One could pity Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and his Cabinet colleague Edward Scicluna, who controls the country’s purse, for the way they constantly defend what, in their heart of hearts, they must surely know is wrong. If the Prime Minister, so powerful, is unable/unwilling to do anything when faced with serious accusations involving his top aide, Keith Schembri, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi what can they really do?

Yet, both had solemnly declared to “bear true faith and allegiance to the people and the Republic of Malta and its Constitution”. Judging by their, very often pathetic, declarations, they appear to be oblivious to what the Constitution and the laws of Malta say and demand. And when organisations like the Venice Commission, Moneyval and Greco, unequivocally declare that not all is fair on this wealthy and prosperous island they kick and cry foul, denouncing ‘traitors’, demanding to know where the leaks originated from and claiming unfair treatment.

The Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering committee, or Moneyval, is mulling over what grade to give to Malta’s anti-money laundering processes and their effectiveness. A draft report compiled following an investigation late last year seems to indicate it will give a poor ranking to Malta unless the government commits itself to be more effective in implementing anti-money laundering legislation.

Not surprisingly, the Moneyval mission found that Malta’s laws and the measures the island has are sound ‘on paper’. Like in many other areas of governance in the public sector, enforcement by the police, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit and the Malta Financial Services Authority of anti-money laundering directives is the weak link, thereby reducing the effectiveness of controls on those involved in laundering dirty money.

This country is also in for another drubbing, this time by Greco, the Group of States Against Corruption. In a report still to be published, it makes some very serious observations about the prevailing situation in Malta, even warning that the island’s criminal justice system risks paralysis unless the responsibilities of the police, the Attorney General’s office and inquiring magistrates are redistributed.

The draft report notes that Greco officials who visited Malta last October were often confronted with a culture of secrecy of many institutions, where reports, recommendations and conclusions remain unpublished.

Such comments by Moneyval and Greco – perhaps the culmination of similar observations made by other international bodies over the past months – are an indictment of the government’s failure to ensure justice and the rule of law prevail in both word and spirit.

There must be a reason why a country fails to follow its commitment to fight corruption and to operate a powerful regulatory oversight system to enforce anti-money laundering laws and this cannot just be a “legacy” issue, as Dr Bonnici would have us believe.

In every organisation, the tone set by the leaders determines the agenda that permeates throughout the system. This rule also applies to the government. Just like in any organisation, workers understand what the top brass want and overtly, or even unconsciously, modify their actions accordingly.

Corruption and weak institutions continue to be prevalent. The weak link is poor political leadership that lacks the will to do what is right to make some quick short-term gains.

It is time the government orders a thorough and effective cleaning operation.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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