The Malta Independent 18 January 2022, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: The politics of favours

Monday, 10 January 2022, 14:14 Last update: about 7 days ago

It took one of Malta’s new MPs who wasn’t a career politician to speak out about something which we know happens on an all-too-common basis in Maltese politics.

Oliver Scicluna, who was co-opted to Parliament last year by the Labour Party, spoke out last week against people asking for favours in return for their vote – something he said he had met while campaigning for the upcoming general election.

So many individuals come up to me and tell me that if I help them, they will “think of me”, Scicluna said.

Expanding on this with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Scicluna said that classic examples of this are people asking for a job with the government – ostensibly that job being one where they can get paid without doing any actual work – or people asking for accommodation in one of the government’s social housing complexes.

Of course, this is nothing new to Maltese politics, and it is something that transcends party boundaries as well.  It is a key part of the power of incumbency which the governing party employs in order to stay in power.

We all know someone who has received a cold call from someone claiming to be from the office of a government minister asking whether the person “needs something.” 

The statement isn’t as direct as saying “I will give you what you need as long as you give me your vote”, but the implication of it is quite clear.

As Scicluna said, people asking for jobs with the government are amongst the most common examples.

We have seen and written stories which show that this is a practice – essentially jobs for votes – which continues to be prevalent. 

We know, for instance, that Melvin Theuma – the pardoned middleman in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder – was granted a ‘phantom job’ with the government and received a couple months’ worth of pay without even knowing what his job was meant to be, let alone working a day of it.

We have seen, very recently in fact, constituted bodies and social partners – particularly employers – saying how, particularly in Gozo, workers are haemorrhaging out of the private sector in favour of jobs being offered to them by government ministries.

Speaking with this newsroom, Scicluna expressed his hope that other MPs follow his lead and refuse to give in to handing out jobs or favours in exchange for votes.  So far – he said – very few MPs from either side expressed their support to what he said, with the vast majority choosing to remain silent instead.

Amongst those who agreed was PL deputy leader Daniel Micallef, who said that a change to the electoral system is needed to change the culture.

That may be true, but it also misses the wood for the trees.  Even with the current system – the key on whether to hand out a favour or not is in the hands of the politician.  Irrelevant of what political system one has, one needs politicians who have enough of a backbone to put their foot down and stick to democracy’s principles, even if it means that they will lose a few votes as a direct result.

Do we have enough such politicians in our country for that to happen?  With the general election only months away, we will know soon enough.

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