The government is now asking the public whether the cash-for-passports programme introduced by stealth, without any consultation and in the absence of an electoral mandate in 2013 should now be expanded.
The agency that runs Malta’s sale of passports, Identity Malta, has launched an online poll to ask the public if the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) should be expanded.
The first question being asked is whether the number of applications under the IIP should be capped at law or left at the open discretion of the government.
Forget questions on the intrinsic morality of selling citizenship to the global rich or on whether the names of citizenship buyers should be published in a separate list rather than in one which also also includes common mortals who are naturalised after living here for decades.
The Survey Monkey questionnaire seems geared at manufacturing consent for a fait accompli.
For if the government does not intend to lift the cap limiting the number of IIP beneficiaries it would not be asking the public whether it should be removed or not.
Ironically, back in 2009, Muscat as opposition leader had spoke on imposing a cap on immigrants rescued in the high seas who are brought over to Malta.
Yet Malta can apparently never run out of space for the global rich. In fact the only benefit of the scheme is that it makes it hard for the government to return to hawkish positions on migration. For the dissonance between welcoming millionaires and turning our backs on the wretched of the earth would be too striking for international public opinion.
The poll also includes an awkward highly technical question on whether the Regulator of the Programme and/or the Head of the Agency should be given more discretionary powers “in special and unforeseen circumstances” with regards to the type of documentary evidence which should be provided to substantiate applications.
Is this another way of seeking legitimacy for giving the government more discretion on applications?
Sure enough the programme has generated revenue for government: €590 million..
It also generates good revenue for Henley and Partners, which takes a 4% cut on each of the €650,000 applications for Maltese passports and for lawyers and accountants hailing from both sides of the political spectrum who offer the service.
The programme is currently capped at some 1,800 applicants: a figure which does not include dependants. Increasing it will make Malta even more dependent on the scheme.
Public consultation is never a bad idea especially on something as crucial to our identity as Maltese citizenship.
Although sometimes used by other EU government to test public opinion on specific issues, Survey Monkey is a very limited tool to understand the feelings of Maltese society on such a complex topic, as any results will not be based on a scientific sample quota.
A more worthwhile exercise would be a public consultation among foreigners who have lived in Malta for decades but whose citizenship rights are curtailed by a system which gives the Minister responsible complete discretion over naturalisation applications.
Positively the Maltese government has recently taken a timid but highly significant step by introducing a path to permanent residency for this category, conditional on attending courses on Maltese identity. One wonders why such courses are not also a requirement for the millionaires who buy citizenship.
Moreover unlike citizenship permanent residency does not entail full equality and inclusion in Maltese society.
People who are either born here to foreign migrants, children who have attended full school cycles in Malta and people who have worked here for years have surely become much more Maltese than any beneficiary of the IIP scheme.
The IIP in its current form creates a fundamental discrimination between the global rich who can buy our citizenship and common mortals who lack a clear path for citizenship.
To add insult to injury the only equality which presently exists between the two categories is inclusion in the same list of new citizens published in the Government Gazette, something which comes across as a perverse mechanism through which naturalised Maltese citizens are used to cover up for the secrecy of the millionaires.
If we are ready to consider lifting the cap on the number of millionaires who acquire citizenship, sometimes without even putting foot on the island, is it not time to consider a path to citizenship for those who have given a real everyday contribution to our society, through daily interaction, consumption, investment and work?
Wouldn’t that have been a question worth asking to the Survey Monkey?