The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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TMIS Editorial: Illicit benefits to buy votes

Sunday, 17 September 2023, 10:30 Last update: about 11 months ago

As the days roll by and more details emerge about the extent of the benefits fraud racket that has been uncovered, the level of desperation in the way Labour is defending itself increases.

First we had the Prime Minister telling us that this was an old story, one about which action was taken two years ago. He knows well enough that this is not so. The political decision he said he took when Silvio Grixti resigned from Parliament does not even begin to make amends. We are still waiting for the police to take the necessary steps against all those who were in one way or another involved in the scandal. For two years, the government put a lid on the issue, and the hush-hush way in which the people who received the average €450 monthly were being arraigned – the small fry – makes it clear that there was an effort to keep the scandal away from public eye.

Then we had attempts to pass on the message that having 800 people taking disability benefits they were not entitled to is not a big deal, as it had happened in the past too and under Nationalist governments as well. It was wrong each time it happened, under whichever administration. But what we are experiencing these days smells of an organised scheme which involved people in important positions.

The latest move to shift the blame comes from Robert Abela again. When asked to say whether sitting Labour MPs and officials are involved in the racket, he said that the question should be asked about Nationalist MPs. What the PM was doing was trying to divide the blame with the PN, which was quick to point out that if Abela has any evidence, he should take it to the police. Abela did not. As the cartoon beneath this editorial says, “keep digging, Bob”.

The racket goes beyond the taking of benefits for which one is not entitled to. That, on its own, is a serious offence which, as we have already said, should spell repercussions for all those who received the illicit money (which should be paid back) and for those who were behind the whole set-up. The political consequences, then, should not have stopped two years ago.

And we are still waiting for the day when it is not only the beneficiaries who are charged before the courts. We are still to see all the higher-ups being arraigned. Then again, this would not be enough either. We would then like to see an expeditious process, one which is dissimilar to other cases – not related to this one – which have seen top guns on serious charges in court, but whose cases seem to have been lost in the laborious justice system, and about which we have heard next to nothing for months. What has happened to them?

But there is more to the benefits’ racket than just illicit earnings, as we have come to know from some of the beneficiaries that the cheques were being handed out in exchange of votes. In other words, Labour was using public money to influence the election. Abela, of course, refuses the notion. He is never going to admit to something as this, but the indications are there for all to see.

Every government uses its power of incumbency to try to retain its power. But, through all that has happened, Labour has taken the meaning to a new level. And once again we ask whether all this is just limited to disability benefits. Is this vote-catching exercise restricted to illicit social benefits or does it extend to other areas?

Are people promising their vote to obtain something they should not otherwise be getting? And is what they want being given to them even though they should not have it in exchange for the promised vote?

We know that this has happened in the disability benefits scandal. But we’re inclined to believe that this is taking place via other means – a phantom job, maybe, such as the ones highlighted by the Gozo Bishop a few weeks ago; a permit for this or that, the avoidance of a fine or a jump up the queue.

Everything comes to mind and the suspicions grow even because, in the last 10 years, Labour has done the complete opposite of what it promised before 2013. Then, led by Joseph Muscat, it had pledged no nepotism, but we have experienced otherwise. More than this, we have seen it happening time and again that people in the wrong are defended, rather than punished.

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