Malta: The fruits of success
As progressives, we tend not to look back at past achievements but instead focus on building the conditions to achieve the present and future we believe in. However, while preparing this seventh budget it was impossible for us not to compare Malta’s curre
Back then, Malta had just been placed under the EU’s excessive deficit procedure after yet another failed budget of the previous Nationalist administration. We faced a credibility issue with international institutions and rating agencies that had become used to Maltese Ministers for Finance promising lower budget deficits, but instead delivering ever rising ones. In fact, in 2013 the national debt was three times what it had been in 1998.
The then weakness of government finances was having serious repercussions, not just on Malta’s ratings but also on our social fabric. In previous years the number of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion rose by 20,000. Fifteen per cent of our youth were unemployed, while 12,000 people depended on social assistance. Wages were growing by less than two per cent while inflation ran at 2.5 per cent, mainly on account of ever-rising energy and fuel prices.
This is why people voted for change in 2013: they believed Labour could do better. I am pleased to say that they were very right and the results speak for themselves. Gone are the days of ever-rising debt and deficits. We now have the largest surplus in the EU. While previous administrations burdened citizens with national debt, we are building a multi-million sovereign fund to be used for economic and social development. Investment projects which, back in 2013, were seen as impossibly expensive, such as having a permanent link between Malta and Gozo, constructing a gas pipeline with Sicily or rebuilding our entire road network, are now doable.
Instead of budgets when all sorts of taxes would be increased, we have now had two consecutive budgets in which no new taxes have been introduced. Instead of budgets when pensioners deemed themselves lucky to be given the full costof-living increase, we have had the fourth consecutive budget in which pensioners are given real increases in benefits. Instead of budgets when incometax cuts are promised but not delivered, we have now had seven consecutive budgets in which income tax has either been reduced or refunded.
In this budget, we have continued to increase support for the most vulnerable, raising allowances for carers and those with disabilities, improving minimum and survivors’ pensions, boosting rent subsidies and increasing the minimum wage and in-work benefit. The budget also has measures to help those who are saving towards a private pension, those who send their children to independent schools, first-time and second-time property buyers and those who opt for environmentally-friendly means of transport.
Once again we have used the budget to introduce measures that many had discussed in the past, but failed to do anything about. We are setting up an equity-sharing scheme to help people who need assistance to buy a new home over the age of 40 and find it difficult to get an adequate loan from the bank. We are introducing home equity release. We are pushing for a culture change in the way we deal with waste.
Budget 2019 is the natural result of our six preceding budgets. Nevertheless, this success cannot be taken for granted. In 2013 we had a vision of a 10year plan which is coming to fruition, step by step – each one of which has been a small step towards our dream of a better Malta: a Malta that is not just the best in Europe but the best in the world. With our legislative innovations, we have created the basis for the industries of the future, while our ambitious education and infrastructure plans sustain the industries that we already have today.
Back in 2013, there was hope that things would change – and, indeed, we are not stopping being the force for change. We can do this because we have managed to get our priorities right.
We have never claimed to be perfect and indeed we have our warts. For those, we apologise. What I can say with certainty is that when planning our budgets, we sit down and meticulously dissect our society to make sure that no one is left falling behind. This budget is yet again another exercise in making sure that people live the success that our country is achieving.
Today there is certainty that Malta is a living success and is living success.
This is why people voted for change in 2013: they believed Labour could do better. I am pleased to say that they were very right and the results speak for themselves