Recently, media reported that the forthcoming Maltese election will be held around March 2018. One does not need to be an expert in history to foresee that the temperament of the government during the next 10 months or so will change, becoming more ‘sanguine’, aiming to please the greatest number of people in the shortest time possible. This will also be the case with the opposition’s attitude, where one will see it gradually relinquishing its somewhat navel-gazing ‘melancholic’ and at times, ‘choleric’ attitude to embrace a similar attitude.
We always seem to experience two paradigm shifts around each election period. Apart from payments of long-standing dues to private contractors, increased frequency of promotions, as well as surprise invitations to events by various ‘friendly’ candidates, the election period always invariably coincides with collective agreement renewals. During the pre-election period, we see various unions at loggerheads with the government to improve the benefits of their union members. The most lucrative collective agreements are always spearheaded by those unions who enjoy the greatest lobbying power since they hone on the ever-present threat of industrial actions. So be it!
The second paradigm shift which we experience during this pre-election period is the most creative juggling of development boundaries and building heights. ODZ approvals for relatively small construction works take place on a monthly basis all year round. However, it is only during the few months [or days] prior to the election, that a 4 tumolo ODZ field, facing a built-up area, worth Euro200,000, can become worth Euro 4,000,000, following such a development boundary tweak.
However, let us part from this discussion and concentrate on the health sector. If I were to make a calculated guess of the pre-election war of words between the two main political parties, I would mention that, on one hand the government will boast that:
- the bleak situation of increasingly out-of-stock medication which has cast a shadow on the entire health ministry for a decade or so, has been effectively eliminated within just two years by the present government.
- following the 2017 budget, diabetic patients in possession of the schedule V card [yellow card] have started benefiting again from free dental care, subsidies on reading glasses and free access to antibiotics. This has effectively addressed the unjust and abrupt removal of such benefits by the previous administration.
- generally speaking, the waiting lists for operations have continued to decrease.
On the other hand, the opposition will most probably intensify its criticism of the following:
- the electoral pledge relating to the free delivery medicines to patients’ homes is still stuck in the pilot phase [which started in April 2016].
- the public-private partnership relating to Karen Grech Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital and Gozo General Hospital between the Maltese government and Vitalis Global Healthcare has been envisaged to cost the government a whooping €55 million annually for medical services that are currently offered through the national health service.
- the agreement which was announced in 2015 between the Ministry of Health and the Queen Mary University of London, for the opening of a medical school in Gozo foresees the opening of a campus of the Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Initially, the government stated that the medical school will commence operations to all effects by September 2016. Last February, the government stated that the first students would be accepted in September 2017, whilst the new medical school building would only be ready in September 2018. Further to this, during these last months, medical students have consistently protested that the privatisation of medical education in Malta would dilute the medical school’s clinical and education resources.
although the 2017 budget announced that Type 2 diabetic patients will start benefiting from an unspecified amount of free glucose sticks, no indication of the commencement period of this service has been given.
Further to the above, the opposition will most probably also criticize the fact that the construction of the €100 million 200-bed private St John Paul II hospital at Smart City has not even commenced. During a press conference in March 2015, the government stated that the hospital had to start operating in 2017.
Time will tell whether the predictions are correct …