The Church’s Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) has expressed its ‘Deep Concern’ by what it describes as ‘an unfortunate choice of words’ in relation to refugees and asylum seekers. Referring to the pre-budget document, the JPC said that framing a humanitarian issue as a national security issue “…can have dire consequences on the public’s perception. This is particularly disconcerting given the xenophobic sentiment that is already felt in parts of our society.” The JPC called for substantial investment to be made in the ‘Initial Reception Centre’ and encouraged Government to find alternative accommodation options for asylum seekers who are being detained longer than required at the Initial Reception Centre and the Safi Barracks.
Poverty, homelessness and affordable housing
Basing itself on the UN’s list of Sustainable Development Goals, in its feedback to government, the JPC said that a thorough study on homelessness in Malta needs to be commissioned. This, said the JPC, would shed more light on the main triggers of homelessness and the best ways through which this problem can be properly addressed. The JPC said that more resources to support exiting shelter homes would also help alleviate the burden on NGOs and the Church. The JPC widned its definition of poverty to include vulnerable groups such as low income groups, people suffering abuse as well as children and young adults forced to live in sub-optimal conditions. The Commission expressed its belief that any measures introduced to assist such individuals should empower the beneficiary rather than create further dependencies. The Commission welcomed the recently introduced equity sharing scheme and the White Paper adding “However…more needs to be done in view of the consistent increase in rental prices that is leading to an ever greater number of ‘working poor’” The JPC proposed the introduction of
- a government mortgage guarantee and/or
- the deduction of loan interest from income tax.
The Commission also recommended the setting up of a legal aid agency and the setting up of a system whereby child support contributions are passed on to a state agency, who would then forward them to the beneficiary family. This, said the Commission, would mitigate commonplace litigations that normally arise between the two parties. Continuing on the element of minors and youths, the JPC expressed concern at the number of youths falling through the educational system. The Commission recommended that schemes such as ‘My Journey’ being launched by government are extended to youths who are older than the schooling age, but have left the education system prematurely.
Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
The JPC said that the boost in investment on health care centres and on the national system, together with the acquisition of equipment for robotic surgery and the inclusion of Malta in the European Reference Network are amongst a number of positive developments registered in this field. It noted however that in spite of the recent proposal to upgrade the facilities at Mount Carmel Hospital, this will not be enough to meet the increase in demand for such services. The Commission also reiterated its call that community mental health support services for Family Caregivers should be introduced.
The JPC noted that the mediocre quality of the air could be helped by
- offering free public transport during rush hours;
- introducing safe and adequate infrastructure for alternative modes of transport;
- avoidance of short term measures to reduce traffic;
- investment to increase green areas and
- enforce regulation in terms of constriction practices to minimise the dispersion of dust particles.
The dignity of work
The Commission noted that Malta continues to register better than expected economic growth rates and low unemployment rates. “It is however very important that such economic progress is both ethical and sustainable in nature” warned the JPC. It complained that enforcement in certain industries including: the construction, entertainment and tourism sectors, is lacking. The Commission encouraged Government to establish robust systems intended to safeguard workers while ensuring a safe and dignified way by which each individual can earn a decent living. The rise of the so called ‘Gig economy’ has also been notable in the recent years. In this regard, the Commission urged Government to make the necessary changes in local legislation such that effected workers are safeguarded from being exploited. Moreover, whilst acknowledging the great contribution of foreign workers in Malta, the Commission encouraged the government to protect these individuals and to make sure that they are treated with dignity, rather than simply being used as any another resource of production.
The Commission also underscoredthe importance of diversification and of weaning off the economy from its dependence on specific sectors cannot be overstated, particularly so given Malta’s inherent vulnerabilities from it being a small island economy. The Commission urged decision-makers to steer investment in niches which are both ethical and sustainable in both the short and long term.
True Statecraft maintains principles in difficult times – Pope Francis
In conclusion, mindful of the economic progress that is being registered, The Commission concluded that the fruits of such progress should be enjoyed by all and no vulnerable groups are left behind. “This doesn’t only mean a proper re-distribution of the wealth generated, but also examining the source of this wealth and the cost society has to bear. Using economic growth as the most important yardstick by which progress is measured is simplistic and most of the times misleading. Ethics and sustainability are key in the measurement of progress and should be given their due weight in the decision-making process” sad the JPC.
Quoting Pope Francis, the Commission said that society needs to move away from “A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, … driven to produce short-term growth.” “True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good.” (Laudato Si’, 178).