The Malta Independent 24 June 2018, Sunday

A message of hope

Alex Muscat Friday, 29 December 2017, 09:44 Last update: about 7 months ago

We are on the eve of a new year. Time to look back at the promises we made to ourselves and compare with what we achieved. Time to reflect on victories and defeats, joy and disappointments, the ups and downs of life in the past twelve months. Time to reflect because we want our future to be better than our past, and to turn our hope into action. We must do all in our limits, with a sense of humility, a sense of honesty, a sense of respect, with courage and without fear.

During 2017, again we worked very hard. The work was not all perfect, but it resulted in several important achievements. Our country has maintained the same fast pace of growth, delivering even more important results. We achieved economic progress like never before. Our country experienced a further strengthening in the field of civil rights, and a range of social services, schemes, rebates and grants eased the burden in the life of thousands of Maltese citizens, some of them at risk, if not below the poverty line. Above all, we have worked so that those most in need were not left behind, as we provided more tools for everyone to stand up and run, not just walk. This is all good work that in 2018 needs to be strengthened further as the government estimates even bigger economic growth and more jobs being generated.

In 2017, Malta, for the first time in our history, had the leadership of the European Union and we should be proud of what we achieved. We remain the smallest member state and certain realities and problems that we face on a daily basis haven't gone away. We stayed sensitive to the needs of families and businesses in Malta and Gozo, and with our feet firmly on the ground, understanding our limitations, we rose to the occasion.  We can safely say that the Maltese Presidency of the EU was a huge success. It was successful for Europe, as it faces major challenges, but especially a success for us, proving that the small size of a country can be an advantage, rather than an obstacle.

In the Budget for 2018, no new taxes were introduced, and existing ones were left untouched with a promise of income tax refunds of up to €68. In the budget, the Government chose to renew its theme of social justice, with a special focus on the housing market, as well as addressing the various infrastructural issues being faced as a result of the country's strong economic expansion. Overall, the budget clearly sought to consolidate that which was working, whilst gearing additional government expenditure towards those areas which have been placed under strain, redistributing wealth to those in need and setting out a plan for continued incremental step improvement in all other areas with a special emphasis on adoption of blockchain technology.  We could do all this because we have a solid base. We are a strong country which is in the first category, a country which is preparing for the future.

At this time of the year, I cannot stop thinking about more than 650,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in fear of abuses by Myanmarese soldiers, which the UN described as "ethnic cleansing".  Earlier this year, I visited Cox's Bazaar, hosting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, at the end of the 63rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. It was an experience that touched my life. I was shocked to witness a population bigger than Malta's living without access to electricity or water. Rohingya have been rejected by the country they call home and, unwanted by its neighbours, are impoverished, and virtually stateless. They have told horrifying stories of "mass atrocities", including rapes, killings and house burnings. This is the biggest forced exodus of 2017, with more than 500,000 Rohingya refugee children unlikely to receive schooling in 2018. The world cannot sit by to watch genocide taking place. The world cannot just say 'look, it is not our problem'. It is our problem.

In 2018, I want to see more unity between us, within our families, in our communities and in our country. I would like to see more discussion, and possibly more political agreement, in relation to areas that affect people's lives.

I send a message of hope to all Maltese, especially to those persons, who for one reason or another, cannot share the joy associated with these holidays. Hope to those who have lost a person dear to them, and to those who have sown fear into the hearts of people. Hope to our abandoned and excluded brothers and sisters, and to all the victims of violence. Hope to migrants and refugees. Hope to the children, especially those deprived of the joys of childhood. Hope to all the men and women of goodwill, who work quietly and patiently each day, in their families and in society, to build a more humane and just country. 

May our leaders continue to find the courage and the determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build a future of mutual understanding and harmony. May our people find unity and concord. May all people of good faith take the path of development and sharing, preferring the culture of dialogue to the mindset of conflict. Together, we can build a future of hope for the whole population. 

Wishing you a healthy New Year, characterised by a strong unity between us.

 

Alex Muscat is a Labour MP


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