Saying risk of poverty is increasing makes no sense, Finance Minister says

Cabinet meets in Santa Venera to discuss the upcoming Budget

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna briefing the Cabinet on the upcoming Budget. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna briefing the Cabinet on the upcoming Budget. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said that it did not make sense for someone to suggest that the rate of people at risk of poverty is increasing when the government had introduced so many free services and lowered taxes. 

Scicluna was speaking at a Cabinet meeting held in St Venera that focussed on public finances and the 2020 Budget.

The Finance Minister said that it would be a freakish anomaly for data to suggest that the risk of poverty was increasing in Malta.

“The record low unemployment rate is the first step towards distributing wealth. This is coupled with the fact that the tax rate was lowered, tax refunds were handed out,” Scicluna said, adding that several services were being provided for free.

He mentioned childcare services, school transport, examination fees, public transport for students, and rent subsidies. 

“Pensions have also increased, irrespective of the COLA. With all these measures, it does not make sense for one to argue that the risk of poverty is increasing,” Scicluna said, taking a jab at the Opposition which said on Monday that many families with low wages were struggling against ever-increasing prices.

This was Malta’s 104th cabinet meeting. The Finance Minister said that the first economic indications should augur a generous budget.

Economy grew on average by 7%

He announced that Malta’s GDP had grown by an average of 7%, saying that no particular sector enjoyed a monopoly on this growth but that a variety of economic areas had guaranteed it. 

“Respectable credit agencies had no problem downgrading countries like the United States, so the argument that they are bought by Malta is absolutely absurd and does not understand how this sector works. 

“Every economic model bases itself on invesment and Malta has a very strong investment rate — it is coming from everywhere,” Scicluna said.

Despite the record low unemployment rate, he said that Malta was third among EU member states with regard to vacancy rates, meaning that employers were still registering a high amount of vacancies, requiring a lot of manpower to fill the blanks. 

Financial reports on Malta were being taken seriously, Scicluna declared, and Malta would be taking steps to strengthen regulatory institutions. 

Scicluna announced that some days before the Budget on 14 October, a report will be published by the government which will highlight which 2019 Budget measures were implemented and which are still to be executed.

In his concluding remarks, Joseph Muscat made reference to the price of oil increasing due to the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure over the weekend. 

Referring to the natural gas-fired power station, Muscat said that had the government not undertaken this measure, Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting would have gone very differently. 

“Had we not made the necessary changes to Malta’s energy system, we would be here today discussing how to increase the prices of utility bills. We guaranteed that Malta became future-proof,” Muscat said.

The meeting continued behind closed doors.

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