The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

TMID Editorial: Citizenship scheme - Improvements made, but negative attention will persist

Saturday, 21 November 2020, 08:19 Last update: about 13 days ago

The sale of citizenship by EU countries has been frowned upon not just by the European Commission, but also by EU citizens.

The IIP was put under the microscope by the EU over the years and has given outsiders a reason to attack Malta’s reputation.

Many questions were raised about it and concerns ran high. In Malta, many questioned why the names of individuals who purchased citizenship were not made separate from the list of those who, for example, obtained citizenship through marriage, thus making it near impossible for the fourth pillar of democracy – the media – to act as a proper watchdog on this scheme.

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Those in government argue that Malta was singled out, while other EU countries had run similar schemes. This is partially true, to a certain extent, but let us not forget that some other countries have faced harsher criticism on the issue. As an example, one can take Cyprus, where their scheme was suspended after the scandalous revelations that high-ranking Cypriot officials, politicians, lawyers and developers were willing to help convicted criminals obtain Cypriot citizenship through the scheme.

Luckily, nothing of the sort happened in Malta, but the IIP was still viewed negatively.

The scheme has now been phased out and is being replaced by new regulations with improved safeguards.

Applicants, for example, will be obliged to go through an in-depth due diligence exercise before they are eligible to apply for Maltese citizenship, Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat had told this newsroom. The Agency will have an obligation to keep monitoring applicants for the first five years after they are granted citizenship and the clause which enabled the minister to grant citizenship to individuals who do not meet the basic legal criteria will be removed.

He said the new rules incorporate many of the suggestions made by the Commission over past months, including that applicants can no longer apply for Maltese citizenship immediately after obtaining legal resident status in Malta.

Such new requirements are always welcome and are a leap forward from what the IIP was, but the question still remains. Malta’s IIP scheme viewed negatively by many, so then why launch a newer version of the scheme which, despite stronger safeguards, will likely still attract negative attention?

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the IIP scheme funds were put to good use, in the form of road projects and helping the country get through Covid-19, but there are other ways to get funds. Maybe the country wouldn’t have needed the IIP deal to begin with if the government didn’t sign so many shady deals in the first place for instance.

The government must ensure that Malta’s reputation is squeaky clean, which is no easy feat given its actions over the past years and the impending Moneyval evaluation. Malta can no longer afford to be placed in a bad light internationally, lest we become the black spot on the EU.

Once having a good reputation, foreign businesses would feel more at ease starting up operations in the country if they feel that there is a level and fair playing field. The government could also focus on attracting high quality businesses which bring with them high quality jobs. In this respect, the government has done right pushing for digital sectors and should keep pushing in that direction.

Would it be easy going forward without a citizenship scheme? The answer is probably not, but at the end of the day wouldn’t it be better if Malta finds ways of bettering the economy which are not frowned upon?

 

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