There was good reason why a picture of four government officials, including the prime minister, applauding and staring at a stone slab marking the newly inaugurated Central Link project, became an instant online meme.
It epitomised the pathetic PR stunt/ribbon-cutting ceremonies that politicians and public officials indulge in whenever anything is inaugurated, presented or initiated in Malta.
For several years we have seen ministers and parliamentary secretaries fronting everything, from official reports to glitzy TV shows to new road projects. They are prepared to plumb new depths in their search for a photo opportunity to take credit for the state’s largesse.
It appears to be every minister and parliamentary secretary’s target to have their name immortalised and linked to every project, whatever the size, whether it’s the inauguration of a public square or the opening of a new public latrine. The absurdity of it all had even been immortalised in a Facebook page called ‘Maltese ministers looking at things’.
MPs might remain at the forefront of public life but they are elected to serve the public from public funds. They are meant to give policy direction which is then executed by the real experts. But repeatedly we see the experts and the drivers being relegated from the public domain to make way for the political masters who still think they deserve to be celebrated.
Look at the next street corner plaque and you’d think it was the minister who conceived, designed and even manually built the garden. Look at the next drugs or social policy report and you’d think the minister was behind it all.
It was embarrassing to see no less than three ministers and a number of heads of state entities donning their tuxedos and presenting prizes at the film awards last weekend when they have practically no role in the industry. These tactics might have worked in the 20th century but in the social media age they are akin to tactics adopted by Communist regimes.
In the coming weeks, as the election campaign picks up, expect to see more blatant PR exercises, from hampers ‘donated’ to you by MPs and election candidates, to dozens of leaflets delivered to your letter box from politicians taking credit for any project under the sun.
While the state broadcaster remains a mouthpiece for politicians, the independent media has radically changed in the last decade or two, and now relegates blatant PR exercises. The times when journalists were enticed to report an event simply because a minister was present are thankfully gone.
Which is why many politicians turned to new media to circumvent the mainstream press’s control and resorted to social media which offered them a friendlier venue to promote themselves. How many times do we have to see cringeworthy posts by politicians and candidates who upload staged pictures of themselves with the cheesiest of captions?
Such campaigns will convince nobody but the grassroots who have possibly voted for the same candidate at every election.
The sheer pointlessness of politicians wishing you a happy birthday and the immorality of delivering goods to your doorstep has to stop.
Instead it would be good to see politicians take their commitment to public service seriously enough to treat the public’s money with the respect it deserves, not out of a sense of obligation but out of a sense of what is right and wrong.