[WATCH] Coronavirus aid package ‘might be reviewed shortly’, Prime Minister says

Prime Minister Robert Abela says government aims to keep businesses alive and safeguard jobs, as he suggests Covid-19 financial aid package could be reviewed soon

Prime Minister Robert Abela was speaking during an interview on One Radio on Sunday morning
Prime Minister Robert Abela was speaking during an interview on One Radio on Sunday morning

The government’s €1.8 billion aid package announced this week to help the economy deal with the repercussions of the coronavirus might be reviewed shortly, the Prime Minister said.

Robert Abela said on Sunday that the government aimed to keep businesses afloat and to prevent jobs from being lost, as he appeared to keep the possibility of new measures to help Malta’s private sector open.

“The package might be reviewed shortly. The aim is to keep businesses alive - it is useless to have businesses which fail and then try to resuscitate them afterwards,” Abela said during an interview on One Radio.

“And, as far as possible, we don’t want jobs to be lost - not of third country national, not of other foreign workers, and even less those of the Maltese and Gozitan people,” he said.

Abela said that if the circumstances called for the nation’s surplus to be used to save the economy, then this would be done. “The government needs to intervene agressively to safeguard businesses and jobs. If we need to go from a surplus to a deficit, then so be it. [...] The surplus is there to be used, and we will use it,” he said.

On Wednesday, Abela announced a Covid-19 mini-bugdet which was generally panned by unions, the Opposition and employers as not providing enough help for businesses in the present trying circumstances.

However, the Prime Minister’s comments indicate the government could be planning additional measures. This would support the front-page story in today’s Labour Party newspaper Kullħadd, which reported that the financial aid package could be “improved” in light of further meetings with the social partners “which are insisting the €1.8 billion won’t be enough to save jobs.”

Abela underlined, however, that the government couldn’t use its financial resources all in one go, as this would risk leaving it with nothing later on in the course of the pandemic. “We cannot use all our ammunition in the first week. We have reserves - a war chest, so to speak - but we can’t use it all in week one and end up out of breath in the second week. At the same time, however, we have to ensure businesses don’t fail and workers’ jobs are not lost.”

Dialogue with social partners is crucial

Abela said that discussions with the social partners were ongoing and that these were “crucial.”

He remarked that he understood that there had been moments of “outbursts”. “For instance, the Chamber of SMEs is under a lot of pressure, and it is normal to have outbursts. […] Nobody has bad intentions,” he said of the SMEs’ Chamber harsh criticism of the government's financial aid package.

Country cannot shut down

The Prime Minister emphasised that he was optimistic that the current situation would pass and that things would return back to normal.

“We were doing very well… what has happened is something temporary,” he said, “I am convinced - because I have faith in our people, workers and businesses, that we will come out strong from this problem.”

Despite this, he acknowledged that the “world has to adjust to new realities” and that “what we agree to now could be adjusted [according to the circumstances.]”

Abela stressed that this “is not a period of feasts or holidays.” “It’s not a time to congregate at beaches or playground,” he said.

“I’m not saying a person can’t go for a walk. But for 10 or 15 people to gather in a playground, with children playing… this is not on,” he said, adding that the government would be enforcing this and that measures in this regard would be increased.

Regarding the fact that infrastructural works were still ongoing, Abela said it was important for the country to keep moving as normal as much as possible.

“We all must keep in mind that this is temporary - we must contain the situation in the best way from a medical perspective, but we must think of tomorrow, because tomorrow will come,” he said.

“Infrastructural work and people’s job can’t grind to a halt - we would not recover from a shutdown of the country.”

Disappointment at Opposition’s behaviour

Abela said he was “really disappointed” at the Opposition’s attitude in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

“…The Opposition are presenting proposals which are not even costed. If you are proposing something, then tell me how much it would cost and over how many months.”

He said it had to be factored in how long the government would have to inject funds. “It’s not only a question of how long the virus will be here,” he said, highlighting that although Covid-19 might be controlled locally in the future, and the measure to close restaurants, bars and entertainment centres could possibly be relaxed, the reality of what was happening beyond our shores would still have to be considered.

“So it would be of little use if we re-opened [restaurants and bars] but tourists could still not come to Malta,” he said.

He underscored that had he listened to PN leader Adrian Delia’s call to put in place a lockdown a while ago - contrary to the advice of the public health authorities - this would have meant that people would have been locked inside their homes till now, and that when a lockdown was really needed, they would by then have grown tired of staying indoors and would not abide by the rules.