Malta’s economy is reportedly performing well, driven by the positive performance of our tourism, financial services and iGaming sectors. This is encouraging news and vindicates the efforts taken by past governments, entrepreneurs and Maltese workers who strove hard to build up from scratch these all important sectors which today underpin our economy. The global economic outlook is also significantly more favourable than it was ten years ago, when the world was approaching a colossal economic meltdown. However even in this overall positive scenario, there are questions that need to be raised.
From a political perspective, one has to ask: what is Government doing to ensure that our economy continues to evolve? What new business sectors are being targeted to deliver economic growth in ten or fifteen years’ time?
From a fiscal perspective it is important to question how Government is raising its tax revenue and how it is spending the taxpayer’s monies. Over the past years we have seen a drastic increase in indirect taxation, which is having a negative impact on the standard of living of the more financially vulnerable members of society and eroding the competitiveness of some of our small and medium-sized businesses. A significant percentage of the increase in taxes is going to fund political favours and jobs for the boys. Public sector jobs over the past four years increased pushing up in the process the public sector wage bill. Government’s recurrent expenditure during the last administration increased at faster rates than it did during past administrations. That expenditure is financed through our taxes.
Government is quick to reply to any criticism by pointing to positive GDP, labour and Government finance statistics. These statistics tend to paint an overly rosy rather than a full picture. The Opposition is calling for a serious discussion that looks beyond these headline statistics. The number of people living in Malta permanently or as visitors is growing. This has both positive and negative effects that need to be carefully studied.
Over the past two years, we have highlighted the problem of increasing poverty which Government initially refused to acknowledge. Certain sections of our society are not benefitting from the economic growth. The Opposition is concerned with a new middle class poverty as the dividing line between the haves and have-nots in our society becomes bolder. The steep increase in property and rental prices is going to push more and more people towards the poverty trap. This situation needs to be tackled head-on sooner rather than later. The latest official statistics on poverty show that poverty amongst people aged 65 and over increased significantly between 2014 and 2015. This highlights the need for an urgent discussion on the plight of pensioners of today and tomorrow.
As an Opposition we will continue to insist on transparency, good governance and accountability because they are fundamental values and principles, more so when dealing with the public’s tax money. We will keep insisting for the proper functioning of state authorities which are paid to protect the interest of all of us and not of the Government of the day.
As an Opposition we strongly feel that the taxpayers should be fully aware of all commitments entered into by Government on their behalf. This Government has entered into long-term commitments, particularly in the health and energy sectors the details of which remain under wraps. Government’s feeble excuse of protecting commercially sensitive information does not apply in these cases.
As happened in the past three years, the Opposition is not simply criticising or raising questions. We are putting forward out proposals through the pre-Budget document and during the budget debates. We hope that through our contribution, the country can have a more sensible discussion on our economic and fiscal performance. Our aim is to ensure that Malta’s economy works for the common good and delivers benefits to every member of society.
This opinion piece originally appeared in The Business Observer