Friday 14 December 2018

Here’s how that €11.4 million could be better spent

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

The Prime Minister on Wednesday let us all know in a Tweet that: “As promised prior to re-election, all #workers and those earning less than €60,000 will be receiving a first #tax refund. 200,000 people will be benefiting from a €11.4 million direct input to continue sharing in #Malta success. This is #Prosperity with a #Purpose “

Now, of course, a tax refund is always a nice thing to have plop through the postbox, so I do not want to sound like I am knocking something which, at face value, is a positive thing. But when it was broken down per person, it turns out that what we will be receiving is in the region of a one-off payment between €40 to €68, depending on one’s income and one’s marital/family status.

The news was met by the usual mixed reactions of praise by those who think Muscat is the best thing since sliced bread, and a cynical scoff by those who think this is all just a publicity stunt by a Government throwing crumbs at the people. “Wow, that much?” some quipped sarcastically. After all, how much can that small amount really cover? It’s enough to buy a few rudimentary items at the supermarket or to buy a few textbooks. Heck, some women spend that much on their weekly visit to the hairdresser, beautician or nail technician. So while getting anything back is always nice, let’s not get too excited at all this benevolence.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that the money could have been better spent on something much more useful which would be of general benefit to the whole country. Of course, that would mean there would be no immediate, ‘feel good’ factor of instant gratification which a personalized cheque addressed directly to over 200,000 people is bound to have. It is clear that there is psychology at work here, where the Government is attempting to foster a kind of bonhomie among the populace – for some it will work, but others will simply see it as yet another manipulative ploy. Let’s face it, an average of €50 each is but a drop in the ocean compared to the millions this administration is claiming to have raked in to date through the Citizenship by Investment scheme alone. For those who hate this administration, it is just another example of how it treats voters with contempt by trying to shut them up with a pittance.

But for those willing to give Muscat the benefit of the doubt, they will tell you that the electoral promise was to dole out a tax rebate, and in that respect the Government has kept its word. And of course, for those who are in dire straits, any amount, no matter how (relatively) small, is always useful.

However, it has occurred to more than one person that, rather than indulging in this largesse, it might have been more productive to take the global sum €11.4 million and spend it where it is really needed. The possibilities are endless:

– to beef up a woefully under-resourced police force which has to deal with everything from the daily traffic accidents, to breaking up fights, to an increasing amount of crimes ranging from the petty to the very serious. (And no, having six police officers chasing after a naked man at Spinola Bay is not one of them). It is clear that they cannot cope, that the population has grown in numbers and that even the type of crimes have changed. Tempers flare up with increasing frequency, the traffic leads to quick road rage, alcohol fuelled fights are common place and the need for law and order on our roads and in our streets is being acutely felt.

– to improve the environment. As the mania for tree-chopping continues because, you know, we have to make way for THE CAR, the need for more greenery cannot be under-estimated. While I realise that Agenzija Ambient is doing its best, the country is craving for more green spaces, more trees, more nature to rest the eye and beautify the stretches of relentless concrete. Think of how many trees we can buy for that amount of money. In fact, part of the money could be used to buy up old, abandoned, derelict buildings, tear them down and give them back to the public in the form of small parks to serve as an oasis and an escape from fuel exhaust and pollution.

– to clean up our act. You can never have any rubbish bins. You can never have enough large skips. You can never have enough rubbish collection trucks circulating this now densely populated island which everyone seems to treat like a general landfill outside their door. You can never have enough green wardens (remember them?) to enforce the law. Channel those millions to keep the country clean and clamp down on offenders, using the money generated from fines to keep paying for these services. No matter how many altruistic clean up campaigns are happening on a regular basis, the rubbish keeps multiplying, so the people polluting need to be made to pay. It is a relentless, constant job but it needs to be done because we are sinking in our own filth.

These are just three suggestions off the top of my head – I’m sure you readers will have your own. Any amount allocated to any sector would definitely be money well-spent.

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