The moral test of any government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life: the children, those who are in the twilight of life: the elderly, those who are in the shadows of life: the sick, the needy and the handicapped. Hubert. H Humphrey

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. Mahatma Gandhi.

The test of a civilisation is the way it cares for its helpless members. Pearl S. Buck.

There are more wise words where those came from. Which is reassuring since it’s always good to know what great minds have always thought, or still think. And it’s equally reassuring to discover that they tend not to judge a country on the strength of a seven-year road map, a buoyant economic model and its high-rise development. That’s not to say these are all bad news. The government certainly needs to improve road quality, promote alternative transport and reduce unemployment.  They all contribute to wellness and a better quality of life.

But let’s stick with roads for a moment. Of course, smooth and smart roads and pavements make me very happy. And conversely, congested, dirty and dusty streets – of which, sadly, we have more than our fair share – depress me in the extreme.

Yet I can say with some conviction that, when it comes to some roadworks, the government has proved its critics wrong. If the Kappara project has taught us anything, it is that government can achieve the things it wants to achieve. And it can do so with minimal disruption and to a high standard if there is the political will and commitment.

I’d even suggest that we’ve never had an infrastructural project so smoothly conducted as Kappara, or so expeditiously completed. If work on the new Marsa junction is as efficient, then hip hip hooray indeed.

So can we agree – apolitically – that traffic-congestion has improved over the past few weeks? That can’t just be wishful thinking. The marked absence of complaints in my Facebook newsfeed must count for something. So fingers crossed that improved traffic flows don’t attract more cars and take us back to square-one.

But motoring on, and just as swiftly, I leave Joseph Muscat’s seven-year plan, welcome and overdue as it was.

The government needs to look deeply into its conscience and then put its hand just as deeply into its pockets

And talk about another (and altogether different) seven-year old instead. Tragically, she died two weeks ago, at the very dawning of her life. And what a stunted and sad little life it was. Her passing begs many questions, this most of all: What of those living deep in the shadows, in appalling physical conditions? I refer of course to the sick, the elderly and the disabled, to the needy and imprisoned, and of course to the vulnerable.

You see, while we protest against a 31-storey twin-tower or agonise how long it took us to reach Triton Fountain on the opening night of Valletta 18, we often lose sight of the even more important things. The things which we, a nation given to calling itself the envy of the world, don’t talk about enough, let alone prioritise.

A ‘great mind’ visiting Malta last week would have come away unimpressed. First, there was the untimely death of the Nigerian refugee girl, an extreme case gone terribly wrong: systemic failure and inadequacy under pressure. Then came the report by John Cachia, Commissioner for Mental Health, drawing attention to the physical state of various wards at Mount Carmel and calling for immediate improvement. In fairness, the five-page document was not all gloom and doom: there have been improvements since 2015. But the bottom line was that there’s still a long way to go, not least dealing with inconsistencies between wards in matters of care.

I like the sound of this Commissioner more and more. His forthright conclusion – ‘This is not right’ – is not your usual official obfuscation. We need more people like him.  We need also the reassurance that things are in capable and professional hands. Real peace of mind only comes when reports like this are heeded and acted upon.  So let’s deal with it. Mount Carmel Hospital is a 150-year old (and beautiful) building, but it has long been neglected and is in need of its own care and attention. How indeed can patients receive optimal care in a building with maintenance and safety issues, let alone one crying out for structural alteration? The first step toward the recovery and wellness of patients is to provide them with a decent environment. It’s a similar point to all those roads and pavements, only even stronger.

So how about a seven-year road map for Mount Carmel?  And why not one for the Corradino Correctional Facility? Or, on the other side of the Law and Order fence, what about the police headquarters and stations? A facelift there is desperately needed and would, I’m sure, work wonders for police morale and public perception.

But just like the state of our roads, no previous government has ever taken real ownership of these things. Which is curious considering that money is pumped into more doubtful causes: master plans that fall by the wayside and all those bureaucratic initiatives (most recently €21 million of EU money to be spent, not on water quality and supply, but on data-gathering and a ‘wide-ranging’ media campaign regarding water use – yes, we need convincing there).

The government therefore needs to look deeply into its conscience and then put its hand just as deeply into its pockets. Because we’re talking more than Welfare State here. Mount Carmel has become a special case, and the Prime Minister needs to make it a priority.

We can’t have patients – fellow Maltese citizens – in wards looking like scenes straight out of Midnight Express. Muscat really does have to come up with some more ‘roadmaps’. Time is ticking.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us