Beware of Abela bearing gifts

“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. An English phrase referencing the ancient story of the Sack of Troy, when during the Trojan War, the Greeks faked a truce by giving the city of Troy a massive wooden horse, which, after the Trojans got black out drunk celebrating, opened up to reveal Greek soldiers hiding inside, opening the doors of the city from the inside and causing the destruction of the city.

Nowadays, we don’t have large walls protecting our people, or the need to fear gifts from our enemies. For gifts like the wooden horse are now being given to us by those who govern over us, people who claim to be our friends.

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€300 worth of free internet to 3,300 students (costing taxpayers around €1,000,000), €100 cheque to all workers, €200 to pensioners “to stimulate the local economy” (costing taxpayers approximately €70,000,000), tax refunds between €60 and €145, and possibly much more to come.

These amounts are basically how much the government thinks your vote is worth, paid directly by the taxpayers’ wallet back to the taxpayers’, all for a hope that people forget everything that has happened in the past 5 years (and over); all the wrongdoings, the scandals, corruption, mismanagement of several dozen projects, nepotism, mishandlings in Daphne Caruana Galicia’s murder, rising inflation and cost of living, stagnant wages, degrading standard of living, complete disregard to the remaining environment, and anything else I may have forgotten to mention.

As former minister Tonio Fenech rightly said, the government is just trying to buy as many votes as possible to keep their image of a high voter-satisfaction as much as possible.

This isn’t me saying that this hasn’t happened when Tonio Fenech was still the finance minister under the Nationalist Party – these shenanigans happened before every single election in memory, regardless of which party was in charge, which is discussed later on.

There is extremely little regard to the continuously rising deficit the country is facing thanks to COVID-19 and the continued mismanagement of the situation, going up by €1.6 billion in 2021 (12.8% of our GDP, the 3rd largest in the EU).

All that matters is that the government survives the election; after that, who cares what happens? As long as there is more time for the government and the people closest to those on top to plunder the country dry, take everything that they can, and put them into offshore accounts, they’re happy.

For anyone that may say that these are incentives that help everyone, note who they’re targeting:

  1. 3,300 post-secondary students to receive €300 worth of free internet, who, thanks to the Vote-16 law in 2018 are allowed to vote in the coming election. The government didn’t waste a cent with this demographic, ensuring that only those that can vote are the ones who are able to receive this incentive.
  2. €100 cheque to all workers, €200 to pensioners as an economic incentive, covering the absolute majority of the voting Maltese population, and more for the more elder voters that are commonly polled as leaning more towards voting for the Nationalist Party, in order to take advantage of the relatively low pension in order to incentivise them into changing sides for the chance of getting more.
  3. Tax refunds between €60 and €145, an incentive to all taxpayers and therefore to all relevant voters. This shouldn’t even be an incentive to begin with as its definition is ‘giving taxpayers back what they paid extra’. By constantly putting it as a motivation to like the government, they’re basically saying that they’re only willing to pay you back when the time is right.

When considering these examples, and many others, it must be remembered that the phenomenon of vote-buying isn’t purely limited to the Labour Party’s tenure in government.

Following the 2008 general election, which has seen the Nationalist Party being re-elected by a razor thin margin of around 1,500 votes, the then Labour deputy leader Dr Anglu Farrugia had stated that the police had received claims of individual employers indulging in vote-buying during the election campaign.

The claims, which had been then passed onto the Attorney General to verify whether there were sufficient grounds for individuals to be charged, ranged from substantial payments being handed out, to planning permits being dished out, and goods being imported and then delivered for free.

In relation to the 2013 election however, the story would be too different, as this saw the Labour Party trouncing the Nationalist Party by a whopping 36,000 votes, only for these margins to go up to 40,000 during the 2017 snap election.

Similar incentives to these were seen in the 2017 election, which was announced as a result of the Panama Papers scandal (remember that?), in an attempt to steer even more votes towards the government, in order to show that it has the endorsement the voting population, and bragging that despite of the piling issues seen during the last decade, “the people have chosen to stay the course,” no matter how corrupt and backward the government was becoming.

Some of these incentives included:

  1. Candidates handing out food and drink hampers. Whilst this may seem completely innocent at face value, what may appear to be done with good intentions in mind actually constitutes a breach of the General Elections Act, with Article 54 of the aforementioned act clearly stating:

54. (1) Any person who corruptly by himself or by any other Treating. person, either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly, gives or provides, or pays wholly or in part the expense of giving or providing any food, drink, entertainment, or provision to or for any person, for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to give or refrain from giving his vote at the election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting or being about to vote or refrain from voting at such election, shall be guilty of the offence of treating. (2) Every voter who corruptly accepts or takes any such food, drink, entertainment, or provision shall also be guilty of the offence of treating.”

Which is all legal jargon for ‘candidates mustn’t do that’.

  • Employment-sprees in the form of government and public sector jobs. An example of this was over 1,000 Gozitan citizens who were of voting age being recruited to government or subcontracted agencies based in Gozo, with this occurring just weeks before the 2017 election. A fraction of this consisted of over 100 employees being transferred from the Ministry for Gozo, to the Citadella in Victoria, whilst the Gozo Channel company took just under 150 workers. Needless to say, these job allocations irked small and private businesses, with many of them having lost employees and being left unable to operate as swiftly and efficiently as they would normally. 
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  • Recruitment in the public and civil service carrying on despite an ensuing election campaign. The recruitment for new staff which occurred throughout the 2017 election was intended for the civil service, government and state agencies, and other related entities present within the public sector. Despite an ongoing election campaign, the entire month which this took place still saw applications being sent, job interviews being held, and new staff being recruited within the aforementioned entities. The vacancies which were published between May and June 2017 included, but weren’t limited to, posts at the Ministry for Health, the Ministry for the Implementation of the Electoral Manifesto, the Ministry for Home Affairs, the Ministry for Civil Liberties, the Armed Forces of Malta, the Malta Police Force, and the Detention Services.

All this is just a very recent history of basic, well-known voter buying techniques commonly used by quite a large number of candidates, and the governments themselves. They’re ingrained into our election period, and although the practise is called out at every single election, they don’t stop.

This doesn’t mean that the candidates and the parties are the only ones at fault. As Maltese, we love taking every and any deal we find, especially if we’re promised a lot for just a simple number on a paper.

Therefore, this vote-buying doesn’t only come from the top, but also from people like us. People who sell off their vote for a quick government job or help with an ongoing issue, or any other pleasure that they need a member of parliament’s aid with. This issue was highlighted last month by MP Oliver Scicluna on Facebook.

In English:

“I’m still new to politics, but I often think about things that seem to have been around for a long time and that I won’t get used to.

How many individuals come and tell you if you serve me “I will think of you”.

A phrase that makes me feel bad, not because I would be helping or guiding anyone, but because I believe that what you can take you have to have a right for it. At the same time this common reaction I feel is a threat to the vote, while I am not a person who helps those who get what they deserve because of the vote, but because by nature I like to assist those who are.

This phrase hurts me. I am writing this publicly because I feel offended when someone comes to me for help with the mentality that it will turn the vote into a pleasure. They forgot that I got into politics to work for a just society in the true sense of the word.

I want the people who vote for me to do it wholeheartedly and because they believe that I can do something good in general, not to exchange a vote for pleasure.
This mentality must be broken, and we must be the very politicians who stop doing it once and for all.”

I commend Mr. Oliver Scicluna and Mr. Tonio Fenech for coming out and stating what in any other society or system of democratic government would be obvious, but unfortunately after 57 years we haven’t yet settled on the basics of running a non-corrupt, fully democratic government just yet.

A final reiteration just in case you haven’t managed to get the message behind this article:

  1. All these aren’t last-minute government incentives or promises for the future, they’re purely stated for voter-buying (just like the Ħal-Far race-track, issa jibnija mela!).
  2. Giving out government jobs to anyone with a isn’t boosting the economy, it’s purely voter-buying.
  3. Your grandmother didn’t receive a hamper from a minister because s/he cares about her, they just hope she’s still alive before the next election to snatch up her vote. She’s nothing more than a number to them.
  4. Change starts with us, the common folk. Feel free to refuse minister trinkets, even if you support the party they’re with, and attempt to go through the normal means of acquiring what you need, not through members of parliament with the promise of your vote in the next election!

Written by: Anonymous

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