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Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)

In these past three years, the European continent and other corners of the globe have faced significant circumstances which created challenges that no one could have predicted or imagined.

After more than two decades of low and stable inflation in advanced economies, inflation rose sharply during the Post-Covid period, and the situation worsened as the war broke out in Ukraine after Russian aggression.

Heightened uncertainty and higher food, commodity and energy prices impact investment and sustainable and inclusive economic development.

Higher-than-expected inflation, especially in the United States and major European economies, triggered instability within the global financial world. China’s slowdown has been worse than anticipated amid COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns, and there have been further negative spillovers from the war in Ukraine. As a result, global output contracted in the second quarter of this year.

This is the backdrop of the Budget which we presented this week, the first Budget of this legislature since the March 2022 general election, but it also the tenth consecutive budget under a Labour government.

This budget evidently distinguishes us from other countries as it creates a healthy balance between two aspects - safeguarding the economy and sustaining the economy.

Firstly, this government continues to strengthen Malta’s stability by introducing measures that guarantee economic growth while ensuring sustainable and good finances.

Notably, this budget is one that builds on the social pillars strengthened by previous budgets under a Labour administration. This budget followed the tradition introduced by a Labour Government; once again, no new taxes were introduced, and no taxes were raised.

Without a doubt, this was only possible thanks to the premeditated measures introduced in the previous year, which left a positive long-term impact on the economy and continued to keep our deficit in check.

In light of this, this government refrained from introducing higher energy and gas prices. Furthermore, once again, the Labour Party in government has introduced new benefits whilst fortifying the existing social benefits. These measures include helping first-time buyers, free childcare centers and substantial and continuous increases to pensioners and those with low incomes. Pensions will increase for the eighth year in a row, with a weekly increase of €12.50 or €650 a year, including the cost-of-living adjustment.

Some 100,000 pensioners will net a yearly increase of €65 million between them.

This was a sustainable budget that thought of everyone and did not allow anyone to fall behind. This also means that Malta has taken an excellent economic direction that will ensure the certainty and stability that already exist in our country.

Let us now focus on culture.

In 2023 we will continue to work on the excellent work that has already been done and promote everything that makes us who we are as Maltese.

Each generation, monument, artefact, language and celebration has a story to relate to. We are determined to see these stories passed on to the upcoming generation and want to make them more accessible to everyone. The year 2023 will be the year in which we will be consolidating and strengthening what we obtained together as a country.

During 2022 we completed 20 restoration projects, and currently, work is being undertaken on another 25 projects. The restoration project at the Grandmaster’s Palace will reach a new level. The work continues in the restoration of the forts and restoration of churches, and chapels in various localities, with further impetus on the Tas-Silġ project; we will also invest in the restoration of Villa Guardamangia, which is the only house in which Queen Elizabeth II lived outside the UK.

Villa Guardamangia is a classic example of an 18th-century Maltese country summer house, one of the very first to be built in this harbour area. In dire need of restoration, it is best known for having served as the only permanent residence outside the United Kingdom which Queen Elizabeth II has ever had when she lived as a princess with her husband, Prince Philip, between 1949 and 1951.

Malta will also be taking part in the London Design Biennale for the first time. Conceived through a fusion of art, architecture and innovative design, Urban Fabric is a large-scale installation informed by contextual research and a deep-rooted appreciation of the need for sustainable design. Through such efforts, we continue to fulfil our mission to further expose our local cultural and creative industries on an international platform. Participation at the London Design Biennale is a first for our country, and such a significant large-scale event will serve as a showcase for our artistic and creative sectors whilst also strengthening our designers’ profile on an international level.

The biggest cultural project, however, for next year is that of MICAS, where, among others, the works on the galleries and the sculpture garden will be completed. With this project, we will be giving back tumult of land currently inaccessible to Maltese and Gozitan families through the power of art.

This budget will build on our commitment to celebrating culture in its various genres and support artists because we are committed to continuing to grow cultural activities.

Everyone has a crucial role in protecting and developing the national culture and preserving cultural heritage. The main objective remains to foster in people's lives the awareness and appreciation for the identity and the Maltese culture that sets us apart!

One last thing.

I had the opportunity to visit AFTERmath, an art exhibition in the European Parliament, together with MEP Alex Agius Saliba and the European Commissioner Helena Dalli. Alex was the actual organiser of the exhibition: a heartfelt thank you to him and his excellent team.

AFTERmath is one of the exhibitions which saw the artists Mark Mallia and Etienne Farrell teaming up and working on different artistic projects for the past three years.

The exhibition named ‘AFTERmath’, currently ongoing at the European Parliament in Brussels, is an exhibition that deals with the repercussions of war.

It stems from the current war in Ukraine and its effects on people. Using the narrative of unidentifiable hands as an underlying medium for communication, the work seeks to objectively portray feelings and needs, elevating the human above all else.

Congratulations to Mark Mallia & Etienne Farrell for their hard work and artistic excellence.

This is yet another important milestone for Maltese artists; the past few years have taught us how important it is to invest our energy and resources in art and culture, as, by doing so, we are ultimately investing in the soul of a nation.

The body of work of this exhibition is indicative of the many shades and layers resulting from war, including death, destruction, famine, ruins, displacement, deprivation, health issues, ill effects on the environment, education and production, the collapse of the economy and violence.

Humanity is at the centre of each piece, and underlying all of the works exhibited is the human hand, symbolic of human sentiment. The white casts of indicators used in these workpieces represent the very basis of humanity, a means of clean, objective, direct communication with the viewer, highlighting that every person in Europe is somehow affected by the war.


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