Pros­per­ity with a pur­pose

JOSEPH MUS­CAT

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Joseph Mus­cat Dr Mus­cat is the Prime Min­is­ter of Malta

That is why my gov­ern­ment fo­cused on achiev­ing a healthy, sta­ble econ­omy as the foun­da­tion of ev­ery­thing we do. This is not a story about dry, eco­nomic sta­tis­tics – it is about build­ing a stronger, more sus­tain­able fu­ture for ev­ery Mal­tese fam­ily by tak­ing re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Mal­tese peo­ple voted for a change of di­rec­tion for our coun­try. They voted for an end to out-of-con­trol liv­ing costs, ex­pen­sive and pol­lut­ing en­ergy sources, whole de­mo­graph­ics of so­ci­ety be­ing ig­nored, and an econ­omy weighed down by down­grades and debt.

That was the first part of our eco­nomic roadmap: To open up the econ­omy to busi­ness in­vest­ment, to slash bills, and cut taxes, while in­cen­tivis­ing more peo­ple to work, and crack­ing down on ben­e­fit fraud. The re­sults are clear to­day with record lev­els of growth, eco­nomic sta­bil­ity and a record num­ber of peo­ple in em­ploy­ment. All this was mainly thanks to your choice three­and-a-half years ago.

Peo­ple con­firm that their qual­ity of life is bet­ter than it was then. And they know that if we keep mov­ing in this di­rec­tion, their fu­ture will be even bet­ter, that Malta’s best days lie ahead of us.

What we have achieved so far is only the be­gin­ning. The pros­per­ity our coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing has a pur­pose. This bud­get was planned with the in­ten­tion of shar­ing the pro­ceeds of Malta’s record growth fairly, so that no­body gets left be­hind.

That is why in this year’s bud­get we are sup­port­ing lower-in­come work­ers by giv­ing them a 20 per cent in­crease in in-work ben­e­fits and al­lowances; dou­bling rent sub­sidy for nearly 3,000 fam­i­lies; pri­ori­tis­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion by pre­serv­ing our wa­ter sup­ply, tran­si­tion­ing out of heavy fuel oil to re­new­able en­ergy sources and new in­cen­tives for pro­duc­ing so­lar en­ergy; and cut­ting taxes for pen­sion­ers and re­mov­ing the tax al­to­gether for 9,000 while in­creas­ing pen­sions again.

We are once again help­ing first-time buy­ers by re­mov­ing the stamp duty al­to­gether. We have also put for­ward ed­u­ca­tion mea­sures to im­prove so­cial mo­bil­ity – from in­creased stipends to three brand new schools.

Over the past years we have fought those abus­ing our so­cial wel­fare so now we can help those who re­ally need to be pro­tected by our so­cial net. Be­cause we be­lieve that ev­ery­one should play by the rules, we are also get­ting tough on tax-eva­sion with a ded­i­cated new Task Force to over­see that ev­ery­one is pay­ing their fair share.

2017 will also see new eco­nomic niches start­ing to take shape. The Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Malta, the new hos­pi­tals in Gozo and St Luke’s and an­other pri­vate hospi­tal at SmartCity, as well as the lo­gis­tics hub which will all be well un­der way.

All this was achieved while re­duc­ing the coun­try’s deficit from al­most four per cent a few years ago, to 0.7 per cent this year, and we pledge to keep re­duc­ing it to break even in a few years’ time.

We are proud of what our coun­try has achieved. There is gen­uine pride felt by all Mal­tese peo­ple ev­ery time we top the Euro­pean league in eco­nomic growth, jobs, busi­ness sen­ti­ment and op­ti­mism. When still in Op­po­si­tion, I used to say that we can be the best in Europe. In­deed, we are now al­ready among the best coun­tries in Europe.

Of course, we have not reached our des­ti­na­tion yet. To be the best in Europe, we must reach new heights. And we have the vi­sion to get to the next level.

When I stood in Par­lia­ment on Tuesday I not only spoke about our achieve­ments. It may have been a first for a Prime Min­is­ter, but I also sought to ad­dress a num­ber of con­cerns which are still on peo­ple’s minds. We still have a lot of work to do on the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion, find­ing the right bal­ance be­tween pre­serv­ing our en­vi­ron­ment and de­vel­op­ing the coun­try, as well as fight­ing cor­rup­tion across var­i­ous sec­tions of so­ci­ety. I am the first to speak can­didly on th­ese is­sues and will work even harder in the months and years to come.

In the end, num­bers and sta­tis­tics only tell part of the story. The ev­i­dence of a strong econ­omy does not only come from rat­ing agen­cies; the most valu­able ap­proval is from fam­i­lies that know and can feel the dif­fer­ence in their day-to-day life. An ex­tra few hun­dred eu­ros means more se­cu­rity for a Mal­tese fam­ily – a nicer hol­i­day, or a bet­ter meal to­gether. More im­por­tant than any data is con­fi­dence – that mag­i­cal in­gre­di­ent that turns ‘down­grade’ into ‘up­grade’, ‘ac­cept­able’ into ‘ex­cel­lence’ and a ‘good’ fu­ture into a ‘great’ one.

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