It was a great Budget last night, no doubt about that. If by ‘great’ we mean that there were lots of goodies being splashed about.
As the saying goes, ‘j’Alla l-gid’ (God bless) but I can’t help but wonder how we have suddenly found all this money? It would be terrific if all these promises were to be kept. Heck, even Joseph Muscat has gone on record as saying that, if elected, a Labour government would follow through on what was promised. (A statement which he will, probably, live to regret if he finds himself Prime Minister).
Wages, children’s allowances, students, pensioners: it seems that practically every strata is going to be getting some kind of increase. But the pragmatic, sensible side of me is questioning how the national coffers are going to pay for all this in the current global economic climate. I also ask this because, in so many crucial areas such as free health care and our stipend-based tertiary education, we have often heard that there is not enough money to continue making them sustainable. This is apart from other pockets of real social and economic poverty which are constantly crying out for more financial help but have to resort to fundraising because they are always told “there’s no more money”.
Just as Tonio Fenech was showering us with all these early Christmas presents, I learned that Portugal is rife with protests after announcing more tough austerity measures. Is Malta really so ‘special’ that our government can afford to throw money around when everyone else is doing a Mintoff and tightening their belts? It would be impressive if it’s true, but frankly, I think we are deluding ourselves. Money in, money out – whether you are an average housewife balancing the housekeeping budget or the Finance Minister of a country, the same principles apply and you should really never spend money you don’t have.
As for the reduction of income tax for the upper income brackets (either as a single computation or as a couple with two very good incomes) who currently pay at the rate of 35%, this is all well and good except for that chunk of the population whose income falls short of this bracket. Since Tonio Fenech was in such a generous mood, wouldn’t it have been fairer across the board if all income tax bands had benefitted from a reduction?
All this, of course, has to be seen in the light of one stark reality: Franco Debono keeps insisting that he is going to vote against the budget. Not everyone takes him seriously, but at least one person has – last night in Parliament Franco tabled an anonymous death threat that he had received. Malta Today journalist Raphael Vassallo was quick to point out that this little nugget of news was not even reported by PBS, which is a grave omission by the national broadcaster.
Of course, because it is Franco, who admittedly has often said some bizarre things, there are plenty of people who are dismissing whatever he says. But one thing is clear – if he does vote against this very generous Budget, he will not only be blamed for bringing down the government but, what is worse in many people’s eyes, he will be effectively depriving them of all the promised goodies which will have to be put on hold because of an election.