This piece is an explainer which outlines why this investigation is important while contextualising the relevance of the findings.
What’s wrong with a former Cabinet minister working in the private sector after exiting politics?
Technically speaking, there is nothing wrong with a former Cabinet member working in the private sector following the conclusion of their term in office. The problem here becomes apparent when we consider who we’re talking about, how he exited politics and on what grounds, the type of work in question, and who he is in business with.
Let’s start with the central figure in question: Cardona’s tenure as a disgraced minister for the economy was marked by a consistent stream of scandals and hardly any noteworthy policy decisions.
Cardona was a steadfast loyalist to disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his inner circle, repeatedly sticking his neck out for Muscat and his closest even in the face of indefensible scandal. As was explained in the original investigation, Cardona was also repeatedly linked with abandoned plots to murder Daphne Caruana Galizia and was often reportedly seen in the company of hardened criminals.
In simpler words, we are talking about a minister whose ties with the Labour Party and organised crime (which, in this country, are one and the same) are amply documented. We are talking about a minister who contributed very little to the government’s legacy (beyond always being ready to brown-nose the great leader whenever there was an opportunity to do so).
More importantly, we are talking about someone who, in spite of being the kind of person who clearly does not make the kind of judgement calls that befit the stature of the role he once occupied, nonetheless had direct influence over the decision to sell Maltese passports to anyone with enough cash to buy one.
A situation in which a politician later benefits from decisions made during their career is a recurring issue within politics known as the ‘revolving doors’ problem. People who held power within some form of authority will always be considered valuable to private interests which are regulated by those same authorities.
In the very worst cases, those same people in power will already be cultivating close ties with those private interests, sometimes to the point where legislation is changed to favour those private interests. Those private interests then return the favour by landing former legislators with cushy jobs and astronomical salaries after they leave politics.
While Cardona was not, technically speaking, overseeing the sale of passports himself, he nonetheless had a direct role in the decision and actively supported it by deliberately over-hyping the economic benefits the country has received from it without acknowledging the long-term damage to Malta’s reputation and the integrity of the country’s checks and balances.
The problem with public officials choosing to serve private interests to secure a pay-off years down the line is not solely a Maltese one. By way of an example, the EU Commission made a semi-decent attempt at thwarting this problem by imposing 18-month cooling off periods on all former Commissioners, meaning that they cannot work in the same field they were overseeing for a year and a half after leaving office.
Malta has no such policies in place for former members of Parliament or former members of Cabinet. When this was brought up earlier this year, prime minister Robert Abela falsely claimed that taxpayers would have to compensate former ministers and Parliamentarians who do not take up private sector employment immediately after exiting politics.
What about the police inspector?
This is where this investigation reveals a really problematic dynamic.
Police inspector Frankie Sammut works for the immigration department, which means that it can be argued that he polices a sector which he is also involved in through the sale of passports.
This is besides the given fact that police officers, much like judges and magistrates, ought to be impartial individuals who have no other obligation other than to uphold the law they represent.
Article 11 of the Police Act is expressly clear on the protocols which are in place for employment outside of the police force:
“(1) Every police officer shall be deemed to be a police officer at all times and shall devote all his time to the service of the Force and shall not perform any other work, unless an authorisation has been obtained in advance and in writing.”
The article goes on to specify:
“(2) Every police officer shall in the case of a business or occupation outside his official duties, request in writing the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry responsible for the Force and after such request the Permanent Secretary shall inform the Commissioner whether such a request has been accepted or rejected.”
This means that Sammut’s employment makes the situation even more questionable since this inspector is being allowed to carry on selling passports with the ministry’s blessing in spite of the European Commission’s legal proceedings against the government of Malta on this very same issue.