Editorial: The government must tackle the country’s debt

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 September, 2023 at 8:20 am by Andre Camilleri

We’re in the middle of September and, once the Independence Day festivities are over, Parliament will resume its functions after the summer holidays – long holiday, we’re inclined to add.

One of the first matters it will see to is the presentation of the budget for 2024.

Late summer is not an easy time for ministries, as they are all employed in the exercise to draw up their plans – and expenses – for the year to come.

The busiest of all, of course, is the Finance Ministry, which has to juggle between the requirements and requests of all ministries, attempting to find a balance, saying yes to the priorities, no to what appears to be too much and, as a general rule, trying to find a balance.

It is not an easy exercise, particularly at a time when the country’s debt has mushroomed and is now edging closer to €10bn. In one year, between July 2022 and July of this year, Malta’s debt has increased by more than €100m.

It is not a joke, and as the Nationalist Party pointed out, we are paying €4m a week in interests on the accumulated debt.

No doubt, the crisis that we all went through as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic had a big part to play in the rising debt. The government was constrained to spend more and more to be able to keep the private sector afloat at a time when production was low, services were no longer needed, the tourism industry was at a standstill and, generally speaking, there was fear of the future.

But, thankfully, the pandemic is a thing of the past although, it must be said, cases are still being reported and people are still dying. So things should have started to get better by now. Yet, this is not happening and, month after month, the statistics that are regularly published by the National Statistics Office show a deteriorating situation.

The budget that will be presented by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana – no date has as yet been given – should be an opportunity for the government to say which direction it is taking. Is it going to allow the debt to continue to rise? Or will it be making an attempt to bring it down?

More importantly, is the government willing to at least make an attempt to contain its expenses, such as by not employing extra people where they are not needed, or will it continue to dish out jobs which are depriving the private sector of much needed staff and pushing them to employ foreigners?

The government must give a clear sign that it is doing something to keep the country’s debt from growing. The Labour Party, when in opposition, used to criticise the Nationalist government for putting the country’s debt onto the next generations. Well, the time has come for it to listen to its own words.

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