Fabian Demicoli

Eco-fascists

The
frustration of having been in government for 17 years with so little to show for
it often surfaces in the discourse of government politicians. They are in power.
They have been in power for an inordinately long time. And yet they are
constantly humiliated in being unable to achieve their targets. The lack of
enforcement is Malta's prime environmental malady.

Everybody has been
blamed. Ministers have lambasted the civil service. The creators of the Malta
Environment and Planning Authority and its Planning Authority predecessors have
ripped it to shreds in their frustration. Ordinary citizens have been described
as arrogant, impertinent and undisciplined. One outgoing President claimed that
the Maltese did not care for their environment while another excused his
failings as a minister by blaming a civil service that often defeated
him.

The most frustrating obstacle to the executive is the judiciary. It
has to be. That is what it is there for in the system of constitutional checks
and balances. Some of us still remember the destructive tug-of-war between the
two in the 1980s. It appears to be still going on. In recent years a Minister of
Justice lambasted the courts as if he had no hope of reforming the system to
make it function properly.

Under a PN government we have less spectacle
but the assault on the basic rights of citizens goes on nonetheless. It was with
no small satisfaction that I read the comments of the Chamber of Advocates on
the infamous Bill 27 through which the government proposes to short circuit the
judicial system in the recovery of debts up to Lm5,000. My very serious
misgiving had the comfort of theirs.

A closer look at Bill 28 on
eco-contributions made me forget what I was looking for. Never mind the 10c tax
on batteries and the Lm12 tax on fridges. The enforcement provisions make the
eco-tax misnomer a very small matter indeed.

The government's frustration
has led it to legislate in a stunningly authoritarian fashion. Every eco-fascist
would be proud. I am not an eco-fascist and stand appalled by some of the
proposals.

The minister responsible is authorised to impose fines of up
to Lm30,000 or Lm200 per day by regulation to be made in future with little or
no parliamentary scrutiny. The Act will be administered by a competent
authority, presumably WasteServ Ltd, with the help of the VAT Department and the
police which will be empowered to enter any premises and seize and copy any
documents. In determining and imposing penalties WasteServ Ltd will not suffer
the restraint of any court issuing precautionary warrants. Notice of a penalty
imposed immediately constitutes executive title presumably in favour of
WasteServ Ltd.

For anybody convinced that loud whip cracking is the only
solution to Malta's environmental problems, Bill 28 may sound like a dream come
true. Not for me. The whip cracking precedes any serious attempt to create the
necessary environmental awareness for the population to internalise the values
on which such legislation should be based. There are no carrot, only whips. It
is a recipe for resistance, for deep and abiding resentment.

Providing
the government with big guns is one thing. Providing them to a government quango
is quite another. I am not at all happy about the idea that the WasteServ
chairman may substitute the judicial system and also absorb the minister's
residual executive powers as well. The whole constitutional edifice is beginning
to change shape. The separation of powers has become an obsolete idea.
WasteServ's chairman is to become prosecutor, judge and jury for so-called
administrative offences which carry penalties far beyond those imposed for very
serious crimes.

There is also the somewhat novel offence related to
withholding information from WasteServ Ltd. Anybody doing so willfully or
maliciously is liable to a fine of Lm500. Never mind the right of the accused to
remain silent. The accused has an obligation to prove the prosecution's
case.

In an ideal world all such powers would serve only to scare the
living dayligthts out of people to ensure compliance. This is not an ideal
world. WasteServ's present chairman, Nick Degiorgio, may be a very nice person
with a refined sense of fair play. He will not always be chairman of the
competent authority, WasteServ Ltd. The Eco-contributions Act may end up doing
much more than scaring people.

Having lived through a time when all sorts
of laws were abused to make people's lives hell, I am extremely suspicious of
any legislation that depends of the sense of fairness of its users to achieve an
acceptable result. The Eco-contribution Act is a lethal weapon in the hands of a
government wishing to put anybody out of business. Malta is a country with a
significant history of law becoming a means of oppression. When are we going to
wake up to the dangers of trusting the government always to behave decently? No
such guarantee exists except by preventing the accumulation of such powers and
ensuring the safeguard of due process through a judicial system that
works.

Dr Vassallo is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green
Party.

 

What we can do for you

INFORMATION POINT

BUSINESS SERVICES

MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS

LOCAL ISSUES & LEGISLATION

B2B NETWORKING EVENTS

LEGAL ADVICE

FUNDING ASSISTANCE

COURSES

BECOME A MEMBER

The Malta Chamber of SMEs represents over 7,000 members from over 90 different sectors which in their majority are either small or medium sized companies, and such issues like the one we're experiencing right now, it's important to be united. Malta Chamber of SMEs offers a number of different services tailored to its members' individual requirements' and necessities. These range from general services offered to all members to more individual & bespoke services catered for specific requirements.

A membership with Malta Chamber of SMEs will guarantee that you are constantly updated and informed with different opportunities which will directly benefit your business and help you grow. It also entails you to a number of services which in their majority are free of charge and offered exclusively to its members (in their majority all free of charge).