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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

A tale of two islands

The international press has been putting Malta in a bad light ever since the Bidnija murder and the suspicion of some behind-the-scenes orchestration cannot be discarded as pure fantasy

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
28 November 2017, 7:16am
The most recent edition of ‘The Economist’ carried a report on what is going on in Cyprus, the other Mediterranean island that is also a member state of the European Union.

Under the title of ‘Billionaires Club’, amongst other things, the report says that the two cities of Nicosia and Limassol are home to an estimated 50,000-60,000 citizens of the former Soviet Union. In a presidential election next February some 25,000 ex-Soviet citizens will be eligible to vote. Last September a new political party (Ego o Politis – I the citizen) was launched by two Russians holding Cypriot passports – a restaurateur and investor (who cannot speak Engish or Greek) and the co-founder of an online war-gaming company.

The new party’s priorities are to fight corruption and shrink the country’s bloated bureaucracy. According to the party’s vice-president Tiorgis Kountouris – a Cypriot orchestra conductor trained in St Petersburg – “Corruption is out of control, and education and culture here are at a very low level’

The report ends up by quoting a Cypriot legal expert bemoaning the problem of ‘reiderstvo’ (corporate raiding) whereby Russian offshore companies illegally change ownership after a local lawyer presents forged documents to the company registrar. The practice is ‘not uncommon’, he says but - the report goes on: “the Cypriot authorities have yet to bring a single case of reiderstvo to Court.”

"Comparisons are odious… ‘Murder in paradise’ under the heading ‘Maltese corruption’ in one case; and ‘Billionaires club’ under the simple heading ‘Cyprus’ are enough to set the reader on different trains of thought"
After reading this report, I could not help resist looking up again for another report in the edition of the same publication four weeks previously: the one that dealt with Malta and that was written in the wake of the horrible and atrocious murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and entitled ‘Murder in Paradise’.

Comparisons are odious, but I sensed a more negative spin in the report about Malta, in spite of the more serious issues raised in the report about Cyprus. The differences in headings: ‘Murder in paradise’ under the heading ‘Maltese corruption’ in one case; and ‘Billionaires club’ under the simple heading ‘Cyprus’ are enough to set the reader on different trains of thought.

The international press has been putting Malta in a bad light ever since the Bidnija murder and the suspicion that there has been some behind-the-scenes orchestration exercise that led to this situation cannot be discarded as pure fantasy.

I also recalled the speeches delivered by most of the Members of the European Parliament who last week debated and voted for a motion condemning what they think is going on in Malta. Many were obviously fed from Maltese sources and just repeated the hackneyed allegations that had already done the rounds in Malta. For reasons of their own, others criticised Malta for its financial services sector on which there is a bipartisan agreement in Malta.

Malta’s sale of passports was also heavily criticised as if Malta was seriously undermining the EU by selling passports. Irrespective of whether one agrees or not in principle with this easy way how Malta is making money or in the details of the programme as designed by the Muscat administration, Malta is certainly not the only EU state that sells its passports.

Putting the administration in a bad light is a normal Opposition ploy in any liberal democracy. If one follows the travails of governments elsewhere, one quickly realises that this is grist for the mill. In the US some say that whatever Obama did was wrong; while others say the same on whatever Trump is doing. In the UK, the current political mess has no precedence. In Italy confusion is always worst confounded. In Spain, Poland and Hungary, Opposition parties try to wreak havoc in the political arena. The PN is not alone, of course!

But there must be a line somewhere that leads one to avoid making untrue allegations and exaggerated claims that can harm the country’s economy. Attempting to sink the country’s economy so that the party currently in power is seen in a bad light is a very dangerous game.  It can easily rebound on whoever thinks it is the easiest and quickest way to power.

Our financial services

One of the most successful niches in our thriving economy is the financial services sector. When the current system was set up, the then Nationalist Government sought to have a bipartisan approach because it knew that one cannot attract people by offering financial services unless it was obvious that a change in government would not upset the applecart.

The bipartisan approach and agreement was the result of a ‘Qormi’ deal between finance minister John Dalli and the Opposition shadow minister, Lino Spiteri.

Both are now out of the political arena. Lino Spiteri has passed away while John Dalli has shot at his own foot in his subsequent political adventures.

The agreement and the necessary changes in the law were made before Malta became an EU member and the EU had every chance and opportunity to study our laws that were tailored to satisfy EU policy. In other words the law stands as it was when Malta negotiated its entry into the EU and they were accepted in the treaty by which Malta became an EU member.

The PANA Committee of the European Parliament, in fact, could find no fault in the legal set-up of our financial services and accepted that all is within the EU laws and policies despite attempts by some European politicians to discredit Malta as a ‘tax haven.’

"What the politicians – from both camps – of yesteryear built together in the financial services sector should never be put at risk. Anything else is sheer madness"
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the Dalli-Spiteri concurrence. Unfortunately, current circumstances have led to the question as to whether this bipartisan agreement still holds with the PN being accused of undermining it.

PN leader, Adrian Delia, has made it amply clear that the bipartisan agreement is still on and this was, of course, the right thing to do. Criticising the other side on which there is a bipartisan agreement – whether directly or indirectly – is not on. It reeks of a betrayal that not only undermines the financial services sector but also makes it impossible for the two parties to come to an agreement on other issues such as the need for strengthening our system of checks and balances and our rule of law.

What the politicians – from both camps – of yesteryear built together in the financial services sector should never be put at risk. Anything else is sheer madness.

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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