International scrutiny of Malta's controversial passports-for-cash scheme had made it "the best", Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Friday.  

Dr Muscat was asked about the Individual Investor Program during a short interview at the launch of a new economic survey.  

Asked whether he believed the scheme had managed to attract “the best talent” to the island, as it had originally been billed to do, his reply was a curt “I do”.  

Describing the scheme as “second-to-none”, said that Malta was not the only EU member state to have such a program, yet it had been under the most scrutiny. 

This, he insisted, had only made it better.  

Earlier this month, EU Commission vice-president designate Vera Jourova told MEPs that she wanted cash-for-passport schemes banned across the EU.

Malta's scheme has come under added scrutiny over the past weeks after a legal firm's IIP licence was suspended following a French TV undercover sting.

On Thursday, an Opposition MP cranked up the pressure on authorities by saying that a businessman who had acquired a Maltese passport was facing fraud charges in the USA.

According to the 2020 Budget estimates, revenue from the sale of passports is expected to reach €50 million next year, €14 million more than in 2019.

Malta will put it's money where its mouth is on education

During the brief interview, Dr Muscat said investing in training was key, as skills and talent shortages were both highlighted as threats to the island’s economic growth.  

The EY Attractiveness Survey 2019 was published on Friday morning.  

Dr Muscat conceded that skills and training were indeed a main concern, and said the solution was two pronged; maximising the potential of women in the workforce, and investing in training and education for future generations.  

Previous administrations, he said, had invested heavily in education, and the current government would be no exception. 

Investment in education over the next few years, would eventually double what it had been in the past seven years. 

“This is us putting our money where our mouth is,” Dr Muscat said.

'Anti-foreigner is anti-business'

He also said that the country was attracting more foreign talent. 

Shooting down criticism that the economy was relying on imported labour, Dr Muscat said the opposite was true: “workers are coming here because the economy is growing, and not the other way around,” he said. 

He also disagreed that foreign workers were mostly low skilled, saying the majority were at managerial level or higher. 

Ultimately, anti-foreigner rhetoric was anti-business rhetoric, he said.  

Earlier this month, Malta slipped two places in World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings.

Asked about this, Dr Muscat said the reason was “one word: infrastructure”.

The Prime Minister said Malta’s existing road network was stuck in the last century.  

Dr Muscat also briefly weighed in on a damning assessment of Malta’s anti-money laundering regime by the Council of Europe. 

The so-called MoneyVal report gave Malta a failing grade and the island now has to get it’s act in order or face the threat of black listing.  

On this, Dr Muscat said Malta was not the only country with a harshly worded MoneyVal report. 

Delia insists on need for 21st century skills

Earlier during the event, Opposition leader Adrian Delia was also interviewed, and he too zeroed in on the need to focus on the island’s workforce. 

“We need to start focusing on education for what we [the Nationalist Party] are calling 21st century skills,” he said. 

Last week Times of Malta interviewed the man tasked with attracting financial businesses to relocate to Malta, who said the island’s Brexit strategy has not been to poach businesses.

Asked about this, Dr Delia said he agreed, but said the country still needed to be diligent. 

The Opposition leader said he was worried about the way the island was being viewed internationally.  Efforts, he said, needed to be made to clean up Malta’s international reputation.