Robert Abela soars in rarefied economic heights. Take a look at his first declaration of assets since he joined government ranks.
He owns three properties: an apartment with a garage in Marsascala, and two properties in Xewkija and Żejtun that he simply describes as “properties”.
The Żejtun ‘property’ appears to refer to a country villa of considerable size and value. The ‘property’ in Xewkija is a holiday farmhouse.
The combined value can be conservatively guesstimated at €2,000,000. There are no mortgages on any part of the estate.
He has €540,000 in liquid money in his bank accounts. He has no overdraft, no personal loans, no credit card bills.
He owns 5,000 government stocks and 2,100 Hili Properties bonds. The declaration does not put currency against those numbers, which means those financial assets could be worth over €700,000.
He owns a boat reportedly insured for €100,000. Some say he owns other boats too.
The man is loaded.
He’s 43 years of age. Eighteen years ago he was fresh out of law school. He never worked outside of Malta.
He’s only ever worked in a small family law firm with his father and his wife. His clients were local, the cases he pursued were local, the limits of his business activity was local.
Being a lawyer can be lucrative but most lawyers will probably agree this level of income from providing legal services is eye-wateringly impressive.
His parents are still alive so he hasn’t inherited. Neither has his wife, who is a year younger than him, has four other siblings and hails from a modest family.
Since she’s only ever worked with him they can be assumed to have each contributed half of what they own together.
If they’re worth €3.5 million now, every year for 18 years they would have had to put away €100,000 each after tax and living expenses. That’s €16,000 a month.
Now that’s hard to understand given what we know of his income.
His 2017 tax return says he invoiced €122,000 against €87,000 in expenses. At the end of the year he was only left with €36,000. Add to that €12,000 he earned as MP.
His wife did better, earning €146,000. The Abela family then were left with a monthly net income of €11,500.
You can live comfortably with that but you can’t save €16,000 from an income of €11,500.
It is not illegal to be rich, but you need to be able to explain where you got it from- Manuel Delia
Now the assets declaration these numbers are based on was signed by Robert Abela on March 12, 2020. He had been prime minister for just over two months.
There is no suggestion he got rich quick in those two months, and therefore there is no suggestion of political corruption here.
But the figures don’t add up.
I can understand that Abela leads a Thatcherite party in the guise of a socialist movement.
I can understand that a neocon ideologue would demonstrate thrift and industry and present himself as an example of the realised dream of the self-made man; and woman of course, because what is true of the prime minister is also true of his wife.
And yet, whatever example he gives is only useful if it can be replicated. Are Abela’s achievements possible in the real world?
In a society where money is the greatest value, questioning someone’s wealth dances on the grave of taboo. In this place we don’t speak about money. We pursue it, we spend it, we hoard it, we admire it, but we don’t speak about it.
To do so would be, in many people’s eyes, the ultimate reach of poor taste: envy.
I suppose it is useless to say this is not about envy. This is about what sort of person we want running our country.
Let’s use that word again: due diligence. Abela looks like he may never need to go through one to get a bank loan because he has enough cash to cover himself for the rest of his life.
But humour me. A due diligence exercise would ask him for the sources of income and his wealth.
It is not illegal to be rich, but you need to be able to explain where you got it from.
If you own properties you need to show how you came by them.
Have they been handed down to you by dead ancestors? Have you won them in a lottery? Do you have a very generous aunt?
None of this is illegal, even if rare. But you need to be able to prove it.
If you’re cash rich or claim that you bought your assets through your blood, sweat and tears, you should be able to match the value of your assets at their acquisition with your tax returns.
Our prime minister should submit himself to a due diligence exercise so that we can understand what he’s done right, and what everyone else not worth €3.5 million or so at his age has done wrong.
It does not matter that he is technically not obliged to be so transparent about his wealth. He surely must understand that he is obliged to the extent of filling out his yearly asset declaration, and these questions arise directly from that half-hearted level of transparency.
Even after putting away the inevitable suspicion of wrongdoing, we would be left with a further concern.
Our prime minister should be one of us. He should understand our daily struggles.
Making ends meet is a battle most have to fight. Most have to deal with bank loans and mortgages and rent bills. Most cannot count what this man claims he has managed to save every month since he left law school.
Can this man understand us?
And us him?
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