Unpaid full-time volunteers deserve better
This time of the year many take a long and deserved break. Though Covid-19 has restricted travel, there is still the possibility to unwind for a few days either by the beach or on the sister island. For hundreds of volunteers involved in the organisation of village feasts the hot summer months are also the pinnacle of the year albeit not to take a holiday but to see the results of their hard work come to fruition. While the pandemic has scaled down traditional Maltese feasts which are a major attraction of the island’s summer season, work was still going on behind the scenes. Following a prolonged period during which clubs were at a complete standstill and closed shop for months, volunteers were already trying to make up for the lost time.
Hundreds immersed themselves straight away to start organising fund raising activities within the existing restrictions to make up for the coffers which had been left bone dry since the end of last year. In some cases, as restrictions were being gradually lifted, volunteers embarked on ambitious projects to organise the annual musical concert while taking great care to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols. Meanwhile, even fireworks enthusiasts have gone to town to try and come up with a decent show within the existing financial constraints. Unfortunately, there were sporadic incidents when some idiots got carried away but it would be unfair to generalise and let a few hot heads undermine this important voluntary sector.
While people who are not into this sector might think it is just a hobby, it is definitely not the case. The advent of tighter controls to regularise the voluntary sector ranging from fund raising, statutory obligations, detailed financial statements, and a barrage of paperwork has dealt a severe blow to all organisations.
NGOs also deserve credit for their economic value. They contribute actively in the cultural and entertainment sector, many times by organising activities such as concerts, shows, performances and exhibitions which are completely free of charge. NGOS are also involved in other aspects of everyday life such as sport. The majority offer training in the community in various disciplines not only to young promising athletes but to society in general in line with their belief of promoting the sport ethos and a healthy lifestyle. The voluntary sector is also very active on a social level through organisations which help in hospitals, the elderly, mental health and for children’s wellbeing.
Though, there might have been the need to step up certain controls and close certain loopholes, we have now gone to the other extreme to the point that club secretaries are practically ending up as unpaid full-time employees. It seems all voluntary organisations, not just those involved in the village feasts, are being treated as potential financiers of terrorism and money launderers. One just hopes that the new Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations will adopt a flexible approach. If NGOs are to keep doing this unprecedented level of paperwork they need more support.
The feeling on the ground is that this seems to be the textbook case of being strong with the weak and weak with the strong. The onus is on the authorities to prove such impression wrong. Where shall they start? It is not up to us to suggest, but have they ever wondered how many luxurious cars are on the streets during weekends and the yachts and luxury pleasure crafts adorning secluded beaches during this time of year?