The Malta Independent 15 August 2018, Wednesday

The country’s real agenda

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 22 April 2018, 09:13 Last update: about 5 months ago

 

Government is bound to move ahead with the agenda approved nationwide, aiming further to the wellbeing of our people. Our first five years in office stand out as solid proof of better things that future generations will inherit. We have created a new economic model which is steadily building robust foundations for the country’s future. 

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Indeed, Labour works

People still recall that, five years ago, the same authors of the ongoing mise-en-scène, repeatedly alarmed the country by saying that ‘Labour will not work’ and that the only future for Labour was a bail-out. The truth is that was a bail-out was not required, while the national debt problem that the pre-2013 government had accumulated was addressed to the extent that it was wiped out. In addition, we have more than halved the number of people with severe material deprivation from 37,000 in 2012 to 14,000 last year, practically eliminating more than the number created between 2007 and 2012.

Most importantly we did not burden families with new taxes, we have consistently lowered income tax bands, made unprecedented investments in the education, social and health sectors, created free childcare, introduced in-work benefits, created a record number of quality jobs and reduced utility costs by €80 million – Labour’s major electoral promise in 2013. And this is not to mention a constant increase in retirement pensions and social solidarity benefits after decades of total neglect.

 

Blurring the truth  

In reaction to all these unprecedented successes there are those who unscrupulously but strategically aim at destabilising national institutions and the country’s progress. On the one hand, this country is witnessing a number of firsts: strong track records and good governance with robust legislative safeguards that we have not witnessed for decades. We have reached such a respectable international status that this week UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally praised Dr Joseph Muscat, saying: “You represent a Commonwealth truth – that the size of the country does not limit its ambition and impact.”

It is indeed sad that, in response to such gratifying remarks, we have those who are so hungry for power that they seem insensitive to the fact that their irresponsible actions can seriously damage the credibility and high esteem that this country has acquired worldwide, particularly the long strides it has made under a Labour government. Let us never forget that disseminating and recycling half-truths, to whatever extent, by foreign media houses, will never make a whole truth out of a desperate lie.

This week’s attempts to denigrate the country’s reputation cannot but encourage the government to move ahead to implement the national agenda with additional impetus. The biggest majority ever has entrusted us to move on after the initial years since 2013 – the foundation for the better things that were to come. And this week again, in sharp contrast to the theatrics we have witnessed, more pole positions have been achieved in the country’s performance.

 

Moving ahead

Together with my Cabinet colleagues, the past week has nonetheless been packed with various ministerial commitments. One particular event was the EkoSkola session in Parliament, where I gladly participated – along with other parliamentarians – in an interesting discussion by young students, including an active group from Gozo that I myself had prompted being established, about environmental concerns.

The debate turned out to be a more useful and productive one than others held in the house with a not so hidden ulterior agenda. The various topics included water, energy, traffic, open spaces, the built environment, organic farming, protection of the marine environment, reducing the use of plastic containers, waste management, noise pollution, nutritional food, healthy lifestyles and the recently approved legislation for voting at 16.

Students from state, church and independent schools took part in the programme, organised by Nature Trust and EkoSkola under the auspices of the Education and Employment Ministry and the Environment Ministry. The Gozo Ministry is actively interested in the programme, which has been recognised by UNESCO as an activity that brings together the largest number of students worldwide who study the importance of sustainable development.

During the lively debate in the house this past week, 10 motions were put forward, two of which were tabled by Gozitan students. A committee has also been established with students in Gozo schools to jointly identify beneficial projects for the island. They have proposed that barren or neglected areas be taken care of to create recreational spaces to be enjoyed by families. This fits in well with the Ministry’s current work for the upgrading of Ulysses Lodge and the petting farm, together with the restoration of Ta’ Ġordan lighthouse and the surrounding area which will be transformed into a family park.

 

Gozo youth conference

The young students’ participation in the Parliamentary session demonstrated once more that young people are an integral part of today’s society. Society has undergone fast and radical changes, with its basic unit – the family – undergoing a transformation in its structure and character. In this scenario, the younger members of society are the ones who are mostly affected and challenged.

Exposure to domestic violence, teen-related concerns, the incorrect use of modern technology, mental health issues, peer pressure and addiction to dangerous substances can all endanger the serene attitudes expected and required at a young age of development. The situation should be further addressed in our quest for a fair society built on social inclusion and dialogue. 

With this aim in mind, the Gozo Ministry, together with the Faculty for Social Wellbeing of the University of Malta, organised the Gozo Youth Conference held last weekend. In my address, I reiterated the Ministry’s resolve to focus on the needs of the Gozitan community and to implement them. For long years we have become accustomed to a lot of talk about big plans for Gozo that never came to fruition. We are now witnessing a tangible change in that we are practicing a political style which carries out what is promised. The Ministry is finalising the Regional Development Plan for Gozo which will include plans up to 2030, with specific measures for young people, particularly skills analysis to better target job creation with a commercial diversification perspective. We need to recognise that Gozo’s economy is already resilient but needs to be less dependent on the public sector, and this requires the full cooperation of the private sector.

We are fully aware that, in this context, the game changers are the fast ferry service, a permanent connection, the optic fibre cable and the package of investment incentives, all of which are in the offing. We aim to nurture an open dialogue among young people to attain active citizenship, where the Ministry can be the bridge to put Gozitan youth within the current and future leadership on the island.

 

EU Commissioners in Gozo

The first ever EU Citizens’ Dialogue took place in Gozo this week, discussing the future of the Cohesion Policy in Malta and Gozo. Prior to the Citizens’ Dialogue, I welcomed to the Ministry Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu and Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella. They were accompanied by Minister Helena Dalli and Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia and we later visited the Xewkija Industrial Estate and Ta’ Pinu National Shrine.

Commissioner Cretu remarked that the use of EU Cohesion Funds in Malta and Gozo is a way in which EU citizens are tangibly experiencing European solidarity. It is to be noted that the Cohesion Policy is where Europe is closest to the citizen. Corina Cretu also noted that Malta and Gozo are among the best users of EU funds because the majority of these funds are allocated in substantial quantities that materialise in major quality projects that significantly improve people’s standard of living – the human face of the EU.

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