When charity becomes a charade

If President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (and I have every respect for her) wants to leave an impact she must look at the long term and see that the governments of today and tomorrow guarantee that those in need and those with no means have the support of the State, not of charity

There is no question that the yearly fund-raising charity event L-Istrina has become a national tradition. For those unwilling to take advantage of a mild winter and what remains of a beautiful countryside, the alternative is to get glued to the telly and listen to endless litanies of how important it is to donate to charity.

It tallies with the Christmas spirit of being kind, wishing everyone all the best and being charitable to all those who are less fortunate. And of course, for the vast majority, the whole social-political dimension changes dramatically after 7 January. 

But there should be no reason why this should not be the case for a very brief period. We are after all sick and tired of reading and listening to political debates.

Life is after all far too short to be taken seriously.  

Having said this, the charity event L-Istrina is welcomed by the vast majority of people. 

I have to say, and I have probably said this every year, that I do not share everyone else’s enthusiasm for L-Istrina. I detest it and think it is nothing more than a travesty.

A filmed event where we are invited to watch people and representatives of companies and personalities donate or rather pledge large sums of money for those who are less fortunate.

It is a bizarre event that does not take place only in Malta.

It is even more heart-breaking when one realises that much of the money raised goes into things that should be financially covered by the State, which takes our taxes.

The reality is that the State is effectively in a position to see to all those in serious need of chemotherapy or special medical intervention or in supporting deprived underclass segments of society. It chooses not to do so out of negligence and administrative incompetence.  

We have the money to host costly international events that get us nowhere, so it should be no problem to siphon off that money to pay for some expensive drug treatment.

I hold the view that the State is obliged to see to this.

I disagree with this Americanised idea that health is something you earn to enjoy in its full entirety.

The State is not poor and it could be richer if it ensured that tax collection – the kind of tax collection that does not happen – is seen to. The reality is that over the last years, tax evasion has been pervasive, institutionalised and accepted. Tax evasion is everywhere and at every level.

And, I am sorry to say, I have to spoil the day for Edward Scicluna, but the Finance minister has done little or nothing to encourage an effective tax collection system. If more VAT is being collected, it is because of increased economic activity and not because of a more active monitoring system.

This government continues to be very tolerant to widespread tax evasion and there is also the feeling that in some sectors it turns a blind eye.

So on L-Istrina, last year, €3.65 million was collected: an average of €11 per Maltese adult contribution to the cause.  

At least the recent editions of L-Istrina have shunned from portraying audio-visual clips of those who suffer and are in need. That was disgusting, it was a shameless  portrayal of and play on human suffering, edited to encourage and egg people to donate to charity in a very big way.

The truth is that every year, the 330,000 adults in Malta who have some sort of income participate in evading tax in some strange and ominous way. Some economists calculate that every year, Maltese avoid paying the average equivalent amount of €250 per year in tax. And that is a very conservative figure.

In other words, the government could rake in at least an extra €83 million in uncollected taxes.

And I repeat this is a very conservative figure.  

The amount of money that is left undeclared by the self-employed, professionals (doctors, architects, dentists and lawyers) together with those in retail, rental and construction is shocking. There is of course the illegal trade in oil and other valuable commodities that continue to this day in spite of the so-called revelations in the oil scandal.

The Maltese may be very generous but when it comes to undeclaring their true income, there is no tomorrow. Could it be that undeclared money is financing all the apartment blocks going up all over the country, which still keep rising though few find buyers, or rentals, and most remain empty? For most who build there seems to be no return, but the buildings keep going up.

What I am trying to say is that there would be no need of charity if people paid their taxes, and less need to consider charity a necessity in the Republic of Malta if respective governments were more careful with their spending.

And I know this will hurt, but I see no reason why the President of the Republic should consider her primary role as one concerned with promoting charity and helping those in need.

If President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (and I have every respect for her) wants to leave an impact she must look at the long term and see that the governments of today and tomorrow guarantee that those in need and those with no means have the support of the State, not of charity.

Raising money for charity is not the job of the President.

I find it similarly unacceptable to see trekkers and bikers and hikers travelling to distant places to raise money for a kidney machine for our public State hospital. Why should private citizens raise money to pass on to the State?

The State has enough money or rather can get its hands on enough money to buy any number of kidney machines.

It would be opportune to start thinking of raising money for some less likely charitable project. A hospital in Sierra Leone, or one in Bangladesh or perhaps a project for displaced Syrians in Jordan.

There is an economic deficit and social void that goes beyond our understanding of suffering deprivation.

Some of these communities do not have clean water for new born to drink, basic vaccines, basic medical support, let alone chemotherapy for the most acute forms of cancers.

A L-Istrina that collects close to €4 million would go a long way to offering a more realisable project.

I am not too sure if all the Maltese and Gozitans would be enthusiastic about such a project, but we can try.

And it would be interesting to see our affluent society (by all other standards and comparisons) giving something tangible to some much-needed forgotten underprivileged society which is centuries from the extravagance of our Island.

Here is a country that has a financial and economic base that should never turn to TV stations to air a day programme which calls for people to give something small to enable people to cover their medical costs.

Politicians of all sides should be embarrassed to participate in these events.

The health budget for 2016 is €466 million, L-Istrina would barely cover three days of health care spending.

Let us start the New Year by understanding that Charity should not cover for policy decisions that rely on charity to cover the costs of exceptional medical situations or unique underprivileged in society.

Surely we have more respect for each other to continue defending the existence of this sham.