I’m more interested in the reaction to yesterday’s incident on the Planning Authority website than in the incident itself. I’ll sum up the incident first, however, in case I need to bring you up to speed.
The government offered €4 million to owners of town centre residencies that need repair work. The scheme lets you recover all your costs up to €11,000. The scheme has been offered before and it’s understandably popular. It was offered yesterday on the Planning Authority’s website, but the application form crashed within 15 minutes of opening. Many said they were left fuming when an application they had been filling out simply disappeared from their screens.
Now let’s be clear. If a website gets more visitors than its owners expect, it will crash. Websites are like anything: they take up space. If too many people try to squeeze through too small a door, something will give. This sort of thing happens.
In the evening the minister responsible said the government’s offer was oversubscribed within minutes. This is from Malta Today’s report: “Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi later said in parliament that within minutes of the scheme opening at noon, more than 350 applications were submitted. (He) said the scheme is capped at €4 million and applicants will benefit on a first come, first served basis.”
That’s a bit of a strange explanation though. At a maximum of €11,000 each, and assuming they all asked for the maximum, 350 applications are just shy of the €4 million budget. The minister did say “more than” 350 applications but he didn’t say if it’s a couple more or a couple of thousand more. It’s not likely to have been much more than 350 because the minister would have proudly pronounced the larger number if it had been.
It seems therefore that the system crashed (or, as people left out seem to believe, the gates were slammed in their faces) just at the point when enough applications had come in to exhaust the budget.
That may or may not be a mystery.
I said I was more interested in the reaction. This is a sample conversation under a post by a self-proclaimed Labour Party supporter (scroll to the bottom for screenshots of the entire debate). The people in the conversation almost unanimously declare themselves Labour Party loyalists who are in favour of the scheme. But they all express serious doubts that the allocation of the funds under this scheme is free of corruption or some sort of favouritism.
Leave aside who they think is being corrupt (many say it’s PA officials, not Labour politicians), and who they think is benefitting (many say that under a Labour government only Nationalist voters benefit from corruption). I say leave it aside because it does not matter for my argument if they’re right.
What matters is that they think this. They think the government is operating a scheme that is suspicious, lacks transparency, and is unfair. They do not buy the official explanation that the system crashed and that people who were too slow to file on time can only blame luck and themselves for not having managed to complete their application before the system crashed.
They believe rather that the whole charade was fixed; that the “more than” 350 applications were already handpicked before the PA made a show of asking for applications online and that the whole “oh my god this scheme was so popular the website crashed” was just a front to cover up a criminal and corrupt conspiracy.
Again, it doesn’t matter for my argument whether they’re right or wrong about what they think happened.
What matters here is that we have reached a national consensus that you cannot trust the government’s claims that the system is not rigged. We all – including fanatical supporters of the Labour Party – seem to agree that you cannot take a government minister’s official explanation to Parliament at face value, that he is likely lying, that public funds are funnelled towards the pockets of favourites to the exclusion of those most objectively eligible to receive them.
What matters here is that the Labour Party, through years of working hard on its reputation as a safe harbour for pirates, bandits, crooks, and embezzlers, has earned the ironic mistrust of its most enthusiastic supporters.