Election cheques ‘do not conform with international standards’, says elections watchdog

OSCE electoral watchdog says the tax refund and stimulus cheques issued during the 2022 election campaign could have blurred the line between party and state

Tax refund and stimulus cheques distributed by government during this year's election campaign do not conform to international standards and good practice, according to an international election monitoring body. 

In an expert report on this year's parliamentary election, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) questioned the timing of the tax refund, having been disbursed two weeks before the general election. 

"Such actions could blur the line between party and state and do not conform to international standards and good practice," the report reads.

Indeed, the OSCE recommended that no major announcements of financial allocations should occur during campaign periods, namely when it might create "a favourable perception of a given party or candidate".

The distribution of two transfer payments, a budgetary commitment for a tax credit as well as a relief payment assisting post-pandemic spending, were widely criticised for their unabashed disbursal two weeks before Malta headed to the polls. 

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola had filed a report to the OSCE and Malta's Electoral Commission alleging corrupt practice over the cheques. 

In its 25-page report, the OSCE made a range of recommendations to enhance Malta's electoral process. 

On media matters, the body said that the Broadcasting Authority should monitor and enforce legal obligations for impartiality and accuracy in broadcasting while providing due remedies. 

The OSCE went on to criticise the appointment procedure for the members of the governing boards of both the Broadcasting Authority and the Public Broadcasting Services. 

To ensure the public broadcaster's editorial independence, the OSCE said that its management should be selected through a transparent and competitive process.

With regards to political finance regulations, the OSCE said that the legal framework should be reviewed to enhance the oversight system, including by providing the Electoral Commission with the needed powers and resources to carry out proactive and efficient supervision, investigation and enforcement. 

In addition, the Auditor General could also be empowered to carry out pro-active investigations and publish findings on the misuse of public resources for campaign purposes, the report says.