Up, down, in and out - a detailed look at the government's spending
Beyond the headline figures, the financial estimates give a better glimpse of where and how taxpayer money will be spent. Kurt Sansone analyses the line items.
A drop in migrant arrivals over the past two years has left closed centres almost empty, prompting the Finance Minister to cut the Detention Service budget by €3.5 million.
The service now has to make do with a still significant kitty of €4.2 million but is one of a few initiatives that have experienced budget cuts as Edward Scicluna keeps a tight rein on expenditure.
Budget 2017 followed in the footsteps of its three predecessors as Prof. Scicluna attempted to balance new initiatives by restraining general expenditure to previous year levels.
While some programmes and initiatives will next year have to make do with less money, the bulk will have to contend with no increase in funds while increases were limited to the target audiences: pensioners, the vulnerable and low income earners.
In an exercise based on the budget estimates document released last Monday, the Times of Malta picked a few random items that characterise the government’s general drift.
The vote on the supplementary allowance increased by €3.3 million to reach €10.8 million while the in-work benefit scheme was up to €3 million from €2 million. These increases will target the vulnerable as will the pension increases.
But this verve was not reflected on environmental issues. The vote to manage protected areas was cut to €200,000 from €325,000. A new agency called Ambjent Malta will be set up with a budget of €200,000.
Most programmes in the environmental sector experienced no change. And while hunting organisations will continue to receive a yearly grant of €10,000, rival organisation Birdlife will get €150,000 to manage the Salini salt pans.
Government’s commitment to introduce insurance cover for members of disciplined corps was not matched with adequate funding. A measly €1,000 was pledged to fulfil this commitment.
On the other hand, the Office of the Prime Minister’s budget includes an expense of €100,000 under the “Mystery shopping initiative”.
And for the curious, Konrad Mizzi’s ministry within the OPM – more popularly known as Ministry Without Portfolio – is expected to cost taxpayers €1.3 million next year.
In the health sector, the concession agreements with private company Vitals Global Healthcare for the Gozo and Karin Grech hospitals will see the government fork out €16.5 million. However, the estimates also include a separate line item for Karin Grech hospital with an additional expenditure of €11 million.
Health is probably the sector with the highest number of individual line items that saw increased funding, including an additional €400,000 for the in-vitro fertilisation programme that will have a budget of €1 million.
The expenditure on the Pharmacy of Your Choice scheme also increased but the vote under the Transport Ministry for upgrading main touristic areas was slashed by half.
Former Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando will not like seeing his budget at the Malta Council for Science and Technology slip by €400,000 while Church schools will get an extra €2 million to reach a €65 million tab.
Malta’s EU Presidency in 2017 will cost millions. The European Affairs Ministry has earmarked a tab of €28.5 million for the presidency but this is boosted by hundreds of thousands of euros that appear as separate line items in almost every ministry.
The February informal summit that will bring the EU’s heads of government to Malta will cost €2.3 million.
And on a lighter note, it helps to know that the €28,000 budget for pest control will remain untouched.
What do the highest offices cost us?
■ The President: €4,345,000
The President will see her office’s budget increase by €477,000 in 2017.
This includes the President’s wage of €60,811, an allocation of €40,000 for the Commission for the Administration of Justice and €700,000 for the President’s Foundation for Social Wellbeing.
■ Parliament: €10,034,000
The 2017 budget is €840,000 more than this year’s allocation.
This includes €1.2 million in wages for MPs and the Speaker, a €200,000 fund for political parties represented in Parliament and €4.4 million in rent for the Renzo Piano building.
■ Judicial system: €14,089,000
The vote allocation for the judicial system within the Justice Ministry will increase by €133,000 next year.
This includes €7.8 million in wages and €1.9 million in allowances; €1.2 million to fund criminal court trial expenses such as summoning witnesses, experts and sustaining jurors; and €10,000 for the new Judicial Appointments Committee.
■ Ombudsman: €1.1 million, an increase of €75,000.
■ National Audit Office: €3.2 million, an increase of €250,000.