Economic plan lacking vision

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. Photo by Sureash Cholai
Finance Minister Colm Imbert. Photo by Sureash Cholai

GOVERNMENT MPs in Parliament on Monday voted to give Finance Minister Colm Imbert unlimited speaking time for his mid-year budget review.

But in the end, though Mr Imbert’s time was not limited, his vision for the economy, as implied by the evidence of his presentation, was.

It was a presentation lacking in depth. Instead of outlining a strong strategy to wean the economy off the petrochemical sector, it relished our reliance on volatile oil and gas prices. Instead of setting clear benchmarks for the way forward, it offered the piecemeal and the short-term.

Mr Imbert may well be saving his firepower for his next budget. He may not have had enough time since the outbreak of war in Ukraine to refine bigger goals. He may also have factored in the need to be conservative; to not rock the boat. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” he may have thought, observing how the current status quo has seen a projected $9 billion deficit turned into a near-$2 billion surplus through price fluctuations alone.

Such reasoning, however, does not mesh well with the profoundly disturbing uncertainties being faced in relation to the global political order, security, the climate crisis and pandemic response.

It is also out of touch with the changes being endured by ordinary citizens and businesses on the ground.

The Central Bank’s last monetary policy announcement noted food inflation was at 6.6 per cent. That will be driven up in coming months.

At the same time, the fuel subsidy grows smaller by the minute.

During Monday’s sitting, Mr Imbert also confirmed property tax is coming before the end of the year for residential property owners.

There was also very little to provide reassurance in terms of the need to widen the social safety net, though the minister said some of the windfall revenue will be used to cover social welfare payments.

Meanwhile, a series of “goodies” contained in the presentation veered perilously close to giving people merely what they already deserve. Such could be said of the plans to pay VAT refunds to businesses, deal with arrears owed to utility bodies, pay contractors and renegotiate public-service salaries.

Even the very laudable measure of saving more by making a deposit into the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund is potentially subject to the interaction between revenue estimates and actual figures.

It would have been good to hear more about agriculture given food-price inflation, as well as our clear vulnerabilities when it comes to food sustainability. Sadly, and yet again, green energy took a back seat to black gold.

In the end, Mr Imbert clearly felt less was more. But this was one occasion when that was not the case.


"Economic plan lacking vision"

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