Sunday 19 August 2018

Now that the secrecy’s gone

On Friday evening, at the 11th hour (or more precisely one hour before a Xarabank programme on the subject was due to begin), the Labour government announced that it would be removing the contentious ‘secrecy clause’ from its citizenship scheme, which would have given complete anonymity to those buying a passport.

I mention Xarabank because I do not believe it is a coincidence that the announcement came when it did; it seems Muscat has learned how to out-manoevure the Nationalists at their own game when it comes to judicious, public relations timing.  And while say might grimace at comparing such serious matters to a game, it is the only comparison which comes to mind.

It was a game of chess, and for Muscat this was check mate. With this move, he has basically defused and rendered redundant what was, in many people’s minds, the biggest objection.

Of course, there are those of us who prefer things to be rather more straightforward (which is why we would make hopeless politicians). AD chairman Arnold Cassola was right in pointing out that the government should have agreed to remove the secrecy clause when it was first brought up during the parliamentary debate and not with a phone call from the PM, currently in Sri Lanka, to his deputy Louis Grech.

But, to be honest, at this point, I am just very relieved that this secrecy clause has been removed. It should never have been there in the first place.

The PN, meanwhile, has clearly had the rug pulled out from under its feet on this one, and here is where I keep seeing too many contradictory stances.

In Parliament, the Opposition had presented its three amendments to the citizenship scheme – binding the person buying the citizenship to invest in Malta, imposing a minimum number of years as residency and the removal of anonymity. But now that the latter has been agreed to, the PN is still insisting that it is against the entire scheme on principle. It is flat out against the selling of citizenship, period, it is claiming self-righteously (and yet two prominent PN lawyers are representing a company which lost the bid for the Individual Investors Programme to Henley & Partners).

In any case, as I have already pointed out in my previous article, investment is still putting a price on our passports by another name – you are simply adding terms and conditions to the price tag. And I wonder whether many people have understood that insisting on residence means that the buyer will have voting rights as well as full entitlement to any legal, social and health care benefits we are entitled to? If the idea that someone with no indigenous connections to Malta whatsoever will be allowed to vote for our next government bothers you, it makes no sense to keep insisting on residence, especially if you are accusing the Labour government of “buying votes”.

Which brings me to perception: it is true that the very idea of handing over Maltese citizenship in exchange for cash is galling; it just sounds very unsavoury and mercenary. Let’s face it, it’s a flat out monetary transaction with no attempt to package it in a more palatable way by couching it in terms of investment, and it is no wonder that the international media picked up on this crucial point, as can be seen from all the headlines. The message that Malta needs the money to get rid of its considerable deficit was not lost on observers either.

It was inevitable that Malta’s name would be splashed all over the place because of this issue, but what I found even worse was the silly, illogical partisan bickering and squabbling by the Maltese who flooded the foreign news portals and ended up arguing over 101 different completely unrelated subjects, rather than sticking to the citizenship issue and debating it rationally. I’m pretty sure the usual Telegraph readers (to name just one news portal) must have been reading it all with bemused astonishment.  If we care so much about our image as a nation and what foreigners think of us, why do we insist on making fools of ourselves with the way we comment online?

And while the heartfelt, passionate reaction of many Maltese who hate the very idea of this scheme is understandable, even here I find a lot of contradictions. It seems to me that there is a schizophrenic approach to what our identity means; I cannot help but mention the irony of people who do everything they can to firmly and snobbishly distance themselves from their Malteseness but who have now suddenly re-discovered our national poets and dusted off their patriotic cloak from its mothballs, posting over-the-top hysterical statuses about fighting for our freedom and dying for our nation.

Maybe it’s because I hate bombastic displays of emotion but I find these kind of things cringe worthy. Let’s discuss it sure, but can’t we at least tone down the melodrama?

I also do not get these many references to foreigners suddenly “stealing our identity”.

Does the fact that (say) a Filipino woman who marries a Maltese man can become Maltese through naturalization make me less Maltese or deprive me of my identity? No, not at all.  [Incidentally, a friend who works with Air Malta told me I would be surprised at how many Libyans and Russians have Maltese passports. Another friend described the numerous annulments in court due to Maltese nationals realizing too late that theirs was simply a marriage of convenience].

If a Chinese person comes to settle here and acquires citizenship after a number of years, am I going to throw myself at the gates of Castille in anguish? No.

So with this argument, if someone is entitled to citizenship because he has bought it, does it mean I need to be thrown into a personal existential crisis? I don’t see why it should.

I repeat, I fully understand why the thought of cash for passports makes people feel sick, but if we are going to discuss what nationality and citizenship mean in a logical way, we must put it into the context of what is happening all around us.

After all we have had investors from Dubai (Smart City) and Kuwait (the Mistra development which is represented by the President of the PN executive, Ann Fenech, no less) purchasing large tracts of Maltese land – shouldn’t that be more of an emotionally patriotic issue? Yet I have heard no gnashing of teeth and wailing about principles from the same quarters who are prostrating themselves with grief over the selling of passports.

For that, to me, is where we are really selling Malta.



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