Silence is golden but…

Malta’s greylisting ultimately prejudices the livelihood of all of us

Finance Minister Clyde Carauana, speaking about the FATF vote branding Malta as the first European Union member state to be greylisted, was quoted as saying that this is a “sensitive subject” and “the less one comments about it the better”.

This is very much in line with the approach often taken by the government.  Somehow there is the belief that we still live in a time where local issues remain local and they are only discovered abroad if someone here actually indignantly speaks about them.

True to form, therefore, we have all been invited to stand down, sit back and wait for those who got us into this unholy, undeserved mess in the first place to get us out of it.

This is quite the opposite of what should be taking place. The greylisting ultimately prejudices the livelihood of all of us. This is because the damage, albeit starting as a sectorial one for financial services, goes way beyond that. It is a reputational damage which undermines the hard work and aspirations of us all.

Clearly, if we comment less, we will also conveniently fail to point out the elephant in the room as the main underlying reason for this national reputational blow. This is far less the result of some ‘big boys’ strategy and far more the direct consequence of ‘our’ own actions and omissions.

As the Malta Employers’ Associations succinctly put it, the crisis brought about by the greylisting was “entirely self-inflicted and the result of lax and corrupt practices by a minority of dishonest politicians and businesses, compounded with ineffective governance systems”.

As the 1960s song goes, “Silence is golden, but my eyes still see”.

The moment our eyes refuse to see what is clearly laid out before us or, indeed, conveniently, cautiously or in self-preservation mode look away from it is the moment we effectively betray present and future generations.

Identifying the real reasons which brought us here is not some ill-perceived strategy of partisan gain. The moment is way more serious than this. It is a national moment and, unless we face it nationally, we will not be able to curtail its effects and fight it with all our combined resources as we should.

We are called to address the substance and not merely the form of the changes required to reverse this unwarranted greylisting.

This is not about ticking boxes. It is about addressing fundamental issues.

Far from inviting us all to comment less and leave it to rectify the mess it brought us in in the first place, the government should itself be leading a national participative effort.

Bernard Grech’s sound, mature and sensible call for a national task force, spanning political lines and drawing on Malta’s wealth of technical and professional experts, should not really have come from the opposition but should have been the government’s own first step to tackle this national situation, nationally.

Yet, while the opposition moves emphatically in the overriding national interest, the government opts to effectively divert attention from the true origin of the mess we have been placed in.

This is not about ticking boxes. It is about addressing fundamental issues

Alex Perici Calascione

The government is laying the blame on those evading taxes. Certainly, tax evasion is to be condemned and is itself a malady that weakens our economy and a slap in the face of law-abiding citizens and businesses. This is, however, by no means a new phenomenon or, indeed, a strictly local one. It has been present through all the past years in which Moneyval regularly issued its reports about Malta. It has never, however, been the single identifiable cause of any action against Malta.

So, what is different now? The difference lies precisely in the “… lax and corrupt practices by a minority of dishonest politicians and businesses, compounded with ineffective governance systems”.

Prosecuting those who practise tax evasion almost as an art form is most decidedly a must. Persecuting them as the sole culprits of this unholy mess, in a move clearly intended to divert attention, is not.

The prime minister has asked the social partners to join him in the fight against tax evasion. This is certainly good. 

If it is to be credible, however, the government should itself lead the way to fight the blatant daylight theft of hard-earned taxpayers’ money through scandalous direct orders worth hundreds of millions of euros awarded in breach of regulations and public contracts awarded to shady entities which bind us all for many millions over many years, for all of which not one single person is ever, even remotely, held responsible.

If we are to move ahead all together, as indeed we must, then we have to do this seriously, with every step of this process marked by that integrity, competence and good governance, the absence of which contributed so much to bringing us where we so frustratingly are today.

As the nation as a whole has to face the dire consequences of the greed of the few, it is the nation as a whole that must move to shed these consequences with utmost urgency.

Far from an exhortation to comment less, we should be looking at an enjoinment to come forward and contribute more. At this defining moment, more than ever before we must act as one nation and pool all our resources, energies and competencies as we strive to show one and all that we can and will rise above even this.

The Nationalist Party has already stepped forward in this direction, rising above purely partisan considerations and showing what true statesmanship in times of crises should be.

In doing so, it has echoed the concerns of stakeholders, practising professionals, employees, businesses and civil society in general.

The ball is now in the government’s court.

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