PM denies calling leader of the Opposition a ‘fool’ in post-budget press conference
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat denied calling leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil a fool in yesterday’s post-budget press conference, despite video evidence showing the contrary. He was responding to questions put forward by journalists at yet another post-budget press conference held yesterday.
At the press conference, which was called just half an hour before it started, Dr Muscat also claimed that prior to the Labour Party’s electoral win, the Nationalist Party constantly refuted claims that the party would be able to lower electricity and water rates they proposed.
He questioned why Simon Busuttil would now criticise the lack of reduction in these rates, even though the current government was able to reach its target, since the previous government did not think it to be possible.
It was then put to Dr Muscat that Dr Busuttil was not alone in his request for lower energy rates since the GRTU, MEA and Chamber of Commerce all expressed concerns at the lack of reduction.
The Prime Minister also guaranteed that rates will not rise, and that in the coming year when the price of oil rises around Europe the country will be able to reap the benefits.
He also addressed the concerns around the subsidies in rental prices which was “unchartered territory” for the government. Whilst he said that there was a possibility that it could end up like the school transport scheme introduced last year which simply raised prices, the government has put in place mechanisms to guarantee this would not be possible. For example the rental properties would now need to be registered with government and pay 15%, withholding tax. This would be achieved since the government would be introducing measures whereby rental contracts would have to be registered much like promise of sale agreements.
He said that at least the government was seeking solutions to confront the problem, and whilst it may not be the perfect solution, it is a starting point. In fact the budget called for further consultation on the matter.
Dr Muscat began the press conference by reiterating that the budget presented on Monday had the sole aim of reaching out to those sectors of society that needed the most. He said that after stabilising the economy, the government was now seeking to address problems faced by people who had fallen behind.
He said that the budget has to be seen in the light of the roadmap that the Labour Party had drawn up, which in the last three and a half years had seen a transformation of the country from one that was facing a rising deficit and rising unemployment to one when the deficit was being lowered and unemployment was at a record low.
He went on to list some measures that were mentioned in the budget, saying that the measures to be introduced are sustainable. The country’s deficit will continue to decrease next year, going down from the projected 0.7% in 2016 to 0.5% next year.
The measures in the budget can be defined as ‘prosperity with purpose’ which help real people in their everyday lives, according to the Prime Minister. He focused on the policies which will help the marginalised in society like low income pensioners, low income couples with children and the disabled specifically amputees.
Minister of Finance Edward Scicluna addressed concerns that the budget does not help the middle class. He used the example of the measures directed at pensioners which assist both lower and middle income groups to back up his claim.
When addressing questions directed at the Cost of Living Adjustment, Dr Muscat said that whilst the real adjustment gave a result of €1.60, it was employing a mechanism used by the Nationalist Party in the 2006 and 2008 budgets which would see the COLA increase to €1.75 in the coming year.
Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech maintained that the credibility of the budget lies in its ability to produce sustainable long term measures which balances society and economy. He said that prior to the election it was the Labour Party’s economic vision to reduce debt, the deficit and inflation. He then said that once the government was able to achieve this they were able to introduce structures where everybody could benefit from the economic prosperity on the island.