News that Malta was struck off the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list was welcomed across the board. The country in general took a huge sigh of relief as it is no longer in the same boat with the likes of Albania, Zimbabwe, Yemen and Panama. A year ago, the FATF had put Malta under the spotlight in the wake of its serious shortcomings in combating money laundering and financial crime. The decision had long been coming in the wage of a series of scandals in which the regulatory authorities and the financial system in general did not cover themselves in glory. There is no doubt that having politicians and high-ranking public officials involved in shady activities or colluding with dubious characters for their personal gain would ring the alarm bells in every jurisdiction. While no country is immune to such conduct, problems start when authorities either become toothless to crackdown on such abuse or worse complicit. Undoubtedly, the decision to place Malta in the grey list was a huge blow to our reputation. In sporting terms Malta went from being a premier league challenger to relegation.

Now that we are back where we belong it is crucial to keep our feet on the ground and realise that the tortuous journey to regain our reputation has just started. Reforms alone mean nothing unless they are applied across the board and in their true spirit. Unfortunately, law-abiding Maltese citizens have already paid a price for what happened, in the form of exaggerated red-tape when it comes to banks and financial transactions. It is only natural to expect that this strict regime is applied across the board including politicians not only in the financial sector but by all regulatory bodies. We have to admit that the perception that some members of our society are seemingly immune from prosecution or have long tentacles everywhere still exists. This culture needs to change.

Malta’s cash-for-passport scheme is still an issue, not only with the FATF but also with Brussels. Though the country has raked in millions, this fortune has come at a price and the way forward should be to identify new streams of revenue based on added value.

Anybody assuming that coming out of the grey list will automatically take us out of the limelight would be doing so at their own risk. Indeed, we are now like somebody under probation whereby one wrong move, could spell huge trouble once again. Returning to certain ‘bad habits’ or relaxing certain controls would be a recipe for disaster.