The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
View E-Paper


Alfred Sant MEP Monday, 20 March 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

Clientelism, plague though it is, has been practised and discussed in the context of Maltese politics for as long as I have been following the subject, and no doubt, much before that. As of when I remember this, the discussion would turn on the ways by which Christian Democrats ran the Italian government; and we would compare Malta’s record under both the PN and Labour, with theirs.

Effectively clientelism exists wherever a parliamentary democracy is in operation -- that is, where votes determine who wins power, and where the need to win votes anyhow drives the commitment to get going and see about securing more votes.


It’s hardly just a European way of life -- American democracy is equipped with the so-called “spoils system”: to run a political campaign, one needs voluntary helpers. The winner has every incentive (every reason it is also claimed) to gift helpers with  job positions that he/she controls as a result of having won.

American political scientists would see this as a functional basis for representative democracy, as something normal and acceptable. However it is just a short step away from clientelism.



From the heart of Western Europe, a strange lament has recently been rising. Water shortages are increasing, there is a drought. Indeed, during the past two years rain has been getting scarce. Meadows have turned light brown. The production of grains and wine among others has been badly hit.

The explanation is that here too the effects of climate warming are being felt. We have been focussing for quite a while on the dry seasons that have deepened and spread around the Mediterranean and further south, in Africa. In Malta we “solved” the problem by distilling potable water (not only) from the sea. The approach cannot be applied to irrigate African or European fields.

Now, initiatives launched over the years have come into their own: they aimed to secure a general recognition of the need to consider water as an essential asset to guranteee human welfare – and therefore water resources needed to be preserved with maximum care at a global level. Yet those initiatives were ignored and ridiculed. 



One could turn again to the issue of democracy. What is beneficial about parliamentary democracy in which parties compete with each other is that the government of the day is kept on its toes. If it makes mistakes, it will get criticised, so that accountability is factored into the management of the country. Nothing can be of greater benefit to the state. Actually under different governments, this arguably has been the mechanism with the most effective impact on the governance of the island.

Still, it also has a negative impact. The adversary relationship which  characterizes the parliamentary forum implies that the party in government, when subject to criticism, is unlikely to accept that it has made mistakes. To the contrary, in order to maintain the momentum of what it wants to achieve, it needs to keep insisting on how well it has performed in the past and is still doing today. It will seek to blame others for glaring defects that are obvious to all, or it will try to hide them in rhetorical fudge.

This will mean that problems which the criticism will have identified and which should be cleared, get ignored as they could create too much “trouble”. Alternatively, efforts are even made to justify them.


  • don't miss