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Snap election leaves 10 State entities in limbo

Budget deadline looms

Will the Planning Authority have money to pay staff? Photos: Chris Sant Fournier

Will the Planning Authority have money to pay staff? Photos: Chris Sant Fournier

The snap election means Parliament now faces a tight deadline to approve the budgets of 10 State entities, which employ hundreds of people, or else leave them without funds.

The House of Representatives will either have to hold up to three daily sittings over a five-day period to approve the money bills before the June 30 deadline or the government will have to ask for the Opposition’s support for an extension.

The entities involved include the Planning Authority, Occupational Health and Safety, Housing, Environment and Resources, Tourism, Lands and Embryo Protection authorities. The other entities are the employment agency Jobs Plus, the Water Services Corporation and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage.

The Lands Authority.The Lands Authority.

Parliament was suspended at the beginning of May after the Prime Minister announced the election. The State opening of the House, at the start of a new legislature, is now due next Saturday but normal operations will only resume two days later, on Monday, June 26.

That leaves just five days in which to approve the annual reports and financial estimates of the various authorities and entities, which have been pending since before the Easter recess. The newly elected Labour government, which enjoys a seven-seat majority in Parliament, now faces a race against time.

A warning was sounded by Opposition MP David Agius, who served as Nationalist Party whip for the last two legislatures.

“If these money bills are not approved within the set deadline, the various authorities would not be able to pay their employees,” he said.

He added: “The tight timeframe is the result of the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap election with complete disregard to everything else.”

If these money bills are not approved within the set deadline, the various authorities would not be able to pay their employees

The entities are each regulated by a specific law but they are all bound to have their annual expenditure approved by Parliament by “the expiration of six months from the beginning of a financial year, or until   the approval of the estimates for that year by the House, whichever is the earlier date”.

The law also specifies that between one and two sessions must be dedicated to each debate. This means that, excluding the votes, Parliament will have to meet two to three times a day between Monday and Friday to discuss the estimates. This includes June 29, the feast of St Peter and St Paul, a public holiday.

Newly appointed Labour Whip Byron Camilleri, who is in his first stint as an MP, said the government’s advice on the matter was that the impasse could be resolved through an agreement with the Opposition for a deadline extension.

“There is a precedent to such a procedure. Discussions with the Opposition are under way.

“If the Opposition does not agree to such proposal, the government will have to proceed with an intensive number of sittings, in order to abide by the end-of-June deadline,” Dr Camilleri said.

However, the issue cannot be resolved until next week when the full complement of the 67 MPs are determined through the casual elections. At that stage, the PN Parliamentary Group will be meeting for the first time to decide on Labour’s request.

keith.micallef@timesofmalta.com

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