MaltaToday | 13 April 2008 | Building our common home

OPINION | Sunday, 13 April 2008

Building our common home

Evarist Bartolo

Forty-four years after becoming a sovereign state and able to run our own affairs, and 34 years after becoming a republic with our own head of state, we still need to take steps to ensure that all of us living on these islands feel that we live in a common home and belong to the same family where we are all treated equally and fairly like brothers and sisters.
Many of us who do not have the right connections still feel treated like second-class citizens. Most of our national institutions are national only in name, and people of different political opinions do not perceive them as national and fair, and do not identify with them or feel they own them.
Rhetoric and nice words are not enough to bring about inclusive national institutions that help us live in and share a common home called Malta. While building robust national institutions we should also take steps to expand and nurture a strong civil society where citizens can organise themselves autonomously, away from the control of political parties and business organisations, to raise their voices and influence the national decision making process on issues like civil rights, environmental protection, animal welfare, disability and minorities.
One way of building a common home, with a vibrant democracy that embraces diversity and a strong civil society, is to take “national” institutions away from the control of the government of the day, and hand them to the President of the Republic, elected by a two thirds majority in parliament. Such a majority would make our president truly national, and not simply the partisan expression of the party in government.
Giving the president such a wide national consensus would be only a first step. Then we should consider putting institutions like the ombudsman, the national audit office, the public service commission, the government’s contract committee, the public broadcasting services, the electoral commission and perhaps the police and the army under the jurisdiction of the president. At the same time parliament should stop being run like another government department, and given the necessary resources to become an independent national institution that holds the government to account on behalf of the taxpaying citizens.
We should start a big and wide debate on how to change our national institutions and make them indispensable building blocks for our common home. Instead of reacting to a crisis by changing our constitution, we should be proactive and engage in a big national debate about how to build our common home where we all feel treated equally and fairly.

Educating for success
In the global economy success will depend on Malta having a highly educated and trained workforce. International companies invest in high quality economic activity in countries that have people who have the educational capacity to meet the challenges of rapid change.
It is important that we become more aware of the aspirations and changing expectations of a younger generation that will need to work hard to ensure high quality employment in a very competitive global economy.
At present Malta can be described as having a very wasteful model of education. The avenue to high education is determined by children sitting for 11-plus exams to enter the Junior Lyceum and prepare for entry to university or go to Church and private secondary schools as the other option.
It is important to ask whether, in the age of globalisation, it is time to change this approach. In the global economy Malta needs to have more people enter University. In the advanced economies, 40% of people over the age of 18 now get university degrees. By contrast in Malta that number is around 12% and at the moment more than 40% of our 16-year-olds complete their secondary schooling without getting the basic qualifications needed to continue further education. We need to do more to increase young people expectations.
The avenue to University should not be limited to the Lyceum and Church and private secondary schools. Instead, all secondary schools in Malta should become avenues to higher education and should inspire their students to enter higher education.

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