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Going beyond the abrasive

It is incredible that just when the Prime Minister’s own chief of staff gets under investigation over possible graft in the sale of Maltese passports, Joseph Muscat steps forward to say he will be extending the Individual Investment Programme, as passport selling is officially known, once the cap of 1,800 has been reached.

It is a move that is not just insensitive to public sentiment but crass and abrasive at best.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has levelled very serious allegations of passport kickbacks against Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna. Mr Schembri says it was just the repayment of a personal loan. The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit did not see any evidence of this when it investigated the case. It passed its report to the Police Commissioner but nothing was done about it. Mr Schembri is now subject to a magisterial inquiry.

Dr Busuttil has vowed to “clean up” the cash-for-passports scheme and to review the programme to ensure strict conditions for those who wish to acquire Maltese citizenship. Originally, his party had been strongly against it. The scheme brings easy cash to the country and some people have been making good money off it too. But that does not justify selling Maltese citizenship.

The IIP allows non-EU nationals to purchase Maltese citizenship through €1.15 million in cash, real estate or bonds under an obligatory one-year residence. It was promoted as something that would attract high net-worth individuals but hardly anyone believed that. The €1.15 million was simply seen as the selling price for a Maltese passport. When bogus residence addresses began to emerge, the whole scheme became a bad joke.

What had shocked people the most about IIP was the very idea of selling Maltese nationality. It was considered cheap and demeaning, an opportunity to make a fast buck off something that did not truly belong to the country: EU passports. Dr Muscat went ahead with the scheme, albeit with more than one hiccup, and brought in Henley & Partners to do the selling for him. He gave them special treatment, including a commission on the sale of government stock that was 10 times higher that received by licensed brokers. He also participated at their launch events around the globe.

The fact that Dr Muscat now intends to extend the scheme if re-elected speaks volumes.

Firstly, it indicates that there will be no policy change should he get re-elected and that the country will continue to do as it has done these last few years: making a fast buck now while the going is good and to hell about tomorrow.

The IIP reflects a mindset that has done this country immense harm during Labour’s term in office.

Unlike industries like the financial services or iGaming, passport selling has no tomorrow. Yet, it accounts for almost three per cent of GDP. Instead of seeking investment opportunities that could arise from Brexit, the country now rejoices at the growing demand for Maltese passports from the UK. Nothing could me more shortsighted.

Selling passports is a sad reminder of colonialism. EU membership was promised to see Malta a small but equal State among European countries. Instead, Labour in government has exploited membership and made the country an outsider, gnawing at what it can get.

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