The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Heading into the Budget days

Friday, 4 October 2019, 10:12 Last update: about 6 months ago

The British Parliament did not have much of a summer: first it was prorogued, then that was reversed, now it is having a sort of half-break for the party conferences and it is heading for a crunching few days coming up.

The Italian Parliament, too, did not have much of a summer: it was recalled at the height of summer when a confidence vote was looming. Then there was that notable reversal when the government lost the Right and embraced the Left and now it is preparing the Budget.

Malta is a special case: its Members have enjoyed one of the longest summer holidays in living memory. The summer shut-down has long passed. The schools and the university have reopened. And Parliament will only meet next Monday.

Then, a week later, we will have Budget Day.

Parliament has been largely reduced to a talking shop, and the huge government majority has made debating rather academic.

Nevertheless, although Budget Day has lost most of the drama of past years, it is still an important fixture of the parliamentary year. Even in these years, when the consultations begin in mid-summer, and when we know what's coming, it is still a very useful tool of economic management.

Expect no major announcement from this year's Speech. The economy is doing quite well, the growth that has been registered is higher than that of Europe. The rating agencies all concur in praising Malta for its achievements.

So the best that the government can do is to keep the course as steady as possible.

This may be wise in the short term. But given a longer perspective, things may have to change.

One issue which has been coming up again and again regards the plight of the underdogs in the Maltese society which, with the addition of so many legal or illegal migrants, has greatly inflated the proletariat in our midst.

These people are facing difficulties in finding steady jobs and one that provides an adequate remuneration. Many can only find part-time jobs that pay quite a low remuneration, and one at disjointed hours at that.

As a consequence, they can only find rental accommodation with prices that have risen through the roof these past months. This, in turn, forces many to take in more people than the property can take, so as to share the cost of the rent, with all the consequences that one can imagine.

Another big section of the proletariat, or today's poor, regards the pensioners with a pension that plunges the receiver straight into poverty.

The government has been promising it will take steps to improve matters in these two segments. We can only wait to see if the Budget Speech delivers in this regard.

On a wider level, we expect the Speech to focus long-term and explain how the government plans to upgrade and shift Malta's economic sectors so as to prepare for the future years. There is so much to do to inject a higher level of jobs, employment, in a country which has mostly been resting on its laurels these past years, dulled into thinking it was the best economy in Europe.

For one thing, it desperately needs to produce a better quality workforce than is available now. Many incoming investors complain they cannot find the right human resources. The schools, although there have been improvements, are still not providing young people with the skills needed in today's and tomorrow's workforce.

The past years have seen an increase in the number of people employed by the State. The efficiency of the government machine has not improved as much as the increased numbers would promise. The State must hive off those who joined for the easy jobs there and improve the efficiency of the machine.

The papers, and ours especially, are full of stories of incoming companies and investment as new areas are opened up (such as Bitcoins, eGaming, etc). But these new areas need new and efficient regulators and employees. Otherwise these new investments will quickly go elsewhere.

And in general Malta needs to clean up its act and to generate less stories of involvement in corruption. Great though our growth has been, it will not be sustainable if the negative stories involving Malta keep cropping up.

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