Sociologist from Malta

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The electoral supermarket

"Cost estimates presented at election time do not portray the whole picture"

Michael Briguglio

The Times, Friday 1 February 2013

The electoral campaign increasingly resembles a supermarket. While the caretaker government is busy using its power of incumbency, the Nationalist and Labour parties are playing a cat and mouse game, topping up each other’s promises in the process.

On energy, the PN and the PL are conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, namely Malta’s limited water supply. They are not proposing anything with regard to theft of public water from boreholes. By constantly referring to pipelines, interconnectors and new power stations, they also keep minimizing the need to prioritise investment in renewable energy, though Malta is Europe’s laggard in this respect. The public will only have to pay more for both water and electricity unless such urgent matters are tackled.

On education, both are saying next to nothing on concepts such as inclusion, comprehensive systems, accessibility and universal access to resources. Instead, they came up with the tablet spectacle.

I have nothing against tablets but I find the blue and red proposals insulting when, apparently, there was no consultation with teachers on this.

This is even more disappointing when one notes that kindergarten assistants and LSAs don’t even have a laptop, when various forms of educational inequalities remain, when Malta’s illiteracy rate is too high and when the country still has a low level of students in post-secondary and tertiary education.

Rather than admitting that this is cheap populism at its worst, the two parties add insult to injury by supplying costings that can only be taken with a pinch of salt.

For example, the PN’s cost esimtates are predicting only an eight per cent increase in government expenditure in the coming five years. I dont’ think this is realistic. Indeed, various public costs, such as civil servant salaries, pensions and benefits, are non-discretionary and will inevitably keep increasing year after year.

So is the PN predicting a cut in expenditure on discretionary items? Not really, when the same party, like Labour, is promising so much.

Labour’s cost estimates do not fare much better. For example, the estimates on gas proposals are incomplete and difficult to beleive. I once again invite Labour to submit comprehensive studies that justify its stance for cheaper utility bills.

Cost esimtates presented at election time do not portray the whole picture as governments must continuously adjust to external and internal circumstances that call for reprioritisation of budgets.

Such circumstances can range from sudden crises and changes, to predictions gone wrong, to actual access to funds.

While both parties are busy promising everything to everyone, they conveniently say nothing about government revenue, except for promising tax cuts and doing away with various important sources of public funds. For example, they both agree with regressive and unsustainable cuts in income tax for high income brackets. I wonder where the money for public services will come from when such an important source of government revenue is being slashed.

The electorate being targetted by the Nationalist and Labour propaganda machines is the same electorate that will have to pay up for unsustainable electoral promises. It is a fact that investment in public services requires compensating revenue.

This is why AD, which believes in a comprehensive, sustainable and universal public services, is the only party which, in a most responsible manner, is also putting forward proposals regarding government revenue.

In short, while we are calling for improvements, such as family-friendly measures, increased minimum wage, and more investment in culture and renewable energy, we also say how the Government can make up for such costs. Indeed, we are proposing progressive tax measures, based on the ethical premise that those who can contribute most, do so, and on the polluter pays principle. Our manifesto clearly shows what we mean by such progressive policies. I will give some examples.

On income tax, we oppose the irresponsible tax cuts proposed by the PN and supported by the PL, and instead agree with the pre-Budget system reaching a maximum 35 per cent for high income earners. If revisions are to take place, these should only do so if deemed sustainable and should primarily benefit low income earners, to compensate for the disservices of society.

We are proposing that revenue can also be generated through Malta’s signing up to the European financial transactions tax, which will be charged at 0.1 per cent of the value of any trade in shares or bonds and 0.01 per cent of any financial derivative contract. On a Europe-wide basis, this can generate billions of euros, which can be used as a solidarity mechanism for troubled economies.

We also believe that vacant property, from the third property onwards, should be taxed, not only to generate revenue for public expenditure but also to discourage endless development and to encourage property owners to put such property on the market. This is urgently required, given that over 70,000 properties (about 28 per cent) are vacant in tiny Malta.

It is a pity that other parties want to make believe that money comes from out of nowhere and that they seem to care less about the possibility of a fiscal crisis.

AD’s election in Parliament will ensure that the political debate is based on serious proposals and not on shallow electoral marketing. Reason, sustainability and progressive proposals will be on the parliamentary agenda. The electoral supermarket will be brought to check.

The discerning electorate can make history by voting Green.

Michael Briguglio is chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika.

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