Let them eat baked beans

The last few months have been tough and the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has been tortuous. I am not quite sure if we are through the worst of it yet but for the moment we have a reprieve.

Like many families we lost a significant proportion of our income during these past months and, for the duration, our spending has been limited to the bare essentials.  This took me back to when our children were young and we used to have ‘Baked Bean Thursday’. The very phrase brings a smile to my face.

I used to set myself a budget to spend on food each week, something like €40. I would plan our weekly menu based on seven core foods, Monday was beef mince, Tuesday was sausages, Wednesday was tinned tuna and Thursday was… Baked Beans, you get the gist.

It is incredible the variety of dishes you can make with a couple of tins of Baked Beans, which meant that Thursday’s offering was always keenly anticipated. I seem to remember that the winner was Baked Bean curry, closely followed by Baked Bean meatballs, but perhaps they were just humouring me. Anyway, they were fed and we got through some tough times with a smile on our faces and a few good stories.

We were fortunate that during this period of austerity we never had to rely on food banks, somehow we muddled through until the good times came.

The parcels distributed by the Foodbank Lifeline Foundation cost €25 for a family parcel which is intended to feed a family of four people for a week, but for me, the humiliation of having to ask a charity for help to feed your family is the greatest cost of all.

The government announced last week that it had racked up a bill of €1.7 million to ‘host’ 425 migrants on boats during the COVID-19 pandemic; that’s €4,000 spent on each individual. Not that that’s a bad thing, but some context is necessary.

Please don’t think that the boats used in this operation were, for one moment, fit for purpose and don’t be fooled into assuming that each guest had an ensuite cabin with fresh sheets and clean towels, which is the very least I would expect on a €4,000 cruise.

The boats used were the Captain Morgan tourist day boats, the same red ones we see each year chugging around Grand Harbour or on their daily excursions to Comino. Only, on this occasion, they were struggling to chug around in circles some 13 nautical miles off the Maltese coastline for days upon end… it honestly beggars belief.

Captain Morgan is part of the Zammit Tabona group. Michael Zammit Tabona happened to be Malta’s disgraced former ambassador to Finland – remember that Facebook post which compared Chancellor Angela Merkel to Hitler? He is also, completely coincidentally, of course, one of the Labour Party’s large donors.

So while we were all at home working out how many tins of Baked Beans we could buy with the tatters of our monthly income, Zammit Tabona was reinventing his business model and selling it to the Labour government as a ‘solution to the migrant issue’ –  simultaneously making a killing out of his redundant boats since the season was closed.

The boats were then very swiftly recommissioned as soon as there was the sniff of a tourist, so not quite the humanitarian. There is the distinct whiff of corruption and exploitation about this particularly pointless and inhuman exercise.

On a social level, during this same period, the number of people who applied to food banks for relief grew exponentially, with The Malta Trust Foundation feeling compelled to launch its own Food Aid Project in order to deal with the impending crisis that was bypassing the government.

Imagine what the food banks could have done with €1.7 million – they could have bought 68,000 parcels and fed 1,250 families for a year and still have change.

The same money could have provided each of the 425 passengers on those boats with a food parcel every week for three years… 272,000 meals. Meanwhile, asylum seekers are sleeping at the entrance to the capital city because they’ve been kicked out of the open centres. There’s no Labour Party donor who can make money off that.

Whatever your views are on the migrant crisis and the government’s attempts to bulldoze the EU (posturing, more than anything else), it can only be surmised from their actions and eagerness to provide Captain Morgan with some business that this was a greater priority to them than the welfare and humiliation of its vulnerable citizens.

It’s not only those queuing at food banks who should be peeved at the ease with which this government has frittered away €1.7 million. There is a massive demand for social housing in Malta – the price of property, the cost of renting and the opportunity to have your own home is out of reach for many working people.

The so-called ‘Workers’ Party’ has promised social housing units in the Budget year after year, since Joseph Muscat had claimed it was “a top priority” in 2013. But only 10 units were “allocated” – we don’t even know if they were actually built. But the money was there all the time – just not for social housing.

Maybe Robert Abela’s Cabinet would benefit from having a ‘Baked Bean Thursday’ just to give them a little soupcon of what life is like living on charity. I am assured that Baked Beans are a good match with fine vintage wine but that would perhaps detract from the humility of the meal.

                           
                               
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