[WATCH] Karol Aquilina dismisses government’s new residency plan as IIP under a different name

Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat defends new scheme that is set to replace the controversial Individual Investor Programme, but Opposition MP Karol Aquilina says it is just a cosmetic change

PN MP Karol Aquilina
PN MP Karol Aquilina

A new residency programme to replace the controversial passport-for-cash scheme is just a cosmetic exercise, Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina said.

The Opposition spokesperson for citizenship tore into the government’s proposed residency plan, which is intended to come into force after September.

The residency scheme was unveiled earlier this month by Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat and will oblige applicants to spend at least a year as Maltese residents before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

Under the existing Individual Investor Programme scheme, which will be shut down in September, applicants can apply for citizenship from day one.

The new scheme will also introduce higher fees for rich foreigners who want to become Maltese citizens.

READ ALSO: Passport-for-cash programme will be shut down, replaced by new residency programme

“If you look at the laws, the only thing that is being changed is the name of the programme,” Aquilina said on TVM’s XtraSajf.

But Muscat rejected the idea that Maltese citizenship was ever sold, opting to describe the wealthy foreigners as “investors”.

“We had international investors who invested their money in our country,” Muscat said, defending the government’s new scheme as one more focused on residence, with citizenship only coming later.

“We are saying that our country is open to international investors who have a reputation of a certain calibre, because we believe in attracting international investors so that they may invest in Malta,” Muscat insisted.

Aquilina rejected Muscat’s description of the government proposal, insisting the selling of Maltese citizenship remains a fundamental part of the new scheme.

The Nationalist MP said none of the applicants applying for residency permits would actually be living in Malta once the permits were granted.

“You are pretending that these people will be coming to live here, but in reality, they are not living here… It is fiction to say that there will be people who spend a year living here and then become entitled to citizenship,” he insisted.

Aquilina said the continued practice of selling Maltese citizenship is adding further damage to the country’s international reputation.

“No country that respects itself and is proud of its identity will implement a scheme like this and start selling its citizenship,” he said, adding that it contributes to the label that Malta is a “desperate country”.

Aquilina said foreign investors were only buying Maltese citizenship because it provided them with access to the European market.

“They’re buying Maltese citizenship because we are members of the European Union and so it gives you the right to travel and conduct commerce from one country to another if you are a citizen of the EU,” he said.

Asked by programme host Saviour Balzan as to what alternative proposal the Opposition would put forward, Aquilina called for a programme built on a genuine link between the applicant and the country that would not include the sale of citizenship.

“If we can find a way where people who have wealth, who wish to invest in our country – not just paying or buying, but investing, creating jobs, creating new industries – if they build a genuine link, I find no problem, not in selling citizenship, but in honouring that person by bestowing Maltese citizenship upon them,” Aquilina said. 

The Nationalist MP also called for the immediate publication of all those who apply for Maltese citizenship, through any method, so that any possible objections could be brought forward before the application goes through.

He accused the government of failing to do so out of embarrassment.

However, Muscat said the government is currently in the process of considering this proposal, before pointing out that Malta is the only country in Europe that publishes the names of all those people who become citizens. 

The parliamentary secretary also defended the process of due diligence that are being carried out in Malta, noting that it is among the most rigid in Europe.

“We are the ones who reject most people from our programme. Other countries reject far less,” Muscat said.

Muscat insisted the responsibility for safeguarding Malta’s international reputation was a collective one, as he warned against the Opposition’s tendency of viewing all 1,500 IIP applicants in a negative light. 

“If we are giving the impression that these 1,500 people who came to invest in our country are all bad – that is the impression that the Opposition is giving – we would be giving the wrong impression, since the absolute majority are people of good calibre,” he said. 

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