Gone Cuckoo, in flagrante


In his first interventions following the referendum result, Prime Minister Muscat embarked on a wonderful exercise in tautology. “Illegal acts will not go unpunished”, he thundered. or something to that effect. The audience was supposed to stand back in admiration (never be condescending to local politicians) and applaud this strong willed PM who was prepared to punish illegalities. Really? Why? Would they have gone unpunished had he not uttered those words?

Then there was the ultimate threat of cutting short the hunting season that had miraculously been declared open without so much as a by-your-leave (so long as the hunter-leaning ORNIS committee says so… backed by Labour of course…then hunt,  hunt, hunt). However Muscat did say that he would stop the hunting season should it turn out that there are “flagrant illegalities”. Flagrant eh. We smelt a rat in this blog. The key was obviously in the control Muscat had over what would be termed flagrant and what would not.

Muscat had slipped however. He had tried once again to set the goalposts but in his shocked post-referendum rush (it may be true that he did not expect such a small margin) he failed to choose his words carefully so when first a cuckoo then a lapwing were shot the trend on twitter was rightly #zommkelmtekjoseph and #closetheseason. No amount of pharisee stances on immigrant deaths would change that.

Why had he slipped? Well. He had chosen the word “flagrant” – and, no matter how many stooges he can send to provide a warped definition of the term in the hope that by the time Lilliput settles on the matter the hunting season will have come and gone, the terms meaning is blatantly evident to all. Flagrant does mean blatant, obvious, in your face. There is no implication of gravity or duration over time other than that the violation is so obvious and immediately so.

The latin term “in flagrante delicto” (caught red handed committing a crime) is where we all have got this expression. When you refer to an illegality and you tag the word flagrant you cannot be meaning anything else. Unless, of course, Muscat is prone to amnesia or short-sightedness – the dreaded curse of illegal hunters.

There is no way around this mess other than to admit that flagrant is what flagrant does. And close the damn season.

Addendum: Notes on a hunting season (The Hunter’s Runs)

  • Law: We still fail to understand the derogation and how it works. Nobody is asking what justification was given for this hunting season to open. What proof was given that the derogation criteria were fulfilled?
  • Work and Play: A postman and a bus driver. Gone are the gentlemen in tweed and their hounds. Classes aside, how far does hunting affect the employment industry? I happened to be in Gozo on the day of the referendum result. A young boy, not more than 12, approached a teacher of his who was dining at table with me. “Don’t expect me in school on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ll be in the dura with dad.” That’s two schooldays and two workdays out of the economy. How many more of these stories?
  • High ground: It is stomach churning enough to see the bodies of the dead washed ashore following the migrant tragedy. It is even more disgusting to see the sudden moral stances being taken by many who had barely bothered with the issue before but who took to the ether to scold those speaking about the shot cuckoo and lapwing. It seems we must become a one-issue nation – for the convenience of a few.
  • Education: It strikes me that I learn what a lapwing looks like only after one is shot. If only all this energy were geared into bird spotting, bird watching and a greater national pride in caring and conserving for the birds that pass through this land. If only the hunter and his son who get up early to enjoy nature did so with a good camera, a thermos and a diary for spotting. Would it be so damn difficult not to have to pull the flipping trigger?

 We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting. – Jacques-Yves Cousteau


Hello 119

- Hello 119?
– Bongu. X’gara?
– Sparaw ghasfur iehor.
– X’inhu beccun?
– Le lapwing
– X’inhu?
– Lapwing. Illegali jisparawlu.
– Ijja imma miet?
– Le dan kemm laqtuh imma imwegga’.
– Allura ma hix flagranti.
– X’ma hix?
– Flagranti.
– Mela xinhu flagranti?
– Flagranti kieku zvojtah fuqu per ezempju.
– Xi zvojta?
– Is-senter hux. Jew qatel xi 400 ghasfur.
– Int qed tiggennen?
– Le qed insegwi li qalli Galdes.
– Ok . siehbi.

Automatic for the people


The island of saints and fireworks experienced yet another tumultuous bump on its road to democratic fulfillment yesterday. By late morning you were either looking deep into your soul and trying to decipher the reason why it would still be possible for some of your co-islanders to sport (ha!) a gun and kill birds during the mating season or you were out carcading in full camouflage dress having savaged some trees to decorate your car for the occasion.

In many quarters the crux of the discussion was who to blame. Do you blame the hapless Saviour Balzan and the running of the no campaign that managed to (cliche’ warning) snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Do you blame the political party leaders who had pronounced themselves personally to the YES vote (biex nissalvagwardjaw id-deroga li innegozjajna – ugh more on that later)? Do you blame the voters in the districts where the YES vote was overwhelming? More importantly, how do we get rid of those Gozitans? Independence or boycott? Bridge zikk.

And what about the planters of hate and discord who had called the other side all sorts of names? Surely a referendum on a factual question such as it was ended up being lost or won because you really cannot ever call someone “uncivilised”.

I could only stand back in awe and watch the events unfold. I read a few opinion columns here and there and watched the infamous breakdown analysis on a few of the tv stations. The main impression is that facts, the real facts, have been thrown out of the window. Faced with the rule of law, legislation to interpret and scientific evidence we panic, we freeze like rabbits facing the headlamps of an oncoming car, and then we take solace in theatrics and cliches.

I was reminded of the hunter who accosted Simon Busuttil on the campaign trail in Rabat last election. There he was arguing that having paid I don’t remember what sum of money for a license (later to be rescinded by the Hunters’ Friend Joseph) he had the right to enjoy his “hobby” bis-shih. Busuttil replied quoting an ECJ court case where “ahna iggelidna ghalikom” (we fought for you) and won the right to keep holding a spring hunting season. That to me is the source of all the evil. Of all the misinformation.

In the beginning I thought I was being too technical. Too long-winded. To lawyerish. I must admit I got carried away by the charade and started to think that maybe just maybe I am not too well versed in the politics of electioneering and gathering votes. Maybe, just maybe, it was right for the NO campaign to ignore the issue of when and how the derogation came about, how it is supposed to be applied and how the referendum would never really end the possibility of the derogation being applied in Malta – even if the No camp won.

I was told to shut up and be careful (not that I did, but I did tone down my insistence) because that kind of information might render voters complacent and that they might abstain from what would be an ultimately rhetorical No result. It’s a mistake though. It always will be. To attempt to lead people on the basis of  lie – or half truth if you will. The modern antipathy towards legal and competent interpretations of the law is also to blame. Yes it is technical. Yes it is how things work. Finding ways of explaining it to the people is the business of electoral machines – not hiding it from them.

Yes, I was guilty of claiming that the referendum result would be meaningless on a technical level. Article 9 of the Derogation that is the basis of the legal Notice that we were trying to abrogate would still exist. I was however also responsible for saying that interpreting the result this way meant that the No vote should be much much louder than a simple majority because it would be binding on both parties as representatives of the will of the people. Which in layman’s talk means that even though the door would still be open to the derogation written into the Birds’ Directive they would not have dared open it for quite a while.

I was also guilty of constantly trying to remind anyone who cared that this derogation had nothing to do with anything negotiated by Malta prior to accession. Article 9 of the Birds’ Directive exists independently of what Malta negotiated. It is a list of very strict conditions under which hunting would be allowed. In my amateur non-scientific assessment (that could be proved wrong but I doubt it) it would be very very hard for Malta to ever justify the opening of a spring hunting season under this derogation.

Which brings me to the leaders’ vote. Not that we should be caring about how they voted (the little triumph of the 49 point something per cent is that of not having followed their call).

Busuttil is the biggest disappointment. Not so much because he declared his vote in favour of the Yes camp. That was understandable because he neutralised Muscat’s hope of a double-victory and turning the vote into Muscat vs Busuttil. What disappointed me most was the justification as to why he would vote Yes. Busuttil is in fact guilty of repeating the lie that this was a vote in favour of a derogation “acquired” by a previous PN government. That, to me, amounts to misinformation.

Muscat’s position is easy to assess  – until the end he remains the hunters’ friend. If you needed any confirmation you just had to look at his statements after the vote. He has done all he can to allow them to hunt – now the ball is in their court and he cannot be blamed for doing his duty and stopping them once and for all should they break the law again. He did add the term “flagrant” to violation as though there is a scale of permissibility implied.

Now to the main issue: the use of the derogation. The Times carried a constantly updated article on the day of the Yes victory. One of the statements carried was to the effect that now that the referendum had passed in favour of the Yes camp the spring hunting season would start. Automatic. For the people by the people.

The Times (and most of the fourth estate) had swallowed the lie. The main reason why we voted on Saturday was never understood. Maybe because it is too mind-numbingly technical. Maybe because we prefer arguing about what other hobbies are threatened. The point is that the referendum result is about Malta’s button that activates the request to use the derogation – not about the derogation itself. The Legal Notice empowers the Minister to evaluate whether the conditions exist for the spring hunting season to open. That should be far from automatic.

There are flaws in the system sure. The Commission – guardian of the treaties and their application – relies on information brought to it by the government of the day when it comes to overseeing the application of the derogation. When the government is in cahoots with the hunting lobby and knows that the general population cannot be bothered with a minor scandal of the killing of a few extra hundred birds (no matter how many storks and swans appear on the front page of the Times) then bob’s your uncle. Even the police are thwarted.

Malta never “won” the hunting case before the ECJ. It was a slap on the wrist telling Malta to be more careful next time. If the NO lobby does not want to die an ignoble death the next thing on the cards should not be a campaign for Birdlife memberships (to do what?) but an educational campaign on the ins and outs of the Birds Directive.

Maybe next time we can talk facts and law. And stop blaming the Gozitans.

Thought for Food


The British election campaign kicked off in earnest this week. The Tory chief has been caught red-handed eating a hot dog with the use of a fork and knife – and nowadays that kind of information hits the headlines just as readily as a decision on nuclear disarmament. Cameron’s error lies in the fact that he was at a voters BBQ trying to look as unposh as is conservatively possible – the people’s man with rolled up sleeves (we can still spot the cuff links) and guzzling beer. It all went Pete Tong when Cameron failed to brave the hands on approach and opted for the cutlery (a historical frog import to boot – no kniffs and focks before the Normans).

Faux pas indeed! In these days of plastic politics when the Ken and Barbie approach is preferred over moral and values, knowing how to chew on your designated lunch is part and parcel of the PR. Ed Milliband learnt a thing or two about this when he was caught on camera struggling with his bacon sandwich and his reputation has suffered ever since.

Gastronomical issues have also formed part of the Hunting Referendum debate. Of course I am mildly suspicious of a hunter who tries to justify his right to shoot to kill by claiming that he intends to consume his prey. I love quails mind you, especially when cooked right, but I don’t see why your average gun toting primate cannot head for the nearest supermarket and buy his own rather than importune a breeding population (and others) during the mating season.

Prime Minister Muscat tries to give the impression that he would gladly share tripe with most hunters (that’s a bastardisation of a Maltese expression (“tiekol il-kirxa ma’) which implies a close level of friendship and familiarity. He’s played his cards quite well when it comes to this hunting business, playing as usual on misinformation, half-truths and downright lies. Originally Muscat comes from hunter territory so you could not blame him for some affinity with the shooters. The thing is though that we have gotten used to Muscat’s very macchiavellian calculations – he is prepared to enact shoddy badly prepared laws, sell off public land, give tax discounts (without any idea of where the money will come) and lie with developers and real estate magnates complete with building violation amnesties. All that and more to stay in power.

In short the most gastronomic our PM and his party can get is when they have their mouths in the trough and are busy guzzling away at the public’s expense.

Think of that while you’re having today’s lunch.


And don’t forget… vote No.

The Bird Brainer


This Saturday vote No. Simple. Just vote No. You don’t need to be told why in truth, unless you are one of the horde of energumens who believe that “hunting is a right”. Legally we should not be here. The ‘derogation’ we are reluctantly discussing should never actually be triggered. Someone in the IVA campaign finally decided to explain this reality (a factual legal one) – the derogation’s conditions would rarely be triggered (if ever at all) in a decent country. This is no special derogation negotiated over blood, sweat and tears in some pre-accession death-wish with the aim of keeping up an “age old tradition”. All that is bollocks – bollocks that has been regurgitated by the PLPN quarters because… well… because it is a sweet lie that fits their alibi. What alibi? It’s the one where they keep trying to seem appeasing to the hunters.

Not that Muscat is hiding his hand. On the 1st of April he was photoshopped into hunting pose as some form of April Fool’s joke. He’s convinced that he can fool some of the people all of the time though. It’s obvious that he would do anything to get the Yes vote to win – and he’s more than hoping that Busuttil gets associated with a No debacle. Sadly for both the leaders of the parties that keep us firmly attached in the mire of mediocrity this vote concerns them not one bit. They should only be waiting for the result to implement it. We said this when the referendum was announced and we will repeat this now.

Why should the No vote win? Because the people of Malta should stand up and show that they disagree with the decisions of successive groups of representatives who have twisted and turned the interpretation of what should be a strict derogation in order to appease the hunters. Has Malta ever correctly applied the derogation? I strongly doubt it. Will it ever? Seriously? The only way we can ensure that our house of representatives apply the laws of the land (and that includes EU laws) properly is by going over their heads and giving them a strong “No’ when it comes to Spring Hunting.

As I said before, repealing the legal notice by referendum does not remove the derogation nor the possibility for a future parliament to re-enact legislation that allows for its use. Which is why the No vote must be clear, loud and unconditional. It is the sovereign people taking their power back into their hands and ordering those entrusted with its management to obey their will.

It’s a small step. The next day after the referendum we will still be in the thralls of a government-opposition game that treats the population like a mass of mentally deficient robots. We keep getting the government we deserve. A No vote next Saturday might be a step towards getting a better one in the future.

Hope Springs Eternal.

Or words to that effect


Was it Michael Falzon who insisted that we do not call an amnesty an amnesty? You know that measure being touted by the Taghna Lkoll government whereby any environmental and planning injustices can be righted by the payment of a proportionally small fine? Well he wants us to call it a fine or something like that – but not an amnesty. Because words have effects – and Labour bloody well knows that.

Which is why Prime Minister Muscat, a master of obfuscation, has thrown this pile of peppered bull about hospitals, investments and Queens Mary (sic) into our face in a brilliant mish-mash that would make Lewis Carroll proud. It did not take an investigative genius to see through the intentional misdirections this time round. The moment I heard the news I googled Barts (and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry). There, on their web pages I came across the information that the school was moving to a magnificent new hospital after 40 years.

Located in London, the school had cost a stunning 100 million pounds sterling – and it had taken them forty years to raise that amount of cash and make that move. Why then would Barts (or QMUL) be suddenly spending close to 200 million euros to open a school in Gozo?

Well it isn’t. The two pieces of news are separate. The first, an agreement to set up a medical school in Malta, had been signed a year ago by Godfrey Farrugia before he was hounded out of his ministry to be replaced by Konrad of the Many Promises and of the Wife On Public Payroll. Yesterday was the moment that agreement came to fruition.

The second is an attempt to get the private sector to invest 200 million euros to upgrade the Gozo (Craig) Hospital and Saint Luke’s Hospital. Muscat’s government once again shows a non-socialist approach to the management of public assets. Nothing wrong there – attracting private investment while still guaranteeing free public services is laudable. Of course the private sector will want their moneys’ worth so expect the use of such extensions for private purposes (two-tier public/private services). Also expect possible abuses if left to their own devices.

Another suprising element about this move is that Labour is replicating a move suggested by the PN government a good while back – when Mater Dei was still in the pipeline as San Raffaele and there was a public-private proposal that was gunned down by heavy Labour opposition.

Back to the word games though. Muscat deliberately plays on confusion – and is hoping this stunt about “investment in Gozo” will return the right dividends come the local elections on April 11th. You can bet your last dollar that any criticism such as this one regarding the deliberate confusion will be shot down with “mhux xorta investiment?” which is definitely not the point.

Our Prime Minister continues to prove himself to be a master of deceit and manipulation. Will the public go along once again?

#maltaottimista #maltamazzuna


The Infamous Vote


It’s great that people like Joseph Calleja, the Archbishop and other ‘VIPs’ such as Vanni Bonello have lent their support to the “NO” vote. I do find it a little disturbing though that there have been calls from some quarters for more “famous” people to “come out” and proclaim that they too will be voting to ban spring hunting on the 11th April. This referendum offers very little openings in terms of debate and conviction. The battle lines were drawn at an early stage and quite frankly I don’t believe that there are many people who need to be convinced either way. Convinced in favour or against hunting that is.

The crucial part is probably actually getting people to the ballot and voting. Getting them to care. In a sense that is the only value we could give to this obsession with what “VIPs” will do. It might trigger the lazy and uninterested into going out there and casting their say. Both the YES and NO camps have tried their luck with the fear factor. The NO campaign has warned of the dire consequences of a YES victory – with the images of cowboys taking over the land having been convinced that nothing will stop them now. The YES campaign has found a very convincing element in its fear-inducing threat to other “hobbies”. By spreading the lie that next on the line will be such hobbies as firework production they seem to have managed to draw what would have been a wholly uninterested sector of the population to the polls.

It’s no mean point that the expat community is once again being “treated” to the AirMalta subvention. Exercising your right to cast your opinion on Referendum Day costs your average expat 70€ (the flight), a couple of days leave, and if like me you live a 2 hours drive from the nearest airport you also can factor in the costs of diesel/petrol plus an exorbitant airport parking fee. All this because our bastions of democracy and democratic accountability still have not wrapped their heads around the idea of a ballot in embassies as all First World Democracies tend to do nowadays. Still, every penny will be well spent in my case if the NO vote carries the day.

If they do carry the day we must still bear in mind that this is a political message to the parties more than anything else. Parliamentary rules and the EU acquis are here to stay – no matter what the result – and that means that the possibility of using the derogation in the future will still exist. Which is why the NO vote should be stronger than ever. It must be a clear message to pussy-footing politicians such as those who make up the present government and who have already set the wheels in motion for the next spring hunting season (in case the YES wins).

You don’t have to be famous to vote on April 11th but by going out and voting you could be making history for Malta.

Vote wisely. Vote No.


Passport Kings and Joseph


An article published on Bloomberg on March 11th speaks about Christian Kalin – the Passport King – and how he managed to turn from editor of a guide to doing business in Switzerland to a key figure in the budding passport industry, as well as a main protagonist in the infamous Henley & Partners. The article outlines how Kalin first set up a Passport Selling scheme for the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and then proceeded to sell the formula to five other countries. Including Malta. As has become par for the course under Joseph Muscat’s Labour we find more information here about Malta’s scheme than was ever tabled in parliament by the Optimist Party. The tone of the article and critical analysis of how and why passport schemes will not be lost on most readers.

Particularly jarring is how part of the Henley contract includes an obligation for the Prime Minister of a sovereign state to act as some kind of ambulant salesman and participate in fairs across the globe pitching a sale. Jason Azzopardi is quoted as saying that the scheme “prostitutes citizenship”…. to say nothing about how it insults the whole institution of the office of the Prime Minister  – transformed into a cheap cosmetic salesman: but hey, cosmetic salespersons get somewhere nowadays no? After all  isn’t Phyllis Muscat using her great expertise as an importer of waxing products to “run” the CHOGM show. Malta Ottimista indeed.

From the article: The Passport King (Bloomberg)

In the summer of 2013, Kalin took his product to Malta, an island of 420,000 people near Sicily. The stakes were now much higher. Maltese citizenship confers the right to live and work anywhere in the European Union and to travel visa-free to the U.S. “That’s pretty much the entire story,” says Demetrios Papademetriou, an expert on investor immigration programs and founder of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

In January of last year, Malta started selling citizenship for €650,000. (Over the next few months, it added additional investment requirements.) During its first year, the program raised more than €500 million—an amount equal to 16 percent of the government’s 2014 budget. Henley earns a 4 percent commission on all the funds paid to Malta. The firm also gets €70,000 from each of its clients, and additional fees if their spouses or children apply.

Kalin says he designed the program with higher barriers to entry than elsewhere. Applicants are run against law-enforcement databases and checked by a due diligence firm. Even then, a candidate who comes up clean might be rejected simply because something doesn’t feel right, Kalin says, offering the hypothetical example of a Pakistani national with a pharmaceutical business in the Central African Republic.

Despite these apparent safeguards, then–EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding blasted the program in January 2014. “Citizenship must not be up for sale,” she said. The truth is, though, the EU can do little about the program other than make speeches. There’s no legal basis for stopping a member country from exercising its sovereignty. “The reason the EU commission really slammed down on this,” says Papademetriou, “was because it amounted to selling an EU passport and they didn’t trust Malta to do the due diligence.”

Jason Azzopardi, a Maltese lawmaker from the opposition Nationalist Party, calls the program the “prostitution of our citizenship.” He says the prime minister deceived voters by waiting until after being elected in June 2013 to mention the idea of selling passports.

Kalin brushes it all aside. “This is the key point,” he says. “The opposition realizes that this program is going to keep them out of power for a long time. It’s going to bring in a lot of money, and whoever is in office is going to benefit.”

Malta’s Individual Investor Programme was eventually modified to include a residency requirement that is vague even according to the program’s CEO, Jonathan Cardona. “It doesn’t say physical residency,” Cardona says. “We expect an individual to be in Malta for a number of days; we don’t go into the specific number. If you’re asking me, are these people going to move here entirely, I would say, ‘Listen, let’s not fool ourselves.’”

“Forget residency,” says Apex Capital’s Katz. “There’s not even an educational requirement. You don’t have to have graduated high school. The only criteria are you have dough and you’re not a criminal.”

Prime Minister Muscat presents things differently. He describes Malta’s citizenship program as an exclusive membership club open only to the best and brightest of the wealthy. “If you are after the cheapest route to citizenship,” he tells the audience at Henley’s Singapore conference, “Malta is not for you. If you’re after a program that allows in all and sundry, then, sorry again, we’re not for you. But if you want to join the highest-end talent program in the world, we welcome you.”

As the prime minister speaks, a PowerPoint glitch plays an unfortunate trick on him. He’d come onstage after a slide show introducing Henley’s salespeople, the last of whom was blond-haired Christopher Willis, the firm’s rep in St. Kitts. Willis’s giant head shot, next to a map of the Caribbean, is frozen on-screen. It looms over the prime minister’s shoulder the entire time he’s pitching Malta and its better class of citizenship program. However Muscat tries to sell it, nobody watching will be able to forget where it all started.



So You Want To Be A Writer – Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you

in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.