More money in (everyone else’s) pockets...

How about throwing in a little something in our direction, too? Like an allowance for not having children, for instance. ‘Reward’ us a little, for our ‘hard work’ in not adding to the global over-population crisis

I’ve often suspected that there must be a secret handbook on ‘how to be a politician in Malta’. Some kind of pocket-sized manual, designed for quick-and-easy reference, containing all the tried-and-tested ‘do’s and don’ts’ to be used in any given political circumstance.

This way, no matter what party they represent, or what type of individual human being they are themselves... Maltese politicians will always react to same sort of situation in the exact same way... and often as not, in the exact same words, too.

The Budget is a good example, because (not unlike Father Christmas) it comes but once a year...  so you only have to wait 365 days to hear the same old speeches all over again. This year was no exception. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described Budget 2018 as one which ‘only gave, without taking anything’.  Which was pretty much the same thing he said about Budget 2017: “This year’s budget will be truly social, and will give more to vulnerable people then every before...”

Meanwhile, this is what he said about Budget 2016: “We are encouraging hard workers whilst helping the vulnerable.” And for 2015, Joseph Muscat prepared a budget that would ‘reward hard work’ while ‘promoting social justice’.

It’s a bit difficult not to see a pattern in all that, you know. And so meticulously is this pattern adhered to, that you can predict what he’s going to say about Budget 2019 right from now. The precise wording might vary, but you can rest assured it will be something like: ‘a budget with a social conscience’ or ‘a budget that leaves more money in people’s pockets’.

Sure enough, those are both direct quotes from Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi respectively... who said the same thing about virtually every budget their own governments ever produced (some 24 in all between the pair of them, by my count).

So as you can see, it doesn’t really make much difference which party happens to be in government... or where that party is supposed to fall in the broader political spectrum, either. Left, right, centre... it all boils down to the same thing.

About the only difference this manual has to offer concerns whether the political party quoting it is in Opposition. And even that difference doesn’t amount to very much. Opposition parties simply turn to another section of the handbook... and read out the designated paragraph, aloud, regardless if it’s exactly the same criticism the other party had quoted about their own budget a few years back.

It goes something like this: no matter what’s in that blessed Budget, you have to describe it as ‘one without vision’ and ‘that shows the government has no plan’.

So Opposition leader Adrian Delia’s ‘new way’ of reacting to a budget was... exactly the same as Muscat’s when he was Opposition leader. ‘A budget which shows the government has no plan for today, tomorrow or the future’. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, on the other hand, described last year’s budget as: “... a Budget without a vision about what sort of country we want to leave behind for our children.” And the year before that, Busuttil said that Budget 2016 ‘lacked a clear roadmap’, etc.  

Go back another 10 years, and... what do you know? Opposition leader Alfred Sant described Gonzi’s Budget 2006 as one that ‘lacked a national plan of employment which centres on job creation... there is need for a plan to instil hope and to get results...’

Vision, plan; plan, vision... all the same old spiel, really. Only it comes, regular as clockwork, from ANY old Opposition party: and not just the usual suspects, either. Even the newly formed Partit Demokratiku – or whatever’s left of it, anyway – came out with the exact same reaction.

“Budget 2017 failed to address current and future challenges with a roadmap that indicated the country’s vision and direction,” its statement read. Already they can rattle off the same old political handbook by heart... and these guys have only been in politics for less than a year. Just fills you with hope of change for the future, huh?

At any rate: it seems that no one out there is willing (or able) to come up with a genuine, sincere budgetary reaction that doesn’t sound like the lyrics of a national anthem: i.e., meaningless blather that gets repeated, over and over again, regardless of the occasion.  

So I may as well fill in that vacuum myself. For what it’s worth: this is my personal reaction to Budget 2018.

A budget without a plan? Are you kidding me? Oh, it was planned, all right: meticulously thought out in its every aspect... to specifically exclude single, adult males between the age of 20 and 65 from a bonanza of free stuff.

In fact, I can just picture Edward Scicluna settling down at his desk at the Finance Ministry.... excogitating ingenious ways to somehow ensure that absolutely none of the benefits or goodies of his precious budget ever trickle down to... ME.

Heck, he probably even used me as a model of the type of Maltese citizen that can be safely ignored or overlooked, when it comes out to dishing out that surplus. (Paranoid? Me? Who told you?) How else can you explain that everything was designed to benefit every single category of human being imaginable... except those who happen to roughly my age, and roughly in my circumstances?

First up, there was the electoral promise of ‘free public transport for students’. As it just so happens, I have been a registered part-time student at the University of Malta since 2016, and still have one whole year of my course to go. So there I was, gleefully anticipating 365 days of free public transport use – already waving my imaginary free ‘Tallinja’ card, each time I boarded an imaginary bus – when... well, well, how’s that for a catch? You have to be between 16 and 20...

I mean, come on. Aged between 16 and 20? It was only yesterday that they were little toddlers receiving a free tablet just for being at kindergarten. And they don’t even need to catch a bus, anyway. Their parents can drop them off at school, like they probably will regardless. After all, why else do such things as ‘parents’ exist? Apart from, of course, to claim Children’s Allowance, avail of free childcare centres, pay reduced examination fees, and enjoy a host of other freebies denied to anyone else?

Then there’s the ‘improved financial assistance... for adoptive parents, orphans and widows.’

Now: don’t get me wrong. My heart goes out to all those poor widows and orphans, just like the next guy. But what, now I have to go out and adopt some poor kid somewhere, just to get a little ‘financial assistance’? Or marry someone over the Internet, and then murder her on our wedding night? (provided ‘widows’ extends to ‘widowers’, of course... it would be kind of sexist otherwise, don’t you think?)

Besides: why not make things more complicated and case-specific while you’re at it? ‘Free financial assistance... but only for one-eyed, hunchback midgets, between the age of 16 and 20, who suffer from chronic halitosis and who have fostered at least six abandoned puppies each.’ That way, you’ll deliberately miss a heck of a lot more people... and isn’t that the whole ‘plan’?

Lastly, of course, there’s the emphasis on ‘pensioners’. Again, it’s not as though I’d begrudge some pensioner a few measly euros more a month, or anything. But if you ask me, it’s another case of ‘one extreme to another’: you have to be either a prepubescent teenager, or upwards of 65 years old, for government to actually take note of your existence every once in a while.

What about the rest of us, huh? There’s a tidy 45 years between 20 and 65, you know. A lot of people – myself included – fall into that bracket... you can’t keep pretending we don’t exist forever.

So next time you come up with a ‘budget with no plan or vision’, Dr Scicluna... how about throwing in a little something in our direction, too? Like an allowance for not having children, for instance. ‘Reward’ us a little, for our ‘hard work’ in not adding to the global over-population crisis. Or ‘financial assistance’ for those amongst us whose spouses never actually died, for the simple reason that they never existed in the first place. 

And it doesn’t have to be money, either. I liked the ‘free transport’ idea... but I’d be equally content with, say, free cinema tickets, or a discount on the first three pints in a pub, or a licence to disregard parking restrictions for a year, or a ‘tax holiday’ somewhere like Panama or Jersey...

The bottom line is, you can’t go on giving out freebies only to people who deserve them, and then claim to have a ‘social conscience’. Lazy, irresponsible middle-aged adults are part of society, too.