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When you think of ‘justice’ on a conceptual level, what are the descriptors that come to mind?

One central aspect of it is the notion of getting what is due, whether that is a reward for extraordinary service, a punishment for wrongdoing, or anything else in between.

In this respect, ‘rigid’ is one of the keywords that might come up in the conversation, though not necessarily to imply that the letter of the law must be followed without question at all times.

Clemency can also be a form of justice, especially when considering instances of decriminalised behaviour. For example, someone who was imprisoned for smoking cannabis, a recreational activity which has now been decriminalised, should not be in prison. While there are certain crimes – murder, conspiracies to defraud the state, and basically anything else in the Criminal Code which carries a major prison sentence – which cannot be simply forgiven, there are instance in which justice is better served by clemency rather than relentlessness.

In case whether you were wondering whether I hit my head and am about to advocate in favour of the disgraceful decision to offer a mass amnesty for everyone who illegally accessed social benefits through the Labour Party’s homemade racket, don’t worry. That is absolutely not the case here – in fact, my argument is precisely the opposite.

According to one of the usual unnamed government whisperers being quoted by the Times (see link in previous paragraph), the decision to offer a presidential pardon to people who fraudulently received social benefits was made because many of those involved claimed to be unaware of the fraudulent manner in which their applications were approved.

The whisperers also told The Times that the amnesty is being offered because of the fact that many of the fraudsters are facing severe financial pressures since they must repay the amounts that were defrauded, a punishment which many cannot afford. “The pardon is only intended for the small fish,” the source is quoted as saying.

If it wasn’t all so haphazard, I’d say that it’s almost funny that this assertion betrays a deep discomfort within government circles. They are so aware that everyone knows the justice system refuses to prosecute influential individuals that they are desperate to use this case as an example of how they are not afraid to go after the big boys.

The police force and the office of the attorney general certainly don’t seem to share that same zeal for a spot of the real shark-hunting we need them to do – looking into the Cabinet of crooks who took the decision to offer these presidential pardons instead of solely making a show of force out of a handful of rogue middlemen who got greedy with the racket they were running with their blessing.

This is where the concept of the ‘rigidity’ of justice ought to come in. Justice must be inflexible in that nobody is immune to its reach, irrespective of what status they occupy, who they work for, or what they did. If a breach of the law is detected, the system must respond to it proportionately, carry out all the necessary processes to preserve and collect evidence of the breach, and act without any hesitation or delay.

Instead, the justice system’s arsenal turns to gelatin the minute its crosshairs are meant to target anyone who is somehow linked with the Labour Party.

Valid questions have already been raised in terms of what the structure for deciding on these pardons will be. Who will be deciding on these pardons? What will be the criteria for who gets to have a pardon and who doesn’t? How will it be determined whether the beneficiary was genuinely ignorant of the fraudulent nature of the arrangements that were made or whether they are feigning ignorance so they can cop out?

Let’s examine the nature of the racket itself for a minute. One of the first news reports which followed up on the scandal stated that seventeen applicants had fraudulently applied for benefits by claiming they suffered from epilepsy, when in reality, all of them held a valid driving license. People suffering from epileptic fits are not allowed to hold a driver’s license because of the nature of their condition, which clearly implies they knew they did not, in fact, have epilepsy. Will these people be eligible for a pardon?

Shortly after that, the Times had interviewed an individual who explicitly claimed that there was a clear effort to shore up support for the Labour Party via its middlemen in the racket, with the implication that benefit money would be issued in exchange for a vote. Others claimed that nobody had ever asked them for a vote. Will these people be eligible for a pardon?

When the scandal was exposed, social policy minister Michael Falzon had brushed off calls for his resignation by claiming that the scam ‘came from outside his ministry’, a claim which evidently does not stand up to scrutiny following more recent accusations. Prime minister Robert Abela went all out to convince the general public that nobody who is currently involved in the Labour government was directly involved in the racket – that is, until the middlemen started telling anyone who might listen about Falzon’s alleged involvement through a person of trust.

So, what does this examination reveal? The obvious conclusion: that this racket was a vote-buying exercise that backfired spectacularly when they realised they would have to actually prosecute the people whose votes they bought. We are just a few weeks away from the MEP and local council elections – how would sending hundreds of potential Labour Party voters to jail because of a Labour Party scam look like in the eyes of other voters?

More importantly, what would be the implication for all other individuals who fraudulently or unfairly benefited from the governing party’s abuse of power? Think of all the major business interests who, thanks to their obvious, corrupt links to key individuals in the government, have obtained contracts which they do not even qualify for. All the political appointees hoovering up inflated employment contracts and direct orders, all the crooks whose fines were struck off a register, got a promotion they didn’t deserve, were paid allowances they weren’t entitled to.

These practices are the lifeblood of this government. If its core supporter base begins to get wary of their patrons’ ability to maintain control over the systems they are abusing for their benefit, would they think twice about whether it’s even worth the risk of getting caught and dragged out in front of the courts?

It is simply not justifiable to grant a mass amnesty to anyone who was involved in this racket, because determining who was genuinely being misled should only be done through the regular court process. Only a judge or a magistrate – or a specialist board that is made up of magistrates and/or judges – should be tasked with the responsibility of determining the adequate punishment for the hundreds of individuals who were involved in this racket. A notary who assumed the presidency earlier this month is not a fit arbiter for such a case, nor is a Cabinet full of crooks.

This is the kind of racket that should be handled through the legislative set-up that could be built with the same kinds of anti-corruption laws that the Labour government refuses to implement, not through making a show out of the middlemen while protecting more powerful politicians who happen to be higher up the chain of command.

What this current approach spells out to anyone who is keen to read between the lines is that there is a threshold of money and power you can cross which will automatically protect you from prosecution, and that threshold seems to be at least a notch above whatever Silvio Grixti was in the hierarchy of the party.

Wouldn’t want to give off that impression now, would we?

One Comment

  • Mark Fenech says:

    Cronyism, corruption and patronage are the lifeblood of the Labour Party. As soon as that lifeblood is drained, one is inevitably left with a carcass.

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