I am writing this article on Tuesday, the day before a group of experts will decide whether Malta will be placed on the FATF grey list. I requested this article to be published after Wednesday lest anyone attempts to interpret this article as seeking greylisting. It is not. But avoiding greylisting should not mean whitewashing facts and the truth.
For the sake of our financial services industry, which has painstakingly grown over the last 30 years to become one of the pillars of the Maltese economy, I sincerely hope that Malta is not greylisted. But this government has a lot of questions to answer even after the fateful Wednesday vote.
Avoiding a greylisting should not be viewed as a triumph in itself but a reason for a deep soul-searching exercise as to how this country or, rather, this government got us into such a situation in the first place.
For, despite the government’s pleas that a lot was done to rectify the shortcomings pointed out by Moneyval nearly two years ago, the United States, Great Britain and Germany remained unconvinced until the last days of our willingness or ability to combat financial crime.
I have no doubt that the government has desperately tried to convince these doubters that Malta is at least as compliant as other nations. We all hope for everyone’s sake that it is successful in its last-minute attempts at shuttle diplomacy even if some of the arguments being put forward are shaky.
For instance, I do not think that it is right for the government to push the idea that Malta is being targeted because of its size. Our ‘smallness’ is not what led us to this predicament. Our geographical size, the last I checked, did not change in the past 30 years. What did change is the state institution’s appetite to carry out their duties, particularly when fighting corruption and organised crime.
The previous Labour administration, which, it must be said, included a number of sitting ministers, regrettably promoted corruption at all levels of government.
Everything was monetised and money was put as the most important consideration above everything else: more important than our country’s reputation, more important than our citizenship, more important than our environment and more important than the rule of law.
Foolishly, some thought that they could get away with this. That nobody would notice if Malta became an attractive hub for dirty money. They thought that giving Pilatus Bank a licence to operate would go unnoticed. They thought that opening a channel for dirty cryptocurrencies would not ruffle any feathers. They thought that no one would care if money laundering was allowed to happen unchecked.
Perhaps they thought that, because of our size, nobody would be looking or noticing what is happening on our shores. They were wrong.
It was a Labour government that weakened public institutions such as the Malta Financial Services Authority and the Gaming Authority
In a globalised world, it is important that every state carries out its duties and responsibilities diligently not only to protect and safeguard its own interests but also to safeguard the interests of other nations and of the global community. When other countries realise that a state has gone rogue, then they send out a warning. Greylisting is one of those warnings.
Prime Minister Robert Abela took exception to the letter penned by the leader of the opposition, even going as far as saying that the opposition wants Malta to fail this test. How puerile and convenient for Labour to try and offload the blame for a mess which was created by the same Labour government.
Perhaps Abela needs reminding that it was under a Labour administration that the government removed permanent secretaries on day one of its election, thereby dismantling one of the most important checks and balances in the administrative structure.
It was the Labour government which placed government lackeys in all key administrative roles to ensure that ministers had a free reign. It was a Labour government that destroyed the credibility of the police force. It was a Labour government that made a mockery of the public procurement system.
It was a Labour government that weakened public institutions such as the Malta Financial Services Authority and the Gaming Authority, not least by putting at the helm people who were close to the government of the day.
It was a Labour government that tried to turn the law courts into a sub-headquarters of the Labour Party. It was the Labour Party in government that made a mockery of parliament by appointing all backbenchers to executive or semi-executive positions.
It was the Labour government that tried to hide rather than fight corruption not least by voting in parliament to keep corrupt officers and ministers in place. It was the Labour government that, on several occasions, defended the indefensible.
In Malta, the Labour government can ride above all this because it has a strong majority in parliament and, if polls are to be believed, a strong lead with the electorate. And, perhaps, as a nation, especially now that we are in the process of looking at the state of the nation, we should ask ourselves why and how a government can get away with murder.
Any other government in Malta, and certainly abroad, would have seen its majority dwindle when faced with just one of the political scandals that rocked this island over the past years.
The fact that this did not happen is perhaps a worrying note to those countries that must decide whether Malta is a trustworthy partner going forward.
Abela is trying to convince the international community that we have changed. He is doing so while still harbouring ministers who were happy to close their eyes, ears and mouth in the face of corruption and worse.
I hope that our government succeeds in its mission. Just as I live in hope that, one day, Malta will realign itself with the true values that made us want to join the European Union.
Mario de Marco, PN spokesperson on finance