maghha sfida ghall-aggustement fiskali fit-tul. Gie innotat ukoll li l-influss ta’ barranin qed igib mieghu zieda fil-prezz tal-propjeta’.

L-IMF qal li l-Awtorita’ tas-Servizzi Finanzjarji ghandha bzonn rizorsi adekwati sabiex jigu ssalvagwardjati ir-reputazzjoni u l-intergrita’ tas-settur finanzjarju ta’ Malta. Dan hu l-istess settur li kellu kunsens politiku ghal iktar minn ghoxrin sena u li issa qed jigi mhedded minhabba r-rezistenza tal-Gvern li jiehu azzjoni konkreta dwar il-hasil tal-flus, il-korruzzjoni u skandli bhall-Panama Papers.

Fil-fatt, fi kliem l-IMF, ‘robust implementation and effective enforcement of the Anti-Money Laundering framework is critical given the size of Malta’s financial sector, the fast-growing remote gaming activity, and the high demand for the IIP’.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna wiegeb ghar-rapport tal-IMF permezz ta’ stqarrija trionfalista u injora ghal kollox it-twissijiet imsemmija hawn fuq. Ma nkunx sorpriz jekk il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat izid doza ikbar ta’ trionfalizmu billi jghid li bhall-istati membri ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea, l-IMF qed tghir ghal Malta.

Ejja nzommu f’mohhna li l-ekonomija ta’ Malta ghanda daqs ta’ lokalita normali Ewropea. Fl-ahhar tal-2016 kienet tammonta ghal madwar 12-il biljun Ewro. L-ekonomija ta’ l-UE tammonta ghal 14,825 Billion Ewro.  Apparti min hekk, l-ahhar figuri tal-Eurostat juri li z-zona Ewro qed tesperjenza l-ikbar tkabbir f’ghaxar snin. U ghall-kuntrarju ta’ Malta, il-pajjizi l-ohra m’humiex dipendenti fuq il-bejgh tac-cittadinanza.

Ejja ma nhallux il-propaganda tal-Gvern tipperswadina li l-bqija ta’ l-UE qed tghir ghall-Prim Ministru Muscat. Jekk l-ekonomija ta’ Malta tikkollassa ma nistghux inwehhlu f’pajjizi ohra. L-impatt fuq Malta jaf ikun kbir, izda l-effett fuq l-ekonomija Ewropea ikun minimu. M’huwiex minnu li l-Ewropa kollha qed tistenna lill-Malta biex tigwida lill-pajjizi l-ohra. U jekk il-Gvern ikompli jiftahar b’rixu u jinjora kritika genwina, ikun qed jaghmel disservizz lic-cittadini tal-pajjiz.

Il-bejgh tal-passaporti ma jistax jibqa ghaddej ghal dejjem. U lanqas il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Europe jealous of Malta? - Michael Briguglio

Image result for joseph muscat the best
Times of Malta, 5 February 2018

Malta’s economic policy is like the metaphorical frog which doesn’t realise that the temperature of the water is slowly rising. Then the water gets too hot and the frog dies. Actually Malta’s situation is worse, as the government is actually being warned about money laundering, corruption and overdependence on certain sectors.
We should be very worried about the government’s consultation process about the cash-for-citizenship scheme known as the Individual Investors Programme (IIP). Let us remember that when Joseph Muscat had originally announced the scheme after the 2013 election, he had promised to keep it temporary.
Now the scheme is not simply a one-off programme in the government’s policymaking: it is the main reason why Malta has a fiscal surplus. This means that Muscat and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna are rendering the country dependent on the sale of passports.
They pacify public opinion by seducing voters to take a share of the multiplier effect generated by the scheme. But in the meantime we are becoming addicted to lazy and unsustainable policy that cannot go on forever.
The ultimate result of this could be ruin for all especially if the economy does not generate alternative models of growth.
It is important to note that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently expressed its doubts on Malta’s reliance on the IIP. True, the IMF noted the government’s success in achieving robust economic growth, but it also said that proceeds from IIP are “volatile and difficult to predict”, and that the scheme presents “a challenge for long-term fiscal adjustment”.  It also noted that the influx of foreign workers is fuelling an increase in housing prices.
The IMF also highlighted the need for “adequate resources” within the Malta Financial Services Authority to safeguard the reputation and integrity of Malta’s financial sector. This is the same sector that was subject to political consensus during the past two decades and which is now facing threats due to the government’s obstinate resistance to take concrete action on money laundering, corruption and scandals such as Panama Papers.
Indeed, the IMF added that “robust implementation and effective enforcement of the anti-money laundering framework is critical given the size of Malta’s financial sector, the fast-growing remote gaming activity, and the high demand for the IIP”.
As predicted, Scicluna replied to the IMF with a triumphal statement about what he sees as the government’s over-achievements with regard to its budgetary estimates. All warnings were ignored, meaning that we can only expect business-as-usual from Labour.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Muscat’s government adds further triumphalism by stating that like EU member states, institutions such as the IMF are jealous of Malta’s achievements. I really cannot understand how journalists do not take Muscat to task whenever he resorts to such logic, as if Malta is some street vendor competing with other hawkers around.
Let us keep in mind that Malta’s economy is the size of a European town or small city: At the end of 2016 it was around €12 billion. The EU total reads €14,825 billion. Besides, latest Eurostat figures show that the eurozone grew at its fastest rate in a decade in 2017, and the other countries in question are not fiscally dependent on sale of passports to balance their budgets.
So let us not allow Muscat’s propaganda machine to fool us that the rest of Europe is jealous of his achievements. Should Malta’s current economic model collapse we only have ourselves to blame for this.
The impact on Maltese society may be huge, but the impact on the EU economy would be minute. It is not that all Europe is waiting for Malta to paint the future bright. If Muscat and Scicluna prefer boasting about themselves than looking at troubling trends, they are only doing a disservice to their electors.
The editorial in this newspaper of January 25 couldn’t have put it better: “The government appears to think there is no tomorrow, in ‘making hay while the sun shines’, as some developers are doing. But building speculation would not last forever. Neither do governments, nor passports for sale.”

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Falzita' wara l-ohra- Michael Briguglio

Il-Mument, 4 ta' Frar 2018

Meta giet inawgurata il-V18 fil-Belt Valletta, il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat qal li din l-inizjattiva ser tkun wahda ‘awtentika’. Ghaddew biss ftit minuti u sirna nafu li wahda mill-ispettakli prominenti kienet kwazi identika ta’ wahda simili f’Amsterdam erba snin ilu.

Dan l-att simboliku jfakkarna kif l-istess Joseph Muscat kien oppona d-dhul ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea u kien ikkritka dak kollu li ghandu x’jaqsam mal-progett ta’ Renzo Piano u mat-tisbih tal-Belt meta Lawrence Gonzi kien Prim Ministru.

Izda m’ghandniex niskantaw bl-istil ta’ Joseph Muscat. Jopponi fl-oppozizzjoni, izda jiehu l-mertu ta’ l-istess haga meta jkun fil-Gvern. Iwieghed haga, u jaghmel bil-maqlub. Dan hu gvern li hu mibni fuq il-falzita’.

Per ezempju jekk naraw il-bejgh tal-passaporti, hemm ingann shih. Joseph Muscat qatt ma wieghed din l-iskema qabel l-2013, u jaghmel minn kollox biex jahbi lix-xerrejja tac-cittadinanza. Meta l-iskema giet introdotta, wieghed li ser tkun hemm ghal zmien temporanju izda issa jrid jestendiha. Dan ghaliex minghajra pajjizna ma kienx ikollu surplus is-sena l-ohra. Issa pajjizna qed isir dipendenti fuq skema li ghandha bazi tar-ramel.

Zewg progetti li l-Gvern ta’ Muscat tant ftahar dwarhom ukoll m’ghandhom bazi xejn soda. Qed nirreferi ghall-hekk imsejha Universita Amerikana u ghall-hekk imsejjah investiment mediku tal-Vitals f’sptarijiet pubblici. Dawn ukoll ma gewx imwieghda qabel l-2013, u t-tnejn li huma jidhru iktar li huma progetti ta’ spekulazzjoni tal-propjeta’.

Huwa veru li l-ekonomija Maltija qed tikber. Izda nafu li pajjizna huwa wisq dipendenti fuq il-kostruzzjoni u l-bejgh tal-passapori. Kemm jista’ jdum dan kollu? Il-politika ekonomika qed thares biss sa’ l-elezzjoni generali? Min ser ihallas id-danni ekonomici meta t-tmexxija prezenti titlaq?

Il-falzita’ tal-gvern naraha wkoll fid-diskors dwar il-libertajiet civili. Huwa veru li pajjizna ghamel avvanzi kbar fid-drittijiet LGBTIQ, u l-kwistjoni issa hi karatterizzata minn kunsens parlamentari. Izda l-Partit Laburista ma jistax jibqa jithalla jisfrutta dan l-ezempju kull meta jigi kkritikat fuq affarijiet ohra.

Kif  jista’ Gvern jiftahar dwar il-liberta’ meta Daphne Caruana Galizna inqatlet b’mod brutali? Kif jista’ Gvern jiftahar dwar il-whistleblowers meta Jonathan Ferris u Maria Efimova ghandhom hajjithom f’periklu? X’liberta’ hi din li thallina noffendu r-religjoni izda ma tipprotegix gurnalisti li jinvestigaw il-Pilatus Bank u Henley and Partners?

Joseph Muscat jaf jimpresjona lill-pubbliku tieghu. Jaf ibiegh il-prodott tieghu, izda jien ma nara l-ebda profondita’ wara dan kollu. Nara biss politiku li ghandu l-ambizzjoni li jgawdi sakemm jista’ u li jaghmel minn kollox biex jibqa fil-poter sa dan it-tant. Juza politika irhisa u facli u ma jaghtix kas l-implikazzjonijiet fuq il-gid komuni. Jaghtina l-impressjoni li ghandu l-kontroll ta’ kollox izda jidher dghajjef hdejn kollaboraturi bhal Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri.

Izda l-istorja tghallimna li l-ebda Gvern m’hu hemm ghall-eternita’. Jehtieg li sa dan it-tant nitharrgu u nharrgu lill-haddiehor sabiex naraw il-perikli wara t-tbissima ta’ Muscat. Jehtieg li nbiddlu  politika falza ma wahda li verament tahdem ghal gid komuni.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Sakharov speech: Freedom of Speech in Malta - Michael Briguglio

Sakharov Prize debate, Valletta, 2nd February 2018

In Malta we are allowed to offend religion, but we are not protected from investigating Pilatus Bank or Henley and Partners.

This is one of the everyday contradictions we face under Joseph Muscat, whose government favours liberalization as long as it does not interfere with the interests of oligarchs. In fact, whilst blasphemy laws were repealed in 2016, Maltese legislation does not protect journalists and media houses from SLAPP lawsuits.

Hence, the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is being used by companies associated with controversies involving the Government’s deficit in governance to stop journalists from doing their job.

Both Pilatus Bank and Henley and Partners resorted to SLAPP against the press when investigations were being carried out on matters related to Panama Papers and Malta’s cash-for-passports scheme respectively. In practice, this means that international court cases could cripple journalists due to hefty legal costs, often leaving the same journalists with no option but to withdraw their writings. Given that Pilatus and Henley could have easily resorted to Maltese courts, one should ask whether their actions are in bad faith.

It is of utmost importance that Malta’s parliament approves the private member’s bill that will be discussing the SLAPP issue. If approved, the bill would ensure that such court cases would not be enforceable in Malta. So far the opposition has declared its support, whilst the government side has failed to do so.

We should be thankful to journalists who are investigating corruption, bad governance, money laundering and similar matters which are of public interest. The same can be said with regards to activists and politicians active in the field.

But we should also be suspicious of politicians who resort to populist language to depict an ‘us and them’ situation with regard to Malta and the European Union institutions that are investigating Maltese rule of law. We Maltese are Europe, we voted to join the EU, and European institutions represent us as much as they represent other European citizens. Just imagine how much more abuse of power, corruption and impunity would exist in Malta had we opted to remain out of Europe.

May I remind those present that more than one hundred days have passed since the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. This murder represented the worst possible attack against freedom of speech. Daphne’s loss is a human tragedy. But it also means that we are deprived of her investigations of corruption, organized crime and bad governance.

We know that three people were arrested in relation to the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia. But there seems to have been little progress since then. To date, there is no sign that the authorities have identified who commissioned, planned or orchestrated this murder.

It is therefore not surprising that international institutions, international civil society, international media and international think tanks are concerned with Malta’s current situation in matters such as free speech, governance, protection of journalists, rule of law and corruption.

Unfortunately the Government propaganda machine is trying to depict another picture. It tries to make us forget about panama papers and about the endless list of scandals related to the parceling out of the common good.

Government tries to make us forget about the shortcomings of the Police Commissioner, who refuses to take action on Panama Papers. Government ignores the advice of Chief Justice and Ombudsman regarding the same Police Commissioner and the Attorney General.

Malta is governed by a party that speaks about freedom but tries to shut up those who seek truth and justice on corruption and organized crime. Government boasts about whistleblowers but refuses to protect Jonathan Ferris and Maria Efimova.

We have a Prime Minister who tells us that he will only react to comments by other Prime Ministers. We have a Prime Minister who confuses electoral majorities with divine rights, above rule of law. We have a Prime Minister who exploits worthy gains in LGBTIQ policy to excuse himself from abuses elsewhere. This is not liberalism. This represents politics of the least common denominator.

Indeed, political power in Malta is now based on patronage, corruption and social malaise. As long as oligarchs are not hurt, anything goes.

Malta’s freedom of expression is being compromised by a soulless state. But no government is eternal, and we will keep reading, writing and speaking to confirm this fact.