The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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When stress levels rise read ‘A Christmas Carol’ for deliverance

George M Mangion Tuesday, 29 November 2022, 12:10 Last update: about 3 years ago

If the celebrated writer Charles Dickens were alive today, he'd have no trouble recognizing modern-day Scrooges. During young adulthood, Mr Scrooge was engaged to be married. However, when his bride-to-be expressed concerns about his obsession with money, the wedding was called off.

After the wedding was called off, Mr Scrooge, states he turned his focus completely to his business and did not attempt to make any friends or to maintain any other relationships. He does state that he had one friend, Jacob Marley, who was also his business partner. Marley is now deceased and Mr Scrooge reports having no other close friends. The cry of "Humbug" can be heard from a number of 21st century Scrooges from the comfort of luxury villas, expensive yachts amid the hubris of power.

The simple answer is that even today, the moral of A Christmas Carol is that the pursuit of money will not make a person happy. The simple-but-effective plot makes it perfect for a commentary on our society. We may not be living in slums in Malta any longer, but poverty and homelessness are still very much prevalent problems in our day and age. Politicians and property speculators rake in millions.

The Sliema, St Julian's, Gzira golden triangle may now be filled with state-of-the-art high rise, but that seems to make it even more ironic that there's such a disparity between the general public and the so-called 1% rich. The inequalities observed by Dickens still exist today.

Malta's political scene is replete with scandals that raise their heads on a daily basis so what can the righteous man do to achieve redemption bombarded with daily news of sins of avarice, graft and abuse of power. It goes without saying, that as an island state, resilience and preparedness are key, even though no one could have ever imagined Covid will result in such disruption on a global scale. In the revered play, we meet Scrooge who devotes his life to amassing wealth, but in doing so misses out on the joys of family and friendship.

We are getting immune to the issue of direct orders, appointment of persons of trust, nepotism right in front of our eyes. A recent example cites the niece of acting president, who coming straight from local university, is appointed as an expert advisor in the Energy ministry with an eye-bulging salary plus perks - this alone speaks volumes. The abuse of Planning Authority permits, building in ODZ land, continues unabated. A minister caught brandishing stolen state memorabilia in his garden continues to avoid sanction. An ex-CEO of MFSA and MGA (the superlative top regulators of corporate finance and gaming) caught hobnobbing in Las Vegas with the alleged mastermind of an assassination plot. He is quietly asked to resign but he goes free and unchallenged - to graze grass in new sectors.

Many other examples follow, such as the selling of three public hospitals to Vitals Health/Stewards Health Care, where Castille continues to pay them millions yet they have produced no tangible results. A previous finance minister issues a free €350m bank state guarantee to a private company which was covertly granted a concession to build and run an electricity generating plant headed by a local director who is in jail; accused to be the master mind of a heinous crime to kill a journalist.

The latter wielded a poison pen and her blogs revealed (among others) the registration of four secret Panama companies and other peccadillos. The list goes on, so by and large the populace is slowly getting immune to a carousel of political bickering.

As we approach the season to be jolly, Castille and an unelected President surreptitiously remind us to forgive and forget. Filling the coffers of the annual Istrina jamboree, participating in a community fun run and joining the melee of decorated Valletta fairyland stalls will quench our thirst for forgiveness.

Yet, when reading A Christmas Carol one remembers the misery and poverty of Bob Cratchit's family. Here Scrooge is overwhelmed at the inner peace and happiness of this family during a ghostly visit with the spirit of Christmas today. Just like the old Scrooge, the corporate Scrooges of today are hoarding their wealth rather than helping to create general prosperity. However, the old Scrooge - unlike the corporate Scrooges - paid attention to the lessons taught by the spirits of the past, present and future.

The old Scrooge saw his worker (Bob Cratchit) as a cost to be minimized. The new Scrooge provided a living wage with good benefits, "I'll raise your salary and endeavour to assist your struggling family". In today's scenario, Malta hosts 85,000 persons considered to be living in poverty. The effects of inflation and the Ukraine war are exerting new pressures on those living on the fringes of society because of financial deprivation. At the extremes, this sometimes manifests itself as malnutrition and homelessness. Caritas recommends that low-income families be identified so that food available for distribution is delivered to them on time.

The contrite Scrooge had the goal of shared prosperity and recognised the importance of providing direct assistance to all those in need "to think of people below... as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys".

The 2023 Budget has had a positive effect of helping pensioners and low-income families with a host of new welfare benefits which go some way to alleviate hardships.

Unemployment at 8,600 is a low figure and Castille is capping the cost of fuel, electricity and cereals. Yet, more is needed, as inflation in double digits conjures a ghostly spectre in neighbouring countries. Therefore, prior to Covid, the state was spinning a tale - it was converting vice into virtue. Social progress during l-Aqwa Zmien resulted from the passions and vices of rulers and their devious schemes were compensated by self interest, allowing them to accumulate wealth discreetly parked in Panama companies or Dubai trusts.

In conclusion, Dickens focuses on how Christmas is a time of year that should remind us of others and the importance of carrying out that philosophy year-round, not just for one day. Our circumstances may change, the Russian warmongers may declare peace, but human frailties often don't and so A Christmas Carol will continue to remain a pertinent lesson for a while to come.


George M. Mangion is a partner in PKF, an audit and business advisory firm



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