Prime Minister Robert Abela strongly suggested that more aid to safeguard Maltese businesses and jobs will be launched in the near future, stating that the government is ready to spend big, even if it comes at the cost of its budget going from a surplus to a deficit.
“Our public funds are the result of taxes paid by workers, businesses and self-employed people, the economy has grown thanks to investments carried out by businesses and people and we shouldn’t try to destroy this,” Abela said when interviewed on ONE. “Now is the time for the government to intervene aggressively to save businesses and jobs and if this means going from a surplus to a deficit, then so be it. The surplus is there to be used and we will use it.”
“However, businesses must also understand that, while this situation hopefully won’t take long to solve, it is possible that it does take long. We have a war chest but we can’t spend all our money in one week or we’ll immediately end up breathless.”
The government this week launched a €1.8 billion package, mostly composed of partial bank guarantees and tax deferrals, to help businesses deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus, but several business leaders warned the measures won’t be enough to stop many of them going under or laying off their staff.
Abela today said the government could very well introduce new stronger measures next week.
“Our €1.8 billion mini-budget is ambitious but I also understand that this is an unprecedented global reality,” he said. “In a normal budget, a government can plan for a number of months ahead and anticipate developments but no country in the world knows how this situation will develop. If something was ambitious last week, there could be a new reality next week that would require us to adjust the package due to new developments, just as we increased measures from a medical aspect over time.”
“We’re not saying this is the final package. We’ve held two press conferences where we launched two sets of measures and it could be that we will revise it in a very short span of time. Our goal is to keep businesses alive and, wherever possible, to ensure no jobs are lost – not of third country nationals, not of foreigners, and of course not of Maltese people. I’m convinced that this is how we should approach the situation.”
“Look at businesses as sprinters who were running fast but who have now suffered an injury; we must make sure these sprinters recover as quickly as possible so that when we shoot the pistol again, they immediately start running again with all their workers on board.”
The Prime Minister also admitted that the government could have dialogued with social partners more frequently in recent weeks and urged people not to attack businesses for being “egoistical”, warning that such a strategy will only cause economic damage.
“I believe our businesses will be the ones who who will give our country the necessary stimulus when things return to normal, so I urge everyone not to attack them but rather to support them. Our businesses strengthened our economy and we need to keep them and all their jobs alive.”
“This is a temporary situation and I don’t just look at the negatives, but also at the positives, even at a time like this. I have faith in our workers and businesses that we will emerge from this problem strongly. Now isn’t the time for us to fight against each other but for us to pull the same rope. This is the time for solidarity and unity and I’m convinced that, with goodwill, we can overcome all the challenges in front of us.”