Saturday 04 February 2023

A bland campaign which only served to piss people off

This column first appeared in Malta Today

Unless something catastrophic happens between the time I am writing this (Thursday) and Saturday, this election is already a foregone conclusion. The question is not whether the Labour Party will win again, but by how much.

The best thing that can be said about this campaign is that it was mercifully short. Other than that it was one big blah. The two big parties were competing to see who can be the biggest spender as if the country’s finances were a bottomless pit. Neither of the two leaders are brilliant orators who inspire the electorate, so the speeches always tended to be a yawn fest, and both of them pissed everyone off with their intrusive adverts.

The YouTube invasion

The first time Robert Abela’s shouting voice came on as I was watching a YouTube video, I jumped out of my skin and was scrambling to hit Skip Ad, but couldn’t find it. Bernard Grech’s ads, while more softly spoken, were equally annoying. So for the last five weeks we couldn’t drive without seeing their banners and billboards, we couldn’t scroll through out newsfeed because our social media was hijacked and then we had those random videos popping up on Youtube which came at you out of the blue – it felt like nowhere was safe.

The PN and PL really seemed intent on pissing everyone off. Between them they owe €4.7 million to ARMS for unpaid in water & electricity bills, and yet here they were spending up to €240,000 per week in political online advertising. If they cannot manage their own finances how can we feel secure that they are both not just planning to drag the country into a black hole of infinite debt to make good on their wild, almost desperate, electoral promises?

The two weights/two measures

They continued to anger the public with those large political rallies, where unlimited crowds were suddenly OK and the wearing of masks seemed optional, even though restrictions remained firmly in place for other events, from the Arts to weddings. Schoolchildren and their teachers are still masked throughout the school day so they have continued to obey the rules and yet no one dared chastise the diehard supporters. Meanwhile Covid cases are going up again at a rate of 300 per day….hmm, let me think, I wonder how that could possibly have happened?

The insensitivity towards patients

There were other issues which only served to irk voters. The insensitive handling of dementia patients and whether they are entitled to vote is something which really needs looking into. Anguished relatives recounted stories of parents who could not even recognise their own children being taken to vote (which does not necessarily mean that they actually voted). Of course there are varying stages of dementia, and not everyone with this condition is not of sound mind. However, surely if they are already in a hospital the probability is that the condition is quite advanced so automatically putting their name on the electoral register by default does not make any sense. Minister Michael Farrugia said that psychiatrists and Electoral Commission officials assessed dementia patients on their capability to vote in recent weeks. The General Elections Act outlines a procedure that needs to be followed by family members or carers to cancel a voter from the electoral register. But the many complaints point to a system which definitely needs to be improved, to avoid the distress it has caused to many families.

The prisoners fiasco

Another anomaly is that prisoners were allowed to vote who were interdicted and should not have had this right. While the updated list of the electoral register has been available for months, it seems the PN only realised what was happening when the early voting started at the prisons. It objected and asked the Constitutional Court to annul the voting at the prisons, but the Court claimed it had no legal jurisdiction to decide the case. The Electoral Commissioner’s lawyer argued that, “the party could have filed an application at the appropriate time to have those voters struck off the electoral register.” The fact that they did not do this in time indicates that what was once a slick, well-oiled, PN electoral machine has turned rusty and needs maintenance. I can’t imagine this happening under Austin Gatt/Joe Saliba’s watch for example. Let us also not forget that there are PN representatives on The Electoral Commission whose job it is to keep an eagle eye out for these things. Having said that, there is a serious flaw if no redress on this matter can be found in our Courts.

Ignoring stay-at-home mothers

When it was announced by the PM, the stimulus cheque was promised to all “workers” instead of the voucher scheme. Now, however, it turns out that those who earn over 60k are not eligible for the cheque. There is nothing wrong with this scheme being means tested, but why not say so immediately?

Meanwhile, when it dawned on stay-at-home mothers that they were not going to receive anything they were angry too, and rightly so. As they pointed out, students who already receive a stipend and don’t pay any tax got a cheque, as did those who are on social benefits, while they got nothing just because they do not work outside the home. We have always known that all the endless work women do to run a household and raise children is not appreciated, but this just rubbed salt into the wound.

This is apart from the all chaos of cheques sent to wrong addresses cause Identity Malta and the Inland Revenue Dept do not seem to be ons speaking terms.
If, as some have claimed, that this was a propaganda exercise for the election, it didn’t actually succeed because of the sheer amount of people who were annoyed. I wonder what the point of women in Parliament is if none of the female MPs thought to point out to Abela that he would have made a more impactful statement if he had ‘rewarded’ women who do not work by giving them a stimulus cheque in recognition of their important role. It would have also been wise from an economic point of view – hasn’t anyone ever told him that it is women who shop the most?

Let’s lower educational standards!

On Thursday, we were hit by a bombshell. Junior College entries has lowered requirements and now students will only need a pass in ONE of the three core subjects, Maltese, English or Maths, whereas before they needed all three.

The legal notice was published on 8 March and lecturers received the email as a fait acomplit. The decision was taken by the University Council on the recommendation of the Junior College Board. What exactly will be achieved by this terrible decision? Lecturers at both JC and University will tell you that the standard of both languages is already abysmal. We are a bilingual country and I cannot think of one job where the use of both is not necessary. Above all, being able to write well in both languages shows a certain level of academic achievement and intelligence, as it means the person is reasonably well-read, which I would think comes in handy at post-secondary level. And maths, even if one is not brilliant at it, is necessary to instil logic and the power of reasoning, of which we need more, not less.

But the warped message this decision is giving is – why even bother? Why tell your children to study for what they want in life, if the authorities are going to turn around and say, hey, no worries, you can get into Sixth form, even if you cannot string a coherent sentence together (let alone write an assignment or sit for an exam). The only ones who will be happy about this are those who (a) dislike Maltese because they are English-speaking and still regard it as an inferior language which they refuse to speak and (b) those who dislike English and see it as a language for snobs. Those who struggle in Maths will also sing Hallelujah. The end result is a dilution of educational standards.

It is already difficult enough for lecturers now, and this decision will make their job twice as hard – just how much can you ‘dumb’ down a subject? Because without all three core subjects, the standard in other subjects will suffer as well. It is common knowledge that Higher Secondary and MCAST are easier to get into, so the question begs itself, is JC competing with them to attract students?

Lowering the bar to get more students into post-secondary education may look good for Eurostat, but it is a slap in the face of enraged parents (and employers) who believe we should be encouraging quality not quantity. This scramble to get everyone to continue studying even if they are not academically inclined, has not produced a thousand Einsteins. What it has churned out are too many mediocre students with paper qualifications which they have obtained by barely scrapping through.

The message this decision is giving to an already entitled generation is that, if they fail, no problemo, we will just change the goalposts for you.

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