Last Updated on Thursday, 14 December, 2023 at 11:18 am by George M. Mangion
If the celebrated writer Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d have no trouble recognising modern-day Scrooges.
The cry of “Hambug” can be heard from a number of 21st century Scrooges from the comfort of penthouse offices, luxury villas, expensive yachts amid the hubris of power from captains of industry and commerce.
The simple answer is that even today, the moral of A Christmas Carol is that the pursuit of money will not make a person happy. The simple-but-effective plot makes it perfect for a commentary on our society. We may not be living in slums in Malta, but poverty and homelessness are still prevalent social issues in our day and age.
The Sliema-St Julian’s-Gzira golden triangle may now be filled with state-of-the-art high rises, but that seems to make it even more ironic that there’s a disparity between the general public and the so-called 1% rich. The inequalities observed by Dickens persist today. It goes without saying, that as an island state, resilience and preparedness are key; even in the revered play, we meet Scrooge who devotes his life to amassing wealth, yet in doing so misses out on the joys of family and friendship.
We are getting immune to the issue of direct orders, circulation of fake epilepsy claims, phantom jobs at ITS, appointment of persons of trust and nepotism right in front of our eyes. The abuse of Planning Authority permits of buildings in ODZ land continues unabated.
A minister caught brandishing stolen state memorabilia in his garden continues to avoid sanction. Other salubrious examples follow, such as the privatising of three public hospitals to Vitals Health/Stewards Health Care where Castille paid them millions to attract medical tourism and build new hospitals, yet pledges were not kept and the Court condemned the deal labelling it as fraudulent. The list goes on, so by and large the populace is slowly getting immune to a carousel of bickering between the two main political parties.
As we approach the season to be jolly, Castille surreptitiously reminds us to forgive and forget while dutifully we generously contribute to the coffers of the annual L-Istrina jamboree, participating in a community fun run and joining the melee of decorated Valletta fairyland stalls. Yet, when reading A Christmas Carol, one remembers with sorrow the misery and poverty of Bob Cratchit’s family.
Here Scrooge is overwhelmed at the inner peace and happiness of this family during a ghostly visit with the spirit of Christmas today. Just like the old Scrooge, the corporate Scrooges of today are hoarding wealth dining in posh restaurants, skiing on the Swiss Alps loaded with holidays drinking fine wines. However, the old Scrooge – unlike the corporate Scrooges – paid attention to the lessons taught by the spirits of the past, present and future.
The old Scrooge saw his worker (Bob Cratchit) as a cost to be minimised. The reformed Scrooge provided a living wage with good benefits “I’ll raise your salary and endeavour to assist your struggling family”. Back home, the effects of inflation and the Ukraine war are exerting new pressures on those living on the fringes of society because of financial deprivation.
At the extreme, this sometimes manifests itself as malnutrition and homelessness. Caritas recommends that low-income families be identified so that food available for distribution is delivered to them on time. The contrite Scrooge had the privilege of shared prosperity and recognised the importance of providing direct assistance to those in need, “to think of people below… as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys”.
On a positive note, the 2023 Budget has had a positive social effect of helping pensioners and low-income families with a host of increased welfare benefits which go some way to alleviate hardships. Unemployment at 8,600 is a low figure and the State is capping the cost of fuel, electricity and cereals.
In conclusion, Dickens focuses on how Christmastime should remind us of others, and the joy of carrying out that charitable philosophy all year round, not just for one day.