The Malta Business Registry’s (MBR) rented offices in Żejtun, which were inaugurated as the MBR’s premises in 2019, will cost taxpayers a total of €8.5 million since the government is paying roughly half a million a year to rent it for a total of 15 years, from 2019 to 2033.
The details of the rental arrangement, which were originally kept a secret back in 2019 when news reports first revealed that MBR employees were unable to understand why the move to Żejtun was deemed necessary, were revealed following a parliamentary question tabled on Monday.
The parliamentary question, filed by Opposition MP Joseph Ellis and answered by Economy Minister Silvio Schembri, details how the government agreed to pay €454,335.75 per year with an annual 3% increment, meaning that, by the final year of the agreement, the government will be paying up to €687,223.56 annually.
According to news reports from 2018, the MBR’s building is owned by Alex Mercieca, who also owns Alex Mercieca Bathrooms Limited adjacent to it. At the time, the spokesperson for the MBR had not provided any details as to why this location was deemed to be ideal, nor how much it would cost. Mercieca’s logo for his now rebranded ‘business centre’ can be seen on top of the MBR’s logo when approaching the building.
Speaking to the media, anonymous MBR employees had stated that they felt it was obvious that the MBR’s offices should have been located in a more central area. In June 2019, when construction on the building was actually finished after the decision was announced, disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was present to inaugurate the MBR’s offices.
Both Muscat and Schembri, then-parliamentary secretary for financial services, had claimed that the building would help the MBR operate better, describing it as a milestone for the financial services industry. Both of them had also made a PR-meal out of the use of distributed ledger technology for the business registry, known better as blockchain technology, in purported efforts to reduce bureaucracy and improve efficiency.
One of the key shortcomings the MBR will have to address as part of Malta’s drive to get off the FATF’s greylist is its registry of ultimate beneficial owners of companies and the fact that it is not used enough to prosecute at that level. The MBR recently announced a collaboration with the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) in which both entities will be expected to share information while working together on investigations related to ultimate beneficial ownership of companies.
The MBR has recently replaced outgoing Registrar Joseph Farrugia, whose position will now be filled by Geraldine Spiteri Lucas. According to its annual report from last year, the MBR struck off 12,455 companies while registering 3,514 commercial partnerships in 2020.