Suspend passport scheme in the interests of good governance urges Malta Chamber

The Malta Chamber of Commerce is recommending to government the immediate suspension of the Individual Investors Program also known as the passport scheme“…to ascertain that any necessary investigations and due diligence is being carried out and ensure that the high standards and requirements imposed under the IIP and other residence/citizenship laws are fully adhered to”. This was but one of over 60 proposals on governance which the Malta Chamber presented to Prime Minister Robert Abela. Among the other proposals were the introduction of an interest register, higher salaries for the leaders of government and the re-introduction of a national discussion on values. The document, “Ethical Business Calls for Change – a manifesto for Good Governance by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry”, compiled by the Chamber through a varied consultation was presented by the Chamber President Perit David Xuereb.

A question of values

The document sections the proposals in two layers: a layer of ‘order’ and a layer of ‘dimension’. Neither of the two layers indicates urgency, and on reading the document, one starts getting the immediate feeling that this is not a quick-fix approach to what the Malta Chamber sees as the current governance problems which need to be addressed. A major emphasis was laid, for example, on a third-order governance layer: the issue of Values. The Chamber underscored the need for the country to start an immediate discussion at the national level “…on the values that make us Maltese – this initiative needs to form part of the constitutional reform and should be spearheaded by the President of the Republic”. In line with this, the document also looks to the issue of values in business. With the reputation of business, at present, in the doldrums, the Malta Chambers saw the need to include in the document the establishment of codes of conduct for ethical business, similar to the key principles used by the UK Financial Conduct Authority.

Declarations of interests

The issue of values is the leitmotif of the document, underpinning other proposals. Under the layer of the second order of governance, the Malta Chamber document lists the introduction of, not simply a declaration of assets, but also a register of interests with a concomitant sanctioning power should the ministers and parliamentary secretaries be found to be in breach “…with the most serious cases leading to automatic dismissal”. The Malta Chamber recommended that Members of parliament should be barred from holding executive posts to reduce the risk of being subservient to government. The Malta Chamber recommended also the introduction of “…measures to eliminate nepotism and clientelism”.

In what may be described as almost a declaration of war on incumbency, the Malta Chamber also made two important recommendations: the introduction of lobbying legislation and the introduction of a transparency register. The lobbying register would not only regulate roles and define the hats which persons may wear in society but would also keep a log of meetings held between the lobbyists and politicians and senior officials and businessmen. This register should be open to public scrutiny. “If genuine confidentiality is required (such as in cases where national security could be compromised) the Ombudsman should be informed,” said the Malta Chamber. Regarding the transparency register, the document recommends the Irish model and added that the Malta Chamber would be promoting this practice among its members.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister’s appointment of Edward Zammit Lewis as Minister for Governance bodes well for the Malta Chamber’s proposals, given that this was one of the 65 proposals. The Malta Chamber noted that “The New Prime Minister should address the concerns/allegations concerning major contracts/concessions signed or entered into over the past six-seven years…If there is proof enough to warrant further investigation, these should be free from any state and political interference and concluded in an expedient manner”.