Looking beyond the pandemic: Building a new Malta after COVID-19

Government has just launched the long-awaited national post-pandemic strategy. The vision of this strategy is for Malta to become a safe, healthy, and prosperous nation built on principles of equality, good governance, and sustainable development ready to harness the green and digital transitions to enhance the wellbeing of current and future generations.

It is a document that epitomises the will and drive of our society. The pandemic has brought us together, made us revaluate our priorities and shed light on where we should reposition our efforts and resources. In this regard, the authors of the strategy have captured the current zeitgeist. They base the strategy around three key issues: how to improve both quality of life and wellbeing; how to sustain business and employment and drive a strong recovery; and how to remain resilient and competitive.

The strategy looks at 12 themes each inspired by the UN sustainable development goals, with key contributions from experts, stakeholders, and from the public. In total the strategy includes 144 actions across these different themes. For the purposes of this short article, we will look at one action from each theme to give an overall flavour of the breadth of this strategy.

It is a document that epitomises the will and drive of our society.

The first theme, appropriate – given the pandemic, is health. Many of the initiatives here focus on improving the prevention and primary care functions. But rather than focus on the successes of our health system, the strategy bravely targets areas where there has been little progress – the prime example being obesity. Thus, the strategy proposes a set of actions to adequately start dealing with this overriding health challenge.

During the pandemic we rediscovered the value of community as an agent of change and social cohesion. Thus, the second theme seeks to build new community-led engagement in public services. One of the key proposals here is to reinvigorate voluntary organisations and create new functions for them.

Related to this, the third theme focuses on championing inclusion and combating discrimination by creating structures for all groups in society. Rather than driving this top-down, the strategy proposes to provide financial assistance to local bodies and businesses to have proactive outreach programmes and involve disadvantaged groups.

The pandemic led many to focus on the need to improve the urban environment and resulting in a comprehensive revaluation of aesthetics. The proposals in this theme are very interesting, but possibly the most path-changing one is that planning and building laws need to promote aesthetic and green principles of construction at the design stage, while also developing retrofitting guidelines.

During the lull in activity brought by the pandemic, we also had the time to reconsider the business models adopted by many. While remaining dynamic and continuing to grow, we need to adopt a more holistic approach to economic growth. In this regard, one of the proposed actions of the strategy is to align budget spending, including capital project prioritisation, to sustainable activities with strong economic and social multipliers.

While remaining dynamic and continuing to grow, we need to adopt a more holistic approach to economic growth.

Linked to this we need to refocus and integrate education, labour, and economic policy to underpin the transformation we envisage. Here again the strategy has some excellent action points, but one stands out – refocusing education to give precedence to skills development. For us to succeed we need to stop focusing on learning facts, and instead, we should foster and support capabilities.  

The seventh theme relates to the environmental transition to a carbon neutral society by 2050. This is possibly the most ambitious target ever set by a Maltese government. If we manage to achieve this, we would have greatly improved our welfare. Of all the actions proposed, one stands out. The strategy declares that Gozo will be developed into a hub to pilot green and carbon-tech solutions with the aim of becoming carbon neutral before Malta.

Innovation is the key to success, and the strategy’s next theme is how to achieve better outcomes in this area. While not as high-sounding as other proposals, the foundation for the success of this theme lies in achieving a culture of appreciation for science across society and making it accessible to all.

During the pandemic, Government carried out very comprehensive reforms to strengthen governance. However, more are needed.  Besides looking at the justice system and further enforcement structures, the strategy argues that a pillar of sustainable public finances beyond the pandemic will require the stepping up of the fight against tax evasion and the shadow economy.

Another key change required for our post-Covid society is the closing of the digital divide, which risks becoming a new source of inequality. Besides bolstering financial aid so that all have access to devices and to high-speed connectivity, the strategy recommends the launch of a structured programme to digitally upskill the nation’s adults, particularly the elderly.

The strategy champions the safeguarding of natural assets and a culture change so that we recognise our duty to live in harmony with the environment for the benefit of current and future generations. Linked to previous themes, the strategy argues for the mobilisation of citizens and businesses to engage in remedial behaviour and join environmental protection, conservation, and clean-up activities.

The twelfth and final theme deals with the need to reinforce disaster recovery preparedness and enhance resilience. Our nation managed to deal with the pandemic effectively, but we need to be ready for the next big challenge at any time. Here, an excellent proposal is to create a framework for the setting up and financing of a disaster recovery fund.

Now that the document is published, the focus will now pass onto its implementation over the next three years. This plan has the potential to thoroughly transform our society, and lead to a new prosperity for our nation. While Government can and should remain the main driver, for the strategy to succeed, each and every one of us will need to play a part.

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