Leo Brincat, the Labour finance minister in 1997, believes today that the Labour government was not sophisticated in its approach to the country’s economic and financial problems when presenting the hard budget that led to a wave of popular discontent at the time.
He says this in the wake of what is expected to be a tough budget to be delivered next Wednesday by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. One which conjures images of 1997 when a Labour administration resorted to austerity measures to reign in a previously hidden deficit.
“We were unsophisticated in the approach adopted. We did not spin before the budget. This government is using a totally different approach. Take the oil crisis: although media reports on the subject have dwindled because the price of oil has marginally gone down, there was a concerted effort on a daily basis to interview experts on the impact of oil to create public awareness on the price escalation.
“I am not negating the fact that oil prices did go up but I anticipate that this spin was used by Government so that even if it does take tough measures, these will be far below what the public would have expected due to the hype,” Brincat tells MaltaToday in an interview appearing on pages 14 and 15.
The Labour spokesperson reminisces about the stipends issue and accuses the PN of political hypocrisy.
“In 1997 I was insulted while on my way to Parliament to read the budget speech. The police didn’t allow me to pass from the usual route because of the student protests, which they had every right to resort to. Today, there doesn’t seem to be the same ferment, even if the Chalmers report is talking of means-testing and suggests stipends be looked at as educational assistance rather than a social service. The sustainability of stipends was an issue in 1997 but when we tried to take measures to address the situation we had criticism from all quarters,” Brincat says.
He argues the Labour Party was penalised in 1998 for being politically honest. “Some tell us we were politically naïve. Our defect was that we were too down to earth and honest even if I believe the electorate should be treated so. We were also unfortunate. Like a surgeon in the middle of an operation we were judged while still performing the incision,” Brincat insists.