Malta’s tax regime is not a matter of competition between Maltese and foreigners. The true bone of contention here is between moneyed elites and ordinary citizens. In fact, Maltese ‘patriotism’ is a shield that protects financial interests of elites, both foreign and Maltese.
by Raisa Galea
Illustration by Isles of the Left
Catching up with Maltese politics can be both frustrating and fun. The plot of the perpetual PL-PN tribal combat is intricate enough to compensate for the absence of the Game of Thrones, yet switching it off or pausing for a while is, sadly, not an option. The plot is amply endowed with patriotism. Here are the tradituri (traitors) who want to hurt Malta with their excruciating ‘negativity’ and who, obviously, serve the predatory foreign interests. And there—are the positive, patriotic Maltese, ready to draw a sword to defend Malta from yet another siege that has befallen her.
To the semi-fossilised likes of Tony Zarb, any criticism of Malta means treason. Malta, he says, is the heaven on Earth and whoever dares to disagree must necessarily be plotting against it (and in favour of ‘foreigners’). Or, to put it bluntly, ‘true Maltese’ are those who never cease to praise Malta while those who don’t are ‘foreigners’ and ‘traitors’. An amusing aberration in this binary is a number of foreigner residents whose portrayal of Malta is practically identical to that of Tony Zarb.
A number of foreigner residents portray Malta in the same manner as does Tony Zarb.
Take, for instance, Dennis Avorin, a Swedish-born professional policy analyst who speaks on behalf of the iGaming industry in Malta. He enthusiastically disputes the conclusion of PANA Committee (that “has accused Malta of having a business model based on corruption and unfair competition within industries such as maritime shipping and gaming”) and dismisses it as “the propaganda of large and reputable EU members” (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) Malta, says Mr Avorin, is a welfare paradise and that alone turns it into a magnet for the foreign employees, “especially the highly educated women”. He compares Malta to Sweden and concludes that the former is as great—or even better—as the latter on so many levels. The public is also reassured to ditch any concerns about the country’s future because “everything is steadily improving”.
In his attempt to boost Malta’s “low self-esteem”, Mr Avorin shares some curious insights and advises the country to learn a few tips from Sweden on how to keep a poker face:
Sweden, for instance, is the third top arms exporter per capita in the world and has secretly been exporting arms to dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. Yet the country’s reputation is that of a moral superpower.”
He is not the only non-Maltese resident who paints bright, spotless pictures of Malta.
Few days after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia had brought Malta to the international headlines, Mark Weingard—a British entrepreneur who owns 8.92% shareholding in MIDI plc, Dinner in the Sky, a number of properties in Malta’s prime locations and more—shared a similar opinion in a Facebook post (no longer publicly visible). Malta, in his opinion, is the least corrupt and the safest place he’s ever lived in. The attitude of another foreign entrepreneur, Julie Meyer, deserves a special mention: she seemed to adore the rock only a few months ago, though recently has made a U-turn and classified it as unfavourable to “high-net-worth individuals and investors”.
At first sight, this praise for Malta might seem cute. Mr Avorin’s exposure of Sweden’s arms exports might even pass for a critique of hypocrisy of the international affairs. Alas, no such thing. The key to this unexpected ‘patriotism’ for Malta from the foreign investors lies in their love affair with the country’s taxation system. In other words, these individuals, and the companies they represent, fear their tax dodging leisure might come to an end, if Malta does not learn how to “defend its reputation against mockery”.
The key to this unexpected ‘patriotism’ for Malta from the foreign investors lies in their love affair with the Malta’s taxation system.
As “sentiments and campaigns against Malta and iGaming are mounting in Brussels” and “the EU member states like Sweden push for Malta to raise taxes”, the Maltese and foreign elites are placing bets on patriotism to defend their interests. Ironically, while praising Malta in the exact same way as do some of die-hard ‘patriots’, Mr Avorin seems reluctant to support the welfare of his native Sweden (that is to say, he sounds highly ‘unpatriotic’).
It is worth keeping in mind that, despite the sweet rhetoric of the iGaming pals, despite the attempts to convince the public that Malta and the iGaming industry are united by mutual interests, their actions prove otherwise.
At the end of January 2018, Betsson Group—the company which had the privilege to meet the Prime Minister in their own office shortly after his re-inauguration—had dismissed 130 employees simply because it saves the company money. The company clearly savours its special status in Malta as it is watching both PL and PN compete for its affection. Adrian Delia (who, ironically, flaunts his patriotism by stating that “PN won’t allow foreigners to profit off country’s assets”), pledged himself to Betsson and promised to make Malta ‘great again’ for the iGaming sector.
Here are some questions to ask: Why does the iGaming sector—and not the teachers, pilots, social workers, and doctors—receive so much support from both parties? Whose interest do the patriotic stances of both parties serve? The answer seems clear enough: the PN’s and PL’s patriots simply repeat after the iGaming bosses and other tax dogging investors. Hence, Maltese patriotism is a shield that guards the interests of the ‘unpatriotic’ business elites from tax justice.
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