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MaltaToday 30 October 2022

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6 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 27 MARCH 2022 OPINION 2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 30 OCTOBER 2022 Transparency still lacking in asset declarations Editorial LAST Monday, after much prodding and pushing by the Opposition, government MPs finally tabled their declarations of assets for 2021 (some of them backdat- ed to the 30 March 2022 deadline.) While belated, this overdue compliance with Par- liamentary regulations is certainly to be welcomed. Nonetheless, a closer look at the declarations them- selves seems to raise more questions, than answers. For instance: no fewer than eight government MPs – including two ministers and six parliamentary sec- retaries – failed to declare any income whatsoever for 2021. These include elderly care secretary Jo-Etienne Abela, a medical consultant, who gave no details at all of his 2021 salary, or credit situation. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister declared his €65,000 salary, and revealed €374,000 in bank savings: but declined to submit any detailed account of his rental revenue; declaring that the information had been duly supplied with his tax returns (where it remains to this day, beyond the reach of public scrutiny). Elsewhere, certain curious discrepancies also ap- pear: which – although somewhat minor, in them- selves – also add to the general aura of implausibility. Government whip Andy Ellul, for example, raised eyebrows by declaring his 'co-ownership of a cabin cruiser': becoming, in the process, one of the very few MPs who listed anything other than immovable prop- erty. Robert Abela, on the other hand, stopped short of declaring his (widely-known) ownership of a private boat; and the same could be said for other MPs, who likewise omitted immovable property of their own. There is, admittedly, no legal obligation for MPs to declare such possessions; but then again, that is part of the entire problem to begin with. As this newspaper has consistently pointed out, over the years: there is simply not enough, in the way of checks and balances, to even verify such declara- tions: still less, to ensure that they match the actual assets owned by MPs. This remains true to this day: even though the Standards Commission has been established in the meantime; and entrusted with the responsibility of "reviewing interest declarations submitted by MPs, ministers and parliamentary secretaries, which until 2018 were only scrutinised by the press." Despite these 2018 reforms, however, the wording of the regulations is still too vague to be properly ef- fective: allowing MPs to withhold certain information, without actually falling foul of the rules. The case of Jo-Etienne Abela, mentioned above, is a good example. Abela justified his failure to declare any private income, on the grounds that he was not yet an MP in 2021. Technically, he is correct to state that there is no obligation, at law, to declare earnings prior to one's political appointment. But that only points towards a shortcoming in the current regulations: which has long been identified – and rectified – in other Europe- an jurisdictions. In France, for instance, a law passed in 1988 obliges all elected officials to 'declare their assets before en- tering their [current] position'. Additionally, 2013 legislation established France's 'High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life': an independent administrative authority, responsible for 'collecting and verifying the interests and assets declarations made by [elected officials].' In Malta, on the other hand, the regulations provide no distinction between 'interests' and 'assets'; no obli- gation to list immovable property; no requirement to declare previous earnings; and above all, no real puni- tive measures that can be taken, in cases where MPs make false or misleading declarations. All this could easily be resolved, by simply imple- menting the recommendations of the last OECD report: inter alia, that "good practice from other ju- risdictions can be used as a basis for Malta to define a wide set of proportionate sanctions, as well as the aggravating and mitigating factors that could be used to analyse specific cases..." So far, however, government has shown no willing- ness to heed this advice; even if, in the end, it may be in its own interest to do so. If nothing else, this lack of transparency also gives the general public further reason to simply mistrust their elected representatives; and to treat their decla- rations of assets with open, undisguised scepticism. As long ago as 2013, a survey conducted by this newspaper had revealed that a staggering 64% did not believe the declarations of assets submitted by Cabi- net members. According to these readers, 'there was no way of knowing whether some declarations were an accurate reflection of the actual assets held'. Not much seems to have changed, in practice, over the past nine years. Indeed, the situation could even be said to have worsened: for while there is still no way of ascertaining the accuracy of the 2021 declara- tions… we can all see, with our own eyes, that some of them – including those eight MPs who declared noth- ing whatsoever – are clearly not 'accurate' at all. On the plus side, however: there has at least been some improvement, since the days when certain MPs used to make an open mockery of their own declara- tions – among other things, by declaring their 'house- hold pets' as 'assets'. All the same, however, there are loopholes which must clearly be closed: and it is in the government's own interest to close them – unless, that is, it wishes to see its own public trust ratings decline further. 30 October 2012 GWU denies general strike action for 'anti- austerity day' The General Workers Union, Confederation of Maltese Trade Unions, and the confederation Forum Unions Maltin were expected to meet today Monday in a bid to discuss and decide on what action to organise in Malta, as part of a Eu- ropean Trade Union Council (ETUC) resolution which calls for a 'Day of Action and Solidarity' against Europe-wide austerity measures on No- vember 14. The ETUC resolution was approved during a meeting of its executive committee in Brussels last October, which calls for strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other actions, against Europe-wide austerity measures. International news reports said this week that the "Maltese, Spanish, Portuguese, the Greek and Cypriot trade union confederations, have announced general strikes against austerity and the Troika's dictate." Contacted, GWU sources denied agreeing to a general strike as part of the ETUC day of action, but said that a meeting is expected to be held tomorrow between officials from the GWU, the CMTU and Forum in a bid to discuss and agree on what action is to be taken in Malta in solidarity with their European counterparts. On its website, the ETUC says that "the official position of the Maltese government is that Malta did not have to resort to austerity measures to counter-balance the effects of the international financial crisis and the recession that ensued. However, several important cuts and reforms have been adopted." The ETUC's declaration, adopted by its exec- utive committee on October 17 in Brussels says that trade unions "expressed their strong oppo- sition to the austerity measures that are dragging Europe into economic stagnation, indeed reces- sion, as well as the continuing dismantling of the European social model." "These measures, far from re-establishing confidence, only serve to worsen imbalances and foster injustice," the trade unions said. They added that while supporting the objec- tive of sound accounts, the ETUC's executive committee considers that the recession can only be stopped if budgetary constraints are loos- ened and imbalances eliminated, with a view to achieving sustainable economic growth, and social cohesion, and respecting the values en- shrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Quote of the Week "This is what is necessary in a democratic country that recognises the importance of a seat in parliament and respects the electoral process that it is constitutionally bound to uphold." Emma Portelli Bonnici explains her decision to contest the casual election for Robert Arrigo's seat MaltaToday 10 years ago

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