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Labour to retain Budget benefits...and price rises

Three Labour spokesmen this afternoon gave a detailed analysis of the Budget but failed to give details of what the party would do differently. They indicated that a Labour government would retain both the benefits of the Budget as well as the price rises which were announced in the Finance Minister's speech.

Karmenu Vella, shadow minister for finance, said there was an abnormal situation in the country since the Budget might not be approved in parliament.

To deter instability, Labour had committed to implement the Budget framework, as proposed by the government, even though it left a lot to be desired, he said.

Mr Vella compared the situation to a cooking show where chefs were given the same ingredients to make competing meals.

"We would have preferred to buy the ingredients ourselves, but in this case, we have been given the ingredients," he said, stressing that a united Labour team was committing to delivering the Budget's measures more comprehensively than the Government, which failed to deliver many of its own Budget measures in the previous four years.

Charles Mangion, shadow minister for economic affairs, confirmed that Labour would retain the increase in excise duties announced yesterday (on cigarettes, fuel and cement)  as well as the income tax cutss. However, it would seek to redress the current situation where those on minimum wage would now be taxed around €60 a year.

MEP Edward Scicluna gave an analysis from the macro-economic perspective and pointed out that the country's biggest challenge was reducing the debt and deficit.

He said Malta's finances were under investigation according to the EU's  Alert Mechanism Report and though this should not raise alarm, it shows that the country's finances should always be kept under control.

"This is not an exam that we pass once," he said, urging for the Budget to be examined more closely.

He pointed out that some of the deficit projections given to the EU and the International Monetary Fund were not in line with those which featured in the Budget.

Asked what Labour would remove from the Budget, Mr Vella said Labour in Government must implement the whole proposed package because it would otherwise have to reopen discussions with the EU.

Pushed to give a concrete example, he said Labour was seeking ways of redressing the "anomaly" where minimum wage earners would now be taxed.

Asked to give another example, Mr Vella said this Budget did not address the high water and electricity rates.

At one point during the press conference, Mr Vella said Labour would reduce water and electricity rates from the first year.

Asked at the end of the press conference to confirm that this was the case, Mr Vella denied saying the reduction would come in the first year. He then said he meant to say that this would "start to be addressed immediately". Details, he said, would be given in the manifesto which would be published once an election was called.

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