Kiss kiss, bang bang

Edward Scicluna (left) turned up in Parliament yesterday evening armed with a kiss-and-make-up Budget, which, Joseph Muscat (right) says, targets those who have not yet benefitted from economic growth.

Edward Scicluna (left) turned up in Parliament yesterday evening armed with a kiss-and-make-up Budget, which, Joseph Muscat (right) says, targets those who have not yet benefitted from economic growth.

As Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil was down in a Marsaxlokk square on Sunday morning playing up the dangers posed by a huge tanker full of gas inside the harbour, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna was possibly tucked up inside a dimly lit study touching up yesterday’s Budget speech. Or maybe he was not.

Maybe the Budget speech had long been written, well before those Budget wish lists from all and sundry had stopped pouring into Castille. It doesn’t appear that many of those wishes were fulfilled, except when they came from the General Workers’ Union and the Malta Developers’ Association.

Wherever Scicluna was on his day of rest, he turned up in Parliament yesterday evening wearing a light blue tie and armed with a kiss-and-make-up Budget, the stuff heartbroken lovers can only dream of.

It was a ‘social budget’, he said. That means that unless you’re poor, old, unemployed, disabled or on the minimum wage, you won’t be getting much. Not that there’s anything wrong with those measures – we don’t all have the money to build skyscrapers – and this was meant to be a socialist government anyway.

Many of us, however, work hard for most of our lives, own our homes, pay our taxes, do with one holiday a year, live off one or two salaries, do our best to raise our children and try to live a middle class life in some peace. It is a lifestyle under threat from a rising cost of living and from a Prime Minister repeatedly threatening to create a ‘new’ middle class, whatever that means.

Once the middle class was easily identifiable but now it is squashed ever so tightly in between high earners and very low earners to whom this Budget is dedicated. It’s capitalism at its worse, or business-friendly socialism.

Yes, we can say we’re better off with the €1.75 cost of living increase and that is what most of us got. Unless we intend to invest in solar panels or buy a second home in Gozo, the Budget was a drab. It ignored the middle class Labour so successfully wooed before the election. Those measly €1.75 mean we can all treat ourselves to a bag full of pastizzi once a week but with no accompanying drink.

That won’t help the waistline, of course, and, given our country’s record in sedentary life choices, it is only a matter oftime before the government starts taxing those extra pounds as well: a kind of VRT for the oversized.

Instead of something – anything – to get the country out of its traffic mess, we are just getting smoking bans in cars when there are children inside. And, yes, the extension of the point system to make drivers’ lives even more miserable. What about enforcing existing regulations for a change, before adding new ones? Rules aren’t a fashion trend that comes and goes. Governments do that.

With big business now happily being provided with a huge playing field in Paceville to build to their hearts’ content for years to come, albeit with some tax rises on glass, metal stuff and ceramics, Labour can finally turn its attention to some of its own. Its deputy leader, Chris Cardona, wants a party customer service to handle ‘personal cases’, a move that would institutionalise cronyism. God knows what they were personally promised before the election.

Busuttil is meanwhile talking more and more of “the worker”, a term long abandoned by Labour in favour of its new middle class. He is trying to move into Labour’s home turf. But they’ve been taken care of quite a bit, in this Budget.

This was hardly an election Budget. It just targets the estimated 10 per cent of Labour supporters who no longer want to know of their party but don’t yet want to turn to the Nationalists either. A total €8 million a year is being allocated to cater for the many loose ends and loose votes.

With the economy in boom, the Prime Minister is saying we are now playing in Serie A. That may be but Serie A teams tend to easily get relegated over corruption. Labour chooses to ignore its terrible scandals and comes out with the dosh for targeted sectors. If people can be kept happy with government handouts, they may just forgive all and keep them in power. The strategy may work.

Busuttil promises good governance, which has its attractions. He also begins to promise tangibles, the last one on Sunday being that he will take that LNG tanker out of Marsaxlokk if safety requires.

No one wants a big bang in Marsaxlokk. The risks are obvious but there’s no way around mooring that tanker, unless Labour is prepared to include a ‘working power station’ in its next electoral programme.

Labour’s answer at this stage is a Budget full of kiss kiss and the hope there will be no bang bang to precipitate a sudden election.


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