The KSU elections campaign showcased the lack of transparency and accountability. Is it any wonder that the politicians of tomorrow will not uphold these principles once they are entrusted with the public funds?
Image: Isles of the Left
Time and again, with others or on my own, I argued that the case against corrupt politicians cannot be limited to the misdeeds of this or that individual (though, obviously, these are important and justice should be meted in relation to such cases), but that there are structural features relating to the economy, to the dominant culture which the institutions that mould public opinion buttress, and to political praxis that sustains such bad practices.
These relations have created a society where success (measured in economic and/or public appeal terms) is the ultimate benchmark of value, where form is more important than substance, where ideology is often neglected in favour of ‘pragmatism’. Debates concerning the type of economy, the social cost of privatisation and/or social classes are now considered passé. Meritocracy, employability and efficiency are treated as self-evident virtues. The individual is supreme, the public is simply the arena for displaying individual success, and the ‘common good’ is a non-existent or merely accorded lip-service. The ethos of such a society will obviously make it morally less difficult for one to take a kick-back or to sneak away from paying taxes if the opportunity presents itself.
Debates concerning the type of economy, the social cost of privatisation and/or social classes are now considered passé.
It is important, for those who are milking the benefits of this situation, that this ethos is not merely kept in place, but is perpetuated by the coming generations. It is imperative to catch them young. An occasion to witness this in blatant and grandiose terms were the recent KSU elections. The features of the organised student-political activism, be it of Christian Democratic or Social Democratic kind, is not only devoid of challenges to the status quo, but is set to reinforce it.
This year’s KSU campaign has been pharaonic. Both Pulse and SDM have deployed electoral material which parallels (parallels, not imitates on a smaller scale) that of the major local political parties.
The campaign material at the Univeristy of Malta’s main campus (other material was on show elsewhere, like the Medical School and Junior College) involved meters of canvas displayed on metal structures covering the path from the old main gate to almost the entire quadrangle, illuminated by a top-notch lighting system: a set up that must have cost thousands of Euro (not to mention the printed material and the freebies). Compare this to a campaign for increasing the minimum wage, in which I was involved a year ago. We wouldn’t even dream of using a tenth of the resources Pulse and SDM pulled, even though the campaign was led by a number of organisations.
From the little I know about parish festas, even organisations involved in them would find it hard to finance the type of advertisement Pulse and SDM produced, despite the fact that parishes are long-established communities with fund-raising events all year long. Do the student organisations receive funding from the two major political parties?
No account was published by either organisation regarding the costs involved in their campaigns and how they managed to foot the bill.
Up to now, no account was published by either organisation regarding the costs involved in their campaigns and how they managed to foot the bill. It can hardly be the case that such an extravagant campaign was financed by student activities like live-ins, BBQs and discos. Nor is the easy explanation informally given by individual members of ‘generous sponsors’ quite credible. How much would a sponsor donate to a student organisation which claims to be autonomous from other institutions? And, if the amount is conspicuous, why?
Unfortunately, with the exception of Benjamin Dalli and possibly some other Lone Ranger, the heart-on-sleeve crusaders for transparency have failed to ask SDM and Pulse the obvious and required questions. I would have expected Awturi, given that it is based at University, to be more vociferous. Neither does the University of Malta as an institution seem to demand from organisations that run for KSU accounts of their expenses and funding.
Is it any wonder that these politicians of tomorrow will not cherish transparency and accountability once they will be entrusted with the public funds?
Is it any wonder, then, that these politicians of tomorrow will not cherish transparency and accountability once they will be entrusted with the public funds? Or will they use “transparency” and “accountability” simply as a stick to beat up their opponents, but not consider it a value one should genuinely uphold?
Inclusion…as Long as I Get Your Vote
The other feature which stood out in this KSU electoral campaign concerned inclusion. It should be a laudable value, requiring deep discernment as to what it implies in particular contexts and the audacity to face the challenges it raises. Yet, ‘inclusion’ is often reduced to a trendy buzzword in mainstream politics and media. Only lip-service is paid to this ideal and inclusion-related activities turn out to be PR exercises aimed at catching the attention or, in the case of political parties, the vote of this or that group.
The recent KSU election campaign did not challenge such caricatures of inclusion, but trained these politicians of tomorrow in how to use inclusive language without embracing the virtue. The manifestos and some of the aspects of the campaign used LGBTIQ-friendly language, which in itself is praiseworthy. Yet, other forms of inclusion were noticeable by their absence.
Some faculties were over represented (law- and finance-related degrees), and others scarcely or not represented at all.
Candidates included only nondisabled, white, young students with Maltese names. The many students who do not fit this category, for some reason or other, were conspicuous by their absence. Also, some faculties were over represented (law- and finance-related degrees), and others scarcely or not represented at all. Doesn’t this selection of candidates speak volumes of whom the student organisations consider suitable to be the leaders and decision-makers?
Moreover, something that was noted by a number of friends of mine and which I myself could attest to is that, in the distribution of the many freebies (which, in the culinary variety, one could find waffles, doughnuts, ice-creams, mini-burgers, bottles of water and other food-stuff—good training in light of the hampers they will distribute when they grow older), people who looked older than mid-30s were excluded from this generosity.
If this impression is correct, the exclusive treatment was based on the assumption that older-looking individuals were not students, but employees/visitors/parents (a false assumption in a number of cases), and hence not worthy of wasting a freebie on. Thus, distribution of waffles was meant to translate into votes—a callous calculation by people in their later teens/early twenties.
Finally, Pulse and SDM drilled their members and the student electors in general into accepting another feature of elections and mainstream politics in Malta and beyond—the non-issues.
There was no sign of attempting to promote social justice and democracy on campus.
Clearly, these organisations believe that politics is not about challenging the educational-economic system, of which the university is a part. There was no sign of attempting to promote social justice and democracy on campus, to discuss what these values demand in practice in the context of a university.
Pulse and SDM campaigns were about non-issues like having a mini-van driving you to campus, even if you live within a walking distance! Given the features that the leaders of tomorrow showcased in their campaign, those who truly cherish democracy, transparency, honesty and justice should be hearing alarm bells.