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Network News • 18-05-2021

MoneyVal – the perseverance of a contrite nation

Author: George Mangion
Published on The Malta Independent on 18 May 2021

The media reported that a team from the Financial Action Task Force visited Malta and it was cautiously optimistic that progress has been registered in a recent holistic reform.

Having witnessed two resignations at the top echelons of the MFSA and the MGA and the appointment of a new finance minister, Attorney General and Police Commissioner – these contributed to the creed that serious reform is in progress. The FATF team had expressed positive comments that significant efforts were made behind the scenes to clean the stables and elect new faces. This points to a relief that the country avoided being greylisted. It is worth the heavy expense in beefing up the resources of the MFSA, FIAU and MGA in order to maintain a higher level of prowess.

There are certainly more weeds in the garden but the invasive plants have been dug out and a new drive is manifested with the corporate stakeholders that government shall look forward to a new start in its fight against financial crime, money laundering abuses and a pledge to tighten transparency and good governance.

As if a scene from Macbeth, there is collective guilt feeling that we have sinned and allowed corruption to be dressed as virtuous when the financial crime had serendipitously taken root and tarred our collective conscience. Lo and behold that the perpetrators run away with graft and the police turn a blind eye to gifted cronies that enjoy political patronage.

As referred earlier, laissez-faire has penetrated the bureaucracy and corruption was camouflaged as virtuous – this reminds us of theories sugaring vices, please refer to The Fable of the Bees by Mandeville (1714). Again, a purge of the skeletons in our cupboard and administrative reform has laid the foundations for winning back our reputation as a respected financial domicile.

Combine such positive news with the feeling of a bright future for the islanders as their collective efforts to fight the pandemic by way of curfew, lockdowns and use of masks has borne fruit. The reporting of the single number of daily infections and low mortality is a great relief considering the sacrifices that we all had to endure these past months.

We can rejoice and feel contrite that our deprivations and keeping social distancing for over 15 months have worked in taming the spread of the pandemic. With the tourist season opening next month, one may be tempted to recall the balmy days of previous summers when the island enjoyed an ephemeral standard of living code-named, l-Aqwa Zmien.

Imagine, next month, as we wake up to enjoy the warm summer breeze. These incantations lure us as the goddess Circe did in the ancient Greek Odyssey to spend lazy carefree days on the beach with family and friends. Perhaps, if the hated virus is eliminated as Medusa (an Ancient Greek lady with a head of snakes) and the bulk of the nation acquires herd immunization then it is the next elusive stage before normalization.

A cocktail of summer fiesta, tasty food and beer accompanying band marches in every village with noisy fireworks are woven in the fabric of a friendly country, which works hard and deserves a good standard of living. Can we ever forget our yearning for Notte Bianca, a night when folks from all corners of the island congregate at the walled city of Valletta singing songs of liberation from the ghastly pandemic, which is now in its dying phases due to a fast vaccination drive?

Gone are the weekly medical bulletins sadly informing us of Covid cases and the rising number of mortalities. The elderly and vulnerable once again can go out on countryside trips to Ta’ Qali, Delimara or visit Gozo on the fast ferry boarding from Valletta. The tourism minister is pledging to go for quality tourism, away from the policy of subsiding hordes of buckets and spade onboard low-cost airlines and the emphasis is focused on attracting international business conferences and avant-garde exhibitions.

The mantra of quality has finally permeated in the energetic tourism minister and nothing will interfere with his purge of cheap sea, sand and beer hordes that glorified the millions of visitors in the past. Our air quality has started to improve with a lower influx of visitors as 2021 is expected to draw a million visitors.

Surely, there is light at the end of the tunnel as the EU Commission recognised that most members accumulated heavy debts during the pandemic to save businesses and jobs so it wisely allocated a €750bn recovery fund. Such funds will be useful to build up confidence especially in countries where many jobs were lost. Starting with Spain, due to a strict lockdown, this resulted in heavy job losses, coupled with mental stress and exacerbating family tensions.

Obviously, the hardest hit was the hospitality sector where wage supplements helped enormously to retain workers on expensive furlough schemes. On the other hand, one may concede that the pandemic is still alive and we cannot ignore the possibility of new variants or a fourth wave this winter. Studies have shown that even when the virus is subdued, the world continues to face threats in all aspects of human existence like the inequality in the global distribution of vaccines, corrupt governments, avarice in public procurement, rapidity in depletion of natural resources and decadence within State governance.

The penny dropped that the thousands of Covid casualties reported in India, Brazil and Pakistan, is a shocking sign, calling for a collective aid programme to be quickly coordinated. These countries crave for donor countries to provide them with vaccines, personnel protective equipment, oxygen and ventilators to speed their immunization.

The silver lining of this pandemic is the change in work patterns including working from home. It goes without saying, that it has shaken to the core those norms that we conveniently have taken for granted for decades. One can mention two key areas namely intensive use of telehealth and teleconferencing facilities.

These are becoming critical operations vital to improving productivity. Remote working in government offices were already on the rise, but “working from home” is now, the new normal. This is a survival methodology. It leads to changes in the traditional workplace impacting teamwork, productivity, collaboration, human interaction and communication.

In conclusion, the good omen from the MoneyVal inspection team, combined with the feeling of liberation by the masses, who have suffered deprivations during the past months, gives us hope for deliverance.

Author: George Mangion
Published on The Malta Independent on 18 May 2021
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