Independent politician Arnold Cassola has called upon the standards commissioner’s office to investigate four government MPs who gave freebies to constituents in their electoral districts, in breach of electoral laws that ban such practices.
The government MPs include Rosianne Cutajar, Silvio Parnis, Silvio Schembri and Alex Muscat. Cutajar sent her constituents oranges, Parnis sent roly-polies, Schembri sent cupcakes and Muscat sent face masks.
All four of the MPs promoted themselves with this material, with their names or pictures attached with the gifts given out to constituents in their electoral districts.
When reached for comment, Cassola stated that the practice of dishing out gifts “is worrying because in any normal country this would clearly count as vote-buying”.
“This is essentially treating people like feudal serfs. What Malta needs is politicians who think of policy, people who know policy and enact policy, not politicians who perpetuate clientelism with giveaways,” he added.
Earlier this morning, civil society NGO Repubblika hosted a press conference in which they denounced Cutajar’s gift-giving, the more recent of all four freebie distributions. Cutajar was distributing the oranges in a visit at Dar Pinto in Qormi, her hometown.
In a press conference that took place just three days ago, the NGO published a 25-page document detailing reforms the organisation would like to see in order to have fairer, more transparent general elections.
One of the key points they highlighted is the political culture of clientelism in Malta and how it is “commonplace” in local politics, especially visible in the distribution of freebies, awarding of permits and other favourable conditions as well as promises of employment opportunities.
“In the document we published (earlier this week), we explained that according to the general elections act, it is illegal to provide ‘food, drinks, treatment or provisions to people or for people’,” Repubblika president Robert Aquilina stated.
Repubblika’s president then referred directly to Cutajar’s visit to Dar Pinto, arguing that “it is clear that this distribution of food breaches section 5 of the General Elections Act, articles 45 – 46”.
“In light of this, we have just given the police commissioner a letter through which we formally requested to investigate Rosianne Cutajar for this breach,” Aquilina added.
In a brief post on Facebook, Cutajar did not acknowledge the fact that she broke electoral laws and instead attempted to discredit Aquilina’s assertion by highlighting his familial connection with opposition MP Karol Aquilina, labeling Repubblika’s efforts to get the police commissioner to investigate a “character assassination” attempt.
Parnis had given roly-polies emblazoned with the Maltese word for “courage” to constituents back in September of last year when COVID cases were surging and the country was inching closer towards its second lockdown.
Parnis was the only MP who was left out of Robert Abela’s cabinet reshuffle back in November of last year, only to later be given another position within the same ministry that he was previously serving in as parliamentary secretary for active ageing. He had come under fire in his role as parliamentary secretary after deaths in elderly homes due to COVID-19 had surged rapidly.
In May of this year, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri and a new Labour candidate, Chris Bonett, distributed cupcakes and packs of tuna, both of which had each respective MP’s names plastered on the packaging.
Earlier this month, Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship Alex Muscat distributed face masks to his constituents, along with a signed note and a picture of himself.
Featured photo credit, inset bottom-left: Lovin Malta.