The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic upheaval in the lives of the Maltese people. This is self-evident. Less evidently, however, is the disproportional effect the pandemic is having on different areas of Maltese society. Indeed, those who were already at a disadvantage, struggling to make ends meet, have now been forced to deal with the direst of situations.

The first electoral district has had to face an unprecedented level of disruption as a result of the pandemic and the restrictions which ensued. I have met many residents who have had to bury themselves in debt in order to pay rent and to procure the most basic of necessities. The impact on our elderly has also been devastating, forcing many to live in a state of perpetual social isolation, in solitude and heightened states of anxiety.

Indeed, it is envisioned that our mental health services will play a pivotal role in our nation’s recovery from this unexpected and difficult ordeal.

This is the reality which the virus is leaving in its wake. Surging unemployment rates and ever-dwindling monthly incomes will inevitably leave an impact on the livelihood of many, with official statistics published by the NSO revealing that official unemployment rates in Malta are set to reach 13,000.

It would be inconceivable to think that we can get away without supporting those who are struggling to find gainful employment. Educational courses should be promoted with the aim that they serve to bolster our people’s productivity and sense of personal autonomy. We also have a duty to safeguard those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic and also by the ebb and flow of the changing times: a case in point is the situation in certain areas of Valletta and Ħamrun, once the heart of commercial activity for many Maltese and which have now been replaced by other commercial areas newly-developed across the island.

Many of those residing in the first electoral district have to face the inordinate brunt of ever-increasing rent payments- James Aaron Ellul

We must seek to reward the innovation of our businessmen and artisans so that they may survive and thrive and, in so doing, support themselves and their workforce. Our policy should not cater to the masses through the provision of vouchers – which surely help many bear the brunt of the pandemic – but to focus on promoting creative entrepreneurship so that our present challenges may be turned into future opportunities.

Many of those residing in the first electoral district have to face the inordinate brunt of ever-increasing rent payments, particularly with the planned revision of the renting policy due to take effect in the coming years. This is coupled with the reality that many live in accommodation which is already gravely inadequate to cater for a person’s needs.

Ħamrun, Marsa, Pietà and Guardamangia have become notorious in this regard while residents in Floriana and Valletta frequently have to struggle with paying rent for a mere three-room dwelling. The degree of squalor is at times beyond contemplation: residents have to live in homes plagued with humidity while others have to contend with using their basement as a kitchen. The fact that some basements open on to the road outside makes matters worse because the opening of an aperture for ventilation frequently allows harmful exhaust fumes to percolate into the living spaces.

Two projects proposed for the first electoral district have served to captivate the nation’s imagination. Both have been frustratingly shelved over the past decade. I am referring to the proposal for the creation of a garden in place of St Anne Street, in Floriana, along with a similar proposal to enclose part of the Regional Road, in Santa Venera, and subsequently build a rooftop public space over it.

Undoubtedly, both proposals require in-depth studies to ensure their viability. Their implementation would, however, serve to decrease air pollution from vehicular exhaust fumes while creating cultural landmarks which may boost the quality of life for many residents living close by. Data has shown that, year-in year-out, St Anne Street remains one of the most heavily polluted streets in Malta.

This cannot go on. As a local councillor in Floriana, it is my belief that the St Anne Street project, along with the one in Santa Venera, will help both areas in their efforts towards regeneration while also hopefully serving to improve the lack of parking spaces in both areas.

We must not, however, make the mistake of acting too rashly when pursuing such projects: the necessary consultation process cannot be discarded and the interests of local stakeholders, including residents and businesses, must be taken into account.

My work within this district is steadily gearing up, in part because I believe that the impact of the Nationalist Party’s policy in the region has to be strengthened. I sincerely believe that all public servants should strive to promote a trustworthy political vision, based on the premises of equity and justice. This cannot be regarded as a mere theoretical abstraction but as a practical prerequisite in our hands-on work in our communities.

I aim to work towards introducing the everyday citizen to a vision of politics that is relevant to their lives and values: a vision that can be discussed openly and which aligns with their beliefs about life and our social and civic responsibilities.

Citizens should be masters of their political identities and not merely targets of timely political campaigns. It is only through this paradigm that political activism may be genuinely transformed into a tool for change and a service to others.

James Aaron Ellul, PN first district candidate, Floriana local councillor

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