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Opinion - Reno Borg • 04 July 2007

The cost of campaigning

After 17 years of excessive spending, changes in plans, controversies with the foreign contractor and accusations of corruption, the government embarked upon an aggressive publicity campaign to convince us that the Lm250,000,000 for Mater Dei were well spent. However, the Foundation for Medical Services does not want to reveal the cost of the publicity campaign, as if the huge thousands of liri were spent out of its own pockets. In a democratic and civilised country, the citizen is entitled to know how his taxes have been squandered on a campaign which had no other purpose than to give the government political mileage from a project it handled so badly. Only in Malta are people invited to a party inside a hospital, and open weekends in a “state-of-the-art” infirmary.
Those who have made thousands of liri through government benevolence for conducting the campaign do not consider criticism of the unscrupulous spending as justified, and would prefer critics to shut their mouths and look elsewhere.
What I fail to understand is how a publicity campaign, supposedly planned to instruct us on the facilities offered by the new hospital, was devoid of such information and was simply a hotchpotch of political spots, which in my opinion breach both the Broadcasting Act and the Constitution.
Furthermore, people are interested in more intricate explanations. For instance, no one has assured us that waiting lists are going to be shortened. No one has focused on the sacrifice outpatients have to endure when visiting St Luke’s. If, at St Luke’s, a person has to wait for two or three hours to see a medical consultant, will Mater Dei work magic and reduce such waiting time? And how will the casualty department function? Will patients continue to waste precious hours of their lives waiting for an urgent cure?
Publicity material has assured us of selecting the menu of our choice and in accordance with our medical condition. This is the biggest joke and an empty promise. What has kept the government from offering this type of menu at St Luke’s and other government institutions? In the coming days, I may have the opportunity to publish the diary (or excerpts from it) of a patient at St Vincent de Paule hospital who was frustrated by the kind of food he was offered.
Having followed the political scene for quite some years I have learnt the distinction between deed and promise. We have been promised so many beds of roses over the last 20 years, that if they had materialised, Malta would have become the most colourful garden in the whole region. On the contrary: people are being fooled continually, especially at election time.
The spokesman for the Foundation for Medical Services has been reported as saying that he could not reveal the expenditure of the Mater Dei campaign for commercial reasons. I cannot fathom his declaration. How can a government institution have commercial interests to defend? Every lira spent out of public funds should be accounted for in the most transparent manner. Or is the Foundation protecting the commercial interests of third parties? It would be interesting to know what has been paid to all those who were involved in the massive campaign.
Transparency has become scarce, indicative of a government in decline.

Besides, the enormous Mater Dei campaign lacked content and information. It is a far cry from publicity campaigns organised by ETC and the Education Unit of the Department of Health.
ETC has successfully promoted job training for those over 40 and has attracted persons to learn skills they never had before. Needless to say, it faces a big challenge in trying to change the mentality of those who are determined to spend their lives living off social benefits, but its professional campaigns are reaping dividends. The Education Unit of the Department of Health has conducted campaigns against smoking, in favour of balanced diets, etc.. It has instructed us on the perils of excessive sun exposure and funds allocated to this Unit has been effectively spent.
We are fed up of political propaganda. It is absorbing the funds and effort needed to sustain educational campaigns which are badly needed. We have been assured that political propaganda on Mater Dei would not subside and we would be blessed with continuous political spots for another three or for months until the new hospital would start functioning. The only positive aspect would be that too much propaganda would have an adverse effect.
Jokes about Mater Dei are spawning everyday. At least they dilute a little bit the nauseating campaign financed through our taxes for the benefits of those who have commercial interests to protect.


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