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Maltese report Maltese report
by Euro Reporter
2012-02-27 07:38:59
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Benedictine Torch to be held in Malta

The Benedictine Order has chosen Malta to hold its annual event of peace, hope and fraternity, known as the Benedictine Torch. Every year, since 1964, the torch is the main feature of a pilgrimage beginning from the city chosen to light the torch and ending in Monte Cassino in Rome at the Shrine of St Benedict. This year, the Benedictine Torch will be lit in Malta by Archbishop Paul Cremona O.P. next Sunday at a Mass he will celebrate together with Mgr Pietro Vittorelli, Archabbot of Montecassino Abbey, and Mgr Renato Boccardo, Archbishop of Spoleto, Norcia.

This Mass, which will be animated by the Benedictine Choir of Monte Cassino, will be held at St John’s Co-Cathedral, at 5.30pm. After Mass, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi will welcome the Benedictine Torch at Auberge de Castille. On 14 March, the torch will be taken to the Vatican to be blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, and then taken to the Shrine of St Benedict in Monte Cassino on 20 March. Last year, the torch was lit in London at a special service in Westminster Abbey. Representatives of the European institutions and the Italian government were also present for this ecumenical celebration, together with representatives of other political and religious institutions. This was the first year in which the torch had been lit in a non-Roman Catholic Church. The following day, the Benedictine Torch was taken to Westminster Cathedral where the Archbishop of Westminster celebrated Mass. The pilgrimage of the torch ended in Monte Cassino with a special service on St Benedict’s Day, on 21 March.

In 1964, when Saint Benedict was proclaimed Patron Saint of Europe, it was decided that the lighting of a torch would take place annually in various countries, to represent European unity. The torch is now known as the Torch of Saint Benedict. Since 1992, the year of the Maastricht Treaty, it has also become a symbol of peace. Saint Benedict was chosen as the symbol and the saint to testify to the common Christian cultural roots that the 27 European countries share. The lighting of the torch represents the light of Saint Benedict, which extends over Europe bringing peace, fraternity and friendship.


Are they still sustainable?

Both major political parties are committed to maintaining the stipend system, despite warnings from experts over sustainability. Christian Peregin puts questions to some protagonists to see whether a sensible discussion is possible. Malta will this year spend more than €23 million on giving post-secondary students an €80 monthly stipend. By 2020, the figure is likely to exceed €30 million as the student population rises in line with EU targets. This is not an enormous figure considering Malta will this year also spend €64 million on “medicines and surgical materials” – just a fraction of the total spend on healthcare. Yet those who question the sustainability of free healthcare also raise questions about stipends.

Some, like Rector Juanito Camilleri, argue that the money can be put to better use rather than spreading it so thinly among all students, many of whom can already afford cars and other luxuries. Stipends make up a fifth of the total government spend on post-secondary education, which means investing the money in resources and infrastructure could see a much-needed upgrade of 20 per cent. However, discussing the subject remains taboo, especially among politicians who witnessed the student uproar in 1997 when a Labour government turned stipends into optional loans, except for social cases. The Nationalist Party gained student support at the time, giving subsequent governments the clout to restructure stipends in 2005 without ruffling students’ feathers.

The government says stipends are an “important incentive” for students to further their studies. The evidence, according to the Finance Ministry, is that 1998 was the only scholastic year which registered a drop in the growth rate of tertiary student population. On the other hand, the population increased steadily after 1999, with a 30 per cent increase in 17-year-olds choosing to further their studies. The Finance Ministry said that between 2000 and 2010 Malta registered the largest drop in early school leavers in the EU. But does this necessarily mean Malta is doing better than other countries? The island still has the highest percentage of early school leavers at 37 per cent compared with the EU average of 14 per cent. The stipend system is one of the ways the government plans to cut this figure to 29 per cent by 2020, while increasing the share of 30 to 34 year olds having completed tertiary education to 33 per cent. According to European Student Union representative Karl Agius, there are six other countries which give the majority of their students’ financial support: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Scotland, Liechtenstein and Norway.


Bus complaints drastically down over three months

In October, Transport Malta received 509 complaints about the bus system but in December these went down to 179, indicating the numerous changes to improve the system were finally bearing fruit. Figures obtained by The Sunday Times, which exclude those received by Arriva, show the biggest criticism in October (223 complaints) was directed at bus route timings, but within two months these objections went down to 59. Passengers were still grumbling about the actual routes in October – the most contentious issue since the new service run by Arriva started operating last July – but by December these had become less and less (69).

By November, Arriva, which had not had a period of stability since it started, had gone through five big changes to fine-tune the system and pacify people’s indignation. At the time, a protest had also been organised to express disapproval at the “sorrystate” of public transport – commuters felt they were being short-changed on the long-awaited reform. However, by December, overall complaints in every sector were drastically reduced. Objections relating to bus shelters, infrastructure, traffic management and fares were also practically negligent – less than five – by December. A separate study, commissioned by Transport Malta and carried out by Misco, also confirms the service and the behaviour of bus drivers improved.

Transport Malta asked Misco to carry out a mystery shopping exercise – getting passengers to use the bus and provide feedback. The aim was to evaluate the overall experience of the bus service, gauge waiting time, report on the state of the bus, test the level of service provided by drivers and establish if weather affected operations. This exercise was split into two waves – 202 bus rides between November 28 and December 2, and 183 bus rides from January 20 to 26.

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