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A referendum’s gamble
Contentious citizenship scheme approved
The citizenship scheme approved in its third reading in Parliament, Opposition votes against.
12 November 2013, 12:00am
The House of Representatives today approved the controversial bill amending the Maltese Citizenship Act through which non-EU citizens will be able to buy Maltese citizenship by paying a €650,000 donation.
Following a long wait due to a 20-minute procedural suspension, as expected the Opposition voted against the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), yet the government's nine-seat majority ensured that the bill came through unstuck.
All government MPs, with the exception of foreign minister George Vella and education minister Evarist Bartolo, both abroad, voted in favour of the bill, while all 30 opposition MPs voted against.
The award of citizenship through the controversial scheme is expected to yield €30 million for the public coffers, half of which will go directly in the Budget presented on Monday and the remaining €15 million invested in a national development fund - an injection that will enable the government to limit the extent of indirect taxation in the budget but exposed the government to criticism of devaluing Maltese citizenship.
The scheme has attracted harsh criticism from many quarters, with the Green Party proposing an abrogative referendum to repeal the scheme which it said would damage Malta's reputation.
On Monday, opposition leader Simon Busuttil reiterated his promise that a PN government would not only repeal the IIP but it would also withdraw citizenship granted under the scheme.
Moreover, the PN leader hinted that the opposition would sit on the Monitoring Committee and would publish the names of those granted citizenship immediately.
Although the government is claiming this would be unconstitutional, Busuttil said the party would go ahead with its plans.
On Saturday, the government defeated all bar one of the opposition's amendments to the golden passport law, with the PN's amendments to link the scheme to long-term residency and investment all failing to be approved.
The Opposition wanted to have citizenship granted on condition of a minimum five-year residence and a minimum €5 million investment in the Maltese economy. Additionally, at least 30 days' residence in Malta would have to take place annually.
Furthermore, the PN proposed the removal of the secrecy clause, arguing that it would tarnish the country's reputation and Maltese citizens had a right to know who was being granted citizenship.
Despite home affairs minister Manuel Mallia last week claimed that the public was backing the IIP and had understood the wealth such a programme could reap, the opposition leader held that the majority of Maltese citizens were against the scheme.
Addressing Parliament on Monday, Busuttil said, "If you dare touch our citizenship, you will find the people against you and you will find the Nationalist Party standing up for the people."
The latest MaltaToday survey published on Sunday proved the latter argument correct, with the majority of respondents expressing their opposition to the IIP citizenship scheme proposed by the government.
The MaltaToday survey shows that with the exception of a slight majority of Labour voters, there is widespread opposition to the new citizenship scheme among all sectors of society.
The survey showed that an absolute majority are in principle against the sale of Maltese citizenship to foreigners. While 53% are against the sale of citizenship to foreigners willing to pay €650,000 as proposed by the government, 10% would only grant citizenship to those who make a significant investment in the country over and above the €650,000 donation. Only 26% of respondents said they wee in favour of the bill.
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...
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