The people expect better of us, but they expect nothing from you – PM tells Opposition
Delivering his official Budget 2017 speech before Parliament last night, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took a number of swipes at the Nationalist Opposition. Labelling the Opposition “emotional terrorists against the most vulnerable people,” Dr Muscat said last night, “the people expect better of us but they do not expect anything from you.”
Dr Muscat last night revealed that a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with the Bank of China and an international travel service called Beijing Caissa Touristic, which he said will bring 10,000 tourists to Malta by 2018, and 50,000 by 2020. He also addressed a number of criticisms levelled against him by Dr Busuttil.
Responding to questions put forward by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in his traditional budget reply on Monday, Dr Muscat said he firmly believes that the vast majority of Maltese and Gozitans are better off today than they were three and a half years ago.
“Every person in Malta can come to their own conclusions about this government. Is this country heading in the right direction?” he asked.
“There is consensus that the country is moving in the right direction.”
He said that this government sympathises with all those who are facing the daily grind and living on lower levels of income, adding that this country is in the middle of the road when it comes to raising the standard of living for all.
“Our aspiration is that after a year and a half, they will be living even better than they are today. We want to assure prosperity for all, and not for the few.”
Not just S&P, Malta’s families have upgraded our rating too
“It is not just Standard and Poor’s that upgraded our rating, but also the Maltese and Gozitan families,” he said.
He said that it is no longer time for just concentrating on creating new work, but improving the type of work available and the conditions.
Dr Muscat referred to the provision of children’s allowance two weeks before schools started in order to help them out at a crucial moment.
He said that it is useless to give people rights if it is just on paper, speaking about the high number of women who have entered the workplace.
“Giving people, such as women, independence in practice translates into giving then financial independence and options to choose what they want out of life.”
Dr Muscat spoke of how the previous administration said that
the out-of-stock medicines problem was unsolvable – “but this government solved it”
These are the results of touch decisions taken by this government, a government that is not afraid to tackle the bull by the horns, he said.
Tackling the issue of benefits abuse, he said this government continued to take tough decisions, possibly at the cost of votes, by striking social benefit abusers off the list.
“We are proud to have been the government to bring into force civil unions and adoptions by homosexual couples,” he said.
We did not just change the direction of Malta, he said, but also of the budget by spreading prosperity to all.
Dr Muscat assured the public that the measures delivered by this government will continue to be delivered for years to come.
Criticising the previous Nationalist Party administration, he said the situation in Malta was very different, with things deteriorating rapidly.
On issues of public finances, he slammed the PN for increasing public debt, the government deficit and the stagnating GDP.
He quipped that Dr Busuttil must have created some new economic theory, because of the Opposition leader’s statement that public debt is not calculated on percentages.
A total of €7 million is going to be saved through interest as a result of the reduced public debt, he exclaimed.
Dr Muscat said that people’s concerns do not relate to the direction Malta is taking, but to their quality of life. Opposition leader Busuttil was lambasted for being overly critical, with Dr Muscat saying that even when things are going well, the Opposition continues to act like a wet blanket.
Dr Busuttil had slammed the government for not publishing the implementation report of the budget measures on Monday in Parliament. Dr Muscat picked up that very report and asked Dr Busuttil how it was possible to have missed such a big volume.
The biggest wealth redistribution in living memory
Referring to this government’s three full budgets, Dr Muscat said: “In the first year, we created jobs, in the second year we made work pay and now this third year we have distributed wealth and helped those who are genuinely not keeping up with life. This is the biggest movement of wealth redistribution and wealth generation in Malta’s living memory. This budget took from nobody and gave to those who needed it.
“There is one description for this budget: A social budget. I am not content with just creating wealth, but seeing that it is delivered to all. There is genuine criticism to be made, but I cannot understand some other points that were raised.”
He made reference to the budget measure in which those on minimum wage, together with the cost of living adjustment and supplementary benefits will be receiving €4 more per week, saying that this is unprecedented.
He also made reference to the removal of income tax on low-pension earners. Turning to minimum wages in Malta, Dr Muscat said that very long discussions have been had on the issue. He said that the government feels that the current minimum wage is not satisfactory to keep up with daily life. He spoke of discussions with social partners and called for a genuine and meaningful discussion on whether to raise minimum wages.
“I am convinced that if this government does not do it, it will never happen. I understand the arguments of the employers and the unions – let us find a middle road. This government believes there should be a raise, so let’s have an honest conversation where the pros and cons are made known. “
Turning to pension reform, he lambasted the PN for not raising pensions over a total of 25 years.
Pensions of up to €13,000 for single persons are no longer taxed, and tax on dividends has also been removed.
Dr Muscat then spoke about the means test changes proposed in Budget 2017, where the threshold was changed in order to assist more people who are genuinely in need.
He then turned to the allowance adults who choose to look after their elderly parents, in view of “the service to society” they are carrying out will be getting.
“We doubled the subsidy for rents, reaching a maximum of €160 per month. It cannot be that the government subsidises a person’s rent, and the homeowner does not declare their rental income. We want to incentivise people to live honestly, but we cannot allow property owners to profit off tax payers.
“With these measures in place, how can you not be in favour of this budget?” he said.
Addressing criticism about the €50 million social housing project that featured in last year’s budget as well as this one, Dr Muscat said that it is not so simple.
Target for no under-16s to live in poverty
Our target is that in three years, no child under 16 years of age that lives in a low income family, will be living in poverty.
We are proud to have been the government to bring into force civil unions and adoptions by homosexual couples
We administered a fund to help children in need, and not by giving them lunch in class in front of everybody, but in a way that gives them dignity.
Dr Muscat lambasted the PN for having such a negative attitude on the Caritas poverty report. He quoted from the report:
“The minimum essential budget for a decent living is achieved.” He also outlined a number of expenses, such as gas, food and electricity that have gone down – more so for those at risk of poverty due to the added benefits they receive.
He cautioned against politicising Caritas, however he went on to quote the social support entity’s official reaction to the budget: “This budget speaks for the little man. This is just the first step, and I think this is the budget that needs building on, with measures building on the ones we saw today. We need the government to intervene because economic growth alone will not help the vulnerable.”
Caritas cautioned against rising food prices, but praised the pension reform.
Listing a number of in-work benefits, and how allowances have improved following this budget, Dr Muscat said that “this is the way to build a new middle class”.
Criticising Dr Busuttil’s statement where he said that the government should introduce the second pillar pension system, which forces employers and employees to make private pension contributions, Dr Muscat said that this is in effect increasing social security payments.
Busuttil’s ‘cardinal errors’
“Dr Busuttil made some cardinal errors in yesterday’s speech. He demanded more medicines, when his party should have ensured there were no out-of-stock medicines. He criticised this government’s use of generic medicines, but he fails to understand that the sustainability of Malta’s health system depends on generic medicines which are of the highest standards.
“Dr Busuttil wants to know about Vitals, but I do not have to tell him, he can ask Albert Fenech,” Dr Muscat said.
Vitals is the company which won the tender for the privatisation of St Luke’s hospital and Karen Grech. Mr Albert Fenech was the head of cardiology at Mater Dei hospital and a Nationalist MP but resigned from Parliament after believing that he was forced out of his position. He is now reportedly working with Vitals.
Turning to Dr Busuttil’s criticism about blank pages from the Vitals contracts recently published by government, Dr Muscat spoke of the Liquigas and Malta International Airport contracts that contain clauses which preclude them from being published in their entirety. He said that while he is not casting doubt on these contracts, it shows that Dr Busuttil’s claims of corruption hold no basis in view of previous practices in Malta.
Two Memoranda of Understanding signed
Dr Muscat announced that two Memoranda of Understanding have been signed recently – one with the Bank of China and another with an international travel service called Beijing Caissa Touristic that will bring 10,000 tourists to Malta by 2018, and 50,000 until 2020.
“Had we listened to the Opposition leader regarding electricity prices last September, we would have had to increase electricity prices for this budget by 50%,” Dr Muscat said.
The energy and LNG debate
He then turned to the LNG tanker issue and the new Electrogas power station. Dr Busuttil yesterday quoted the cost of buying all the electricity from the new Electrogas power station versus a combination of the interconnector and the BWSC station.
“What Dr Busuttil failed to do is factor in operational costs, congestion costs and a number of imperative expenses. How could you trust these people (the PN) to govern?” Dr Muscat quoted a London School of Economics report where it said that the interconnector would not necessarily reduce the cost of electricity for the consumer and fails to ensure a stand-by stock of electricity that is so necessary for any government to have.
All Labour MPs slammed their hands on the table chanting “shame” towards Dr Busuttil after Dr Muscat quoted PN documents that say cheap electricity will lead to high levels of waste.
This prompted independent MP Marlene Farrugia to call across the room to the Prime Minister, asking him whether he has no shame, followed by a statement which was inaudible over the slamming of desks by the MPs.
Dr Muscat questioned the reasoning behind Dr Busuttil’s criticism of the LNG tanker berthed in Marsaxlokk Bay. He said that the tanker is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, made reference to an EU law passed in favour of gas and also said that we should close the airport because planes are also dangerous.
Government’s good work being overshadowed by corruption allegations
On concerns over corruption, Dr Muscat said: “What annoys me most is that the good this government has done will be overshadowed by situations where the persons involved should have known better.”
On the criticism that no one was held responsible for the Panama Papers revelations, although he stopped short of saying the phrase ‘Panama Papers’, he said that as regards the oil scandal which took place under the previous administration, “everybody got off scot free”.
On a number of arguments raised by Dr Busuttil on Monday, Dr Muscat said that people agree with him, but they do not place their trust in him because he personally lacks credibility, more so within the current political context.
On the issue of traffic, Dr Muscat conceded that the number of cars added to the roads each year means that serious action must be taken.
Dr Muscat said that instructions have been given to his ministries to not build on Outside Development Zone land, and that it is unacceptable for a private person to apply to build on ODZ land that is not his. He said that the Environmental and Resources Authority is there to correct such grievances that have taken place in the past.
Dr Muscat concluded by repeatedly asking who the people trust with the economy, with the quality of life in Malta, with the distribution of wealth and with their future.
Dr Busuttil’s claims of corruption hold no basis in view of previous practices in Malta