The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

TMID Editorial - Clientelism: It must end

Tuesday, 18 January 2022, 07:55 Last update: about 5 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 told this newsroom.

Clientelism in politics is nothing new, and cannot be addressed if the two main political parties don’t take strict action against candidates who make use of it.

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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. His statement was bold and courageous. Not many politicians would have done the same.

This newsroom sent questions about clientelism to Prime Minister Robert Abela and Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech, and also to the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.

A PN spokesperson responded on behalf of the PN and Grech, It is interesting that no response was received by the Prime Minister or the Labour Party.

The PN spokesperson did make some strong statements, like the above, and like: “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.”

One question it did not answer however, was 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.

The spokesperson however seemed to recognise that there is a problem in the country: “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. 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.”

While the Prime Minister did not answer the questions, he was asked about favours for votes in a political rally, and tried to downplay the situation. 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.” He said that from his experience, 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.”

But he went on to say that he believes the culture 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.

What we have are two very different viewpoints of the situation in the country with regards to clientelism. Realistically speaking though, with the number of appointments and persons of trust we’ve seen in recent years, are we truly to believe that the situation had changed since 2013?

It’s time for our political leaders take a serious stand on this issue. Clientelism must end.

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