Sending out a global message on poverty and how to tackle it is already a huge task of itself. Given the difficulties encountered in defining the subject and the gargantuan task of creating a global outreach, it would seem to be near to impossible. What happens then when the local politician attempts to manipulate a concept such as poverty in order to satisfy his or her immediate needs?
One of the main priority topics in Malta over the past year has been the rapid escalation in the cost of utility bills. Water and electricity bills have sky-rocketed after years of subsidised prices. There was no cushioned approach - the subsidies were lifted all at once and the shock has been hard to swallow. Political arguments on both sides of the political spectrum vary from the "educational tax" approach to the "bleeding common citizens dry" counterargument. What has definitely happened is that an entire mass of disgruntled voters has surfaced - one that could even cross die-hard political trenches in this country of black and white. It matters much in a country where the difference between government and opposition is a mere 1,500 votes to quickly monopolise any new possible rallying call.
Which is where the Labour party come in. Years of opposition have transformed the party into an opportunist vote getter - the latest rallying cry being the oxymoronic home of Progressives, Moderates and Liberals - and the poverty bandwagon seems to be increasingly viewed as another fast track to that illusive slender majority. The political forum is so cheap that in order to garner support in a new field it is sufficient to simply express "concern" and "solidarity" without formulating real proposals and solutions. Those effected by the rise in utility bills tend to be the new disgruntled - the socially and materially disenfranchised - and it is in Labour's interest to capture them under its wing as soon as possible.
Enter Maltastar - a comedic English speaking organ of the Labour party - with a feature about the "Homeless". In many ways it is an attempt to define poverty much in the same vein as my contribution "Nix Mangiari?" eight days ago. In other ways though the equation the writer wants to drum in is clear - rather than explaining that there are different levels of poverty on the island, he or she is more interested in creating an impression that Malta too has its "homeless":
Mention the ‘homeless problem’ once too often and you may be classified as a pseudo do-gooder in search of a poverty-platform to get yourself noticed. Now you do not come across people sleeping it rough at night along Tower Road or cooking their beans on open fire under Manoel Bridge do you? So the homeless issue in Malta is surely a non-issue. Or is it? (...) For Homelessness carries three spiky characteristics. It is silent and invisible to the rest as the victim often suffers alone within murky confines. This makes it easy for Governments to stick to the ‘homeless means roofless’ limitation to abdicate responsibilities. Homelessness is at the cutting edge of poverty. Only hunger remains a final stage of absolute poverty. Homelessness spares no one.
It's a tough job to reconcile an investigation into poverty on the island with the need of a party to have a few pauperi of its own to pull under its protective wing of electoral promises of eternal salvation. The government leaning blogger Caruana Galizia wastes no time to dig her teeth into this message - and the battle lines are drawn. Before long the discussion will veer away from any potential analysis of poverty, the poor and whatever manifestations of these realities exist on the island. The discussion on the political field will only add one more dimension of poverty to the island - an intellectual poverty that can in no way contribute to the improvement of the situation on the island.
Intervention by the political establishment, particularly by vote hunting political parties, can lead to these unfortunate realities. It is in such circumstances that the power and importance of the uncontrolled, independent media can come in useful to NGOs and individuals alike: eager to carry on with the nitty-gritty without getting entrapped in the viscious circle of political (with a small, very small, P) non-sequiturs.
This post also appears on the blog J'accuse.