Prime Minister Robert Abela has hinted that a third aid package for ailing businesses hit hard by the coronavirus was in the pipeline saying the situation was so volatile and unprecedented that government had to “readjust” its measures.
He warned, however, that the government could not use all of its “war chest” to combat the outbreak in the first week, as that would leave it completely exposed.
Abela gave this indication when interviewed on the Labour radio station on Sunday morning.
“It might be the case next week that we might have to readjust. It all depends on the circumstances. It could be the second package [announced last Wednesday] will be revised in a very short time,” he said. The first package was announced earlier in March
If need be we go from a surplus to a deficit- Robert Abela
“It is pointless rescuing business after they go bankrupt. Our aim is to safeguard jobs, be it of Maltese or third-country nationals” Abela added.
The prime minister insisted that the government had no qualms about taking drastic measures to keep businesses afloat.
“If need be we go from a surplus to a deficit,” he said.
On the other hand Abela repeatedly pointed out that nobody could tell how long the existing situation would prolong and consequently government had to be prudent.
“We cannot use our war chest in the first week. That would leave us empty-handed for the rest of the war,” he said.
The prime minister made these remarks in reaction to the criticism levelled from social partners to the €1.8 billion package rolled out last Wednesday. While welcoming the package, social partners noted that most of the measures were either tax deferments or bank guarantees, with little measures to inject cash or subsidise employers to keep workers on their books.
Abela said talks with social partners would continue on Monday and Tuesday, and added that government was evaluating the financial implications of the proposals it had received from them.
Opposition taking populist approach
The prime minister expressed disappointment at what he described as the “populist” approach being taken by the Opposition. He said Nationalist leader Adrian Delia was putting recommendations haphazardly without considering the repercussions.
“Had we taken the Opposition’s advice to go for a lockdown contrary to the health authority’s advice, we would have reached a stage whereby when it would have been really necessary nobody would adhere to it as people would have been fed up staying indoors,” he said.
“In turn, this would have increased the risk of a spike in cases as people would have ventured outdoors at the worst moment,” Abela added.
He also accused the Opposition of trying to exploit this delicate situation to garner the support of the business community.
People must remain indoors
While noting that, in general, the population was heeding the authorities’ advice to stay indoors, the prime minister expressed his disappointment that some were defying them.
“If we are not self-disciplined we will suffer even more and risk imposing more severe measures. This is not a period of celebration, to gather in gardens or at the beach,” he said.
“I am not saying one should not go alone for a walk but children should not be playing in parks.”
In this respect, he warned that the government would tighten enforcement if this attitude persisted.
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