2017 Bud­get - The day af­ter

Most eyes and ears, if not all, were yes­ter­day glued to the Par­lia­ment Chan­nel. Save for a na­tional dis­as­ter, God for­bid, the an­nounced Bud­get mea­sures will, this morn­ing, fea­ture promi­nently and re­main on the na­tional agenda for a while. Most other lo­cal

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The an­nounced bud­get mea­sures are ex­pected to be the re­sult of a long process – at times be­hind closed doors – and con­sul­ta­tions with the pub­lic and at the MCESD. This is the fourth bud­get for this leg­is­la­ture. Yes­ter­day, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter out­lined both Malta’s cur­rent eco­nomic per­for­mance and pro­jec­tions for 2017. As in pre­vi­ous years, the Bud­get 2017 mea­sures will be an­a­lysed in depth and of­fi­cial re­ac­tions will be re­leased from in­ter­ested quar­ters, in­clud­ing the Op­po­si­tion. High­lights from the 2017 bud­get are re­pro­duced on all news web­por­tals, in­clud­ing this one. Many read­ers will take to the com­ment boards to ex­press their views. Some will be clam­our­ing pos­i­tively, oth­ers will be re­luc­tant to en­dorse some of the ini­tia­tives, and still oth­ers will dis­miss the bud­get pro­pos­als com­pletely.

The Bud­get 2017 speech was de­liv­ered af­ter the timely press re­lease is­sued by Stan­dard & Poor’s, wherein Malta’s credit rat­ing im­proved from BBB+ to A-. This is cer­tainly pos­i­tive news. It is also very en­cour­ag­ing that Malta is ex­pected to con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence an av­er­age of 3% real GDP growth be­tween 2016 and 2019.

With such pos­i­tive eco­nomic pro­jec­tions, peo­ple ex­pect a fair por­tion from the gen­er­ated wealth. Peo­ple shoul­dered and made huge sac­ri­fices when some years back the world, in­clud­ing Malta, ex­pe­ri­enced eco­nomic woes com­pa­ra­ble to the Great De­pres­sion of the 1930s. But now that the world has emerged from that eco­nomicly tur­bu­lent pe­riod, it should be of no sur­prise that Malta is rid­ing high. With such pos­i­tive eco­nomic trends, it is time for the peo­ple to reap their fair share of the wealth cre­ated.

The list of bud­get ini­tia­tives should in­clude mone­tary mea­sures aimed at al­le­vi­at­ing the hard­ship which those close to the poverty trap have to en­dure, while work­ers should see their take-home pay in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly. It can’t be oth­er­wise from a self-pro­claimed So­cial Demo­cratic Party.

A So­cial Demo­crat Party is ex­pected to ad­dress so­cial in­jus­tices with well-de­fined, tar­geted ini­tia­tives that can hardly be matched by any other po­lit­i­cal group­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, this has not been the case in the past three years. In­equal­i­ties have grown wider.

In re­cent years, a num­ber of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions have pub­licly ex­pressed their con­cerns and pub­lished re­ports with their find­ings as dis­pos­able in­come dis­par­i­ties within our so­ci­ety grew wider. Along the way, they pushed for mea­sures to com­bat poverty and for the fairer dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth.

The mone­tary at-risk-of-poverty is cor­rob­o­rated by a re­cent press re­lease is­sued by the Na­tional Sta­tis­tics Of­fice of Malta. The Sta­tis­tics on In­come and Liv­ing Con­di­tions survey re­vealed that, dur­ing 2014, the mone­tary at-risk-of-poverty rate stood at 15.9%. This fig­ure has in­creased to 16.3% in 2015. One may ar­gue that an in­crease of 0.04 is mar­ginal and hardly of any sig­nif­i­cance. But it would be wrong to dis­miss the in­crease. With the cur­rent eco­nomic growth, none of us should be at risk of poverty, much less at a growing rate.

None­the­less, the 2017 bud­get should not serve as bait in the light of the com­ing general elec­tion, which can­not be held later than June 2018. Nei­ther should the bud­get be good fod­der to keep at bay the var­i­ous cases of al­leged cor­rup­tion which this ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­fested with and alien­ate the elec­torate from bro­ken elec­toral prom­ises.

Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat is well aware that he has an up­hill strug­gle when he faces Op­po­si­tion and Na­tion­al­ist Party leader Dr Si­mon Busut­til in the com­ing general elec­tion. Their po­lit­i­cal cre­den­tials are miles apart. One has served the lo­cal elec­torate in the Euro­pean Union Par­lia­ment on the ba­sis of his po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tion; the other has served on the ba­sis of con­ve­nience. The in­cum­bent has promised ac­count­abil­ity, trans­parency and mer­i­toc­racy yet made a mock­ery of these val­ues; the as­pir­ing one is promis­ing hon­esty.

Tak­ing peo­ple for fools is not help­ing the PL earn po­lit­i­cal cred­i­bil­ity in any way. To add in­sult to in­jury, the Prime Min­is­ter wanted the elec­torate to be­lieve that he has taken se­vere ac­tion against Dr Kon­rad Mizzi by strip­ping him of his min­is­te­rial du­ties in the en­ergy sec­tor, yet Dr Mizzi con­tin­ues to per­form min­is­te­rial du­ties di­rectly re­lated to en­ergy.

Cash handouts may buy the si­lence of a select few. But in the long run, those who opt to re­main silent in the face of se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, will only have them­selves to blame for not speak­ing out.

In re­cent years, a num­ber of non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions have pub­licly ex­pressed their con­cerns and pub­lished re­ports with their find­ings as dis­pos­able in­come dis­par­i­ties within our so­ci­ety grew wider

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