EU warns Malta against ‘political interference’ in slain reporter probe

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat arrives to his office before a meeting with members of the European Parliament, in Valletta, Malta December 3, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2019

EU warns Malta against ‘political interference’ in slain reporter probe

  • European Commission Vice President “expressed her concern regarding the situation in Malta,” the spokesman said

BRUSSELS: The EU has warned Malta against any “political interference” in the investigation of the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a fierce critic of the government.
In a phone call on Monday with Malta’s justice minister, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova “insisted that the investigation has to be brought to conclusion without any political interference,” a spokesman said on Tuesday.
She also “expressed her concern regarding the situation in Malta,” the spokesman said.
The phone call occurred a day after Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who has come under fire over his personal links to politicians implicated in the case, said he would step down in January.
Caruana Galizia’s family on Monday called for police to investigate Muscat amid allegations he obstructed justice by protecting key figures in the case, including his chief of staff.
Jourova, who oversees rule of law issues for the EU member states, underlined in the call that “more work needs to be done” in Malta on maintaining an independent legal system in the country.
Caruana Galizia, a mother of three described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks,” was blown up in a car bomb attack near her home in October 2017.
A European Parliament delegation is in the tiny EU state and is set to meet members of the Caruana Galizia family, Muscat and the police commissioner before heading back to Brussels on Wednesday.
Led by Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld, it will examine doubts about the judiciary’s independence and allegations of corruption.


World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

Updated 16 min 59 sec ago

World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

  • Economic losses equal to 0.5 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product
  • Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur

JAKARTA: The total damage and economic loss from forest fires in Indonesia this year amounted to at least $5.2 billion, equal to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, the World Bank said in a report on Wednesday.
The estimate was based on its assessment in eight affected provinces from June to October 2019, though analysts at the multinational bank said fires had continued to rage through to November.
“The forest and land fires, as well as the resulting haze, led to significant negative economic impacts, estimated at $157 million in direct damage to assets and $5.0 billion in losses from affected economic activities,” the World Bank wrote in the report.
Over 900,000 people reported respiratory illnesses, 12 national airports halted operations, and hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had to temporarily close due to the fires.
Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
More than 942,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of forests and lands were burned this year, the biggest since devastating fires in 2015 when Indonesia saw 2.6 million hectares burned, according to official figures. Officials said the spike was due to El Nino weather patterns lengthening the dry season.
The World Bank also estimated a 0.09 and 0.05 percentage points reduction in Indonesia’s economic growth in 2019 and 2020, respectively, due to the fires. Its growth forecast for Indonesia is 5 percent for 2019 and 5.1 percent for 2020.
The blazes were “manmade and have become a chronic problem annually since 1997” because fire is considered the cheapest method to prepare land for cultivation, the bank said.
Because about 44 percent of the areas burned in 2019 were in peatlands, carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires were estimated to be almost double the emissions from the fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year.
The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecast estimated a total of 720 megatons of CO2 emissions came from Indonesian forest fires in January-November this year.
Longer-term effects of repeated fires were not included in this estimate, the World Bank said. Repeated haze exposure would reduce health and education quality and damage the global image of palm oil — an important commodity for Indonesia.