After four years, the Minister of Finance will no longer have to make the journey by car from Valletta to Attard to present the President – as dictated by the time-honoured rules of protocol – with a copy of the Budget Speech and documents before he unveils Malta’s financial plans for next year.
Since 2019, the President’s official residence – Sant’ Anton Palace in Attard – had to double up as the Head of State’s official seat due to extensive renovations at the Grand Masters’ Palace in Valletta. Now that the renovations are nearing completion, the Valletta Palace is once again being used for certain official functions and events, and this includes the Budget that will be presented tomorrow.
This return to the normal ceremonial related to the Budget presentation eases the worries of the officials responsible for protocol as Minister Caruana delivers his third Budget Speech since he took over duties as Finance Minister in November 2020. A maverick known for his dislike of official protocol, he ditched the chauffered ministerial car option and drove himself to the President’s Palace in Attard in his first two Budgets.
This year, Minister Caruana will only have to travel a short distance from Maison Demandols in South Street, which houses of the Ministry of Finance and Employment, to the Palace, carrying his iconic, now pillar-box red, Budget briefcase. It’s only a ten-minute walk.
It is envisaged that the procedures will be aired live by the public broadcaster, normally following an established sequence of events which commences with the Finance Minister departing from the Ministry with his Permanent Secretary and Head of Secretariat, bound for the Palace. They are followed shortly after by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anġlu Farrugia, who will be accompanied by the Clerk of the House.
After a short, informal meeting with Mr Speaker and the Minister for Finance an Employment, President George Vella formally greets them in the Ambassadors’ Room, where he is presented with a copy of the Budget documents: the Budget 2024 Speech in Maltese, the Financial Estimates 2024, the Economic Survey 2023, and a draft Budgetary Measures (Amendment) Bill. The President and the Minister then sign four copies of each document.
Following the signing ceremony, the Speaker, the Minister, and their respective officials depart the Palace and proceed towards Parliament Building. At 6pm the House of Representatives is called to order and, following the normal half hour question time, Mr Speaker reads out the Presidential Message authorising the appropriation of the necessary amount from Consolidated Fund. He then gives the floor to the Minister for Finance and Employment, who reads the Budget Speech 2024, which will be aired live on national TV.
This will be the last Budget Speech delivered during George Vella’s presidency, with Parliament scheduled to elect a new President in six months. It is no secret that the President has been eager for the renovation works at the Grand Masters’ Palace in Valletta to be completed on time, so that he and his staff can at least carry out some of their duties from the capital. This would offer at least a semblance of normalcy to this Presidency, which has faced unprecedented crises including the COVID-19 pandemic, a change of Prime Minister following a constitutional and political crisis, a change of Leader of the Opposition as a result of a rancorous feud within the Nationalist Party, as well as a range of hot-button issues that have bitterly divided public opinion.
Photo credit: Sandro Mangion