Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has accused the Opposition of a lack of credibility in its criticism of yesterday’s budget, insisting that he would not be taking lessons from a party that presided over an economic disaster when in government.
Caruana was addressing a press conference about the budget together with Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, during which he addressed criticism of the government’s finances by the Opposition.
In his reaction yesterday, Opposition leader Bernard Grech said the budget was one that lacked vision and one which only addressed present-day concerns. He also accused the government of having lost control of the country’s finances, pointing to the fact that Malta had one of the highest deficits in Europe.
Caruana noted that the Opposition’s narrative had changed after yesterday’s budget.
“All of a sudden, this has changed and inflation and the cost of living are no longer the issue the PN was speaking about. They have nothing to talk about because we pulled the carpet out from under their legs,” he said.
Addressing concerns about the sustainability of the budget, Caruana said it would ultimately need to be approved by the European Commission, which would be looking precisely at this.
While he had been careful to explain exactly how much each measure would cost, no such information was provided by the Opposition when it presented its proposals.
He also referred to the national debt, which he pointed out was lower than its highest point under the last Nationalist administration.
“After a pandemic like this, after all we did, the debt we’re seeing for the coming years is 62% of GDP. This is less than we were predicting back in April,” Caruana said, accusing the PN of having presided over an economic disaster when it was last in power.
“When the price of oil went up they transferred the cost onto the people… it resulted in unemployment, the economy tanking and the country being placed in an excessive deficit procedure.”
He insisted that so long as the labour market was still intact, the economy would continue to grow and the country’s finances would remain stable.
High deficit the result of government prioritisation of health
Responding to statements by Grech yesterday, the country’s deficit was high due to government corruption, Fearne said that with this logic, “there must have been a lot of corruption under PN governments because the deficit was always high”.
Fearne pointed to the fact that Malta had provided free COVID-19 testing to everyone, had set up vaccination centres and accompanying labs around the island and had succeeded in vaccinating practically the entire population.
This, he said, was the reason the country’s deficit was so high.
“The alternative would have been unemployment, poverty, sickness and death. This wasn’t on our agenda. For us, health, work and people’s livelihoods remain a priority and that is why we have a high deficit this year,” Fearne said.
He said the budget was one that showed a country that was recovering and able to live again, and one that was looking to the future.
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