Sociologist, local councillor, activist from Malta

Monday, November 06, 2017

Passports without a soul - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta 6 November 2017

When Joseph Muscat’s government introduced the controversial cash-for-passports scheme in 2013, it attempted to pacify criticism by promising that the scheme would be temporary. It is now clear that the scheme is the main reason why the government is registering a budgetary surplus. Malta is now dependent on the selling of passports and there are no signs that the government will stop the sellout. Joseph Muscat’s recent passport-selling trip to Dubai, a few days after the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, is very indicative of his priorities.
This is surely not something to boast about, especially when one considers Malta’s declining reputation due to tax avoidance schemes, money laundering, Panama Papers, corruption and institutional breakdown.
Indeed, the surplus of bad governance is overshadowing Malta’s financial surplus. The mechanisms of the passports scheme itself are very telling in this regard.
The government’s financial figures for the first eight months of 2017 included a €33.6 million increase from ‘Fees of Office’, which mainly refer to Malta’s sale of passports. In 2016, Malta registered a surplus of €112.9 million, and income from the sale of passports amounted to €163.5 million.
Seventy per cent of the funds generation from the sale of passports are deposited in the so-called National Development and Social Fund (NDSF), which was set up in July 2016, and prior to that such funds were temporarily recorded in a treasury fund. According to the government, the fund now has €309 million.
This is just about all the financial information which citizens of Malta are being given on our country’s sale of passports. The government also publishes information regarding those who are granted Maltese (and EU) citizenship, but this is cheekily muddled up in a list which also includes persons who were granted citizenship through naturalization. This year government went a step further and has so far failed to publish the list of persons granted citizenship.
I think that the government is having it too good on this matter, and here I am not only referring to the treatment of this matter by the Opposition, civil society and the local media. I am also referring to the negligence of the European Commission. I wonder what Jean-Claude Juncker has to say about Malta’s governance today, especially since the nightmare of bad governance and dubious deals has entered darker territory with the murder of Caruana Galizia.
Last year I wrote another article about the passports scheme in this newspaper, and to date various questions which I asked remain unanswered.
Specifically, what is being done with the revenue deposited in the fund referred to above? How is it being spent? Who decides on the allocation and utilization of funds? What are the timelines? Is there a business plan? Which specific areas are covered by the fund?
Following Labour’s massive exploitation of the power of incumbency in the run-up to last June’s general election, I can add other questions. Are such funds used for both capital and recurrent expenditure? How much was spent during the electoral campaign? Has expenditure increased following the election? When will itemised expenditure be published?
Let us keep in mind that the National Development and Social Fund is not part of the highly regulated EU funding framework. Thus it benefits from more flexible decisions and greater ministerial intervention. Spot on for incumbency.
Malta’s sale of passports is yet another example of the soulless state we are experiencing. It is soulless as short-term financial considerations are running roughshod over other concerns such as security, ethics, sustainability and transparency.
This is the same soulless State that is built on an infrastructure of buying votes through favours, resulting in increased dependency on ministers at the expense of true citizen empowerment. The soulless State is built on micro-power that spreads through the capillaries of society, where the government presence is all over the place. The sale of citizenship provides a financial base to this mechanism, resulting in an increased addiction to the malaise.

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