[WATCH] Edward Scicluna says Monday’s budget is a work in progress

Finance Minister refuses to say whether coronavirus state aid measures will be extended, as Claudio Grech calls for more visibility from the government with regard to its long-term economic plans

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna will present a mini-budget on Monday to unveil government's economic recovery plans
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna will present a mini-budget on Monday to unveil government's economic recovery plans

Edward Scicluna refused to be drawn into when the COVID-19 state aid measures will be removed, saying that details will be given in Monday’s mini-budget.

The Finance Minister insisted the economic measures were never enacted with the intention of being kept in place forever but only until things normalised.

The recovery plan government was going to unveil on Monday is still "a work in progress" and will also include details of when the measures will be removed, Scicluna said on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday night.

His response was criticised by Opposition economy spokesperson Claudio Grech, who insisted that companies, particularly tourism operators, needed to know the government’s long-term plans that stretch beyond the next few months.

“One of the problems there is today is that this visibility is lacking. I hope that this Monday we will not just have a visibility of a few weeks, but a visibility for the long-term so that businesses can truly plan,” Grech said.

The PN MP argued that the economic aid measures should be extended to help businesses get back on their feet.

“I am expecting the government to extend the short-term relief to these industries, not on the basis of providing a bailout, but to help them realign until we emerge from this crisis,” he insisted.

However, Scicluna said the government had done all it could in its response to the coronavirus crisis.

“I’m not trying to say that we did everything well, but we couldn’t do any different. No government anywhere in the world has enough resources to address everyone and make good on all their losses,” Scicluna said.

Grech rebutted that government had to be transparent for the long term to encourage investment and avoid further unemployment.

“Our plan has to provide peace of mind to investors so that they will have a clear vision of the manner in which the government will be providing aid until next April, for instance. In this way, I believe we can also incentivise employers to hold on to more of their employees,” Grech said.

He also argued that the country had to push for a new socio-economic model in the post-Covid-19 reality.

EU aid is gift that comes with a price

Scicluna said Monday’s budget will reward the faith and trust which people placed in the government. “All that the government can give, we will give next Monday,” he said. 

However, the Finance Minister also warned against blindly accepting any solution, such as that put forward by the EU in the form of its proposed €1 billion rescue package. 

This package, he said, would only contain €350 million in grants, with the rest of the sum being financed through an EU-wide loan, and in order to repay this loan, Malta would have to accept measures that could be of harm to the national interest.

“Somebody must pay the interests on these loans and here the EU is taking the opportunity to introduce new Europe-wide taxes, and we know that these are taxes which will strip us of certain competitive advantages,” he warned.

The Finance Minister said that this does not mean Malta will refuse the money, but stressed the need for caution, noting that there is a price to be paid by the country for every gift.

“The Opposition is acting as if we’ve struck gold but we’ve found nothing of the sort,” he said.

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