The party is over
For the first time since the establishment of the two-party parliamentary system, Malta is heading to a general election with the two opposing blocs headed by a new leader. The legislature which is coming to a close, stands out as being one of the most politically turbulent periods in post-Independence history. The fully-fledged political crisis of 2019 which ultimately led to Joseph Muscat’s resignation, was followed by the equally unprecedented events within the Opposition which resulted in Adrian Delia being booted out of the leadership. Meanwhile, there was an exceptionally high number of resignations from Cabinet and the House of Representatives. Arguably, the most significant aspect of all was that in the case of Labour most of the newcomers entered parliament through co-option even though there was the much more democratic route of a casual election.
These turbulent five years started off with the macabre and brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and are coming to a close on an equally sombre note, albeit for Malta’s reputation, which is in tatters after having been grey listed over its complete inaction on money laundering and corruption.
So where do we stand right now? Whoever will be at the helm will have quite their plate full. Apart from restoring the country’s reputation, there are worrying signs with respect to the cost of living and the soaring debt levels. In recent months essential items like bread, milk and other groceries has soared, thus eating from the purchasing power of many families who were already struggling to make ends meet. The government might be justified in saying it is not to blame as these costs could be the result of external factors beyond its control, such as freight and increase in the expenses of raw materials. However, when it comes to the soaring public debt it is a case of “mia culp mia maxima culpa”. With each and every day that goes by, cases of lavish spending from taxpayers’ money are coming to light. Apart from the daylight-robbery deal involving the three State hospitals which has already sucked up in excess of €400 million, other deals made headlines including the €31 million rent agreement of the Malta Business Registry Offices, the long list of direct orders, as well as people being put on the State payroll with exorbitant salaries which are twice as much as the minister himself. However, the chickens are now coming home to roost. The huge bill incurred to keep the economy afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the decline in popularity of Malta’s cash-for-passport scheme, which was being used to keep the books balanced, meant that the coffers are emptying fast. Within this context, the recent declarations on tax evasion of the finance minister who seems as if he was on the warpath with the business community, have stirred controversy.
Any commendable tax evasion measure must start by tackling the black economy which in Malta is estimated to be around 25 per cent. Otherwise, trying to squeeze law-abiding citizens further, would simply be adding insult to injury. In the current scenario, the finance minister must first consider revoking certain deals costing millions and clipping the wings of those syphoning huge sums through other means like lucrative overpaid jobs from the State. Furthermore, culling off the practice of ministers burdening State entities with non-productive jobs in return for votes would also help.
Meanwhile, the finance ministry can organise a short excursion to the various yacht marinas and have a brief tete-a-tete to learn on their amazing skills of how some of the owners with modest incomes managed to make a fortune overnight. These two initiatives alone should have the potential not to start balancing the books and convey a strong message. Though we have no crystal ball to know who will be addressing the crowd from Castille after the next election, the message is loud and clear. The party is over.