[WATCH] Bernard Grech lays out PN's vision in Budget reaction

In his first major speech as Opposition leader Bernard Grech reacts to Budget 2021 by laying out his party's vision for a better country

Bernard Grech during last week's Budget speech
Bernard Grech during last week's Budget speech

Bernard Grech put forward his considerations on the Budget 2021 in today's parliamentary plenary session, setting out the party's socioeconomic vision for Malta as well as his criticisms of the budget.

Outlining his vision, Grech dubbed the environment as "the centre of all issues." He spoke on the reclamation of dilapidated zones so that they can be transformed into green spaces, and insisted that construction and environment can go hand in hand to improve the personal environment. Grech also said that aesthetic value should be given a higher importance in planning and construction, with more creativity in terms of new construction materials. 

Grech made clear the party's stance on immigration, saying that Malta cannot carry the problem alone. "The issue of immigration must be resolved through credible work on several fronts. First of all we must have a credible and influential Government in European and international fora to convince other Governments to share this burden with us," he said. 

He also put forward his ideas to transform the economy and move away from precarious job contracts. "We will build new economic models on the experiences we have and the successes we have achieved, with our main goal being to create profitable jobs and not jobs that exist just because they are precarious."

"We must never forget that an economy must be built on a just society, where the worker earns the wage he deserves for the reasonable time he works and where the entrepreneur makes the profits due to him equitably for risk he has taken. Only in this way can we have a society that addresses poverty and has the ability to care for and support the weakest," he said.

While praising the government's work on gender equality, Grech commented that work still needs to be done to address certain obstacles women find in pursuing certain aspirations. "We still have a long way to go to ensure that women are paid as much as men for the same work."

Grech also touched on the issue of a permanent tunnel link between Malta and Gozo. "The Nationalist Party has already stated that it is ready to look at the Malta-Gozo tunnel project in a constructive and positive way, but first we need to understand what Gozitans think and what they really want."

Regarding the budget estimates, Grech brought into question certain government finance estimates, which predict at €1.2 billion deficit by end of year. “How realistic is this when until August of this year the registered deficit already reached €1.1 million?” he asked. He also called on the finance minister to explain how predicted VAT and income tax revenue for next year will exceed figures for 2019, despite low consumption.

Grech centred a considerable chunk of his speech around Malta’s reputation. He brought up the recent EY attractiveness survey, where a quarter of total respondents said that Malta is not attractive for foreign investment. With only 62% of respondents finding Malta to be an attractive destination, it is the lowest figure ever registered by the survey for Malta.

He also hit out at the government’s handling of COVID-19. Referring to the second wave of active cases from mid-August onwards, Grech said that reopening the country without taking certain precautions was a key error that led to the high number of cases seen today.

In a first reaction last week following Edward Scicluna's budget speech, Grech described it unimaginative. The PN leader said the budget lacked a strategic vision for the medium-to-long term in light of the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the economy.

 

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