Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
As a Government, we are committed to build on the many good things that our country has while reforming where necessary.
These principles have guided the Government's work during the first year of Robert Abela's mandate, and despite the international challenges which have affected much bigger economies eslewhere, our country has continued to grow economically at a higher rate than neighbouring countries.
This success can be attributed to the wise leadership of the Government and strategic decisions, such as those that ensured stability in energy prices. Economic growth has been invested in the people, as evidenced by the first Budget after the election, which had no taxes and many incentives, and the largest allocation for public investment in history. Malta has also maintained its best credit ratings ever, and the outlook for the future is positive. The Government has made strong decisions, even in the most difficult times, and is committed to keeping the country moving forward in the right direction.
In the environmental field, the Government has sent important messages about its new priorities. As promised, the land in Zonqor intended for the American University will remain an open space and join the big project in Inwadar. Work has already begun on several new and improved communityspaces. The Government has also beautified communities with greening projects, including new gardens and financial investments in Local Councils to beautify the heart of communities, and the regeneration of several valleys.
Our Ministry has also taken a very active role in this, with the relevant restoration work and funding schemes.
Indeed over the last 30 years, local councils in Malta have been doing a good job in serving their communities. One of the main strengths of local councils is their ability to provide responsive and effective services to their communities.
Another great initiative from this Government is implementing its promise of a grant of €10,000 over 10 years to first-time buyers, which complements existing aid, such as the exemption from stamp duty and strong grants for those who buy a vacant property or in UCA. The Government is committed to making homeownership more accessible and affordable for first-time buyers.
Overall, the Government's commitment to reforming where necessary and investing in the people, culture and the arts, our communities and the economy have resulted in a positive outlook for the future. The Government has made strong decisions, even in difficult times, and remains committed to moving the country forward in the right direction.
Malta's economic growth has been double that of the Eurozone, despite facing international challenges. The government's strategic decision to maintain stability in energy prices has helped ensure a strong economic performance without burdening families and businesses. Additionally, derogations were obtained at the European level to ensure that businesses dependent on electricity generation could continue to operate smoothly. As a result, Malta's unemployment rate remained the lowest in the Eurozone. Furthermore, the country successfully got off the gray list in record time due to major reforms in governance and the fight against money laundering and organized crime, which have borne fruit.
The government has introduced new changes to IVF law, providing greater opportunities for couples who want to become parents. They have also introduced new rights that ensure a better quality of life for Maltese families, such as increasing the leave of the second parent, parental leave and Carer's leave. Other legislative changes include the introduction of the concept of femicide in the Criminal Code.
Starting in October 2022, free public transport has been offered to everyone, providing greater accessibility and convenience for citizens. Additionally, Malta has recorded its lowest crime rate in the last 11 years in 2022. The government has continued to expand the concept of Police in the Community, and Eurobarometer and NSO surveys have shown that more Maltese are trusting the Police Force and the Armed Forces of Malta.
The projects funded by the largest package of €2.2 communication funds obtained by our country have begun. These funds were negotiated by Prime Minister Robert Abela in the summer of 2020, and Malta is now reaping the benefits of this work. There is now more investment in schools to provide the best education possible for students.
To sustain Maltese traditions, we are investing in Maltese festas and have also we are in the process of owning of the bands club that were at risk of eviction.
Recently we launched half a million euros in funding schemes for feasts for 2023. The three funding schemes –namely the Health and Safety Standards in Fireworks Factories Fund, the Artistic Financing for Feast Associations Scheme, and the Fund to Strengthen Cultural Work done by Band Clubs – are managed by Arts Council Malta, with the latter being co-managed with the Għaqda Nazzjonali Każini tal-Baned.
Such initiatives form an essential part in the strengthening of our local traditions, as we keep on improving accessibility within the sector, whilst lauding such funding schemes for showcasing the importance of our local cultural fabric. In this way we are building on our past and investing towards the future of these traditions. We are ensuring that we highlight and substantiate the important role band clubs, fireworks factories and feast associations have in our communities.
The Health and Safety Standards in Fireworks Factories Fund facilitates investment to further strengthen the infrastructure of these factories so that volunteers can work in an increasingly safer environment. The allocation for this year is that of €170,000 and each eligible project can be awarded up to €5,000. This call is currently open, with a deadline on the 21st of March 2023, at noon.
The Fund to Strengthen Cultural Work done by Band Clubs is managed in collaboration with the Għaqda Nazzjonali Każini tal-Banda. The allocation for this year is that of €160,000 and each eligible project under Category A can be awarded up to €6,750 and each eligible project under Category B can be awarded up to €10,800.This fund aims to support various initiatives proposed by the band clubs, especially since they have a very vital role in our communities and also serve as one of the main points of entry for engagement with the arts.
The Artistic Financing for Feast Associations Scheme recognises the importance of Maltese feast decoration associations, cultural associations and social associations which work voluntarily in fostering, protecting, and strengthening cultural traditions in our country. The allocation for this year is that €140,000 and each eligible project can be awarded up to €10,000
We are also boosting projects in the cultural field, including large restoration projects.
All in all, several measures have been implemented that have had a significant impact on a large number of people. Some examples are 90,000 elderly individuals benefitted from an increase in pensions, while 62,000 children saw an increase in their allowance. 45,000 families were positively impacted by the implementation of a new COLA mechanism, and 17,000 students saw an increase in their stipends. The increase in the limit for the In-Work Benefit also benefitted 14,000 individuals. Also, 2,000 vulnerable children received support as a result of these measures.
We will keep working hard.