Cassola throws down the gauntlet on ‘corrupt practice’ of COVID cheques in mid-election

Independent candidate files corrupt practice report to Electoral Commission and OSCE over distribution of COVID relief and tax credit cheques midway through election

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola
Independent candidate Arnold Cassola

The independent candidate Arnold Cassola has filed an official report alleging corrupt practices during the 2022 election to both the OSCE and Malta’s Electoral Commission, over Robert Abela’s distribution of COVID-relief cheques and tax cuts.

The distribution of the two transfer payments, a budgetary commitment for a tax credit as well as a relief payment assisting post-pandemic spending, have been criticised for their unabashed disbursal two weeks before the general election.

It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative when such cheques are distributed, despite having been commitments predating the announcement of the election.

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“I am filing an official complaint against candidates Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana,” Cassola said, referring to the PM and finance minister, “who are distributing millions in cash as COVID stimulus to Maltese voters. These two members are just part of a ‘caretaker government’ and have no right to be disbursing such monies during an election in which they are candidates. This amounts to a clear corrupt practice. I demand immediate action from the Electoral Commission.”

A copy of Cassola’s complaint was sent to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s electoral observers.

Malta’s General Election Act specifies that the giving of money or anything of monetary value to an elector, amounts to a corrupt practice when it also entices that elector to vote. The same goes for the practice of procuring jobs to voters during such elections/

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The disbursal of cheques has been heavily criticised by the Nationalist opposition as well as former finance minister Tonio Fenech, who branded the €70 million handouts, a vote-buying exercise.

“This is no tax refund. Many recipients have not even paid tax, let alone deserve a refund,” he said of the new scheme.

Announced in February, workers and students living in Malta will be receiving a €100 cheque in the coming weeks or months. Pensioners and people on social benefits will receive a €200 cheque instead.

Fenech said the scheme was Labour’s way of buying votes, all while the government deficit balloons to €1.5 billion. “This is irresponsibility and Malta is fast becoming a failed democracy. If government has €70 million to spend he should make an effective measure to address families burdened by the costs of living and not shower everyone with a token so-called refund.”

The cheques are over and above the annual tax refund scheme, amounting between €60 and €140 to each person.