Sociologist from Malta

Monday, October 08, 2018

Budgetary Proposals (3) - Michael Briguglio

I have already highlighted a variety of measures that could be implemented in the upcoming Budget for 2019 within the context of a growing economy that is facing challenges related to social exclusion, sustainability and inequality.
I mentioned the need for a revised and realistic mechanism for Malta’s cost-of-living adjustment given to workers and assistance to low-income earners and self-employed businesses, for example through the removal of tax on overtime and lower taxes respectively.
I referred to the need for decent pension increases and a national consensus on pensions’ sustainability. I also highlighted the importance of proper assistance to rent tenants, in view of spiralling prices. Evidence-based policy and holistic consultation with experts and stakeholders are key factors for such reforms.
I also referred to the need for investment in areas that can help improve people’s quality of life. In this regard I referred to the need for enforceable fines on environmental abuses and the need for rewards for environmental good practices. I highlighted the need for a national investment strategy for accessible pavements and the need to ensure that public transport is giving a decent service to customers. The involvement of local councils in such policies is key.
In my previous articles I also highlighted the need for refunds vis-à-vis the illegal utility bills’ mechanism and the need for increased investment in research, education, training and retraining of workers. In this article I would like to elaborate on such proposals.
As regards employment, bad working conditions in various sectors, including the underground economy, are unfortunately present in Malta. Precariousness seems to be most common in sectors ranging from construction to waste collection and from certain ‘massage parlours’ to certain jobs in the entertainment sector. It is also quite clear that various caring jobs are characterised by low pay, the latter not reflecting the responsibilities entailed.
Besides, despite social policy improvements in areas such as childcare, Malta remains a European laggard in terms of gender equality and education, thus pointing towards the need for free childcare access even for kids whose parents are not in employment or education.
As regards the environment, the government should focus on incentivising the circular economy which sees waste management as an opportunity. It should also incentivise green technologies and introduce different incentives that help beautify our localities. The latter should be accessible to individuals, civil society, the private sector and local councils.
Government investment in roads should be matched with infrastructure, corridors and spaces that are truly friendly for bicycle users and pedestrians. This does not seem to be the case in the government’s current road projects.
I would also expect the government to widen the remit of assistance given to individuals who have specific needs in relation to conditions such as, for example, fibromyalgia and ME.
It would also be encouraging if the government reverses the trend of centralising power in ministers’ hands and instead show trust and goodwill towards local councils and civil society through decentralisation, subsidiarity and the devolution of public land.
To mention one example, various areas currently owned by the government can be made of better use to citizens if local councils are entrusted with their administration and ownership. A budgetary item to account for such a process would be most beneficial.
Finally, I think it is about time that Malta’s Minister of Finance provides comprehensive information regarding the sale of citizenship, which I disagree with both in principle and in view of what I deem as its short-sightedness.
In this regard, the public should be informed about the decision-making process related to the allocation and utilisation of IIP funds, whether a business plan exists, whether there is a timeline and so forth. Otherwise, one can only be suspicious that Malta’s public finances are becoming increasingly dependent on a fund that has sustainability issues and that the electoral cycle may be preceding longer-term economic planning.
In this regard it is important to keep in mind that the National Development and Social Fund which accounts for 70 per cent of revenues in this area is not part of the highly regulated EU funding framework and may therefore be more prone to partisan intervention. Would it not be better to have a smaller government and a bigger empowered society?
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece, where it appears as 'More power to the people'

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