'This is the best of times?' - Bernard Grech slams L-Aqwa Żmien slogan in parliamentary speech

'Is this the best of times for you? If so, then what is the worst?'

Opposition leader Bernard Grech launched a critique of the Labour Party's 2017 election slogan during a parliamentary debate discussing government borrowing.

Grech started his speech by celebrating Malta’s membership in the European Union, making a subtle comment over Labour’s EU partnership campaign during the membership referendum.

“If it were for you, we’d be the Switzerland of the Mediterranean,” Grech remarked.

He said that the EU’s Cohesion Fund allowed Malta to soften the blow of the crisis in terms of employment and help, and it will again provide help to those businesses and workplaces that remain in difficulty.

Grech went on to observe how 2020 figures for the government deficit closely mirrored the increase in government debt, at €1.3 billion and €1.2 billion respectively.

He suggested that government was simply financing the deficit through borrowing, and not tapping in to previous surplus balances.

“When you see these two figures, you notice how every cent that government used to fight the pandemic, had to be borrowed. And tomorrow, that debt will have to be paid. So it is not the case that for government to fight the pandemic, it used all those millions that it said they brought with the surplus,” he said.

Grech said that the surplus was instead used to finance government’s recurrent expenditure.

“It went to finance contracts and direct orders without precedence. To two events just to inaugurate the same project, being the Marsa flyover. Our government led without prudence.”

This paved the way for Grech’s critique on the Labour Party’s “L-Aqwa Żmien” (The Best of Times) slogan used in the 2017 general election.

“Is this the best of times for you? If so, then what is the worst?” he questioned. He cited statistics on quality of life, that 160,000 persons in Malta can’t afford a single holiday in a year.

He added that 7% of the Maltese population fell back on rent, utility bills or loan repayments in 2020.

“This is the situation in our country. This is supposed to be the fruits of ‘the best of times’,” Grech said.

The motion being discussed in parliament concerns government debt, specifically the maximum amount of outstanding government debt held in the form of bilateral loans.

It had been resolved in 2017 that government may only borrow amounts not exceeding €350 million through bilateral loans from local and foreign governments.

This motion seeks to bump the limit up to €700 million.