Businesses react to difficult days as Malta is plunged in political crisis

Business organisations say recent events will exasperate situation for Malta from reputational damage suffered

Keith Schembri
Keith Schembri

Business associations and unions have reacted with great concern to the events precipitated by the arrest of the Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

“The events unfolding in the last few days have been truly distressing. The business community is very concerned that what is happening will cause significant instability in the business world within the current economic conditions,” the Malta Chamber of SMEs (GRTU) said in a statement.

“We are a nation of hard working, enterprising people. We are proud of our reputation which has taken many years to build. It is, however very fragile and being heavily challenged.”

The GRTU said it had already warned that its members were feeling the pressure coming from reputational damage suffered by Malta. “At that point we were already treading a fine line. Recent events will undoubtedly exasperate the situation. The way we are viewed internationally and by our business colleagues abroad does not do justice to the Maltese people and Maltese businesses.”

The GRTU called for greater political responsibility and immediate solutions to the grave problems at hand.

“Procrastination will only lead to more damage. The longer we take to turn the page, the longer it will take us to get back on our feet. As an official representative of a main strata in society we feel obliged to protect our social and economic segments. We call on our institutions, the government, the opposition, the social partners and each and every one of us to ultimately work together to rebuild our social fabric. We need to bring back to the forefront our integrity and ability to do business intelligently and honestly,” the GRTU said.

Chamber: need for truth

The Chamber of Commerce also warned that reputational damage had started with the Panama Papers and went unchecked for years in spite of repeated calls to take bold decisions.

“It has now reached unprecedented heights, and may continue to do so until justice is served. The current investigation is a painful process that will hopefully bring to justice all those who have played a part in this gruesome murder. But it is also bringing to the fore the extent to which criminal activity had infiltrated the circles of power, and operated unperturbed for years,” the Chamber said.

“The country needs a major clean up, that will have immediate repercussions on economic activity. We cannot continue running away from this because the problems we have will not go away. On the contrary, they will grow bigger, to the detriment of the genuine entrepreneur, of which there are many, and Maltese society at large, that needs to come to terms with its predicament and free itself from the shackles of polarised politics.”

The Chamber said that it disassociated itself from those who use business as a shield for criminal activity. “This does a great disservice to the country and irreparable damage to the business community. We remain advocates of ethical business and hope that the forces of law and order will be empowered to investigate and take legal action against all forms of criminal activity that tarnishes our reputation. We also hope that politicians will safeguard ethical business and adopt a no tolerance approach to impropriety in future.”

It said that while the judicial process requires time and space to take its course, “political decisions need to be taken with urgency.”

Rule of law must prevail: MHRA

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) also called for the national interest to be placed at the forefront of all decisions in the coming critical moments.

“These are unprecedented and challenging times for our country which need to be addressed with timely decisions aiming to ensure that the rule of law prevails so as we can bring unity rather than divide amongst us.

“This is a moment of truth, and now more than ever before rhetoric needs to be put to practice by focusing our collective efforts to ensure that justice prevails in our democratic society. We are at a critical stage which we can only exit successfully if the rule of law is the guiding principal for all decisions that are made. If this situation is mismanaged it could seriously threaten the success and well-being which Malta has painstakingly built over the years,” the MHRA said.

“Undoubtedly this is a moment of shock for Malta and for all those who know us across the world, but it can also be a time when Malta can demonstrate that it truly believes in the rule of law. Each and everyone of us has a role to play and each and everyone of us must shoulder responsibility for his actions or inactions.  Let the rule of law dictate how we move forward.”

Earlier this week, the second largest union in Malta called out the now former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff, calling on them to resign and insisting that ordinary workers are normally suspended in circumstances where there are clear suspicions of wrongdoing. “In the same manner, a minister and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, should lead by example and resign, or at least, suspend themselves until the investigation is complete,” the UĦM said.

In a strong appeal on Monday, the union appealed to society to protest in a civil way and asked government not to push people “towards the precipice of anger”.

The UĦM called on MPs to “stand up and be counted” and urged for an urgent parliamentary meeting to discuss the “precarious state the country is in”.

The union also urged constituted bodies to speak out in the national interest and on behalf of their members. “In all circumstances, the country should come before any other interest… institutions should work all the time and in a timely manner… justice must not only be seen to be done, but be meted out effectively,” the UĦM said.

Also joining the chorus for justice was the Confederation of Malta Trade Unions (CMTU), which described the events as a turning point in Maltese history.

“CMTU gives full support to those institutions responsible for investigating corruption and other more serious crimes. It also supports all those responsible for law enforcement and the justice system so that they can continue to do their duties, sending a strong message that ‘all are equal before the law’.

“Politicians are elected to serve the people and not vice versa. CMTU appeals to both parties to make sure that the message sent to the average citizen is that there is no room for people who put personal interest before public interest in politics. Where evidence of wrongdoing is present, responsibility must be taken. CMTU sincerely hopes that Justice will prevail.”

The Malta Employers Association issued its own statement, warning of a fallout from reputational damage, and calling on the country’s political forces to work towards a return to normalcy following the recent upheavals related to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

“Prolonging what is evidently a crisis situation is doing nothing but harm to the country. Calls for justice and political responsibility need to be addressed at this critical time to minimise the fallout from the reputational damage which undoubtedly has been and is still being caused to the nation’s detriment,” the MEA said.

“This is the time for all those who believe in justice and cherish the national interest to rise above partisan gains and stand up and be counted, before the damage becomes irreversible and all Maltese society ends up paying a high price.”

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