The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

Diverting people’s attention won’t work

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 2 September 2018, 09:02 Last update: about 22 days ago

Successful results are certainly encouraging, but they are not a final goal unless one finds – especially in politics – the courage to sustain good results and achieve more.

Achievements are, by their very nature, targets we humans set ourselves in everything we do – both individually and as a community. Whatever their entity, positive results give us the necessary stamina to move ahead. Failures can also be eventual outcomes, but they are never fatal as long as we find ways to stand up again and reinforce our determination to succeed.

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Great response

Let me begin by thanking our brave people at the Civil Protection Department and everyone else involved in putting out the fire at the Magħtab plant on Friday. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and all credit goes to the emergency services. The hard work on the part of Minister José Herrera’s team to ensure that all precautions are in place in the increasingly challenging field of waste management are to be appreciated and the same goes for Minister Michael Farrugia’s team in the fields of national security and public order. 

The degree of public appreciation goes far beyond the customary ranting on the part of those who seem to enjoy blaming Joseph Muscat for everything under the sun. These people seem to forget their own past failures and, for example, ignore the fact that the UK averages hundreds of similar fires at waste or recycling plants every year. And the UK does not have summers as hot as ours and does have more extensive experience in waste management. But, of course, some promptly have a field day with their wild accusations.

 

Useless diversions

The unfortunate fire at Magħtab, and the ensuing dark smoke cloud, did not in fact divert the nation’s attention from the ongoing string of positive results announced during the week. 

By the end of July 2018, Central Government Debt had been brought down further – by €192.5 million – over the corresponding month last year. As a result, the interest component of public debt servicing costs stood at €120.8 million, a fall from the €125 million reported last year.

During July, the government recorded a surplus of €25 million in the Consolidated Fund. This means that we have been able to begin the second half of this year with a monthly surplus, which augurs well for reaching the fiscal target for this year.

In line with Labour’s social commitment, such financial strength leads to what has, over the past five years, become a household phrase: ‘prosperity with a purpose’. This week, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna announced that all workers who were employed throughout 2017, including those who paid no tax, will be receiving a cheque as part of the first instalment of the government’s pledge to refund tax money.

This is the first payout by the government as part of the scheme that was promised for this legislature and that is expected to cost more than €56 million. This year’s refunds amount to €11.4 million.

The second tranche of the scheme is expected to be announced in the forthcoming Budget. The election pledge was for a maximum refund of €200 for those on the 25 per cent tax bracket and €340 for those on the lowest income scales.

 

Lowest unemployment

Also during July, the number of people registering for work stood at 1,828 – a fall of 26.9 per cent when compared to the corresponding month in 2017.Data provided by Jobsplus for July 2018 indicate a reduction of 573 people registering under Part I and of 98 registering under Part II, compared to the same month last year.

The number of those registering for work fell in comparison to July 2017, irrespective of for how long they had been registering for work.

Another fact that is particularly close to my heart is that the number of people with a disability who were registering for work fell by 13, compared to the previous year, reaching 271, given that hundreds have already found employment through several measures introduced over the past couple of years.

The current four per cent unemployment rate puts Malta among the lowest in the EU, with an average 6.8 per cent among all 28 member states and an average of 8.2 per cent among Eurozone countries. Our success in the employment sector is in sharp contrast to neighbouring Italy where, together with Spain and Greece, still register unemployment rates of over 15 per cent. As far as unemployment among young people (those under the age of 25) is concerned, Malta – with a figure of 6.3 per cent – is the second lowest among EU countries.

However encouraging they are, such results add to our determination to achieve more. The tireless efforts by Minister Cardona and his people at Malta Enterprise to attract further investment guarantee more job creation for workers in both Malta and Gozo.

 

Gozo’s wellbeing

All those visiting Gozo during the summer months could witness the work on various major projects and upgrades carried by the Gozo Ministry. Ongoing roadworks have been continuing at a steady pace since we launched the ‘Gozo Project’ in January, with more work in the coming days, weeks and months.

As expected, the realisation of so many long-awaited projects attracted criticism from the usual known sources. It is almost hilarious that this type of parlance originates from those same people who, for decades, despite being office, simply ignored those same problems we are addressing now and which have been known for many years to everybody living in Gozo. What goes beyond all limits of shamelessness is that now they have the cheek to expect that problems are resolved overnight.

As long as this does not obstruct our plans, we are moving ahead with the dedicated input by the Ministry’s employees and following the proper consultation, tendering and implementation procedures.

 

Celebrating summer

Apart from the numerous infrastructural projects underway and many others to start, the Gozo Ministry has been very busy realising a packed calendar of popular cultural and entertainment events. 

Yesterday’s innovative summer carnival at Mġarr harbour was only one of a vast variety of popular weekend initiatives we have introduced or supported in Xlendi, Marsalforn, Xwejni, Xewkija, Qala, Xagħra, Kerċem, Mġarr and other attractive holiday locations. This week again I gladly presided over cultural events in Għarb and Xewkija, with traditional band and folkloristic performances.

The considerable crowds attending all these events is clear proof that – together with the respective local councils, parishes, band clubs, other NGOs and the business community – we have been actually presenting a first successful edition of Gozo en all throughout the summer. The festive mood that has been created has certainly been a robust contribution to the island’s tourist industry, with the facts and figures from all those involved as the best feedback. The tempo will be maintained through the winter months with, among others, the choirs and organ festivals and the well known opera season at Rabat’s two major opera houses.

 

Opportunities for young people

Online applications for Students’ Maintenance Grants (Stipends, Initial Grants, One-Time Grants and Supplementary Allowances) have been launched by the Students’ Maintenance Grants’ Board. All students attending a course at post secondary, vocational or tertiary level in Malta are invited to submit their applications by 30 November. Students in a vocational or tertiary level in a private institution or abroad can apply under the Malta Government Undergraduate Scheme.

Applications for full or part-time courses are open to candidates for a specialised course, inclusive of theory and practice in the Care of the Elderly, leading to a Certificate as a Care Assistant to work in Gozo and Malta.

For those in Gozo, applications are available from the reception desk of the Gozo Ministry. The course is run by the St Vincent de Paul Long-term Care Facility and it is accredited by the University of Malta as a unit within its Programme in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. The course begins in October and will run for 15 weeks.

 

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