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| Malta: Malta Independent.com.mt : (Laatste update: zaterdag 15 februari 2020 23:10:14)
‘I have not resigned and will not be resigning’ – Chris Cardona
Labour Party deputy leader Chris Cardona told The Malta Independent that he has not resigned and has no intention of doing so.
Nationalist Party media this afternoon reported that Cardona “is expected to resign” in the coming days, both from the post he occupies as deputy leader as well as from an MP.
Contacted by The Malta Independent, Cardona said that he has not resigned and will not be resigning.
Cardona was Economy Minister under two Joseph Muscat governments between 2013 and 2020, but he was not given a ministerial role by new Prime Minister Robert Abela last month.
In November, Cardona had suspended himself after he was named to police during investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was reinstated after he had been questioned by the police. It later transpired that an attempt had been made to pin the blame of the Caruana Galizia murder on him, for which he also requested protection from the Speaker of the House.
In testimony given in court a few days ago, it was said that one of the mobile phones found during a police search in connection with the murder contained just one number, that of Cardona. Cardona told media that the police had never questioned him about this allegation.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 18:15:00 +0000
Reservoirs dating back 500 years discovered in Cospicua
Reservoirs dating back to 1534 were uncovered during excavation work for a social accommodation housing project in Cospicua, the government said.
The government said there are indications that the remains are of historic value. The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage was notified about the find.
The reservoirs are situated next to the area allocated for the project, and work can therefore continue, the government said. The idea is to preserve the reservoirs and incorporate them in the project.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 14:31:00 +0000
NGO demands public independent inquiry on police force
Repubblika today demanded that a public independent inquiry be conducted into the current situation concerning the Police Corps which would establish whether there is a culture of abuse, corruption and impunity, look into the reasons that have led to the current situation and make recommendations in the light of what emerges from the inquiry.
The facts that are emerging about the situation in the Police Corps are shocking and point towards a culture of abuse, corruption and impunity that has also taken root within the Police Corps, the NGO said in a statement.
This is clearly not a case of abuse by particular individuals, but a corrupt structure where power was being used for illicit personal gain and to hide the filth and corruption that was being generated.
This is a serious threat to democracy, a threat to the rule of law and a threat to our freedom.
This is why we are demanding this inquiry, the NGO said.
This is not an investigation into individual criminal behaviour, nor is it a condemnation of those members of the Police Corps who do their duty and who deserve our respect.
This is an investigation into the hidden corrupt culture, structures and networks that have corroded the very core of the Police Corps.
The permissiveness and evident complicity of members of the Police Corps is further proof of the collapse of our country’s institutions, and of the fact that corruption has reached such high and widespread levels that is has even corrupted those who are entrusted to fight it.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 14:13:00 +0000
France announces first death in Europe of virus patient
France's health minister has announced the first coronavirus death in Europe.
Minister Agnes Buzyn says Saturday that "I was informed last night of the death of an 80-year-old patient who had been hospitalized ... since Jan. 25."
The patient, a Chinese tourist from the province of Hubei, had a lung infection caused by the COVID-19 virus. He arrived in France on Jan. 16, then was hospitalized on Jan. 25 under strict isolation measures. His condition deteriorated rapidly.
His daughter was also hospitalized but authorities say she is expected to recover.
Europe has 46 cases of the virus that first emerged in central China in December. Nine European nations have reported cases, with Germany having the most at 16.
The virus has infected more than 67,000 people globally and has killed at least 1,526 people, the vast majority in China. The World Health Organization has called the virus a threat to global health.
Chinese authorities have placed some 60 million people under a strict lockdown, built emergency hospitals and instituted controls across the country to fight the spread of the virus. Restaurants, cinemas and other businesses have been closed nationwide and sports and cultural events have been canceled to prevent crowds from gathering.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 13:08:00 +0000
Censu Galea named president of PN general council
Veteran politician Censu Galea has been named president of the Nationalist Party general council, the PN said in a statement.
The approval was made by the executive committee which met this morning. He will be replacing Kristy Debono who resigned last week.
The committee also unanimously agreed that between 21 February and 5 March, party councillors will be involved in discussions on a draft new statute that has been proposed by Louis Galea, who was entrusted with the party reform.
This will eventually lead to the statute being brought before the general council for approval in March, which will trigger the internal elections of PN officials.
During today’s meeting, Galea made a detailed presentation of his proposals to the committee members.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 12:52:00 +0000
Let us welcome Pope Francis with an open heart, bishops say
The church in Malta is urging the people to welcome Pope Francis with an open heart when the pontiff visits the islands in May.
In a pastoral letter which is being read in churches this weekend, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Bishop Mario Grech and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi urged the Maltese and Gozitans “to prepare for this special visit mainly through prayer, so that when Pope Francis is among us, we may welcome him with joy and an open heart, and “with unusual kindness”.
This is the pastoral letter in full:
“It is with great joy that we welcome the news that His Holiness Pope Francis will visit Malta on the 31st May 2020, the Solemnity of Pentecost.
Last January, in his meditation on the passage from the Acts of the Apostles that narrates St Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, Pope Francis had beautiful words for the Maltese people who welcomed Paul and all those on the ship. This is what the Pope said: “The Maltese are good, they are gentle, they were already welcoming at that time.” The Pope called us “this good people”.1 He spoke again about this narrative twice in the days that followed, in his reflection during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Pope said: “once they landed on the island of Malta, they experienced the hospitality, kindness and humanity of the island’s inhabitants.”
With unusual kindness
Taking our inspiration from this passage that has greatly moved Pope Francis, the theme of his visit among us is: “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2). The visit of the successor of Peter on the island of Paul should help us in such a way that what the Word of God says about us Maltese will continue to be the source of constant inspiration in our lives.
Pope Francis also delivered the following meditation on how Paul and his travelling companions were welcomed by the Maltese: “In contrast to the brute force of the stormy sea, they witness the “unusual kindness” of the dwellers of that island. These people, who are foreign to them, are attentive to their needs. They light a fire so that they can warm up, they offer them shelter from the rain and food. Even though they had not yet received the Good News of Christ, they manifest God’s love with practical kind actions. Indeed, spontaneous hospitality and thoughtful gestures communicate something of God’s love. And the hospitality of the Maltese islanders is rewarded by the miracles of healing that God works through Paul on the island. Thus, just as the people of Malta were a sign of God’s Providence for the Apostle, so was he a witness to the merciful love of God for them.”
Today, almost two thousand years after this event, we thank God for his love for us since the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel and throughout our history. Let us show our appreciation and welcome Pope Francis with an open heart to help us discern what living “with unusual kindness” truly means when faced with today’s challenges. Through his presence and through his words, Pope Francis will encourage us in this mission.
In his short but meaningful visit to Malta, Pope Francis will celebrate and pray with the Maltese and Gozitan people. He will show us how, purified by the Spirit of God who cleanses us from our sins, we can live in true reconciliation together and treat each other with dignity and “unusual kindness”.
Every human life is precious
The Pope would also like to meet migrants during his visit among us, just as he did in other places he visited in the Mediterranean. This is what he said when reflecting on the passage of the shipwreck of Paul: “Today, the sea that shipwrecked Paul and his companions is once again a place of danger to the lives of other passengers. All over the world, men and women migrants face risky voyages to flee from violence, to flee from war, to flee from poverty. Just like Paul and his companions, they experience indifference, the hostility of the desert, rivers, seas... They are often not allowed to disembark at ports. But unfortunately, sometimes they are also met with far worse hostility from mankind. They are exploited by criminal traffickers: today! They are treated like numbers and like a threat by some government leaders: today! Sometimes the lack of hospitality drives them back like a wave, to the poverty or the very dangers they had fled.” Moved by these dire conditions, the Pope launches a heartfelt appeal: “As Christians we must work together to show migrants God’s love revealed by Jesus Christ. We can and we must bear witness that there are not just hostility and indifference but that every person is precious to God and loved by him.”
When the Pope visits our country, we would like him to recognise that for us who believe in Jesus Christ, every human life is precious and is to be embraced with love and tenderness – from conception and through all stages of life until natural death. We are called to give witness of the value of life especially with the weakest, the vulnerable, the suffering who are crying out for help, and those who are most at risk and whose lives are in peril.
Witnesses of a living faith
The visit of Pope Francis is a great blessing for us Maltese and Gozitans. It will help us grow in our faith in the living Christ – the faith brought to us by St Paul which is our greatest treasure. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit that this visit will help us to live our faith with conviction and to be authentic witnesses by leading a life of integrity, honesty, truth, justice and social commitment, whilst passing on our faith to future generations.
We invite the Maltese and Gozitan people to prepare for this special visit, mainly through prayer, so that when Pope Francis is among us, we may welcome him with joy and an open heart, and “with unusual kindness”.
We impart on you our pastoral blessing.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 11:51:00 +0000
Michael Farrugia must take political responsibility for collapse of police force – Delia
Michael Farrugia must take political responsibility for the collapse of the police corps under his watch, Opposition Leader Adrian Delia said today.
More than 40 police officers are involved in the scandal, with allegations of overtime abuse, misappropriation of fuel and the receipt of protection money from companies in return to turning a blind eye to traffic contraventions.
Speaking on the PN media this morning, Delia highlighted the difference in the way Prime Minister Robert Abela dealt with the situation concerning former Gozo Minister Justynne Caruana and the way he is handling Farrugia.
Caruana resigned because of something her husband did, Delia said, and yet Farrugia stays on as minister in spite of the racket that was taking place under his nose in his time as minister responsible for the police.
Did Farrugia tell Abela what he knew about the police scandal before accepting to be appointed to another portfolio, Delia asked. Did Farrugia tell his successor Byron Camilleri about it? And why was Farrugia kept on as minister if Abela knew what was happening? Is he stronger than Justyne Caruana?
Delia said it is easy to understand that Farrugia must shoulder political responsibility for what the scandal. We are not talking about one rogue policeman, he said. We are talking about the majority of police officers in a particular section of the force and the possibility that it spills onto other units and other ministries, he said.
This is what happens when the government embraces a culture of impunity, when people who are supposed to suffer the consequences of their actions get away scot-free. The police force, the institution which is supposed to safeguard the interests of the public against crime, is itself embroiled in allegations of criminal action, Delia said.
The PN leader again criticised the government on the deal which saw the transfer of three public hospitals, at great cost to the people, to a private organisation. He challenged the PM, his predecessor Joseph Muscat, former health minister Konrad Mizzi and current minister Chris Fearne to a debate during which he said he will ask them questions on the contract that is seeing so much public money going to waste.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 11:44:00 +0000
High economic growth rates projected by EU for foreseeable future
The Ministry for Finance and Financial Services welcomes the 2020 Winter Economic Forecast published by the European Commission (EC) which, follows the 2019 Autumn Forecast, in that it expects the Maltese economy to record the highest GDP growth rates in the EU for years 2020 and 2021.
The Commission expects Malta’s economic performance to remain buoyant despite a weaker than expected recovery in the European and global economy. Indeed, GDP growth is expected to stand at 4.0 per cent in 2020 and 3.7 per cent in 2021. Such economic growth rates are around three times higher the Euro Area average for both years.
Economic growth is expected to be fuelled by investment and net exports. Private consumption is also expected to contribute to growth. In contrast, growth in public expenditure is expected to ease this year and the next.
The Commission noted that the inflation rate declined to 1.5 per cent in 2019. It expects the inflation rate to remain at this level for both years, at par with the EU average in 2020 and falling below the EU average in 2021.
Minister for Finance and Financial Services Edward Scicluna stated, “I am pleased to note the European Commission, through its Winter Forecast, is confirming that economic growth is successfully being sustained for the foreseeable future”.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 09:46:00 +0000
Infrastructure Malta starts lifting Blata l-Bajda footbridge deck
Infrastructure Malta started lifting in place the first two sections of the 105-metre deck of the new Blata l-Bajda pedestrian and cycling bridge connecting Hamrun, Marsa and Floriana, on Friday night.
The agency’s contractors started transporting these 16-tonne, 23-metre steel structures to the site from a workshop at the former Malta Shipbuilding site in Marsa at around eight in the evening. They worked throughout the night and are continuing this morning until the two structures are secured in their final position atop the concrete abutments and pillars of this new bridge. The southbound carriageway of San Gorg Preca Road (the stretch of road connecting Nazzjonali Road, Floriana and Dicembru 13 Road, Marsa) was closed during these works. It will be reopened by noon on Saturday. The other three deck sections forming this structure will be brought to the area in a similar overnight operation in the coming weeks.
This new circular girder bridge will rise over San Gorg Preca Road, next to the MUSEUM Society headquarters, to connect Hamrun’s Il-Kbira San Guzepp (St Joseph High) Road with the Spencer Hill and the Menqa areas of Marsa, including the nearby ferry terminals and the Floriana Park and Ride facilities. It will provide a safer and quicker arterial road crossing for pedestrians and cyclists, replacing the existing pelican lights. The overpass will also create direct links between the five bus stops (Blata l-Bajda 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) located at either side of these busy arterial roads, making it easier for passengers to change buses on their way to and from many locations in the south of Malta.
The structure’s design incorporates gently sloping ramps, taking cyclists and pedestrians from Il-Kbira San Guzepp Road, Hamrun, over the southbound carriageway of San Gorg Preca Road towards the other side of the road at Marsa. The geometry of the footbridge aims to smoothly link both sides of the road, with minimal impact on the adjacent landscaped areas. The structure also includes passenger lifts and stairs, to ensure it is accessible and comfortable to everyone.
Infrastructure Malta’s contractors started fabricating the steel deck of this bridge during the second half of 2019. Meanwhile, at the project site they drilled 21 cores several storeys deep into the ground to cast the concrete piles serving as foundations for the bridge structures. These elements, including abutments, pillars, approach ramps, stairways and elevator shafts were also built during the last few months.
The Blata l-Bajda overpass project is a €2 million investment in safer spaces for alternative modes of travel, which may be part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.
Earlier this year Infrastructure Malta announced plans to develop a new subway with improved facilities to replace the old pedestrian underpass connecting four of the most important bus stops of Malta’s public transport network at the Portes des Bombes area of Floriana, a short distance away from the new Blata l-Bajda bridge.
Another pedestrian and cycling overpass is currently under construction in L-Avjazzjoni (Aviation) Avenue, between Gudja and Luqa. This bridge will give pedestrians, bus passengers and cyclists safer links between these localities, the Malta International Airport and the Institute of Tourism Studies. Infrastructure Malta is currently finalising plans for a similar footbridge in Dom Mintoff Road, to create a safer pedestrian and cycling route between the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST)’s main campus, the residential and industrial zones of Corradino and the centre of Paola.
Other new facilities encouraging walking and cycling are being developed as part of other ongoing Infrastructure Malta road projects, including the Central Link Project at Mriehel, Birkirkara, Balzan and Attard, the reconstruction of Hal Qormi Road, between Qormi and Luqa, the Santa Lucija Roundabout Underpass Project and the Marsa Junction Project, between Paola and Marsa.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 09:41:00 +0000
TMID Editorial: Interconnector - Giving credit when it is due
People are often quick to criticise Enemalta when the country experiences a widespread or nationwide blackout, but are not as quick to acknowledge and appreciate the effort that its workers put in to fix the damage and restore the country’s energy supply.
Back in December, Enemalta had announced that a series of power outages were the result of interconnector damage caused by a ship’s anchor.
The energy corporation had said in December that it would take weeks, if not months, to determine the extent of the damage and to fix it. Replacing a huge electric cable that is buried deep into the seabed is surely no easy task. It had been speculated, back then, that the repair works could take up to six months.
But Enemalta said yesterday that the damage will be fixed in the coming days and the interconnector will be up and running by the third week of March.
It also said that talks are underway with the insurance company representing the vessel that caused the damage to that the €11 million bill can be recouped.
In this day and age, everyone feels that a stable supply of energy is a right. After all, that’s why we pay our utility bills. But we must also acknowledge that, every once in a while, accidents that are beyond Enemalta’s control do happen.
While consumers have a right to complain about power cuts, especially business owners who incur financial damages when such a thing happens, we must also appreciate the fact that Enemalta acted swiftly and did all it could to ensure that the damage is repaired in as short a time as possible.
We must also point out that over the past few weeks there have been no other widespread power cuts.
Enemalta CEO Jason Vella had said on Indepth that the corporation was incurring huge costs to ensure that the country had an adequate provision of energy but these would not reflect in higher consumer prices.
While there had been fears that Malta’s power plants would buckle under the added demand caused by factories coming back online after the Christmas shut-down, no such thing happened.
Hopefully, the repair process will not hit any snags and will not be hampered by bad weather, and the given timeframes will be adhered to.
Beyond that, Enemalta must look to the future and ensure that the country is well-prepared for future energy demands. Vella had said on Indepth that, in 2019, the demand for energy increased by more than 4% over the previous year. The demand is set to keep growing year after year.
The government has released a tender for an analysis of how the energy generation system is expected to develop by 2035.
Asked whether Enemalta is looking towards the possibility of investing in a second interconnector, Energy Minister Michael Farrugia said yesterday that the government would rather invest in alternative energy and is evaluating different methods.
This is a good step which would not only meet Malta’s future energy demands but also ensure a cleaner environment and help Malta reach its renewable energy targets.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 08:51:00 +0000
Indepth: ‘Who do you think I believe; Daphne or Muscat?’ - Simon Busuttil on Egrant
Former Nationalist Party Leader Simon Busuttil still suspects that Egrant, the third Panama company set up by Nexia BT, is owned by Joseph and Michelle Muscat.
On this week’s edition of Indepth, Busuttil was asked whether he still believes that the Muscats own Egrant, even after the publication of the full inquiry report. The inquiring magistrate had said he had found no proof that the Muscats owned the company, but the report did not identify a different owner, either.
The MP, who will soon take up the role of EPP Secretary General, said he still holds the same suspicions he held months ago. “Who do you think I believe; Daphne or Muscat?”
The €1 million inquiry, he said, had failed to say who the owner is. “I don’t buy it,” he said, adding that no proof of the Muscats’ ownership was found because evidence was “swept away.”
“There were three companies. One belonged to Keith Schembri, the other to Konrad Mizzi. Everyone suspects that the third one belonged to Muscat, even Labour Ministers do.”
Busuttil also pointed to the links between the Office of the Prime Minister and Daphne’s murder.
“They plotted a journalist’s murder to cover up their corruption. Egrant is only a small part of what we know today.” He said that Malta’s democracy is “dysfunctional” and called for a united effort to fix the country.
Asked whether the 2017 coalition between the Nationalist Party and the Partit Demokratiku was a mistake, Busuttil said it was not. “I believe it was a good choice. Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia believe in the same values I believe in; democracy, the rule of law, that everyone should be equal before the law.”
He said that it was a shame that the coalition had been dissolved because the Opposition had lost two Parliamentary seats.
Former Nationalist Party Leader Simon Busuttil said yesterday that, while his chapter in local politics is drawing to a close, he will keep up his fight against corruption in his new role as Secretary General of the European People's Party (EPP).
Busuttil will take up the new role next month, after resigning from the Maltese Parliament.
Interviewed by The Malta Independent Deputy Editor-in-Chief Neil Camilleri on this week's edition of Indepth, Busuttil said, "the idea of Europe, that we are Maltese and European, has always been my greatest passion. I will still be there for the Maltese people, working to safeguard democracy and the rule of law, in Malta and other Member States."
Busuttil said the PN had made a number of mistakes but these can never be compared to the Labour government's corruption.
"Just a few months ago, Robert Abela was backing Joseph Muscat," he said of the new Prime Minister. "Corruption is still there and it stinks. Corruption is not blue or red, it is filth and it has no place in politics."
Asked about the current situation in the PN, Busuttil remarked that it is in everyone's best interest for the country to have a strong Opposition.
When asked whether the PN needs a new leader, Busuttil said, "The Nationalist Party is part of my blood and I will not speak publicly in any way that would harm my party. Does this mean I do not have an opinion? Of course I do, but I voice these opinions internally with the party and sometimes with Delia too. I love the party, not because it is blue, but because being part of the Nationalist Party means to love Malta."
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 08:48:00 +0000
China reports major drop in new virus cases; 143 new deaths
China reported 2,641 new virus cases Saturday as it escalates measures to contain the outbreak and reassure an anxious public.
The figure is a major drop from the higher numbers in recent days since a broader diagnostic method was implemented. The number of new deaths rose slightly to 143, bringing the total fatalities in mainland China to 1,523. The number of confirmed cases in the country now stands at 66,492, according to China's National Health Commission.
COVID-19, a disease stemming from a new form of coronavirus, has spread to more than two dozen countries since December, when the first infections appeared in central China. Egypt on Friday counted the first infection on the African continent.
Saturday marks the second day the number of new cases fell since a spike Thursday, when the hardest-hit province of Hubei began including clinical diagnoses in its official count. Using the wider scope of classification, the central Chinese province reported 15,152 cases, including 13,332 that were diagnosed using doctors' analyses and lung imaging, as opposed to the prior standard of laboratory testing.
Hubei health authorities said in the notice that the new method was adopted to facilitate earlier treatment for those suspected of infection.
Further confusion surfaced around a discrepancy of more than 1,000 cases between the Thursday and Friday reports. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said Friday that the “decrease” in numbers was due to an adjustment made in Hubei's count after repetitive counting was discovered.
The ruling Communist Party is seeking to repair public trust broken in 2002 and 2003 during the SARS epidemic, which the government covered up for months.
“The current fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic is a major test of China's system and capacity for governance," Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a Communist Party Central Committee meeting Friday, according to state media.
“In response to the shortcomings and deficiencies exposed by the epidemic, (the government) should work to strengthen areas of weakness and close up loopholes," Xi said.
China has imposed unprecedented measures in a sweeping campaign to contain the virus. Cities in Hubei with a combined population of more than 60 million have been placed under lockdown, with outbound transportation halted and virtually all public activities suspended.
People returning to Beijing will now have to isolate themselves either at home or in a concentrated area for medical observation, said a notice from the Chinese capital's prevention and control work group published by state media late Friday.
The notice warns there will be legal consequences for those who don't comply with the 14-day quarantine. It did not elaborate on how the isolation will be enforced. While Beijing returnees were previously ordered to “self-quarantine” for two weeks, that measure allowed for occasional outings and implementation varied across neighborhoods.
Chinese officials have warned that COVID-19 may spread further as migrants return to their jobs in cities or other provinces after a prolonged Lunar New Year holiday.
To accommodate the high number of confirmed and suspected cases, Hubei has constructed makeshift hospitals and reappropriated other public facilities to house patients. At a press briefing in Wuhan on Saturday, the newly appointed head of Hubei's provincial health commission, Wang Hesheng, said they aimed to ensure that zero patients went without treatment.
Last month, members of the Chinese public were outraged when residents of the virus epicenter, Wuhan, shared videos online showing overcrowded hospitals and people being turned away. Some wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo platform that their family members were exhibiting symptoms, but they couldn't get tested because hospitals were at capacity.
More than half of the confirmed cases in Hubei have been treated using traditional Chinese medicine, Wang said.
The virus has taken an economic toll, as many countries have placed travel restrictions on recent visitors to China and airlines have suspended China routes due to low demand.
Alibaba, the first major Chinese company to report quarterly earnings since the emergence of the coronavirus, said Thursday that the outbreak “is having significant impact on China's economy ... potentially affecting the global economy.”
The overall revenue growth rate at Alibaba will be negatively affected in the quarter ending this March, said Alibaba CEO Daniel Yong Zhang.
Liang Tao, vice chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, said at a Saturday briefing that Chinese banks have provided more than 537 billion yuan ($76.9 billion) in credit support to industries such as retail, catering and tourism that have been most severely affected by the outbreak.
Earlier this week, the government reported that consumer inflation spiked to an eight-year high of 5.4% in January over a year earlier, driven by a 4.4% rise in food costs. But Fan Yifei, vice governor of the People's Bank of China, said he believes “large-scale inflation will never happen" in the country.
A team of experts led by the World Health Organization is slated to begin their mission in China alongside Chinese counterparts this weekend.
“Particular attention will be paid to understanding the transmission of the virus, the severity of the disease and the impact of ongoing response measures,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
The U.S. government was preparing to fly home Americans from aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that's been quarantined at Yokohama in Japan, Wall Street Journal reported.
About 380 Americans and their families will be offered seats on two State Department flights, Henry Walke, director of the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the paper. They are arriving in the U.S. as early as Sunday, he said, adding that those with a fever, cough or other symptoms won’t be allowed on the flights.
So far, 218 people from the ship have tested positive for the virus. Japan's Health Ministry allowed 11 passengers to disembark Friday, saying that those above 80 years of age, with underlying medical conditions as well as those staying in windowless cabins during the 14-day quarantine can stay at a designated facility on shore.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 07:09:00 +0000
Officers investigating Traffic Branch fraud were told to ‘sit on the file’
Officers investigating claims of police corruption at the Police Traffic Branch, which was uncovered by a whistleblower, were told by senior officers to “sit on the file”, The Malta Independent has learnt.
While the first report was filed at the beginning of October, the investigation was only launched two months later, in December.
Former Police Minister Michael Farrugia yesterday confirmed that the investigation started “at the end of November, beginning of December.” Farrugia said that the probe was launched “as soon as the ministry was informed about the allegations.”
But The Malta Independent was told that the Home Affairs Ministry was informed about the case at the beginning of October and then Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar was personally informed about the case.
A file was opened, but it seems that no action was taken for a number of weeks. Officers involved in the investigation were later told that there were instructions from “up top” to “sit on the file.”
An investigation was finally launched at around the time when the whistleblower sent an email to then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, MP Simon Busuttil and the media. In that email, the whistleblower pointed out that a report had been filed “weeks ago” but nothing had been done about it.
In comments to The Malta Independent on Thursday, former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar said he had launched an investigation in November, after he received a letter from the whistleblower. This newsroom is informed, however, that there was no direct communication between Cutajar and the whistleblower. Cutajar did not specify the date on which the investigation was launched.
Sources also said that, in December, the whistleblower warned that Traffic Branch members were due to start collecting ‘protection money’ from a number of major construction firms and transport companies, but “nothing was done to stop this.”
Situation worsened after 2013
41 officers from the Traffic Branch have so far been arrested over a racket that saw most of the unit’s personnel involved in an extra duties allowance racket, as well as the misappropriation of police fuel and the collection of protection money.
Out of the 41, 25 officers have been suspended and 31 have been released on police bail but the corruption probe has now been widened to other police units.
The fuel misappropriation racket had been ongoing for decades, this newsroom was told, while the extra duty allowance abuse and the collection of protection money had been done for a number of years but intensified over the last five or six years.
Sources said the situation only got worse when a number of expolice officers were reinstated into the force after 2013.
At least seven members of the Traffic Branch have resigned, including an officer who was described to this newsroom as the “ringleader” behind the operation.
Internal Affairs Unit bombarded with emails
The police have encouraged anyone with information to come forward and have provided the public with the email address of the Internal Affairs Unit.
Sources said that, since then, the unit has been “bombarded” with emails claiming abuse and misconduct in other police sections.
These include claims of inaction and failure to take reports by District Police.
The unit is now passing these emails on to District Assistant Commissioners for action to be taken. Police Officers have also taken the opportunity to report illegal activities from their colleagues.
Members of the Traffic branch used to collect protection money from contractors and transport companies in return for turning a blind eye to traffic contraventions committed by people working for these same companies. The Internal Affairs Unit has been given details of how and where these payments were collected, and who these companies are.
Officers also stole fuel from their own service motorcycles. Sources explained that these officers would fill up 10 litres of fuel every day and siphon off half the amount, selling it or using in their private vehicles.
Officers also claimed extra duty payments when, in reality, they were staying at home. The branch had been contracted by Transport Malta to monitor traffic flows at the Marsa Junction but the duty was initially carried out by officers who were on regular duty (rather than those assigned to these special duties) and, later on, by no one at all.
Some officers claimed motorcycle-related allowances when they did not even have a motorcycle license.
Speaking to journalists yesterday, Michael Farrugia said police officers succeeded in “covering their tracks” in order to avoid their alleged overtime abuses being noticed in the Police Force’s annual overtime evaluation report.
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 07:00:00 +0000
UEFA bans Man City from Champions League for two seasons
English Premier League champion Manchester City was banned by UEFA from the Champions League for two seasons on Friday for “serious breaches” of spending rules and failing to cooperate with investigators i n a seismic ruling against one of world football's wealthiest clubs.
The Abu Dhabi-owned team was also fined 30 million euros ($33 million) after an investigation that was sparked by leaked internal correspondence showing City overstated sponsorship revenue in a bid to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations.
The punishment prevents City from playing in any European competition, including the Europa League, until the 2022-23 season. It could have a significant impact on the club's ability to sign players and retain manager Pep Guardiola, whose contract expires next season.
The verdict was delivered on Friday to City following a hearing of UEFA's club financial control body on Jan. 22.
“The adjudicatory chamber, having considered all the evidence, has found that Manchester City Football Club committed serious breaches of the UEFA club licensing and financial fair play regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016," UEFA said in a statement.
“The adjudicatory chamber has also found that in breach of the regulations the club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case.”
The ban has no impact on the women's team participating in the Champions League.
City's men play Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 this month but would not get to defend the title if they lift the European Cup for the first time.
In a statement claiming UEFA's investigation was “flawed” and “left little doubt in the result,” City announced plans to appeal.
“This is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA,” the club said. “With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity.”
Among football leaders calling for City to be punished was the head of the Spanish league who has been critical of how "funding by state-aid distorts European competitions."
“UEFA is finally taking decisive action," La Liga President Javier Tebas said on Friday. “Enforcing the rules of financial fair play and punishing financial doping is essential for the future of football.”
City has never disputed the authenticity of the information contained in internal emails that were published by German media outlet Der Spiegel in October 2018 and shows alleged schemes by the club to allegedly cover up the true source of income in a bid to comply with FFP.
The UEFA statement on Friday did not reference any specifics of the evidence that led to the punishment
In 2015, Der Spiegel said emails were being sent internally at City showing the manipulation of sponsorship revue from Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline from Abu Dhabi, which is the naming rights sponsor of City’s stadium and training campus as well as appearing on jerseys.
The sponsorship was said to generate 67.5 million pounds (about $85 million) annually for City. But City’s holding company — the state-backed Abu Dhabi United Group — channeled 59.9 million pounds back to Etihad, according to Jorge Chumillas, the club’s chief financial officer, in an internal email to club director Simon Pearce.
The leaks showed how City allegedly tried to artificially raise its revenue, in one case by 30 million euros, according to emails from 2013 reported by Der Spiegel. Abu Dhabi United Group was alleged to be sending cash to a shell vehicle which was created to supposedly buy the right to use players’ images in marketing campaigns.
There were further examples that Sheikh Mansour could have been the source of sponsorship revenue for Abu Dhabi state-owned companies like investment firm Aabar. Der Spiegel cited a 2010 email to Aabar from Pearce, the City director who also works for Abu Dhabi’s Executive Affairs Authority.
“As we discussed, the annual direct obligation for Aabar is GBP 3 million,” Pearce wrote. “The remaining 12 million GBP requirement will come from alternative sources provided by His Highness.”
City has already been punished by UEFA for violating FFP, striking an agreement in 2014 that saw the team fined rather than banned from the Champions League for inflated sponsorship deals with companies linked to the club or its ownership.
A leaked 2014 email from City lawyer Simon Cliff to a colleague showed the death of UEFA’s lead FFP investigator being celebrated: “1 down, 6 to go.”
Since July 2011, UEFA has monitored the accounts of all clubs entering its two club competitions in a bid to curb unfettered spending on players regardless of the owners’ wealth.
The first period UEFA assessed clubs for compliance with FFP was 2011-13, when owners were allowed to cover losses up to 45 million euros.
City has been transformed into an English soccer power in the decade since being bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, winning the Premier League four times since 2012. City has endured a problematic title defense on the field, sitting second in the Premier League 22 points behind Liverpool.
The City Football Group, of which City is the key component, was valued at $4.8 billion in November after U.S. private equity firm Silver Lake bought a stake of around 10% for $500 million. Silver Lake became the second major partner in the group, with a Chinese consortium owning 12% of the equity. There are partner clubs in New York, Melbourne and Yokohama, among others.
Questions have been raised about how the leaks were obtained that now cast a shadow on the reputation of City.
A Portuguese man, Rui Pinto, has been implicated in the obtaining of damaging information about European football. Pinto's lawyer, Francisco Teixeira da Mota, said his client has been helping law enforcement in other European countries with investigations into their clubs’ finances.
Pinto was extradited last year to Portugal from Hungary, where he had lived since 2015, after Portuguese police investigations concluded he hacked into computers in his home country. He has been held in detention in Portugal since March.
A Portuguese judge ruled last month that prosecutors have enough evidence incriminating Pinto for him to stand trial. Pinto is accused of attempted extortion and hacking into secret information held by Sporting Lisbon and the Portuguese soccer federation, including financial dealings.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 19:44:00 +0000
Manuel Delia and Repubblika representatives meet Francis Zammit Dimech
Activist Manuel Delia and representatives from civil society group Repubblika are currently at the PN Headquarters in a meeting with interim Secretary General Francis Zammit Dimech.
The pro-Adrian Delia faction and the activists have not really seen eye-to-eye for quite some time.
Francis Zammit Dimech was voted in as interim Secretary General on Wednesday morning, replacing Clyde Puli who was very close to Delia
Sources said it was ironic that the meeting was being held "barely an hour after Manuel Delia published a blogpost in which he heavily criticised Adrian Delia."
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 17:26:00 +0000
Number of people arrested in Traffic Section scandal rises to 41
The number of people under arrest over the Traffic Section scandal has risen to 41, a police statement read, "and 25 of these officials have been suspended."
The arrests are in connection with an investigation into extra duty abuse by police officials, something first alerted by a whistleblower. The Malta Independent reported on Thursday that aside from being investigated for overtime abuse, police officers are also under investigation for taking protection money from contractors and transport firms, while also misappropriating fuel.
The statement read that seven officials have thus far offered their resignation, all of which were accepted.
The total number of officials on police bail is 31.
Investigations are ongoing, as is a magisterial inquiry.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 16:41:00 +0000
Sliema Wanderers FC ordered to pay €36,000 to HSBC
Local football club Sliema Wanderers FC has been ordered to pay €35,905.67 to HSBC over an unpaid overdraft.
The bank had filed court action in December 2019 after an overdraft balance of €31,749.95 together with interest of €1,019.76 remained outstanding despite several requests for payment.
The club filed a note on 11 February this year, admitting the claim.
The First Hall of the Civil Court, presided by Mr. Justice Mark Chetcuti, therefore upheld the request, condemning the club to pay HSBC €35,905.67, including costs and interest from 14 November.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 14:57:00 +0000
NAO presents its proposed Constitutional amendments
Within the context of the ongoing public consultation process launched by the Office of the President in connection with the reform of the Constitution, Auditor General Charles Deguara presented to President George Vella with various proposals for amendments intended to strengthen the National Audit Office.
"The proposed Constitutional amendments are deemed necessary in order to render the National Audit Office more effective in its address of emerging issues and challenges, as well as in view of the office's role in contributing to good governance across the public sector."
The delegation from the National Audit Office included Deputy Auditor General Noel Camilleri. Dr Denise Borg Muscat and Dr Amanda Borg coordinated the extensive consultation process within the office that led to the proposed legislative amendments. Supporting this process was Professor Ian Refalo, the office's legal consultant.
The NAO said that it has come across situations whereby it felt the need for the functions of the NAO to be extended to audit and report on any persons or body corporate in receipt of public funds, irrespective of whether they are controlled by Government. "The issue to be addressed would allow the NAO to drill down to the level of the individual, institution or company in receipt of public funds. The NAO is presently unable to exercise the right to inquire how public funds were utilised at the beneficiary level. The inappropriate utilisation of public funds by beneficiaries certainly bears impact on economy, efficiency and effectiveness considerations, as well as raising compliance concerns in terms of adherence to the relevant funding agreements. The fact that such public funds may also be funds of the European Union would make such an extension even more necessary."
The Office said that in order not to overburden the NAO, it is suggested that the undertaking and effecting of such audits would be left at the discretion of the Auditor General. "The choice of which funds to audit in this respect would be largely based on the percentage and/or materiality of the public funds allocated. Moreover, the Auditor General should be given the function to follow the entire trail of expenditure incurred from public funds and determine to what extent such expenditure has been successful in achieving the intentions or objectives such funds have been allocated for." An amendment was proposed.
Among the other proposals, the NAO mentions that it is at times faced with situations where witnesses do not come forward to provide the Office with relevant information relating to the audit. "The inability to obtain the necessary information would seriously hinder the Office in coming to meaningful conclusions and curtail its powers to audit. It is also unfortunate as the inquiries conducted by the Auditor General are not criminal ones and are not meant to secure a conviction or otherwise for any wrongdoing committed. The Office is mainly concerned with the proper use of public finances. Such inquiries are meant at discovering any malpractice with a view to bringing these to the attention of Parliament. A potential solution to this problem would be to provide in the law that the identity of the person who discloses information would be safeguarded."
"Another issue that needs to be addressed in the law is litigation in relation to reports, statements and other communications made by the NAO. This issue has already been raised in court as an individual sought to sue a former Auditor General on the basis of libel. "Naturally, the possibility of such litigation would considerably curtail the freedom of expression of the Auditor General and his officers, and it is important that such communications be considered as privileged in order to ensure that the Auditor General has the greatest freedom and latitude to express his opinions in his reports. In the above-mentioned case, the court found for the Auditor General and dismissed the claim brought against him. The point for reform is that this matter should be expressly and explicitly provided in the law so that no doubt whatsoever may persist on the issue."
Read the full report here
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 14:52:00 +0000
Alfred Sant calls for simplified EU rules on economic governance
Labour MEP Alfred Sant has called for more simplified EU rules to achieve upward socio-economic convergence between different communities and regions within the eurozone.
In a statement to the European Parliament, the former Prime Minister said that the European Commission initiative to review the EU's economic governance makes sense but, by not going far enough, risks being futile.
The Commission communication on the Review of the economic governance aims to start a public debate on ensuring sustainable government finances and economic growth, as well as avoiding macroeconomic imbalances; enabling closer coordination of economic policies; and promoting convergence in Member States' economic performance.
In order to allow for a broad consultation, the Commission will be launching a dedicated on-line platform on which interested parties will be able to express their opinions on the matter. This survey will be accessible from 17 February until 30 June 2020.
"The complexity of rules have hindered efforts to achieve the goal of convergence and should be simplified. The Commission proposals on this issue are worthwhile and should be followed up but they will not get us far", Sant said.
Sant said that a monetary zone that functions properly needs to achieve such balance but current rules in the eurozone are not achieving it. It is a basic reason why economic and social development in the eurozone is slow.
In concluding his statement, Sant noted that the EU is experiencing all the constraints of a common monetary area but hardly most of the flexibilities it could provide. Meanwhile, the pain is being borne by those who are least able to afford it.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 14:25:00 +0000
Police officers ‘covered their tracks’ to avoid notice in annual overtime evaluation – Farrugia
Police officers succeeded in "covering their tracks" in order to avoid their alleged overtime abuses being noticed in the Police Force' annual overtime evaluation report, former Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia said on Friday.
Farrugia told journalists that he had acted immediately upon receiving a letter from the whistleblower which indicated that existence of the alleged abuses within the Police's Traffic Unit which have made the headlines in recent days.
40 police officers from the police's traffic branch were arrested over the course of the last few days in connection with an investigation into overtime abuse, something first alerted by a whistleblower. The Malta Independent reported on Thursday that aside from being investigated for overtime abuse, the officers are also under investigation for taking protection money from contractors and transport firms, while also misappropriating fuel.
Farrugia said that upon receipt of the letter from the whistleblower he had immediately summoned the Permanent Secretary and then instructed the Police Commissioner to open an investigation to first verify the claims made, and then delve into them to ascertain who was carrying out the abuses, who was authorising it, and who knew what was happening and did not take steps to put a stop to it.
He noted that nobody, not even the whistleblower, had been advised that investigations were underway.
Farrugia said that an evaluation was carried out each year specifically on overtime and how money in this regard was being spent. He said that if there were people who were declaring overtime which they had not worked and which was then approved, the onus falls on the person who was then signing off that overtime.
Asked by The Malta Independent how the alleged abuses did not come up in the said evaluation reports, Farrugia said that "until we were alerted there was no indication that there were these abuses."
"Whoever was carrying out these abuses was covering their tracks, and the responsible authorities in the police were not conscious of these things. When the whistleblower sent the letter, steps were taken immediately", he said.
Asked, again by this newsroom, whether the fact that these people managed to cover their tracks to the point that official police procedure did not pick up on their abuses, Farrugia replied that he would expect there to be an analysis on the Police Force Standard Operating Procedures which takes into account what the investigations have uncovered.
"One now must identify the defects [in the system], and I hope and think that the Police will take all the necessary steps to change their standard operating procedures", Farrugia said.
Asked whether he would take political responsibility considering that the scandal happened under his watch as Home Affairs Minister, Farrugia said that he would have shouldered responsibility had nothing been done about the information that was received.
"The responsibility has to be shouldered by those who broke the law, and who authorised it", he said.
Video by Alenka Falzon
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 13:34:00 +0000
Man fined for threatening a policewoman
A man has been fined €1,050 after he drunkenly threatened and resisted a policewoman who caught him smoking inside a St. Julian's nightclub.
Macedonian Nishel Nacev, 27, who resides in St. Julians, was arraigned before Magistrate Doreen Clarke, accused of insulting or threatening a policewoman during the execution of her duties, disobeying a legitimate police order and attacking the police officer. He was also accused of smoking inside a place where smoking is prohibited.
Nacev's lawyer, Charmaine Cherrett, entered a plea of guilt.
In view of the man's plea, the court found him guilty as charged and fined the man a total of €1,050.
Inspector Joseph Xerri prosecuted.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 12:46:00 +0000
Updated: Interconnector repairs to cost €11 million, will be re-energised by third week of March
Repairs to the Malta-Sicily interconnector is estimated to cost €11 million, with the timeline for re-energisation showing that it will recommence electricity generation as of the third week of March.
The interconnector was severely damaged on 23 December last year when it was hit by a ship's anchor. The event caused widespread power cuts on the island which continued intermittently until Enemalta mobilised its standby turbines.
Addressing a press conference which focused on providing updates to the repair process, Energy Minister Michael Farrugia announced that in recent days an agreement was signed with the company Nexans Norway - who had laid the interconnector in the first place - for the repairs to begin. The ship will enter Marsaxlokk on Friday afternoon, he said, and will then load up the standby interconnector.
Work is expected to start between Tuesday and Wednesday, he said, and the hope is that by the third week of March, the necessary repairs will have been done. After the repairs are done, there will follow another process so that the cable is re-buried under the seabed as it was, Farrugia said.
These dates are subject to there being favourable weather conditions.
Enemalta CEO Jason Vella explained that that final reburial process will take up to five weeks, but that nonetheless once the repair phase is complete the interconnector can deliver energy once again.
He said that the vessel which had caused the damage had been identified and that its protection and indemnity insurance has been approached and a letter of undertaking has been submitted. The taxpayer will not have to pay anything towards the repairs, which will cost an estimated €11 million, he said.
The de-burial operation to uncover the cable will commence on Sunday. One end at a time, the severed cable shall be lifted up to the repair vessel, where it shall be cut to remove the damaged cable length, jointed to one end of an approximately 2km long spare cable, and lowered down back to the seabed. The same procedure will then be repeated with the other end of the cable.
Farrugia meanwhile also spoke about what a good decision this government took when it decided to do all it could to be self-sufficient in terms of electricity supply. "If these measures were not taken and we stuck to only having an interconnector, our country would not have enough supply to cope with the country's demand", Farrugia said.
He said that discussions are underway so to bring an added emphasis on alternative energy sources, noted that this is needed especially as Malta's electricity demand continues to increase - Farrugia noted that it increased by 20% between 2014 and 2018.
Farrugia was also asked about the possibility of the country building a second interconnector, something which has been proposed by the Nationalist Party in the past and which was actively being pursued when they were in government prior to 2013.
The Minister was however not enthused about the idea, saying that depending on interconnectors "is not the way forward", and that Malta needs local security of supply.
He said that the biggest investment must now come in alternative energy, and that all types of sources - besides hydro - were being evaluated. He said that just yesterday he had been in major discussions with Enemalta and other private investors over potential projects, but said that environmental assessments must be carried out on each idea first.
He said that the idea will be taken to Cabinet and then to the public and eNGOs for feedback and for understanding of the idea.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 12:19:00 +0000
New Wasteserv Chairman announced, new Board of Directors to be announced in coming days
Changes to the Wasteserv Board of Directors will be taking place, The Malta Independent is informed, and the composition of the board will be announced in the coming days
Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Malta Prof. Frank Bezzina is set to be the chairman of the national waste agency. Sources said that the former Chairman, David Borg, is a Muscat man.
CEO Tonio Montebello is touted to be retained.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 12:07:00 +0000
30-year-old man accused of punching partner
A 30 year-old man from Cospicua has been remanded in custody after being accused of punching his female partner, after a fight broke out between them in her car.
The man, who is 20 years his partner's junior, pleaded not guilty to charges of attacking and causing slight injury to the woman, insulting or threatening her, breaching the peace and causing the woman to fear violence.
Inspector Robert Vella told the court that the incident occurred at 11.30pm on 13 February at Marsa, after the couple left a party. The accused had been driving the woman's car when the pair had argued and ended up in a physical altercation. He is accused of punching the woman and slightly injuring her.
After the fight, the woman left with the car and the man made his way home on foot. Whilst driving the woman found a road block and, when stopped by the police, told them what had happened.
Legal aid lawyer Charmaine Cherrett requested bail. In her submissions on bail, the lawyer explained that this was an unusual case of domestic violence, in that the accused had tried to leave several times but the woman would always convince him to stay. After the man had finally left the woman, she had continued to contact him, Cherrett said.
"There was a meeting yesterday and there was aggression. She punched him in the eye and all he did was push her. He got out of the car and walked until his father picked him up and was taken to his parents' home. He has an interest in not meeting her again," added the lawyer.
However, the court, in view of the nature of the charges against the accused, as well as the fear of him tampering with evidence, rejected the bail request at this stage, urging the prosecution to summon the woman to testify in the next sitting.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 12:01:00 +0000
Pieter Omtzigt takes aim at government over slow implementation of Venice Commission recommendations
Pieter Omtzigt, PACE rapporteur on "Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination and the rule of law in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges", met with Prime Minister Robert Abela today and took aim at the length of time it is taking the government to implement the Venice Commission recommendations.
While passing a comment about the size of Prime Minister Abela's cabinet, Omtzigt said that there were some serious issues found with Malta's rule of law.
"I am looking at you Mr Owen Bonnici, you had been minister of justice for two years and I have not seen the reforms. What is even better is that in 2013 the Labour party - to which you all belong to - was elected on a manifesto for constitutional reform."
He said he was happy to see this cabinet is taking action but the requests being put on the table are not new, they have been there for a long time. "You should undertake these reforms, not for me, but it is within the interest of your country, Malta."
"Right at this moment, Malta has a reputation of being active in every sector of the economy which is high risk," he said, giving gaming and the sale of passports as examples.
Omtzigt added that it is only the third time in over the 75 years since the CoE came into existance that a rapporteur was appointed on a particular case - the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder. He added that he is still waiting for certain comments that were made a year and a half ago towards her family to be retracted.
"The last Prime Minister said that he would implement all recommendations made by the Venice Commission, yet we haven't seen much progress even though most of you were in the previous cabinet. It seems that you are waiting for external advice but you should be asking internally."
Having said this, while answering questions from the press after the meeting, Omtzigt said "I see a different attitude among this cabinet than in the previous cabinet. I feel that they have potential to make the right changes."
Prime Minister Robert Abela mentioned a number of changes that the government has implemented or will be implementing, including the new systems for appointing the judiciary and the police commissioner.
He also spoke of the division of the functions of the Attorney General whereby the State Advocate will be a chief consultant to the government and has been chosen through a public call supervised by Judge Michael Mallia, while the Attorney General will be the public prosecutor.
On a similar wavelength, Abela explained that the government is also in the process of splitting the functions of the Police Force, whereby the police will carry out investigate duties, and it will then be up to the Attorney General to lead the prosecution.
"We have started on a strong footing, but we are ambitious to do even more. In principle, we agree on most of the recommendations in the Venice Commission report and we are currently in dialogue on their method of implementation. I look forward to being scrutinized on the delivery of these changes. Malta is a good faith state which stands for democracy, rule of law and governance," concluded the Prime Minister.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 11:05:00 +0000
Louis Galea categorically denies wanting to take Delia’s position
Veteran politician Louis Galea, who was tasked with handling the reforms within the Nationalist Party, has categorically denied that he is being pushed, or wants to take Adrian Delia's position as Leader.
This morning, the website Inews wrote an article titled "Louis Galea pushed to take over the PN as interim leader?"
Galea said that there is no truth that there are many who are backing the appointmentof an interim leader with Galea mentioned as the person most fit for this position at this moment, and that there is no truth that some MPs have indicated that they want him to take up such a post.
He said that when in July he met Adrian Delia's request to help in the party's process, he had categorically declared that he has no intention to accept any post within the party, let alone the post of Interim Leader, aside from helping in the reform as a service to Leader Adrian Delia and the party.
"It is clear that Inews and their sources are not pleased at all that the PN has embarked on a reform process. As happened in the past, those who do not want the PN to strengthen are actively trying to obscure the process, while issuing misinformation."
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 10:36:00 +0000
‘Valentine’s day is for everyone, rethink your assumptions about disabilities and romance’
To the masses, it may be all about chocolates, cards and red roses. But for many, Valentine's Day raises questions about our society's shared notions of the ideal romantic relationship. Romeo and Juliet? Jane Eyre and Rochester? Mr Darcy and Elizabeth? More modern thinkers might offer Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Worthy examples, all. Yet what do these tales tell us about our assumptions? Besides many other stereotypes, every one of these fictional lovers is without a disability.
Some entities in Malta are working hard to dispel the myths and taboos surrounding relationships - particularly about those with intellectual learning disabilities. Naya Markomichali, Team leader at the Inspire Foundation for Inclusion has been working in the field of disability for 20 years. "It's time to break common misconceptions, starting with education and awareness. People with disabilities have the right to fall in love and have intimate relationships. We have an obligation to support them."
Last year Naya successfully ran the "Myself, My Body" project along with Lindsey Meliak at the Inspire Foundation for Inclusion. The pilot project saw 18 individuals with learning difficulties come together to attend sessions regarding the development of a "healthy, safe and happy self" tackling topics such as health, puberty, menstruation, sexual orientation and intercourse. In addition, parents and caregivers were also given the option to attend group sessions to discuss broaching such topics in a safe environment. The project was a roaring success. Designing such a scheme was no easy feat and required experts such as Dr Clare Azzopardi Lane, and research director Richard Mills from AT- Autism UK.
"What's fundamental for any such programme is to cater for the individual needs of every participant attending and for this reason we conduct an initial assessment which helps us understand the current level of knowledge and comprehension in order to provide an adjusted curriculum. It must be needs-based, no two persons are the same, no two cases of disability are the same, nor the family support network surrounding them" adds Naya.
Although the project has culminated, great lessons can be gained from the experience. Naya emphasises the importance of ongoing awareness work within the Maltese Islands. "We are all human, with human needs, we should not deny anyone the right to a relationship - but instead facilitate a solid ground for them to decide if that is something they wish to pursue".
Consequently, Naya and her team at Inspire are working on a meeting hub to promote social activities for those with intellectual disabilities. "Our service users have the desire and the right to have a fulfilling social life, to go to the cinema or for a coffee just like anyone else. We are doing our utmost to support social relationships, and that includes romantic relationships. People with learning disabilities are often so far away from having a sexual partner; they need support to meet someone first. We need to help people have meaningful relationships, friendships and possibly romantic relationships, if they wish. We also have service users with disabilities in existing loving, romantic and possibly sexual relationships, and we should not deny that from them."
Of course, many questions could be asked, what about vulnerability, what about mental capacity? Naya stresses that empowering and educating the young individuals under her remit, and the support network surrounding the individual is paramount. "Take for example the case of language, we all call our intimate parts different words, why should we lock adults with learning disabilities to language exclusively for children - when there may be age-appropriate films with an entirely different vocabulary. This is something we see often. We need to be clear, concise and ensure we are using the correct age-appropriate terminology."
The comments from learning disabled people gathered by Naya and her team at Inspire underline just how vital it is to achieve progress in this area. When asked about why relationships are important, one participant replied: "Sometimes I get lonely, and I think if I've got somebody who I could trust, it will make me happier."
As Naya states, "It is people's human right to have a relationship. It shouldn't be a 'nice to have', but something that adds value to people's lives. We are all incredibly social beings; if you don't see someone in that way, then you don't see them as human."
Moreover, Article 23 of the UN convention for rights of a person with a disability remarks on the importance of state parties, "they must take effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others."
The key to a healthy relationship isn't being able bodied or having a high IQ. Having a good friendship has been the starting point in many long-term relationships - disabled or not. Use Valentine's Day this year to spread a little love of a different kind - it's time to accept that should others have a disability; they are just as lovable as the next person.
The Inspire Foundation draws on many years of experience in educational, therapeutic, social and recreational needs of persons with disabilities. They specialise in aiding those on the autism spectrum, having profound multiple learning difficulties and those with behaviour that challenges. For upcoming projects follow www.inspire.org.mt
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 08:44:00 +0000
Malta projected to have largest economic growth in EU this year - government
Malta is projected to have the largest economic growth in the EU this year and next year according to the 2020 winter economic forecast by the European Commission, a government statement read.
In 2020, the Gross Domestic Product is expected to grow by 4%, the government said, "more than three times the EU average," adding that the same margin is expected for the following year.
The European Commission spoke about the EU economy and said that it is "a fragile equilibrium, which could be easily derailed by unforeseen events," so much so that a section of the report is entitled "clouds still loom over the horizon," the government statement read.
The European commission's forecast reads: "While Malta's economic performance is expected to remain buoyant, GDP growth is forecast to moderate further to 4.0% in 2020 and 3.7% in 2021. Private consumption is also set to gradually moderate, reflecting a slowdown in job creation. The pace of investment growth is set to remain strong as existing projects are expected to mature. In turn, public expenditure growth is projected to ease. Expected gradual improvements in the external environment will likely support some rebound in exports, while the steady increase in imports implies a broadly neutral contribution to growth from net exports."
The government said that contrary to the opposition's statements that there is a crisis in terms of the cost of living in Malta, "European experts said that "inflation declined to 1.5% in 2019. Headline inflation is set to remain at this level in both 2020 and 2021" The government argued that this proves wrong the oppositions 'propaganda that the country is going into a recession.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 08:31:00 +0000
ECHR orders government to pay €500,000 to family over Valletta properties
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered the Maltese government to pay €500,000 to the owners of a property in Valletta which had been transferred from Scicluna's Bank to Bank of Valletta, a wholly state-held bank at that time.
The owners of the property sought redress from the ECHR, arguing that a judgement handed down by Malta's Constitutional Court in the case had failed to give them appropriate redress, leaving them victims of a number of articles within the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The case centres on two sets of Valletta properties; 1 to 5 in St George's Square and nos. 132 to 135 in Strait Street. On 30 July 1958 the applicants' ancestor (the late Marquis John Scicluna) leased the premises no. 1 to 5 in St George's Square, Valletta, to Scicluna's Bank for ten years starting on 1 January 1959. In March 1968, the premises no. 132 to 135 in Strait Street, adjacent to the other premises, were incorporated into the lease contract for use by Scicluna's Bank. Thereinafter the lease was renewed every year.
On an unspecified date, Scicluna's Bank was merged with the National Bank of Malta Ltd, and the contract of lease was renewed. The conditions imposed in the lease contracts of 1958 and 1968 et sequi stipulated that the property would be used as the seat of Scicluna's Bank and that it could not be sublet or used for other purposes. The Bank of Valletta was then established and the property was transferred in the name of the Bank by operation of law. The Bank was wholly owned by the Government, the judgement reads.
The applicants objected to the transfer, considering it a breach of contract. Following numerous requests for the return of the property and futile attempts to agree over a new lease contract with appropriate conditions, in 1989 the applicants instituted ordinary proceedings before the civil courts, in their ordinary jurisdiction, to regain possession of the property. 21 years later the case was determined by a final judgment of the Court of Appeal of 25 June 2010, whereby the court found that the lease in favour of the Bank was protected under Chapter 69 of the Laws of Malta (until 2028) and therefore that the ordinary courts were not the competent forum to address the applicants' complaints.
In 2010 the applicants instituted redress proceedings in the Constitutional Court finding a breach of Article 1 of the Human Rights Convention - which relates to deprivation of possessions and the right to enjoy such possessions peacefully - and of Article 6 of the same Convention - which relates to the having a reasonable time for proceedings.
The Constitutional Court found a violation of both points, and awarded the applicants €1 million in compensation, but this was later reduced to €25,000 after the government appealed the judgement. The Constitutional Court also failed to evict the tenant from the property in question.
Faced with the case, the ECHR found that in the absence of an award covering future rent until 2028, the only remedy capable of giving adequate and speedy redress to the applicants in the present case was for the Constitutional Court to order eviction of the tenants, a course of action it had failed to undertake, as was its normal practice.
"Instead it had ordered that the tenants could no longer rely on the relevant law provisions to retain title to the property. While the Court will refrain from adjudicating on the matter in general, the effectiveness of such a measure appears unsatisfactory in the present case", the Court said.
The inaction of both parties in terms of the eviction of the tenants has led to the status quo remaining in existence for a further three years since the Constitutional Court judgement was handed down, the Court pointed out.
"Be that as it may, there was little justification for delaying redress in the present case, given that : (i) unlike in similar cases where the interferences had been justified by the legitimate aim of providing social housing, in the present case the interference applied in favour of a commercial entity, namely a bank; (ii) as the law stood, the bank would in any event lose the protection of the law and therefore would have to vacate the property when the lease came to an end in 2028", the Court concluded.
The Court also lamented that the financial compensation offered to the applicants was not adequate, noting that this is a common failure of the Maltese courts.
"Furthermore, the financial redress offered to the present applicants was not adequate. The Court is concerned that the Maltese courts often fail: (i) as to pecuniary damage, to bear in mind that awards must be intended to put the applicant, as far as possible, in the position he would have enjoyed had the breach not occurred; (ii) to accompany such awards by an adequate award in respect of non-pecuniary damage and/or an order for the payment of the relevant costs", the Court wrote.
The Court also unanimously found a violation in account of the excessive length of proceedings, and that the applicants were made to bear a disproportionate burden.
As a result, the Court ordered a compensation of €500,000 in respect of pecuniary damage, while it dismissed a claim for non-pecuniary damage.
The ECHR Chamber was made up of Paul Lemmens as President, and Georgios A. Serghides, Alena Poláčková, María Elósegui, Gilberto Felici, Erik Wennerström, and Lorraine Schembri Orland as Judges.
Fri, 14 Feb 2020 08:20:00 +0000
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