MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 |

OPINION | Sunday, 06 April 2008

Looking ahead

John Dalli

In the few weeks since the formation of the new government, I, together with my two parliamentary secretaries, have been busy taking stock of the situation in the various areas covered by the Ministry that was entrusted to us by the Prime Minister.

The Ministry
It is a vast ministry, encompassing the whole gamut of social services; the advancement of the policies of care and of protection of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable; employment, including vocational training and negotiations; health; primary care; care of the elderly; community care and housing.
We had the opportunity to appreciate the good work that had been done by our predecessors in all these sectors, to assess what needs to be done to expand and improve the processes and services currently in operation, and to listen to the various players within the various departments to try and establish the way forward. In a short time we should be meeting with constituted bodies and NGOs active and involved in these fields to hear their own assessment of the situation, and of what priorities should be given in the various areas, as well as to update ourselves with the perceptions that are currently predominant in the minds of our people.
This ministry is undoubtedly a main interface of government with the people, and the first steps that we are taking is to ensure that we are properly plugged into the grassroots, listening to and following up on their comments and complaints and explaining how policies are to be changed and developed.

On the occasions that I have had to talk to the public through radio programmes on which I was invited, many gave me their views of the situation in various areas falling within the ministries. Some poured praise on the service providers within the various entities, others provided advice, and others aired their grievances. This is a very healthy exercise which should be organised on a bigger scale.
It is quite evident that this country can boast of the best systems in social services, excellent facilities in our health sector and most capable human resources across the board. Unfortunately there are the few who, through bad attitudes or incorrect practices, discredit the system and cause harassment, harm and complaints. The people who provide the various services in the back office, or in direct contact with the people, are the face of the system and are the basis on which judgement is passed on whether the people are being well served or not. It is therefore paramount that we ensure that anyone involved is well trained, well motivated and properly monitored.
It is also a known fact that there is abuse in many of the flows of services that are given. People mention the assistance to the unemployed and the distribution of free medicines as the classic areas of abuse. There are others. We are committing ourselves to fight abuse and to try and scotch it at the source. In our system, most of the abuse presupposes collusion by officials, professionals and others who should know better. These need to be straightened out.

Nothing is for free
I said it before and I say it again. Nothing is for free. Anything that the community, through its government, is handing out without payment to those who partake of the various social and health services, is being paid by the community through the tax collection system.
Everything that is being given without payment is using resources which could be used by the community, through its government, to expand the services that are given or to improve the services that are already being given.
It is therefore not just my duty, as Minister for Social Policy, to curb abuse; it is the common duty of all Maltese citizens as abuse affects everyone, through higher taxes that are paid or through reduced benefits that can be afforded.

The way ahead
The way ahead is not easy. But it is interesting. It is surely a challenge which my colleagues and I are accepting. With God’s help, and everyone’s cooperation, we should be making a difference.

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