The proposals by the Church's Justice and Peace Commission for the 2019 Budget
The Justice and Peace Commission believes that the financial prosperity currently experienced should translate into a better quality of life for all. In its document with proposals prior to the upcoming 2019 Budget, the Commission presented recommendations in relation to five major focus areas: transport, environment, health, affordable housing and migration.
Transport: More long-term solutions rather than quick fixes are needed. These could include improvement of our infrastructure to allow public transport, carpooling, walking and cycling, to truly become valid alternatives to private vehicles. Implementing the Malta Transport Strategy 2050 and the Malta Transport Master Plan for 2025 is also encouraged. Alternative solutions such as teleworking could also be considered.
Environment: The setting up of a Circular Economy model, which could be applied to the local scenario is necessary. Authorities are to work for a cleaner island through the introduction of greener areas. Moreover, forward planning for efficient land-use and the protection of our environmental heritage should also be ensured.
Health: Targeting environmental and traffic issues should already lead to healthier living. The problem of obesity must also be tackled with concrete actions such as increased physical activity in schools, the introduction of measures to limit unhealthy food, and incentives to walk and/or cycle. Resources should be directed towards mental healthcare to provide quality services to both patients as well as their family members or carers.
Affordable housing: In order to alleviate some of the financial burdens incurred for housing, the government should look into different schemes, such as (i) a shared ownership housing scheme (ii) a government mortgage guarantee and (iii) a deduction of the loan interest from taxes. The Commission awaits the publication of the rental market white paper, hoping it will include various solutions.
Migration: In terms of foreign workers the Government should ensure that optimal and equal working conditions are enjoyed by all, irrespective of their nationality. This could be done through the setting up of a legal advice office to provide third-country nationals with information about their rights and obligations. Local legislation should be amended to include effective protection of migrant workers who report abuse. Integration programmes are also encouraged. In terms of asylum seekers and refugees, the Commission renews its plea to respect the humanity of these individuals. The Government should invest in the Initial Reception Centre where such individuals are first welcomed. Further efforts should be invested in the family reunification of such individuals, both recognised refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
The Commission concludes with the words of Pope Francis, where “a technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress,” and calls for a change in the way we consider progress not just in mere economic terms. We need to change the way we consume and treat the environment; the way we make our daily decisions, and how we invest. The Government can assist in changing these behavioural traits through further investment in the educational system, and by ensuring that education does not focus solely on enabling students to pass their examinations but also enabling them to become critical thinkers, mature discerning adults and therefore responsible citizens. Only in this way will we be able to make sure that the economic benefits will truly lead to a better quality of life for all, including present and future generations.