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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Good governance vs Feelgood factor

In the current Maltese situation, there are too many instances of bad governance that will definitely impinge on how the electorate will rate the Joseph Muscat administration

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
29 December 2015, 7:35am
Last Sunday, the GWU’s weekly ‘it-Torca’ carried an editorial misleadingly titled ‘Good governance’ in which it tried to sell the idea that the economic feelgood factor currently felt in Malta is a reflection of good governance.

According to the editorial writer those who do not see it this way are quibbling and nitpicking, much like the proverbially hypocritical Pharasees who criticised Christ for healing a man on the Sabbath.

The editor’s point was that once the Maltese citizen is getting cheaper water and electricty bills and cheaper gas, thanks to the current Joseph Muscat administration, it is better off and could not be bothered about the ruckus so evident in the Opposition’s criticism and in the media.

Leaving aside the fact that the reduction in the price of gas is a reflection of a reduction in international prices and not due to some effort of Joseph Muscat’s merry men, I think that the editorial was based on the wrong assumption – an assumption that could lead the whole Labour administration into deep waters.

This assumption practically implies that once there is an economic ‘feelgood factor’ in the country, the electorate will not give a damn about the administration’s way of doing things.

How true is it that once most of the population is experiencing the so-called ‘feelgood factor’, it is automatically satisfied with the government’s performance and will give it its support in any case? I say that this is not so.

In fact the opposite is true. When there are no serious bread and butter issues, as the government (and ‘it-Torca’) insist, people are more relaxed and start to look at other things before judging an administration. If the electorate is happy with the economic climate, it feels it is safe to outvote the government and it starts to delve into what is happening in a more critical way.

This is no sermon with the underlying message that ‘man does not live with bread alone’. History gives us many examples – both in Malta and abroad – where political parties in government lost elections even though economically the country was doing well. The PN itself lost the 1971 and 1996 elections when in government and the country was doing economically well.

In the current Maltese situation, there are too many instances of bad governance that will definitely impinge on how the electorate will rate the Joseph Muscat adminsitration.  

What is even worse, Joseph Muscat is no longer being perceived as the ruthless, no-nonsense leader as he was when he dismissed Anglu Farrugia from the party’s deputy leadership a few weeks before the election. He is now being perceived as dithering in the case of my namesake and the incredibly absurd expropriation of a share in ownership of a property in Old Mint Street. 

The recent official stance that practically ignored the 2014 public accounts report drawn by the National Audit Office that was recently published does not help matters. The report referred to too many cases of ministries and government departments where the official procedures and financial regulations were ignored. 

This is what accountability and transparency are all about and certainly an indication of whether the present adminsitration can boast of good governance or not. 

Contrary to what the editorial of ‘it-Torca’ tried to argue, good governance is not related to the reduction in the price of fuel to the consumer.

Social benefit fraud

I think the 2014 public accounts report was rather unfair on the anti-fraud unit within the Department of Social Services. 

The report highlighted the case of a mother of nine who failed to disclose the sale of three properties and the purchase of another two. Moeover the property she claimed to be renting was in fact her own and that while she claimed to be a part-time farmer, she actually had a considerable amount of livestock. 

This makes for shocking reading, of course. 

I remember one government MP before the 2013 change of government relating how a voter went to his office asking for help. On being asked what the problem was, the voter replied that he had been caught sleeping with his wife.

The perplexed MP delved further into the story. It results that this person had concocted a sham separation so that his wife and children were let a residential unit by the Housing Department and both started receiving social benefits as the man had declared he was unemployed. Meanwhile what was the marital home of the couple was let to third parties for a substantial monthly rent. The couple lived quite comfortably off with all that fraudulently acquired income.

The inspectors of the anti benefit fraud had visited the woman’s residence very early in the morning and sure enough the husband was in bed with his wife. 

On realising what the story was, the MP sent him to blazes. Such blatant abuse could not be condoned.

However the cases where MPs (of both parties) help their constituents to get benefits for which they do not legally have any right are not rare at all. Unfortunately helping people get social benefits that they deserve and have a right for, tends to push MPs to the wrong side of the line when constituents come along with requests that should not be accepted. This is all part of the political system and will remain so as long as the system prevails.

The fact is that the Social Security anti-fraud unit has had a number of successes since it was set up in 2006. During these nine years it claims that it recouped over €34 million from would-be bnenefit fraudsters.

However it flags only those cases having suspicious circumstances that warrant further investigation. Otherwise investigating each and every beneficiary would need much more resources and these come at a cost, of course. 

At some point the anti-fraud unit could end up spending more than it manages to save!

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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