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The games MPs play to hide their assets

An investigation into the asset declarations of government members over the last seven years reveals that the Prime Minister isn’t the only one with a magical bank balance.

The images in this series are a parody of the award-winning travel card game Cover your Assets. You can get a set here. Unfortunately not Maltese themed (yet).

Key findings:

  • Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries did not table their asset declarations for 2016 (the year of the Panama Papers revelations).

  • All have seen a steady increase in income and net wealth since 2013.

  • The only exception is Minister Konrad Mizzi, who declared that his income and net wealth have dropped steadily since 2014 despite his involvement in major corruption scandals.

  • The asset declarations show peaks that cannot be explained, families that live off the taxpayers’ gravy train and loans that defy incomes declared.

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler, said last May that he would be looking into all the asset declarations filed in Parliament by MPs (once he finds the time, maybe next year). The Shift News has found the time to go over seven years’ worth of declarations of assets and the results are disturbing.

The requirement for MPs and, more importantly, Cabinet members to make and publish asset declarations is an essential tool in a democracy to prevent corruption by helping to detect unjustified variations in wealth as well as to spotlight conflicts of interest.

The Shift News found that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries did not table their 2016 declarations. These should have been tabled in 2017 – the year that saw continued revelations on the Panama Papers, a snap election, a messy PN leadership election and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

For the rest of the years, the public is presented with one-page scrawled declarations that fail transparency requirements.

The European Court of Human Rights has held that the public’s legitimate interest to ensure transparency in politics, through the mandatory publication of comprehensive (and accurate) asset declarations, far outweighs rights to privacy.

“The additional obligation to submit information on property, including marital property, can be said to be reasonable in that it is designed to discourage attempts to conceal assets simply by acquiring them using the name of [a] spouse,” the Court ruled.

Maltese asset declaration requirements are already low, but since 2015 the details of spouses’ assets and income became ‘optional’.

The vast majority took up the option of not disclosing their spouse’s wealth, including Equality Minister Helena Dalli whose husband’s wealth was the focus of two libel cases that he lost.

A sample of the asset declarations of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna shows the scant details included compared to the asset declarations’ compiled by the World Bank.

The asset declarations of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.

The asset declarations of Maltese Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries include no value for the properties listed, no details of shareholdings in companies (when the name is even correct), no names of banks (so a bank balance in Cyprus or Dubai would not show up) and no values of investments, while liabilities are limited to bank borrowings.

Movables are also not listed. Imagine, a minister could buy a yacht (or a fleet), a Lamborghini or a warehouse full of antiques and not be required to disclose those assets.

What they did submit shows that all Ministers and Parliamentary secretaries have seen a steady increase in income and net wealth since 2013. The only exception is Konrad Mizzi – the Panama Papers Minister at the centre of major government scandals – who declared that his income and net wealth have dropped steadily since 2014.

The asset declarations show peaks that cannot be explained, families that live off the taxpayers’ gravy train and loans that defy incomes declared.

Together, the declarations show that Crystal Finance, formerly of Alfred Mifsud who the Labour Party in government appointed as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, was the most in-demand investment broker among Labour Ministers (before Mifsud sold his business in the hope of being appointed Head of the Central Bank).

The declarations also show that a number of Cabinet Ministers earn more than the Prime Minister, at least on paper. It is hard to tell since Joseph Muscat – the man with the magical €75,000 bank balance for four years running – actually stopped declaring his Prime Minister’s salary in 2015.

Muscat has taken to simply stating “salary prime minister” instead of disclosing the actual amount. His spokesman had told Reuters late last year that Muscat’s salary was €55,978, plus €6,769 in allowances.

While Muscat had said he would never increase the wage of MPs behind people’s backs, a report by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life showed that practically all MPs from the Party in government were receiving a salary to top up their salary from the State.

The Shift News will be publishing a series of articles focusing on the individual declarations of Cabinet members over the years – the players, the cards and the bluff. First up, Economy Minister Chris Cardona and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

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