The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Cheques and imbalances - How to literally buy an election

Saturday, 13 April 2019, 13:25 Last update: about 5 months ago

It was the first, if memory serves, or one of the first at the very least, press conferences of the 2017 general election.   Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stood there flanked by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and we were braced for a big announcement. 

And what was it, this first electoral goodie that we were to be treated to by the prime finance and minister? It was a pre-electoral handout of the lowest form: a tax rebate cheque for each and every worker handed out by a government on the hot bricks and hell-bent on retaining power, perhaps for more than one reason.


Fast forward almost two years and another crucial electoral test is upon us: a European parliamentary election that will in many ways be an electoral litmus test of all that has been happening, and the first local council election in which the entire country will go to the polls in one fell swoop.

In short, this coming election will be a mind-term election the like of which the country has not yet witnessed.  And while the country is clearly looking at a trouncing of the opposition at the hands of Labour, the latter is evidently making sure it leave no electoral stone unturned in its quest for continued electoral glory.

Now, some two years after that first dangling electoral carrot Scicluna and Muscat have dangled it yet again, promising yet another workers' rebate cheque in the lead-up to an election.

But while that first cheque was a long time coming - having been promised in May 2017 and having been delivered in September2018, this second round of pre-electoral bribes if you will, or enticements if you won't, will be a lot quicker off the mark - they were announced on Thursday and they will be sent out next week, right on time before the election.

The question is: are we now literally buying elections, and so cheaply?  And if a vote can be bought, or if the government thinks it can buy votes with €40 to €68 cheques for the workforce, what kind of indictment is that on society or on a government cynical enough to think it can buy off a segment of the population with these measly handouts, while the fat cats close to Castille rake it in.

Both tax rebates cost the government €11.5 million a pop, which is certainly a lot of cash in the eyes of the man in the street, but a mere drop in the bucket that is the state coffers.

And since such rebates are being given out as pre-electoral goodies, one must also ask why the state coffers need to cover the bill for this second electoral incentive.

Something is clearly not right when the power of incumbency allows one to pull off such pre-electoral stunts, at the state's expense, and get away with it.

This has just about always been the name of the game in Malta, but rarely has it been used as blatantly as in this case.

The last election, like in so many elections past, had been bought to some extent with the dishing out not only of tax rebate cheques, but also of favours and jobs that is so typical of the clientelism politics that this country suffers from so direly.

It must, however, be said that it was this government that had promised to do things so differently back in 2013.  Back then the mantra was 'meritocracy not cronyism', and that it was to be all about 'what you know and not who you know'.

It was also a party that campaigned on meritocracy, and not handouts.  That tune has certainly changed.

This kind of unbridled electoral behaviour, these latest cheques in the post before the election gambit being a case in point, must no longer be given any quarter.

It's about time that the way politics are done is cleaned up and the way that both parties seek to buy elections, and holding them accountable for those actions, would be a great starting point.

  • don't miss