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Interview with Raphael Vassallo of Malta Today
How do your react to the fact that the Opposition leader has taken on board a few of your own suggestions: especially the eco-tax revision, and the revision of the 12% withholding tax on property?
Our ideas are the result of extensive consultation since the publication of the Pre-Budget Document. The Eco-Tax reform and the whole package of reforms we recommended in relation to the 12% final withholding tax form part of a strategy that we recommended government to follow. This is a strategy towards the re-direction of the construction industry and private investments towards the building of more affordable housing, ready-for-use office facilities in the localities to provide new work opportunities especially for women in the localities, the building and financing of harbour projects and the spread of tourism to the localities through government and private funding of improvements to create home tourist lodgings and promote urban renewal projects among others.
Ours is a clever use of the 12% withholding tax to promote investments that the community needs and indirectly supporting the construction industry and smartly harnessing developers plans. Joseph Muscat is promoting single fiscal tools without scope or link to economic, social or environmental planning.
How do you rate Joseph Muscat's proposals on other issues, for instance the maximum tariff on water and electricity bills, or the cutting back on government spending on big capital projects?
There are big capital projects proposed by government, such as the new Parliament in Freedom Square, an Open-Air theatre in Valletta and the abandonment of all existing busses used in public transport just to have a new scheme nobody is really asking for, that are not only not convincing but are a bad use of public finance at this particular phase of our economic development when the real threat is how to renovate our enterprise fast enough to meet the tougher competitive times our economy will face in the post-recession era when price-cutting will dominate.
Government's proposals were conceived when no economic recession was on the horizon. What we need now are projects that lead to sustainable productive work not pompous and prestigious projects. Joseph Muscat is right in criticising, but again he has not promoting alternatives. We have promoted new factory buildings, new warehouses for logistics work that can be attracted to Malta, fiscal reforms to cause enterprise to renovate and reinvest, the speed-up of the building of new harbour quays for cruise liners, new tourism facilities and new urban renewals. Ours is a list of productive investments to really get the economy going. Joseph Muscat's is just a cut and paste exercise.
On electricity tariffs we sustained all along that what Government is doing wrong is of not assessing what the economy, i.e. enterprise and households, can sustain and then estimating at what price they ought to buy and to buy substantially each time the world price for gas oil and fuel oil is within our reach, so that the economy can have electricity and diesel prices that will not distort our economy performance every six months. Instead Government has produced systems and market intervention schemes that are not convincing. Joseph Muscat's ceiling price fixing makes no economic sense. He should come forward with sustainable and well worked out proposals. He promised to give politics a new approach and not merely a new face. The new approach must be based on exact calculations and professional strategic thinking. He is not doing this.
Do you think all 10 proposals, taken together, are affordable/ feasible considering the international economic climate?
GRTU produced a budget strategy, we analysed the economic impact of the world recession on Maltese enterprise and the internal economy and within the framework of the actual financial situation facing the country. We proposed a stimulus package which is achievable and within the limits of our financial constraints. Joseph Muscat picked and chose from our proposals failing to understand that after a year of constant criticism of Gonzi's Government performance we in business expected from him the alternative Salvation Plan. He now gives us a hotchpotch of economic and financial thinking.
Feel free to add other comments that you think are important…
For me Joseph Muscat's act is an anti-climax. I expected him to surround himself with a team of smart economists who over the summer months would have produced the alternative stimulus package that would really cause Government to rethink some fundamentals of its economic strategy. This is what we tried to do and I am happy of Governments and the public's positive reactions to what we proposed. I don't think Joseph Muscat can have the same reaction from business.
Budget, economic and financial proposals are not made for street demonstrations but to convince decision makers and investors. I think Joseph Muscat lost a tremendous opportunity to show his real worth as an alternative Prime Minister. I hope he rises to the occasion on November 9th. It will be a day of reckoning for Tonio Fenech, but also for Joseph Muscat.
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