A budget as I understand it must be a government strategy detailing the direction of leadership for different sectors of society and the economy in the future, by facing challenges and seizing opportunities. In this sense, this wasn’t a budget, but a series of schemes that leave a little impact here and a little impact there. From a social perspective, the small increases announced do not cover the increase in the cost of living. Taking basic food products as an example, this increased from €5 to €10 per week for the average family. Hence, the €2.33 increase can hardly compensate.
The budget clearly states that the agricultural sector is not important for the economy. This is truly worrying. People’s lives is not to be measured in figures. Farmers need urgent interventions from the government for a true reform of the Pitkalija (central wholesale market for agricultural products), serious investment for a governmental laboratory and sound management of European funds, which at the moment take around 18 months to be utilised.
Regarding Gozo, I welcome the introduction of subsidies for employees in the private sector, which will address the injustice they were experiencing. However, the budget should have gone beyond considering Gozo solely within the scope of the Gozo Channel.Gozo needs a serious strategy. One that has to be decided upon together with Gozitans from all sectors and implemented by Gozitans themselves. This is particularly important with regard to EU funds. Gozitans should decide their own priorities and we need to ensure that 10% of EU funds are in fact spent in Gozo.
With regards to small businesses and shops,this budget leaves much to be desired.There is a focus on proposals that attract foreign investment, however, at the same time, Maltese businesses are being neglected. We need to mobilise European instruments better by expanding the possibilities of doing business outside our shores and ensuring that Maltese businesses are consulted and well informed on the application of EU laws.This was not the case with regard to the Regulation on the protection of personal data,where many businesses were left in the dark.
I like the idea of a special visa for start-ups. This can attract innovative companies and projects to Malta that can develop new technologies or research. This is the real way to attract talent, not by selling citizenship.Obviously, it is positive to attract foreign investment, however we need to invest in our local talent as well. We cannot continue treating foreigners better than the Maltese because by doing so we are risking a brain drain of Maltese individuals who would prefer investing abroad. This is already happening in certain sectors, such as artificial intelligence and research where the Maltese are taxed much more than foreigners.
A lot more work needs to be done in the area of digitalisation, namely the way our world is changing radically with the use of IT and the internet. Ten years ago very few of us had a smart phone, today most people do. Ten years from now, existing technologies will continue to expand and there will be wider use of robotics in our daily life.
This presents challenges and, at the same time, opportunities. The challenge is that robots will take over the jobs of hundreds of people. There are already many restaurants in Europe that operate solely with machines replacing cashiers and waiters. This process will become even more rapid in the coming years.
Malta is still lagging behind in this area. Measures mentioned in the budget are only related to blockchain. We need to look beyond that. In general, we cannot simply rely on foreign investment without investing in the education of our students so that it will be the Maltese who will get the best jobs in these sectors involving new technologies. Currently this is the reality. Only 3% of the gaming companies are Maltese. The others are all foreign. There are just a few Maltese companies in the blockchain industry. Foreign companies are vital to our economy, however, we need to have a long-term ambition to disseminate expertise and opportunities on a wider scale throughout the Maltese and Gozitan society.
This opinion was penned by PN MEP Candidate Peter Agius.