The OSCE will be looking into pre-election cheques “and other issues key to the election” when their election observation kicks off later this month, the organisation told Times of Malta.

In 2022, the OSCE, which is the the world’s largest regional security organisation, said that the government’s decision to hand out tax refund cheques in the run-up to that year’s election did “not conform to international standards and good practice” as it could blur the line between party and State.

Asked whether it held the same views two years on, with the voters once again receiving cheques just weeks before polling day, an OSCE spokesperson said that their “assessment of the 2022 election certainly stands, but it is not necessarily directly applicable for a different case at a different time”.

“We will be sending analysts to Malta as part of our election observation of the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament and will look into this and other issues key to the election,” the spokesperson added.

Malta took the helm of OSCE this year, after a diplomatic tug-of-war which saw Estonia’s bid to chair the organisation vetoed by Russia.

This year’s accompanying letter bears no signature

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) specialises in observing elections and is widely considered to be the gold standard for ensuring free and fair elections the world over.

The cheques are handed out every year but their timing has raised suspicion, frequently landing on voters’ doorsteps amid an electoral campaign.

In 2022, a police spokesperson told Times of Malta that the police do not consider the cheques to be a form of corrupt practice.

While previous cheques were accompanied by a letter signed by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, this year’s accompanying letter bears no signature.

The letter describes the cheque as “recognition of you as a worker contributing to the success of our country”, saying that Malta has “the lowest unemployment rate” and has registered strong economic growth “despite international challenges”, going on to list several government initiatives and schemes.

The letter also says that the cost of the cheques has risen from €11.6m in 2018 to €27m this year, with over 268,000 people expected to receive a payout this year alone.

Abela has brushed off criticism of the timing, saying that “election or not, you received that cheque every year”.

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