Last month during the European Parliament Tax3 Committee meeting on Malta and its rapid descent into the black hole of corrupt countries, we witnessed quite clearly what is essentially wrong about the rule, or the misrule, of law in Malta.
I admit that there is certainly room for improving the separation of powers in Malta and this can and should be done through constitutional reform. This process seems to be crawling forward in discussions between the two major parties. Anything to improve the situation is welcome.
However, there is fundamentally nothing wrong with the way the institutions of power and the definition of fundamental rights are written into our Constitution. What is wrong is not the set-up but the attitude and honesty of the people in the system.
Starting from the very top, officials who have blatantly broken the law with accounts in secret tax havens are still in power. Not only that but they are defended by the elected head of our government. In a system based on the rule of law this cannot happen. Clearly a misuse of law.
An investigating magistrate draws up a report which does not find enough proof to identify the owner of the third infamous Panama company, Egrant. Yet the entire governmental apparatus comes out with statements that turn this inconclusive report (to which only a handful of insiders in government have access) into an exoneration of the alleged owner.
Even supposedly neutral commentators serve as a megaphone to repeat that error. There has not been anybody exonerated, nor has the owner of Egrant been identified. So long as this is the case, a rendering of the proper rule of law would oblige the Minister for Justice, the police and anti-money laundering agencies to increase their efforts to find who and for whom were secret bank accounts set up in Panama.
It was certainly someone high up in the politically exposed group of people in Malta, such that his or her name could not be written down in an e-mail, who had such a secret bank account. All suspects should continue to be investigated. But no! We are in the land of the misrule of law and certain names have been wiped off by the secretive magistrate’s report.
Here, the role of the Attorney General, once the most respected person in the legal community, has to be questioned. Our present Attorney General has lost the respect of many of his legal colleagues and is still protected by the Minister of Justice of the government in power.
Last week in Strasbourg the defence by our Minister of Justice failed to impress the MEPs.
It is not the institutions that are wrong, Minister, it is the people chosen to fill the institutions, people chosen by yourself and the cabinet on which you sit. That is the problem. Had the persons chosen in the courts, the police, the army, fisheries, the housing, planning and environmental authorities, the energy companies, the hospitals, the health and safety authorities, the financial services and banking watchdogs, the lands department (the list can go on and on) observed their oath of office and acted to serve the people and not the government’s inner circle, the minister would not have needed to fly to the Tax3 Committee and continue to blemish Malta even further.
God bless the Misrule of Law, it seems to provide our bread and butter
One thing that struck me in his speech as being the epitome of the present situation was his comment that €17.5 million had been recovered from criminals exposed in the Swiss leaks and in the Panama Papers. He considers this proof that the rule of law is alive and well in Malta.
It shows the exact opposite. First, why did we hear this news only now and only in response to criticism from foreigners? We, the Maltese, are the victims of those economic crimes. All the persons whose names and secret accounts appeared through the Swiss and Panama leaks should have been named and charged in the criminal courts for the very serious economic crimes of tax evasion and opening secret accounts in offshore regimes to hide their real business and private activities from the law. In other countries persons such as these are named and not only fined but also imprisoned.
Please note that leaks only exposed a minute fragment of the transactions.
If the leaked transactions exposing €17.5 million of fraud and tax evasion make up one per cent of all transactions, then the other 99 per cent that have not been exposed must be in the region of €1,750 million, held by hundreds.
The minister is proud of having recovered €17.5 million but does not care who these people are. He actually wants to keep their names secret so that they can continue to run their businesses. He does not care to examine which accounting firms, financial services firms, legal advisers and local banks have been involved. He tries to cover up rather than expose.
In a rule-of-law country, the Minister of Justice would be up in arms, he would be fuming and exposing criminals who cheat to the detriment of our national wealth and hide their profits away from the tax collector. He should be fuming at the tax advisers, lawyers and accountants whose names appear in those leaked e-mails and documents in Swiss banks or at Mossack Fonseca in Panama City.
Instead he knows that the accountancy firm whose owner and staffer have been mentioned constantly in the press are still employed at the highest levels of government and still win tenders to provide expertise to government.
This is clearly a misrule of law.
This is why Malta has a rotten reputation. Malta is always trying to live on the fringes of the law, with the excuse that it has no natural resources. That its only way to earn a living is to steal from others. The entire country rises up together to defend our taxation system whose only raison d’ĕtre is to siphon revenues away from other countries in such a way that no tax, or minimal tax, is collected to the loss of all European citizenry.
We recently learned of the alleged sale of medical visas for cash and of claims a fisheries official was aiding and abetting false denominations of origin and volumes of tuna… I dread to imagine how many other scams my fellow citizens are involved in with the blessing and protection of our government, our Opposition and our banks and institutions.
God bless the Misrule of Law, it seems to provide our bread and butter.
It is as though I catch a robber in my home but he is allowed to go free, receiving protection from the police and courts because he has no natural resources – stealing is his only livelihood. We get our MEPs from both parties rising to the call for Malta to use its veto should a European proposal to create a common level of income tax, corporate tax and transaction tax be put to a vote.
There is a level of patience in European capitals that has been exhausted. No ministerial defence such as we saw last week will stop the other European countries from their resolve to come to grips with tax evasion.
Even the expected changes to our Constitution will not change the fact that it is the people who man the positions in government and in the institutions that either create the blessed state of rule of law, or its opposite, the damned state of the misrule of law.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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