Need to keep in touch
Home visits are unique experiences from which I always learn. They bring me closer to the day-to-day lives of people.
Firstly, I would like to thank all those who welcome me into their homes. I try as much as possible to be informal and would rather be hosted in people’s kitchen or living room rather than a formal sitting room.
I see people in my office at least once a week but home visits introduce you to people who very often would otherwise never come and knock on your door. I give home visits much importance, so much so that a few months after the last election, I already began knocking on people’s doors on Thursdays and Fridays. Obviously, I have now picked up the pace.
As a rule, I visit anybody who is willing to open their door to me, or answer the phone to fix an appointment, without any regard to their political leanings.
During my visits, I try to get to know the family. Where they work, how many children they have, how they spend their free time. I share their fears if they recount health problems; I share their joys when they recount their children’s successes in education or new additions to the family.
There are occasions when I am asked to help and, where I can, I do so willingly. Most seek little more than guidance or to expedite matters.
I have made more than my fair share of gaffes during home visits! I have already had the opportunity to publicly recount some of the stories, such as the time when an elderly lady gave me a full glass of undiluted orange squash, which I daringly drank a quarter of. Time will come when I can say more – March 9.
A few years ago, I got into the habit of giving flowers to the women who work with me in my secretariat. But Women’s Day should not simply be symbolic.
When I look around me, I realise that, although we have made great progress in the number of female students, who more often than not perform better than their male counterparts, there is still greater weight that falls on women. At every age, it seems that women must work harder because expectations for them are greater than in the case of men.
I meet young mothers who, whatever their academic background, must keep up with all the childrearing needs, even if they still work. I meet older women who spend so much time taking care of elderly relatives. Many others, after having raised their own children, dedicate their time to raising their grandchildren. There are still too few men who get their hands dirty doing the housework. Programmes, like Nista’, which were launched over the past couple of years, are positive in that they put forward that which should be obvious and encourage us to act upon it.
On Women’s Day, I would like to thank all women who, in their own unique way, keep our families running and strengthen our society. Whatever is done in favour of women is never wasted because the benefits are far reaching. At the same time, my thoughts also go out to those women whose basic rights are still being abused – March 8.
Back to its original glory
Until a few months ago, every time I would pass by the chapel of the Immaculate Conception in St Julians I would begin to worry that the belfry would fall on passersby. It was the Knight Rafel Spinola himself who built the chapel in 1687 because he wanted a church close by to the palace he built in St Julians. The church was extended in the beginning of the 20th century while the facade was changed in 1914. Last Sunday, we inaugurated the extensive restoration works that were carried out by the restoration section within my ministry.
The damage was so extensive that in January 2010 part of the bell had begun to give way onto the belfry, when the iron bar from which it was hanging snapped. The rust damaged the stone, which was also damaged by the salty winds that break against it.
The restoration of the chapel, which took a year to complete, required much dedicated and attentive work by our restoration unit workers. The works included restorations on all the facades, which began with the cleaning of the stone and the changing of stones only when this was absolutely necessary. Plastering was also carried out using appropriate methods and materials. Finally, it was given a light coating of very sheer paint so that the new stone would integrate better with the old stone.
This morning, I visited the church in Safi where we restored the terrace with marble balustrades on the parvis. Many had forgotten that this church had a terrace. In fact, it had been removed about 50 years ago because the stone had deteriorated. The result is beautiful. It was designed by Ċensu Ċintorino, a master of classical work. This project ties in with other works we have carried out over the past four years, whereby we restored some 13 parvises and no fewer than 14 chapels and churches. This is not just the Church’s heritage but ours too– March 6.
In Malta, the Leader of the Opposition aspires to become Prime Minister, yet is unable to explain how he plans to reduce water and electricity bills. However, in the wider world, as is continuously being reported by both local and foreign news broadcasters, we are once again faced by an international crisis, whereby the situation in Iran is leading to a hike in the price of oil, reaching heights not seen in nine months. Many are also speculating that the price of oil will go up to $120 a barrel.
This all stems from the question over Iran’s nuclear programme, especially due to Iran’s threat to close off the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between Iran and Oman, and through which oil tankers gain access to the principal oil terminals in Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The EU has imposed sanctions on the purchasing of oil from Iran, which is due to come into effect in July.
Although Malta does not purchase oil from Iran, we are still susceptible to the crisis due to the increasing price of oil. This is the global reality that Malta forms part of. Joseph Muscat will have to work within this reality if he becomes Prime Minister.
From the comfort of the opposition, he can afford to be irresponsible and make endless promises, yet, if in government, he must face this reality whether he likes it or not.
The government realises that it cannot burden families and has decided to bear the costs of the increase in the international price of oil rather than raise water and electricity tariffs for families and businesses. Dr Muscat would probably criticise the government’s decision anyway, continuing to state that the government should cut bills nonetheless.
Such news should open everyone’s eyes to Dr Muscat’s irresponsibility. His target is power, without any consideration of what will happen afterwards. A déjà vu of 1998 when Alfred Sant promised to remove VAT. His lack of long-term planning resulted in the digging of a financial hole like never before. Like Dr Sant, Dr Muscat is heading in the same direction – March 4.
The author is Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs.