Social justice builds the nation’s prosperity
Dr Caruana is Parliamentary Secretary for the Rights of People with Disability and Active Ageing
National feasts and their annual commemorations come and go, but it is the fruit of hard work that leaves its indelible and lasting mark on the wellbeing of the nation. The incessant work carried out by the Office of the Prime Minister and Malta Enterprise since 2013 has brought hundreds of millions in foreign investment. Besides creating thousands of new jobs in various sectors, it has secured Malta’s reputation as a reliable and trustworthy country with a fast developing economy, certified time and again by top international credit rating agencies.
Our regained prosperity
Statistics – however scientific and eloquent – may sometimes sound impersonal but the feelgood factor in Malta and Gozo is a reality that no one can deny, by whatever measure they may wish to justify their negative statements. In line with the principles of social justice, the coming months will in fact see further dissemination of the nation’s regained prosperity. Welcome news such as the millions of foreign investment from around the world – and not merely limited to the EU– further strengthen the government’s hands in moving on at a steadier step to implement what is left of its electoral commitments.
With a tireless Prime Minister who exceeds all expectations in his travels by seeking all possible avenues to attract long-lasting investment, our team as a Cabinet can forge ahead with implementing our plans in our various sectors. Dr Muscat’s visit to the United Nations’ General Assembly was not wasted on sight-seeing tours, but rather on various bilateral talks and debates where he is listened to as a European leader on diverse international scenarios, and not merely representing the geographically small country that we are. It is indeed a pleasure to see our young statesman being quoted by renowned channels like CNN, Bloomberg and SkyNews. It is certainly a far cry from the chronic petty issues blown up for partisan gains by whoever is power hungry and endemically delusional.
In his strong speech to the UN Assembly of world leaders, he did not simply dwell on the customary appeals for peace, but spelled out all that is causing conflict around the globe, homing in on faults that ought to have long been mended and scars that have not healed well. Dr Muscat has the privilege to look any world leader in the eye, well aware that tiny Malta speaks loudly and acts clearly in any regional or world forum in defence of the basic principles of social justice and equality.
The session Finance Minister Edward Scicluna held in Gozo last week presented me with the opportunity of giving an overview of the implementation of Labour’s proposals so far and what more needs to be done to further sustain the progress achieved. Considering that the national economy had grown at three times the rate of the average growth in EU countries, I mentioned with pride the great economic progress achieved in Gozo through the endeavours of my government as a whole.
Over and above the unprecedented successes attained in the tourist industry and the multimillion infrastructural projects, Gozitans have seen the introduction of several initiatives in the social sector – particularly in those serving the elderly and disability communities. The Parliamentary Secretariat for which I am responsible has brought residential, shelter and respite services for the first time nearer to home. Suffice to say that for the first time we have entered into various public private agreements to take our elderly out of the hospital and find residential arrangements for them in private or church homes, respecting them as clients or residents rather than patients, as was the habit for years on end.
In the disability sector, the Għajnsielem Learning Hub stands out as an important centre for training towards employability with professional input by Aġenzija Sapport, ETC and MCA. Another first is our agreement with MaltaPost that has landed 80 new jobs for people with disabilities. Dar il-Fjuri in Rabat is also a landmark project for these people who can now reside independently within the community – one of 10 similar residences pledged by this government. This adds up to the first ever Gozo offices for KNPD and Gozo Special Olympics. The €200 million investment for the upgrading of Gozo’s hospital and the new medical school tops the long list of investments secured for the sister island. The coming months will further develop these and other projects to consolidate the prosperity already achieved in full adherence to social justice.
Standards for residential homes
In the first week of August, I launched a consultation period on the minimum standards for residential homes, at the end of which a relative Bill will be tabled in Parliament for the establishment of an autonomous authority to secure and enforce such standards. These will be applicable to all state, private and church homes and will play an important role in the issue of new licences for such homes. We are committed to ensure that our elders are given the quality services they deserve, to the point of fining managements who do not meet the established standards.
The new authority will have the power to monitor, inspect and enforce the established rules and standard settings in a disciplined manner through regular communication with residents, family and close friends, staff, managers and others. Monitoring, investigating and observing the daily life and management of each home, together with an audit of written policies, procedures and records, and regular inspections will be part of the new authority’s tasks.
The consultation process will this week come to a conclusion during a seminar for all stakeholders, with the specific aim of upgrading services in the sector to the desired levels and standards. The bill setting up such a national authority will specifically ensure the enforcement of the minimum standards that acknowledge the unique and complex needs and rights of each individual residing in a care home.
In line with Malta’s National Policy and Strategy for Active Ageing, the new authority will ensure that the mission of care homes should go beyond the traditional concept of ‘elderly care’ and enable residents to realise their full potential for physical, social and mental well-being. It is another way of ensuring an independent lifestyle – in other words, we mean to add life to older years.
Dementia awareness and care
Two events marked World Alzheimer Day last week. Together with Mr Speaker Dr Angelo Farrugia, I unveiled a very informative exhibition on dementia awareness at the Parliament building. Only last year we had launched the National Dementia Strategy with round-the-clock helpline 1771 and a vast training programme for hundreds of employees in the elderly sector, besides sponsoring a Masters Course for further research in a fast spreading condition that is currently disabling over 6,000 elderly. The exhibition, which is open to the end of the month, offers specific information and contact details.
The day was further marked with the opening of a €265,000 new ward at St Vincent de Paul, hosting 24 dementia stricken residents. The new premises, a second of their kind, were specifically completed in record time and to high standards with the full cooperation of the Facility’s management and workers. Similar work is on-going for additional dementia beds at the Mtarfa home, together with a projected extension of Dar Padova in Gozo – a new initiative to be launched in the coming days.
In line with both our National Strategies for Dementia and Active Ageing, I am committed on behalf of the Labour government to strive further and ensure full dignity, empowerment and high quality services to our senior citizens, both in residential homes and within the community.