[WATCH] Budget balances rewarding the people with ensuring sustainability, Silvio Schembri says

On Xtra, financial services parliamentary secretary Silvio Schembri says government had to ensure the Budget was sustainable for the future

Digital Economy parliamentary secretary Silvio Schembri and PN MP and finance spokesperson Mario de Marco were guests on tonight's Xtra
Digital Economy parliamentary secretary Silvio Schembri and PN MP and finance spokesperson Mario de Marco were guests on tonight's Xtra

The 2020 budget both rewards the people and advances the government sustainability goals, Silvio Schembri said, as he emphasised that Malta couldn't rest on its laurels despite the current economic growth.

The financial services parliamentary secretary was speaking on TVM’s Xtra tonight, where he extolled the virtues of the budget announced on Monday, stressing the fact that, for the third year running, this budget makes no mention of any tax increases.

Schembri, in an oftentimes lively debate with PN MP and finance spokesperson Mario de Marco, said that the budget is centred around three primary principles – rewarding hardworking families, helping vulnerable individuals, and ensuring that the budget will be sustainable for the future.

The parliamentary secretary emphasised the latter point on multiple instances, especially in the face of criticism as to why, given the current healthy local economic climate, this budget is not as generous to people’s pockets as it might have been.

Casting aside any notion that this was what is sometimes referred to as a "mid-term budget", Schembri explained that the budgets of the current administration are not determined by how long they’ve been in government, but that each budget is part of a larger, overarching economic plan.

“If we take everything we’re getting in today and give it all away”, Schembri stated, “then tomorrow we’re going to end up in a situation where we’ll have to take it back”.

De Marco, however, criticised what he said was a lack of long-term vision in the budget. De Marco insisted that the budget was merely trying to tackle the symptoms of social problems, by for instance, raising the pensions by €3.51 (excluding COLA), without addressing the underlying cause.

“The budget should not simply try to lessen the burden, but should be courageous enough to say what the underlying problem is and how we’re going to solve it," de Marco said.

He argued that the fact that the number of pensioners living in a state of poverty has now increased to number 22,000 is evidence of an underlying problem which is not being addressed, but is rather, being masked by incremental increases in pension allowance.

Schembri rejected this proposal, highlighting how this year’s pension hike alone can cover six months of an average pensioner’s water and electricity costs.

Additionally, this budget, Schembri said, had also considered other strata of society, by implementing measures such as the reduction of income tax on overtime hours, and the granting of a minimum wage to all those people with disabilities which do not allow them to work, among others.

On his part, de Marco continued to insist that the current administration is lacking “the vision for tomorrow’s economy”, proclaiming that the economic success of every administration lies in its identifying what tomorrow’s economy will hold, and preparing the country accordingly.

PL MP Byron Camilleri PN MP and economy spokesperson Kristy Debono were also on tonight's programme
PL MP Byron Camilleri PN MP and economy spokesperson Kristy Debono were also on tonight's programme

This lack of faith in the government’s long-term plan was also echoed by fellow PN MP and economy spokesperson Kristy Debono later on in the programme.  

“I wished that this budget would give us that sense of security, that sense of direction, that the government has an economic strategy, a financial strategy, and that he has a vision mapped out, ideally not just for the next year, but for the upcoming ten years”, Debono said.

Schembri dismissed such claims in his concluding remarks.

“We are preparing for the future”, he said, before noting that, with this budget, the government has helped foster several new industry sectors, such as the blockchain industry, artifical intelligence, video game development, and that of esports, all of which were done with an eye to the future," he said.

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