‘Immunity’ has to be the word for 2021. The race to curb the spread of the pandemic reached new levels in 2021 as vaccination programmes around the world gave us new hope. A new surge and the return to strict lockdown measures is an increasing possibility. This weekend Austria announced a lockdown for the non-vaccinated while countries that had hedged their bets on herd immunity such as The Netherlands and the UK are now facing a spike in numbers.
Meanwhile, the world’s leaders finally reached a watered-down agreement to some form of commitment in the fight against the other plague that torments us in the 21st century – climatic disaster. The COP 26 summit showed us that nobody on this planet is immune to the dangers of climate change. Sadly, pressure from China and India has resulted in a commitment to “phase down” rather than “phase out” the use of coal. There was however a universal acknowledgement of the challenges that lie ahead.
Closer to home various exponents, advisors or former members of the Labour government toyed with the concept of immunity. Theirs was a concept that grouped together two similar sounding words – immunity and impunity.
John Dalli, another disgraced product of our political heritage, featured in a Maltese court on accusations of bribery. In what would be a weird development in any other country but Malta, the prosecution dithered before the court wondering whether Dalli enjoyed any form of immunity due to his former position as EU Commissioner.
This was an equivocating reference to the Privileges and Immunities of EU functionaries based on the kind of reading that is straight out of the Labour-leaning jurist’s playbook. By that I mean the literal, letter by letter twisting of law beyond recognition leading to it doing the exact opposite to what the legislator originally intended and prescribed.
I am cursed with writing this column for a Monday morning when all the juicy bits have been already dealt with by my able fellow columnists, but this point does merit dwelling upon. The government prosecutor tried to shoot himself in the foot by wondering whether Dalli’s possible bribery was covered by immunity rules governing EU officials. Never mind how counterintuitive even simply imagining such a possibility could be, the absurdity of the assertion is patently obvious.
Ironically, we cannot even pin this pathetic stalling on Dalli and his legal team since it is the “institutions that are (supposed to be) working” that have thrown this particular spanner in the works. Our ‘working institutions’ would be working if they ploughed ahead with their investigations and prosecutions and, if anything, it would be up to a defence team to raise whatever obstacles and objections they deem possible.
Robert Abela’s government is increasingly giving the impression of being immune to any possible incident that might lose it the gargantuan lead that it currently enjoys at the polls. This week saw a rather heavy reaction to the Exemption from Tax on Property Transfers Rules (set-off of tax arrears) – a legal notice that had been promulgated without too much fanfare.
As clearly expressed by the Malta Institute of Taxation (MIT) and the Institute of Financial Services Practitioners (IFSP), the publication of these rules that seem to be tailor-made for a handful of eligible persons, are not helpful in the efforts to remove Malta from the FATF grey list. In fact, these rules fall just short of mentioning the intended recipients by name while giving the said recipients generous assistance.
In the words of the MIT and the IFSP, the rules selectively favour defaulting taxpayers who own immovable property situated in Malta. I can only think of a Maltese word that fits this law – ħniżrija. Not only is it written to allow tax defaulters to get off lightly, but it also creates ample space for abuse by said defaulters when selling off their property conveniently under this law.
Let the institutions work, they say.
With rules like these that provide virtual immunity to defrauders of the State, we can see how the institutions are only allowed to work when their operation is perverted into becoming tools for the criminal and the corrupt.
Labour’s cavalier attitude to the law and its uses is thankfully limited to our shores. The EU Commission has seen through the laughable ‘research trapping’ excuse concocted by a bunch of idiots who think they are too smart for the rest of the world. Malta will soon be hauled before the ECJ in another hunting and trapping related case.
Sadly, the government knows full well that its interpretation of EU rules was lax, to say the least. It probably does not care. The hunters and trappers are content with its continuing efforts to make them immune from the law. Should it be found “guilty” under EU law, it is not the government nor the hunters who will pay but the taxpayers. In essence, the government bought its popularity with a core vote lobby with your money. How long can we remain immune to being treated like fools?