‘Feed your surplus to 90,000 people at the edge of hardship’ — Delia

You call it a surplus but it feels like a deficit, Adrian Delia says

Adrian Delia delivered his second Budget speech since becoming PN leader
Adrian Delia delivered his second Budget speech since becoming PN leader

Despite the government’s constant tootling of a sustained surplus, poverty is increasing as we speak, Opposition Leader Adrian Delia told parliament on Monday.

“The government keeps saying that poverty is not on the rise. Tell that to the 90,000 people at the edge of poverty and hardship. Where is the surplus? Feed them your surplus, Prime Minister,” Delia said.

On being met with sneers by cabinet ministers, Delia flared up and insisted that despite the increase in pensions, year on year, pensioners at risk of poverty were also increasing year on year. From 21% pensioners at risk of poverty in 2015, the figure in 2019 was now close to 25.4%, he said.

“If you think this is funny, you can start telling us how one in four pensioners are at risk of poverty. A total of 27,000 pensioners are at risk. The problem, according to the Prime Minister, is that the elderly are living longer. Are you telling them that they should die? The pensioners have made Malta what it is and we owe them, we can do better,” Delia said, adding that the Opposition was ready to sit down with the government to discuss solutions.

Delivering his Budget speech in Parliament, Delia was very critical of a “meagre” increase in wages, especially when compared to property prices. He said that while wage-earners saw an increase of €10 a year, this wasn’t reflective of the increase in rent prices and property prices.

“Property prices increased by 25% in a single year while wages increased by 1.1%. The surplus is so great that our young wage-earners do not even have enough to afford a home loan deposit. This is why the government has introduced the measure of a government subsidised home deposit loan… it’s good that we’re helping those in need but if we’re helping them because they can never afford it, we have a problem indeed.

“And we’re speaking here of affordable housing. On the issue of social housing, the Labour administration did not even contribute one housing unit despite the 4,000 requests. I guarantee that if the government didn’t grant €50 million to Vitals Global Healthcare to manage our hospitals, we would have had enough to build housing units for all those 4,000 people,” Delia said.

The Vitals Global Healthcare winning a tender for managing three public hospitals—St Luke’s, Karin Grech, and Gozo General Hospital—has been mired in controversy after it was revealed that the hospitals privatisation deal was agreed upon before the tender was issued.

Adrian Delia offered a confident delivery to the loud dissent of government ministers
Adrian Delia offered a confident delivery to the loud dissent of government ministers

“But we do have money for a €150,000 golden handshake don’t we, Prime Minister?” Delia said, referring to the recent retirement and re-recruitment of George Spiteri, the former MFSA human resources director, who was paid over €150,000 to retire, only to be re-employed in the same position by the Malta Business Registry, which was hived off from the MFSA earlier this year.

Delia said that food banks across the country were on the rise and that the despite the surplus, Malta was going through a social deficit.

The Opposition leader also made a facetious reference to former head of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office, Kurt Farrugia, who he said was enjoying a wage of around €180,000 a year as Malta Enterprise CEO, adding that the Prime Minister’s new catchphrase of wanting Maltese citizens to be well-off (sinjuri zghar) only applied to a few favourite men and women.

Excessive reliance on third-country nationals is a chancy economic growth

Malta’s excessive reliance on foreign workers from outside the European Union is guaranteeing a very unsettled economic growth, Delia said.

“The country is producing more but are people getting something out of it? The 90,000 at risk of poverty says otherwise. They were at the edge, still are, and continue to be. Couple this with a decreasing quality of life,” Delia said.

He insisted that the government’s diagnosis, that foreigners were coming to Malta because of a growing economy was a mangling of the more sobering reality of having the economy growing because of foreigners.

“For the government, the foreigners themselves are a project because it has no other idea for this country’s economy. All this while it says that the country needs a further 10,000 foreign workers.

“According to Jobsplus, we have 55,820 foreigners, which means that 28% of all those working in Malta are foreign. Only 46% of foreigners who came to Malta last year came from the EU,” Delia said.

He lamented that while this was happening, Malta was losing high-skilled workers because gaming companies were complaining that they could not afford the expensive rent prices.

“EU Nationals are high-skilled. On the other hand, a large proportion of third-country nationals tend to be low-skilled with more than 30% engaged in elementary occupations. The increase we are seeing is not the skill transfers we need,” Delia said, adding that this was not a long-term investment but a sign that the government’s only method of improving the economy was a strong dependance on foreign labour.

Delia added that these low-skilled workers were unfortunately facing difficult working conditions, with the result that the work market was being pulled down in the ranks. Delia said that while one could see the benefits of an economic growth on paper and in theory, the reality proved that consequences were dire and tragic.

A transient workforce guaranteed an increased need of infrastructure, education and transport and that this had not always been the case.

“When the government speaks of a surplus, it’s as if the economy had never been going well before now. In 2008 and all through to 2012, we had an economic growth which was much larger than the average in the EU. But under a PN administration the economy saw growth in various sectors—in aviation, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure and others—and we employed high-skill foreigners,” Delia said.

He lamented that the government had not invested in any new sectors and that most of the projects the government had invested in had failed, making reference to Malta being marketed as a blockchain island in recent years while no single blockchain license had been issued despite the more-than-murmurs of blockchain interest on the island.

The richest Maltese are not Maltese

The Opposition Leader lamented that, after all, the well-off individuals of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, ostensibly the richest Maltese on the planet, were the ones who had bought a Maltese passport via the Individual Investors Programme.

Delia referred to Chinese Liu Zhongtian, Russian Boris Mintz, and Nigerian Nasir Danu who were all recently charged with fraud and other financial crimes soon after purchasing a Maltese passport.

“Never in the history of Malta until now did we ever risk our country becoming blacklisted because of the government’s bad decisions. The Prime Minister had said, before he was elected, that unless we recognise that there is a problem, we can never solve it.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat could be heard off-camera making remarks as Delia delivered his speech
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat could be heard off-camera making remarks as Delia delivered his speech

“So I am telling you, Prime Minister, that we have a problem in our reputation after so many years of enjoying a brilliant name. Shortcomings of this government had been planned way before you came to power,” Delia said.

“Our reputation needs to be safeguarded with serious and tough decisions. The Prime Minister invited me to be bold and take certain tough decisions myself. Well, today, you’re the one who is governing the country, so remove those people who are damaging Malta. This is an obligation, not to Malta or to your party, but to the citizens of this country.”

Delia quoted the APS Bank CEO, the HSBC CEO, the Chamber of Commerce and GRTU who all claimed at one point that risking further damage to Malta’s reputation risked alienating correspondent banking.

Government ministers were quite vocal during Delia’s presentation and constantly interrupted his speech, propelling him to fire quips. Before he started discussing the environment, Delia responded to Muscat’s under-the-table remark that the PN had endorsed a cancer factory in the form of a heavy-fuel power station in Marsa.

“You removed a cancer factory, yes, but then you turned the whole country into one big cloud of smoke,” Delia said.

“We don’t want a Singapore in the middle of the Mediterranean, we don’t want a Dubai in the middle of the Mediterranean. We want Malta in the Mediterranean.”

Delia’s short discussion of corruption made reference to the Attorney General who, he said, was doing his utmost to protect the government.

“The AG’s behaviour is shameful. The person who is supposed to safeguard the country’s interest is defending the government instead. With regard to the Egrant report, three ministers still refuse to testify. The court has essentially told them that it would protect them from incriminating themselves… it told them that it preferred to protect them than the people of Malta,” Delia said.

The government reactsDelia's discourse was negative

In a statement after parliament was adjourned, the government said that the PN leader's speech had been a negative one, exhibiting xenophobic tendencies, and one which was out of touch with the reality being experienced by Maltese families.

"The fact that the Opposition Leader decided to ignore that this was the Budget that gave the biggest raise in pensions in 40 years and that introduced a new leave day and a Budget that continued to lower taxes and took unprecedented measures to combat climate change shows that Delia will continue to be negative like his predecessor," the statement read.