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Clientelism destroys social justice

Politicians, their underlings and public servants who aided and abetted benefit fraud should be charged in court and have the book thrown at them.

There are no two ways in trying to justify the well-crafted scheme peddled by former Labour MP Silvio Grixti to provide constituents with forged medical documents so that they can claim severe disability benefits they were not entitled to.

Rather than use his clout as an MP to argue in parliament and within government to change or introduce benefits for people requiring that extra push, Grixti opted for a clientelistic approach that helps only those who go begging.

In the words of ADPD’s Mina Jack Tolu: ‘The welfare system should work for everyone, and not only those with connections to the Labour Party.’

Grixti ignored the rules and misused his authority as a doctor and MP to ‘help’ around 800 individuals, who are now dealing with the criminal consequences of their actions. But what about the rest of the population? What about those who deserve the benefit but are unable to access it? What about those who are told there is not enough money yet to address their particular needs?

Clientelism is the antithesis of social justice – clientelism destroys social justice and makes citizens subservient to a corrupt political class.

Grixti and all those involved in this horrible scheme should face the full brunt of the law because their actions hurt society – they led vulnerable people into fraudulent behaviour; they did a grave injustice against others who may have been deserving of the benefits; and cheated all taxpayers who have to contend with their hard-earned cash going into undeserving pockets.

Police action against those who benefitted from the abuse is the correct thing to do. These people can hardly claim ignorance. They knowingly benefitted from hundreds and thousands of euros they did not deserve and did not bet an eyelid when accepting the money. They may have been vulnerable but they are also guilty.

But it would be a very grave mistake if this investigation stops at the beneficiaries. The big fish; the politicians and the public servants involved should be equally charged.

If Robert Abela wants to be believed when he says his government will not accept abuse, he should put pressure on the police force – like he did on the magistrate in the Jean Paul Sofia case – to press charges against the organisers of the fraudulent scheme.

This is theft of public funds and a slap in the face of honest taxpaying citizens, who are struggling to maintain their lifestyle as inflation continues to bite hard into their pockets.

Unless the authorities want to make a mockery of justice, criminal action must be taken now against the masterminds. In Grixti’s case he should also be stripped of his medical warrant – he not only produced fake medical certificates but even forged the signatures of other medical colleagues.

However, it would be an even greater injustice if the systems in place to evaluate eligibility for benefits is not overhauled.

These systems have to be lean but rigorous; efficient but thorough. Those deserving social benefits should be able to receive them in the shortest time possible and where lacunas transpire, it is the job of politicians to push for administrative and political reform so that everyone can benefit.

Ordinary citizens must not be made to beg to access their rights. And where their demands are not catered for by existing policies, it is the politician’s job to understand whether there is a case to be made for legal changes.

More significantly, politicians have a duty to end the system of clientelism that is the bane of Maltese society.