The passport scheme fund cannot be used to cushion the impact of the first sign of trouble, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said on Monday as he promised more measures to help businesses and self-employed by the end of this week, amid the coronavirus fallout. 

In a recorded message on Facebook, Schembri said that the measures that will be announced were aimed at safeguarding jobs. 

Schembri was referring to a suggestion by the Chamber for SMEs, Paul Abela, who said the government should utilise the €600 million it saved through the Individual Investor Programme to help businesses.

“It would be immature to use the €600 million the country made from the passport sale scheme at one go, just because business is not doing well,” he said. 

He acknowledged, however, the difficulties businesses were facing with decreased sales and empty shops. The situation, he said, has led to a decrease in business for a number of sectors, including tourism, hospitality and transport. 
Many businesses have understood that the health of the Maltese people comes first, he said.

He reassured business owners that the government is aware of the situation and had an action plan. It had already announced a set of economic measures to help in the situation because it main priority right now is to safeguard people’s jobs. 

It is the duty of employers and the government to make sure that workers do not bear the brunt of this dip in business, especially when these businesses made profits when the economy was doing well over the last years.

“We are taking the matter seriously. We are taking important decisions. We are in this together. We know that shops are empty and sales are down. Last week we assessed the economic situation and prepared an action plan. This is not the time to panic. We need to focus so that the best decisions to be taken and cannot take decision based on what people are saying on Facebook,” Schembri said.  

“Businesses who held on to all profits when the going was good cannot expect workers to bear the brunt now, or for taxpayer money to make up for their losses. The government will be there to help businesses to overcome the situation.

When the economy was booming, the government did not raise taxes. Now, the government expects businesses to show solidarity with their employees. The new measures that will be announced this week will be in the form of "direct" assistance to businesses,” Schembri said, as he urged workers to be flexible and cooperate with their employers.

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