Hallelujah it’s raining cash

Voters are doing their sums to see who is “giving” them the most, and the politicians keep promising more free hand outs to keep voters happy. Apart from the mercenary aspect of the whole thing, is anyone actually asking where all this cash is going to come from or whether it is even sustainable?

Robert Abela finally announced the election date last Sunday at 11am, putting a stop to months of guessing games which were started to sound like an auctioneer’s spiel. “12 March, 19th March... do I hear 26 March? How about May? Anyone offering June?”

By 11:30am as we were passing Corradino Hill, workmen had already started putting up a long banner on the side of the pedestrian bridge located there, oblivious to the fact that they had blocked one of the lanes. Wardens and police officers were stationed near the cherry picker, ready to direct the inevitable traffic. As we drove home we saw similar scenes being played out in other main roads. As the incumbent Prime Minister who has the added advantage of knowing the date before everyone else (because he is the one that chooses it), Abela was definitely at an advantage.

There was something about Labour’s banners which immediately stood out, but not for the reasons you might think. Gone was the traditional red associated with the Workers’ Party; instead the PL campaign chose to go with a blue background, and other colours. A delicate pencil thin font spelled out the vague slogan ‘Malta Flimkien’ (Malta Together) and in some cases Robert Abela’s name could barely be deciphered. There is no mention of the Labour party name at all.

When the PN banners went up I was surprised they had found any space left, as the PL seems to have hogged all the available railings and bridges. Bernard Grech’s campaign has chosen the slogan ‘Miegħek. Għal Malta” (With you. For Malta) which is another very obscure phrase which means, what exactly? The Nationalists also seem to have been caught on the wrong foot by Labour’s appropriation of ‘their’ colour, because they even went so far as to ask their supporters which colour background they preferred. Isn’t it heartening to see that the Opposition was focussed on asking the burning questions?

The coalition ADPD have come up with Xkupa Ħadra Tnaddaf (A green broom sweeps clean) which is not bad as slogans go, and at least tells you something about what they stand for, even if their alliance is still perplexing.

But I believe the most appropriate slogan for our times is that by independent candidate Arnold Cassola, who came up with the best one of all: “We deserve better”. Now that’s a phrase I can relate to; it is loaded with significance and encapsulates much of what many people are feeling. We do deserve better for our country, we really do.

Of course, ultimately, all the banners, slogans and billboards will soon become a blur and after passing by them a few times they will no longer register. So now it’s time to turn to the nitty gritty - what are the different parties proposing? Well, from what we have seen in just this first week, it seems that as far as the two big parties are concerned, hallelujah, it’s raining cash.

Robert Abela opened the bidding with a promise of a €700 million investment over seven years to create green spaces in urban places while the PN leader promised a €1 billion investment in 10 new economic sectors. Investment is all well and good, but let’s put it all in perspective. After standing by and letting Ian chop down all the trees over the last few years, and pouring concrete over everything and calling it a ‘park’, how can Abela suddenly tell us, in all seriousness, that he cares for the environment? As for the PN’s proposed investment in new sectors, several of them sound all too familiar – artificial intelligence, eSports, metaverse, video gaming. How are these new?

It continued to rain cash with the announcement that the PN is promising an annual €300 grant to parents of students under the age of 18 who take part in sports, performing arts, culture and arts. Labour would give first time buyers €1,000 per year for ten years for their mortgages when buying a property. What’s wrong with that I hear you ask? There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the proposals in themselves (although it is also worth noting that when France gave students a €300 culture pass, some ended up using it to buy comic books instead) but it does make you wonder whether voting has now become a straightforward cash transaction.

It seems to me that politicians have saved themselves a lot of time. Forget ideals, the principles one stands for, or explaining one’s long-term vision for the good of the country. Now they just cut to the chase: they’ve figured out that doling out cash benefits is what really gets you elected.

Of course, it is a two-way street: voters are doing their sums to see who is “giving” them the most, and the politicians keep promising more free hand outs to keep voters happy. Apart from the mercenary aspect of the whole thing, is anyone actually asking where all this cash is going to come from or whether it is even sustainable? I guess not, and just like the university stipends which have become the sacred cow no politician dare meddle with (just ask Alfred Sant), the habit of giving people money for nothing will continue to be an albatross around the neck of every successive administration as it tries to balance the books.

As well-known PN candidates fell by the wayside (namely, Mario Galea, Kirsty Debono, Clyde Puli and Claudio Grech), Labour took advantage of the infighting and created a billboard which for once showed some wit and quick thinking, “They have divided their own party, don’t let them divide the country”. Mario Galea has openly stated that he was put through hell and was forced to withdraw his candidature while Claudio Grech’s reasons for not contesting have remained a mystery.

Meanwhile, Robert Abela seems to have woken up from his stupor and (purely by coincidence of course) has realised that he needs actual residents in the south to vote Labour. The plans for the Marsaslala marina have been scrapped “because we listened to people’s concerns”, he said without batting an eye. While everyone was busy trying to pour scorn or claim credit, including the PN…the real credit is only due to the residents themselves who put up such a fight, and those environmental stalwarts, Moviment Graffitti.

This is a significant turn of events because it is acknowledgement that there is power in numbers, especially at election time. Those who no longer believe anything Labour says argue that the marina will still happen in the long run but, for now, it is good to see that the residents have reclaimed what is theirs and another environmental victory has been achieved.

It is not such an achievement, however, to hear the PN promise that traffic citations will be waived if the offender does not commit the same contravention within six months. Really? Is this the way to get an already undisciplined, law of the jungle, road-rage infused population to obey the traffic laws? I honestly cannot understand what the PN is hoping to achieve with this promise. It’s bad enough that we have the time-honoured tradition of calling up “someone you know” to get out of a ticket – now Bernard Grech is telling us we don’t even have to worry about the ticket in the first place because all will be forgiven within 6 months.

Looking back at this past week, at least we can be grateful for small mercies that it will be a short, quick campaign. It has barely started and I already want somebody to just wake me up when it’s all over.

In other news…

And as we persisted in our political squabbles which seem so petty in comparison, Russia invaded the Ukraine, and everything else now seems to have paled in comparison. On the same day that war broke out, England lifted all its remaining COVID restrictions, dubbing it ‘Freedom Day’. Irony doesn’t even begin to describe it.