The week at a glance - March 24, 2019
Our pick of the week's best headlines, quotes and readers' comments
St Joseph tradition
The smell of żeppoli filled the air in Rabat on Tuesday, as the locality marked the feast of St Joseph. The traditional deep-fried choux pastry balls stuffed with ricotta are closely associated with the yearly celebration.
What made the headlines
‘Backlash at journalists following Panama Papers’: Malta is among a few countries where a backlash against journalists was recorded after the Panama Papers stories were published, according to a review of the impact of the massive documents leak. Issued by the Reuters Institute ahead of the collaborative journalism project’s three-year anniversary, the review shows that while nearly one in five countries or international bodies made “substantive legal, regulatory or policy changes” in the wake of the Panama Papers, nothing of the sort happened in Malta. The researchers recalled the car bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia as one example of the backlash against journalists that ensued after the global journalistic investigation.
Gozo works start as ERA asks for studies: Extensive excavation works to turn a rural area in Xewkija into a park and ride facility and a bus terminus have started although planning permits have still to be issued, the Times of Malta revealed. The works in an area known as Tax-Xħajma, next to the horse racing track, form part of an EU-funded project aimed at building a multi-modal hub to ease parking problems on the island. An application submitted to the Planning Authority by the Gozo Ministry last October was still under consideration and the Environmental and Resources Authority has demanded environmental studies, building industry sources said.
Turkish ‘village’ containers to be turned into classrooms: A construction firm, which a few weeks ago hit the headlines over plans to build a makeshift container ‘village’ in a quarry to host Turkish construction workers, is in pole position to turn some of its now ‘unused’ containers into classrooms for government schools. UNEC Ltd, a subsidiary of Bonnici Brothers, submitted the cheapest offer for a tender issued by the Education Ministry to buy mobile classrooms to host students in St Paul’s Bay and Żejtun. Sources said that once the company had to shelve its plans for a temporary container village, it turned its sights to the Education Ministry which needs mobile classrooms to cope with an influx in the population, particularly through migration.
PN outlines cancer fight policy: More funds for prevention, early diagnosis and higher-quality treatment are the main proposals of a Nationalist Party policy document on the fight against cancer. Shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri presented 30 proposals to better respond to the disease during a news conference outside Mater Dei Hospital. The PN is calling for more investment to promote healthy lifestyles and for population-based prostate cancer screening. It is also proposing the use of EU funds to further cancer research among children, incentives for investment in cancer medicine and more funds for breast screening.
Director chased over €4m in unpaid taxes: The sole director of a cleaning firm that received more than €9 million in direct orders in three years owed the Inland Revenue Department over €4 million in unpaid taxes, the Times of Malta revealed. Records show that, in October, 2017, X Clean director Denis Xuereb had been asked through a judicial letter to pay over €530,000 in unpaid taxes. A few months later, Mr Xuereb, this time as director and owner of cleaning firm Euro Hygiene International Ltd, received another bill to settle €3.5 million in unpaid taxes.
Attorney General to lose dual role: The Attorney General’s dual role as the government’s legal counsel and prosecutor general is to end as the government announced it will be splitting the roles in two separate entities. A Bill paving the way for the reform is expected to be presented to Parliament tomorrow and the government plans to enact the changes before the House rises for the summer recess. Justice Minister Owen Bonnici made the announcement in a news conference in which he outlined a series of reforms based on the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
Brussels sees ‘lack of progress’ on corruption: Malta did not register any significant progress in the fight against corruption, the European Commission said. During a presentation on the Malta 2019 country report, an annual scorecard issued by the EU’s executive, European Commission deputy secretary general Céline Gauer said more work needed to be done in strengthening governance frameworks and enforcing anti-money laundering measures. Ms Gauer did note, however, there had been significant improvements in the staffing levels of supervisory authorities in the financial sector.
‘Too much of a good thing?’
This week saw Malta bid a sorry farewell to the only NGO solely dedicated to water conservation on the island.
The Malta Water Association’s parting shot – “the battle’s lost”, it said – was a damning indictment, Times of Malta readers broadly agreed.
“If ever there was any proof needed that Malta is in a management crisis...this is it,” wrote Matthew.
“When the time comes, I suppose we will start drinking concrete”.
I suppose we will start drinking concrete
Malta’s water table might be diminishing and growing more saline by the minute, but as Mark noted, “tackle the root cause, over-extraction”.
And while unregistered boreholes continue to suck out whatever water is left beneath the ground undetected, Anthony reckoned the country’s general reliance on a different source of water had something to do with national apathy.
“The reverse osmosis system has cut off people from the unpredictability of the water supply,” he argued.
“In the bad old days, before the RO plants existed, lack of rainfall actually meant lack of water in the tap. So people could see the connection...today, people find water in abundance in the tap, whatever the weather.”
A case of too much of a good thing?
Ripping up the rulebook
You can hardly blame developers for ignoring the rules if authorities do it too. The Times of Malta reported that a tract of land in Xewkija which the government wants to turn into a park and ride facility has already been excavated – despite no permits having been issued.
Ripping up the rulebook seems to be all the rage these days, which could perhaps explain why so many readers opted to focus on the dubious need for the project.
“Park and ride??!! On a journey of maybe 4km,” wrote Christopher.
“Just improve the bus service and cut out the need to ‘park’ and make it just ‘ride’.”
It was the first time Tom had heard of parking problems in Xewkija.
“I think somebody was overeager to get EU funds,” he theorised.
But perhaps that’s too innocent an explanation.
There was another reason authorities might want to build such a facility “in the middle of nowhere”, Nigel suggested.
“It’s very close to where the proposed tunnel is due to surface in Gozo. There’s some skulduggery going on methinks!” he wrote.
What they said
“The Nationalist Party would again have to step in to clean up the mess left by a Labour government.”
Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia addressing a PN activity in Msida, where he said the Labour administration’s policies and lack of long-term planning took the country to the brink of disaster.
“Today, more than ever before, our country is a symbol of peace, equality and a nation that welcomes everyone. We have always been this way and we will remain as such.”
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addressing Labour Party supporters in Siġġiewi.
“Endless [economic] growth is a vicious cycle.”
Democratic Party deputy leader Timothy Alden writing in the Times of Malta about the continuous growth of the Maltese economy and the continued influx of foreign workers.
“When looking into rule of law and democracy issues I’ve noticed that the relaxation of standards, especially among EU newcomers, can become quite a dangerous tendency.”
Andrius Kubilius, former Prime Minister of Lithuania, who is running to be the next secretary general of the Council of Europe, speaking to the Times of Malta.
“Russia has both a long history of disinformation campaigns and a political culture largely untroubled by concerns for truth.”
Columnist Martin Scicluna writing an opinion piece in the Times of Malta entitled ‘Russian confrontation’.