There are two questions which most people find easy to say “yes” to. The first is: would you like to see more investment in schools, a better health service, strengthened law enforcement and improved infrastructure?
The other one is: in an ideal world, would you like a reduction in taxes? The problem for Government is how to square the circle. Of course, we would all like the very best public services, but tax is a burden, and how much can people bear?
It’s remarkable what has been achieved in Malta since the time when Dom Mintoff established the welfare state. A safety net for the most vulnerable has been developed by the Labour Party of today, so that it now transitions benefit claimants into jobs, giving them the dignity that work provides. A free health service is the cornerstone of a caring society. It would be easy to take it for granted, but the contrast with other countries is stark. We have free childcare in Malta, something which is a serious cost for families elsewhere. And when it comes to higher education, some countries charge tuition fees while we do the opposite and give students a stipend.
Anyone outside Malta might say all that looks good on paper, but what about the bill?
Malta is not a high tax country. Indeed, there are no local government taxes, wealth tax or inheritance tax. In the UK, households pay a Council Tax to their local authority that can be in excess of €2,000 a year. In Spain, tax of up to 3.5% is applied on the wealth of people. In France, the estate of a deceased person is taxed at rates of up to 45%.
The art of the impossible comes from attracting foreign investment and growing the economy. Malta has no gas, oil or minerals to sell but has a robust tourism industry. And our pro-enterprise approach has created jobs, which in turn has increased tax revenues without increasing tax rates.
Our creativity extends to the National Development and Social Fund. The money raised from wealthy individuals who invest in residency and citizenship is going directly to Maltese people in need. €60 million is being spent on social housing. 600 new homes are being provided for families to raise their children in secure and comfortable surroundings. €10 million is being invested in health centres in Malta and Gozo and another €8 million is going to St Michael’s Hospice. Puttinu Cares is benefiting from €5 million to finance accommodation for the families of cancer and other patients needing treatment in London. Another €1.5 million has been allocated to Caritas, €5m is being invested in athletes to help them win at the Small Nations Games 2023 and another €6 million is being spent on culture and urban green projects in Mosta, Ħamrun, Żabbar and Qormi.
That is a spending bill that is close to €100 million, but not a cent of it will come from taxing the Maltese people.
Every one of these projects is deserving and demonstrates what Labour does best – not leaving anyone behind. We can and should continue to improve life for all Maltese, letting people say “yes” to those two questions and being creative in how we respond.