The theme of our pre-budget document is An Economy for the People, where the most important consideration is that not everybody is reaping the benefits of our economic prosperity. Indeed, there are segments of our society that are finding it increasingly more difficult to cope, to make ends meet. Pensioners, people on low income, people living in rented accommodation and low and middle-income earners seeking to buy their first property, and migrant communities are facing challenging times. We cannot, and should not be blinded by the positive economic data, and forget in the process the plight of these people. Their pain is real. We are seeing the re-emergence of extreme forms of poverty, the likes of which we have not seen in decades. Clearly, the demarcation between the have and have nots in our society is growing bolder. Government seems to be oblivious to this reality.
The second important consideration is that true economic success needs to be sustainable. Government’s drive to push economic growth through population growth needs to be questioned on this front. How far can we go with this economic model? What happens if as a result of physical constraints, or because of other reasons such as the hike in rental and property prices, Malta loses its attractiveness, its pull for internal immigration or another in- ternational economic crisis?
The third consideration is that the economic growth that government vaunts at every possible occasion is being achieved at the expense of our environment and at the expense of our reputation. Over the past five years our country has amassed a huge environmental deficit. We have sadly decimated the good name of our country. These burdens will have to be borne by our future generations.
The Nationalist Party believes that we can achieve economic growth while still meeting our social obligations and safeguarding our environment, our reputation and our common good. We firmly believe that economic success should not be built on lowering the conditions of middle and lower income groups through an excessive influx of cheap labour that is keeping wages unfairly low while business profits increase. This Government has lost its moral and social compass.
The Opposition is calling on government to address these shortfalls in the upcoming budget. We are calling on government to give a soul to its economic story, and for that soul to be the well-being of every person living in Malta and Gozo. This is what social justice is all about. This is what makes our economy an economy for the people.
Traditionally, the Opposition reacts to a government’s budget in the form of a shadow budget presented after government delivers its budget speech. However, for the past years, the Opposition took on this daunting challenge of presenting its views prior to budget day. In so doing, we are putting our analysis and ideas at an earlier stage of the government, allowing for a wider discussion on the challenges and opportunities that can and should be addressed in the budget.
The budget is not solely an accountancy exercise. When Parliament votes on the financial estimates, it will be giving government the power to spend the country’s resources. Needless to say, that government has the prerogative and the obligation to spend that money to fulfil its electoral obligations. However, government cannot and should not ignore that certain realities are developing in our nation, realities that if left unchecked can lead to serious social and environmental upheavals.
Sadly, our economic success is coming at a high price, a price that will primarily be carried by future generations. Government is disinterested in many of the long-term effects of our present-day actions. Government’s silence on poverty, inflation, on the problems faced by people being priced out of the property market, on the problems faced by our pensioners, and average to lower income families is deafening. Government’s nonchalant attitude to environmental degradation is immoral, even more so when one considers that this very same government promised to prioritise environmental considerations.
This is the rationale behind this pre-budget document. It is an exercise built on research and data. Through this document we strive to give an alternative view to that presented by government. We do not call black that which the government calls white. In life, things are hardly black or white. But if they are black, then we will paint them as such. As an Opposition, we have a duty to speak out especially when government decides to stay silent. We have a duty to represent those who do not have a voice. And we will not shy away from this duty. Just as we will not shy away from giving our proposals on how things can be managed in a more sustainable manner.
Mario de Marco