Using words like “shocking” or “scandal” is incorrect. No one is shocked or scandalised to read that Labour Party loyalists are placed in strategic positions in government to ensure they discriminate in favour of Labour Party supporters (and against others) or use public services as currency to secure voter support.

People need to stop pretending to wonder why young people have given up on life in Malta. For a few, it’s the poverty and the lack of opportunities. For a few others, it’s the degrading environment and the eroded quality of life. For many, it’s something they may not quite find words to describe, an unhappiness that comes with the way things are.

Few people articulated that dissatisfaction better than Joseph Muscat. Populists have a knack for finding the right words to crystallise widespread but vague displeasure. In 2013, the slogan was Malta tagħna lkoll: Malta belongs to all of us. In that slogan, Muscat gave people the words that described their indignation at their perceived exclusion. He gave them a cry to assert a right they now believed was being slighted. Muscat led an angry march against the unfairness of discrimination against the silently left behind.

Never mind whether Muscat’s explanation of the society he promised to change had much basis in fact. No one chanting Malta tagħna lkoll stopped to wonder whether they were clamouring for something they already had. That wasn’t the point. The point was persuading people that they were disadvantaged by the way things worked and that they could now use their vote to change that.

Robert Abela’s defence of his government and his ministers after Times of Malta documented the way people with political connections were “helped” to pass their driving tests is as far as it is possible to go from the promise of “Malta tagħna lkoll”. Robert Abela said Ian Borg and other Labour Party officials were simply doing their job when they put pressure on Transport Malta officials to help Labour Party supporters get preferential treatment by the driver licensing unit. This, Robert Abela said, amounts to “a primary function” of the government.

The “primary function” of the government in the driver licensing department is to make sure only competent drivers are licensed. As part of the wider government, and therefore like the rest of it, they are otherwise expected to be efficient (for example by making sure that people waiting to qualify are not made to wait too long to be tested) and to be fair (by judging someone’s competence according to how well they drive not whether they’re friends with the minister).

That is the primary function of the government. Of course, nothing is ever perfect. People should feel free to speak to their MP if they have reason to believe they have been treated unfairly. And that MP is in duty bound to verify the complaints they receive and raise the issue with the line minister, so the problem is fixed. MPs can and should act as checks on the government to combat injustices, an otherwise inevitable side effect of any bureaucracy. The problem should be fixed by improving efficiency and fairness.

Robert Abela is arguing for the opposite. He is saying that MPs’ primary function is to reduce efficiency and fairness. Because if a Laburist is allowed to jump the queue, the wait for everyone else is going to be longer than it otherwise would have been. And because discriminating in favour of a Labour supporter cannot happen without discriminating against everyone else.

The young people who are disaffected by this country would be horrified to learn that just to get your dues – like obtaining a driving license – you need to slobber at the feet of a local grandee. Thirty years ago local TV broadcast a satirical show with a weekly political folk song. One of them – truly unforgettable – went “fil-kjù, fil-kjù, ħalli ninqdew, l-onorevoli nistennew.” ‘We wait in line for the honourable (MP) to serve us.’ It’s funny sometimes what sticks in memory. The point is what was funny in 1988 is positively tragic but otherwise unchanged in 2023.

By placing himself between the right of citizens and the service the government is supposed to provide, Ian Borg bullies his way into the lives of people who shouldn’t need him. Certainly, they should not need him to acquire a driving license.

By being forced to ask for favours we are all deprived of our rights.