Cuts to civil society funds will not shut people up – Claudette Buttigieg

2014 Budget brought cuts to social dialouge ministry, Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg says.

Tonight the 2014 Budget debate ensued with the estimates for the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumers Affairs and Civil Liberties totalling over €9 million being discussed.

Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg said that the government had cut funds allocated to the agencies and other bodies falling under the responsibility of the social dialogue ministry and shed doubts on the government's commitment to the sector.

Despite increasing the allocation for allowances, wages and other services which Buttigieg said were vague, the MP said that the budget had brought a €1 million cut in funds allocated to civil society.

On the other hand, the budget cut allocations across the board in services provided by agencies and other bodies falling under the ministry, she said.

"Half truths are worse than lies and this budget is dishonest because it is littered with half truths," Buttigieg said.

Arguing that social dialogue strengthens democracy and policies which benefit the country, Buttigieg called on the government to open up itself and carry out honest consultations "before it is too late."

The lack of consultation and the reduction in funds for civil society would not stop the people from voicing their opinions and citing the protest planned by enviromental NGOs at the end of the month, Buttigieg said, adding that national consensus over such matters was paramount.

Opposition MP Paula Mifsud Bonnici said that social dialogue minister Helena Dalli does not know what the Labour Party's electoral programme pledged on consumer rights.

She pointed out that the Labour Party had pledged to grant more autonomy to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority however "absolutely nothing was done to strengthen the authority in the budget."

Mifsud Bonnici said that the authority's budget remained on the same level as last year and was bound to decrease given the minister's failure to deny this in Parliament. She also lambasted the government's decision to replace the authority's chairman.

She also asked what was the government doing in order to reduce medicine prices and said that no measures were introduced to reach the goal set by the government. "The people out there are dissapointed because not even one kind of medicine had its price reduced," the MP said, adding that in contrast hundreds of medicine prices had been reduced under the previous administration.

PN secretary-general Chris Said said the government had failed to fulfil its promise to hold wide ranging dialogue but instead chose to steamroll over the Opposition and approved the controversial citizenship scheme despite strong public resistance.

"Where is the consultation you promised? Where is the consensus you said you would seek?" Said asked, explaining that although the budget proposed a number of white papers on various matters but no consultation was held over the controversial citizenship scheme pushed through Parliament on Tuesday.

The former justice and public consultation minister said that the funds allocated to MCESD and MEUSAC had been significantly cut.  

Reiterating the opposition's criticism on the reduction in funding to local councils, Said explained that the allocation had totally reduced by almost €1 million while that of NGOs had been reduced by 40%.

However, the government had no qualms in appointing its MPs to government boards saying that these MPs were "earning two wages." This drew an angry reaction by veteran government MP Joe Debono Grech who was heard calling Said a "buffoon."

Despite losing his cool and engaging himself in a shouting match with opposition MPs, Debono Grech, famed for his rough style, retracted his comment, insisting he was not referring to Said. On hearing this, the opposition MP said "such a compliment coming from Debono Grech honours me."

Addressing the House after Said, government MP Deborah Schembri reminded the opposition benches that former Nationalist MP and ambassador Noel Buttigieg Scicluna had been appointed on at least 11 boards, adding that" it seems the opposition find nothing wrong because he is a Nationalist."

Replying to the opposition's criticism on the budget, the MP explained that the MCESD allocation was reduced because the government was saving money byfor instance  holding meetings at the ministry instead of paying €600 for each meeting previously held an external venue.

Minister Helena Dalli started her address by saying that she was "disgusted at the sexist comment passed by Chris Said" who referred to the allotment of funds between the family ministry led by Marie Louise Coleiro Preca as a fight between two female ministers.

"I can reassure you that there was no pique but an agreement borne out of cooperation to increase efficiency in the provision of public services was reached."

She went on to say that although the PN had promised it would change its ways, it had failed to do so.

"A wolf might change its skin but not its actions," Dalli said, adding that she did not expect such errors in interpreting the budget estimates from former minister Chris Said, although she excused new opposition MPs Paula Mifsud Bonnici and Claudette Buttigieg because this was their first budget.  

Dalli said she was surprised at Said's attack on the budget allocations when he himself had reduced the MUESEC budget for three successive years.

On the funds allocated to NGOs, Dalli said that the money will be allocated indiscriminately "and not to organisations in certain electoral districts."

Moreover, the minister said that the funds allocated to NGOs for had in fact increased and if the opposition had had the "decency" to read the estimates well they would have realised this. She added that the opposition's criticism was "destructive" and therefore she would ignore it. 

Last month, the government retracted its decision to suspend €350,000 that used to be distributed among civil society and constituted bodies which was vehemently opposed by civil society.

Dalli indicated that this will be the last time that civil society funds will be distributed under the current system as there should be more accountability on the way they are spent.

PL Government is using less money to do more with less for more efficiency and efficacy giving a good example to civil society unlike the PN governments who squandered all the money like what the English used to say as if tomorrow never comes.
Claudette Pace - Desire li xi darba il PN jaghmel budget tajjeb bhal dan!!!!!
Simon Busutill ma qalx li kien budget tajjeb? Issa kif tigi Claudet u tghid li ma kienx? Mela dawn ta SimonPN kulhadd jitkellem b'lingwa ghalih, u ma tawx kaz x'qal il-leader taghhom?..... u haga ohra: biex tqassam irid ikollok: intom infaqtu li gemmajna; li qlajna u li ghad irridu naqilghu! Dak ghaqal!
One should look at the achievement with the funds allocated and not just the amount! NOTHING WILL EVER SHUT PEOPLE UP and the way forward would be to get full value from the funds allocated ! Ms. Buttigieg whilst speaking of funds would have been best to ponder on HOW MUCH it cost the country , the hardship , the time lost in the case of Joanne Cassar ~ something truly to SHOUT OUT LOUD the injustice done to Joanna !
Can Ms Claudette Buttiegieg confirm after how many years in government did the PN start reducing the prices of medicine? 8 months? 1 year? 5 years? or more?