Nothing is certain, except death and… U-turns

Looks like mega-developers are the only ones who will actually benefit from an ultra-generous (and ‘ultra-well-hidden’) fiscal arrangement; while the rest of us must fulfil our tax obligations – on time, and to the full – or face the consequences

It would, admittedly, be a fantastic tag-line to put on a movie poster – “Just when we all thought COVID-19 was over… we get ‘Foot-in-Mouth’ disease instead!” But seriously, folks. Where is Charmaine Gauci, when we need her the most? And why are the Health Authorities not declaring another national state of emergency, when faced with what can only described as a highly contagious – possibly dangerous – viral epidemic…?

I don’t know. Sometimes, I think I’m only one in the entire country who still actually worries about things like ‘public health’. Oh, well… More fool me, I suppose…

But in any case, you’ve probably already guessed which ‘disease’ I’m talking about here: even because you can no longer turn on your TV set – or even watch a YouTube clip, for that matter (more of this later) - without seeing symptoms of it absolutely everywhere. Like, for instance, when certain politicians say the clean opposite of what they had only just said, practically the day before… all the while, expecting none of us to actually notice.

Now: I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again… I am hardly an expert in medical matters, myself. But then again, I’m not exactly a ‘Michelin-star chef’ either; yet I can still tell if that Rib-Eye Steak I ordered might be a little off… when it comes to the table positively crawling with maggots…

So even if I can’t properly diagnose – still less ‘cure’ – the ailment I have just described… I can still instantly recognise it as a pathology, of sorts. It is an affliction which – at minimum – clouds one’s judgment, to the extent of causing minor bouts of temporary amnesia (coupled with a delusional faith in one’s own powers of persuasion, when it comes to explaining away all the contradictions)…

And in my own, entirely inexpert view: it all boils down to a psycho-somatic, neurological disorder affecting the outer layer of the lower hypothalamus (which, if you must know, is the cerebral organ which controls the precise level of crap that eventually comes out of your mouth…).

That is to say: nothing to be unduly alarmed about – it is, after all, a condition we all suffer from (usually until the age of five, or thereabouts); though it does have a small tendency to make the sufferer appear a little… um… ‘foolish’, at times.

But that it would also turn out to be highly contagious? Not just between members of the same political party, but right across the entire political spectrum?

And that it would even end up threatening the very core of the government’s economic policy vision (you know, the one that still interrupts all those YouTube clips we try to watch, with adverts about last month’s bloody Budget… over and over again)?

Now THAT’s something not even an armchair pathologist such as myself could possibly have seen coming. And you can call me a ‘hypochondriac’ as much as you like; but I find it worrying, to say the least…

… especially when the latest victim just happens to be the one Cabinet minister we rely on for all sorts of other, hugely important things: like, for instance, fiscal justice; or getting Malta off that dratted ‘grey-list’, once and for all…

That’s right, folks… it seems that Finance Minister Clyde Caruana is the latest to have contracted this mystery ‘Foot-in-Mouth’ virus: and what’s more, the virus itself may even have mutated in the meantime… resulting in symptoms that are just a teenie-little bit harder to actually spot (mostly because they are now cunningly hidden away, in the form of unpublicised ‘Legal Notices’ in the Government Gazette…)

In all other respects, however, the disease appears identical to the one that so recently afflicted Opposition leader Bernard Grech (twice in quick succession, one might add: first with regard to abortion; later, regarding cannabis). And we all know how it goes: “Say one thing today… say (or do) the opposite tomorrow… and, well, just keep your fingers crossed, and hope to get away with it before anybody actually notices…”

Unfortunately for Clyde Caruana, however, it seems that quite a few people did indeed notice that little amendment his government attempted to hide from us last week: including, inter alia, the Chamber of Commerce, the Malta Institute of Accountants, Arnold Cassola (pops up absolutely everywhere, doesn’t he?), and even the Malta Developers’ Association (which, interestingly enough, stood to gain the most from the contradiction)...

But bear with me while I go over it again. If you’ll remember, around last May, The Times carried a report about how developer Charles ‘Caqnu’ Polidano – who owed (and probably still owes) over €40 million in unpaid tax arrears – had reached some kind of ‘secret deal’ with government, to slash his debt by around 75%.

Caruana hotly denied the charge: “Such untruthful articles undermine the social contract between a State and its taxpayers, by giving the impression that appeasement is given to the preferred, when in reality the Government has embarked on an exercise to collect tax arrears which have remained uncollected for decades, giving all taxpayers fair and equal treatment to regularise themselves within the parameters of the law.”

To be fair, it remains unclear whether the precise details of that particular report were, in fact, entirely ‘accurate’ or not. And I won’t waste too much time on them, either, because… well, Mr Polidano is not exactly the only Maltese businessman to have ever (allegedly, of course) defaulted on his tax obligations, is he now?

Leaving aside that Clyde Caruana himself revealed – last June – that “an estimated half a billion euros worth of taxes went undeclared over a 10-year period”… just a couple of months later, we also discovered that both Labour and Nationalist Parties, between them, owe[d] around €5 million to the National Exchequer… and a few more million beside (can’t remember exactly how much) to ARMS Ltd.

Once again, Caruana response was unequivocal: “Political parties will not be spared by government’s efforts to step up the fight against tax evasion and collecting overdue arrears…”

That was on September 14, 2021, by the way... just over a month before presenting Budget 2022: which included the Labour government’s new strategy to collect all those unpaid dues, once and for all (speaking of which: can we finally stop it with all those blasted YouTube ads, please? It was bad enough when they were still relevant… let alone now…)

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and… well, what do you know? The same government which had only just unveiled its ‘socially just’ Budget – you know, the one that was supposed to ‘give all taxpayers fair and equal treatment’, and all that - went on to amend some of its provisos slightly… in a way that the Chamber of Commerce (to quote but one of several, hugely pissed-off institutions) described as: “a scheme which benefits only the defaulters and does not consider those who have their tax payments in order […] This is unfair on those employers and businesses who pay their taxes when and as due. This legal notice seeks only to proliferate an unlevel playing field in favour of those who are in default and who are in the habit of using their due tax monies as their overdraft facility…”

Hmmm. Now… maybe I’m suffering from a little ‘bout of temporary amnesia’ myself… but who was it, again, that owes by far the greatest chunks of all those hundreds of millions in unpaid tax? Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the list include mega-developers like (but certainly not limited to) Charles Polidano… and, among others, the two parties themselves?

And isn’t it just slightly a coincidence, that the same people – and all others in the same boat – happen to be the only ones who will actually benefit from this ultra-generous (and ‘ultra-well-hidden’) cosy little fiscal arrangement; while the rest of us lesser mortals out here, are all expected to fulfil our tax obligations – on time, and to the full – or face the consequences?

Ah yes… well, that is just another reason why I think the Health Authorities should intervene, before this ‘Foot-in-Mouth’ pandemic gets too far out of hand.

For while Bernard Grech’s case may have been particularly severe… its effects were limited only to small pockets of his own Nationalist Party support-base: you know, the type who do actually care about things like ‘cannabis decriminalisation’, or ‘female reproductive rights’…

But this contradiction – between a government that promises fiscal justice for all… then delivers what look like ‘tax amnesties for defaulters’ (including itself) – in Caruana’s own (former) words, that sort of thing strikes right at the heart of “the social contract between a State and its taxpayers”: in other words, the very scaffolding that keeps the entire edifice of the State from collapsing, once and for all, into a cloud of construction-dust….

And, not to be too ‘alarmist’ about it, or anything… in my own inexpert judgment, I’d say that would constitute a ‘National State of Emergency’, all right…