The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

The soft underbelly

Friday, 7 February 2020, 09:31 Last update: about 18 days ago

The reading and thinking part of Malta is understandably very alarmed these days with what is coming out of the various court hearings about various aspects of Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder.

In particular, yesterday was a very heavy day considering what was testified both in the morning and in the afternoon.

We however, as a business paper, intend to focus on the testimonies given on Monday by officials from MFSA and FIAU regarding the lack of proper surveillance of the banking sector, specifically Pilatus Bank, by those institutions which are supposed to be the guardians of our country's integrity in this very important sphere.

We refer of course to the testimonies given by two high officials of these two institutions but what we say can be extended also to the rest of their colleagues in the two institutions and of course to the police, specifically the Economic Crimes Unit.

We read with incredulity the smooth processing of the Pilatus Bank application and licensing and how it was only when the owner was arrested in the US that concrete steps were taken in Malta.

We read how MFSA officials were reluctant to carry out on site inspections at the bank and how one official even resigned because of what was termed media exposure had a site inspection been carried out. And how they contented themselves with what was euphemistically termed 'laptop surveillance'.

These are people who were specifically chosen for their professional qualifications (and given commensurate packages) and what happened at the bank before the US authorities stepped in shows they have let their country down badly.

In other countries, such behavior would have led to the resignation of the top levels, but not in Malta where a network of family or possibly political connections keeps everybody happy.

We yesterday had the prime minister fulminating, quite justly, at a developer whose apartment collapsed but did not provide alternative accommodation but who so far does not seem to think that the main institutions have failed the country when this is a very strategic area for Malta and its economy and reputation.

As for FIAU the testimonies speak of report after report being sent to the police with no action being taken. There is, as we have heard 'ad nauseam', a huge difference between an investigation and a police arraignment but this exists everywhere, so what do other countries do in this regard.

We heard yesterday incredible testimonies which would seem to indicate collusion between police and those who should have been investigated. We have come to believe it was this incredible skein, rather than personal involvement, which led to Dr Joseph Muscat's resignation.

At the end, especially after the murder, lines got blurred and demarcation lines obliterated.

This is what is being reported all over the world and it is being noticed. In this issue we carry the actual statement by DBRS for their rating on Malta. The rating ends with the following ominous words: "Malta's financial system could suffer from a reputational loss should Moneyval or the Financial Action Task Force consider insufficient progress has been made in addressing their recommendations.

"DBRS Morningstar made a negative qualitative assessment of the "Monetary Policy and Financial Stability" building block to reflect the potential impact of this on banks' intermediation and economic activity."

But go and find any reference to this in the Ministry of Finance's statement last weekend on the DBRS rating.

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