Guard dogs that do not bark


If the FATF had any doubts about the need to graylist Malta, they will have been erased by the way the issue has been discussed in Malta ever since. We should consider compromising silences as well as embarrassing things said.

First, the guard dogs that did not bark; or rather the kitties who did not meow.

Several economic institutions and constituted bodies issued statements after Wednesday’s announcement. But not the Central Bank of Malta or the Malta Financial Services Authority. At the time of writing (yesterday), their websites had not issued a new press release from the gray list.

Have they nothing to say? They are directly affected by the disastrous news. They are meant to be stand-alone organizations – but, apparently, with nothing stand-alone to say. The FATF must be impressed.

I can understand, of course, that it would be embarrassing for Edward Scicluna, Governor of CBM, and John Mamo, President of MFSA, to make a statement. Scicluna was finance minister until last year, and he was instrumental in creating this mess. Mamo is the man who before Parliament rejected the gravity of the compromising behavior in which two of his senior officials at the time were involved.

If Scicluna or Mamo had issued institutional reassurance statements, then it would have caused great outrage. But they would have laughed at themselves if they had made a harsh statement, when they were among the causes of the problem.

They therefore chose the third option, silence. It just confirms the stalemate they personally find themselves in. Their compromises have compromised them to the point that they choose to remain silent rather than do their minimal duty to issue a statement, like any other self-respecting institutional actor.

They are no longer able to do their job effectively: to be the visible guarantors of the autonomy of the institutions they lead. They should quit, the best thing they can do to get us started on the road to recovery.

Then there were the stories to explain what brought us to this point and the way forward.

On the real causes and the blame, Marcus Pleyer, the President of the FATF, was as clear as a man in his position could be. He said Malta had tackled the issues on paper but that there were serious doubts about the authorities’ willingness to crack down on criminal activity by applying sanctions and carrying out high-level prosecutions.

Here’s the six-word translation: Crooks are always running around.

So what about all these platitudes about the hard work that everyone needs, the whole country working together, so that we can get off the FATF gray list? What does everyone need to be part of the process? What Pleyer said is missing all the point.

By the time we say we all need to work hard and be part of the process, the unresolved cause is misidentified. The blame is widespread. The government is indirectly absolved of both causing the problem and not doing enough to solve it.

Every time it says the graylist is “unfair” because it addressed 55 of the 58 serious issues identified in 2019, the government unwittingly condemns itself.

The 58 serious problems reveal how the governments of Joseph Muscat leave things in germ.

The 55 questions answered reveal that the real remaining problem was that Robert Abela’s government did not have enough confidence to implement them – at least not without an external shock.

The Malta Employers’ Association called the shock a “terrible automotive target for the economy”, all because of a “minority of dishonest politicians and businesses”. We all know what MEA means. All analogies have their limitations, however, and this one suggests that we are all playing on the same team. Were we?

The appropriate image is that of a friendly government, allied with crooked businessmen, playing against the rest of the Maltese economic players, handicapped by unfair conditions and intimidated by government ultras in the stands. The government, committing various faults, received several yellow cards, but ignored them. Finally, he received a red card.

The limits of analogy are reached here. Red cards usually benefit the other team. In this case, however, the red card saw even honest players punished. Although, if the crooks are punished then the honest team would benefit in the long run – they would be able to compete on their merits.

The least we can do is recognize where the fault is and say it. This is our best chance to get the government to mobilize the political will that has been lacking so far.

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