To say that politicians take liberties with the truth is a bit like saying Christmas comes every December 25. It is not just par for the course, it would be headline news if they did not.

But what has been happening over the last eight years is much more sinister. It is gaslighting.

Inspired by the film Gaslight, gaslighting is defined as “a form of emotional abuse or psychological manipulation involving distorting the truth in order to confuse or instil doubt in another person to the point they question their sanity or reality”. And there are days when the utterances emanating from government sources feel very similar.

Take for example last week’s statement by the principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar claiming that there was no pre-election government job spree happening. This was in direct contrast to the press release signed by the Malta Employers’ Association, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, the Malta Chamber of SMEs, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, and the Gozo Business Chamber. They warned that too many skilled workers are being employed in the public sector, including state-appointed bodies. 

Or what about the claim made by the barely appointed Finance Minister Clyde Caruana claiming that a tax exemption scheme announced recently, which exempts people from paying tax on property transfers to set off arrears, was not yet another sweetener for property developers as pointed out by, among others, the Malta Institute of Taxation, the Institute of Financial Services Practitioners and the Malta Chamber of Commerce.

This is just the latest in a line of gaslighting, some menial and some much more serious. 

So you may be forgiven for thinking this was the plan all along.

Remember the €4.2 million sweet deal for Café Premier? Work on that deal started literally a day after the new prime minister came to power. When the NAO released a damning report on the deal, Joseph Muscat, who was personally involved in that transaction and takes pride in his profession as an economist, claimed that he had “moved too fast”.

What about the way the secretive Vitals (now Steward Healthcare Malta) and the American University of Malta deals were talked up? Or the continued insistence that Ian Borg’s road-building frenzy is the solution to our traffic congestion, when urban experts are driving in the opposite direction?

Then there is the courts director general being given sole discretion to remove online court judgements, with former justice minister Owen Bonnici claiming this is in line with the latest European Court of Human Rights judgment. Meanwhile, media organisations said it compromises fundamental human rights as it denies ordinary citizens the right to know.

And last but not least, we cannot forget Konrad Mizzi who, when he deigned to visit the parliamentary standards committee, figured that if he shouted long enough, people would either believe him or forget what was being discussed: the dodgy Electrogas contract.

The ultimate aim of this continuous gaslighting is to stop us believing what we instinctively know to be true. Doubt sets in and eventually we lose hope of understanding what exactly is going on.

As all this happens, and the government continues to plaster billboards with vacuous statements (gaslighting paid with your taxpayer euros), we hear of one statistic which is not gaslighting.

Just a couple of days ago, the National Statistics Office reported that in 2020, the at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate in Malta was estimated at 19.9 per cent of the population. This means that just over 100,000 people are currently living on less than €9,744 per annum.

Think of that next time a politician tries to gaslight you with Malta’s success story.

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