Busuttil on citizenship scheme: ‘I’m against it, but I’m pragmatic’

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil says he ‘would not be happy’ to see Nationalist Party officials involved in contentious Individual Investor Programme

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (Photo:Ray Attard)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (Photo:Ray Attard)

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has failed to pledge that he would cancel the contentious cash-for-citizenship scheme, arguing that a future Nationalist administration would instead review the scheme and change its “lack of principled approach.”

Busuttil made the comments in an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, where despite saying he remained opposed to the scheme which sees the government grant EU citizenship to rich non-European expats in exchange for cash, a future PN government would only review the scheme.

“In the spirit of good governance, we’ll take stock of how it has panned out and review it,” he said.

Busuttil and the Nationalist Party had pledged that beneficiaries of the Individual Investor Programme would have their Maltese passports revoked. In January 2014, the PN had filed a judicial protest against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, then-home affairs minister Manuel Mallia and the directors of Henley & Partners, the concessionaries of the scheme, where it had forewarned IIP applicants that a future PN government would cancel the scheme and all passports issued under the scheme will be revoked.

But despite his previous declared commitment to withdraw the Maltese citizenships granted under the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), on Sunday, the Opposition leader remained wary on the future of the scheme under a PN government.

“I remain against it, but I’m pragmatic. I know that similar schemes such as the award of residence permit, if not citizenship, are good schemes that should continue to be encouraged. It’s the lack of a principled approach that gets to me. That’s what I want to change,” Busuttil argued.

Ever since it was announced by the Labour government shortly after it was elected to power in March 2013, the controversial scheme – which sees applicants pay €650,000 as a one-off payment and commit to a number of investments in exchange for Maltese citizenship – has been eliciting criticism from the EU and the Nationalist Party, the scheme's main opponent.

However, several PN officials have been reported to have “links to companies” involved in the scheme.

And, despite defending the officials involved by claiming that the reports fail to represent an accurate picture, Busuttil insisted that he “would not be happy to see people involved with the Nationalist Party selling the scheme.”

“There is a great deal of misinformation on party members allegedly involved in the scheme. Names have been mentioned but essentially these people aren’t doing it themselves. They’re part of firms that employ a lot of other people and you can hardly ask those other people to refrain from doing something which is today part of our legal system, whether we like it or not.”

“We’re in Opposition and we can’t do much to change a scheme that’s in place. But I’ll not mince my words: I don’t like the scheme so I wouldn’t be happy to see people selling people,” Busuttil underlined.

Meanwhile, Busuttil also refuted criticism of the party’s muted response to the high-rise development in Sliema and Mriehel, arguing that when the PN’s true test came, its representative on the Planning Authority board, Ryan Callus, voted against the developments.

“Five high-rise buildings were granted in one day to the same family. It smacks of a pre-electoral deal. Under the PN those permits would not have been issued,” he said.

The Opposition leader also explained that the party is not “against high rise building in principle” but against excessive and disproportionate development.

“This isn’t [about being] in favour or against high rise buildings. This is about what makes sense; what’s sustainable … I believe in sustainable growth. If you grow at a rate you can’t sustain, or if you grow in a manner that has repercussions on the quality of life of people because of environmental degradation, then it’s not sustainable,” Busuttil insisted.

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