The Importance of Being Saviour

My attention was drawn to the fact that government-handout favourite Saviour Balzan honoured me with a mention in an article of his on Sunday. I found out that Balzan had dedicated a few lines to a recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Following a scathing criticism of the ECJ judgment, Balzan wrote: “Yet, I wonder what bloggers like Jacques Rene Zammit, who has long been part of the ECJ’s staff think about this. I am waiting earnestly to see what the blogger has to say about the agency that provides him with a very comfortable income.”

The rent-a-pundit’s earnestness inspired an urgent sense to reply within me. I did not hold my breath for him to publish a reply in his paper, especially given that column space for “unsponsored” speech would be scarce.

To begin with, it is no secret that I am an employee of the Court of Justice. I have been one for 18 years now, and it is my place of gainful employment (incidentally, my only source of income). Balzan’s implication that as an employee of the Court, I would not be able to critically assess its judgments simply betrays his way of thinking: opinions, in Balzan’s world, have a price.

My job at the Court of late is to ensure that the content of its judgments arrives to the outside world and is properly explained to those who might have difficulties deciphering the legalese.

In performing my job, I may have my own opinion on a particular interpretation, but that is different from explaining the content of a judgment. It is also perfectly normal, even within a Court, to have different views on a particular matter.

As a matter of fact, some judgments are also preceded by an Opinion of an Advocate General that is not binding and may differ from the final result.

Judgments are final and binding. We may agree or disagree with the outcome, but they are there to be applied.

This brings me to the Luxembourg Business Register judgment that provoked Balzan’s ire. The big take for the media, in general, has been that the ECJ has ruled that laws obliging general public access to information on ultimate beneficial ownership (UBO) of companies are no longer valid.

Balzan makes a meal out of this going so far as stating that the judgment “decides against transparency,” adding that “access used by journalists and media houses to track down secretive company owners” is in peril.

What Balzan, and the local authority on the matter, fail to do is look at the whole judgment by the ECJ. Crucial to that judgment is the fact that the ruling invalidated a provision providing indiscriminate access to the public.

When the Court balanced that provision with the rights to privacy it found that the measure was disproportionate.  What the Court also said was that the general access provision was not preferable to the former rules that had also provided for access by any person or organisation capable of demonstrating a legitimate interest.

At no point does the judgment say or imply that there should be NO access to persons or organisations demonstrating a legitimate interest.

In a draconian move following the ECJ judgment, the Malta Business Register suspended the rule of access to UBO information immediately. In a move criticised by the PN (who, unlike Balzan, seem to have understood the ECJ judgment), the MBR restricted access to information to competent authorities and financial sector companies and other professionals responsible for carrying out customer due diligence.

The Luxembourg equivalent (the Luxembourg Business Register – also the authority at the origin of the ECJ case) has also currently restricted access to its business register to competent authorities and specialists. However, the Justice Ministry noted on 23 November that it is working on a technical and legal solution that allows rapid access to the register for the press and civil society organisations.

Balzan manages to spin an interpretation that fits with the Malta government agency’s immediate evaluation of the situation. I was honestly (and earnestly) surprised by Balzan’s sudden activism in favour of transparency and FATF recommendations on access to information useful to journalistic sleuths, the much detested (by Balzan) bloggers and civil society.

In fact, I alluded to hypocrisy earlier. Why? Well, here is Saviour Balzan, the subject of 40 government ministries’ and agencies’ refusal to abide by the decision of the Data Protection Commission to release information concerning him.

“The information that the government is going to extraordinary lengths to withhold concerns how public funds are being used to fund the operations of MaltaToday and Saviour Balzan’s private businesses, particularly the public relations consultancies offered to different ministries,” The Shift reports.

There you have it, the champion of access to information for the press and civil society in all his glory. The government and its agencies argue that The Shift’s demands for transparency would result in too cumbersome an exercise to gather all the information on Balzan’s handouts.

It is easy, with this kind of hindsight, to see where Balzan is coming from when he equates opinions on matters with a comfortable income. In the legal and academic world, a judgment such as Luxembourg Business Register is prone to provoke discussion and, why not, controversy.

Yet in Saviour Balzan’s world, opinions are only formed once the highest bidder is known.

I hope he is as comfortable as he is earnest. In the meantime, 40 SLAPP lawsuits threaten this portal and its journalists thanks to Balzan’s earnestness for transparency.

                           
                           
                               
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Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
1 month ago

Saviour Balzan I consider as a non-entity whose only greed can only be satisfied by rent-seeking for his miserable non-independent unsuccessful life, and jealous of what he considers unsuccessful journalists who are respected and acknowledged worldwide and who have been rewarded internationally for exposing rampant government corruption which makes a mockery of what he really stands for and which guarantees his ‘yes minister’ compensation.
In his ‘work life’ Savior Balzan implicitly falls under the definition of a politically exposed person by association with and dependence upon the government and this is a core reason why all his income and tax declarations should be made transparent for any Tom, Dick and Harry. This transparency is what the autocratic government runs away from for obvious reasons.

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