Several months ago, Repubblika argued MPs should not be government Ministers. Access to public money and contesting a constituency seat are a toxic combination.
Byron Camilleri, the guy who stood idly by as prisoner after prisoner was found dead or dying in prison, has found public money to pay for the repair of the roof of the church of the town he used to be mayor of and is now its MP. He makes the action sound generous and responsible and exactly what the country needs. Fgura’s church is a bit of a gem of contemporary architecture. The state has a role in its conservation. The money’s found and the church is watertight. All good, right?
Well, no. Just a few hundred metres away is the Tarxien church. It’s a gem of the late baroque. Its 18th century belfries are crumbling because of erosion. It seems it hasn’t yet pinched the conscience of a Minister and down the belfries go. The parish priest renewed appeals to politicians to find him the money, no doubt spurred on by news of the generosity enjoyed by his Fgura colleague down the road.
Alex Muscat has his hands on the passport-selling kitty. Some weeks ago, he said he’ll be spending a nice sum to light up the walls of Mdina, his constituency. Yesterday he announced he’s spending a cool million to light up Mosta church, also his constituency. Nothing like a little blood money to light up a temple of the Lord.
A discussion on the church’s apparent willingness to accept passport-sales money as charity laundering the reputation of the scheme along with the sins of the scheme’s acquirers is, perhaps, for another time.
The point here is Rosianne Cutajar’s oranges writ large. Our democracy works like a pre-Enlightenment ancien regime, on the back of the gratitude of the masses for the unilateral generosity of noblesse oblige. Byron Camilleri and Alex Muscat repair the church roof or light up the facade and in return we’re obliged to renew their contract on power over us.
But this is a democracy. The money they’re so generously handing down is not actually theirs. The money actually belongs to people who work, live, worship, or simply walk past those churches. Ministers merely have the responsibility to spend the money fairly.
If the State is going to pay for the upkeep of churches – and I’m not saying it shouldn’t – then it should spend what budget it decides to dedicate to the job according to objective criteria.
Surely, there never will be enough money for all churches to be repaired at once. So clearly the choice of which church to get the money first should not be based on which church is electorally more important for the Minister who happens to have the keys to that particular money box. That is why in a proper State which is not built on patronage that sort of money is not disbursed at the pleasure of the Minister but on the back of schemes set up by law.
This is not just about churches but about the exercise of all Ministerial discretion: which road gets built first, where social housing is developed, where building heights are revised, where a new public health clinic opens, and so on.
If Ministers weren’t bothered with their personal re-election but responded instead equally and indiscriminately to the pressures of a Parliament made of MPs representing proportionately all communities from all over the islands, you can be sure the first thing Ministers would do to get MPs’ claims of unfairness off their backs would be to introduce fair and objective schemes for the distribution of funds.
And the parish priest of Tarxien would have other recourse for his reasonable complaint other than Facebook and prayer.