An unacceptable manipulation of vulnerable people

Minister Galdes can spin the story anyway he likes but to any right-thinking person, including the magistrate, it is more than clear that what happened in Siġġiewi was an attempt to carry out electoral fraud

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

Government’s action to induce social housing applicants to shift their ID card to an uninhabitable Siġġiewi housing block was manipulation of vulnerable people. 

There are no two ways of going about this. The apartments were not ready to move into and no formal lease agreement was signed with these people. They only had a promise. 

Housing Minister Roderick Galdes should be ashamed of himself for allowing vulnerable people to be manipulated in this way. 

In parliament, Galdes even attempted emotional blackmail by saying the Nationalist Party’s court action to have the ID card transfer process reversed was an action that in one case harmed the interests of a Gozitan cancer patient. 

The truth is that despite the transfer of the ID card from Gozo to Siġġiewi, this cancer patient was still unable to start living in Siġġiewi and the reason why is unrelated to the PN’s court case. 

In all these cases, the people could not start living in Siġġiewi because none of the properties that were going to be assigned to them were habitable. The cancer patient lived in Gozo before the ID card was transferred and continued living in Gozo even afterwards. 

Galdes should stop abusing the vulnerable state of this cancer patient to try and score brownie points by tugging at everyone else’s heartstrings. 

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech saw through the whole ruse and did not mince her words when delivering judgment on the handful of cases that she dealt with. Apart from carrying out a site visit to confirm for herself the fact that no one was living in the Siġġiewi block, the magistrate noted inconsistencies in some of the testimonies. 

She went on to order the police to investigate and identify the public officials and entities who had manipulated voters into changing their address to the Siġġiewi building 

She ruled: “There could be no doubt that the voters in question had not taken the initiative to register themselves at the specified address… it is shameful that they had been taken advantage of and manipulated by people who were entrusted with looking after their interests and wellbeing.” 

The magistrate noted that contracts with the individuals had not been signed and thus these people were not even in possession of the key to their future abode. 

Another disconcerting issue is the rapid manner by which Identita issued the new ID cards despite applications containing missing data and an official even acting as witness to the fact that the individuals were living there – a lie. 

Minister Galdes can spin the story anyway he likes but to any right-thinking person, including the magistrate, it is more than clear that what happened in Siġġiewi was an attempt to carry out electoral fraud. 

If these 99 individuals wanted to vote on 8 June, they would have had to do so in Siġġiewi even though they had no clarity as to when they would actually be living there. 

The victims of this cynical game are the vulnerable people, who were induced into making a false statement to a public authority, while still not benefitting from the housing that was promised to them. 

It is unfortunate that Galdes accepted to play this dirty game. As housing minister, he has done a lot to bring some form of normality to what was previously a jungle in the private property rental market and in promoting schemes to help prospective home owners. He hammered out a just and lasting solution to the pre-1995 rents, which different administrations failed to achieve. 

But doing good is not a licence to twist the rules when it suits the political party you belong to. Galdes should have known better then allow vulnerable people to be used in this way. 

Unfortunately, he only made it worse by doubling down on his defence after being caught out. 

It is a shame that one of the current administration’s best performing ministers had to go down this rabbit hole and when he was caught out went on to accuse MaltaToday of ‘spin’ rather than shoulder political responsibility for what happened. 

But we are not surprised. Galdes is only following the lead of Prime Minister Robert Abela, who chose to pull his gun out on the magistrate in the Vitals inquiry rather than draw lessons from that corrupt deal from which Malta did not benefit an ounce.