We at The Shift were not exaggerating when we said that it is extremely challenging to keep up with the nuggets of disinformation that turn up daily. No sooner had we published our first instalment than the weekend gifted us more statements and topsy-turvy rhetoric at which to marvel.
Edward Zammit Lewis and the Olympic backflip
It takes some skill to baffle four of Malta’s foremost legal experts with convoluted rhetoric, but Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis appears to have done exactly that.
Last week the Venice Commission confirmed that if the government wants to change the way administrative fines are handed out, it needs to do so by amending the Constitution and not merely by amending an ordinary law. In response to this opinion, Zammit Lewis stated that he was “satisfied” with the Commission’s advice and that he will continue to push for an amendment of Malta’s Constitution.
Here’s why Zammit Lewis’ statement is so confusing. The barrage of criticism Zammit Lewis drew from all corners of the legal profession was not only for trying to amend the Constitution, already extremely problematic in itself (as it would entail reducing the guarantees associated with the right to a fair trial but which would also require a two-thirds majority), but for trying to do so by changing an ordinary law which would only need a simple majority.
In other words, trump by simple majority the two-thirds majority required for major constitutional changes.
Faced with so much pushback locally, the government turned to the Venice Commission in the hope of getting these harmful legal provisions endorsed internationally. Luckily for us all, this move backfired spectacularly, as the Venice Commission saw through Zammit Lewis’s ruse. Even Malta’s legal experts were surprised by the minister’s “satisfaction” given that they had been telling the minister and the public all along much of what the Venice Commission recommended.
Reaffirming a narrative
For those who are unhappy with the shambolic spectacle of the Public Accounts Committee over the last couple of weeks, Robert Musumeci has a solution – revisit the whole PAC setup.
In a lengthy opinion piece, the architect, lawyer, and government consultant tries to lend a veneer of respectability to the Labour Party’s line of attacking the PAC by describing the set-up of the committee, discussing the witness guidelines, and reiterating much of the legal discourse that was perpetuated by Paul Apap Bologna’s counsel during the unwatchable committee hearings.
The opinion piece of course doesn’t specify how the PAC set up and the witness guidelines should be revisited but before ending his opus, he does note that the questions during the PAC are frequently one-sided, “instilling a negative and distrustful attitude among members themselves”.
Well, colour us shocked, would you believe that? Questions put by Opposition members on the PAC instilled a negative and distrustful attitude in government members on the same committee.
Judging by the shenanigans we have seen to date, this much is true, just not, of course, in the way Musumeci intends it. Meanwhile, there will be no PAC hearing this week because Apap Bologna’s lawyer Giannella De Marco is on a long weekend break.
And now for a quick hat switch
Ever the busy bee, Musumeci also penned an open letter to MEP Roberta Metsola asking her to elaborate further on the implications of her new ‘green manifesto’, specifically whether it will result in people losing their building rights.
Last week, Metsola launched a seven-point ‘green manifesto’ intended to “adapt our economic model to look beyond concrete and asphalt” and ensure “sustainability and liveability” become key considerations when making decisions.
That simple exercise to address the massive problems the country is facing deserves a closer look too – ‘green manifesto’ is a big expression for what is merely a set of suggestions devoid of any concrete (excuse the pun) proposals about how to go about this considering all the interests involved.
But instead of addressing the devastating effects that changes in planning policy over the years, that allowed for the approval of extra storeys over and above the earlier limitations had on the island’s urbanisation, Musumeci plays the “losing rights/compensation” card.
This same card was played by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia during a discussion programme where he argued that curtailing building heights could result in compensation claims running into billions of euros. A claim that was swiftly debunked.
Blaming previous administrations
What do you do when your core electoral pledge to reduce electricity prices has been put in the spotlight by a draft report from the National Audit Office that found consumers could have paid “extra charges” totalling €6.5 million on their electricity and water bills thanks to a flaw in the billing system? You blame the previous administration, that’s what you do.
Speaking on Saviour Balzan’s programme, Energy Minister Miriam Dalli said the problem was created under a Nationalist administration due to a legal notice issued in 2009. “ARMS in 2008 had notified its workers that from 2009 onwards, bills should be issued every two months,” she added.
Had Minister Dalli said this a couple of months following Labour’s electoral win in 2013, she may have been forgiven, but the Labour Party has been in government for eight years now and has even “overhauled” the entire energy sector with its Electrogas power station deal.
Not only was there plenty of time to address and fix this issue but disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had already acknowledged in 2018 that “anomalies” existed in the ways ARMS was calculating bills and had promised to remedy them in 2019. Let’s not hold our breath, shall we?
Blaming previous administrations – the prequel
Minister Dalli may have gotten her cue from her boss, Prime Minister Robert Abela, who when questioned about protecting Ħondoq ir- Rummien by designating it as an Outside Development Zone (ODZ), said: “Regarding areas which are ODZ and which aren’t, I remind everyone that local plans in our country were drawn up in the year 2006. This happened during a Nationalist administration, and this government never changed the local plan”. Abela went on to imply that there are a number of restrictions that limit what a government can do.
Funnily enough, none of these “restrictions “or “limitations” lamented by Abela seems to have hindered his predecessor from announcing in 2015 that the government at the time was supporting the proposal of a private ‘American University of Malta’ originally planned on 90,000 square metres of protected land in Zonqor, Marsascala, which forms part of Malta’s ODZ.
The allocation of land was scaled back to 18,000 square metres following an uproar and a “compromise” was reached, which we now know was no compromise at all given the precedent it had set. Meanwhile, Malta’s landscape is unrecognisable, and planning applications being approved have become the hottest issue on social media, as the Planning Authority continues to rubber-stamp more and more construction in the interest of “modernity”.