NEWS | Sunday, 22 July 2007

Government launches Pre-Budget document

Measures chiefly aimed at family, environment, and first time property buyers

Gerald Fenech

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Parliamentary Secretary Tonio Fenech yesterday launched the Pre-Budget Document, an ambitious 155-page booklet covering almost all sectors of the social and economic strata of the country but chiefly aimed at strengthening families.
In 15 chapters, the document attempts to analyze the social aspect, education, the environment, investment in health, Gozo, youth, sports, culture, tourism, financial services ICT and EU funding.
The opening chapter provides a bullish review of the country’s economic performance so far with predictions of steady growth in 2007/08. Dr Gonzi also indicated that ‘within days’ he would be introducing the ‘Pharmacy of Your Choice Scheme’ and that two ancillary health care projects, at St Vincent de Paule and Zammit Clapp would shortly be completed.
The main proposal in the document centres on Children’s Allowance where the government will consider revising the current system and thresholds of the allowance to assist more families with children, granting the children allowance to families with an income over the threshold permissible for the grant of children’s allowance and who would be servicing/repaying a house loan.
There are various other measures to bolster work including proposals for the very long-term unemployed to be deployed on public and/or community works, a part time unemployment register, incentives to women entrepreneurs and proposals on the income taxation of separated or single parents.
The government is also proposing measures to alleviate the burden of rising interest rate charges on those who have taken out home loans. Although the criteria have not been defined as yet they include a maximum contract value for the premises to be purchased, a maximum value of asset ownership, an annual income level and a maximum loan entitlement at a subsidised rate. The interest subsidy will apply whenever the central intervention rate exceeds a minimum of 4 per cent.
Education is also covered extensively with EU projects including the MCAST building outlined as one of the prime initiatives. However apart from substantial rhetoric, there is little in the way of concrete proposals for this sector.
Environment and health are also addressed extensively but as with education there are not so many proposals that can be quantified apart from the rehabilitation of Maghtab in the former and the continued migration of Mater Dei Hospital in the latter.
Gozo is dedicated a chapter in itself with particular reference being given to the importance of upgrading the island’s road network, improvement of its accessibility and the introduction of air transport. There is in fact a lengthy chapter on the importance of re-introducing this network with the mention of a Public Service Obligations Contract in this regard. Other sectors in Gozo deemed to be of crucial importance are tourism, agriculture and fisheries, the services sector and others. Proposals include introducing incentives to entrepreneurs, the reclaiming of disused quarries for dumping, reforestation of strategic parts of the islands and the upgrading of fishing facilities.
Further chapters on youth, sport and culture include interesting proposals for the reduction of VAT on all cultural activities. The Financial Services Sector is also given due importance with a full chapter on the subject including measures to revitalize the Malta Stock Exchange through incentives for listing of ACL’s (Alternate Companies Listings). Research and Innovation and the distribution of EU funds are also given due importance although there is again much rhetoric and no concrete, quantifiable proposals.

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