For the first time ever, Malta is no longer considered an attractive country for foreign investment. The grim assessment emerged from the 2021 EY Attractiveness Survey which has been monitoring Malta’s performance for almost two decades.

It transpires that 46% of the foreign investors interviewed now consider Malta to be unattractive for foreign direct investment whereas only 37% have a favourable opinion. Two years ago, this scenario was unthinkable as 77% had a favourable opinion against 15%. In football terms it is like going from Champions League football to relegation in just two seasons. The report does not mince its words and states that this fall from grace is largely the result of Malta ending up in the FATF’s grey list.

The road to restore the country’s reputation starts by shifting away from short-sighted policies and gain and move to a future-proof (this should not be just a slogan) framework, legislation and enforcement. Malta also needs to seek a new economic model less based on numbers – be it cars, tourists, developments, labour-intensive industries – and focus on value added, well-being and ultimately the quality of life of its residents.

It is also of huge concern that 9 out of 10 think that Malta’s environment is getting worse with the biggest challenge being over development. What is even more worrying is that two thirds of our youths are seeing no future here and would seize the opportunity to relocate to Europe. The grim prospect is akin to those in the post-war era when thousands of Maltese emigrated in search of a better future to countries like Australia, USA and Canada. If the situation will not improve, the resulting brain drain will be catastrophic for the Maltese economy. The questions beckon – is the upcoming generation seeking greener pastures elsewhere for being fed up with the lack of meritocracy, tribalism, over construction, nepotism, clientelism, the power of incumbency and unaffordable housing?

The solution to all this might not necessarily mean throwing money at your problems. But we first need to acknowledge we do have a problem. Judging by the manner in which government has brushed aside calls for a greater commitment to get off the grey list and even to the EY findings itself, it seems this is a government in denial.

It is worth keeping in mind that our weaknesses are not permanent. We have the capability to turn the situation around. If Botswana and Mauritius did it, Malta can.

However, burying our heads in the sand by not acting immediately would be foolish. Yet, the mantra from the Prime Minister’s Office and the underlying message of the 2022 Budget to the social partners and the people of this island is that it is business as usual. The slogan chosen for this Budget – The Malta we want for our children – could not have been more ironic. Surely, nobody to be remembered for relegating an EU member state to the grey list!