27 NOVEMBER 2002
A come back to life budget hits the road
Valletta, Monday - Finance minister John Dalli walked up the spiral stairs carrying the black budget suitcase. His personal secretary stood next to him together with the Finance ministers Permanent secretary, followed by his bodyguard. He smiled as he walked calmly up to the Presidents office to present what could very well be the last budget before the next general election.
The budget speech he delivered was full of positive innuendoes and assurances and was probably Mr Dallis most confident budget speech ever made. In it he aimed to infuse a come back to life in the economy and to drive home the message that Europe was this countrys future.
As he faced the whole nation on live TV, in what can be best described as a charged political speech full of emotion and approval for European Union membership he proposed measures to address the needs of those units in Maltese society that he termed had made the sacrifices.
His budget speech was greeted with a sigh of relief by the vast middle class but with scepticism by the Labour party, which until yesterday had only reactly meekly.
In homes the budget was welcomed as a fair budget with a winning streak ( see pages 12 and 13).
But Mr Dalli did not fail to deliver on several occasions a severe rebuke to the Labour Party opposition, which he described as downers and representative of gvern tal-qedem (ancient government).
The budget speech, Mr Dallis ninth, was significant not only in the measures that it proposed, which cleverly met the needs of different specific sectors of society and business but it also essentially played to the tune that European Union membership is the future. He did not retire from restating that the trend in the budget would be undermined if accession failed to materialise.
In his delivery, which was bubbly and direct, he spent much time addressing the economic achievements and difficulties of the four year Nationalist government.
Assertively he outlined the war against the deficit and then at the end of his speech he presented a whirlwind of measures which, though not exaggeratedly generous, aimed at offering a respite to three major segments of society: the middle class, the pensioner and the family with children.
No taxes were noted apart from the usual tax for unfortunate nicotine addicts who anyhow seem to have warmed to the idea that in every budget the cost of cigarettes goes up.
What was also significant was the emphasis on the removal of levies that will lead to a consumer price slump. Other measures linked to VAT will also benefit the business import community.
As a whole the measures are aimed at augmenting a good the feel factor.
It was also one that appears to have been registered by backbenchers who applauded and expressed approval, whenever the Minister confirmed that they were a difficult four years but ones which prepared Malta for the final step that would confirm its position in the world as a full member of the European Union.
Indeed, the underlining European Union factor, was the hallmark of the John Dalli budget speech, which highlighted that 2003 was the year of destiny.
In his budget speech Mr Dalli said that the estimated GDP next year would rise to 2.8% in real terms, public consumption would rise to 1.4% and private sector by 2.1 %.
He also expected inflation to drop to 2.5% next year.
He said that tourism in Malta which had declined as a direct result of the 11 September tragedy was close to being back on track as the latest figures indicated.
Monetary policy was also earmarked by Mr Dallis speech, which reminded Parliament that money deposited in the banks had risen to Lm2.3 billion.
There was an increase of Lm289 million and an increase of Lm702 million since 1998.
Foreign reserves stood at Lm1,304 million, an increase of Lm220 million on the previous years and Lm440 million since 1998.
Talking about one of his babies, the financial sector, he said that this sector employed up to 4,800 workers and 250 part-timers. Financial services contributed up to 12% of GDP, a startling percentage indeed.
He also reiterated that government was on track in most of its targets.
Cleverly, he said in the 1998 strategy for 2002 the deficit was targeted at Lm125 million. This year it stood at Lm78 million, a achievement of Lm47 million in savings.
Importantly, he announced that the public lotto privatisation could materialise after the government confirmed that the interested parties had all their credentials in place.
Before his closure he said that the Maltese government would be receiving Lm30 million over the next three years in an extension of the Italian protocol. A welcome piece of news that will mean that Malta could still be receiving Italian aid even though the EU financial package could materialise in May 2004.
Trumpeting the governments slogan, that the country was strengthened so you will live better, John Dalli provided political observers with a conclusion that was as good as it comes, with politicians aiming to gain optimum political points from such an occasion.
Statesmanlike he said:
"We are here waiting to take up the opportunity offered to this country, and to take up our rightful place, at par with the most successful nations in this world.
"We have the keys to our childrens future."
And with this Minister Dalli turned to his colleagues for the applause
and support that he augurs will take the Nationalist Party to the next
polls as winners in an electoral battle that promises to be crucial
for the essential future of this small Republic.