News that Malta passed the MONEYVAL test is a victory for the whole nation.
This was one of the biggest challenges Government had to face. Ignoring it was not an option. A challenge taken with utmost seriousness since the negative repercussions of failure would have been extremely burdensome on all Maltese families and businesses.
It was a challenge that fell on Malta at a time when it was already in the spotlight, with many speaking publicly on the need of structural reforms, while the country was undergoing a political metamorphosis.
Scepticism in some corners on Malta’s possibility of passing the test were rife. Some spoke and acted in a way that showed they would be satisfied with a negative assessment.
Painting a picture that the faults identified by MONEYVAL originated since 2013 was not credible. Clearly, scandalous events of the past few years attracted a lot of attention and should have never happened – something I’ve been vocal about since day one; but for credibility’s sake, it must be noted that the 2012 report outlined the same issues as those of 2019. The same issues were echoed by the European Commission in 2012, when it also stated that “the very large size of the banking sector raises supervisory challenges”.
Key facts and figures confirm the increased fight against money laundering and financial crimes over the past years. For example, in 2012 FIAU operated with a staff complement made up of only 13 people. Till the end of last year, this had increased to 98. Meanwhile, the FIAU budget in 2012 was that of only €380,000, while in 2020 the annual budget was of €8 million. The increased number of charges on financial crimes is a direct result of the strengthening of the relevant institutions and a more coordinated approach between them (FIAU, the Police, MFSA, Customs and the Malta Business Registry among others).
I was struck by Government’s reaction to the MONEYVAL report, particularly the prudence shown by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana who only made comments once the official report was made public. Steering away from euphoric statements, contrary to politicians’ usual first instinct, he continued verging on a cautious approach – reforms should be a constant.
Undoubtedly, important lessons are to be drawn out of the MONEYVAL saga.
The Labour Party and Government
The first is addressed at the Labour Party and Government. The quest for justice and equality before the law are core principles of any socialist party and progressive government. The effort made during the past months to reform age-old systems must continue. This should not stop at recommendations made by international institutions. It is our duty as Maltese citizens to work for transparent systems that expose those abusing the country.
The Finance Minister will be held to account as he bravely committed Government not to rest on its laurels and to further strengthen what has been achieved in the past year and a half. Malta must not look back. This must be the beginning of a new chapter.
The Finance Minister will be held to account as he bravely committed Government not to rest on its laurels and to further strengthen what has been achieved in the past year and a half.
The second lesson is aimed at the Opposition. It must put and end to the partisan bickering that is leading it nowhere. It must accept that many issues were not addressed in the past since both parties found the status quo convenient. The Opposition must also recognise that Robert Abela’s Government has turned the tide – in 2020 a new chapter started being written. One of unprecedented reforms.
It is now time for a national effort in conveying this message of progress across the globe. This effort must include the Opposition and it needs to do so also for its own sake. While it cannot remain a one-issue party, it must also realise that once it is in government again, Malta’s reputation would take a very long time to be rebuild.
This means that Bernard Grech must once and for all rein in his party and put an end to those from within that continuously play chess moves behind his back. This week’s attempt here in Brussels, in the European Parliament’s CONT Committee to put Malta in the spotlight on EU fund management, backfired. The European Commission and OLAF gave Malta a positive outlook, against the wishes of those who had initiated the debate while hiding their involvement.
These back-room games must end once and for all. We must pull the same rope, and think strategically as a country on how to become more competitive and adaptive in an ever changing world.
We, the people
The third and final lesson is for all of us. We, the people. We must start looking at things in a more objective manner. Away from political tribalism and petty partisan bickering. We need to understand that the world does not revolve around this tiny island and that we are competing with countries much bigger than us, and having ample resources. We need to read different sources and analyse facts. We shouldn’t accept whatever we are fed, without questioning. On issues and actions we do not agree with, we must speak out and stand up for our principles in a respectful way.
We are a small country, with far too small a population for it to be eternally divided.