Unless the government takes urgent action to start dismantling the growing perception of corruption and wrongdoing, Malta will find it harder to rehabilitate its name.

Perceptions are not created out of thin air and, once formed, they are difficult to remove, as shown by the sharp fall in Malta’s placing in the latest Transparency International corruption perception index.

Contrary to what most would have expected, Malta’s ranking has been dropping steadily since two years after EU membership, with gains made in 2010 and 2015 wiped out immediately afterwards.

Malta dropped no fewer than eight spots in the annual graft indicator. The score puts it under the 66/100 average for EU and Western countries.

Such a dismal record ought to make the government take a step back from its most shameful and arrogant attitude and start seriously seeing how to gradually restore Malta’s image. The corruption allegations may still have to be proved in a court of law but in quite a number of cases the nature of the claims made provide more than ample room for thorough investigation and political responsibility to be shouldered.

How did Malta come to all this? The first most damaging blow is the indifferent manner the Prime Minister has dealt with the issue over the revelation that his own chief of staff and a Cabinet minister had opened an offshore company shortly after the 2013 election, as revealed in the Panama Papers. He had removed the minister from his post only to give him another ministerial job. But the ruse did not work and only helped to bring out the government’s arrogance even further.

The government has also done considerable damage to its own reputation in the eyes of other countries. One prime minister, that of Iceland, and the Spanish industry minister had to resign and more than 6,500 taxpayers and companies all over the world are being investigated in the wake of the Panama Papers. But the Maltese government has a different measuring rule.

The sale of passports is another matter that has given Malta a bad name. The island may be earning millions of euros from the scheme but in the process it has also lost much prestige as it is potentially seen as a backdoor to money launderers and tax evaders.

Added to these is a long list of cases dealing with other issues, like the transfer of three hospitals to a company that had no experience at all in such operations and which later transferred, to its financial advantage, its concession to an American health company.

The list includes also the collapse of Pilatus Bank following the arrest of its chairman in the United States; reports of money laundering; fuel smuggling operations; the disposal of prime land at below market prices; refusal to publish contracts in full and a general tendency against full transparency in government dealings; the revelations over the Dubai company 17 Black, from which, according to a leaked e-mail, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were to receive $2 million; rule-of-law concerns and deficiencies pinpointed by the Venice Commission.

The list is by no means complete but, taken together, all these cases point to a situation that needs to be urgently redressed if the government does not want Malta’s name to be tarnished even further.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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