Prime Minister Robert Abela insisted on Tuesday that the current government is the only one that has the competence and credibility to move the country forward.
Speaking in parliament in his reaction to the 2022 budget, Abela said the current government has overcome all the challenges it has faced, including COVID-19, and has done so through investing in people with a way that contrasted with the austerity of Nationalist Governments and laid the groundwork for a speedy economic recovery.
He said the budget showed where the Labor heart was, by focusing once again on the vulnerable people of society.
“We have not imposed any new taxes or burdens, and we have shown that we are the movement of ideas and of the future, where Malta will be an example of dynamism, sustainability and justice,” he said, adding that ‘prosperity was being built.
The Prime Minister focused much of his speech on an explanation of the budget measures, announced a week ago on Monday. Despite an occasional dig as the Opposition, he did not react to the promises made by Opposition Leader Bernard Grech on Monday.
We invest in people
He said, this was a budget from the people, for the people. The government had not promised everything to everyone, because that would have been irresponsible. But the government had shown that it was still in a position to help Maltese families in times of need.
He said the pandemic showed how the government can work together with the social partners in the interests of the country, and was a model that the government intended to take forward.
Thanks to the budget, next year Malta will see the largest government investment ever made in social security, the environment, infrastructure, health and education.
Health and environment
Abela praised the way the government had handled COVID-19, highlighting the vaccination program and contrasting it with the 2009 swine flu outbreak, when he said the Nationalist government of that the time needed to go and ask the Dutch for their extra vaccines because the contract had been drawn up to see vaccinations arrive in Malta two years late.
He insisted that no funds were wasted on health, as the opposition had implied. What would a PN government spend on health?
Investment in health continues and difficult decisions continue to be made, prudently and as needed, he said without going into detail.
The prime minister stressed the importance his government attaches to the environment and insisted that improving the environment does not mean stifling economic growth and development. But new and higher standards were needed. Those who thought they were above the law see the law applied to them.
The Prime Minister went on the tax exemptions announced in the budget to restore and protect urban conservation areas and said that those who until now felt better suited to buy an apartment on the outskirts can now think in a different way. different.
He said the opposition lacked credibility when it came to the environment, all the more so as the right hand of the Leader of the Opposition had handled the rationalization exercise in 2006 which saw ODZ land of the size of Siġġiewi given for development, mainly as apartment blocks. The second brain after the rationalization exercise had been nominated by the opposition to put on the Environment Authority and also decided that the power station should run on heavy fuel oil.
Abela says land reclamation is needed, immediately
The Prime Minister referred to the proposals made by the government for metro and the debate it had sparked. He said that Malta cannot be in a situation, 20 years down, where living standards have deteriorated due to indecision now.
He had raised questions about how the waste would be disposed of and calls were made for land reclamation, he observed.
He said that regardless of the metro, he believed land reclamation was necessary, immediately.
He said, the government will continue to generously help those who have purchased electric vehicles through a grant for the purchase and waiver of the existing feed registration and road license for five years.
Abela said that he looked forward to a future where Malta made more use of renewable energy and created jobs from new environmental technologies.
He said the government will also continue its successful process of seeing the number of people dependent on social services reduced from 14,000 in 2013 to below 6,400. Many of these people have been moved to gainful employment. He said that as part of this process, the government will also support businesses that create jobs.
Preserved economic base
The government had managed to support and grow Malta’s economic and productive base despite the pandemic. Thanks to the generous wage supplement, workers have not been laid off, unemployment has now been low in history and the number of gainfully employed has been record-breaking.
He said the IMF praised Malta, saying that “the authorities’ swift and courageous political response has helped mitigate the impact, preventing large-scale redundancies, bankruptcies, and credit disintermediation.”
Had the government acted like the opposition, and promised everything to everyone without costs and studies, Malta would have run out of funds and would not have been able to cope with the pandemic.
He observed that the opposition had said that Malta was in recession, and yet it was under the PN governments that the burdens were imposed on the people, the deficit and debt grew, and the country was degraded three times by rating agencies.
Livestock living standards in the last few years
People have been able to see that living standards have risen in the last few years. Anyway, the government was not going to rest on its laurels.
Referring to opposition complaints about the rising cost of living, the prime minister said it was not the government that was causing inflation. He had not imposed new burdens.
Everyone could see how international oil, gas and energy prices had risen abroad. But in Malta, energy tariffs remained lower than the rest of the eurozone. The situation would have been different if Malta had continued to follow the policies of the PN.
He said that the ‘theft’ of electricity bills was being carried out by the Nationalist Party which had an outstanding account of € 4m with the state utilities accounting agency ARMS.
In his address, the prime minister stressed that the government will continue to work with businesses rather than asking them to repay the aid given to them during the pandemic, as some countries have been doing. Government support continues, in order to generate economic growth. New tax credits are granted to businesses that have invested their profits, among other schemes, notably for business transformation processes.
On Monday the opposition leader called for tax credits for companies that trained their workers, Abela said. Had he not heard of the Skills Development Scheme?
Similarly, the opposition leader proposed a scheme to help property buyers afford a deposit on their purchases. And yet this scheme already existed and was enjoyed by hundreds, the prime minister said.
Education and pensions
On education, the prime minister highlighted the increase in student stipends and measures that allow students to work for more hours without losing their stipend.
He also highlighted the increase in pensions of at least € 5 per week.
The opposition leader had said a PN government would give pensioners a pension increase that was double the cost-of-living adjustment. This, Abela said, would be a step back as they were already being given more. The most vulnerable will see an increase of € 15 next year.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to see a country where everyone has the same opportunity to make progress. Some felt that one could move forward only according to who knew, not what he knew. He disagreed, on the contrary, he believed in the sense of justice and so did society. The government has been practicing this principle as seen in fairly equitable economic aid.
Referring to the greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force, the prime minister said the past two years have seen unprecedented reforms in governance and the rule of law. The government continues to work to achieve, as soon as possible, the action plan agreed with the FATF to show that this country was against money laundering.
He stressed that despite the fear of the Opposition, foreign companies were continuing to invest in Malta – 12 gaming companies and 15 financial companies applied for a license this summer in addition to other investments.
He would not make childish demands, as the opposition was doing, for Malta to be removed from the gray list in 90 days, he said, but the action plan would be fully implemented so that Malta could be removed from the gray list as soon as possible.
Describing the opposition leader as an evader of the classic series who paid his taxes only when his back was against the wall, Abela stressed that the government will curb tax evasion, but those who operate regularly they didn’t have to worry.
In conclusion, Abela said that Malta was well adapted during the pandemic but more challenges arose. If treated well, they result in new prosperity for the country. Challenges included infrastructure and traffic and intensive work continues on the road network along with other projects including an extension of the airport taxiway, a new power interconnector with Sicily, the installation of 1,200 vehicle charging point and feasibility study for a hydrogen pipeline to a country.
People decide …
In an obvious reference to the upcoming election, he said it is up to the people to decide whether the budget measures will be implemented. It all depended on whether the people confirmed their confidence in the government.
“The upcoming challenges and the changes that need to be made are too important to be left in the wrong hands,” he said. Those in the PN could not even agree with each other, let alone unite the country and govern serenely.
Labor had shown that, despite being in government, it could renew itself. He showed himself ready and able to listen to society and the priorities of the people were always placed before those of the party.
He urged everyone to come forward and contribute to the country. The pandemic has shown how the country needed a competent government at the helm, and past sacrifices should not be in vain, Abela stressed.
People knew where they were with this government and will continue to build a country that is dynamic, sustainable and fair. He would also create a ‘new prosperity’ for their children, he concluded.
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