As the European Union sprints into recession, the finance minister attempted to perform the delicate balancing act of clamping a lid on simmering resentment by feigning responsible cost-cutting while ensuring the biggest pigs at the trough still get their slops.
Clyde Caruana knows as well as anyone that the runaway train he’s been lashed to will fly off the rails the moment the government’s army of hangers-on stops cashing in at everyone else’s expense.
It was a touch of poetry for the minister to claim Labour’s heart ‘was and remains socialist’. He’s right, at least as far as the inevitable destiny of fully communist regimes to wind up in a situation where everything goes to those at the top while the citizens spend their days on breadlines.
The tourism ministry is a case in point. As journalists picked apart the budget, attempting to separate actual numbers from self-promotional hype, Clayton Bartolo’s ministry was found to have burst its fiscal shackles by more than €19 million in 2021.
That’s quite an accomplishment during a global pandemic when tourism was on life support, and entire nations were locked in their homes. Bartolo even had the nerve to describe this free-for-all as an “investment” in a crucial economic sector.
So where exactly did they ‘invest’ your money? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d start by asking Lionel Gerada.
The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) head of events ran a parallel sponsorship system that saw him dish out hundreds of thousands of euros to ‘friends’ without any oversight. The Konrad Mizzi appointee was given this post and budget despite having a criminal record that involved the falsification of documents and embezzlement of funds.
Unfortunately for Minister Bartolo, the MTA’s attempt to scalp some €500 per person from those unfortunate tourists who did make the mistake of visiting Malta during the pandemic didn’t balance out manic spending sprees on events for tourists during a period when there were hardly any tourists.
Such fiscal mismanagement has been rampant under Labour. The tourism ministry is just one particularly blatant example, and it will be swept under the rug because rising energy costs are a much more significant concern.
Energy spending was a centrepiece of Clyde Caruana’s lengthy budget speech, where he said that some 10% of 2023 spending would go towards subsidising the cost of fuel and electricity, so the price paid by consumers remains fixed even as the amount of taxpayer money shovelled into it continues to grow.
If only he’d factored in the amount that could be saved by rescinding the Electrogas deal due to corruption and recovering kickbacks paid to 17 Black and friends. But that would require investigations and prosecutions, something the prime minister’s predecessor is keen to avoid.
Speaking of which…
Disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat crawled out from under one of the many stones he left unturned to pontificate about the budget on social media.
The self-described economic consultant’s top suggestion was that the government include a letter with each energy bill detailing all the ways the country is absorbing the costs of the global energy crisis rather than pass them on to consumers. Presumably, this should be done so that the proles will feel grateful to Labour.
Muscat declined to say whether these letters should also include a detailed breakdown of the amount each citizen is paying the Fenech, Gasan and Apap Bologna families via the corrupt Electrogas deal and how much extra they’re paying Azerbaijan’s SOCAR for overpriced LNG.
This desperate attempt to prevent widespread revolt by using taxpayer money to soak up unaffordable electricity and heating costs comes at a time when the European Commission is calling on Member States to limit heating in public buildings, offices and commercial properties — and inevitably, in individual homes.
At least Brussels won’t have to impose a 19° C heating cap in Malta because anything above that is impossible anyway. If anyone in Europe is used to going without heat in winter, it is the beleaguered shivering Maltese.
Winter in a Maltese flat is a season of linked vileness where portable gas heaters struggle to raise a room’s temperature by a couple of degrees while emitting carbon dioxide and water vapour that puts more dampness into the air, fogs up the windows and feeds festering patches of black mould on the walls. When the flame is switched off, it feels even colder than it did before.
I knew a photographer in Birkirkara who wore fingerless gloves in his house each winter like a tramp in a Dickens novel. As for me, on particularly cold days, I was driven under the eiderdown by early afternoon. It was only really warm in bed. Not at first, of course. That was terrible.
I took to putting a hair dryer in my bed each night, filling the space beneath the blankets with hot air to ease the initial shock of slipping in, but it only added surface warmth. I still felt a dampness from deep in the mattress through my back.
I put the hair dryer down my pants and up my shirt, too, but its temporary relief never lasted. The rest of the time, whiskey served as a substitute for central heating.
Malta will survive the winter, no thanks to Brussels or Clyde Caruana, because its people are hardier than the Germans and French, and they’re used to doing without. Whether they manage it with electricity remains to be seen.