Looks like organised crime

This was certainly an organised system and as the president of the Medical Association of Malta put it, the scheme does look like being an organised crime on an unprecedented scale

Castille (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)
Castille (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)

Cases of people cheating the social services system to gain money fraudulently are not rare - either in Malta or in the rest of the world.

The recent organised racket has made the news because of its size. Up to my last reading, 141 cases of disability assistance were terminated with €2.1 million to be recovered. The number of fraudulent cases is much bigger - about 800 by some calculations. So far, some €330,000 have been recuperated.

This was certainly an organised system and as the president of the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) put it, the scheme does look like being an organised crime on an unprecedented scale in the history of social benefits in Malta.

The Opposition claims that the Prime Minister’s office (OPM) knew about the scheme and took long to take action. There is no need for the Opposition to imply that the Prime Minister himself was behind the fraud, or closed his eyes when he got to know of it. This is a misguided attack. The Opposition should instead attack the system that allowed the fraud to flourish.

I remember that in the seventies when the Opposition published a story about undevelopable land owned by a person employed at the OPM being schemed for development, then prime minister Dom Mintoff was furious. He not only banished the person from Castille but also sued the PN paper because it had published a photo showing him with the person involved. The photo implied that the decision - taken by Lorry Sant’s ministry – was done with his connivance.

Joseph Muscat would certainly not take such action. What happened in the social benefits fraud case is the indirect result of the way Jospeh Muscat gave the impression that everything in Malta is acceptable to his new government. The effect of this notion did not take much time to sink in but is now proving very difficult for Robert Abela to erase.

The government is claiming that the OPM took steps as soon as it became aware of the fraud and this could put an end to the Opposition’s line of attack.

After days of silence about the issue, l-orizzont last Thursday said the case was reported to the police by Castille itself. The newspaper reported questions that had been put to the Prime Minister by journalists attending the inauguration of a new Olympic size pool in Cottonera.

The Prime Minister said there was nothing new in this ‘story’ as the case had been reported to the police and that pressure was made for the Labour MP - who was involved in the scheme - to resign from the House of Representatives.

L-Orizzont also reported a statement issued by the Ministry for the Family, Children's Rights and Social Solidarity that it had passed to the police all the information it had about the scam as soon as it was discovered.

The GWU newspaper went one better by dedicating its editorial to declare that the government is committed to oppose all types of abuse. The message was clear: no fraudulent schemes will be defended by the government.

The difference between Joseph Muscat’s and Robert Abela’s way of doing things is palpable - yet perception puts Abela as the loser, in spite of his attempts to straighten the course of the boat he steers.

At the end of the day, however, asking those who had benefitted from the fraudulent scheme to return the money they were given under false pretences is not enough. Behind this scheme there was a brain and several other people co-operating together for it to be so successful.

Will these people ever be accused of committing this ‘organised’ crime?


Biden reversing Trump

According to a report in The New York Times, the announcement last Wednesday that the Biden administration was prohibiting drilling for oil in 13 million acres of pristine wilderness in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and cancelling all drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was its most aggressive move to protect federal land from oil and gas exploration.

The new regulations would ensure what the administration called ‘maximum protections’ for nearly half of the petroleum reserve but would not stop the enormous $8 billion Willow oil drilling project in the vicinity, which President Biden approved earlier this year.

Climate activists were angered by Mr Biden’s decision in March to allow the Willow project, calling it a ‘carbon bomb.’ Since then, the administration has taken pains to emphasize its efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that result from burning oil and gas and that are driving climate change.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was opened to drilling under President Donald J. Trump, a move that outraged environmentalists and overturned six decades of protections for the area, the largest remaining stretch of untouched wilderness in the United States.

The refuge in the northeastern corner of Alaska is home to grizzly and polar bears, snowy owls, migratory birds and herds of moose and caribou.

But it also sits atop an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil and, for years, the fossil fuel industry, members of the Alaskan congressional delegation and state leaders have lobbied for drilling to be allowed. In 2017 Congress passed, and Mr Trump signed, a tax law that not only authorized but required leasing for drilling in the wildlife refuge.

The Trump administration held a lease sale that attracted just three bidders, including the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency. Most of the major oil companies stayed on the sidelines.

On his first day in office, Mr Biden signed an executive order halting Arctic drilling and in 2021 suspended the leases that had been granted by the Trump administration, citing problems with environmental reviews. Last month a federal judge rejected a challenge by the state of Alaska, saying the federal government had the authority to suspend the leases while it conducted an additional environmental analysis.

That review found “multiple legal deficiencies” in the analysis that had been conducted by the Trump administration. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said two of the leases in the refuge had been cancelled and refunded at the request of the leaseholders. The remaining leases held by the Alaska development authority covered about 365,000 acres in the coastal plain and were rescinded by Biden’s latest decision.