There is more to ‘community' than investment

If ‘Kommunità Malta’ truly intends to live up to the name it has chosen for itself: the integration of all foreigners in the Maltese social fabric… and not just the ones whose only link to Malta is a single, one-time investment

It is somewhat ironic that ‘Identity Malta’ – the government agency responsible for the controversial ‘citizenship by investment’ scheme – has now changed its name to ‘Komunita Malta’.

If anything, a recent expose by MaltaToday and The Malta Independent has only revealed how little of a sense of ‘community’ was actually required, to apply for citizenship through that scheme. The resulting ‘Passport Papers’ published documentation, provided by the applicants themselves, that was supposed to prove a ‘genuine link’ between applicant and prospective home country.

However, these ‘genuine links’ have for the most part only further exposed the tenuous bond between Malta and its new privileged category of citizens: who are not expected to actually live here, and whose link to the country has been reduced to a mere monetary transaction.

Certainly, this is the impression one gets from reports of new Maltese citizens buying or renting properties in which they could not possibly even live; and proving their links to country with receipts for ‘pastizzi’, or cocktails in a Paceville club.

To be fair, this is not the full picture - some new citizens have indeed established deeper links and bonds; though these are few and far between. But what has emerged clearly is that the one-year residency requirement is a sham, and actually amounts only to a three-week stay.

It is therefore disappointing to har Prime Minister Robert Abela defend the scheme, on the basis of the revenue it has undeniably generated for Malta.

Nobody disputes that this scheme has raked in money for the country; and that this is one of the reasons why the country had a generous war chest with which to combat COVID-19.

Moreover, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in awarding citizenship to people who - over a long period time - have established a strong bond with the country: even if they do not regularly live here.

But nor can anyone dispute that the scheme has in fact created instant discrimination, between rich migrants who can buy their passport without actually residing here; and those who earn Maltese citizenship through their constant presence, work and investment in the country.

While the global rich - who are attracted to the scheme for various reasons, ranging from oppression in their country, to gaining a foothold in the EU - do everything possible to avoid any unnecessary stay in the island, thousands of hard-working foreigners are actively mingling and becoming part of our community: investing their work and/or money here, and also participating in our cultural, social and economic life.

But while the former category is given a fast-track to Maltese citizenship, the latter have to submit themselves to a lengthy and arbitrary process whose outcome is often uncertain, and dependent on the whims of the Minister responsible for citizenship.

In one case, a former PM even intervened directly to exempt a Saudi royal from having his name published in the Government Gazette: a fact which further rubbed salt in the wound, in a situation where the names of rich new citizens are published alongside the names of common mortals who earned their citizenship through naturalization.

At MaltaToday we have consistently argued that the names of people awarded citizenship through the IPP should be published in a separate register, for the simple reason they are not treated using the same yardstick as ordinary migrants in their quest for Maltese citizenship.  As things stand, naturalized citizens are acting as a human shield to make it more difficult for the media to screen the names of these new citizens:  for it is difficult to scrutinize a list which includes scores of unknown names, dotted with a few oligarchs and magnates here and there.   

Whilst we agree with further changes to the IIP scheme. to ensure that citizenship is only given to people with a clear and defined bond to Malta, our main priority remains to ensure a fairer system to regulate naturalization.

This should be based on a fixed residence period, after whose expiry everyone should qualify for Maltese citizenship.  It should also be accompanied by other criteria: including the attendance of courses about Maltese life and culture, in a point system which also rewards those who learn the Maltese language, or engage in activism or the voluntary sector.

Moreover, it is vital to also award political rights to those categories which pay taxes and contribute to the country’s national wealth. Otherwise, we risk becoming another Dubai: where foreigners are considered either as disposable slaves, or as money-rakers who are either isolated in gated communities, or who live thousands of miles away: using their newly acquired Maltese citizenship only as a gateway to the Shengen area.

Ultimately, if ‘Kommunita Malta’ truly intends to live up to the name it has chosen for itself: it should focus on the integration of all foreigners in the Maltese social fabric… and not just the ones whose only link to Malta is a single, one-time investment.