Church commission strikes as standards commissioner’s budget slashed

The Church’s Justice and Peace Commission has denounced the government for cutting funding for the standards commissioner in half in the budget.

The Commissariat for Standards in Public Life has been allocated a budget of €759,000 for this year, but will only receive €450,000 next year. Commissioner George Hyzler’s term expired last month and no one has yet been named to succeed him.

The church commission in a statement on Thursday said the government must strengthen – and never undermine – institutions such as the ombudsman, auditor general and commissioner for standards in public life, whose role is to promote the values ​​of transparency, accountability and good governance.

He expressed concern that the 2023 budget allocation for the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, taking into account projected inflation, would see its funding reduced by almost 50% from the revised estimate. for 2022.

“Such a decision, coupled with the unacceptable delay in presenting suitable candidates for this position, does not bode well for the principle of good governance, without which the common good of society will always be second fiddle to the interests of the privileged few. , “It said.

The budget focuses on those most affected by the cost of living crisis

In its reaction to the budget, the committee commended the government for focusing its limited resources in the budget on those who have been hardest hit by the cost of living crisis.

However, he indicated that in a context of increased financial constraints and the emphasis placed by the Minister of Finance on the need to apply budgetary discipline, the government should set an example by seriously reducing the exorbitant number of direct orders and trusted people.

“Such practices not only run counter to the values ​​of good governance, but also help to cement the deeply rooted perception of a system that is not ‘fair’ and works for some and not for others. Such a perception, which often mirrors reality, is deeply damaging to our society as trust is lost, collective participation takes a hit and cynicism sets in,” he said.

The commission, in a statement released by the Curia, said it appreciated that the 2023 budget was heavily conditioned by multiple crises.

“In the face of exceptional inflationary pressures, the commission commends the government for focusing its limited resources on those who have been most affected by the cost of living crisis. The budget provides immediate relief to families and businesses who, otherwise, would face untold financial hardship,” the commission said.

“However, despite recent studies showing that they face poverty from the start of their lives in Malta, the Commission notes with regret that asylum seekers were not mentioned in the budget speech.”

Fortunately, the commission said, through its budget measures, the current administration appears to have recognized that some segments of the population will always need more help than others. The budget includes a new cost-of-living adjustment mechanism to help those on very low incomes.

“However, this does not mean that we should resign ourselves to the existence of poverty. That a significant number of people in Malta are poor should never become a statistically and politically acceptable reality. Discussions, for example, of a increase in the minimum wage that guarantees a decent standard of living should not be extended indefinitely.”

Take care of the environment

He said the 2023 budget fails to effectively address several chronic environmental challenges that have a crippling impact on quality of life.

“When it comes to proposals to reduce traffic congestion, for example, the budget lacks carrot-and-stick measures that would entice people to abandon their private cars in favor of alternative modes of transport. The introduction of a free bus service has still not been accompanied by a necessary change in routes and frequency. Unless the service becomes more efficient and reliable, this important and laudable initiative will have limited success in terms of reducing the traffic congestion.

In the case of energy and water consumption, the commission said that support in the form of subsidies provided by the government should not be used to lull people into a false sense of complacency accompanied by an attitude of ” status quo”.

“In the meantime, the government could consider this window of opportunity offered by the energy crisis to reduce the waste of water and energy. In the long term, we should ask ourselves if an indefinite block subsidy on energy and fuel , which is expected to cost billions of euros over the next few years is sustainable, both from a financial and environmental point of view. Some of these resources that are currently used to subsidize lifestyles, which go beyond what is needed to have a decent life, to be better redirected towards actions that improve, for example, the energy efficiency of our buildings and reduce water consumption in this country which is the most water-stressed country in the world. ‘European Union ?

The commission also observed that despite the need to begin the transition from a construction-centric economic model, the 2023 budget contains no indication of what this alternative model would look like.

He noted that more than a year ago Finance Minister Clyde Caruana indicated the need to start moving away from the construction-centric economic model. Recently, he again acknowledged that the current economic model, built on the availability of thousands of foreign workers ready to accept working conditions deemed unacceptable by locals, was “unsustainable”.

“Unfortunately, the 2023 budget contained no real new ideas and little to no clues as to what kind of economic model would replace the current one. In fact, the vision presented by the Minister of Finance was rather a continuation of the current model. , with all its strengths and weaknesses. The need for a new long-term development strategy has now long been felt by all stakeholders. However, major questions regarding this still undefined strategy remain unanswered. easy slogans related to sustainability, what would it look like in real life? How will the transition happen? What effect will this economic transition have on the lives of the weakest members of our society?” asked the commission.

“Given the widespread impact such a strategy will have on present and future generations, the chosen direction of travel should not be introduced by stealth. In the recent past, major decisions with a lasting effect on our society , our economy and our environment, such as the citizenship-by-investment program and the partial privatization of our hospitals, were unfortunately introduced with little or no serious public debate,” he said.

A consensual and participatory approach should therefore be applied in the process that will shape a long-term economic vision that prioritizes the quality of life of the population, does not treat foreign workers as disposable goods, while respecting our environmental limits.

See the commission’s reaction in full here.

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