It’s not just what; it’s who. It’s not just what’s being done with your money but also which politicians are being allowed to dip into it. “Who” is part of the significance of this website’s report that seven Labour MPs have been dipping into State funds — to the tune of over €20 million — on projects in their electoral constituencies.
The spending is on ‘regeneration’ projects. It’s happening against the background murmurs of a general election later this year. Given that it would be folly to have an election interfere with Christmas shopping, and alarming if it was held before the budget (it would incite suspicions of an imminent economic debacle), then we have a likely November election.
Hence the flurry of home visits, photo opportunities with constituency associations, and promotional events. We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that some MPs — to be exact, five cabinet ministers, one junior minister and Glenn Bedingfield — are even helping themselves to public funds to curate their public image.
It’s an established model of doing politics, taken to turbo level since 2013. Whatever Robert Abela meant when he said the State today is completely different from the one we had last year, he clearly never meant he was going to ditch Labour’s business model.
That business model, however, includes rewarding some Labour MPs and punishing others. Not everyone is allowed access to the funds. The spending is not just about Labour trying to crush the PN at the polls. It’s also about a day of reckoning within Labour itself.
Bedingfield, Clint Camilleri, the Gozo minister, and Aaron Farrugia, the environment minister, have spent around three-quarters of that €20.5 million. Which tells us that, whatever “implementing the recommendations of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry report” means, it doesn’t mean the demotion or sidelining of Bedingfield, named by the report as the “worst expression” of the dehumanisation campaign against Caruana Galizia.
Bedingfield is, evidently, needed to rally his constituents of Cottonera, many of whom pride themselves on being real “socialists”. Like many of Labour’s socialists, they have been disgusted by the rapacious neoliberalism of the last several years. While Bedingfield has an identity independent of his Party leader, he is useful in helping Abela redefine a shift from Joseph Muscat’s Labour to his own, ostensibly more “worker-oriented” Party.
The other six politicians named in The Shift report — Camilleri, Farrugia, Alex Muscat, Clayton Bartolo, Clyde Caruana and Byron Camilleri — are all “new faces”, associated primarily with the Abela government, not its predecessor.
If they are getting funds that others are not, then what we’re seeing is a game of Labour snakes and ladders. Abela is indicating his favourites in a clear message to Party voters.
In Gozo, Camilleri is engaging in a wild auction with his main Labour rivals, distributing jobs and promotions on such a scale that it’s distorting the local labour market. What’s happening is unprecedented even by the standards of an island used to massive patronage.
Another message: Bedingfield gets funds; the embattled (but officially defended) Edward Zammit Lewis apparently does not. Voters mad at Zammit Lewis for calling them morons don’t have to abstain; they can vote for a Labour rival. Who knows, perhaps the tourism minister, Bartolo, who does have access to funds and clearly has the prime minister’s benediction.
Abela is practising what he had already preached at Labour’s general conference a few weeks ago: “Labour is its own alternative”.
These “alternatives” are new faces in senior positions but hardly new in terms of modus operandi. Bartolo is the minister who appointed an 18-year-old councillor in his district to the FinanceMalta board.
Muscat somehow earned an income from Nexia BT while working at the Office of the Prime Minister under Joseph Muscat. He justified it by saying that as a person of trust he wasn’t bound by public service rules.
Abela’s promise of renewal refers only to a renewal of personnel. The business model will remain the same. Embarrassing ministers will be removed because they embarrass Labour — not because they violate principles of good governance and a proper public service ethos. And so, logically, justice will be administered by the Party, not necessarily by the courts.
Just in case you were wondering, though, the taxpayer will still be paying for it.