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MaltaToday 30 October 2022

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18 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 30 OCTOBER 2022 NEWS Thank you... for having bought this newspaper The good news is that we're not raising the price of our newspaper We know times are still hard, but we have pledged to keep giving our readers quality news they deserve, without making you pay more for it. So thank you, for making it your MaltaToday Support your favourite newspaper with a special offer on online PDF subscriptions. Visit or scan the QR code Subscriptions can be done online on Same-day delivery at €1 for orders up to 5 newspapers per address. Subscribe from €1.15 a week Same-day print delivery from Miller Distributors mt RAPHAEL VASSALLO IN 1964, the Beatles famous- ly sang: 'Money can't buy me love.' But in 2022, the Commis- sion for Standards in Public Life concluded that the same com- modity might be able to buy you something even more 'precious' – and universally coveted – than a mere human emotion. Power. Or as the Commis- sion put it, in its recent report on 'Spending by Candidates in General Elections': "It is fair to say that in Malta there is grow- ing concern about the influence of money on politics, and how such influence can distort pub- lic policy and undermine de- mocracy." Part of this concern arises even from the candidates' declara- tions at the last election. Of the 69 names on the ballot sheet, the 10 highest spenders – all Labour candidates, bar one: the PN's Joe Giglio – declared between €30,000 and €9,000 in expenses, on two districts. This is admittedly less (if only just) than the maximum allowed expenditure of '€20,000 per dis- trict'; but it is infinitely more than the much larger contingent that spent 'less than €5,000'… and the disparity becomes as- tronomical, when compared to the lowest spender on the list: PN candidate Eve Borg Bonello, who presented a costed declara- tion of just €500. [Not counting Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition leader Bernard Grech: whose campaign expens- es were paid by their party]. A breakdown of the figures also seems to reveal a direct correlation between electoral spending, and electoral success: for both parties, the average ex- penditure of successful candi- dates totals around 30% more, than the costs borne by unsuc- cessful ones. Moreover, the same dynam- ic appears to function at party level, too. On average, Labour's successful candidates spent €15,000 apiece; almost three times the €5,290 spent by their Nationalist counterparts; and 15 times the average of '€900- €1,300' spent by (unsuccessful) candidates of smaller parties, such as ADPD. The equation might not work out to 100% accuracy: but the same disparity is evident also in those parties' electoral perfor- mance. Undue influence But there may be more than just 'unfair competition' at stake here. The Standards Commis- sion also notes that: • Prospective candidates can seek to raise money from do- nors, but this would mean in- curring obligations to third parties that could compromise their ability to promote particu- lar causes or principles. • If candidates are compelled to become dependent on third parties in order to gain election to Parliament, this would give commercial interests undue po- litical influence. This is of par- ticular concern with respect to MPs who are made ministers. To be fair, such concerns are arguably universal – as attest- ed by the stringent campaign spending regulations that exist in other European jurisdictions (and elsewhere). The situation in Malta, however, seems to be exacerbated by a number of ad- ditional factors. While regulations do exist to control excessive electoral spending, these are either too vague, or too loophole-ridden, to be effective in practice. So much so, that the Commission observes: "It is fair to say that, at present, campaign spending by individual candidates in general elections is unregulated. The of- ficial spending limit of €20,000 per district is poorly enforced and, in any case, it applies only to spending during a relatively brief period." Other shortcomings identi- fied by the report include that – while the law covers not just the amount of money spent by individual candidates on their campaign; but also "food, drink, entertainment or provision [by third parties]" - these restric- tions are only enforceable for the duration of the election campaign itself. In the Commission's words: "there is nothing to prevent can- didates from giving gifts to vot- ers before the start of the official election campaign." Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a loophole that was much abused during the last election. "A num- ber of incidents highlight the in- adequacy of the law. In one case, in September 2020, one candi- date (a parliamentary secretary at the time) presented elderly persons in care homes with a roly-poly each, with a printed message with the word "Kuraġġ" (courage) and his name and title Hey, big spenders! Time to regulate campaign financing A report by the Standards Commission reveals loopholes in Malta's electoral expenditure regulations, which may 'distort public policy and undermine democracy'

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