A budget for the present

Minister Edward Scicluna dubbing his budget last Monday as a budget for ‘the future’ is – to Michael Falzon – somewhat of a misnomer. 

Edward Scicluna
Edward Scicluna

If by ‘the future’ he means that he is not proposing to go on a spending spree dishing out a spurious bonanza of benefits without any care for a future rainy day, he is correct.

On the other hand, a vision of the future was missing in his speech. And in this sense, it was more a budget for the present rather than for the future.

A budget speech is not only expected to cater for the immediate needs, wishes and whims of everybody – something that is impossible, of course. In truth it must be said that Minister Scicluna did his best to appease the more deserving and needy while continuing with the Muscat government’s successful ruse of offering money and tax rebates to lure people into acting in line with the government’s policies on several fronts. In this the budget was a nicely balanced piece of politics and fiscal policy. 

However I think that the vision for the future was not really there. Even worse, we still have no idea of the government’s thinking on important decisions that must be taken urgently on three matters that impinge on the future wellbeing of the country. These are what I call the three ‘R’s – Rents, Rubbish and Railway.

In other words, the regulation of the rental market was mentioned but we have no idea of what are the government’s thinking and/or intentions about this issue. Likewise we have no idea of what are the government’s thinking and intentions about our ever-increasing waste disposal problem and about the need for a major infrastructural transport solution – with an underground railway being the most ideal. Some stopgap measures were mentioned but the budget speech avoided proposing – or even provoking a discussion about – the road to seeking the long term solutions.

These are three serious issues that are long term and any decisions must go beyond the life of Muscat’s current administration. This situation raises two issues – the fact that Muscat has declared that he will leave the leadership of the Labour Party at the end – or even before – the present administration’s tenure, and the fact that considering the long term effect of any decisions related to this issue it makes sense to involve the Opposition in these decisions. In short, I think that the solutions to the three issues should be backed by bipartisan support. 

I do not understand the reasons behind the PN’s negative reaction to the government’s request asking it to participate in a committee regarding the waste disposal problem. 

In truth, I could not find anywhere the terms of reference of the committee and the PN should have attempted to establish terms of reference acceptable to it and to the government rather than just saying ‘no’. 

The solution to the waste problem must be long term. Whatever is decided cannot be more stop gap solutions like trying to find another site for a waste tip that, willy-nilly, will only postpone the problem for some years until the new tip is filled and we are back to square one. 

There is no doubt that the current rental market needs regularisation – not control – and one has to be careful on how to go about it.

We must be sure that once we have such regulations in place, these will not be susceptible to change with every change of administration. I wrote about the issue some weeks ago and the problem is palpable. Dismissing it because the majority of Maltese families own their own home is not on.

I think that the vision for the future was not really there. Even worse, we still have no idea of the government’s thinking on important decisions

Allowing the abuse – of both landlords and tenants – to go on unchecked is unacceptable. The government acknowledges that some regulations are necessary but it is not telling us what it proposes to do. The budget speech admitted the need for regulation and entrusted yet another committee to propose the way forward.

Again the attempt to solve the traffic problem by ‘improving’ the road network as indicated in the budget speech is just a stopgap measure.

We need a passenger transit system that makes it easier and cheaper for people to go from one place to another by using it rather than by using a private car. 

An underground railway seems to be the best solution, but there might be other solutions, of course. This is not a project that can be executed overnight but we must start thinking – and planning – in earnest for it to become a reality in the future.

On these three fronts, the budget is a big disappointment and dubbing it as being a budget for ‘the future’ does not make it any better.

There is a future when Muscat will no longer be Prime Minister and an even more distant future when the people realise that what Muscat started has become a spent force and they will resort to the PN.  

The government and the Opposition must come together and agree on long-term plans on these three issues. 

They owe it to the future generations of Malta.


IVF leave

The PN’s motion about the Legal Notice giving the right for couples to take ‘IVF leave’ has, as in other issues, ruffled many feathers.

The PN’s stance is based on a matter of ‘legalese’ – the language used in the Legal Notice is not in synch with the language used in the law regulating IVF.

It should have been obvious, however, that people will perceive the PN’s stance as being one against the idea of giving leave to couples who need IVF treatment. 

Perception is the bane of politicians and the realisation that people can misinterpret one’s intentions can never be dismissed. This is what the PN has done with their motion to amend the Legal Notice.

The PN has put itself in the situation where it has to shout to all the corners of the world that it is not against IVF leave. Unfortunately perceptions are not overcome in this way.

Perceptions are to be avoided in the first place because once they are established they become the truth and nobody will believe otherwise.

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