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MaltaToday Midweek 2 November 2022

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2 BUDGET 2023 maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 2 NOVEMBER 2022 2 KARL AZZOPARDI OPPOSITION leader Bernard Grech said government has failed to address the realities faced by Maltese society in next year's budget. "Government promised us a living wage, instead it gave us living poor," Grech sai on Mon- day when delivering his reaction to the budget presented by Fi- nance Minister Clyde Caruana last week. "This is a cosmetic budget, which fails to address the serious problems faced by society today: cost of living, traffic, environ- mental pollution, extra costs for businesses," the Nationalist Par- ty leader said. Debt and wasteful spending He criticised government's economic policy, saying it has continued to increase the coun- try's debt. "First you spent every last cent for wasteful reasons and bad decisions, now he wants you to make sacrifices." Grech said that in order for the Labour Party to win the general election, it spent public funds "excessively." "Soon after, they told us we need to reduce public spending." The PN leader said govern- ment statements that no new taxes were introduced were false. "This is a budget with the worst tax possible: debt," Grech said, hitting out at the absolute increase in public debt. He said Labour governments have overseen record levels of debt, playing down declarations by government that debt had in- creased due to COVID-19 meas- ures. Young people are among those facing the brunt of excessive debt, especially those who are looking to buy a property and experiencing rising prices and interest, Grech said. Health Speaking on mental health, he said recent statistics have shown that 74% of youths aged between 13 and 18, and 56% of those aged between 19 and 25 have expressed their concern on their mental health. "And what did Robert Abela do? He slashed the Richmond Foundation budget, a founda- tion respected widely for its work in the mental health sec- tor," he said. The Nationalist leader slammed government for giving three state hospitals on con- cession to Steward Healthcare. "They gave them away for free, and we continue to pay €100 million every year," he said with reference to the budget commit- ted to the concession. Grech challenged Abela to de- clare he would be ending the contract with Steward, which has so far failed to live up to its contractual obligations. "Only that way will you be on the side of the people. If you don't, you will side with the corrupt. This is a government which is weak with Vitals, but strong with health workers. In- stead of ordering they pay back the millions they stole, they are giving them even more," Grech said. "Why does Robert Abela insist on defending this deal?" 10 years of Labour He said this budget tries to make people forget "from where we started." "Government is trying hard to distance itself from Joseph Muscat. This is the same gov- ernment," he said. "Most of to- day's ministers, parliamentary secretaries and MPs were there during Muscat's time." He said they were accomplic- es in allowing corruption to run rampant in the country. "In the moment of truth, when you had the chance to vote against all this, you did nothing." The Nationalist leader said La- bour had promised to eradicate corruption in the country, but instead continued to push it. "We are paying for that corrup- tion." Grech stated that government continues to choose the interests of foreigners over those of the Maltese. "Corruption in Elec- trogas, millions to persons of trust, direct orders everywhere, large swaths of land to Jordanian developers at Smart City. Cor- ruption everywhere from pave- ments to flyovers." Cost of living Speaking on the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA), Grech said the Finance Minister had prom- ised a new mechanism last year but only acted now, more than a year later. "A year has passed, and the 80,000 vulnerable peo- ple and 37,000 vulnerable fam- ilies have received nothing," he insisted. Grech said the increase in cost of living is not enough to ad- dress the "explosion in prices." He said people from all walks of life, even those in the middle class, have had to rethink their priorities. "From going abroad on a holiday, to eating out, this all leads to a quality of life which is worse." Traffic On traffic, he said that after government spent a billion eu- ro on road projects, people still have to experience long waiting times stuck in traffic. "Instead of coming up with solutions, they come up with excuses. Anyone but them is to blame," he said, taking a pot shot at comments made during the summer by the Transport Min- ister who blamed traffic jams on feasts. Grech slammed the "false promises" of a metro, saying the project was not mentioned by Caruana in last week's budget speech. "Why did Minister Ian Borg say that studies were fin- ished? Are they or are they not? Or do you have a direct order lined up?" Grech said government failed to properly address the traffic situation, which was "getting even worse" and has now be- come a "threat to public health". Energy Grech said the energy sector can no longer be shrouded in a culture of "theft and secrecy." The Nationalist leader said that while government is right in subsidising energy prices, it should be transparent on the fig- ures it is paying. "Government cannot just quote figures and pretend that a simple one-liner in the budget without any break- down is enough. How can this administration pretend that 10% of government spending be a simple one-liner without expla- nation and costings," he said. The reference was to the €600 million earmarked for subsidies on energy, fuel and grains. "Government must tell us where these millions are going. How much of these millions are subsidising gas from Socar? How much of these millions are go- ing towards Electrogas' profits? How much of these millions are subsidising the €5,000 a day we are paying for their friends at 17 Black, Hearnville, Tillgate and Egrant?" he said. Not a socialist government The PN leader picked up on the Finance Minister's statements that this is a "socialist govern- ment." "You are everything but a so- cialist government. They use that term to give the impression they are a workers' party. This is a budget of figures, which does not recognise the realities faced by Maltese and Gozitan fami- lies." He said that Robert Abela on Tuesday, will push the rhetoric that the Opposition is negative. "What he won't say is that thou- sands of euro will be given to the chosen few, what he won't say is that large amounts of funds will be collected through taxes." The PN's vision for the future Grech then mentioned a num- ber of measures the PN hopes to see introduced. He proposed a new cost of liv- ing mechanism which goes be- yond economic indicators such as the GDP, but is composed of indicators such as the welfare of society and communities. He said the PN wants to im- prove public health services by investing in prevention, primary healthcare and specialised cen- tres based in the community. Speaking on education, he said it can no longer remain academic, but should strive to teach young children and youths to become active citizens with skills that go beyond academic achievement. Grech said government must ensure that recycling efforts by people are recognised, and not end up mixing "separated waste into one dump." He also said that infrastructure must cater for new technologies for alternative energy from the sun, wind and waves. Concluding, he said Gozo needs regional leadership with executive powers and adequate financing so that the issues of sustainable development, traffic and internal tourism are proper- ly addressed. "Who better to do this then Gozitans themselves?" Other measures on good gov- ernance, justice, security and infrastructure were also men- tioned by Grech. Bernard Grech: Government failed to address today's realities Opposition leader Bernard Grech says 'cosmetic budget' did not address traffic, environmental pollution and cost of living Bernard Grech PHOTO: JAMES BIANCHI

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