Editorial: The budget as a way to deflect attention

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 October, 2023 at 2:24 pm by Andre Camilleri

It’s that time of the year when media attention has turned on the budget for 2024.

Year after year, this financial exercise continues to lose its effect on the people. There were times when public expectations of what the Finance Minister of the day was to present on budget day were high.

In more recent years, what with pre-budget documents, more frequent appearances in the media and with constituted bodies presenting their own proposals, the presentation of the budget itself is more of an anti-climax than something with “revelations”.

It’s almost as if everything is known before the actual day.

Having said this, the presentation of the country’s budget for the following year – in this case 2024 – has its own importance.

In the prevailing circumstances, it can be said that the government will be using it to cushion all the bad publicity it has received in the past months (except, of course, on its own media and TVM, which are always at the ready to be on the first line of defence).

The past weeks has seen the government involved in two major scandals – the one related to the disability benefits and the one related to the issuing of driving licences. It has been hit hard again last Monday with the issuing of the appeals judgment in the hospitals saga, which confirmed the original judgment that the three public hospitals which were given out to the private sector are to be returned to government control.

These are three situations which have seen the government with its back to the wall, even though Prime Minister Robert Abela and his ministers are the last to admit that something is wrong. Still, privately they must be admitting that it is not a good time for the government, and so the budget for 2024 will be used to try to deflect some attention and give something other than scandals for the people to talk about.

With an election coming up in eight months’ time – and with surveys showing that Labour has lost a substantial chunk of support since we voted in March last year – one expects next Monday’s exercise to come up with some initiatives that will serve to appease the electorate, the kind that the Labour government has used many times in the last 10 years.

Economists have called for price stability, inflation control and productivity increase. Employer bodies seek cuts in public expenditure and also the removal of half-days for the public service. Constituted bodies want a revision of how people are forced out of employment when they reach pensionable age. There have also been calls for the government to seek a different economic model than the one Labour embarked upon in 2013 – that which is based on population increase.

But it is hard to imagine the government listening to what it is being told. The budget that will be presented on Monday will be an exercise to try to push away the negative impact of the scandals that the government has been hit with in the last months.

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