The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

TMID Editorial: 153 freephone collapse – Is there so much desperation?

Friday, 21 February 2020, 08:38 Last update: about 3 months ago

On Monday, the 153 freephone government service collapsed.

The reason for this was the countless calls that the system kept getting from people who had not yet received a one-time cheque from the government to make up for the increase in the price of bread and milk which had not been calculated within the Cost of Living Adjustment exercise for 2020.

The amount of the cheque varied from a minimum of €15 per single-person households to a maximum of €35 for multi-person homes.

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When announcing the mailing of the cheques last week, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna made the mistake of giving a definite timeframe. He said the cheques were to be sent by post between 14 and 17 February. Many believed they would be actually receiving the money by Monday 17 February and, when the postman came and did not deliver the cheque, they picked up the phone to complain.

Scicluna did say that people should wait a couple of days beyond the 17 February deadline before flooding the 153 freephone with calls, but the minister should know the Maltese better. What the minister should have said was that the cheques would be received by the end of February – giving a longer timeframe would have (possibly) meant more patience.

But what happened last Monday gives a perfect description of Maltese society. It fits in with our mentality – to be fair, the mentality of many of us, not all of us – that the government is there to provide for us. It also fits in with the frame of mind of many that it’s ok for the government to be embroiled in scandals that lead to the resignation of the prime minister so long as they are getting a cheque which, let’s face it, would barely cover the cost of a pizza.

Over the past years the culture of hand-outs became more ingrained, fuelled as it has been by a government which has tried to shift attention away from its shortcomings and wrongdoings by offering monetary compensation. We’ve seen it happening all too often, starting off with the yearly tax rebates ranging from €40 to €68, depending on one’s income, and now with the bread and milk cheque. The government has so far said that the latest stunt is a one-time exercise, but we would not be surprised if it is repeated in the years to come.

What is worse is that there are many of us, unfortunately, who fall into the trap of believing that this is some kind of gift from the government, and that we should be eternally grateful for this generosity. Few understand that the money had already been taken away from us and is only being given back. And fewer understand that this is just a gimmick and see through the deception.

The Labour Party has been boasting for years that the standard of living has improved greatly for one and all.

If this is really so, why are there so many people scrambling for this blessed cheque as if it was life-changing? Why is there so much frustration when it is not received? Why were queues at the banks longer than usual as people rushed to deposit/cash such a meagre amount?

The sheer desperation of many people whose cheque arrived late goes a long way to prove that the “best of times” is just another government buzzword.

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