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News • July 04 2004

Government could present White Paper on pension reform

Matthew Vella

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has gone on record saying the time is ripe to widen the discussion on pension reform by involving the general public and said that this includes the publication of a White Paper with government’s proposals.
Speaking to sister newspaper The Malta Financial and Business Times, Gonzi said that Government had actively sought to generate a constructive
debate within the MCESD, particularly in the light of the report submitted by the World Bank experts.
“Discussions have taken place, but unfortunately so far, it has not been possible to draw final agreed conclusions. Government intends to continue its efforts to stimulate a positive and constructive discussion in this important forum. However, the time is now ripe to take the process one step further and to open the debate for the participation of the general public,” Gonzi said.
According to the Prime Minister, this includes the publication of a White Paper that would include Government’s proposals after taking into consideration all the reports that have been finalised as well as the discussions, opinions, criticism and suggestions that have been put forward so far.
Prime Minister Gonzi said the June deadline had been agreed by the social partners during last November’s MCESD meeting. Government’s original intentions, Gonzi said, were to put forward its proposals by December 2003 as part of the budget process. On the advice of the social partners, it was agreed that the process be extended till June so that further studies could be carried out by experts, including the World Bank.
Malta’s largest unions have expressed disillusionment at what they describe as government’s inaction.
Union chiefs had also lamented with The Malta Financial and Business Times that in the last months, Government had simply presented Malta Council for Economic and Social Development members with the World Bank report on pension reform, and progress since then has not been registered.
Speaking last Sunday in MaltaToday, Albert Tabone, the President of the National Association of Pensioners said that “government was not saying much” at the consultation table in the MCESD, and drew criticism at the Welfare Reform Commission, which as former Finance Minister John Dalli had said, had achieved “nothing much… not even behind the scenes.”
“The welfare reform commission was supposed to look at everything, that is social security, not health. Health came in late in the day because suddenly somebody woke up to the fact that the cost of the new hospital, whenever it’s up and running sometime in the future, would be around Lm1 million a week,” Tabone told MaltaToday last week,
According to Albert Tabone, the World Bank report has limited itself only to pensions, which he called is a medium-term problem, until the cracks in the health sector start to emerge. Tabone said the World Bank report has substituted sustainability with affordability.
Labour MP Marie Louise Coleiro said confusion and concern were reigning supreme amongst every member of Maltese society as deadlines keep getting postponed:
“The truth is that this has been going on for years, especially when four years ago, the welfare reform commission was set up. Deadline after deadline had been postponed, and when then Finance Minister John Dalli came out with his critical statement on the commission, the head of that commission resigned.
“We need serious discussion so the people can put their minds at rest. Everybody is worried; youths, middle-aged and even the elderly of today are not understanding what is going on and whether they have to resort to a private insurance plan. This has been going on for too long and nothing concrete is coming from the government. Even the World Bank report was presented in some sort of clandestine manner, only having served to fuel speculation and confusion amongst everybody.”
Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Harry Vassallo told The Malta Financial and Business Times that the Green party had found the 30 June deadline to be “an impossible promise for some time.”
“Once more an election campaign has come in the way of a long term settlement on this crucial and urgent issue. The discussion of such issues with the social partners should be preceded by a commitment from government on the parameters it will allow itself in reining in the deficit. How government controls expenditure and its revenue sourcing must be the basis for any proposal on pensions or incomes policy.”
Vassallo said AD had submitted policy documents presenting proposals to the government pointing out the necessity for its commitment on taxes and expenditure: “In the absence of any such commitment by Government we have little hope of achieving the firm consensus which the country needs to be able to forge ahead once more. Greens are committed to help as far as they can and have accepted to sit on the MCESD. A formal invitation has not yet arrived despite the PM’s offer.”






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