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A gift from the Queen

Malta fireworks

Friday is my favourite day of the week because my cleaner comes to my home and puts my domestic life back into disinfected, dusted order. When I walk into the kitchen, the aroma of detergent wafts through the air reassuring me that the tea stains around my sink plug hole have been banished for yet another week.

This makes the panic that always precedes Friday to find the cash needed to pay the cleaner worthwhile. This money gets left discreetly on the hall table because we all know that this is a black market transaction that is never going to make it to the tax return.

We all do it in some small way, paying cash to our cleaner or gardener, paying cash for a supplies delivery or to the plumber for a small job.

Perhaps your conscience is clear when it comes to tax dodging.

Maybe your vice is stolen goods?

Occasionally it happens to us all; we glance down at the restaurant bill visually running through each item and then slowly realise after the second run-through, with our finger pressing against each item listed, that they haven’t charged for the bottle of wine. And of course, we immediately point out their error and request a fresh bill… or are you now thinking to yourself: ‘I didn’t do that’?

In Malta, as with so many things, we have our own variant of this dubious behaviour that has a heritage and a phrase to describe it in which ‘ir-reġina’ (the Queen) replaces the State – a remnant from the colonial period.  I was surprised to hear the expression ‘rigal mingħand ir-reġina‘, which literally translates as a gift from the Queen.

From 1800 to 1964 Malta was under British rule and in their uniquely ubiquitous way, the British made sure that the locals knew their place in the colonial order.  I wonder if this was the beginning of the ‘them and us’  mentality that is now so ingrained into the Maltese psyche or perhaps it was always there and just bedded down during this time.

‘A gift from the Queen’ refers to the misappropriation of items from the British. This wasn’t, and still isn’t, considered to be theft by many Maltese because the victim of the theft was a faceless oppressive entity and not one of our own.

It is invariably accompanied by a cheeky smile that insinuates that this is just between us Maltese. It is something to boast about, you can talk about it without shame or embarrassment. In fact, it would be considered weak by many not to have taken advantage.

But the problem is that it is perceived as a victimless form of theft that has now become an acceptable practice in Malta. It has been allowed to evolve and form part of the corrupt beast that is consuming Malta today, unchecked and unchallenged.

The Queen has left the building. The faceless entity is now the Maltese State, and the funds come from your taxes (if you pay them).

We will always pay our cleaner cash, smile at the omission on the till receipt and ask the plumber for a better price if we can circumvent the paperwork – apart from anything else this is a habit and whoever heard of a domestic cleaner on the books…it just wouldn’t work. These indiscretions, these petty crimes are tolerated as long as we operate within and respect the invisible boundaries.

What has happened in Malta over many years is that these boundaries have been stretched and trampled on and they have now virtually vanished. To respect them and to work within them is impossible.

Corruption has become such a necessity in Malta that to operate in this manner is factored into business plans and budgets and discussed at Board meetings. Accountants and lawyers attempt to devise ways to legitimise it when they should be calling it out.

The scale on which it is being conducted is truly enormous and the social acceptance and tolerance of such behaviour at all levels of society is a disaster for Malta.

We need to press the moral reset button because this faceless theft has allowed and enabled a government to scam its own people who remain oblivious to the fact that they are now the faceless entity…  it has now become ‘a gift from you’.

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Disgraced former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar (right) sitting next to Angelo Gafa, then CEO of police force and now police commissioner.

Police officer by day, lawyer by night