Some of my compatriots are very quick to take offence at any criticism of Maltese administration. If I dare criticise our NHS or our education system, for example. Or our lack of regulation of the long let rental market. Or any of the myriad failures of Maltese administrative policy.
But am I criticising Malta when I criticise the above?
From where I’m standing, no. For me, Malta is not the sum of these failures or inadequacies. Malta is my childhood; my family and friends; its history; the efforts of my ancestors; the streetscapes; the cityscapes; the landscape of ħajt tas-sejjieħ, bajtar tax-xewk hedgerows, terracotta soil, the encompassing sea; the home of my children; the adopted home of my Scottish husband… In actual fact, it is very difficult to put in words what Malta means to me. I suppose this is the same for anyone trying to put in words what their ‘patria mia’ means to them.
So why is there this prickly defensiveness? Why do some believe that any criticism of any Maltese administrative policy is a betrayal of ‘Malta’, a lack of patriotism? After all, is the administration of the day all that there is to Malta?
And why is it that people feel the need to defend the indefensible? Why this blind loyalty? Are they defending ‘Malta’ or the regime of the day? Why is a criticism of the current administration equal to a criticism of ‘Malta’? Why refute the very possibility that there may be better ways of doing things? Is there only the ‘Maltese way’?
Mostly, I think, the issue is that we don’t see the wood for the trees. If we’ve stayed in the wood all our lives or most of our lives, we haven’t experienced other ways of being, living… In this case, we only have this frame of reference.
Recently my son needed medicine for bronchitis. The cost of the medicine amounted to more than 50 euro. Having lived in both England and Scotland, I know that children get their medicines free of charge in both these countries. In fact, in Scotland, everyone now gets their medicine free of charge.
Now, this isn’t an issue for us – we can afford 50 euro to spend on medicine. Of course, there are opportunity costs but these opportunity costs would be fine if I had a sense that the state was prioritising more urgent needs. Clearly, however, it is an issue for people who cannot afford to have a decent roof over their head, let alone 50 euro on medicine for a child.
But is the state prioritising urgent needs over the need to access free medicine? The ongoing shady Vitals saga doesn’t inspire you with confidence that our government is looking after our money and health system.
A doctor friend informed me that there are generic versions of the different medicines - equally safe and effective - which are much cheaper. I didn’t know about the existence of these cheaper medicines. How many people are aware that they can ask for the cheaper version? Why, in l-aqwa żmien, do we not find innovative ways of distributing our nation’s supposed wealth more fairly? Should pharmaceutical companies get rich on the ill health of some people? Aren’t children worthy of being invested in? Aren’t they the future adults who will be paying for our pensions? Should we have a tax on being sick?
A few days after we incurred this cost, news broke of Victoria’s death from aplastic anaemia. It is being alleged that this family was once billed for medical treatment at Mater Dei hospital. Even though they were eligible for free healthcare. It is also alleged that, after this billing, they did not seek Maltese medical advice ever again. Leave aside the importance of finding out whether the state shares responsibility for the death of Victoria, the important question to be answered is: how did this family live under the radar? How on earth were they billed, if they had been granted refugee status?
Many of you will know that when we moved to Malta in 2010, our disposable income was 300 euro per month after rent and the Arms bill (on the incorrect tariff). Leave alone that the state was underpaying me by as much as 700 euro per month. After all, in a country where the average wage is 18 000 euro (gross) it is not inconceivable that there are other families on a net income of 1 000 euro per month. The point is that there was no one to see that we were in an impossible financial situation. Like us, there were, and are, many others in similar situations. We had the financial support of our families plus other resources. Again, it is not inconceivable that there are people without the resources we had.
Another alarm bell sounded in 2013 when our ex landlord took out a precautionary garnishee order on our bank account and my salary. For obvious reasons, it was not tenable for us to stay in this rental property. So, I phoned the Housing Authority and explained our situation. Consult a lawyer, I was told. That was the sum support provided by the Housing Authority.
Stories abound on social media of individuals or single parents in desperate need of housing, food, clothes… The only recourse I see is people providing charity. Or an appeal to the President or some minister. This is the sum total of the safety net for many of these people. Totally haphazard and ad hoc support. A social worker with a caseload of 1 000 cases. A teenage patient in Mount Carmel hospital running away and then found dead, having committed suicide.
These are the cases we know about. Goodness knows how many are enduring miserable lives in silence, ashamed to come forward, to ask for help. Because they witness at first hand the internet trolls taking people in need to task for needing a safety net. I managed, I picked myself up, brushed myself off and managed. So can you, they blithely trumpet.
Malta desperately needs a safety net. With no holes big enough for any person to fall through. After all, the measure of any society is how we treat our most vulnerable. In l-aqwa żmien, we are clearly failing these.