The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

A budget which looks towards the future

Owen Bonnici Friday, 15 October 2021, 10:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

The budget which we presented last Monday was indeed a positive one, genuinely driven by the needs of the people. Needless to say, this budget comes at a particularly challenging point in time, right after our country had to contend with a pandemic, in unprecedented circumstances.

We all witnessed how this new malady was bringing other, much bigger, much wealthier countries to their knees.  The Government acted fast and from the word go we were determined to do better than others. We did better indeed, and we find ourselves in the process of carefully exiting the pandemic with an increase in employment rate, in contrast with the rest of Europe. This was only possible because thinking ahead, the Government invested all its efforts in saving lives as well as livelihoods.

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On their part the Maltese families and business did not disappoint, and faced this challenge with incredible courage. We will always be grateful for the outstanding effort and performance of our healthcare workers in particular, but also the rest of our citizens who rose to the challenge, followed the rules, showed exceptional solidarity and above all did their utmost to adapt to the major changes imposed so abruptly on us by the circumstances.

I believe this budget injected some well-deserved extra positivity into the country and its economy. Being the last budget of the legislature, it is a budget that looks to the future in a holistic manner, with determination to leave no one behind.

This budget is taking on new challenges with realistic measures that will really make a concrete difference to people’s lives such as the increase in pensions, which will mean that 95,000 pensioners will benefit from at least a €260 increase in their yearly income. Pensioners who choose to keep working will also benefit from a tax reduction, a measure aimed at incentivizing pensioners to stay active and engaged in society. Our elderly can also benefit from an increase in the benefit for a Carer at Home. This will allow more of our elderly to keep living in the communities and homes the are used to.

Schools will be able to support their most vulnerable students in practice with an average of €10,000 per school to make sure all their students have their basic necessities met. Around 4,000 new parents will benefit from an increase in the bonus given upon the birth of a new child. The allowance for disabled children will also increase to the benefit of around 1,700 families, while means testing for persons with severe disability to qualify for assistance will be removed. The service of Occupational Therapy will be enhanced for around 1,300 children who require it and psychological services for disabled persons and their families will be extended further.

With the measures in this budget, the Government is also incentivizing investment in property having the much loved, traditional Maltese style, favouring also the restoration older properties that have been vacant for a number of years. This measure aims to restore harmony in the aesthetics of our towns and villages, and boost the appreciation of properties of traditional value.

In the meantime, the Government will also be providing housing for around 680 families thanks to the new scheme ‘Nikru Biex Nassistu’. The introduction of a Care Plan within the Housing Development Fund will be tackling the underlying issues that may be causing someone to need assistance finding accommodation. This is exactly how this this Government is thinking and acting long-term. It brings to mind the saying, ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, give him a fishing rod and he will eat for life.’ By addressing the specific issues that make a person vulnerable, we can assist with the right tools to provide independence and enhance the chances for social mobility.

This same line of thought goes hand in hand with the extension of schemes such as Equity Sharing Plus and Home Assist which are crucial for many people with a low income to get to purchase their own property and become homeowners.

Perhaps the pandemic period served to make us appreciate greenery and open spaces more than ever, and the Government is also making this a priority, to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of all our citizens. Among many other important environmental measures, the Government will be investing €20 million in the afforestation of Inwadar Park in one of the villages I know best, Marsaskala, which will involve the planting of 52,000 trees and will cover an area of 500,000 square metres.

Another major challenge for Malta is the number of cars on our streets. The Government is taking the courageous measure of providing free public transport for all as from October next year. Sea transport routes will also increase. At the same time the Government will be adding incentives to encourage people to opt for electric vehicles or vehicles with lower emissions to better safeguard our environment and air quality.

This budget commits to keep investing in our country’s human resources, by decreasing taxes once again for those with an income of up to €20,000 a year and increasing in-work benefit for around 7,000 families. Students are being encouraged to keep studying beyond the compulsory years of schooling and enhancing their skills with a stipend increase of 10% for all students. Students who work part-time up to 25 hours a week can also keep receiving their full stipend. This will motivate students to enhance their skills for employability.

I shudder to think what would have happened to our country had the Nationalist Party been in charge of our economy throughout those testing times. Faced with an economic downturn which was nothing compared to the pandemic, GonziPN had overseen unemployment rates shooting up to 8,000, national debt climbing up to 70%, utility bills increasing by 7c every unit and 20,000 people facing severe material deprevation.  Moody's and S&P Global Ratings had, at that time, downgraded us not once but twice.

Under Prime Minister Robert Abela's Labour Government, we have seen the economy growing stronger, unemployment going down to record levels and a budget which was filled to the brim with positivity, good initiatives and hard work.

We truly believe that this budget is what Malta needs to keep moving forward to the next level. We are heading towards a better Malta and making sure we leave no one behind.

This is a budget which looks towards the future.

 

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