The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

My 51st birthday wishes

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 16 June 2021, 07:31 Last update: about 3 months ago

It’s my birthday, well soon enough.  Like most who go beyond the 50-year mark (gee 51, and I feel that age with all the nooks and crannies that come with the package!) it becomes a moment of discernment. 

Birthdays, at this stage, are more than cake, gifts and celebrations (I must say I refuse none of these mind you), they become epiphany moments. 


I have, during all my working life and before that as a volunteer, had the social agenda in mind and my desire to make things fair for people has been a life mission.  The Jesuit education I received, which I am proud of, implanted in me this sense of social justice which sits above everything else. 

Notwithstanding the abuse, the criticism I get because most of the issues I champion are not populist, I will prevail… because it is so beautiful sharing the load and the pain of those who have been sidestepped. It is also comforting knowing that in the pursuit of social justice, I am not alone.

Well these are my 51 ‘social’ birthday wishes.  It is what I believe the social sector should morph into.  I would probably need to live another 51 years to add so many other issues that merit equal attention.

1.       I believe children should be given a voice in society, not of the tokenistic type.  Our schools should be founded on principles of critical thinking and creativity. I also believe it is time to hand over the baton to the young ones. ‘We have failed you. Please steer us into the right path once again’.

2.       I believe young people should be given the right to vote but also to contest general elections, yes even as young as 16 years of age. Young people should be on boards, lead authorities and have a voice in all decision making.

3.       I believe that we still have way too many children in ‘care’. Fostering is a great alternative.  Residential care is probably something we can’t do away with at this point in time. But what we need to keep investing in is adoption of children who have been abandoned by their parents. A lot of work has been done already, but we need to see more children moving into alternative families. Whilst we’re talking about children, the court services responsible for children related issues need to pull up their socks - they are in shambles. There is clearly a problem when it comes to issuing care orders, the lack of use of the children’s’ house is inexplicable and the absence of promptness from the Court when it comes to decisions that are related to children is atrocious - all moves at the pace of a snail.

4.       I believe there should be a concerted effort to stop drug trafficking – not enough is being done – drugs are everywhere, drug addicts are collapsing as we speak – the system has failed us, the fragmentation there is between stakeholders has made it easier for the barons to remain in control, these same people who have access to our Institutions as if they are the girl or boy who lived next door.

5.       I believe alcohol sales should be controlled, but I see no interest from law enforcement to curb the abuse.

6.       I believe that the whole prison system should be dismantled, and the criminal justice system re-invented. It’s taking in water from everywhere. Justice is not being seen to be done. I believe prison should be about ‘love’ (in its widest of interpretations) rather than retribution. Sorry but the current people who manage the system are not fit for purpose and they have failed the State. Added to this I strongly believe solitary confinement should be completely abolished from our criminal justice system.

7.       I believe we need freedom of speech, but that does not give us the right to abuse especially in the world of Facebook.  There’s something called honorable behavior. Agree, disagree – that’s fine, but respectfully.

8.       I believe that our Judiciary should have a sentencing policy, should not succumb to media pressures and should be just, equally and always.

9.       I believe our journalists should be protected.  Politicians and public servants cannot choose when to reply to questions, they are obliged to do so. Added to this, I believe our media houses should be at least partially state supported.  They are the balancing act of our democracy.

10.   I believe that politicians and business people should register their meetings and declare their interests. Once they start cohabiting it’s a disaster. We’ve seen it happen in the past and it keeps repeating itself.  I also believe that our politicians should not focus on the gains but on the pains. I believe that the Nationalist Party should stand by its values not its popularity concerns. I also believe the Labour Party should reinvent its social ethos – where has it gone? Oh, and whilst we’re at it, I believe we need to stand up to the wolves in sheep’s clothing that have swamped our political landscape.

11.   I believe the Faculty for Social Wellbeing should remain a voice for the voiceless – this is as important as training good professionals in the various areas of social care.

12.   I believe the Commissions (those in the social sector) should be accountable to Parliament but before that they need a revamp – they’re just not working.

13.   I believe that we should give resources for more podcasters, bloggers and vloggers to be able to operate – they are another important opinion in our media landscape.

14.   I believe that the Church should return to its core teachings and be the important player it was in the past, but flaking off the negatives.  It should reach out to people beyond its parvis.

15.   I believe the UM should be an Instution that speaks the truth.

16.   I believe in civil society and its activism.  They are the last line of citizens’ defense. 

17.   I believe our trees should not be sacrificed to save some traffic time. We need to take bigger decisions than simply felling off trees.

18.   I believe we should respect animals on the same level as we do human beings.

19.   I believe our state-run social agencies should be managed by people whose sole focus is the good of society and not speak and act dangerously.

20.   I believe Facebook and Instagram should be flooded with good messages.

21.   I believe we need to have more talk shows and debates on our TV, Radio and news portals as stations are symptomatic of dialogue and not simply polarized.

22.   I believe we need more people who call a spade a spade and are not afraid to do so.

23.   I believe we need to stop the hate speech and discrimination against people who are LGBTQI+.  Good legislation does not automatically mean good quality of life.

24.   I believe we need to have the best possible hospital and community services for people with mental health issues.

25.   I believe we need professionals in the care, mental health, social and legal sector who ask for decent payments - please act ethically.

26.   I believe we should support parents who have lost their children to drugs, suicide, traffic accidents or sickness.

27.   I believe we should recognize that suicide is nothing less than a failure of society to reach out to a call for help.

28.   I believe that prostitution is what it is and let’s call it by its real name – ‘prostitution’. I believe we shouldn’t objectify women any longer. I also believe that domestic violence scars our society through and through.

29.   I believe that our communities should be physical and socially accessible – way to go.

30.   I believe illegal drugs like cannabis should never be institutionalized but people who are addicted should be loved and not incarcerated.

31.   I believe in NGOs that work for the persons they represent and not the other way around.

32.   I believe that we need a fresh national social plan.

33.   I believe people deserve to be happy and that life is beautiful – and if there are people who don’t feel that, then we should help them find contentment.

34.   I believe parents should give quality and quantity time to their children.

35.   I believe people who go into the social care professions need to be ethical, have a vocation and are driven by the cause – if it’s just the wage or the power they’re after, they’re in the wrong place.

36.   I believe there is no life after death, but death remains the most important transition in life and we need to start talking about it, even with children, more persuasively.

37.   I believe that our Institutions have proven to be weak and succumb to the hidden powers (because of that Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated) – we need a new form of governance with the proper checks and balances.

38.   I believe in the arts and the artists – they are the heart of our communities.  Cartoonists are amongst my favorite. I believe in sports and sports persons - they should be hailed as heroes.

39.   I believe we are nowhere near close to respecting our local governments.  It would be great if we had to practice the notion of subsidiarity and let the locals lead their locality – but with proper resources and autonomy. 

40.   I believe there is no ‘nation’ but humanity, no colour, no religion that should distinguish us because we are all here to make this a better place for ourselves and others.

41.   I believe it is the time for a building construction moratorium, a time when we stop all construction for a year or two and give the nation some time to breathe.

42.   I believe that family is of the utmost importance and protecting this instution is of the essence.

43.   I believe that older persons are the ones we need to listen to. Their wisdom is for all to savor. Let’s treat them honorably and not tun them into the unwanted, pigeonholed in homes and residentials services.

44.   I believe it is the right time to close most of our institutions where some 10,000 persons live and bring them back into the community – it’s where they belong.

45.   I believe that poverty and social exclusion are blemishes on our neo-liberal mindset that has encased our communities.  It’s how much you achieve in terms of money, estate and status which matter not who you are.  How sad.

46.   I believe loneliness is a disfigurement of the illusion we have that our communities are inclusive.  Research by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing has shown that we have over 44% of our population who struggle with aloneness.  In this sense, Covid-19 managed to surface the shortcomings in this matter.

47.   I believe that Malta should change its tack and return to its core values of being welcoming to people, especially to migrants who need hospitality.  We can be an example to the World on how we deal with people who are desperate and not turn our faces.

48.   I believe eating disorders need to be addressed nationally.  The problems we are witnessing in this area are of mammoth proportions.

49.   I believe we still have social classes in Malta and the ones at the bottom of the heap are disadvantaged whilst the rest are privileged in every sense of the word. We are a classist society and the political discourse that is thrown around is that ‘we have a bigger middle-class’. This is senseless. I believe we can compound this with homelessness which embodies the nonchalance attitude we are developing as a society. We simply think of people in need as benefit frauds whilst the truth is that usury, drug addiction, unemployment are leading people to the brink. And once we’re discussing homelessness, what about rent – another nemesis for our policy makers who need to juggle the right of people to retain a roof over their heads with the struggle to make this a fair deal for the tenants. 

50.   I believe the glass ceiling is still there and gender issues remain prevalent. I also believe that this country would be a better place to live in if we had more women at the helm in all sectors of society. 

51.   ‘The 51st I leave for you…. gift me, if I may, with a recommendation on how we can have better communities.’   

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