Traffic ‘big stumbling block to growth’, finance minister says

GRTU says Scicluna must tackle illegal cross-border retail trade, minister says Hal Far Groupage is ‘extra burden’ for trade coming in from Freeport

GRTU - 'Action needed on illegal cross-border trade' • Video Ray Attard

Finance minister Edward Scicluna has described traffic as the one of Malta’s biggest stumbling blocks to growth, defending the need for both a good public transport system but also for better roads.

Environmentalists have long been at loggerheads with the idea of creating expansive road networks that increase private transport. But Scicluna says that faster transport routes can lead to lower business costs.

“Traffic also means subsidizing public transport and other business costs, but critics say we should not be subsidizing public transport and instead remove taxes on cars. The best investment we can make is on our roads, because it makes traffic go faster and reduces car congestion.

“We need to think out of the box to see how we are going to reduce traffic, because it is causing us great economic expense.”

Scicluna, who was addressing a pre-Budget consultation for social partners and employers’ organisations, was quizzed on illegal cross-border retail trade by the GRTU, which put to him the reality of some €41 million less in customs and excise duties collected in the first six months of the year.

Scicluna acknowledged the reality of business sectors that were against further liberalization of the market, since they were benefiting from current inefficiencies.

“Sicily and Malta are both in the EU and [traders] coming from Sicily are just as if they were coming from Gozo.

“One obstacle, for example, is the Hal Far groupage centre. I can assure you that we gone into this matter. We have found a lot of sectors that are gaining from this present situation. It needs investment and thought as to how to liberalise this [sector], in the sense that trade coming from the Freeport should not have any extra burdens that we could do without.”

Scicluna was also asked about the efficiency of the public sector, and whether the government was ready to drive costs down by releasing more of its workforce.

Scicluna replied that it was not easy to “tame and control” the public sector, saying that without the drive to make changes from the top, from Cabinet lebel, the public sector was unable to “renew itself”.

“It remains sterile, even when it is dealing with ambitious projects: it’s not in the nature of the public service to remove ‘dead wood’ – not people, necessarily – but activities that are taking it nowhere, and to renew its operations with more interesting and productive sectors. It needs the push from the top, the Cabinet or the Prime Minister, to make the necessary changes.”

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