The Commission for Justice and Peace recognizes that the 2018 Budget introduces a number of positive and encouraging measures. These include the waste and plastic bottles scheme to address the environmental impact of waste disposal, public transportation, domestic violence, adoption and fostering.
The Commission acknowledges that the Budget addresses some issues that impact on the quality of life, for example an added day of leave for all workers. However, it gives undue attention to financial aspects and one-off measures that cost several millions of euros but contribute little to the common good. While the financial aspect is important, it does not entirely determine quality of life.
The current model of development based on Gross Domestic Product and surplus, excludes several other important aspects that should be taken into consideration. Indeed, a portion of the surplus that will shore up the Budget measures, derives from the Malta Citizenship by Investment Programme (IIP). The source of this income is not sustainable and its moral and ethical implications should be questioned. A good, adequate and longterm measure should not be a one-off thing, or taken for a particular occasion, but should leave an impact on the daily lives of individuals and society, through changes in attitude, in lifestyles, in production and consumption, and in the way we lead a healthy life. Pope Francis writes in his encylical Laudato Si’: “Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives.” (n.147)
The quality of life in our towns and villages is highly dependent on public transportation which is often the cause of much suffering and frustration for many. The streets of our towns and villages are choked with vehicles used just by one or two persons, and this inevitably leads to more traffic on the roads that contributes to the high level of urban pollution. While the Budget did put forward some positive measures in this area, a long term plan that views this challenge holistically is required, for a change in mentality, and to find serious and effective alternatives which do not focus solely on public buses.
Another sector outlined in the Budget is housing and the rent market. Housing is not a commodity, but a basic right, since it befits society to protect the life and the dignity of its members by providing the conditions where these are not undermined. The Commission welcomes the news of the publication of a White Paper on the rental market and the requirement of the owners to register every contract of rent on their properties. However, the implications of the statement that failure to register this contract of rent will mean that the proprietor will not be protected by the laws of the country, must be explained further. The Commission believes that whatever measures are introduced, the focus needs to be the protection of the rights of all parties, particularly the most vulnerable. It is not clear how the proposed measures will achieve this. While the Budget emphasised rightly that the rent control of the past and over regulation will no longer be re-introduced, the issue of unaffordable rents persists. Until adequate solutions which are also just with the owners are implemented to effectively help tenants, the question of high rents remains precarious and worrying. Another aspect of this issue is the minimum period of rent, which if increased in a reasonable way, would help the tenant to plan better for the future.
Taking into account all this, emphasis should be made on ensuring that progress and development is not restricted to the economic and technological sectors, but also to individual and collective responsibility, the safeguarding of values, and sound ethics. Political and economic decisions must abandon the logic of short-sighted efficiency with an eye on profit and the ballot box. Instead, such decisions should be made in the interest of the common good which is not simply the sum of individual interests; it can be attained only if we move from “what is good for me” to that “which is good for all”.
In the words of Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna on Independence Day: “every civil authority must strive to promote the common good in the interest of all, without favouring any individual citizen or category of citizen”, unless these individuals are not in great need or are disadvantaged in such a way that they demand particular attention.
The Justice and Peace Commission, while recognizing the positive and less positive aspects of the 2018 Budget, continues to augur for more dialogue with social partners and all stakeholders in Maltese society, so that there will continue to be progess and authentic development in the quality of life of the Maltese and all those who live in our country.