Sunday 19 May 2019

We have to decide: Do we want to use IIP money or not?

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

The very concept of selling passports has been mired in contradictions since it was first announced.  After the initial outcry, I remember the Nationalist Party then modified its objections by saying we were selling citizenship at too low a price, which is a rather bizarre notion. After all, using the same analogy, whether you are selling yourself for one Euro or 100,000 Euros, it still makes you a prostitute.  

The same can be said for corruption: is someone in power who accepts a relatively inexpensive gift for favours rendered less corrupt than the person who accepts a substantial sum of money for the same thing? Or does it simply mean that the former was more easily bought off for a cheaper price which could arguably mean that he sets such very little value on his own principles?  I will never forget, for example, that in one case of a corrupt Judge, I found it even more mortifying that among the bribes he demanded was something as tacky and undignified as free meals at a restaurant. 

I feel that in these scenarios, what should be at issue is not the monetary amount, but the concept itself, because if one is against something per se, then one is against it, period. 

Which brings me to another aspect of the citizenship scheme (euphemistically referred to as the Individual Investor Programme).  Are we against using the revenue being collected from it some of the time, all of the time, or only when it suits us? In fact, in all its subsequent statements, not once has the PN said that it would be doing away with the scheme entirely and from a cursory look at who exactly is making money from it, such as this list of accredited agents, it is patently easy to see why.

Frankly, reading the arguments back and forth after the Prime Minister donated 5 million Euro from the citizenship scheme to Puttinu Cares, what kept nagging at me is the lack of consistency.

Of course, I do realise that there are two separate issues at stake here. First of all, I can perfectly understand those who are denouncing it as a cynical publicity stunt by the PM during a live telethon.  There were other ways of going about it, but doing it live on air in a phone call from Australia (no less) smacks too much like the self-serving gesture of a politician who wants public adulation for his largesse.  Question marks have also been raised about why he chose this particular charity and not others, which is another pertinent issue.  It also rather pulls the rug from under the feet of all those who genuinely contribute the little they can from their own pocket to this worthwhile cause: after all, who can compete with 5 million?  One must also remember that there is a National Development & Social Fund, which is supposed to administer these funds as a separate legal entity – so why did this fund not make the donation, which would have been more palatable and less “showy” than the Prime Minister doing it?

On the other hand, some of the objections I have read are rather confusing.  For example, there are those who are saying that “public money” should not be dispensed by the PM as if it were his own.  But here’s the thing (at the risk of splitting hairs) technically, this is not money coming from our taxes (which would truly be public funds) but from those buying passports.  So basically it is rich foreign nationals who have contributed to this charity by paying the fee required to qualify for the IIP. 

What really perplexes me, however, is this: where do those who are against the IIP scheme expect the money to go?  Because you are either always against the very concept of selling passports and the revenue it is bringing in, as a point of principle, or you keep shifting your position according to which way the wind is blowing.   Whenever there is a news story about social sectors in the country which require more funding, the inevitable comments start flooding in demanding to know where the money from the sale of passports is going?  But now that we have been very publicly told with a flourish, by the PM himself, that millions are going to be allocated to a very worthy charity, there are those who insist this money is “tainted” and should not be used for this purpose.  So, we have to decide, do we want this money to be used where it is most needed, or don’t we?  In fact, do we want it use it at all?  

For, if you feel that the whole idea of selling our passports is unsavoury (with the added risk of attracting the most shady individuals) then nothing the cash will be used for can ever be justified. 


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