As the FATF D-Day approaches, the political exchanges on the matter have gone up a notch or two. This Wednesday, a plenary vote of FATF members will determine the future of the country’s economy – and that is no light statement.
It is difficult for such matters of international political and economic complexity to trickle down to the public at large. In fact, the level of discourse will often warrant a translation into the tribal vernacular for facile local consumption.
Few have really grasped what the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is about and why this potential greylisting is such a big deal for the nation. We are talking about global action against money laundering and terrorist financing.
The FATF ensures that nations across the globe do not have weak systems in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. When a state is deemed to have such a weak system (a strategically deficient system) it is placed under increased monitoring. This is what greylisting is.
The problem with greylisting is not so much the type of company Malta would enjoy in the list of international miscreant nations but rather the knock-out blow that would be delivered to crucial sectors of the economy. Forget the ridiculously hyperbolic and propagandistic aspirations of becoming “the best in the world”, greylisting would see Malta’s financial sector (and other sectors with a domino effect) suffer huge reputational damage.
In simple terms, a FATF greylisting is the equivalent of a huge sign being placed on Malta stating “WARNING: THIS COUNTRY DOES NOT TREAT MAJOR FINANCIAL CRIME SERIOUSLY AND IS NOT TRUSTWORTHY.” (Apologies for the CAPS but some things need saying out loud). It may be worth adding that the process of listing and monitoring is a continuous one and not one that was invented overnight.
With that information in mind, we can now look at what is going on in Malta in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote. The government has known for a long time the stakes that are at play here. It is also fully aware that much of the responsibility for the systemic weakening boils down to the politics of Joseph Muscat’s ‘Tagħna Lkoll’ movement as inherited and defended by the current set.
It is not as though the backsliding of the rule of law, institutional deterioration and multiple scandals involving lack of transparency, inexistent meritocracy and corruption came into existence by the allegations of the few who dared point fingers from the start. The road to Wednesday’s plenary was paved with seven years of irresponsible governing.
The greylisting of our system would only be the culminating rubber stamp confirming the achievements (in the negative) of a sick political system. That is what our starting point of appreciation should be.
Outside the political arena of mud-slinging demagoguery, there is an objective appreciation to be made. That appreciation involves an understanding that the FATF vote on Wednesday would be an indictment of a whole system and modus operandi.
Our government will tell you that it has recently invested in multiple reforms that were even pleasing to the Moneyval evaluation. What they do not tell you is why those reforms were necessary. Why the government of disgraced politicians Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri with Robert Abela as advisor had allowed a poisoned environment to develop where the laws and practices became subservient to the shady, the corrupt and the downright criminal.
Abela’s government has been in panic mode trying to patch up at least the written legislative framework to render the Maltese system vaguely presentable as these tests arrived. We are regaled with the Orban-like rhetoric of Minister Clyde Caruana who would have us believe that this is an international conspiracy by those who are somehow jealous of the Maltese success story. Behind the scenes though lies a well-concealed awareness and sense of guilt in a cabinet made up of those who for too long were prepared to shut their eyes to the truth.
This is also not about the toothless Nationalist Party and its last-minute attempts to try to seem relevant at this juncture. The “traitors” oratory employed at this stage by Labour is little more than a deviation. It fits with the spin that the whole world is out to get Malta and its supposed success story. Such rhetoric plays in Labour’s favour because in popular terms even a negative outcome next Wednesday can be blamed on others.
The public will not immediately feel the effects of a greylisting and Abela’s labour will faff its way through another electoral victory. Whether the 50 shades of grey it is painting will be enough to survive the potential tsunami of negative effects on the island is another story.