The ides of March have just passed and all of us, young, middle-aged and old persons are caught up in the vortex of the coronavirus or COVID-19 tempest. Many of us are also caught up in double whammys when we are either  suffering from other sicknesses or from job loss, whether these have occurred or are threatening to.

In these troubled and frightening times we must all dig deep into our souls and pockets and exhibit the maximum solidarity with our brothers and sisters, even though we cannot get close to them, nor leave our homes.

Governments across the world and the international organisations have begun to wake up and to provide financial and medical support. They issued draconic and stern orders for people to go into isolation and seclusion for periods of between one and three months in order to halt the exponential spreading of the virus and to win time until a vaccine is discovered and administered to all.

In Malta, the government is late and hesitant in its approach. Malta could have avoided the virus by closing the islands to all movements from day one. But Joseph Muscat and family wanted to travel so no closure until his family trips were concluded. Shamelessly and illegally, the shamed former prime minister landed and did not go through the corona fever test and questionnaire like all other citizens. What is wrong with Robert Abela and the police?

Instead of closing Malta completely on day one, obliging all to stop working, isolating those coming from abroad and all others to stay at home except for the police, hospitals, food supplies and banks, the present prime minister has moved in fits and starts slowly adding more and more restrictions.

Then comes the various financial support measures that the government has put forward. What can one say about this? The ones introduced on Tuesday seem to be better than the inappropriate ones first disclosed by the government – which were criticised equally by unions and the business sector – but do not go far enough.  

The government is not doing its job but neither is the private sector. To start, I believe we should have a stop to all construction activity and force contractors and property owners to pay wages to all their employees from their hoarded savings or they should borrow on their properties.

Secondly all economic sectors should temporarily, until the crisis is over, reduce the salaries of all personnel earning more than €3,000 a month to this level, including CEOs and owners.

Do we simply restart our economy as though nothing had happened or do we do something good and drastic?

The same should apply to all government employees including MPs, persons of trusts, chairmen of state owned enterprises and civil service departments. 

As for those earning between €1,500 and €3,000 a month there should be no change. For those below this level the government should introduce a living wage additional payment to bring all citizens to a €1,500 a month income by supplementing pensions, wages or unemployment benefits to this level. This is solidarity in the extreme.

Thirdly, all owners and shareholders who made profits during the period of our economic growth between 2013 and 2019 and invested these in property, boats, bank accounts and other investments in Malta or abroad are to bring 75 per cent of all these profits back and reinvest them into their businesses as capital increases and cash influx. This is needed in order to continue paying the reduced wages to their employees and to administer the government supplemental payments for their employees. 

This also includes all foreign-owned companies which had used Malta as a conduit of tax reductions through the refund of tax applied by the Maltese Finance Ministry. The ministry knows how much had been distributed in the form of dividends, salary payments to owners and shareholders of businesses during this period.

The government knows how much had been returned to investors on the 85 per cent refunds. Even if it may be difficult to get back the refunds or 75 per cent thereof for the past the Ministry of Finance should expropriate the amount from all applications for refunds from now on until the crisis is over.

Fourthly, all tax holidays for foreigners and residents should be temporarily stopped and full tax at Maltese tax levels to be charged to all who have Maltese tax residence until the crisis is over. The passport holders of the notorious sale of passports should be sought for full tax on their wealth for one year preceding their passport since they have had Maltese residence during that one year.

Solidarity by all.

These measures will ensure that the government will increase its present and future cash reserves in order for it to participate with owners and shareholders to make sure that solidarity by all for all is ensured.

Fifth, passport sale funds should be utilised and the government should increase its international borrowing to ensure that everyone can isolate themselves, stay at home to stop the virus spreading, to ensure all have a sufficient income to survive until a vaccine is found.

After that comes the most important and fundamental issue. What to do once this crisis passes.

Do we simply restart our economy as though nothing had happened or do we do something good and drastic?

John Vassallo is former ambassador to the EU

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