The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

‘A virtual reality budget’ – Opposition Leader says economy built on ‘steroids’

Karl Azzopardi Monday, 26 October 2020, 20:52 Last update: about 2 months ago

Opposition leader Bernard Grech deemed Budget 2021 as a virtual reality budget as it either does not address certain pressing issues, leaves out certain sectors or makes false promises and claims.

Grech gave his reply to the budget speech in Parliament on Monday. “This year, the government told us this is the best budget in the history of Malta but the reality is that there were a lot of reports that doubted its practicality. With displeasure, you start realising that there is no competence in our leadership despite all its bells and whistles,” Grech said.

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COVID-19

Grech said it is incredible how this budget did not acknowledge the efforts made by the frontliners of overcoming the pandemic’s challenges. Not only that, I am informed that the Government has not yet introduced European directive 2020/739 issued on 3 June that marks COVID as Grade 3, which is the highest risk of occupational diseases and thus grants certain benefits to workers exposed to it. What irony! On 1 June the Prime Minister announced that we had won the war against the pandemic and in euphoria forgot the frontliners,” Grech said.

Within this context, he made a number of proposals for the PM, starting by no longer ignoring all the advice of public health officials who are publicly announcing that they are being sidelined, and the setting up of a National Supervisory Committee, composed of medical experts from all fields with representatives of the Government and the Opposition to monitor the advice that is being given.

The PM should also direct every person in the public sector who can work through remote working to do so with immediate effect, and promptly introduce incentives for private sector workers follow suit.

“The aid granted to purchase the required equipment was good but now we must take the next step and incentivise this type of work as an absolute priority.”

Enforcement should be strengthened further and the authorities should prevent loopholes from dismantling collective efforts. Within this context, the government must show more support to those establishments, such as bars and clubs that are suffering the impact of these measures by providing greater compensation for the loss of employment as an impact of the measures implemented.

Grech also called for a full testing regime for anyone who comes to Malta from abroad through mandatory rapid testing in all points of entry of the country, not just at the airport. Additionally, he called for a better Trace, Test, Isolate system by incentivising places such as schools, local councils, and workplaces to do large-scale testing.

A supplementary voucher should also be added, specifically assigned for the purchase of masks, sanitisers, and everything that can be used to prevent in order to alleviate the burden of these costs.

 

Finances

Here, the virtual reality of this budget shines through, Grech said, as it is not true that it is the best budget Malta has experienced, considering the €1.2 billion in debt this year and predicted €750 million in 2021.

“If the revenue next year from VAT, income Tax, fees of office will be lower than the year 2019, as economic logic dictates, next year's deficit will be well above €800 million!”

Grech said that the Maltese economy began to show clear signs of decline before the pandemic began; the average economic growth between 2013 and 2018 was around 7%, in 2019, a year that was in no way affected by COVID, the real growth rate was reported to have dropped to 4.7%.

“This Government's economy was built on a model of key economic steroids including: the IIP (passport sales scheme), declining quality tourism; importation of labour and pressure on wages especially of handywork; unrestrained development; overconsumption driven by these aspects.”

 

Reputation

The political situation in Malta, its institutions, political, legal and regulatory transparency, which until recently were key reasons for Malta’s attractiveness, are now seen as negative reasons why foreign investors should not come to Malta, Grech continued.

He said that, regardless of what comes out from the Moneyval report, the harm to our country has already been done. It is enough to look at the difficulty Maltese banks are having to establish a relationship with other banks for US dollar payments or the number of inquiries being requested for payments originating in Malta. Even companies and individuals are finding it increasingly difficult to open a simple bank account.

Incompetence

He also called out Finance Minister Edward Scicluna on the fact that despite this being his 9th budget, it is filled with proposals that have been recycled for years, such as the construction of social housing, restoration initiatives and more investment in Asset Recovery Beurea; the latter being announced in 2015.

 

Gozo

Turning to Gozo, Grech said that Gozo was completely forgotten in this budget as it failed to address the problem of the increasing number of Gozitans working in Malta. The Opposition expected at least a temporary measure for teleworking. The budget also mentioned nothing about Gozitans not keeping up with rent in Malta and about the gap in average salary between Malta and Gozo. Additionally, he mentioned the lack of funds for the concept of ECO Gozo as only €1 million was dedicated to this which is a detriment to Gozo’s natural environment.

 

Education, culture and creative sector

Grech said that the budget lacks vision for education and that the government made a mess with the preparations for the reopening of schools opening in the middle of this pandemic, with unions, parents concerned about their children. He added that Malta has the highest rates in Europe of early school leavers and the government speaks of a strategy without any concrete measures to address this major problem.

The culture sector faced the same lack of forward-thinking. “The government boasted about introducing a 15% fixed tax when authors and publishers put forward a draft proposal proposing tax abolition for authors and a tax rebate for publishers. This government disregards and does not understand the importance of this sector. It has totally forgotten the creativity sector, music, theatre, performers and producers, no measures announced but only empty statements.”

 

Green economy

We have heard a lot of boating about the green economy, but even here, incompetence stands out, even though we have an opportunity to shape a future through economic growth that will stop destroying the environment and dirtying Malta’s air.

“One example is the proposal for the overnight fee (13 cents per light unit to charge one's electric car when the cheapest unit with which you charge Enemalta is 11c.5! If we want to protect people to make the switch to a light-powered car to reduce emissions on our roads, this scheme must offer the lowest light rate!"

 

Migration

Grech said that the government sounds like a broken record on this subject as it keeps insisting on being full-up and needing help.

“The issue of immigration must be solved with credible work on various fronts. First of all, we must have a credible and influential government across EU and international fronts to convince other governments to share this burden with us. This happened until a few years ago when we had countries that regularly took immigrants and relocate them to their home country. Today we have a Government that has lost its credibility and political influence and this is also reflected in the issue of immigration.

The Opposition wants to see a strategy that will battle against the trafficking of migrants which has to be part of greater projects addressing this immigration problem at source; in the countries where these people leave. It also wants to push for concrete action at a European level so that these individuals and the countries they are leaving are resourced so that such journeys do not have to be, and cannot be, done.

“We must also not forget the importation of foreign workers, which I have just mentioned earlier. Because when r this government speaks about immigration, it forgets how many people it has brought from third countries. The truth is that no one knows what is being done with these people once the work that brought to Malta stops and they remain a burden on our country's infrastructure.”

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