The COVID-19 fiscal assistance provided in March for the suspension of certain taxes to businesses, just delayed the burden according to Paul Fenech, President of the Republic Street Business Community Association.
Speaking to the Malta Business Weekly, Fenech echoed the sentiments of Valletta business owners who are facing a bleak festive season ahead. “Although many government initiatives were helpful for us, taxes have to be paid eventually. During this period, many entities have had little to no return, whilst still having to order stock, pay salaries and rent. Most are barely breaking even.”
Valletta business owners were long facing difficult times with a decline in shoppers, even before COVID as a result of last year’s protests. “It really hasn’t been easy for any of us” Fenech added, when reflecting upon the last year. “We will see inevitable closures. Those that hang on will take years to get back to where they were before”.
When asked about initiatives to drive people to the capital, such as the recent Christmas in the City initiative, Fenech called for a need to “strike a balance” between all entities. “We must continue with our lives and learn to live with the virus. I am happy to see people around Valletta distancing, and wearing masks. Ultimately it is down to each one of us to follow the regulations and be considerate to others.”
On Monday Minister for Tourism, Julia Farrugia Portelli said that with the ‘Christmas in the City’ initiative the ministry would like to promote more local tourism, starting with a €50,000 investment by the MTA which will allow free public access to the MCP carpark in Valletta from 8 December till the end of the year. ‘Christmas in the City’ will bring a whole programme of activities to the capital.
The event launch however comes amidst appeals by health authorities not to congregate during Christmas in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Social media was awash with discontent over the organisation of the event, and the heads of the two major medical associations – the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses and the Medical Association of Malta – both blasted the idea, with Paul Pace from the former saying that it is an “absolutely crazy” idea and Martin Balzan from the latter warning that this is a similar scenario to when mass events were allowed to take place last July
The Malta Business Weekly spoke to another Valletta business owner Kevin Gauci who stated, “I have never experienced anything like it in 26 years of business,”. Kevin is the owner of The Capital Souvenir shop, located directly opposite Parliament. “Last year we were down approximately 30%, now we are down 95%. To tell you the truth, I am keeping the shop open as something to keep me busy. I cannot bear to see it closed. People don’t realise the friendships and relationships you have established. I have one employee who has worked with me for 24 years” Speaking about the future Gauci added, “It will take us a good two years to recover from this dire situation. We will see many closures, good friends of mine have already had to close their doors”.