it is a cliché to observe that in Malta everyone knows everyone else, but it happens to be the truth. This was the historic strength of Maltese society, the basis of its deserved reputation for warmth and friendliness. The tie that binds was always strong.
But now that tie has become a serious problem. The investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia identified the malaise as what anthropologists call “amoral familism”: the desire to act not for the common good, but “in terms of spiting or rewarding, getting or preventing others from getting”.
Amoral familism is what most of us call the mafia mentality: the desire to look after yourself and your family at the expense of others and the wider community.
Until the 1970s, Malta was poor. It had no natural resources and lived off its dockyard, and later tourism. Then something changed. Money began to flow in. The original source was Libya. When that country was under sanctions, all sanctions-busting activity had to flow through Malta. Later came a financial services industry, along with other more questionable ways of making money.
Currently, Malta offers very favourable tax terms to international companies. The government will sell you a passport for €650,000 (£580,000). It sold about 900 in 2016, making up 16 per cent of its revenue. Internet gambling companies account for 10 per cent of Malta’s GDP. This is all in the public domain – unlike the money that they do not want us to know about.
Around the world, several politicians who featured in the Panama Papers have been forced out, including two prime ministers. Among the exceptions is Joseph Muscat, who has remained as Malta’s PM; indeed, he called and won an election with an increased majority even while Daphne Caruana Galizia was publishing allegations about his affairs (which he strenuously denied).
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