Gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of EU funds is a dis­ser­vice to farm­ers - For­mer Head of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Of­fice and MEP can­di­date

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - NEWS - Kevin Schem­bri Or­land

The gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of EU funds is a dis­ser­vice to farm­ers and is prej­u­dic­ing fund­ing for the sec­tor in the years to come, Peter Agius, PN can­di­date for the Euro­pean elec­tions and for­mer Head of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Of­fice, told The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day.

Ac­cord­ing to Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Data, out of the €129,769,197 from the Euro­pean Agri­cul­tural Fund for Ru­ral Devel­op­ment (EAFRD) for Malta, – which in­cludes Malta’s na­tional con­tri­bu­tion – for the cur­rent 2014-2020 pro­gram­ming pe­riod, Malta had only spent €16,204,632 (12%) of these funds by end 2017. In ad­di­tion, €32,885,274 had been al­lo­cated to se­lected projects. It is per­ti­nent to note that the EU Com­mis­sion web­site where this in­for­ma­tion was found, dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween the amount ‘spent’ by a coun­try (ex­pen­di­ture re­ported by the se­lected projects) and the amounts in terms of fi­nan­cial re­sources al­lo­cated to se­lected projects.

The min­istry was asked to pro­vide an up­date to this data, to which the min­istry an­swered that “to date some €78. 9 mil­lion have been com­mit­ted un­der this pro­gramme”. Asked to clar­ify this amount in terms of whether this meant that this amount was now spent or just al­lo­cated, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the per­ma­nent sec­re­tariat said that this amount refers to money which has been al­lo­cated to projects, which the ben­e­fi­cia­ries will re­ceive on com­ple­tion. “If the ben­e­fi­cia­ries go ahead with their projects, all com­mit­ted funds will be paid.”

In the same sta­tis­tics above, as at 31 De­cem­ber 2017, Malta was last in terms of the per­cent­age amount spent when com­pared with other EU coun­tries.

Asked why Malta is so be­hind on its spend­ing from this fund, the min­istry said: “One can­not com­pare at face value the pro­grammes across re­gions with­out tak­ing into ac­count the type of mea­sures be­ing im­ple­mented, and thus the scale and com­plex­ity of the in­ter­ven­tions in­volved. More­over, out­lays on ex­pen­di­ture do not fol­low a lin­ear pat­tern with the resultant im­pact on ex­pen­di­ture claims re­ceived in a given pe­riod.”

PN MEP can­di­date Peter Agius, talking to this news­room, said: “Ac­cord­ing to its own of­fi­cial records, the gov­ern­ment is two years late in com­mit­ting EU funds for farm­ers. There are scores of farm­ers out there who want to in­vest in ma­chin­ery or in­fra­struc­ture who have held their projects back for years due to gov­ern­ment in­er­tia in com­mit­ting EU funds. Out of the €40 plus mil­lion sup­posed to be com­mit­ted to ru­ral projects, only €5 mil­lion were ac­tu­ally pro­cessed up un­til May this year.

“This track record spells dis­as­ter for our am­bi­tion to at­tract EU funds in the next pro­gram­ming pe­riod 2020-2027. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has al­ready de­clared that past spend­ing will be a cri­te­rion for fu­ture com­mit­ments. Gov­ern­ment is now in a state of panic to com­mit funds quickly. Farm­ers who have been wait­ing for an­swers for 18 months are now be­ing con­tacted to pro­vide re­vised quotes within five days. Projects which were kept in abeyance for years now have to be com­pleted within months. To solve this prob­lem we need three simple mea­sures. The first is the po­lit­i­cal will to ad­dress the chal­lenges of the farm­ing com­mu­nity. That is ab­sent at the mo­ment. The sec­ond is se­ri­ous plan­ning over 5-10 years for EU fund­ing with six monthly tar­gets. Thirdly, com­pre­hen­sive in­vest­ment in the pub­lic ser­vice de­part­ments han­dling EU funds, which are manned by ded­i­cated in- di­vid­u­als who are how­ever se­verely un­der­staffed and un­der re­sourced. We must in­vest in their train­ing and their mo­ti­va­tion if we are to see a fu­ture for farm­ing in Malta.”

“The fu­ture of farm­ing in Malta is not a mat­ter of con­cern for farm­ers alone. All of us as con­sumers have a lot to lose if we de­pend en­tirely on im­ports for our food. Our long-term food se­cu­rity is at risk right now.”

In­for­ma­tion pub­lished by the Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee 2014-2020 for the Euro­pean Agri­cul­tural Fund for Ru­ral Devel­op­ment (EAFRD) Funds in Malta, in­di­cates that Malta has to spend a cer­tain amount of money from this fund by 31 De­cem­ber 2018.

“Ar­ti­cle 38 of Reg­u­la­tion (EU) No. 1306/2013 em­pow­ers the Com­mis­sion to au­to­mat­i­cally de­com­mit funds that have not been used by 31st De­cem­ber of the third year fol­low­ing the year of the bud­get com­mit­ment (the N+3 rule). Malta’s first com­mit­ment year is 2015. There­fore, the amount of €20,905,107 (the 2015 fi­nan­cial al­lo­ca­tion) must be paid by 31 De­cem­ber 2018 and even­tu­ally de­clared to the Com­mis­sion.”

As at May 2018, Malta had spent €8,248,017.76, and the com­mit­tee iden­ti­fied that the bal­ance due to be paid by end of N+3 (31 De­cem­ber 2018) stood at €12,657,089.24.

“Look­ing for­ward to 2019, Malta must also ef­fect ex­pen­di­ture amount­ing to al­most €21 mil­lion in EU funds – this be­ing the 2016 com­mit­ment,” the Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee has high­lighted. The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day sent ques­tions to the EU Af­fairs Min­istry, high­light­ing the afore­men­tioned. This news­room asked whether the min­istry be­lieves Malta will spend the amount of €20,905,107 be­ing paid from the fund by 31 De­cem­ber 2018, and asked for an up­date as to how much, thus far, has been spent in to­tal. This news­room also asked whether the min­istry is con­cerned that Malta could lose funds.

“Malta re­mains com­mit­ted to reach the N+3 tar­get by end De­cem­ber 2018,” the min­istry said.

The min­istry was also asked for the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions for funds un­der the EAFRD cur­rently await­ing pro­cess­ing, and other re­lated sta­tis­tics.

“Of the 651 ap­pli­ca­tions re­ceived some 550 have been awarded and re­ceived the ap­proval let­ter. To­day there are 70 ap­pli­ca­tions un­der eval­u­a­tion. These fig­ures ex­clude over 6,000 farm­ers re­ceiv­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port for main­tain­ing their agri­cul­tural land.”

The last year that Euro­pean Agri­cul­tural Fund for Ru­ral Devel­op­ment funds from the 2014-2020 year can be used is 2023.

The min­istry was asked for the av­er­age pro­cess­ing time of ap­pli­ca­tions, and to jus­tify why some ap­pli­ca­tions have been pend­ing for 18 months.

The cur­rent pro­cess­ing time for ap­pli­ca­tions un­der the Euro­pean Agri­cul­tural Fund for Ru­ral Devel­op­ment is, on av­er­age, two to six months, the min­istry said. “But this de­pends on the qual­ity of the ap­pli­ca­tion sub­mit­ted, clar­i­fi­ca­tions needed and thus re­quested from the ap­pli­cants and the feed­back re­ceived.”

“Fur­ther­more, in or­der to make the ap­pli­ca­tion process more ac­ces­si­ble, po­ten­tial ben­e­fi­cia­ries can now ap­ply on an open rolling call ba­sis, which has led to bulk ap­pli­ca­tions.”

“Given Malta’s eco­nomic pros­per­ity in re­cent years with a full em­ploy­ment sit­u­a­tion, there are chal­lenges to re­cruit and re­tain good tal­ent in such an en­vi­ron­ment. Staffing the Man­ag­ing Au­thor­i­ties deal­ing with EU funds is not im­mune to this re­al­ity as Gov­ern­ment has in­deed also in­di­cated to So­cial Part­ners on the re­spec­tive Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee. Late last year we fi­nalised a much more at­trac­tive fi­nan­cial pack­age for em­ploy­ees in this area, both to re­tain the cur­rent work­force and to in­crease the head­count to ideal lev­els.

“More­over, we have also es­tab­lished another Pro­ject Se­lec­tion Com­mit­tee ded­i­cated to this pro­gramme. The two se­lec­tion com­mit­tees are meet­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to ad­ju­di­cate as ex­pe­di­tiously as pos­si­ble the ap­pli­ca­tions, tak­ing into ac­count the qual­ity of the sub­mis­sions re­ceived and en­sur­ing good gov­er­nance at all times.

“We have also made it pos­si­ble for farm­ers to claim re­im­burse­ment of ex­pen­di­ture in­curred on in­vest­ments prior to re­ceiv­ing ap­proval of their ap­pli­ca­tion pro­vided that the ex­pen­di­ture is deemed el­i­gi­ble for sup­port.

“These ini­tia­tives are hav­ing the de­sired im­pact in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the ad­ju­di­ca­tion and fund­ing pro­cesses. We have now signed agree­ments for in­vest­ments un­der the Ru­ral Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme with nu­mer­ous ben­e­fi­cia­ries, in­clud­ing farm­ers, Lo­cal Coun­cils, Lo­cal Ac­tion Groups (LAGs), gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties and agen­cies. Although there will be chal­lenges ahead we re­main pos­i­tive and en­vis­age that this pos­i­tive trend will con­tinue in the fu­ture.”

Peter Agius

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.