This article first appeared on Malta Today
When Simon Busuttil said that the proposals of a political party during an election campaign should not be like a competition, I thought, yes he’s right, they should not be. He also said that voting for principles should be enough. But faster than you could say “he has a point”, I heard that he had announced five proposals to “compete” with what Muscat was proposing. So what happened? Did someone from his PR strategy team point out to him that principles are all well and good, but that here he was dealing with an electorate which was born and raised on the “gimme, gimme, gimme” principle?
Well, whoever steered him in this direction, it worked. All this largesse (or promises of largesse) pouring out from every direction, has caught the public’s attention.
The running joke at the moment is that, if it were possible, we would vote for both parties, to reap the fruit of all the goodies and freebies they are promising. If you’re a young couple with a family the first thing you would do is migrate to Gozo, grab 10k, and while you’re on the ferry you can whip out your calculator to figure out which government grants and schemes will best suit your pocket, and apply for all of them. And if that sounds too mercenary and calculating, well you reap what you sow, because that is the kind of society which our political system has created. Election time comes around for voters to take their wish list of demands up a notch, confident in the knowledge that the politicians salivating for their votes have no choice but to deliver, or at least promise to deliver. Yes, folks, we have created a monster and it is difficult to pinpoint who the real Frankenstein is: the political parties or us the voters who are the willing accomplices.
Frankly, I cannot keep up with who is promising what (even people I spoke to randomly are muddled…Did Simon say that? Or Joseph?), but I cannot help but wonder whether, as a prophetic playwright had predicted not too long ago, Malta had indeed struck oil. Because shhh, never mind where the money’s coming from, as it seems that everyone has become quite comfortable with the income from the citizenship scheme and consciences have been salved. The selling of passports, it is patently clear, is now a respectable business from which many are making money…rather than a shocking, deplorable, unsavoury thing to do, as was originally described. I happen to think that the latter description still applies, but it is obvious that others have rationalized it to themselves just enough to allow them to sleep at night.
Are all of the proposals being announced by both parties even feasible, are they sustainable and most of all are they even necessary? Who knows and who cares, right? As long as they paint a picture of cheques plopping with a satisfying thump through our letter box, and as long as we can collect as many handouts as possible, with the least input and effort from our end as possible. Free childcare for non-working parents was the one which particularly made me go, huh? To date, none of the arguments I have read so far in favour of this measure make sense to me, because logic tells me that a parent (especially women) who has made a decision to not work in order to raise her child, wants to do just that: raise her child herself. From the age of 3, kindergarten is already available for free. It did not help matters that a woman from the Nationalist women’s branch publicly said that this measure would give women at home a “break” in order to go to the hairdresser or a reunion with friends.
I absolutely agree that low-income mothers need to be helped, so if she is taking a course to improve her skills or education that I can understand (and I am told, this is the way it is now) but free childcare in my view should always be linked to encouraging parents to be productive members of society.
While coming up with proposals to improve the lives of those who are struggling is crucial, I often get the impression that no one is thinking things through and that the ideas are merely being plucked out of thin air. There are many pockets of society which need addressing: pensioners for one, who find themselves in their Golden Years having to scrimp and save because they suddenly find themselves having to survive on a monthly income which is much less than what they were used to. With an aging population, we also need to take a better look at what is available in the way of caring for elderly parents…not just homes where the elderly are “dumped” but a wider range of services to allow them to live in dignity and independence, in a community where they are cared for.