The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Probing the debt hole

Noel Grima Sunday, 16 January 2022, 08:36 Last update: about 5 months ago

Our attention span being what it is, our mind flips from issue to issue but many issues fall beneath our radar and are instantly forgotten when many times they are what we should be focusing about.

We fret about Covid, the vaccines, the controversies and these are, of course, weighty matters. But over and beyond this issue, hopefully of brief duration, there is the country’s economy which is now in dire state.

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The figures are there, in full public vision. You can get a historical perspective. Or compare the findings to those of other countries. You can also get the figures dissected and analysed.

Whatever the results it is clear that under the Covid impact these figures have gone from bad to worse. Targets set by the preceding Minister of Finance have been swept away as flotsam in a flood.

And it’s not just the debt situation that is bad. It is what is causing this slide that is worrying – the economic make up of the country with less people employed by the private sector and more and more people in the public sector plus an increased number on social assistance.

We as a country seem to be on a downward spiral that we can’t get out of. The most important and urgent national task is to somehow stop the rot but I can’t see anyone ready to undertake it.

The present Minister of Finance has made some noises about getting people, especially companies, to pay their tax dues and has faced full and massive public ridicule.

The names of a few miscreants, mostly on the Opposition side plus a couple the government wouldn’t miss on its side, have been made public. Can one ask how they have been allowed to run up such debts and has the department investigated its own officials?

Nor has the Leader of the Opposition been exactly transparent when he all of a sudden paid his quite high bill just before he was elected.

There was a statistic published, if I remember correctly, by the National Audit Office, which showed that some dues to the taxman had been due for many years and are practically unrecoverable today. So the figures for tax dues are maybe pious hopes.

There is then the far wider issue that the deficit situation has deteriorated under the present prime minister. We hear on a daily basis of packages given to the euphemistically called positions of trust, sometimes far greater than the minister’s own package. There seems to be no control whatsoever or what controls there are beggar belief.

And that’s not counting the many, far too many, direct orders that are being handed out mostly to party supporters with no justification why the usual procedures had to be circumvented.

And that’s not counting the bigger issues of the sale of the hospitals, the power station mess.

Nor the bigger mess constituted by the government giving out with the maximum publicity a puny annual increase with prices rising all the time. Viktor Orban countered this by pegging the prices of some products. The last one to attempt this here was Dom Mintoff, still remembered with gratitude by the poor. But of course, Orban is a bad guy.

Who is going to stop the rot – that is what Maltese on either side want to know. It is clear Robert Abela is not able or else not willing to do what is needed, not after spending so many years at the trough before he became premier. Nor is it clear Bernard Grech can do it – he has not been making the right  noises or clear, defined, commitments.

Unless a clear, concerted effort is made, we will keep sinking lower and lower. Add to that the cumulative impact of grey-listing and you will understand what a mess we are leaving our children, along with environmental degradation all around. They will curse us for this inheritance.

 

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