Once in a while an issue comes along which has people in agreement despite their politics. It goes beyond the usual, blinkered level of “what my party says do or die”, although, of course, there will always be those who are more screamingly hysterical about a topic precisely because it can inflict maximum harm on their political opponents. Just as there will always be those who will justify something just because its their party which has suggested it.
The Individual Investor Programme (more commonly known as the citizenship scheme) being pushed through by this government is one such issue. From what I have read to date, and from today’s Malta Today survey, it is clear that the majority of people are either against it completely, or else have deep reservations about it.
I think on this one, the Labour government needs to get down from its high horse and seriously consider the amendments being proposed by the Opposition. Rather than just passports for cash, it should tie the possibility of acquiring Maltese citizenship with full-time residency and/or considerable investment. Above all, it really needs to make sure that the names of those who will be given a Maltese passport in exchange for 650,000 Euros, is made available to the public. Anything else is unacceptable.
Having said that, there is lots of misinformation swirling around, as always happens when a topic become entrenched in the “us vs them” quagmire.
For example, I read that this scheme will give those who are applying “additional perks” which we don’t enjoy ourselves as Maltese. When I checked about these perks (preferential tax rates and VIP status when travelling) I could not find anything to confirm this.
It is also not true that acquiring a Maltese passport in this way will entitle the person to vote – only proof of actual residency gives you the right to vote, as so many Maltese citizens who do not live here permanently, and who have lost their voting rights, will tell you.
There is also an inherent contradiction by those who are saying they oppose the scheme because the sum being requested is too low. If you do not believe our citizenship should be for sale, then whether the amount is 650,000 Euros or six million Euros, your feelings should be the same, right? Or to continue with the prostitution analogy that so many have used – whether you are a 25 Euro hooker or a 2,500 Euro call girl, you are still selling yourself….right?
On the same lines, one can also argue that investing in the country through a major project and providing employment are likewise not good enough grounds to simply grant citizenship, especially if we feel that ‘being Maltese’ is not something which should be for sale at any cost.
That leaves residency, and even if this is included as a condition, it will still remain a touchy topic. There are many EU citizens who have made Malta their permanent home, but who are still having problems with their E-residence card. They are at this very moment wrangling with Maltese bureaucracy and have taken their case to the law courts because they are being discriminated against on various fronts from simple bus fares and internet services providers to their bank loans and their water & electricity bills.
So it will be yet another slap in the face if someone from outside the EU can just waltz in and enjoy full residency benefits after living here for five years and be granted citizenship as well, simply because they have the cash to pay for it. I thought we joined the EU precisely so that we can all live, work and study wherever we like, so why is Malta still carrying on with this discrimination?
Finally – and this is what most people are, rightly, objecting to the most – there is the anonymity of those who will be granted citizenship. The way I’m reading the signs, the government needs to back down on this, because it will be its Waterloo. While it seems to have listened to some criticism and is going to appoint the former head of the civil service Godwin Grima as the regulator, that is still not enough to placate fears that shady, anonymous characters will be granted citizenship. We want real assurance that a thorough scrutiny of candidates will be carried out.
While there are those who believe this should all be settled by means of a referendum, I don’t think that we need to go to all that trouble. If the Labour government has its ear to the ground as it did so successfully during its election campaign, it should know fully well where public opinion rests on this matter.
And if the government persists in its stubbornness, the anger can only mount further.