Take a red suitcase. A flashy red briefcase. One that cost quite a bit to give an aura of decorum and a sense of gravitas to a vessel of trumped-up promises. Was it leather? Was it really worth euros in the thousands? Was it worth the look of a snake oil salesman’s tool of the trade? The answer is probably yes, seeing how the red briefcase made it to the news and became the subject of speculation.
We could be looking at the contents of the briefcase. We could be analysing the economic prowess or incompetence of the latest minister entrusted with the above-board distribution of public monies (while the below-board distribution happens elsewhere). Such analyses could lead to devastating results – just ask Liz Truss, Miss 45 days in power.
We could do all that, and there would be much to snip at and dissect.
The big news, though, as I have already hinted, is to be found outside the red briefcase. Cost of living adjustments, benefits for first-time buyers, pensioner tips and energy subsidies have already been given a wide mark of approval.
Clyde Caruana seems to have pieced together measures that might just make it to help us live through a time of inflation, pandemic after-effects and Putin’s war. Hurrah for the Man with the Snazzy Red Briefcase.
The noise is to be found outside these measures that were, to say the least, inevitable. Less noise, more silence, I would say.
Silence about the general mismanagement of a bloated economy that reeks of bad planning. Less noise about the misplaced heavy investment in unsustainable buildings, unsustainable increases in vehicle dependence and the underlying infrastructure, less noise about the massive burden on the economy that is corruption in all its forms.
As a huge question mark hangs on one of the most questionable yet important revenue of recent years (passport sales), we cannot ignore the enormous costs incurred by the corrupt network in power between the undeserved employment of the incapable to the distribution of public contracts to the friends of friends (with benefits).
Greylisting might already seem relegated to the history books, but the hapless record in governance of Abela’s team remains a glaring red light for any future projection of serene, sustainable growth.
And it is Abela’s team that provides us with the worrying contradiction on Budget Day. On the one hand, we have a budget that kept the people on tenterhooks in reminiscence of the Rainbow Budgets of Mintoffian memory. Worried about which taxes or schemes would affect their income and their livelihood, citizens were rightly concerned about the content.
On the other hand, we had the calm ignoring of the Declaration of Assets by members of the government. The Shift has touched on the most glaring omissions by newcomers to the cabinet.
These declarations, usually scrutinised by the Standards Commissioner, will remain in limbo until the appointment of a new one. It does not mean, though, that they will be free from public scrutiny.
They paint a picture of a bunch that is out to deceive, a bunch that gives the government’s already hopeless record on transparency a new veneer of profound opaqueness. While you were busy getting dazzled by the red briefcase, while you were thanking your lucky stars that the measures would let you navigate the stormy waters of the next few months in relative calm, the cabinet members were laying the groundwork for more shenanigans of unaccountability.
There will never be enough scrutiny of the government members and their immediate entourage. Do not be dazzled by the red briefcase. Do not feel appeased by being given what you should always have expected.
Be vigilant for the daylight robbery that is happening under your nose. That is when the budget matters.