The criminal underbelly

This is a guest post by Antoine P. Borg

Over the past decade we’ve seen waves of headlines about criminal endeavours crash against the shores of our consciousness. Libyan fuel smuggling. Corruption. Mafia connections. I’m saddened by how these subjects now roll off the tongue but it is a fact of contemporary Malta. What we don’t immediately realise is these issues are going to define our future for at least another decade.

And there’s nothing positive about this.

Accepting the problem

Our reputation wasn’t always so.

I’ve worked with the European Union for the past eight  years. I’m thrilled to speak about the beauty of our archipelago to anyone who cares to listen. Many bombard me with questions about Malta – where to stay, what to see, when to travel. Some have been here on holiday thanks to my exhortations.

I’m proud of this. I’m proud of this island of ours.

Lately things have changed. People stop me by the coffee machine to ask about the corruption charges they’ve read about. They want to understand the story behind these headlines.

In these eight short years, I’ve seen people’s interest in Malta change from “ooh, sun and holidays!” to “What on earth is going on down there?”

I’m still proud of this island of ours.

But I’m not proud of what’s it’s becoming known for.

Many Maltese people point out today’s headlines are ephemeral. They’re right. But then first impressions are fleeting too, and we know what they say about first impressions.

How is this going to affect us as a nation?

There’s no grand plan against Malta

Take the current discussions in the European Parliament about tax harmonisation.

Pierre Moscovici is the Commissioner who wants to harmonise taxes. He’s aiming at Ireland and the Netherlands who created elaborate schemes so foreign companies can channel profits without paying taxes. It’s no coincidence large American companies choose these countries for their European base.

Moscovici argues countries should tax these profits at the point of sale. Why should profit for an iPhone or for a Starbucks Latte be (un)taxed in Dublin instead of at the point of sale in Paris? He argues that if we had harmonised tax laws, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Moscovici misses the point. With harmonised taxes, Apple and Starbucks would go elsewhere and continue as is. Paris would still lack profit. The real issue is countries meant the tax laws for goods, not services.

If Paris wants profit, it can rewrite its tax laws to handle services sold in France.

That would be the solution.

And so Moscovici fights the wrong fight.

Meanwhile Malta gets caught up in the middle. MEP Alfred Sant cries foul but misleads us by claiming this is some grand plan against Malta. (Hint: It’s not.) Now the Union is going to shrug and point out we’re part of the problem too, so of course we don’t like the solution. They’re not going to listen to reason because of our reputation.

That bad reputation is beginning to haunt us. With Brexit, we’re losing a key ally around the table in the Union. We should mobilise all our efforts to make sure our future lives are better, not worse.

But that bad reputation lingers.

And this is not the only way it’s going to impact us.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

The immigration problem is another one that’s always in the news. As summer approaches, the good weather will bring more boatloads across the Mediterranean. Without the EU’s Operation Sophia, the frontline countries are going to face the worst of the situation.

Will we ask for funding to help us help these people?

If the EU squeezes us on this point it will ignite a dark side of our nature, so I hope it doesn’t.

But that bad reputation lingers.

There are other projects and funds. Funds for transport, maritime, farmers, funding for SMEs – the list goes on.

The other countries will take a larger share if they know they can get their hands on it.

Because that bad reputation will linger.

We’ve shot ourselves in the foot.

And we only have ourselves to blame for this mess.

But it won’t get worse, right?

Rebuilding our reputation

We now know Article 7 proceedings are coming our way.

For as long as we keep defending something that others see as criminal we won’t change anyone’s minds. It’s pointless trying to blame the current, or previous, administrations. We need to rebuild our reputation and we need to guard it in thought and in action.

I say ‘we’, but how are you and I meant to solve this?

We need representatives in Europe who stop their partisan meddling and work for the common good. We need representatives at a national level who have our interests at heart, not their own.

Nothing else matters.

Nothing at all.

The Shift News is providing the space for MEP candidates, who are not running under the umbrella of the two main political parties, to inform citizens of their stand on various issues. This is to address the democratic deficit created by political party ownership of the media in Malta. The Shift does not necessarily endorse the views published.

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