The nation’s success is everyone’s wealth
are now daring to depict a false scenario.
The strong social aspect
In my role as the one responsible for the disability and elderly sectors, I can proudly say that the 2017 budget adds up substantially to all that was given in previous budgets. After having reached the highest levels of employment among people with disability over the past months, the government is now determined to help people with a severe disability that are unable to ever having a job. The announced reforms in the disability pensions will eventually have these people earn the national minimum wage. On its own, this is a life-long dream come true for these people and their families.
The country caters for more than 17,000 persons registered with the National Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which over 7,000 are blue badge holders. The long list of new laws we have enacted in such a short span of time proves our determination to secure the legal force for these people’s rights. Laws reflect our intent, but tangible initiatives and projects prove our determination.
This we do differently but in line with the policies and strategies we have set ourselves. When I was entrusted with these duties, learning and training programmes were basic. We have since strengthened our learning hubs for people with a disability and next year will further upgrade existing ones and open a new one that will host initially 50 persons. The innovative project will see a coordinated training scheme involving our clients together with their respective families and carers, ensuring continuity between the training centre and individual homes, as well as our new personal assistance scheme with a funding of one million euro.
Upgrading the elderly sector
Apart from pension increases, broadening the criteria of the carers’ pension and tax exemptions for older people, we remain constantly committed to provide high quality services in residential homes, to the extent of setting up an Authority to regulate these homes as per national standards we established earlier this year. My Parliamentary Secretariat is equally determined to upgrade its services in the community care sector. It is in fact our primary aim to encourage older people to continue enjoying their family home as the State provides the required support.
It is very positive that within less than 12 months we have already received 150 applications for the newly launched live-in carer scheme – besides hundreds who inquired about it – with some people already benefiting from the scheme. The reformed ‘Meals on Wheels’ scheme will now offer a more varied menu with specific health requirements and food hygiene safeguards, besides offsetting all waiting lists. The same goes for other home-care services, through more attentive revisions of older practices and service criteria. We will also have an innovative community-based service which is respite at home to enable care givers to take a rest.
Both for elderly care within the community and residential homes, over the past year we continued to invest in more beds through further public-private partnership agreements. The budget debate also gave me an opportunity to explain how we have invested heavily in refurbishing old people’s homes as well as in opening new learning centres for the elderly on both islands. The government is also broadening the scope of these centres and we are consulting with NGOs as well as the church to revamp the learning and social purposes of such programmes.
The transformation of St Vincent de Paul
The Long-term Care Facility at St Vincent de Paul can be considered our flagship in the elderly sector. We not only invested heavily in extensive refurbishments and upgrades, but we also ensured the fairest administrative procedures, knowing well that the residence is run by professional people. This pre-empts the tenuous cheap claims of discrimination as used to be the case years ago.
Among major projects we now have in place a pain relief clinic, a vascular surgery clinic as well as a dental lab that have been added to the Facility’s professional amenities. These are complemented by various other initiatives of a social nature, including a new cat café for the residents’ pets and a ‘boċċi’ court for the elderly who remember the traditional game in their own village. A number of wards which lacked the basic sanitary requirements and the main Ruzar Briffa Complex multi-million project were upgraded. All is supported by our hard-working staff who are provided with incessant training, which besides personal enrichment through university accreditation, can guarantee the best quality service they give our elderly clients.
The new social measures of the 2017 budget and the substantial additional funds entrusted to my Secretariat are proof enough of the government’s determination to sustain and enhance the services we provide in both the elderly and disability sectors. They reflect the social conscience – which essentially characterises all Labour governments in history. It encourages me to strive harder in building, year after year, a fair society based on equality, equity and inclusivity.
Dr Caruana is Parliamentary Secretary for the Rights of People with Disability and Active Ageing
As a line Ministry, the Ministry for Gozo is involved in various discussions and planning sessions throughout the year to put forward our ideas and plans for the coming years.
On a more local level, this was another positive budget for Gozo. Among the most notable was the installation of second fibre-optic cable at a cost of around €3 million which will help attract more IT companies to the island. It was also announced that a public consultation process will start on how to tackle parking problems in the centre of the island. The budget also confirmed the start of a fast ferry service between Gozo and Valletta. The government has also launched the process in which proper feasibility studies are to be started in order to verify whether a subsea tunnel is doable or not.
Before going forward, it is important to restate again the role that national budgets play. A primary role is to map the way forward for the next year in terms of priorities and vision. As the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions, each one of the yearly budgets is part of a road-map. Each one is part of a vision that aims to make Malta a country where effort is encouraged and where wealth is distributed fairly. To be able to distribute wealth, it must be created first. This is often ignored by some with an agenda or with a naïve world view. This is particularly relevant for this year’s budget because its main terms concern the distribution of wealth.
Coincidentally, a few days before the presentation of the budget, it was announced that the international credit agency, Standard & Poor’s, has upgraded Malta ratings; the implications of this goes beyond simply rhetoric. The underlining reason why S&P decided to take this decision was motivated by Malta’s declining deficit and debt ratio on the back of a strong and sustainable economy. These two conditions, that is, robust macroeconomic development and strong fiscal consolidation, were missing for most of the last quarter of a century. Instead, under this administration budget targets have been reached, thus enhancing the credibility of the Maltese government in the eyes of external institutions. Moreover, the real economy has registered impressive performance year in, year out since the change in government. This did not occur by chance but as highlighted by the same credit agency, it was the result of institutional reforms, huge investment in the energy and health sectors, as well as measures that encourage work effort.
This is the exact opposite of what the Nationalist Party spokespersons used to forecast before the last election. We all remember the scenarios they used to depict in which a labour government would mean economic stagnation and high unemployment. Their then deputy leadership managed to summarize their thoughts in the now infamous ‘bail-out’ phrase.
When the Opposition realized that they could no longer use such argument, they switched to something more subjective. And in they kicked with a series of unfounded corruption allegations. All of a sudden, economic ineptitude was no longer an issue. However, while corruption cannot be measured, its effects can. Strong economic growth and sound management of public finances simply do not take place where policy makers and institutions are corrupt. It is only natural to ask what level of corruption existed under the previous administration given the results they managed to achieve in terms of economic growth and public finances.
As this budget has again shown, this Labour government delivers. It is what really makes a difference to the daily lives of those that live on these Islands. We are aware that the success achieved in the last years has raised expectations, but we are committed to continue working even harder to better the opportunities for a better quality of life.
Dr Refalo is Minister for Gozo