The Malta Independent 12 November 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Budget 2020 - An environmental and social budget

Tuesday, 15 October 2019, 08:13 Last update: about 27 days ago

It was another good budget, with no new taxes or tax hikes.

The budget announced yesterday by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna was also very positive when it comes to the environment, which is not something we find ourselves saying very often about this government.

Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting measures with regard to environmental protection is the ban, as from this January, on the importation and production of single-use plastics which, are one of the leading causes of marine pollution. By January 2021, their sale and distribution will be banned.

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Coupled with the introduction of the bottle return scheme by the end of this year, this is a very positive measure that should drastically reduce Malta’s plastic waste.

To further reduce the use of harmful plastics, the government will offer incentives to shops to set up ‘green corners’, where they would sell products by weight and place them in reusable containers brought by the customers themselves.

The government also announced yesterday that we will soon have a national strategy on achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Other measures include a reduced tariff for charging electric cars and the increase in charging points.

Another positive step is the €200k grant to building contractors to buy new equipment that is more environmentally friendly and generates less air and noise pollution. One questions, however, whether the government should actually be forking out public funds for such an initiative, when the booming sector should automatically be expected to utilise the most modern and environmentally friendly equipment – at its own cost.

While, in our view, the main thrust of this budget was in the environmental sector, this was also another social budget. Besides the €3.49 weekly COLA increase, the government is also giving an additional one-off bonus to offset increases in the prices of staple products, like bread and milk.

During a press briefing yesterday, the Prime Minister explained that the latest increases were not picked up in time by the COLA mechanism and, rather than waiting for this to happen next year, the government is helping out through this bonus.

There were also positive measures for workers, with another extra day of leave added, and the reduction of tax on part-time work.

For the third year in a row, people who earn less than €60,000 a year will receive a tax refund of between €40 and €68.

More importantly, the concept of equal pay for equal work will be introduced in the private sector next year. This means that all workers will have the same basic salary, addressing injustices that exist mainly in the manufacturing sector.

Pensions are being increased again, and a myriad of measures were announced for people with disabilities and others suffering from rare diseases.

In the next phase towards making public transport free for all, bus rides will now be free of charge for people aged 75 and over. Muscat also told journalists yesterday that the government will give concessions for the introduction of ferry services leaving from St Paul’s Bay, Marsascala and Marsaxlokk – all leading to Valletta. This follows the success of the Cottonera ferry service.

Unfortunately, there is still no plan to start working on a metro system, with the Prime Minister saying that the focus for now should be on improving public transport and road infrastructure.

Perhaps the most controversial budget measure is the upcoming public consultation on whether the Teatru Rjal should have a permanent roof. Muscat said yesterday that the government is already in talks with architect Renzo Piano who, he said, seems open to the idea. One expects this to be a hot debate, similar to when Piano’s roofless theatre was first unveiled.

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