We are the smallest member of the European Union and, out of all the thousands of islands in the Mediterranean, we are the most advanced.

In the United Nations Human Development Index, we rank 27 out of 189 countries of the whole world because of our public services in education, health and welfare and standard of living. We haven’t let our size hold us back.

Since Independence, we have set about finding ways to create wealth and work to enable our people to live comfortably in a small land with no resources.

For centuries, as a colony of those who controlled or wanted to control our part of the Mediterranean, thousands of Maltese and Gozitans were forced to emigrate because our colonisers, especially since 1800, were not interested in developing an economy beyond serving their imperial interests.

Today, we live much better (materially) than previous generations but we also face huge challenges to continue to improve the life of our people. We need to reinvent the economic and social viability of our country in a world transformed by the pandemic, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine. 

Having one of the most open economies in the world, what goes on in the rest of the world impacts us immensely. Spending power in tourists’ countries of origin, energy prices, the cost of transport, investment, sales, food and clothes prices… these all impact us.

We are too small to influence what happens in the rest of the world. All we can do is to work as much as possible not to let world affairs hurt us while grabbing the opportunities that arise.

If we wish to be taken seriously as a nation in the 21st century we must be able to fulfil our international obligations in today’s global economy. All of us, as citizens. Not just politicians in government and opposition. Accountants too, lawyers, regulators, notaries, the police, the media, prosecutors, magistrates and judges.

All of us, the whole of society must practise a public morality that makes us law-abiding and behave ethically, not only in name.

As long as we were a small economy and without extensive and deep links to the global economy and the movement of money, the rest of the world didn’t bother about our wheeling dealing, when it came to the black economy, corruption and tax evasion as we were mainly hurting ourselves.

But ever since we started taking part in the global economy we have become risky for others and, especially, with the level of scrutiny on money laundering and the financing of terrorism that was introduced after the Twin Towers September 11 attacks and becoming members of the EU, the regulatory framework under which we have to operate changed and will continue to change.

The whole of society must practise a public morality that makes us law abiding and behave ethically, not only in name- Evarist Bartolo

As a people we need to undergo a cultural change to rise to European and global standards.

It will be a relief when in the foreseeable future we are taken off the grey list and no longer considered to be risky for investment and financial services. But that does not mean that once we come off the grey list we should relax and let go.  If we do that, we will be doing much greater damage to our country.

It is in our national interest not to let our country be abused by those, locally and overseas, who want to launder their dirty money through Malta. Small countries like ours are often branded as the worst sinners and abetting international organised economic crime.

It was so refreshing last December at the Summit for Democracy to hear US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, honestly admitting: “…  right now, the best place to hide and launder ill-gotten gains is actually the US. And that’s because of the way we allow people to establish shell companies.”

She also said: “In the popular imagination, the money laundering capitals of the world are small countries with histories of loose and secretive financial laws.”

“The US financial system is the backbone of the world economy. Enormous amounts of illicit funds can pass through – or land – in our markets…There are far too many financial shadows in America that give corruption cover. We need to throw a spotlight on them and that is what we are doing through many of the measures that are part of the government’s holistic strategy to combat corruption ...”

Yellen spoke of the need for the US to lead by example: “If we want free institutions to thrive the world over, then,  first, we must model what they look like at home.”

We look forward to all the major countries setting a good example to small countries like ours. So far, the most vociferous ones about the need to combat international economic crime have been putting into practice the maxim: “Do as I say not as I do.”

Evarist Bartolo, Former Labour Minister

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