[Live-blog] Finance Minister presents Budget 2017 to parliament

Follow us live for Budget 2017 as presented by Labour finance minister Edward Scicluna

Budget 2017: what does Edward Scicluna have in store for citizens?
Budget 2017: what does Edward Scicluna have in store for citizens?

Scicluna delivers his closing speech, describing the Budget as one based on “responsible and prudent forecasts”. “The time when the nicest parts of the Budget used to remain on paper because they were based on false financial forecasts is over,” he says. “Despite all this government’s successes, the best is yet to come.”

Tim Diacono

A €1 million fund, administered by heads of school, will be set up to help children from deprived backgrounds purchase items such as school uniforms and books. So as to prevent stigmatisation, these children will not receive such aid in front of their school peers.

Sedqa will launch a pilot programme targetted at couples with children who are undergoing a separation process.

Tim Diacono
21:04 The government will embark on a major six-year plan worth €23 million to upgrade lifts in some 205 social housing unit. The first social housing units –as part of a €50 million project announced in the previous Budget – will be built. €1 million will be allocated to a scheme that will see disabled people – particularly those in a job – aided by a personal assistant. A respite programme will be introduced for people who take care of their elderly parents at home on an informal basis. Tim Diacono
21:00 The Malta Arts Council will set up a National Fund for Excellence, that will give grants to artists and other cultural professionals, while over 50 theatres will be developed. More funds will be alloted to the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage. Tim Diacono
20:57 An indoor pool will be built at the Cottonera Sports Complex, a public call be issued for a shooting range, and a football ground and a pool will be built in Marsaskala. A final decision will be taken on whether, and if so where, a motorsports track will be built. Tim Diacono
20:55 The government will assess plans for a private-public partnership for Mount Carmel, a hospital to cater for mothers and children will be built next to Mater Dei, and the Mater Dei carpark will be extended. Diabetes patients (both Type 1 and Type 2) will be given free glucose sticks, while the range of free medication for cancer patients will increase. It will become illegal for people to smoke inside cars carrying children. , Tim Diacono

Public consultations will be held on whether gay men should be allowed to donate blood, whether the voting age should be reduced to 16, and whether parents should be allowed to take sick leave when their children are sick.

The government will automatically compensate those employees, or their next of kin, who die or suffer serious injuries at their workplace.

Tim Diacono
20:49 Miriam Dalli
20:47 Miriam Dalli

Wardens will start issuing warning tickets instead of fines for minor contracentions, and will start clamping down on environmental crimes.

Parliament will get to scrutinize potential ambassadors and chairpersons of key government authorities.

Tim Diacono

Responsibility for court prosecutions will start shifting from the police force to the Attorney General, an electronic registry for insolvent companies and people will be set up, and more judicial acts will be presented online. Three new courtrooms, as well as a court library and court training room, will be built. The government will also study whether to set up a separate section for business within the Civil Courts.

Tim Diacono

Comino will be turned into a national park. Scicluna adds that tourism acitivities on the tiny island will become “organised” in light of the governemnt’s national plan to safeguard the Maltese environment.

Tim Diacono

Projects Malta will seek to address parking problems in Mosta, Wied il-Ghajn, Birkirkara, St Andrews and Birgu. It will also consider issuing a public call for the conversion of the former British naval hospital in Mtarfa into an independnet school for international students, with courses leading to Bachelors degrees. A yacht marina will be built in Gzira, and possibly another one in Marsaskala.

Trade Malta, a public-private partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, will organise business trips for Maltese businesses in the Middle East, the Gulf states and Russia. The government will keep “all options open” on Air Malta’s future. Tim Diacono

20:31 Planning fees for projects in industiral zones will be reduced and shops wll no longer need a trading license to start operating. The law regulating shop opening hours will be revamped, with Scicluna pledging to strike a balance between the public’s commerical interests and the personal interests of shop employees. Tim Diacono

The government, in collaboration with the Malta Developers Associaiton, will set up ‘Property Malta’, an agency aimed at encouraging foreigners to move to Malta. The Malta Gaming Authority will work on reforming the industry’s regulations, and a cybersecurity strategy will be launched.

The government will stark working on a plan to construct a fibre optic cable between Malta and Marseille, so as to reduce Malta’s Internet dependency on Italy and to increase competition.

Tim Diacono
20:23 The government will launch a Risk Investment Scheme, for investors in SMEs or in funds administered by several SMEs that are registered on alternative trading platforms, such as Prospects, on the Malta Stock Exchange. These will be entitled to a maximum €250,000 tax rebate. Tim Diacono
20:21 Miriam Dalli
20:20 Miriam Dalli
20:17 The Malta Development Bank will start operating, and will have authorised capital of €200 million, out of which €30 million will be paid-up capital. An export credit agency will be set up, and a joint enforcement task force will be set up to combat tax evasion. The IIP fund will start operating, and the money will go towards national projects as well as pilot projects by local councils. Tim Diacono
20:16 Miriam Dalli

Some interesting announcements for Gozo. A second fibre-optic cable will be installed between Malta and Gozo, at a cost of around €3 million, so as to attract more IT companies to the island. Works will start on a Gozitan museum and a national pool. Public consultation process will start on how to tackle Rabat’s notorious parking problem.

Gozitan students attending private tertiary education institutions will be applicable for subsidies, just as their peers at University and MCAST.

Geological tests will commence on the feasibility of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo , and the government will start drafting what could become a public call for businesses interested in building and operating the tunnel. Another tender will be issued for a fast ferry service between Gozo and Valletta. A White Paper will be published on the devolution of the Gozo ministry’s powers to other ministries, which Scicluna said will form part of a “decentralisation process aimed at giving Gozitans more of a voice”.

Tim Diacono
20:04 New green areas will be identified in Swatar, Bormla, Wied Blandun, Bahar ic-Caghaq and Mater Dei. Work will start on the Inwadar National Park that will stretch from Zonqor Point to the Ta’ Bakrat plant, while the Argotti and St Philip’s gardens at Floriana will be converted into botanical gardens in a €3 million project. The Ta’ Qali picnic area will be extended, the Argotti a new camping area will be identified. Tim Diacono
20:04 Miriam Dalli
20:00 Miriam Dalli
20:00 Companies who work with local councils to develop gardens and other open spaces will be given a tax rebate of 120% of their expenditure. Plans will start for the regeneration of Birzebbugia, and a plot of land will be identified to serve as an adminsitrative centre outside Valletta. Tim Diacono
19:57 The New Water project will enter its next phase, with the installation of electronic water dispensers. So as to compensate Xghajra residents for the stench emanating out of the Ta’ Barkat Sewage Treatment Plant, the Water Services Corporation will finance the upgrade of certain community services in the village. Tim Diacono

Companies who organise transport for their employees will be given a tax rebate of 150% of their expenditure, capped at €35,000. Small companies located in the same area, such as industrial estates, will be able to group together for such a scheme, with a tax rebate capped at €50,000.

All government entities that employ over 50 people will have to present a sustainable transport plan, with measures such as carpooling or subsidised public transport. This comes in the wake of a recent pilot project at the Planning Authority this year, which saw 80 employees shift from their private cars to alternative modes of transport.

All 18-year-olds will be entitled to a year of free public transport.

The Kappara project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017, after which works will commence on the Marsa Junction project. Work will also commence on the widening of the Hamrun bypass between the Santa Venera tunnels and the sliproad leading towards Qormi, two new junctions at High Ridge and Mosta, and other roadworks in Zurrieq, Hal-Safi, Isla and Valletta.

A new national oil exploration company will be launched.

Tim Diacono
19:52 The Opposition is disappointed that no new energy tariff reductions were announced Miriam Dalli

The Marsa Power Station will be completely decommissioned, and the oldest boilers, turbines and chimneys at the Delimara Power Station will be dismantled. The Has-Saptan fuel depot will be modernised and a new filling station will be built at an investment of €50 million.

Enemalta will start work on Malta’s first solar farm, and the government will issue solar bonds to raise funds for the installation of photovoltaic panels in public places. 1,000 families will also be given a grant for PV panels. An eco cheques scheme will be launched among the most vulnerable people for them to upgrade their fridges, air conditioners and tumble dryers into more modern version.

Tim Diacono
19:47 Miriam Dalli
19:46 The budget discussion on Twitter:

Labour candidate Aaron Farrugia replies:

Miriam Dalli
19:41 Miriam Dalli

The government will draft a plan aimed at ensuring that no children in Malta will be at risk of poverty by 2020. An anti-illiteralism programme will be launched among four schools, using football as a means of learning. Three new schools will open - in Marsaskala, St Paul’s Bay and Rabat (Gozo).

Stipends will continue to increase according to the COLA, while fifth form students attending alternative learning programme classes at MCAST will also be entitled to stipends. This scheme has been introduced so as to encourage more Maltese people to take up careers in hospitality, wellbeing and manufacturing.

Full-time students who are also self-employed will be able to pay social security contributions on their job income.

Tim Diacono
19:34 Miriam Dalli
19:32 Miriam Dalli

An €8 million fund will be set up to address salary and overtime injustices for former Dockyards workers, police officers and Malta Electricity Board employees over a period of a number of years.

The government will start issuing Treasury bonds, specifically designed for pensioners, with an interest rate higher than the market rate.

Tim Diacono

The government will double rent subsidies for low-income earners living in private residences – from a monthly maximum of €83 to €166. The means test to assess who qualifies for the scheme will also be “drastically revised”, with eligibility requirements such as the need to have less than €10,000 deposited in a bank account removed.

However, in an attempt to clamp down on tax evasion of rental income, the government will only grant such doubled subsidies to people who present copies of their rental agreements.

Recent increases in social housing rent, which Scicluna blamed on a law introduced by the previous PN adminsitration, will be reversed, and the tenants will be fully refunded for the increased costs they have paid as from 2013.

A pilot project will be launched, for people willing to rent out their properties to people on social housing prices for a minimum of seven years. These landlords will see income tax on their rental income decrease to 5%.

Tim Diacono
19:23 Disability pensions for people who are incapable of working (levels 0 to 2 of the Barthel Index) will be increased to an equivalent of the minimum wage. Non-recognized disabilities, such as people with single amputees, will be legally considered as people with disabled. People with disability will be given pink cards for free medical aid for an entire year, rather than for three months. Tim Diacono

The carers’ pension (pensjoni tal-wens) will be increased by a maximum of €140 a week, so as to encourage dependent elderly people to live with their relatives rather than to clog up waiting lists for old people’s homes.

Tim Diacono

Pensions will increase for the second year in a row. Married pensioners on minimum pensions (some 2,500 people) will see their income increase by €4 a week. Income tax on contributory retirement pensions – which reach up to an annual maximum of €13,000 - will be entirely abolished. Elderly people on Treasury pensions, service pensions and private pensions will not be taxed for their first €13,000.

Tim Diacono
19:14 Miriam Dalli

Landlords will have to register their rental income with the Inland Revenue Department

In-work benefits will increase, and its eligibility ceiling will be raised. Supplementary allowance will be extended to include single low-income earners who don’t have children, a total of around 27,000 people.

Taking these benefit increases as well as the COLA compensation into account, Scicluna says that people on the minimum wage will effectively see their weekly income rise by €4 – essentially increasing the minimum wage without burdening employers.

Tim Diacono

People who buy old homes in urban conservation areas will be given a maximum grant of €100,000 to be used on restoration works. Stamp duty on the sales of all houses in Gozo in 2017 will be slashed from 5% to 2%.

Tim Diacono

The eco-contribution tax for toiletries, detergents and batteries will be removed. Excise tax will be imposed on non-biodegradable utensils and garbage bags. Tax on cigarettes and cigars will increase by 3%, while that tobacco will increase by 5.5%. Tax on non-alcoholic drinks, not including water, will increase by 2%. A tax will be imposed on concrete and construction products, money of which will be diverted to a fund for environmental projects.

Small shareholders (owners of under 0.5% of shares) who pay tax on dividends for companies listed on the Malta Stock Exchange will be entitled to a tax rebate. People who transfer ownership of family businesses to the next generation will see their stamp duty decreased from 5% to 1.5% for a single year. The first time buyers’ scheme will be renewed for a third year.

Tim Diacono

Scicluna continues listing of Malta’s economic successes registered under the Labour administration. He notes that unemployment has fallen to record lows, that Malta’s economy grew by 4.1% in the first half of this year, more than double that of the Eurozone average, and that the country moved up eight places in the Global Competitive Index. The deficit has plummeted to 0.7% of Malta’s GDP, and the natioanl debt has decreased percentage-wise to 63.6% of GDP.

The deficit is forecast to sink further to 0.5% next year, while the debt percentage will reduce to 61.9%. Export sales will increase by 2.3%, while imports will increase by over 4% - due to the importation of materials for major products. The COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase for next year will be €1.75 a year, eligible for both salaries and stipends.

Tim Diacono
18:56 Miriam Dalli
18:54 Miriam Dalli

Scicluna kicks off his speech with a political message. “Thanks to our economic successes, which are the envy of our European neighbours, people are now concerned about things like education and the environment, rather than on unemployment or electricity bills.” His reference to Standard and Poor’s recent upgrading of Malta’s credit rating to A- is welcomed by desk-thumping by Labour MPs.

Tim Diacono
18:34 Finance minister Edward Scicluna has entered the Chamber complete with his Budget briefcase. His speech is about to begin. Tim Diacono
18:20 Transport minister Joe Mizzi is currently reeling off a list of the government’s plans to combat traffic congestion, a problem many hope will be adressed concretely in Scicluna’s upcoming Budget speech.

Tim Diacono
18:17 The Nationalist Party has presented its own 91 pre-budget proposals, themed ‘Let’s All Succeed Together’. The PN’s document, presented by deputy leader Mario de Marco, identified a number of major stumbling blocks that need to be overcome to ensure future sustainable growth. Miriam Dalli
18:08 For those unfamiliar with the parliamentary system, the first 30 minutes are dedicated to parliamentary questions – Scicluna’s address is expected to start shortly after 6.30pm. Miriam Dalli

Muscat yesterday pledged that the Budget will be a “truly social one” that will help struggling sectors of society – such as minimum wage earners, pensioners and those dependent on social benefits.

“The government’s plan has always been clear and tomorrow’s budget will be another step in a roadmap for the creation of a new middle class,” Muscat explained.”

Paul Cocks
18:03 Tweetaholic Joseph Muscat has already started posting Miriam Dalli
18:01 Good evening and welcome to our live-blog as we will guide you through the presentation of next year’s budget by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.

We’re expecting a long speech – some three hours to be exact – so join us using #budget17 on Twitter and share your thoughts in our comments section below and on MaltaToday’s Facebook page.

Miriam Dalli

Welcome to MaltaToday's live-blog for Budget 2017 - tweet your views using #budget17



More in Budget 2017