If you think Malta’s dwindling reputation is not going to have an impact on your earnings and Maltese quality of life in the next few years, you’re wrong.
But you’d be equally wrong to think you are powerless in all of this or that there are no solutions for the country.
Before we get to the solutions, let’s start by really understanding the problem.
For three years our country has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Not just any news, but serious headline news on the world’s biggest newspapers and TV stations.
Blatant government corruption that culminated in the shameful murder of a journalist has not only destroyed the country’s once-good reputation; it has also cemented a terrible image in the eyes of people who had never even heard of Malta before.
The real effect of damage like this can take a while to be felt and it’s extremely difficult to reverse it.
Think about it. Almost overnight, Malta became well-known and synonymous with crime, corruption and sleaze. It stands to reason that no serious business person or investor would want to associate themselves with us now.
And our reputation is likely to get worse. If Malta gets greylisted by FATF and Moneyval, we will take yet another huge dip.
In fact, Covid may have distracted us from the ugly truth that Malta is probably headed for serious economic trouble that has very little to do with the pandemic. Covid is simply helping us get used to it earlier. But as a vaccine approaches, Malta is likely to continue grappling with the epidemic that is our crumbling reputation.
Even if we stop letting ourselves down and start changing the people and laws that got us into this mess, international investors are not going to quickly change their minds about Malta.
Killing a journalist gives you a New York Times front page headline. Making small changes in the law to reduce the Prime Minister’s powers, simply does not.
So besides fixing our laws to protect us from ourselves, Malta needs to also start thinking proactively about how it is going to gain a new reputation.
We need to think of ideas that can start putting us on the map for the right reasons. And we need these ideas to have an economic dimension with the potential to make up for the damage.
With all its flaws, Malta’s Blockchain initiative could serve as an interesting case study.
Beyond the fact that the corrupt government of the day didn’t have the credibility to handle this delicate industry, it’s important to recognise how a tiny island was able to make international headlines quite effectively by opening itself up to an innovate new industry before other countries did.
We were small and nimble enough to position ourselves quickly as the best island for Blockchain – and if we pulled it off, it could have had a great impact on our economy.
This is why Blockchain should serve as our clue of what to do next. But we must learn from what went wrong to make sure our next move is more successful.
We must find a new initiative that can similarly grab international headlines but not through an industry that raises more suspicions about our integrity.
It cannot be a controversial industry, like selling passports for example, because we need something that can almost immediately unite politicians from both sides of the house and – even more importantly – unite the private sector towards a common cause, something Malta hasn’t had for decades and was only remotely felt with EU membership.
But how do we come up with such an idea?
The best way is to start with purpose.
We must ask ourselves, what is our place in the world? What can we contribute? Where are we uniquely positioned to leave impact? In a nutshell, what is a problem that we can help solve?
Perhaps we should start with what most people believe is the greatest threat to mankind: climate change.
As a small island state between Europe and Africa, we are uniquely positioned to really understand the threat of climate change. We are living it every day with the large number of immigrants we receive, many of whom are leaving their countries due to how climate change (and other matters) have negatively impacted their economies.
We also have a history with climate change. Back in 1988, Maltese professor David Attard helped establish Climate Change as “the common concern of mankind” in the first UN General Assembly Resolution on the subject.
But how can this emerge as an economic opportunity?
Imagine Malta were to declare itself as the world’s capital for climate change: a global innovation hub for climate-change-related innovation. (Just like we did with Blockchain but on a subject which enjoys global consensus.)
Imagine we were to issue a massive international call for climate change initiatives and dedicate a serious budget – half our economy even – to fund research, development and promotion of innovative solutions to fight climate change, through both mitigation and adaptation.
We could give it the Blockchain treatment: tax incentives, free office space, government backing, nimble legislation and so on.
The government and the private sector could join forces to commit their efforts to putting Malta on the map on this issue and attracting the best talent, ideas and investments.
Beyond the positive headlines, think about how this strategy will help us fix so many other aspects of our country: protecting our natural and built environment, reaching our EU targets, finding solutions for traffic and pollution, and so much more.
Our construction sector would have an incentive to build green. Our education sector would add more focus to this subject. Our tourism sector would immediately opt for quality over quantity. Our energy sector would stop delaying renewables. And our political sector would finally have a common cause to fight together: fixing Malta’s reputation by uniting to fight climate change.
This is just one example. Maybe there are other sectors that we are not looking at. Maybe we can find another cause worth getting all of Malta behind.
But we cannot keep delaying this. We cannot keep waiting for our politicians to fix our reputation and think of new industries to invest in. We must put forward our ideas and work together to emerge from these dark clouds.
Ultimately we must understand that if we don’t do something radical, our livelihoods are in danger.
We need a recovery plan that goes beyond Covid. We need to fix our global reputation. And if we give it some thought, we can come up with a great plan that puts us back on the map for all the right reasons.
Do you think Malta can be the world’s climate change capital? Or do you have a better idea?