Former Foreign Minister Tonio Borg believes the government should not reach an agreement with the US over jurisdictional power and reduce the country’s sovereignty in an attempt to safeguard Malta’s economic reputation, he told The Shift.
“We cannot reduce the country’s sovereignty for money. Even if not signing the agreement means we will be financially hit. Not everything we do has got to do with money,” Borg noted.
The agreement in question is known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Malta has been resisting the idea of entering into this agreement for a number of years, as it would affect the country’s constitutional stance on neutrality.
Yet the government seems to be moving towards signing the SOF Agreement, hoping to receive help from the US to avoid Malta’s greylisting by Moneyval in its upcoming assessment.
Moneyval is the European branch of the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT). The US is one voice among a number of others that influences the decision. While it is influential, the US cannot guarantee the result since it is not the only country on the panel.
Borg has been an avid critic of the SOF Agreement and the former Minister still believes that the agreement with the Americans is a bad idea.
“We are a small country, so the issue of sovereignty emerges even more. But more so, getting into this deal will mean that Malta will have to change its constitution,” Borg said.
It would have been understandable for Malta to feel the need to participate in such an agreement if it was a requirement when belonging to NATO, Borg argued. “But we don’t belong to a military alliance and it is prohibited by our constitution,” he added.
Malta is one of the six EU countries that are not part of the NATO alliance, declaring their non-alignment with military alliances.
A visit by Mark Esper, the US Secretary of Defence, is expected to take place on Wednesday. He will be meeting with Prime Minister Robert Abela, Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri.
This is just one of the many ways we are all paying for this government’s corruption and incompetence
Echoing his arguments when he first resisted this agreement when he was Foreign Minister under the Gonzi administration, Borg said Malta already has its laws and there is no point in participating in this agreement.
He also pointed out that should the government decide to sign the SOF Agreement, it has to make sure that the Opposition is in agreement.
SOFA allows exceptions to the rule that any person present in a country is subject to that country’s laws. In effect, it would mean that US personnel would not be subject to Malta’s justice system.
Reacting on Facebook, former diplomat Patrick Tabone said the Labour government has put Malta in such a position of weakness and vulnerability that it feels that there’s no option but to accept an agreement with the US.
“This is just one of the many ways we are all paying for this government’s corruption and incompetence,” he said.
He stressed that the US has wanted this deal for many years but Malta always resisted. “Giving up sovereignty on your own territory is not something countries do lightly,” Tabone added.
In 2011, when President George Vella was Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, he had stressed his resistance to the agreement. Vella was reported telling former US ambassador Douglas Kmiec in November 2009 that the Labour Party was against SOFA under NATO’s Partnership for Peace. Should the deal move forward, he will have to back an agreement he had opposed in the past.
This possible diminishing of Malta’s sovereignty is one last attempt to safeguard Malta’s damaged reputation after years of money laundering and corruption allegations being ignored by the government.
The FIAU has been abnormally active in issuing fines and penalties against a number of companies, ahead of possible Moneyval sanctions, with a surge in FIAU fines in recent months.
Replying to questions by The Shift, the FIAU said it is precluded by law from disclosing information about its work. The authority was asked if it had taken any action to investigate Nexia BT, a company which faced multiple allegations of corruption and yet evaded scrutiny by the authorities over the years until its assets were frozen by court order last week.