Clientelism, Clarified

Clientelism is the latest concept being talked about by politicians. It is a pervasive problem that has become commonplace in small Malta, and that has disturbing consequences on the State. Awturi explains:

“Social order dependent on patronage

When a candidate MP doesn’t visit his constituents before an election, that MP doesn’t stand much of a chance. Today, house-visits must consist of two or three canvassers fervently jot down voters’ details in order to “help them out”, by fixing a street lamp, by patching a road, by granting a job.

Hon. José Herrera, in an interview with the Malta Independent, explained that Ministers’ jobs depend on a “customer care team” who are there to receive and satisfy demands of voters. Voters are quite literally turned into customers, who rely on politicians abusing their powers to bypass procedure and grant short-term material benefit in exchange for votes.


Hon. José Herrera, interviewed on TMI. Credit: TMI on Sunday


 The right to vote in free elections should not have a price

The implications are terrible: Maltese politics is no longer about values or policy – it’s about who can be the most generous to their constituents. This grants politicians leeway to do whatever they like as long as ‘Salvu tal-kantuniera gets his tarġa fixed’. Nevermind that pavements are council responsibility and that doorsteps are an entirely private matter.

Electoral system: a vicious circle

According to Herrera, it’s an open secret that every politician adopted this system. He pointed out that it’s the fault of the electoral system. While Awturi agrees that the electoral system needs to be changed to stop favouring the domination of biparty politics, we disagree that our MPs are not at fault.

It is true that if politicians want to get elected, they must satisfy their MPs, but it amounts to a lack of integrity and courage if nobody puts their foot down on the matter. If MPs and their colleagues are all parties to a flawed system of clientelism, who is doing anything about it?

Ultimately, clientelism means that public resources are focused on the people who only care about bettering their personal lives. But taxpayer money is there to ensure that everybody’s standard of living is improved. This may be paralleled with the tragedy of the commons: if the majority only care about its own backyards, then the nation will start to degrade. Once only government supporters are serviced, it becomes detrimental to the standard of living of all citizens.

Public resources, including MPs’ time, should be focused on Malta as a whole, not just those who will be voting for them.


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