It is right that attention is given to public funds siphoned off by ineligible beneficiaries of social schemes. One of the justifications for being forced to pay taxes is that some of the wealth earned by the able-bodied should ease the hardship suffered, through no fault of their own, by the severely disabled.

It is unfair on taxpayers that the undeserving steal that money. It is also unfair on the severely disabled, whose suffering has been trivialised and exploited. A crime is committed here. Theft, of course. But also, vile impersonation. It’s like someone faking blindness, cup in hand, swindling the generous with a long con.

It is right that attention is given to the ongoing failure to prosecute any of the chief perpetrators: Silvio Grixti, the allegations against whom, which have emerged in public, are truly horrific but also the ministers and staff mentioned repeatedly by the false beneficiaries.

This is a country which will arrest the driver of the getaway car but. if the gang leader of a bank robbery is a politician or someone who knows politicians well, the gang leader will be left alone. We have lived through 10 years of senior Labour politicians taking turns gang-raping justice, her blindfold now a kink enjoyed by her abusers rather than an indicator of any meaningful objectivity.

It is right that attention is given to the grotesque inability of the government to respond to the crisis, its clumsy fumbling, its nervous ticks, its contradictory responses betraying just how widespread their complicity in this fraud is. Consider Robert Abela’s belated claim of foresight. The news of the Grixti conspiracy did not surprise him, he said.

He knew of it in 2021 when he “took the political decision” to “reveal” the case and force Grixti to resign from parliament. And, yet, Abela could not explain how his social policy minister only “discovered” the swindle nine months later.

Worse, Abela could not explain how, following his “political decision” to force Grixti out of parliament, the prime minister’s office hired him as a consultant and put him on their payroll.

What’s worse is that they are using our stolen money to rob us of something far more important: our democracy

But there’s something even more serious that this scandal is about which is even worse than merely being a large-scale swindle. It is so fundamental, so deeply damaging, so determinant and controlling of the outcomes of our life as a community that we’re all more comfortable with debating the wood than trying to grasp the magnitude of the trees.

I wrote my first-ever blog post a few days after the 2017 general election. In it, I recalled how Simon Busuttil’s PN won the argument in that general election campaign. The press and publicly expressed independent opinion, most of which had been sympathetic to Joseph Muscat in 2013, had switched sides by 2017. Labour was isolated when attempting to defend the government after the Panama Papers exposure. If you measured the success and failure of the main parties’ electoral campaigns, as judges in a boxing match counting landed blows, you’d have awarded certain victory to the PN.

But while we were all watching and digesting the arguments in the media, the Labour Party was fighting a battle the PN never knew was happening. They were campaigning in the streets and in homes, having conversations in heavily curtained sitting-rooms from where Panama and Egrant could not be any further. Labour sat in those sitting rooms and traded favours for votes. They swapped pledges of support in exchange for unneeded public sector jobs and for rule-bending building permits. While the PN won the argument, Labour won the election one purchased vote at a time.

The thing with political favours is that people who are happy to sell their vote will negotiate to acquire from the politician, in exchange for their currency and commitment, what they wouldn’t be able to acquire by right anyway. Electoral clientelism is not about making sure that constituents’ rights are protected or that voters are helped to get what they’re due. The promise of an unearned vote is made for a reward that cannot be secured otherwise.

This is the true horror of this benefit fraud story. It is really electoral fraud. By some estimates, some 900 people were unlawfully paid a monthly allowance, officially for a severe disability they did not have, to secure and retain their partisan support. Nine hundred, being half of 1,800, would have been enough to decide the 2008 general election that returned a narrower gap between the two political parties.

Consider that most of these 900 people were concentrated in two electoral districts, which means that their impact on a national electoral scale – assuming that constituents in other districts are enjoying unlawful benefits that are more relevant to their needs – is far greater than the gap in the 2008 general election.

This scheme (as so many others) amounts to a swindle whose victims are taxpayers. But the money is a detail here. What’s worse is that they are using our stolen money to rob us of something far more important: our democracy. In 2017, it came as a bit of a shock. But as more facts emerge about what Labour is willing to do to secure their victories in the street, it should become clearer that it has become impossible in this country to have free and fair elections.

No wonder the PN appears to have given up and gone on near-permanent holiday.

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