Coronavirus fiscal measures must be prudent, ministers insist

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Economy Minister Silvio Schembri both stressed that there was a limit to the measures government could implement to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as both observed that it remains to be seen how long the crisis will last.

Today’s parliamentary sitting was devoted to the coronavirus outbreak, and while Scicluna recognised that the government had registered budget surpluses in recent years, one nevertheless had to be prudent.

He noted that even the European Commission – which he described as fond of making forecasts – has not forecast the duration of the crisis, but simply highlighted different scenarios that may arise.

“We must ensure that whatever measures we implement can be financed throughout the whole period,” the minister said, adding that the government’s own revenue would be dropping.

As a result, he explained, that there was no way for the government to make up for lost sales entirely.

“What is important, just like in wartime, is that we survive – we will struggle, but we all have a contribution to make,” the minister said.

Businesses urged to retain employees

Both ministers insisted that it would be in businesses’ interest to retain their employees during the crisis.

“As bad as the situation may be, it is not permanent, Scicluna pointed out.

Schembri treaded similar ground in his speech, in which he emphasised that the priority was to minimise job losses.

He pledged that a mini-budget including financial packages seeking to cushion the impact of the pandemic would be ready within a week.

Mario de Marco

‘Do-or-die for businesses’

The government had also announced a number of mitigation measures a few days ago, but these were deemed ineffective by PN MP Mario de Marco, who highlighted that this view was shared by employers’ organisation.

“This is do-or-die for businesses. The government hasn’t understood – or doesn’t want to understand – that employees and employers are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

De Marco also insisted that announcing measures in a week’s time may be too late, as businesses were already constrained to take decisions which affected the livelihood of their employees.

If you want to be the first to receive the latest news on the coronavirus in Malta, download the Newsbook APP here.