We’re still not looking into our post-COVID future

We are in a global crisis, so let us not get carried away with the false impression that Malta has been left unscathed. We are bruised like everyone else, and as with any good bruising, the pain and agony only start surfacing afterwards

Having spent the last week or so at home in mandatory quarantine has made me aware of the hold that COVID-19 has had on our lives. The fear is real and beyond our wildest dreams in terms of not just the medical, but also the social effects of lockdown.

Many will agree that the biggest losers in this pandemic have been our children and the elderly, and with them our vulnerable citizens who cannot risk emerging from their homes, as well as those who succumbed to the virus.

Children have been denied a full education and the entire experience of learning and socialising, with nothing to substitute the real experience of education at school and their interaction with friends and teachers. The elderly were the first ones to have first-hand experience of the solitude that COVID-19 brings and the need to be in direct contact with their family and loved ones.

Quarantine is an eye-opener of how this pandemic is no laughing matter and that it will simply change our lives forever. It has brought families closers, and thrown business in a state of turmoil, and for the political class it has been a watershed moment. Looking into the future is just impossible. And while we have become more thoughtful about our immediate future as a society, it will never be the same again.

Unfortunately there are some who do not think this same way, and continue to conduct their lives as if there were no tomorrow. And indeed there is a tomorrow, but we need to start accepting that we have to adjust rapidly to this new era.

A case in point are the gargantuan losses suffered by our national airline Air Malta, which is now losing €170,000 a day. That is quote, unquote from straight-talking finance minister Clyde Caruana in a comment to sister newspaper Illum. That is not only shocking but just incredible.

In just one week, Air Malta costs the Maltese tax payer €1.2 million and a staggering €4.76 million a month.

There is no doubt that without State Aid, Air Malta is doomed. And whether we like it or not, we cannot afford to kill our national carrier. Certainly not now. And that’s why the government needs to fight its patch in the EU when it comes to State Aid.

No one is suggesting that we should close down Air Malta, but if we are to fork out that money, it is high time that we start appreciating that the country’s coffers have limits.

Most people who are State-employed or dependant on salaries which are paid from the State coffers and taxpayers believe they need not worry about COVID-19 and the effects it is having on our lives and businesses.

Those trying to survive with their small business or trying to pay the wages of others have a different story to tell. They cannot survive without direct State intervention. Surely their solution is not to just get a moratorium from the bank on loans they are yet to pay in full.

As it stands, the State is unwilling to take drastic steps to bring in more money from those who can weather the strains of this pandemic. This newspaper had already mooted the prospect of a windfall tax on well-funded Maltese banks. And of course, it has to be said that Malta’s low tax wedge gives elbow room for higher incomes to be taxed accordingly to the State’s needs.

Money cannot just be raised from nothing, and adjusting taxes to ensure that there is enough money around to keep the economy going and salaries afloat, is needed.

To that Robert Abela needs to revisit the belief that increased taxation has no place in Labour’s economic vision. Labour needs to start thinking of the long-term plan. Simply being worried about losing votes at this stage, is not the right ingredient for someone who wants the best for his country.

There is a difference between wanting the best for our country and winning electoral success. Were the country not facing a pandemic, certainly the argument to keep the tax burden down would make sense. But we must collectively start accepting that life will not be the same ever again, that money will have another value, that nothing can be taken for granted and that customs and beliefs must change around the way we organised ourselves as a society.

Abela needs to face this reality and bring on board as many players as possible – people with experience and with no hidden agendas – to draw up a new economic vision.

We cannot continue running this country as if the pandemic will go away and things return to normal. We need to rethink everything. Everything needs to change.

And it will require an abundance of courage to ensure that society will rise to this new brave new world. We are in a global crisis, so let us not get carried away with the false impression that Malta has been left unscathed. We are bruised like everyone else, and as with any good bruising, the pain and agony only start surfacing afterwards.