The prime minister said we have Roberta Metsola and David Casa to thank for the European Commission’s decision to start infringement proceedings to stop us selling European passports. If he were even right, I’d be sending them some flowers and a scented card.

The reason the Commission is starting an infringement procedure is, at least as I see it, that the idea of selling passports is not merely abhorrent, it is also illegal.

This has been argued every which way by now and it will need to be argued again because the prime minister does not even have the dubious dignity the Cypriots had when announced they’ll be scrapping the scheme the moment they realised the game was up and they would not be allowed to get away with it any longer.

Robert Abela confirmed yesterday that “we’re in the process” of wrapping up the passport selling scheme. That is because with what has been going on, the value of a Maltese passport has continued to shrink below the price we charge for it. Who wants to buy a passport that will raise red flags on the immigration counter or the desk of any due diligence inspector this side of Alaska?

But we feel we need to eek out every last drop. We cannot afford the self respect of dropping now a scheme that will run dry shortly anyway. We need, they say, “to defend Malta”. When it isn’t Malta that we’re defending. We’re defending the pockets of those profiting from the scheme: the passport buyers themselves, Henley and Partners, its local subsidiaries. Until they get the last possible drop.

The government wants us to be grateful because the passport scheme is financing the national budget and covering the generosity of public expenditure even in the midst of a covid crisis. But that’s all crap of course. I’ll explain why.

By the prime minister’s own admission, independently of what the European Commission decides to do, the days of the passport scheme are numbered. It was always going to be like this. Like every crooked act of robbery, this was not going to be a long term economic activity. You can rob a bank once, twice, maybe three times. At some point the game will be up.

Is selling passports like robbing banks? Not quite of course but subtlety doesn’t sanitise it. With every new crook exposed dodging tax, laundering money or channeling proceeds of crime armed with a laptop and a burgundy passport, other countries become less indulgent to Malta’s quick-buck-making foibles. Now their patience has been squandered.

The real point is that this is not an economic activity like others that will have a boom and then a bust by when you need to replace it with something else. One day a dusk will fall on online gaming because that is the inevitable truth about all economic activities. But the passport scheme is not merely going away.

It will leave behind a scorched earth devastation on our economic viability that will be extremely hard to recover from. Consider what this year’s attractiveness survey by EY is saying about Malta. Only 19% of their survey respondents rate Malta well for stability and transparency of its political, legal and regulatory environment. That’s a survey result you’d expect from Honduras or Zambia, not an EU member state.

Do we have Roberta Metsola and David Casa to thank for that? Nope.

We can however thank the regulator of our passport scheme that has consistently rejected freedom of information requests to publish data that would have confirmed that our government broke its own laws and gave Maltese passports to people who never lived here. We can thank the data protection commissioner who confirmed his colleague’s decision on the grounds that the information might annoy other countries.

And, most importantly, you can blame the entire state infrastructure that has disobeyed its own laws, given passports to hundreds of people who had never been here before, collaborated in the lie that they lived in shuttered basements and garages, and cheated other countries by misrepresenting people as Maltese citizens when they never should have been.

When a government lies, it’s like when anybody lies: it’s bad. When a government lies for money, it’s like when anybody lies for money: it’s stealing. They did that without the help of journalists who exposed this rot and the MEPs who did not “defend” it. Defending lies is lying.

There’s an even bigger catastrophe folded inside Robert Abela’s admission that our balanced books depend on the revenue from the passport scheme. As Daphne Caruana Galizia has put it they grew addicted to the financial heroin of the income from passport sales. The rush of a cool half million with a passports that costs 3 euro to print made them lazy. Combined with their inherent incompetence that’s a recipe for an empty soup bowl.

In the years of plenty they made no plan for economic restructuring, innovation, research and development, new business streams and ideas. They did not plan for what must happen when our little oil well of millionaire passports runs dry.

The fact that the passports oil well ran dry bang in the beginning of an economic crisis brought about by covid is not their fault. But the fact that now the passports scheme is nearing expiry, we still have nothing to show for 7 years of international banditry is on them.

In these 8 years our educational system could have turned out a generation of specialists in new economic activities that would be taking off by now. This is not science fiction. It’s what government ought to be doing all the time. There wasn’t always a time when Malta was a hub for the maintenance and repair of planes. People needed to be trained in doing that, hangars needed building, customers needed attracting. The government did all that and, as someone said about casinos in Las Vegas, ‘build them and they will come’.

What have we built in these last 8 years? What new economic activity are we excited about? There was all the buzz about blockchain and virtual currencies. Where has all that gone? It’s as likely to see that provide employment to anyone now as coal mining in Dingli Street.

Robert Abela wants us to thank the passport selling scheme for the government’s balanced books. OK. What’s next?