Updated 3pm with PN leader's reaction
A €5 million government donation to Puttinu Cares announced on Friday night live TV has split opinions down the middle, with some celebrating the seven-figure sum and others calling it a cynical PR stunt.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat revealed the €5 million donation during a live phone-in with Xarabank, which was raising funds for the local NGO. The money will come from the highly-controversial IIP fund, which holds money the government earns through the sale of Maltese citizenship.
The donation effectively quadrupled the money raised on the night, with €1.6 million raised through private donations helping Puttinu Cares to the record haul.
It is not the first time Dr Muscat's government has used TV charity telethons to announce government donations: in November 2017, he appeared on another Xarabank fundraiser and announced that the government would be paying for the running costs of Dar Bjorn, a home for people with serious motor neuron conditions set up by Born Formosa.
A video of Dr Muscat announcing the €5 million donation to Puttinu Cares and uploaded to Facebook by Xarabank had already been shared more than 1,200 times by noon on Saturday.
And while many people thanked the government and Dr Muscat for the donation, the reaction was not universally positive.
For while many welcomed the donation and said it was a good use of funds, others wondered why the government should receive plaudits for donating public money.
Partit Demokratiku leader Anthony Buttigieg kept things positive but made it clear that it was the public, not the prime minister, who ought to be thanked.
"The 5 million donated by the government are the people's money not some super act of generosity on the part of the prime minister," Dr Buttigieg wrote.
That line of thought was echoed on many other social media feeds.
"Donating €5 million from the public purse is a nice gesture," wrote one woman. "But did they have to do so on Xarabank? This tarnishes the gesture, it's obvious Xarabank was used for propaganda purposes.
Even Xarabank's social media team seemed unsure what to make of the donation, writing that the telethon had "raised €1.6 million" and adding "besides this sum, the government gave €5 million".
The donation also fit neatly into the government's strategy of privatising healthcare, argued another user, who wrote that the mega-donation would lead to "anyone who cannot afford corporate-owned healthcare" begging to Puttinu or the Community Chest Fund.
Others were more concerned about the provenance of the €5 million - and among them was Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami.
"As somebody who has spent more than seven weeks receiving cancer treatment in the UK," Dr Fenech Adami wrote, "I feel insulted and disgusted that we allowed Joseph Muscat to send the message that in order to heal cancer patients we need to sell Maltese passports to criminals and the corrupt," he wrote.
"Even Toto' Riina, the Mafia king, used to donate a lot to charity in Sicily using proceeds of crime."
His fellow MP Jason Azzopardi agreed, bemoaning what he said was a lack of critical thinking and the "immoral philosophy" of thinking that "fraud is ok once parts of the proceeds are going to charity."
Not all their followers agreed with their criticism, though.
"Beppe, tell us where you stay when you go to London," wrote one. "Definitely not with the nuns or Puttinu. I've spent 17 years going to London with my son [for medical care]. When you were in government I had to pay for my own air fare, under this one they're paid for."
Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia said the weak, the elderly and vulnerable deserve all the government support.
"The government is obliged to take care of these people. This is the government's duty. It's not charity."
Dr Delia said he believed the apartments should be built in London to provide the sick with the best accommodation during the worst of times.
"I believe we need to cater for the needs of the entire health sector.
"We should leave charity in the hands of the experts who truly believe in it - the thousands of volunteers, hundreds of NGOs, the people who give all they can, those that walked from Mellieħa to Senglea to raise more than €80,000."
Is the €5 million donation a good move, or a cynical ploy? Let us know in the comment section below and vote in our online poll.
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