The social benefits racket is becoming more alarming as details trickle out. The story we published on Sunday, which quoted a recipient linking the benefit to vote buying, now indicates electoral fraud and institutional collusion.
What is equally disturbing is the way the government and its propaganda allies are trying to manipulate this scandal to give the impression that all is under control.
Unless you have completely switched off the news, it has emerged that Labour MP Silvio Grixti had resigned from parliament after being interrogated by the police over an investigation into irregular medical sick notes. He is not alone. Government officials are allegedly involved in a racket which runs into millions.
When Grixti resigned in December 2021, he gave no comments to the press. Instead, he resorted to Facebook to tell his followers he had resigned from parliament as his “priorities went beyond political life”. While resigning was the right thing to do, the government and Prime Minister Robert Abela remained conspicuous by their silence.
The election was held within three months, Labour won again and the story never returned to the public domain. What the public did not know was that dozens of people were being marched to court and charged with their involvement in a social services racket facilitated by people in government and close to Labour.
It remained under wraps until Times of Malta revealed the extent of the racket last week. Despite the spectre of potential vote-buying, the prime minister, the Labour Party and ONE did not utter a word, while the public broadcaster only mentioned it in the context of Bernard Grech’s radio speech.
And then, two days later, when confronted by journalists, Abela opted for a statement that has left many incredulous. When confronted by journalists, he claimed the case had been “revealed” by Castille, which reported it to the police, and the MP in question was then forced to resign. He appeared almost surprised that he was being questioned about the matter.
In a normal democratic country, when a government MP becomes embroiled in a scandal of such proportions, the prime minister would have immediately called a news conference. Some would even call an election.
In a normal country, prime ministers step forward in front of journalists to prove full transparency and vow this would never happen again.
In a normal democratic country, the state broadcaster would have investigated and featured this scandal prominently every day until there is full accountability.
Instead, the government built an eerie wall of silence and repeated the mantra that the “institutions are working”. When caught with its pants down, almost two years later, it appointed a board to look into the social benefits system.
This confirms the prime minister had no intention of being transparent when he got wind of the scandal two years ago. What Abela was hoping for was that Grixti would pay the ultimate price and all other accomplices would be exonerated.
The country deserves a thorough explanation, firstly to taxpayers who have seen millions stolen.
Secondly, an apology needs to be given to the thousands of legitimate social services recipients who are being questioned.
Thirdly, there is now a need of an inquiry into potential election fraud. We always suspected this was happening. It now appears that it was part of the system.
Fourthly, the government needs to give an explanation of the contradictory statements being made. For example, the prime minister claims to have triggered the investigation in 2021, only for the social policy ministry to say it became aware of the swindle nine months later.
The country needs to know why vulnerable people were drawn into a despicable web of clientelism by government officials and their henchmen to keep themselves in power.
Questions must be asked of the medical board which appears to have signed off on dozens of benefits with impeccable ease. The answers are needed by the many health specialists livid their signatures were forged.
The Labour government has faced so many scandals that it has now become an expert at deflecting the attacks onto those seeking justice.
It is up to every law-abiding citizen who refuses to be bought by the system to fight back. It would be terrible for our democracy if we accepted these corrupt practices because we feel helpless and desensitised.