Last Updated on Thursday, 9 September, 2021 at 12:38 pm by Andre Camilleri
Malta’s Notarial Council has been calling upon stakeholders to take action for much-needed digital reforms since 2016. Speaking to Dayna Camilleri Clarke, DR CLINTON BELLIZZI, president of the Notarial Council, explains the rationale for change.
“It’s a heavily proctored profession and with over 400 notaries on our books, I can say it’s incredibly rare someone isn’t abiding by the law. Notaries are people in a position of trust and we must not let rare cases tarnish the reputation of our profession.”
Adopting an online payment of property taxes and registration fees system have been identified by the council as one of a number of milestones for protecting clients from the situation whereby notaries entrusted with their funds could default. In addition to mechanisms in which large sums of money are usually transferred to an account, these payments could instead be blocked by the bank on the client’s account until the contract is finalised.
This method, alongside a digital platform for tracking payments, avoids transferring money for property purchases through third parties, including notaries, who would no longer hold funds for clients but would still be responsible for the transactions concluded before them.
“Unfortunately, locally, we are still lagging due to limited banking infrastructure and investment in this area, particularly when compared to European counterparts such as the Netherlands who have long adopted such a successful approach, which was fruitful, namely over the pandemic period.”
Asked whether he thought such a system would support transparency, in light of the FATF grey listing Dr Bellizzi was quick to reply. “Absolutely, monitoring payments through such a platform would pave the way to utmost transparency. KYC checks and AML checks could also be vetted. Even the Central Bank of Malta is in agreement with us on this matter.”
Bellizzi explained at length the rigorous vetting every contract in Malta and Gozo passes through. “Annually, a Board reviews every single contract, where shortcomings are identified we will follow up with an appropriate investigation. If a notary is not deemed compliant, the relevant disciplinary action is implemented. We must reassure the public that situations of abuse are incredibly rare.”
In lieu of the recent Ivan Barbara case, whereby the notary passed away, leaving his clients in financial limbo, Bellizzi added the full facts of the case are not yet known and it is too early to speculate. “The concluded contracts have been passed on to the Chief Notary to the Government who is overseeing the work. It is too early to say what happened to the funds.”
Asked if clients would retrieve their money, Bellizzi replied: “This is not the first time a notary has passed away. If there should be any evidence of misappropriation in such cases, clients must speak to a lawyer and follow the appropriate advice. Notwithstanding, a digital platform would also support with the tracking of payments in the case of the death of a notary.”
The Notarial Council is also in talks with the state advocate to develop a “comprehensive set of amendments” to laws and procedures that would offer clients more protection in these circumstances.