A battered middle class and Muscat’s shenanigans

It is ironic that Joseph Muscat sees collusion everywhere to bring down the Labour government but ignores the real collusion identified by the NAO and the law courts in the hospitals deal he captained as prime minister... Prime Minister Robert Abela has no option but to clearly and unequivocally distance himself from Muscat

Two line items in the budget estimates show that government intends to cut funding for Klabb 3-16 afterschool services and the Breakfast Club initiative in State schools. 

These budgetary cuts were not mentioned in Clyde Caruana’s speech but are found in the estimates of the Education Ministry. 

These budgetary cuts are significant in value – Klabb 3-16 alone will have its budget slashed by almost half. These cuts slipped under the radar in the fog of inflation, COLA, increased children’s allowance and other measures that capture the general public’s imagination. 

And yet, they signal a significant policy departure for the Labour government. 

Since 2014, which was the first full year of a newly-installed Labour government, Klabb 3-16 services have been strengthened and the Breakfast Club initiative was introduced to give working parents greater flexibility. Both initiatives ensured children could be cared for in a school environment – in the case of the afterschool service, students were also helped with their homework and were engaged in other activities – until their parents could pick them up after work. 

The initiatives were part of a wider package to encourage people to work and making it easier for them to achieve a better work-life balance. They were part of the Labour Party’s wider efforts to ‘create a new middle class’ by encouraging to work and earn more thus improving their standard of living. 

Whether these budgetary cuts planned for next year will impact the level of services offered still has to be seen. The likeliness is that rather than cut down on the services, the government is seeing a situation where fewer staff members carry out the same work. The obvious impact will be a higher student-to-adult ratio, which could lead to more problematic situations in schools where educators are already struggling with numerous student difficulties that seem to have exacerbated after the disruption in learning caused by the two-year COVID interlude. 

No explanation was given for the decision to reduce budgets for these two services but it does not bode well for the children using these services and the staff members employed to take care of the students. 

But the decision is also symptomatic of what this leader has consistently warned about in the run-up to the budget – the government’s gradual disconnect from the hard-working middle class. 

The Finance Minister and the whole government machine has been in overdrive over the past week trying to explain how the budget is also helping the middle class. 

It is true that the hefty subsidies on fuel and energy are benefitting the middle class by shielding it from savage price increases caused by international turmoil. But so is everybody else being shielded and yet the government has acknowledged through its actions in the budget that certain strata of society still need that added push to recover some of their lost standard of living. 

The choice for now has been to target low-income earners through several measures. It is a commendable choice but it should also be accompanied by an acknowledgement that at some point the middle class will also have to be helped through a significant income tax cut. 

And when that point comes – hopefully not too distant into the future – government can mitigate any lost revenue through targeted measures such as VAT increases on luxury items like yachts, higher swimming pool licence payments and other measures that draw a distinction between the rich and the rest.


Joseph Muscat resorted to his fateful servant Manuel Cuschieri on Smash TV last Friday to solemnly declare he has no trust in Magistrate Gabriella Vella who is leading the inquiry into the hospitals deal. 

It was the former prime minister’s attempt at firing the first shot in what promises to be a turbulent political period. 

There is wide expectation that Vella will shortly conclude her inquiry that has been going on since 2019. The magistrate now has the added comfort of the Chief Justice’s words in the Appeals Court judgment delivered a fortnight ago in which the hospitals deal was definitely annulled. 

Vella can potentially recommend criminal action be taken against several former Labour ministers and Muscat. The inquiry was triggered by a petition filed by Repubblika, who had back then indicated possible criminal behaviour by former ministers Chris Cardona, Konrad Mizzi and Edward Scicluna – who is now governor of the Central Bank – in the award of the original tender to Vitals Global Healthcare. Over time, as media reports emerged into payments Muscat received from companies close to the hospitals concessionaires after he exited politics, the inquiry was widened to probe these developments as well. 

Muscat has consistently denied wrongdoing and insists any consultancy work he did is legitimate and fully documented. 

But Muscat is a political animal and in his latest appearance on Smash TV has tried to dictate a narrative palatable to the Labour Party’s hard core. He first declared war on the magistrate; and secondly suggested the hospitals deal was scuppered because of doctors who did not want a new model of public healthcare. 

The first assertion tries to imply that the magistrate is part of a Nationalist elite that has gripped the law courts and which is hell bent on hurting the Labour government. The second is a throwback to the doctors’ strike of the 1970s of which the pinnacle was Karin Grech’s murder. 

Muscat’s tirade is a pathetic attempt to try and undermine a legitimate judicial process triggered by a public contract that has delivered next to nothing for the people and which has been critically dissected by the National Audit Office in three voluminous reports. Additionally, he tries to frame the discourse as an attack on the Labour government rather than a process targeting him and his actions. 

It is ironic that Muscat sees collusion everywhere to bring down the Labour government but ignores the real collusion identified by the NAO and the law courts in the hospitals deal he captained as prime minister. 

In this scenario, Prime Minister Robert Abela has no option but to clearly and unequivocally distance himself from Muscat. Abela must not allow Muscat to dictate the agenda and make his fight that of the current administration.

Clarification: The Education Ministry has since clarified that the Klabb 3-16 budget has not been slashed but rather the two items that made up the €9 million vote last year - Klabb 3-16 afterschool service and the Skola Sajf summer school - have now been listed as two separate line items in Budget 2024. The combined budget for these two services will be €840,000 more than 2023. However, the Ministry has confirmed that the budget for the Breakfast Club service has been cut by €200,000.