The Malta Independent 21 May 2022, Saturday

‘Candidates must abide by the law and work to eliminate the culture of clientelism’ - PN

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 17 January 2022, 08:54 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Nationalist Party expects all of its candidates to remain close to the people and to be sensitive to their needs, “but candidates must abide by the law and work to eliminate the culture of clientelism, not encourage it,” a spokesperson said.

At the beginning of January, PL MP Oliver Scicluna had taken to Facebook to express his anger and offence at people offering him their vote in exchange for favours, saying that this is a practice and mentality which needs to stop.

This newsroom sent a number of questions to Prime Minister Robert Abela and Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech. Both were asked whether they condone politicians offering favours in return for people promising their vote; whether action should be taken against such politicians; for their general thoughts about the situation; if they believe the clientelism mentality needs to change and how they propose bringing about such change.

A question was also sent to the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party asking whether, if it emerges that a candidate within their party offers favours to people in return for their votes, they would bar that candidate from appearing on the ballot under their party.

A PN spokesperson seemingly replied on behalf of both the PN and Bernard Grech. No response was received from Robert Abela or the Labour Party, however Abela did answer a related question during a live interview at a political rally.

The PN spokesperson said: “Labour has systematically destroyed Malta’s institutions, forcing citizens to beg ministers for what is theirs by right. Labour candidates like Oliver Scicluna are realising that this culture of dependency gives abusive ministers an unfair electoral advantage. But he should be blaming his colleagues, not voters.”

“When taxpayers see so many phantom jobs and direct orders given to the clique (as we have seen in countless NAO reports) you cannot blame them for making demands,” the PN spokesperson said.

“Although there will always be an element of clientelism in a small representative democracy, what we are experiencing today is a monster of Labour’s creation. The solution the PN is offering is a fair government that invests in education and economic growth. When people have access to well-paid jobs in the private sector, and when there is a level playing field, these practices will be reduced.”

“PN expects all of its candidates to remain close to people and to be sensitive to their needs as well as to help them fight any injustices they face. But candidates must abide by the law and work to eliminate the culture of clientelism, not encourage it.”

It is one thing for MPs to provide assistance or guidance on how to access a government benefit or service, but it is another thing for candidates - particularly those in government - to promise illegal favours for votes, the PN spokesperson said.

“This is one of the reasons the PN is proactively proposing a Bill on caretaker governments as part of an unprecedented reform of 12 Bills to help Malta fight financial crime, corruption and the mafia, which will also help Malta get off the greylist.”

The spokesperson did not say if the party would bar candidates from appearing under their party in the ballot sheet should they be found to offer favours for votes.

Prime Minister Abela, while not responding to this newsroom’s questions, was asked about Scicluna’s comment in a political rally. Asked about Oliver Scicluna’s comment, and about what changes to the electoral system he would propose, Abela said: “I cannot agree that we have an electoral system based on favours. I am going to speak from the experience I have had through house visits and from my experience in the 2017 election.”

He gave some examples he came across. “You would come across people living alone and all they would want is for you to spend some time with them discussing and keeping them company. That is definitely not a favour.”

“There was another person who was terminally ill who couldn’t leave her apartment as she was unable to walk down her stairs in a housing estate, and there was no lift.” He said he believed it is a politician’s duty to pressure the authorities to install that lift that everyone in the block had a right to. Abela said that such an action is what society expects from politicians and it is not a favour for a vote.

“We are in a small country where everyone knows everyone and I don’t believe that the proximity between politicians and citizens is something bad. I believe it is something good as long as one doesn’t cross certain limits.”

He said there are “isolated cases” where people would say that if they don’t receive something they would not give the politician their vote. “I believe Oliver was speaking about these isolated cases and on these he is right. He did right to speak.”

“I believe our cultural system has changed.” Why did it change, Abela asked rhetorically. He said that in 2013 people would ask for jobs as they didn’t have a job. “People didn’t have a good quality of life and so everyone did what they could to improve their position.”

As time passed, he said, and the economy grew and unemployment reduced, the change in culture took place and politicians can discuss country policies with people, what the people like and what they want changed in the country etc.

As for whether there are electoral system changes he thinks there can be, he said there can be a discussion, adding that there is a basis for a discussion as to whether the country should keep the 13 district system or if they should reduce in number. Another discussion he said could take place is whether a Prime Minister should have the power to appoint technocrats to Cabinet.

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