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Deceptive ‘correctness’

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck. However, it is now blatantly evident that Finance Minister Edward Scicluna cannot recognise a golden goose when he sees one, not even one that is in his care.

Prof. Scicluna, a very respected person in both academia and the world of finance before he entered the minefield of politics, continues to damage his own reputation and of the financial services industry he is politically responsible for by trying to defend the indefensible.

Take his reaction to the European Banking Authority’s decision that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit breached the European Union’s anti-money laundering directive by not following the correct procedures in its supervision of Pilatus Bank.

His first reaction was that he does not interfere in the regulatory authorities’ work. Then, in a Talking Point on this newspaper – ironically headed ‘Keeping up appearances’ – he accused the European Commission of putting pressure on the EBA to “make out of the Maltese institution [FIAU] an example to show that the European financial regulator has the muscle to cope with [anti-money laundering] issues as well”.

He unwisely added that “the political pressure on the Commission came specifically from three MEPs pushed by Malta’s only, David Casa”.

Mr Casa, a Nationalist MEP, must have been flattered hearing this senior minister admit he had more clout to force Brussels to shame Malta than the Prime Minister and his whole Cabinet had to persuade them not to.

Prof. Scicluna did acknowledge anti-money laundering “is indeed a serious affair”. Still, he does not appear to have pushed much for wrongs to be righted, allegations to be addressed and for any bad apples to be removed.

When European media spread “rumours” the island would be next Cyprus in 2013, he set up a “war-room” in his ministry. But not when the Panama Papers set in motion a series of allegations that continue to this very day.

Prof. Scicluna pledged his “full support” to the FIAU in the implementation of the action plan agreed upon with the European banking watchdog. One hopes this is not just rhetoric because, notwithstanding what has emerged about Pilatus Bank, he still writes: “These MEPs’ rule of law book does not see to prohibit them from pressuring Malta’s judiciary and other independent local and European regulatory institutions into imposing sanctions to anything connected to Pilatus Bank, whom they have decided to lynch many moons ago.”

He insists he never met former Pilatus Bank chairman Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad but notes he “must have met” his predecessor – the finance minister in the last Nationalist administration – and the “highest officials” at the Malta Financial Services Authority. Prof. Scicluna must certainly know that both Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his top aide, Keith Schembri, met Mr Hasheminejad too. Indeed, Mr Schembri was a client of Pilatus Bank.

Prof. Scicluna should take the advice of Hyacinth Bouquet, the lady of the house in the British Keeping Up Appearances sitcom: “I want you to instruct your superiors that this is a first-class stamp residence.” Or, rather, one had hoped this country would become a first-class jurisdiction until, notwithstanding all its flowery talk of a different kind of politics, Dr Muscat and his administration made a mockery of good governance.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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