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Rights, favours and a sick political culture

Silvio Grixti resigned from parliament in December 2021 when he was first interrogated by the police and implicated in a social benefits abuse racket. 

At the time, very few knew how big the racket was. Roll over almost two years and the media reveals the racket to be a well-oiled organised system of fraud. 

It has been reported that as much as 800 people may have received more than €400 per month in severe disability benefits they were not entitled to. The cost to public coffers so far has been put at €2.1 million. 

These people had no right to receive this benefit. The medical certificates they used to apply for it were falsified. They did not suffer from the medical condition listed in their application and yet chose to play along, even describing their non-existent symptoms to the review board. 

These cheats not only ridiculed honest taxpayers with their actions but worse, ridiculed those who truly need such a benefit to get by. These cheats should be punished. 

But catching the cheats and ensuring they pay back the money they stole is only the tail end of the matter. 

The police must act to dismantle the system that enabled these cheats to get what they did not deserve. Former Labour MP Silvio Grixti is the face of such a scheme. He provided constituents with what appears to be a ready-made package of false documents, going as far as forging the signatures of unsuspecting medical professionals. 

Grixti was the go-to person for anybody who wanted to receive severe disability benefits even if they were not entitled to them. Grixti must be charged. 

But along with Grixti, the police must also investigate the members of the benefits board to determine whether anyone was facilitating the scheme by closing an eye or two whenever the fake cases came before them. They should also be charged if abuse results. 

The police must also investigate any other public official who in some way or another aided and abetted in this fraud. Customer care officials in the respective ministries, including the Office of the Prime Minister, should be questioned over their role in referring people to Grixti. 

And if it results that politicians knowingly encouraged disgruntled constituents to seek ‘help’ in this fraudulent way, they should also be investigated and charged. 

Malta’s sick political culture is still very much dependent on ‘favours’ rather than ‘rights’. Unfortunately, the creation of customer care departments in each ministry has only served to officialise favouritism. 

People should be able to access a social benefit, or be treated in a timely manner in the health system, because it is their right and not because someone is doing them a favour. The administrative systems in place must be easy to access, efficient and transparent. Politicians and their cronies must not interfere in the workings of these systems unless they are broken and require fixing. 

The politician’s duty is not to pander to constituents’ whims at all costs. It would be worse if this entails breaking the law and abusing of faulty systems. A politician’s duty is to listen to their constituents and ensure their rights are being respected. If the institutions are not functioning as they should then it is the politician’s duty to put pressure so that they work well. 

If a constituent’s problem is unresolvable within existing policy frameworks, and the politician feels the claim is justified, their duty is to lobby and make pressure for changes to be made so that anyone in the same predicament can benefit. 

A culture of favours only serves to erode the dignity of the individual asking for ‘help’ and in the process, causes injustice against others who may not have the audacity or knowhow to bring their personal grievance to the fore. 

But there is also a graver injustice against society and honest taxpayers, who expect public funds to be spent judiciously. 

At a time when the middleclass is struggling to maintain its standard of living because inflation is fast eroding income, the backlash against abuse is likely to be much stronger. 

Robert Abela’s government is at a juncture where any wrong move, small as it may be, will be met by an exaggerated reaction because people are generally fed up and no longer tolerant of abuse. 

People will start comparing the negative impact of cronyism, corruption and favouritism with their stagnating standard of living. The stolen euros will mean something and this will anger honest taxpayers even more. 

The social benefit scandal is yet another grudge people will carry and it will only get worse if Grixti and others behind this criminal scheme are allowed to go scot free. 

Unless the Prime Minister and the Labour Party want to descend into a downward spiral they have to act fast. 

For starters, they have to clearly and unequivocally condemn the abuse. But more importantly they have to weed out the bad apples and ensure the customer care system does not transform into a system of injustice and abuse. If politicians and their cronies are involved, they should resign or be removed. 

Thirdly, just like he applied pressure on the magistrate in the Jean Paul Sofia case to conclude the criminal inquiry in an expedient manner, the Prime Minister must apply pressure on the police to investigate and charge anyone who has breached the law in the Grixti case. 

Anything less will simply perpetuate people’s sense of helplessness, anger, frustration and dejection from politics.