Be­yond the par­lia­men­tary drama

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Now that both the Prime Min­is­ter and the leader of the Op­po­si­tion have laid bare their ar­gu­ments on Malta’s eco­nomic per­for­mance dur­ing their bud­get replies, it is time to ask: What of the ques­tions and un­cer­tain­ties that re­main hang­ing in mid air?

On poverty, the po­lit­i­cal class made a meal out of the fig­ures pre­sented to the pub­lic by Euro­stat and by Car­i­tas Malta. The gov­ern­ment made it a point to fo­cus on those at risk of poverty in this bud­get but when crunch­ing the num­bers: What will change in the lives of those that can hardly make it till the end of the month? Bud­get 2017 will help this group of ap­prox­i­mately 65,000 peo­ple, but it’s far from enough to make a dif­fer­ence in their daily life. One would have ex­pected the Prime Min­is­ter to speak of the ‘liv­ing wage’, a pre-elec­toral con­cept which re­mained just that: A con­cept.

On the other hand, Dr Busut­til, in an at­tempt to re­po­si­tion the PN to the cen­tre, came out lam­bast­ing the gov­ern­ment for not do­ing enough for low-in­come work­ers. But, in the mean­time, he failed to come up with tan­gi­ble so­lu­tions in this re­gard while squirm­ing around the min­i­mum wage is­sue so as to not irk em­ploy­ers by ask­ing for a straight­for­ward in­crease of the na­tional min­i­mum wage.

Through­out the de­bates, ‘en­ergy’ was the Prime Min­is­ter’s weak­est show of all. Si­mon Busut­til took full ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion, with in­ter­na­tional prices of oil at a record low, the FSU LNG tanker sit­ting in the mid­dle of

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Marsaxlokk Bay and a report pub­lished ex­clu­sively in our sis­ter Sun­day news­pa­per, which shows that the Elec­tro­gas power sta­tion will cost the coun­try at least an ad­di­tional €70 mil­lion each year. This was fol­lowed up by The Times on Mon­day, which quoted from the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Au­thor­ity report that points at a sit­u­a­tion in which the gov­ern­ment will ul­ti­mately side­line the in­ter­con­nec­tor to ful­fil its prom­ise to pur­chase the coun­try’s en­ergy needs from Elec­tro­gas at a sta­ble, yet sig­nif­i­cantly higher, price.

The Prime Min­is­ter and the Labour Party’s me­dia plat­forms fell dumb on th­ese ar­gu­ments. The leader of the Op­po­si­tion, who tried his best but failed to con­vince us all that his party was never against low­er­ing en­ergy tar­iffs, on the other hand, made very strong ar­gu­ments that cast se­ri­ous doubt on the true in­ten­tions be­hind Labour’s new power sta­tion and its power pur­chase agree­ment.

What the Prime Min­is­ter de­scribes as an agree­ment that un­der­lines sta­bil­ity in en­ergy tar­iffs has been tainted by a shroud of se­crecy on whether or not the coun­try needed this fa­cil­ity after all.

Dr Mus­cat is cor­rect in say­ing that the new power sta­tion was an elec­toral pledge, which found the re­sound­ing ap­proval of the elec­torate, but so were the re­moval of VAT and the freez­ing of the EU ap­pli­ca­tion by his pre­de­ces­sor in 1996. Both were re­vised over a mere two-year stint in power. Of the ar­gu­ments brought for­ward by Si­mon Busut­til, that con­cern­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment is prob­a­bly the bold­est. It is more than per­ti­nent to ask, what hap­pens if it is de­ter­mined in­ad­e­quate to have a float­ing stor­age unit so close to towns like Marsaxlokk and Birżeb­buġa? Would the gov­ern­ment re­think the whole project and risk be­ing taken to court by the busi­ness con­cern that in­vested heav­ily on the premise that noth­ing will stop the gas gold­mine they minted four years ago?

On the same ba­sis, Si­mon Busut­til is pledg­ing that should he make it to Castile he will re­move the FSU from the bay and stop pur­chas­ing en­ergy from Elec­tro­gas. On what ba­sis is he mak­ing th­ese claims? If he, and we have no rea­son to doubt him, hasn’t seen the con­tracts be­tween the gov­ern­ment and Elec­tro­gas, how can he de­clare that he will not make use of the new power sta­tion which is to start op­er­at­ing in the com­ing weeks?

Yet again, we’ve al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced a Prime Min­is­ter (Al­fred Sant) who promised to dis­man­tle the new hospi­tal, only to be faced with legally-bind­ing con­tracts that pushed him in the di­rec­tion of build­ing a big­ger hospi­tal than that planned by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

If only our politi­cians would stick to the ba­sic rhetoric with­out re­sort­ing to car­i­ca­tures to strike a chord with the sec­tion of the elec­torate that en­joys the po­lit­i­cal drama rather than po­lit­i­cal sub­stance.

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