How corrupt is Malta? The people have spoken

For several years we have been hearing a lot about “unprecedented levels of corruption in Malta”, and that Malta is the blacksheep of Europe. A number of NGOs have been waving reports declaiming Maltese politicians and theinstitutions’ failings. So, imagine the surprise when we came upon the Global Corruption Barometer that Transparency International prepared for the European Union. This report surveyed people from across all EU countries to ask them about their experience of corruption.

Two key results emerge from this study. In Europe, three in ten people paid a bribe or used some personal connection to access public services, like health and education. A third of people think corruption is getting worse in their country and almost half say their government is doing a bad job at tackling corruption. With such figures for the EU average, imagine what they are for Malta.

Well despite all that we’ve heard, the figures for Malta are instead quite interesting. 28% of Maltese respondents think that corruption is on the rise, as against 65% in Cyprus. The proportion for Malta is lower than countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, and France. This suggests that the barrage of media reports about rising corruption in Malta does not seem to be leaving much impact.

28% of Maltese respondents think that corruption is on the rise, as against 65% in Cyprus.

While across the EU, 43% think that Governments are doing well in the fight against corruption, the proportion for Malta is 56%. This is a better proportion than in Sweden, Germany, Austria, and France. In Mediterranean countries, trust is much lower. In Cyprus, only 17% think Government is tackling corruption.

If one looks at the report one finds that the reason why the results for Malta are so different from the usual narrative that is peddled around, is that people are mostly not experiencing corruption in their day-to-day lives. Just 4% of Maltese said they had to bribe to get public services. This is nearly half the EU average and is five times less than the proportion in Romania. You are twice more likely to have to pay a bribe for a public service in Belgium, the home of the EU institutions, than you are in Malta. In Bulgaria, the country which some Maltese MEPs attempted to defend, the likelihood of having to bribe to get a public service is five times that in Malta. The Transparency International Report shows that more than one in six Bulgarians had to even engage, or know of people who had to engage, in sexual acts in exchange for an essential service, such as health care or education.

You are twice more likely to have to pay a bribe for a public service in Belgium, the home of the EU institutions, than you are in Malta.

Despite being a small society, where everyone knows everyone, the proportion of the Maltese who stated that they used personal connections to get a public service was the same as in the much larger countries of the EU. In the Czech Republic 57% must resort to friends to get served. Half of the French do the same, or one and a half times more than the Maltese. 

The Global Corruption Barometer shows that Malta has the third highest percentage of people who say that the government takes their views into account when making decisions. The proportion of people in Malta that thinks so is three times larger than that in neighbouring Italy.

Malta has the third highest percentage of people who say that the government takes their views into account when making decisions.

Relatively speaking, a quarter more Germans than Maltese think that Government decisions are dominated by business or private interests. In fact, the report puts Germany, not Malta, under the spotlight. It indicates that over half the German population thinks that companies commonly rely on money or connections to win government contracts, due to opaque processes and several scandals. These range from MPs taking big commissions for securing government purchases of COVID-19 masks, to a €1.9 billion accounting scandal, which authorities could have prevented with better regulation and oversight.

Just a few years ago, Germans discovered that a corporate tax fraud scheme had taken €31.8 billion from their treasury (twice the size of the Maltese GDP), through legal loopholes that seem to have been created by lobbying. The report also points out about the lack of whistle-blower protection legislation in Germany, the fact that professional enablers of corruption – like accountants and lawyers – do not have to report suspicious activity by their clients, and that Germany is the key blocker of EU efforts to improve corporate transparency standards.

Despite all that is said, the survey does not find that Maltese think differently of corruption when compared with the rest of Europe. Only 12% believe that it is ok for Government to engage in a little corruption if things get done. In Romania more than half the population agrees. 77% of Maltese disagree with corruption even if it leads to a government getting more things done, a higher proportion than in the EU.

In this light, Government’s inclusion of good governance as one of the main pillars of its economic vision shows very sound judgement and a good understanding of people’s priorities.

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