Revisiting the IIP

Certainly, it would be a mistake to return to the uncompromising attitudes of yesteryear: whereby ‘Maltese citizenship’ was considered a jealously-guarded privilege, reserved only for those of ‘authentic’ Maltese parentage or birth

There can be no doubt that – while economically successful – Malta’s Individual Investor Programme (aka ‘Golden Passport’ scheme) has proved to be a thorn in the side of our international reputation.

It has already been the subject of often scathing criticism by the European Parliament, among other international institutions… on the basis that a Maltese passport entails access to the entire European Union. The arguments vary: some say it amounts to an alleged security risk for other countries, even though this is actually one of the most scrutinised requests for free movement in the EU.

Still, it has also resulted in embarrassing situations: such as the recent case of an Egyptian man with dual Maltese nationality (acquired through the IIP) who is now facing criminal charges in the US for alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars.

It would be unfair to tar all the scheme’s beneficiaries with the same brush. In itself, there is nothing wrong with the principle that Maltese citizenship should be awarded to foreigners who have contributed to Maltese economy, culture and social fabric.

Certainly, it would be a mistake to return to the uncompromising attitudes of yesteryear: whereby ‘Maltese citizenship’ was considered a jealously-guarded privilege, reserved only for those of ‘authentic’ Maltese parentage or birth.

Having said this: there are unresolved issues dogging our IIP scheme. Recent revelations on the French media – where a licensed IIP salesman was heard boasting of his ‘connections’ with people in government – have pinpointed one specific issue: the problematic nature of Malta’s closeness between business and politics, which, although arguably an unavoidable facet of island life, may result in “eyes being closed” towards something potentially illegal.

In this respect, the action of the Malta IIP Agency (MIIPA) to suspend the two licences is welcome, as it sends out a message – i.e., immediate action with people who bend the rules, or who resort to nepotism – which seems to have been missing in recent years.

But this is also an opportunity to bring to the fore issues of fairness and transparency. One such issue is the fact that the government refuses to publish the names of the Golden Passport citizens in a separate list, properly enumerated by surname for ease of reference.

Another is that Identity Malta has refused to give out statistics of each individual agency, and their success rate in getting applicants their citizenship.

Additionally, there has been no follow-up (at least, publicly) by the Office of the Regulator of the IIP (ORiip) on the verifiable value of properties acquired or rented by citizenship applicants, and the use of false addresses by their agents when applying for prospective citizens.

The ORiip should also immediately amend the way its reports are issued: the years covered, owing to the delayed first report on the IIP, cover a June-July period, yet are only published in December. These reports should now be changed, to cover a full January-December cycle, and issued in January or February the following year at the earliest.

Another, more generic problem is that IIP automatically creates two categories of citizenship: those who buy their passport, and those who apply for it through a tedious and arbitrary process of naturalisation.  

In this sense, the IIP goes against the fundamental principle of equality: which, ironically, underpins the present government’s policies in many other areas. And to exacerbate matters, the names of those who buy citizenship are lumped together with those who are obtain it through naturalisation, in a way which conveniently serves to limit scrutiny. As long as we accept this fundamental inequality, the least one would expect is that two separate lists are published. It is unfair to lump the two categories together, simply for the reason that they acquired citizenship under very different conditions and rules.

Moreover, a government which accepts granting citizenship for money, should at the very least change citizenship rules for people who have lived here for a long time, but are still denied this right.  

It is MaltaToday’s view that all children who have attended a school cycle should automatically become Maltese citizens. So should adults who have been living in Malta for a period of more than five years.

Yet another issue is Malta’s perceived dependence on this scheme for its economic well-being. Sure enough, the IIP does contribute to the national coffers: even if our current surplus does not depend entirely on IIP fund.

While this money may be used positively in areas like health, education and the environment, one should be wary of dependency on these monies to subsidize social expenditure in the long haul.  

Ultimately, the social contract is based on permanent arrangements like proportional taxation. Social expenditure must be sustained over a long period of time: but IIP revenue may well be temporary, and may decline after the initial rush.   

One of the achievements of post-1979 Malta was to cut dependency on the fluctuating military expenditure of colonial powers. We should be wary of substituting this dependency with another one. What would happen in the case of an economic slowdown? Would pressure increase to sell more passports, leading to a race to the bottom?

Clearly, this is not a sustainable approach: which is in itself another good reason to revisit the basic model of our Golden Passport scheme.