As published on timesofmalta.com, Tuesday 8 June, 2021.
A national strategy to fight fraud and corruption has been quietly updated after 13 years, with the government acknowledging the need to improve perceptions about this type of crime in Malta.
The belated update of the strategy comes after a 2019 assessment report by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body (GRECO) flagged up how a promised refresh of anti-fraud and anti-corruption policies never materialised.
“Malta clearly needs to put in place a dedicated strategy or policy for the prevention of corruption and promotion of integrity…” the report had stated.
The new strategy, tabled in parliament last month by Minister Carmelo Abela on the prime minister’s behalf, says the main aim is to continue providing tools for the effective and efficient fight against fraud and corruption.
The first 22 pages of the 47-page document dwell on the institutions and measures already in place to combat fraud and corruption.
It then sets out seven broad policy goals, including the constant updating of relevant legislation, an updated national risk assessment by next year, transparency and accuracy of beneficial ownership information as well as ensuring investigations and prosecutions of money-laundering offences increase between 2021 and 2023. In contrast with the low-key launch of the new blueprint, the document itself emphasises a public relations strategy as being one of the key tools in the fight against irregularities, fraud and corruption.
“This must include approaches to inform the public on the aims of the strategy, the wider public sector on their obligations and developed communication channels and it must also target the people who are mostly involved in the processes that are most relevant to the initiative, namely managers and accounting officials,” the document says.
It lays down a nine-month timeline for the implementation of a communications strategy and a one-year deadline for the creation of communications channels for the gathering of intelligence on suspected fraud and corruption.
Malta’s willingness to combat corruption and related financial crimes has been the subject of intense focus over the past years.
A global money-laundering watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is this month expected to hand down a decision on whether Malta’s will be put on a grey list of countries that are not doing enough to fight financial crime.
Prime Minister Robert Abela’s rise to power last year saw some early improvements in the government’s will to fight corruption and financial crime, however, he has used a varying yardstick when it comes to political accountability.
Carmelo Abela himself has been accused by career criminals of complicity in a bank heist, which he has strongly denied.
The prime minister has, so far, declined to take any action against Abela.