The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind
The Budget has come and gone, with most people and organisations judging it on how it hits them directly. As in most budgets, I would say that there are good measures, bad measures… and the lack of measures where absolutely needed!
The increase in work benefits are important because these help people on low salaries to improve their spending power. Work benefits make work pay. The help given to people with disability is also laudable. Likewise with pensioners.
On the other hand, it is shameful that the minimum wage is still being calculated on parameters established in the seventies. I am also greatly disappointed that the COLA basket has not been reviewed and revised. The basket making up the COLA should be reviewed periodically. It is thus more than welcome that Joseph Muscat has taken up another leaf from AD’s electoral manifesto, made a U-turn and announced that during the next 12 months he will address the issue of the revisability of the minimum wage.
With regards to housing policies, incentives for rent subsidies are interesting because rental is becoming a prohibitive thing in our country (buying for first time buyers is already a problem!). However, as AD we believe that such incentives might not be enough and could end up being just tokenism.
When it comes to social housing, it is good that the government invests €50 million on this (but wasn’t this measure already announced last year?), but it would be criminal for it to take up new virgin land for building. By all means, spend €50 million –and even more- on social housing but do not take up new unbuilt land… make use of the thousands of properties that are already left empty.
The decrease in stamp duty on property bought in Gozo is absolute folly. Not content with having screwed up so much of Malta with overbuilding, the Muscat government –taking a cue from Simon Busuttil- is now encouraging people to overbuild in Gozo. A bad move which could encourage savage development and speculation in Gozo to the detriment of people’s quality of life! What we reiterate, instead, is having a moratorium on all large scale residential development projects throughout the country until such time that a substantial amount of the vacant dwellings are in use.
Gozo seems to have been particularly taken for a ride in the budget: fibre-optic cable, swimming pool, fast ferry service… these are all repetitions of proposals we have been getting year in year out, sometimes since the 1990s. Instead of wasting millions on the pie-in-the sky tunnel project, the government should spend these millions by immediately starting works on the cable and swimming pool and inaugurating the fast ferry service.
The free bus card for 18 year olds is very positive and should be extended to older youngsters… on condition that they do not apply for a driving license for at least ten years. But other measures on traffic and transport –apart for the government taking up AD’s suggestion of incentivising mass public transport for industrial areas, etc- are conspicuous by their absence. Without increasing drastically the number of public buses and improving their frequency, punctuality and reliability, we will not take private cars off the road. Instead, what does the government propose? Building junctions, new roads, car parks in the centre of Mosta… all proven to attract more private cars onto the road.
As Alternattiva Demokratika we again insist on an infrastructure that incentivises the use of bicycles and pedelecs; government needs to incentivise the building of showers in private firms, in industrial estates, in government offices to encourage more people to leave their car at home; the Autobuses de Leon should also be organising mass public transport during rush hours to the most frequented working places in Malta: Valletta, Floriana, industrial estates. This is the real way forward if we do not want to be gridlocked in traffic for the rest of our lives.
What was, however, most revealing for me was the MuscatBusuttil debate on the budget in Parliament, where they traded insults, left, right and centre. The question the Maltese electorate should ask itself is: “Do we want to have such low stooping Prime Ministers governing over us with absolute power, or do we want someone else in parliament to control them”?
The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind. It all lies in your power to decide.
Gozo seems to have been particularly taken for a ride in the budget: fibre-optic cable, swimming pool, fast ferry service...