‘There are staff shortages in every sector, not just teaching and nursing’

Clyde Caruana

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 October, 2021 at 9:07 am by Andre Camilleri

A push for upskilling workers, improved tax rates, a free public transportaton system and plenty of perks for home buyers. Malta Business Weekly editor, Dayna Camilleri Clarke met with Finance Minister Clyde Caruana after his budget speech on Monday, to discuss the new measures.

You have announced that the public transport as of next October would be free for everyone. How will the operator make money to be able to pay the wages?

Annually the tal-linja cards generate approximately 15 million euros. The plan is the government will pay this sum as of October next year to Transport Malta. Tourists will still require to buy a ticket. I believe we will be the second country in Europe to offer a free public transportation system. It’s important to clarify this does not include any ferry services.

The constituted bodies’ overall reactions were positive, particularly on social measures and others related to employment. But it was also pointed out that the Budget failed to address the concerns related to Malta’s greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force and the effects on the economy of the Covid-19 pandemic. Don’t you think it is a legitimate criticism?

I do not think this is a fair criticism, as a huge amount of work is being undertaken to turn around the FATF greylisting as soon as possible. It is not viable to go into great detail on every subject within the budget speech, but rest assured, we are working very hard to overturn the greylisting. It does not make any sense why we wouldn’t want to do so. Ultimately it is is in everyone’s best interest.

You have announced a series of measures for first-time buyers and those renovating older UCA properties. Does this mean other previous schemes, such as the popular Irrestawra Darek will cease?

Yes. Funds allocated to this new endeavour will now replace previous schemes such as the Irrestawra Darek, which saw homeowners claim up to 10,000 euros back on the restoration of the façade of their property. Instead, from 12 October 2021, people who renovate such qualifying UCA properties will be given a grant on the value of the VAT paid up to a maximum of €54,000 for the first €300,000 spent on restoration and finishing expenses. Specific regulations will need to be followed, including that houses cannot be divided.

The Budget speech had rather vague references to digitalisation incentives for the private sector. Is the government unwilling to invest more?

It’s not that we are unwilling to invest in this area; more details will emerge in the coming months for specific support in these areas.

MUMN have stated that the Budget does not address the shortage of nurses, and MUT noted that the Budget does not address the shortage of teachers. Do you agree?

Unfortunately, there are staff shortages across every sector and not just teaching and nursing. With regards to healthcare, work is being undertaken to recruit nurses from overseas. With education that isn’t possible, and MUT do not wish for that to happen, instead, we must support those who want to enter the profession locally

Do you think it is a legitimate argument to say that this Budget has the characteristics of a pre-election budget; increased expenditure, strengthening the social safety net whilst softening the tax burden in certain aspects?

I don’t believe this is a legitimate argument, in fact many entities have responded positively that the Budget has been a realistic one, and not fulfilling the cliché of a pre-election budget.

Chamber of SME’s stated, the Budget has failed to solve the issue of the below working-poor. Do you agree?

Many areas of the Budget will support the below working poor. Namely a huge investment into the National Employment Strategy, with a strong focus on upskilling our workforce. This was launched last week. I strongly believe we have to improve our productivity, and education is the key to social mobility. We know worker spends an average of 16 years in education in Malta, whereas in Ireland the average stands at 20 years, which means people enter the labour market with a more extensive skill set.

Figures from extensive research show the wide disparity between the income that people with a higher education level receive and those with low educational attainment. So, we want to ensure that we strengthen our workforce and that people also have a good quality of life.

Last Sunday, in a story in The Malta Independent, the Association of the Catering Establishment pointed out that high costs are impacting restaurants. In what way will this Budget help them?

High costs are inevitable within the European single market given the post-pandemic scenario, not just in Malta. Locally, support in the form of no increase in taxes and measures relating to energy saving will surely help all business owners. In addition, the Budget encourages more work through overtime and part-time, which will eventually address the current human capital shortages the catering sector is facing. The in-work benefit is also a positive measure that assists the human capital issues within the sector. In fact the ACE (Association of Catering Establisments) stated they believe the Budget 2022 is a positive one that focuses on key priorities whilst ensuring environmental, educational and economic sustainability.

The government has committed to an afforestation project in the Inwadar park that extends from Xghajra to Zonqor.  How will this affect the land designated for AUM? Does the government still believe that land should be earmarked for Sadin-AUM?

The site is a very large. There’s no reason why the two would overlap, and they are two very separate and different projects. I am not involved in these proposed discussions with government and AUM. I cannot say more than that.

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