The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

University Faculty publishes ‘Social Pact’ for parties to consider for electoral manifestos

Wednesday, 12 January 2022, 14:48 Last update: about 11 days ago

The Faculty for Social Wellbeing has published a document to serve as a guide for political parties as they prepare their electoral manifesto proposals.

The document, titled 'A Social Pact', was drafted after what is described in the document as probably "one of the most wide-ranging consultation process in the Faculty, where all the Faculty community had the opportunity to share their ideas on what they would like this country to look like."

"The Faculty for Social Wellbeing would like to propose the following Social Pact for all political actors within Malta to engage, address, disagree, review, improve with and build upon."

Environmental Practices

"Wellbeing in the Maltese Islands is highly dependent upon the environmental impact of authorities' policy decisions, including soil degradation, the earth overheating, oceanic acidification, and the irreversible depletion of biodiversity and the disappearance of species after species from the planet."

The document asks politicians to, among other things, invest in biodiversity initiatives within the Maltese Islands; Support evidence-based and non-tokenistic efforts to "green" Maltese infrastructure; Ensure the rigorous enforcement of ODZs; Limit the issuing of building permits at any given time to give reprieve to residents and tourists who visit the island; Prohibit, tax and disincentivize the short-term use of harmful materials such as plastics; Promote alternative forms of transportation including e-bikes, bicycles, and scooters; And tax and disincentivize car usage, while incentivizing public forms of transport, among other things.

Reviewing the Formal and Non-Formal Educational System

"An overhaul of the educational system is needed to tackle multiple issues within the Maltese Islands, from outdated gender norms, racism, a dearth of critical thinking and a high level of early school leavers," the document reads.

It asks politicians to: Give teachers autonomy and move away from rigid and out-of-date curricula; Reduce unnecessary paperwork and administrative burdens from the teaching profession; Make education more accessible to students from various socio-economic sectors; Give prominence to physical education to tackle obesity; Add subjects and lessons on mental health and how to foster wellbeing in students; Investigate, regulate and reduce the phenomenon of private lessons within the Maltese Islands, among other things.

Respecting and Promoting Diversity

"The diversity of the residents on the Maltese Islands is a reality that requires several paradigm shifts including at a policy level. Reducing the latent level of personal and systemic racism experienced in various interactions between people in Malta is a key concern to ensure the wellbeing of all those who are currently reside in Malta," the document reads.

It requests that politicians: Set out a detailed social media ethics policy for key civil servants to ensure mechanisms for accountability and effective enforcement; Create initiatives to empower community leaders to be advocates and ambassadors of social wellbeing within their communities in collaboration with local government and other national agencies or institutions, as well as with the nongovernmental sector; Create strategies to identify and work with different communities within Malta, to better understand their distinct cultures and needs, among other things.

Fostering Community

"A sense of community is an important factor in wellbeing, underscoring the essentially communal rhythms of human life in Malta and throughout the world. Supporting communities by providing opportunities for communities to form, to mobilize, to make their views known and to empower individuals within the community, is vital for the healthy functioning of society," the document reads.

It asks politicians to: Provide free, safe community spaces where communities can meet with low barriers to entry; Provide community development workers to various localities within Malta, particularly those with low socio-economic development; Provide greater resources and devolve more responsibilities to local councils; Support local councils with the expertise required to manage their localities effectively, among other things.

Civil Society

"Investing in civil society and allowing it to expand is key in ensuring a healthy democracy, enabling a meaningful oversight of the stewardship of public resources and the common good. Civil society participants represent voices that are sometimes absent in public discourse, including minority groups, diverse sub-cultures, and faith traditions presenting opportunities to enforce the right to self-expression without retaliation and hate speech. Additionally, civil society organizations often fill in gaps in service provision that government service tends to be too slow to cater for. Without these organizations, vulnerable people within the Maltese Islands will not be provided essential services. To continue delivering these vital services, support and funding is required from the government," the document read.

It asks politicians to: Provide expert human resources and funds for organizations to cover administrative requirements and costs when carrying out projects; Reduce bureaucracy, waiting times to register a voluntary organization; Provide funds on a rolling basis instead of once-a-year; Provide support for organizations to become more sustainable in raising funds; Create a transparent mechanism for private-public partnerships and remove arbitrary private-public partnerships that favour organizations with political connections, among other things.

Public Service

"The public sector is of key importance to ensure that the machinery of government works in an organized and efficient manner. Apart from being the public face of government, the public sector has a large effect on the citizen's experience when dealing with the various public entities. Investing in customer care and reducing bureaucracy is vital to ensure that evidence-based policies are implemented successfully," the document reads.

It calls on politicians to: Ensure transparency in the appointments to key positions, based on expertise and prior experience in the field; Create a public database of persons of trust, consultants, with their wages and the nature of their expertise and services; Retrain and re-assign and, public service employees who have been appointed as political favours, among others.

Reviewing the Criminal and Justice System

"A key pillar of any functioning society is its judicial and criminal system. Without means of adequate redress, and a sense of trust in the fairness, speed and effectiveness of judicial remedies, dispute resolution will become a private matter that will not ensure the fairness and adequacy of formal proceedings," the document reads.

It asks politicians to: Increase the speed at which judgements are provided; Criminalize and curb delaying tactics by legal representatives and their clients; Provide better resources for legal aid lawyers to ensure appropriate legal advice is given; Introduce less formal and speedier processes such as tribunals for issues which are of a less substantial nature; Allow incarcerated persons unfettered access to lawyers; Introduce a care plan, from the initial moments that an incarcerated person enters prison; Refurbish the prison; Carry out periodic audits on the treatment and wellbeing of prisoners; Remove solitary confinement for prisoners and from the criminal justice system, among other things.

Mental Health and resilience

"The value of mental health and resilience is crucial for a society's capacity to flourish, and is uncontested throughout the relevant literature. Every member of society has a shared role in creating thriving communities that uphold quality of life by targeting challenges to mental health and concerns due to precarity and exclusion. When challenges arise, access to sources of support are essential, as is concurrent investment in the skills, social networks, and access to resources that are needed to counteract vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities have been particularly exacerbated due to the Coronavirus pandemic," the document reads.

Politicians are asked to: Create a stronger mental health infrastructure; Create treatment centres within the community; Upgrade thoroughly the current facilities for mental health treatment; Provide opportunities for integration for persons suffering from mental health issues within society; Aid persons who are engaged in substance abuse to have access to qualified and non-judgmental mental health professionals, among others.

Dignified Employment

"Employment is a key opportunity to ensure social mobility. Employment should be dignified, sufficiently paid, and protected with at least the minimal statutory guarantees. This is particularly important to new and emerging forms of work, such as the so-called 'gig economy' which can, if unregulated, promote exploitation and precarity in the name of flexibility and freedom," the document reads."

It calls on politicians to: Provide basic minimum guarantees including, but not limited to, minimum wage, vacation and sick leave to all workers, particularly those engaged in the gig economy; Strive to regulate the informal economy and provide financial incentives for informal workers to move into the formal economy; Investigate and fine harshly, employers who exploit the vulnerability of workers to break employment law; Introduce robust safeguards that make it safer for workers to report abuse by employers, among other things.

Affordable Housing for All

"The affordability of house prices and rents for much of the population is under threat. Crucial steps forward have been taken by introducing an amount of regulation in the private renting market while, for the first time, obtaining through registration, basic data about the sector. This is a welcome, though insufficient, basis for planning. An important change has been made in transferring the burden of the pre-95 houses from the landlord to the taxpayer and in limiting the security of the tenure to the currently occupying generation."

It calls for, however:  Incentives and other measures that succeed in making long leases, of well more than a decade, to be the rule for families; Deep thinking about measures to make sure that families whose improved incomes move them out of social housing have a 'next step up the ladder' which is realistically affordable; A commitment to never allow social and affordable housing, its planning, development and administration, to be allowed to be subjected to private interests; That the selling of Maltese land to foreigners and the immigration of workers into our country should be subject to limits that should not be allowed to go beyond the point, shown by monitored data, when it starts threatening housing affordability, among other things.

The document also makes recommendations on enacting evidence-based policies, addressing markers of wellbeing, and Intersectionality.

"We ask finally that all political actors channel and ground their patriotic and nationalistic instincts in the long-established principles of social justice, and seek continuously to find the common good. A common good that is hotly debated, vigorously-contested, ever-changing and hard to capture. While mistakes may be made along the way, if the goal being sought is the right one, course correction will be a natural part of the process, not an extraneous and highly irregular affair. We augur that the next ten to fifty years of Maltese statehood keep on building on all the positive that our forebears have endeavored and sacrificed to build while at the same time, daring to dream greatly and anew."

Read the full document here
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