Budget approved - Government wants more benefit from Malta's maritime economic zone
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said today that he would be presenting proposals to Parliament aimed at ensuring that the economy gained more from the activity which went on in Malta's maritime economic zone, to at least cover the risks which Malta faced because of those activities.
Dr Gonzi was speaking in Parliament at the end of the Budget debate. The Budget estimates were later approved with 35 government votes in favour and 34 opposition votes against.
At the beginning of his address Dr Gonzi noted that in a six-hour debate on the Office of the Prime Minister, no one had criticised the EU directorate, which, he said, had been outstanding in the management of EU funds.
Such funds had been used in education, the infrastructure, waste management and sewage treatment, among many other sectors. Unfortunately, many in the House did not know how the EU worked and how the use of EU funds was spread over a number of years. But he could assure the House that Malta would spend every cent allocated to it.
It was shameful, Dr Gonzi said, that the Opposition was trying to downplay or even deny achievements from which Malta was benefiting, such as the record in tourism, which was achieved despite the crisis in Libya, where Malta regularly featured in the media, and the economic situation in Malta's source countries.
This year was significant for Malta in that it would be one of very few EU countries which would see their deficit drop below 3% of GDP, but the Opposition were ignoring or downplaying this as well. The Opposition highlighted warnings by the EU about Malta's deficit, but then ignored praise from the same sources when the deficit dropped and the economy grew at a faster pace than the EU average.
Had these results not been true, people would be queuing outside the job centres as they were doing in other countries, Dr Gonzi said.
The government, however, was not ignoring the country's problems, such as the sectors where workers were not enjoying the rights and conditions they deserved.
The government wanted to encourage the people, without any soap bubbles and promises which could not be kept. Once Malta had achieved so much despite the huge problems it had endured, there was nothing to stop it in the future, despite even more problems that were on the way.
Referring to remarks by Opposition leader Joseph Muscat this morning, Dr Gonzi said the tax on mobile telephony was being discussed with the operators. The tax would be worked out on other basis of the duration of calls. If there was a better system, the government would consider it. He was sure agreement would be reached with the operators in a way which yielded the governemnt the projected €700,000.
Dr Gonzi said the bunkering tax already existed and was being increased. It was true that some concerns had been raised over competitiveness. The governemnt was holding talks with the sector on the best way forward that would also yield the revenue that was projected. Indeed, the government felt this sector could yield more to the country and he would in future propose more measures regarding the economic zone belonging to Malta, thus covered the risks which Malta was facing.
On the eco-contribution item in the Malta Tourism Authority Budget, also mentioned by Dr Muscat, Dr Gonzi said Dr Muscat had confused this with another item referring to the environment.
As for Dr Muscat's 'fixation' against capital projects, Dr Gonzi said projects such as the corporate village would eventually lead to a jump of quality for the Maltese.
The offices of Malta Enterprise in San Gwann had been moved for Malta to set the infrastructure for the bio-park, a brand new sector of economic activity.
Dr Gonzi said Dr Muscat had appeared to be rubbing his hands in glee over SmartCity, but work on this project was continuing and one would soon see the Opposition trying to claim credit for the benefits of this project.
Concluding, Dr Gonzi said this year had been among the most difficult for Malta. The Budget had been presented against these experiences, but it was consonant with the government's strategy for greater progress in the economic, social and environmental sectors, among others. The government wanted to provide all the stimulus it could for economic activity. It had also earmarked funds for Air Malta, conscious of its important role in the economy. New schemes were being introduced to encourage SMEs.
One of the important elements was the strategy on power generation. It was clear that the opposition strategy had been built around Sargas. The government was not ignoring this proposal, but it did not rush to judgement. It appointed experts to present their analyses before decisions were taken. The Opposition's proposal, built around Sargas, were proving to be another soap bubble, Dr Gonzi said. The government wanted Malta to have multiple sources of energy, an interconnector to enable Malta to buy electricity at cheaper rates, a gas pipeline to convert the power station to gas, and greater emphasis on renewable energy including solar and wind energy.
Dr Gonzi said he disagreed on getting new systems which would create new problems of waste disposal,. He hoped to announce more initiatives in the coming weeks.
In his address Dr Gonzi also highlighted the reduced tax for parents, the allowance for people aged over 80 and the proposal for an extension of maternity leave.