The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

Pandering to public opinion, lacking serious commitment to address the quality of life freefall

Sunday, 20 October 2019, 09:23 Last update: about 25 days ago

Marcus Lauri

Malta’s 2020 Budget is one which panders to public opinion, but which lacks serious commitment to address the causes of the freefall in quality of life for the Maltese. This government is all about façade and is very effective in manipulating public opinion. However, Budget after Budget still show that this government has no will and/or capacity to identify the problems which are affecting society and which grow deeper and more structural with every year that passes.

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This is a Budget which has thrown a little bit of money here and there as if to appease different categories and interest groups. But whereas a Budget should be one of the best tools a government has to create positive and lasting change and address the roots of society’s many challenges, here we have a cosmetic exercise in most part that is conducted mainly through an accounting exercise. The Labour government has missed, yet again, the opportunity to demonstrate that it understands our society and has a bold and positive vision and plan to better people’s lives fundamentally.

Amongst pressing issues which this budget ignored are the degradation of our natural environment, the quality of the air we breathe and the sea around us, the never ending urban sprawl, the worsening situation for teachers and educators, the rising cost of basic necessities with more and more people struggling to make ends meet. This is more of the same from a government that only cares about economic growth, treating every person as a number. The increasing democratic deficit, the dysfunction of our institutions (and in many instances their contempt for the public) and the tarnished reputation Malta has adopted in terms of justice, transparency, accountability and freedom of the press are now established hallmarks of this government.

We note that a solitary mention of the concept of the Circular Economy in the budget is a mere and feeble attempt on public opinion, where Partit Demokratiku has been campaigning for both a transition of Malta’s economy to a circular one and the introduction of a Liveable Wage in various Press Releases.

Taking one important aspect of this budget, clearly appealing to a particular interest group concerns the purchase of immovable property, the assistance being offered to people to buy their house favours the sellers, which means that this will keep the exorbitant prices up. The correct policy should attack the other end, aimed at making the property owners want to sell, not the other way around. Measures such as a tax on vacant properties and fines for leaving buildings half-finished have not been introduced.

This year's budget may be summarised by the government philosophy that money can and should buy happiness. Under the impression that all of Malta and Gozo's woes and ills can be resolved by hard cash, Partit Demokratiku has the unpleasant duty of offering a rude awakening. If one acknowledges that quality of life cannot be measured by GDP, then the government's budget is a Roman "Panem et Circenses"; a way to distract the crowd with bread and circuses.

The money which the government is making is ill gotten. It is a result of a gold rush, resulting from the abandonment of regulations and a lack of enforcement, especially when it comes to the environment and over-development. Yet, our resources are finite, and abusing them means that once we have had our injection and our rush, we are in for a rude awakening and a terrible hangover. The Report on the Construction Industry and the Property Market in Malta by KPMG implied a slowdown in the construction sector, especially as regards luxury properties. The government responded by saying it was temporary, and yet, infinite growth is a myth, especially in a small island nation.

One must also question whether such growth in that sector is desirable, especially as the very same report warned against a possible decline in the quality of life, and lower purchasing power for the average citizen. This report comes as the Malta Food Bank Foundation warns that MCAST students are turning to food banks. European data also shows that just under 90,000 people in Malta are on the verge of falling into poverty or social exclusion. Therefore, while it is nice to hand out little financial bonuses while the government gives away public land, sells passports and gives free rein to corrupt businessmen, the truth may very well be that we are facing income inequality and the creation of a new class of out-of-touch elites, who think that they can solve any problem at all with money, while our heritage is traded away on the cheap, while our trees are chopped down and while we barely have any space left in our little island to give up in the name of this hungry economy, on an endless road to nowhere.

Partit Demokratiku has long called for Malta to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand and adopt a "wellness index" in place of measuring the country's success by GDP alone. Partit Demokratiku wants to break the link where development is measured solely in terms of economic output and instead focus on a broader index that takes into account investment in education, health, environment and climate protection. Future budgets must reflect these priorities.

Marcus Lauri, Partit Demokratiku
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