The challenges our country faces in 2016 and beyond are the same challenges which have never been confronted head on in the past 30 years or so.
The major challenge which has led to a host of problems is that of landuse and overdevelopment. Overdevelopment and a total lack of planning has led to inadequate space in urban areas for people, open spaces, and even very basic concepts such as tree-lined streets. People have been pushed off the roads in favour of traffic, and dirty air and pollution. A short trip to very busy streets in urban areas and even to newly built streets coveys a very clear message, with 50 centimetre pavements for people and the rest of the space for traffic.
Flooded streets after the shortest of rain storms are another reminder of the short-termism in public policy. It is extremely difficult to reverse years and years of bad planning in built up areas, but targeted initiatives can mitigate some of the problems. Some solutions are investment in infrastructure for alternative means of transport such as bicycles and for those of us who need an extra ‘push’ pedelecs. It was not difficult to upgrade the bus service from Austin Gatt’s skeleton service, but we still have a long way to go. Routes with a frequency of a bus every hour are useless in a traffic chocked island especially during the rush hours. A bus every half an hour should be the bare minimum. Urban greening – done properly and adequately financed – can also make streets more welcoming.
Another challenge is adapting to climate change and grabbing the opportunities that a low-carbon economy brings in terms of careers and improvement in the quality of life. Our vision is to make Malta a laboratory for developing clean energy solutions, from micro-windturbines to innovative solar energy solutions, to wave energy, to programmes for energy efficiency in homes and industry. Pages upon pages of official reports have been issued from the Sustainable Development Commission, to international reports from the UN, to data and reports in individual government departments, ministries and agencies, which have been totally ignored.
From a social and economic perspective, a revision of the minimum wage is urgently needed. The Prime Minister’s bragging about the economy is hot air and his anti-social Tatcherite trickle-down concept of the economy means that the working poor keep getting poorer. The talk about a ‘living wage’ before the elections was just a ruse. It is the minimum wage which should be a ‘living wage’. Every worker from those who clean our streets, offices, schools and hospitals, those who toil away in the catering and hospitality industry, those clerks and office workers who keep offices running smoothly, to those who care for the elderly and young children are doing dignified and necessary jobs. Their pay should match the rhetoric about dignity. The talk about ‘competitivity’ is out of order – in fact the less the pay a worker gets, the more the spending on essential items – and anyway ‘competitivity’ off the backs of the poorest in society is not on. Here again PL and PN agree to keep these people poor and stuggling to live a dignified life on inadequate wages.
There is a long list of other challenges, from the implementation of the party financing law, modernising our constitution, making our political system really and truly pluralistic (which of course in neither in the interest of the Labour government nor of the Nationalist Party), and tackling the scourge of bad governance that has been plauging our country for ages and is getting worse by the minute. A Happy New Year to everyone!
Ralph Cassar is Secretary General of Alternattiva Demokratika