Prime minister Robert Abela has finally submitted the declarations of assets of his Cabinet – months late. Last year, they were tabled in June. Abela’s now reached a new record – the latest submission of ministerial declarations ever.
When his spokesperson, former ONE journalist Edward Montebello, was asked when they would be published, he simply ignored the question. Abela tabled the declarations now hoping that journalists would be too taken up with the Budget to notice them.
The UN Convention against Corruption mandates a legal framework for asset declarations. Malta is a signatory. A PN government signed up on 12 May 2005. Abela probably doesn’t even know. If he does, he couldn’t be bothered.
That convention is explicit. An asset disclosure regime is “to ensure corrupt public officials will not be able to conceal proceeds of any illegal activity”.
When Abela fails to submit those declarations, he has one objective in mind – to allow the proceeds of corruption to be concealed. Why else would Abela so openly contravene basic democratic norms? Particularly when his own actions and flippant attitude are under such scrutiny.
He’s just got an almighty telling off by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. “I call on you… to ensure journalists and the public have access to accurate and timely information”. Instead, Abela concealed the declarations for months.
Abela has too much to hide. He’s determined to shield his Cabinet and himself from the scrutiny considered standard in liberal democracies. He manifests his autocratic streak, his utter contempt for democratic norms and his brazen disrespect for the public.
Transparency International insisted there must be “a credible regime of punitive sanctions in the case of late submissions or misreporting of information”. Malta has no such sanctions. If it had, Abela would be hit hard.
Last year, he didn’t bother to include his earnings in his declaration. He simply wrote “as per tax return”. And arrogantly submitted his declaration late.
Abela just followed in Joseph Muscat’s footsteps. Muscat started the trend of simply writing “prime minister’s salary”. But at least Muscat submitted his declarations. Abela has gone one step further – he hasn’t bothered to submit his declaration for months.
He also failed to declare his rental income from his Zejtun property. He only referred to it this year’s declaration (without disclosing the amount) – simply because he’s been exposed and had no choice. But he was renting his property to absent Russian prospective passport buyers since at least 2019.
He said, “The rent started before I became prime minister”. That was January 2020. So in 2021’s declaration, Abela should have listed his rental income. He didn’t. Abela either overlooked, forgot or intentionally concealed those earnings. For that alone, he should be sanctioned.
Abela dodged and slithered since The Times of Malta revealed his abandoned, uninhabitable Zejtun property rental to Russians Alexey and Natalia. Abela knew that obscenely wealthy Russians intent on paying hundreds of thousands for a Maltese passport would not be living there.
Yet he lied, repeatedly. When pressed on whether the Russians had really lived there, he replied: “What he did or did not do, I do not know”.
Any landlord knows when a tenant is living in their property. If for no other reason, they’re constantly badgered about a blown bulb or leaking water or a broken fridge.
Abela’s actions are nothing short of revolting. This is our prime minister deceitfully providing Russians with false evidence required to apply for a Maltese passport.
Malta has a prime minister complicit in duping his own country by providing a false alibi to wealthy Russians to become Maltese citizens and gain access to the rest of the European Union. He even failed to declare the thousands of euro he made renting his uninhabitable property in his declaration of assets.
He declared “earnings from rent” without naming the property rented or the amount of money earned. He added “according to Tax Form TA24” but didn’t submit a copy of it.
Malta’s declaration of assets had been flagged by GRECO (the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body) for its weaknesses. GRECO insisted on much stricter controls. They stressed that declarations should include spouses’ assets.
Joseph Muscat removed that obligation because he wanted Michelle’s assets kept secret. Muscat rendered the whole exercise futile but at least pretended to do his duty by submitting his worthless declaration. Abela can’t even be bothered with such niceties – he didn’t submit for months.
You can see why. Last year’s declarations triggered a wave of public anger. Even the sketchy and deceitfully incomplete declarations submitted showed that Abela’s cabinet held €4.5 million in cash and financial assets. Clint Camilleri held more than 15 properties. Anton Refalo, 17.
Michael Falzon of Gaffarena Old Mint Street fame held over €660,000 in investments and cash. Since Malta’s asset declaration rules don’t oblige Ministers to include movable assets and other valuable possessions, Refalo didn’t list the VR stone in his backyard. Abela didn’t include his luxury yacht.
The World Bank insists that both immovable and movable assets should be included.
Transparency International, in its recommendations, insists that for an asset declaration system to be effective, an independent body with the necessary human and financial resources must verify the data. In Malta, the Standards Commissioner verifies those shoddy handwritten declarations.
And where is he now? He’s been conveniently dispatched to the European Court of Auditors on an eye-watering remuneration package. And Abela has left the post vacant – and will keep it vacant for as long as he can.
Verified asset declarations open to public scrutiny enable citizens to ensure their leaders don’t abuse their power for personal gain. They ensure proceeds of corruption cannot be concealed.
That’s why Abela tried to bury those declarations by tabling them in parliament just before the presentation of the Budget. That’s why his own declaration is so deceitfully bare.