Panama Papers scandal far from over
Edward Scicluna may be a good Finance Minister but he is not all that politically savvy. Had he been politically shrewd enough, he would not have fallen into pitfalls so often. But, perhaps, it is because he is such an upright person that he sometimes inadvertently crashes into political mishaps.
Take the remark he made the other day at an event organised by the Institute for Financial Services Practitioners that the Panama Papers scandal is all history now. Opening the meeting, Prof. Scicluna said the Malta Financnial Services Authority, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, the courts and the rule of law had all been dragged into the story, adding: “It is up to the historians to judge, I am not going to point fingers at who started what.”
He must have then realised what he had done or somebody pointed it out to him. In fact, when confronted about his statement by this newspaper immediately afterwards, he backtracked, saying Panama was not history.
There certainly are government members who may wish to give the impression the Panama Papers scandal, which also involves two key persons in Joseph Muscat’s Cabinet, is history. Indeed, the government acts as if the matter is dead and buried when it does not seem the whole story is out yet.
The issue could have been ‘history’ by now had the Prime Minister taken the necessary action. The island’s image has been greatly tarnished by the government’s indifferent attitude.
What is most disturbing is that, instead of acting in a way that shows they mean to handle the issue head on, the government and its allies prefer to attack those quarters, including the independent media, that continue to press for action.
It is no surprise that questions are asked and doubts cast when an administration brazenly keeps in their posts key individuals found to have opened offshore companies in Panama. At least two ministers in Europe have resigned and thousands of taxpayers are being investigated over revelations in the Panama Papers.
As to Prof. Scicluna’s remark he would not delve into who started what, he certainly does not need any South American taxi driver to remind him who had set up companies in Panama. The controversy has now taken a much broader dimension with the news of a leaked e-mail claiming that the companies owned by Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri, were allegedly expected to receive up to $2 million from 17 Black, a company owned by power station investor Yorgen Fenech.
There have been so many reports about corruption claims, money laundering and other wrongdoing, not to mention lack of good governance, that it is no wonder the Finance Minister complains he cannot go anywhere without hearing about corruption in Malta. Only the other day, the European Commission called for real progress to tackle reputational problems connected to corruption and money laundering. And the International Monetary Fund has just recommended a multi-pronged approach to address deficiencies.
Instead of shifting the blame on others, the Finance Minister and the government of which he forms part ought to take all the advice they are being given and start taking action in earnest in a bid to reverse the reputational harm already done to Malta.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial