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

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DIRTY OIL - Joseph Mus­cat Dr Mus­cat is Prime Min­is­ter of Malta

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

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