The Malta Independent 10 July 2020, Friday

Government suspends tax dues for March, April to help private industry, self-employed - PM

Giulia Magri Saturday, 14 March 2020, 11:37 Last update: about 5 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela today announced a series of measures aimed to sustain business and industry at a time when it is being adversely affected by the Coronavirus spread, while insisting that at this stage a lockdown advbocated by unions is counter-productive.

Abela said that taxes will be suspended for the months of March and April – provisional tax, VAT and social security contributions which businesses are due to pay to the government will be suspended to a later date which is still to be established. No date has been as yet set for when these payments will have to be eventually paid, as the government is taking matters day by day, hour by hour, in the wake of developments that are constantly taking place.

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The government will also be speeding up its payments to private industry, such as VAT refunds. This is to help the financial liquidity of employers and self-employed, he said. 

He appealed once more for calm and that the situation is under control. “I appeal for calm and for everyone to do their part. I have full faith in the health authorities who know what they are doing and we are prepared for any situation. We are working endlessly to ensure the safeguard of our health and we listen to stakeholders, their questions and queries,” said Abela.  The priority is health, but the economy needs to be safeguarded too.

Abela said that the decisions were taken after discussions were held with all the stakeholders.

The package, he said, is aimed mostly to help the sectors that have been mostly hit by the Coronavirus spread, which led to measures such as the cancellation of flights from several countries and the introduction of mandatory quarantine to all travellers coming to Malta. This includes the tourism, hospitality, entertainment, transport and manufacturing, Abela said.

Asked about calls from unions for an immediate lockdown, Abela said that health experts are, so far, suggesting otherwise. A lockdown would mean house arrest, with people only allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicines, Abela said. It would be counter-productive to do it now, he added.

It is impossible to expect a zero rate of cases, he said. Malta is not different from the rest of the world, he said. The secret of the success is to control the peak incidence, limiting as much as possible the spike in the numbers to keep it as low as possible, the Prime Minister said.

We are prepared for all eventualities, even when the numbers will go up, he said.

It is important that people are not selfish. It is known that in 80 per cent of the cases, the symptoms are minimal. But then there are people who are more vulnerable and whose immunity to disease is lower who might be affected badly by the disease. This is why precautions need to be taken and people need to obey quarantine instructions, he said.

Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said that companies which have invested in teleworking systems would be eligible for a 45% refund up to €500 for each worker. He said that the measures would effectively allow businesses to hold onto the equivalent of one-third of each worker’s salary to reinvest. “With these measures, businesses do not need to sack workers,” said Schembri.

The new measures have been taken after numerous discussions held with stakeholders, the Chamber of Commerce, SME’s, Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association and other associations. Abela said that the economic package is mainly for businesses in tourism and hospitality, recreational services, transport and industries in manufacturing. 

“Whilst our priority is to safeguard our health, the economy needs to be safeguarded too,” said Abela.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said that the government is putting together a ‘mini-budget’ which will readjust financial targets and allocations to suit the situation Malta is currently in. He said that Malta’s finances are at its peak and the GDP growth is strong so as to help during moments of crisis. Scicluna said that banking associations have promised to do all they can to ensure liquidity for businesses. 

“Lockdown will effectively be house arrest”

Prime Minister warned that ordering a complete lockdown will only cause more harm. “I have said it time and time again; I have full faith in our health authorities, who suggest that in this current period of time we do not need a lockdown.” Abela stressed that a lockdown would mean house arrest, as lockdown will only allow people to leave their homes to buy food or medicine and would be counter-productive to do so. 

Numerous unions have been calling for a pre-emptive lockdown. Whilst the island has closed all schools, cancelled public events and gatherings, the unions are stressing that this is not enough to contain the spread of the virus.

Abela said that at this stage there is no confirmed cases of local transmissions and that the government everyday has been implementing new measures to ensure that the virus is contained and controlled. 

“I don’t want people to suffer, lockdown means house arrests, and this will only cause more suffering. I want people to remain calm, and the length of a lockdown might not only last for three weeks.”

Abela said that the government is in constant discussion with the Public Health experts and if they believe the extreme measure needs to be taken, that is when the government will call for a lockdown. “Lockdown is not a subject to be taken lightly and we are making the best of efforts to ensure that we are controlling the situation.”

 

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