An extension of the wage supplement until September, a €100 voucher for each Malta resident aged 16 and up and lower taxes on the sale of property are among the measures announced by Prime Minister Robert Abela this evening.
The government’s measures were announced in a press conference at Fort St Elmo, with Abela, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Silvio Schembri going over the measures.
Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia is expected to give his first reaction to the proposals shortly, but we'll be presenting this in a separate article.
And that's all from St Elmo!
Abela states that the pandemic brought about a "resetting of our values" in his concluding remarks.
The correspondent from Labour’s One TV asked about any helplines concerning the measure, with Schembri stating that the measures would be explained in detail in the coming days.
Abela then adds that Malta was fortunate not to have the PN at the helm during the crisis, as it would not have been able to afford the impact. He also notes that while the PN had proposed a €50 voucher, the government offered twice that, leading a number of MPs seated behind him to smirk in response.
As for utility bills, Schembri stressed that the government’s package aimed to bring about economic growth, and that Malta’s domestic utility bills were already lower than the European average. However, he added, government saw the need to reduce the burden on businesses.
The correspondent from the PN’s media, Net News, asks on tourism and on whether there were any plans to cut utility bills for households, prompting a somewhat sarcastic reply from Schembri, who said that the party was seeking to create controversy where none was present because there was nothing it could criticise.
After a lengthy exposition on the migration issue, Abela ultimately evades the question, stating simply that he disassociated himself from hate speech and that he would let Maltese institutions do their work.
Lovin Malta's correspondent asks whether any action will be taken against Gozo Channel Joe Cordina, who hurled obscenities at a young man campaigning for an end to the offshore detention of asylum seekers.
Schembri reiterates that the government's teleworking measures were being kept.
Abela reiterates that the reduced taxes on property sales would apply in all cases where a promise of sale had been signed. As for the balance between the economy and health, he argued that the two are complementary, but adds that since Malta had just 25 active cases, the situation was clearly under control.
Meanwhile, the Malta Developers' Association claims some credit for the government's proposals concerning the property market, stating that its proposals were accepted in full.
Newsbook.com.mt’s own correspondent also fields three questions, on teleworking, the reduction of stamp duty on property sales, and on which balance is being achieved between health and the economy.
"I know Chris as someone who has the party's interest close to heart. I am convinced that he will take all the decisions necessary to avoid causing harm to the party."
Abela's response is somewhat cryptic.
The third question from the TMI correspondent concerns PL deputy leader Chris Cardona. Noting that former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar was suspended from his role as a ministry consultant over similar allegations, he questioned whether Cardona should be treated in a similar way.
Abela replied that while such incidents should be condemned, one must understand the context in which they occurred. He concedes that the group’s detention at sea for more than 40 days should be taken into consideration.
The TMI correspondent also asked on whether the police would prosecute anyone over the incident.
The aim, Scicluna adds, is to boost the economy, and through this, everyone would benefit as a result.
The Malta Independent's correspondent questioned why the government was seeking to help businesses but not individuals in its measures. Scicluna contests this interpretation, though he concedes that the government could not focus on everyone.
Abela, meanwhile, declares himself unwilling to write off tourism in the coming months. He said that Malta was at an advantage compared to other countries because it was "Covid-safe."
In response, Scicluna said that the measures aimed to support the private sector and bring about economic growth, and that the government deficit, while considerable, was sustainable.
Times of Malta’s correspondent asks whether the government has any forecasts on the impact on the tourism sector, and on how the economic package is to be financed.
Though there has been no concrete commitment to the relocation of any of the asylum seekers who had been detained offshore, Abela added that Malta's efforts did not cease just because the group was brought to solid ground.
However, Abela adds, “we must understand that they must be treated as humans just like you and me. These are people who are seeking a better future; if the reality they faced didn’t exist, they would not seek to risk their lives and leave their home.”
He defends the decision to detain 400 people offshore by pointing out that Malta’s harbours were closed in a public health emergency, and that quarantine was obligatory.
MaltaToday’s correspondent asked about the decision to bring in the asylum seekers which were being detained offshore on pleasure boats, leading Abela to stress that Malta observed its international obligations.
In reply to a question by TVM, which focused on the vouchers, Abela reiterates that the government is not planning to introduce any new taxes.
These initiatives, Schembri adds, mark the biggest injection of funds ever made by a Maltese government.
€5 million are being allocated to the promotion of local produce.
Schembri announces that €400 million will be invested in improving Malta's industrial infrastructure, though this will take place over the next 8 years. These projects include an extension of the Life Sciences Park, which should cost an estimated €98 million.
Companies within the construction sector may receive up to €200,000 to upgrade their machinery, with government allocating €4 million to this initiative.
€10 million are being allocated to an export credit guarantee, to help cover risks for companies seeking to expand into African or Latin American markets.
Companies seeking to launch digital promotional campaigns to export their products will receive up to €10,000 – covering half their costs – from Trade Malta. Trade Malta will also refund 80% of the costs companies may have incurred to participate in overseas trade fairs that have been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Since the pandemic disrupted supply chains and increased transport calls, port tariffs are to be reduced by a third for 6 months.
Another Malta Enterprise scheme, the Skills Development Scheme, will be allocated an additional €5 million to help companies carry out inhouse training.
Companies that wish to change or update their business model to address present and future challenges may receive up to €5,000 to help them do so through a Malta Enterprise scheme.
Since local businesses could not make full use of the trade licences they paid for this year, the government will be refunding licences for this year, at a cost of €5 million.
Tax credits which businesses can benefit from through a Malta Enterprise scheme will be partly converted to grants. Businesses in Malta may receive up to €2,000, those in Gozo up to €2,500.
Schembri encourages the public to “eat in our restaurants” and to take weekend breaks in local hotels. “Malta is a beautiful country,” he reminded.
The vouchers are set to expire in September.
As he elaborates on the €100 in vouchers announced by Abela, Schembri notes that last year, the Maltese spent as much on internal tourism in a year as they did on overseas tourism in just a month – around €50 million. With this in mind, the government felt that it was important to give a boost to internal tourism.
Economy Minister Silvio Schembri repeatedly emphasises the need to keep the wheel of the economy turning.
€3 million are being allocated to assist voluntary organisations to make up for the loss of donations and fundraising activities. €2 million are to be allocated to homes for the elderly, to make up for the expenses incurred to deal with the pandemic.
In-work benefits, which are aimed at low-income parents, are being boosted, by €50 per child for single parents, €80 per child for couples with one working parents, and €100 per child for a working couple. Families who receive the in-work benefit will also receive an additional €250.
Couples who had to cancel their wedding as a result of the pandemic may receive a refund on any deposit payments they may have made, up to a maximum of €2,000 per couple.
A total of 5,700 families have benefited from a moratorium on loan repayments.
In a somewhat academic explanation of the economic impact of the pandemic, Scicluna said that it brought three main threats: a drop in demand, a disruption to supply, and a fall in consumption as people stayed home, away from shops.
The government is predicting that its deficit will reach 7% of the GDP this year.
Scicluna noted that the government had already implemented a "generous" Budget for 2020 before the pandemic took hold. Malta's economy was dealt a strong blow, but remained afloat, he said.
Abela concludes by saying that Malta was at the cusp of a beautiful period. With the more eye-catching measures out of the way, the mic is passed to Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.
Fuel prices are being cut by 7c per litre. As from Monday a litre of petrol will cost €1.34, while a litre of diesel will set you back €1.21.
The government will be giving €100 in vouchers to every resident of Malta aged 16 and up. €80 can be used in hotels, restaurants and bars, while the remaining €20 can be used in shops that were closed during the pandemic.
The government is seeking to boost the construction industry – which Abela said “kept the economy running” during the pandemic. Stamp duty is being reduced from 5% to 1.5% on buyers, and from 8% to 5% on sellers, for property values up to €400,000.
Businesses falling under Annex A or B can receive a maximum of €2,500 to cover rents between July and September, with a budgetary allocation of €50 million. The government will also cover half of their utility bills, up to a maximum of €1,500.
Though people who had other sources of incomes were not eligible for wage supplements, this has been changed for pensioners and students on a stipend.
Businesses which fell under Annex A but which are not directly tied to tourism will still benefit from a wage supplement, but this will be reduced from €800 to €600 a month.
Wage supplements, which were "crucial to save jobs and keep businesses running," will be retained until September, though with amendments.
Though there was fear, Abela said, “we never accepted that the dark would overcome the light, that fear would overcome courage.”
Abela repeatedly highlights the government's faith in Maltese business, stating that this was at the basis of its previous economic packages during the pandemic.
Abela defends the government's decision not to seek a lockdown, stating that it would have brought Malta's economy to a standstill. Instead, he argues, Malta is now in a position to recover.
The government, he adds, worked hard to ensure that these forecasts did not become reality, and instead "model the future according to our wishes."
Prime Minister Robert Abela opened his speech by stating that the forecasts at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic were alarming. "I was afraid to look at them," he said.