The fallout from the Vitals' saga is tarnishing Malta's reputation and threatening prospective foreign investment, the Chamber of SMEs warned on Thursday. 

The warning was sounded following the publication of survey results showing that business owners in Malta are mostly concerned about good governance.

CEO Abigail Agius Mamo told journalists the survey was held before news that a four-and-a-half-year inquiry into the government hospitals' concession deal had been concluded. 

That inquiry has led to criminal charges levelled at former prime minister Joseph Muscat, current deputy prime minister Chris Fearne, Central Bank governor Edward Scicluna and several others.  

Agius Mamo added that had the survey been carried out today, the "results would have been much worse".

Some 400 owners of micro, small, medium and large businesses participated in the survey, claiming that good governance was their top concern, followed by overpopulation, inflation and corruption.

"Foreign investors seek our reputation: good reputation attracts reputable investment; bad reputation attracts bad investments," Agius Mamo said, warning that politicians set an example via their actions.   

"We are constantly urging good business practice: pay taxes and obey the law, but if those at the top don't set a good example, we will face many more problems further down".  

SME chamber president Paul Abela said he was especially concerned about Robert Abela's reaction to news that the inquiry had been concluded, comparing the prime minister's statements with those of former prime minister Dom Mintoff.   

"The prime minister said he wants to revise how inquiries are conducted.... we used to hear those sort of statements in Mintoff's time. Mintoff used to change the judges when he knew a case would be decided against him," Abela claimed.

Abela has heaped scorn on a magisterial inquiry concerning the Vitals hospitals deal that triggered criminal charges against top political figures, initially claiming the magistrate was purposely delaying the conclusions.

Once concluded, Abela said that while he did not have a copy of the document, the inquiry was biased and that sections of the judiciary were part of an "establishment" that was out to destroy the Labour Party. 

Employers' bodies, President Myriam Spiteri Debono, law students, NGOs, a former chief justice and politicians have all expressed concern over his comments.

Survey results

The SME barometer for the first quarter of this year was conducted by the Chamber of SMEs and MISCO.

Among others, business owners were asked for the "two most important issues the country is facing" that they would like the government to do something about.

Thirty-three per cent flagged a lack of good governance while a quarter of the respondents mentioned corruption.   

Thirty-one per cent meanwhile raised concern over overpopulation while 30 per cent said inflation was a top issue for them. 

Owners were also asked about the challenges that their business was facing. 

Shortage of employees was by far the biggest issue, with over 40 per cent saying it was one of the two most significant problems for them. 

However, MISCO director Lawrence Zammit said that rather than a shortage of people, lack of skills was the main issue. 

Inflation was flagged as the second biggest challenge by a little over a quarter of respondents.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. That figure is slightly lower than 2023's last quarter when 80 per cent said Malta is in the wrong direction. 

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