PanamaPapers | Evarist Bartolo proposes ‘public registry’ for offshore trusts, companies

Education Minister says the Labour Party needs to address Panama Papers ‘in both political and public terms’

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo urged the government to come forward with a proposal that would see Malta promoting “a public registry” for the registration of offshore trusts and companies in countries such as Panama and the British Virgin Islands.

Taking the floor during Labour’s annual general conference, Bartolo was one of two speakers to make clear and specific reference to the Panama leaks – the other was deputy leader Louis Grech who reiterated that the final decision was Joseph Muscat’s to take.

“This is a huge story which is changing the world and the international financial services sector. Its effect will be unprecedented and we have to tackle it, not just in political terms,” Bartolo said.

He said the PL parliamentary group will be standing behind Muscat in next week's no confidence motion presented by the opposition against the government.

The education minister, known to be one of the more critical voices in the party, reiterated that the party needed to address the issue which embroiled senior members of the government.

“It is not letting us work serenely,” Bartolo said, adding that this should however also be an opportunity to learn.

“We believe in fiscal morality and it would be wise to propose a public register. The obligation shouldn’t just be on politicians – which is an enormous duty which we should always respect – but on everyone who holds an offshore trust or company in tax havens, even though the structure would be legal.”

Bartolo said the Labour Party should never forget its roots: the people who sacrificed everything to protect the values they believed in.

“People judge us by what we believe in and what we do. It’s not enough to talk but we have to act. We need to live those values every day. And if we don’t, people lose their trust in us.”

The minister warned that without Labour in government, different factions of society will suffer.

“It’s not the rich people that have to wait for their operations. It’s not the wealthy children that need government to help pay for private lessons. This is the government that increased the disabled workforce from 50 too 500. Without us in government, whole factions of society will be forgotten.”

He however reminded that for the Labour to be in power, it needed the citizen’s vote, which would be at risk if their trust is thrown away.

“This is our biggest test … this is the test to face if we want to continue doing the good we’re doing.”

Expressing his wish of seeing the Labour party in government in 2021 – which would be the year in which the PL celebrates its 100th anniversary – Bartolo said the PL was built by the people who believed in principles and values.

“They weren’t the type of people who expected something from the party … they didn’t expect money, contracts, gifts or prizes. They were the people who faced jail, were forced to migrate and who suffered hunger.

“Our party is based on social justice values, on freedom, equality and dignity. These are the values that must inspire us.”

Bartolo also urged the party supporters not to fall for the provocation of the Nationalist’s campaign.

On his part, deputy leader Louis Grech reiterated that the Panama decision would be decided by the Prime Minister, “never one to shy away from his responsibilities”.

“These should be based on facts and on the interests of the party. It will be a decision taken by us and not dictated by the PN’s machine. We act when the Prime Minister deems it fit and not when the PN thinks it should happen.”

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