Beyond rhetoric of policy speech
The policy speech delivered by the President on behalf of the Government at the opening of Parliament on Saturday was long and not short of rhetorical flourishes. Essentially, it spelled out the electoral programme upon which the Government was elected.
The unnecessary verbosity and unusual style of writing did not blur the clear view of the Administration’s intentions.
Criticising style, as the Nationalist Opposition did, does not detract from the content. And that is what the people overwhelmingly voted for on March 9. To say that the content was political is simply to state the obvious.
The Government’s statement of intent and policies originates as a political programme by a political party. It translates into a programme of action should that party win the people’s majority confidence, as Labour unmistakably did.
What I would like to have seen in a compressed version of the speech is a complementing outline of how the Labour Government intends to fulfil its commitments. Here and there it does give such indications, for instance in the section referring to justice.
Appointing a judge to the Gozo courts so that the majority of appeals can be heard on the sister island, is specific. So is the undertaking to draw up a Citizens’ Charter for the courts where the rights of citizens in the judicial system are listed.
Setting up a Civil Administrative Court and giving the police the right to union membership are two more specific undertakings.
Less so is the promise to bring about an economic “surge”, as the translation of the speech on the Government’s website put it. A gradual increase, hopefully yes. A surge is far less likely. Promising it gives an unnecessary hostage to fortune.
An indirect contribution to growth is the positioning to cut unnecessary bureaucracy. To this end, the speech mentions the appointment of a commissioner responsible for the simplification of administration. I rather think the appointee will be Godwin Grima, who headed the civil service for 10 years. Both the objective and the man who will be tasked with achieving it are welcome.
Undue government bureaucracy is a bane in the life of all those who, at some time or another, require a service from the Government.
The commissioner, according to Saturday’s speech, will be continually monitoring the practices of government entities and introducing more efficient methods. It is targeted (I would say hoped) that, thereby, the commissioner will help to reduce bureaucratic procedures by a quarter. A timeline is not specified but I should think it will be included in the terms of reference to be given to the appointee.
I was particularly pleased with the new Administration’s clear commitment to the disabled. The Government, says the speech, will guarantee the parents of disabled people that, in their absence, the State will provide. They will find a society that will care for their children if they can no longer lead an independent life.
The Government assures parents and their disabled offspring that every person with disability will be found residence in the community in a small-sized house to lead a comfortable and dignified life.
A similar commitment was given by the previous Government in the 2012 Budget speech. This time round, one hopes that action will start without delay. It is important to allay the apprehension of parents and others who look after dependent disabled children – and adults – who worry about what will happen to their beloved when they are no longer able to do so because of debilitating old age or death.
The speech was predictably criticised by the Opposition practically before the President had finished reading it. That is to be expected.
Though the speech was laced with repeated commitment that the Government will be one for all the people, the Opposition is already doing its best to unravel that pledge. It accuses the Labour Government of extending the hand of friendship only to humiliate it.
Granted, some of Labour’s early decisions have been less than conciliatory, including appointing Franco Debono to coordinate a review of the Constitution.
But when it comes to humiliation, the Nationalists did a great job of humiliating themselves, particularly in the last 15 months leading to the general election.
There is a long way to go. Having staked its claims, it remains to be seen to what extent Labour can fulfil its promises, especially having started with weakened public finances and a 2013 Budget not of its own making, which will hardly contribute to improving them.