GUEST POST/Malta is at a fork in the road: third-world kleptocracy or western democratic values

Published: May 8, 2017 at 1:22pm

This guest post is by Ryan Murdock, a travel writer who lived in Malta for six years before moving to Berlin some months ago.

If the vote were held today, Labour would win. Why is that? If most of you were against corruption, this would not be a close fight.

I’m sorry if you don’t like the message, but as a journalist friend said to me recently, “‘Blame colonialism’ — that’s the last refuge of the failed, along with blaming institutionalised racism when you get a D- in algebra.”

I’m from a former colony, too – Canada. When I was at university, we had a national referendum on Quebec independence. To cut a long story short, in the wake of the referendum, the Auditor General’s office discovered that the party in power, the Liberals, had given a few million dollars in advertising contracts to businesses that were Liberal party supporters.

That sort of thing is so common in Malta that it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. In Canada, it resulted in a parliamentary inquiry called the Gomery Commission. Though it had happened under the previous administration, the Prime Minister of the day accepted responsibility and called an election.

The Liberal Party went from a majority government to a devastating loss that cast them into the political wilderness for 10 years. The key people in the scandal went to prison. The heads of Canada Post and VIA Rail, among others, lost their jobs. That is how corruption scandals are handled in a normal, functioning western democracy.

Another victim of colonialism would be Australia. It was a dumping ground for convicted criminals for much of its early history, so not the most promising gene pool. And yet, today Australian has a functioning, thriving western democracy.
Colonialism is not the problem in Malta. That’s an excuse for playing the victim rather than taking responsibility for your choices.

I do agree that Malta made great strides during the post-Independence years – if you subtract that long embarrassing period of cosying up to Gaddafi, to North Korea and the rest.

Joining the EU brought Malta into a community of nations with a shared set of values, and the talents of intelligent, hard-working Maltese people were being rewarded. Life was getting better. People were rightly proud of this.

How was Joseph Muscat able to destroy decades of progress in just a few years, bringing in astonishing levels of corruption by appealing to the lowest instincts of so many people? How do you explain that away as just a few bad apples?
So many people jumped on his bandwagon because Muscat appealed to something fundamental in the culture. You have to find that thing and change it if you want to avoid going down that same bleak road over and over again.

Lots of people still refuse to accept that Malta is right now running headlong into its own Greek tragedy. They might want to seek out actual data. Everyone repeats this stuff about how great the economy is doing. Have you actually checked? It’s built on very shaky ground.

If Joseph Muscat is elected again, despite massive corruption which includes criminal — i.e. ‘jail time’ — activities, then you are sending a very clear message to the international markets about what they should expect in Malta.

Malta is a country with no natural resources. It produces nothing. You’re dependent on services and tourism. A significant chunk of your GDP is coming from the sale of EU passports. Let’s leave aside how low it is to join a club and then sell unilaterally sell membership in that club to dodgy people, so that they can go and live in other people’s countries, whether those other people like it or not.

The EU wasn’t happy about this, but they admitted that they couldn’t do anything to stop Malta doing this. However, clear evidence now exists that the passport sales are corrupt, and that they involve international money laundering. These are crimes. I would hope that’s enough to allow the EU to shut the programme down. There goes a big source of revenue for Malta.

The other big chunk of your economy is driven by financial services, online gambling, etc. If two out of 10 financial service companies in Malta are scandal free, it really doesn’t matter. That stench of corruption and instability drives investment away. Who would trust a lawless, corrupt country with their savings?

Do you think any legitimate companies are rushing to Panama right now? The name “Panama Papers” will tar that country long after the filth is swept away.

As for gaming companies, the money they earn isn’t staying in Malta. They can’t run a business if every wire transfer they send is flagged as suspicious, and if they get bogged down in proving the legitimacy of every transaction simply because Malta is a known money-laundering jurisdiction. Bills get delayed, time is wasted, the business grinds to a halt. No company will put up with that for long. They’ll move to a place where they can do business safely and smoothly.

The people at the very top of the government of Malta set up and licensed a bank — within the Eurozone — for the purpose of laundering money that they stole in the form of kickbacks and who knows what else.Do you really think legitimate companies will stick around if the people vote those criminals back in rather than prosecute them? It sends a very clear message.

When we first moved to Malta, things were not like this. But during our last year on the island, it became very clear that laws meant nothing, that there was no legal or moral sense of right and wrong. All that mattered was who you’re connected to.

If you’re a foreigner living in that society, your only choice is to keep your head down and hope like hell that trouble avoids you, because if you have any sort of dispute with anyone, you haven’t got a chance of seeing a just outcome. I did not want to live in a society like that. If I did, I’d move to Libya.

Every cabinet minister in your government is involved in a scandal of some kind, the sort which would cause immediate resignation in a normally functioning western democracy. And there is glaring evidence of corruption and serious crime at the highest levels of your government, along with collusion in covering it up by the police.

And yet, right now, this election would go in favour of Muscat. Why? It’s because everyone’s so happy to be bought off, to get a few crumbs from the table. Why not? Everyone’s doing it.

Muscat is buying votes like crazy with any possible incentive he can think of, and no idea of how to pay for it. And it seems to be working. If he attempts to implement even a fraction of them, the economy will collapse because they’re unaffordable. And yet no one is even questioning this. The lure of easy money is too appealing. That speaks to something deeply off in Maltese culture.

If I was a kid and my dad said, “If you eat your vegetables, Ryan, I’ll give you a Lamborghini”, several questions would run through my mind. 1. Can my dad afford a Lamborghini? 2. Can I afford to maintain a Lamborghini? 3. What does it say about me that my dad feels he has to buy me off with a pipe-dream, rather than simply present a rational argument for why eating vegetables is in my best interest?

I repeat what I said in my article on amoral familism. Joseph Muscat is a direct outcome of Maltese culture.

You’re at a fork in the road. Corruption or accountability? Third-world kleptocracy or western democratic values? The consequences of choosing the wrong path really will be devastating.