27 FEBRUARY 2002

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Delay in appointment of new welfare commission chairman causing concern

By Miriam Dunn
Concern is mounting over the length of time it is taking for a new chairman to be appointed at the helm of the Welfare Reform Commission, although a spokesman for the Social Policy ministry stressed that the government is not neglecting the issue.

"Work is being done," said spokesman Alan Camilleri. "We are certainly not resting on our laurels."

But the delay in finding a replacement for former chairman Alfred Galdes, who resigned amid controversy just before Christmas, has left some observers pondering over the future of the commission, which was set up two years ago to look at ways of tackling Malta’s growing welfare gap.

The government is unlikely to want to witness or cause further delays in what is recognised as being a pressing issue – how to tackle the pension problem. Just a few weeks ago General Workers’ Union secretary general Tony Zarb, who was on the Welfare Reform Commission, said that he felt the representatives could be back to square one following Mr Galdes’ decision to step down.

It has long been rumoured that there have been differing views on the best way forward for welfare reform, and the fact that two ministries – social policy and finance – has added fuel to the fire as to whether there is a divergence on how best to tackle the problems.

Social Policy minister Lawrence Gonzi told The Malta Financial and Business Times that although the resignation of Mr Galdes was regretted, it wouldn’t stop the process needed to move forward in the best interest of the country.

"The government will be taking the necessary decisions in order to continue the debate building on the extensive work that has been carried out so far by the National Commission as a whole," he said.

Asked when we could expect to see a new chairman and how we could make up for lost time in trying to find solutions to these problems, Dr Gonzi replied that the decisions would be taken "in the very near future".

"These will be done in accordance with the original terms of reference and in line with the announcements made by the Minister of Finance in this year’s Budget Speech. The matter is being handled jointly by this Ministry and the Ministry of Finance," he said.

The government set up the National Commission on Welfare Reform in June 1999 to examine the social security system in Malta and its sustainability and to make its recommendations on possible reform especially with regard to pensions.

The commission’s long-awaited report was said to have stalled due to technicalities.

Finance minister John Dalli had publicly expressed his disappointment that the report had still not been concluded and Mr Galdes’ decision to quit was widely thought to be linked to evident impatience at the length of time the commission was taking to produce its findings, even though the former chairman denied this.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt