It wasn’t too long ago that Malta pitched itself as a global leader for the regulation of cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies.
Everyone from John McAfee to Steve Wozniak flew over here to promote their ideas for ‘Blockchain Island’, but as the tough realities of Maltese banking and regulation started seeping in, the dream started to fade.
And new Finance and Employment Minister Clyde Caruana now seems to have all but closed this particular chapter, telling Lovin Malta in an interview that ‘Blockchain Island’ cannot happen unless traditional banks jump on board.
“Traditional banks have written off blockchain at its early stages,” he said. “There’s always the potential [for Blockchain Island] but if we want to make it happen, there must be more work. The banks must be convinced that this is something that can really happen; unless they’re on board it will be very difficult to go for that.”
With banks only increasing their restrictions and regulations to combat money laundering, it’s unlikely this will happen anytime soon, particularly when some players in the blockchain industry have made no secret of their goal to upend traditional banking models.
Medical cannabis companies, part of another niche Malta has attempted to tap into, have also struggled to open local bank accounts but Caruana said it’s still possible to convince banks to change their stance.
“We must do more to convince them it’s the manufacturing of any other pharmaceutical product,” he said.
Asked whether Malta should seek new economic niches, such as climate change, Caruana argued that attracting new businesses before developing skills in the labour force is a case of putting the cart before the horse.
“It’s not just about whether the industries are new or old, but rather a question of skills,” he said. “If investors don’t find what they require, they may think twice. If we want to keep on attracting investment to Malta, we must make sure we have what it takes in terms of skills.”
“I’ve been saying this for years and now that employment is in my ministry, I intend to give it the same visibility and importance as finance.”