We have entered 2022 with a list of challenges not limited to the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic which is raging throughout the whole of Europe and the rest of the world. Europe is classified by the World Health Organisation as now being the epicentre of the Omicron virus wave and Malta is not being spared this onslaught. It is thanks to a successful vaccination programme that, until now, has kept the number of people needing hospital care low than a year ago, even though numbers of infected people are very high.

The Covid-19 pandemic was just one big challenge that had to be faced by the Robert Abela administration since its inception in January 2020. It was thanks to the strong leadership and determination of Prime Minister Abela and a united government backing him that, despite these challenges, we still managed to achieve positive results and progress while also creating more wealth for Maltese and Gozitan families.

Being responsible for European Funds, we were faced with the challenge of achieving a satisfactory allocation of European Funds planned for 2021-2027. After a series of long and tough negotiations and amid a global pandemic, we succeeded in achieving a record allocation of €2.27bn in European Funds, for Malta. In the nearby future, these funds will be bearing fruit via numerous investments.

Just a few days prior to the Christmas break, we received the first payment of €41m from a grant of circa €320m as part of the European Recovery and Resilience Fund. This allocation is intended to boost and action our plan, a plan which was agreed upon and I had personally signed together with the respective counterpart, the European Commission.

During the first few weeks of this year, I will be coordinating and working with all relevant ministries on actioning the plan and reforms proposed and agreed upon with the European Commission. Some proposed reforms have already had significant progress while various other investment projects have already been laid out with preparatory work.

Our Recovery Plan focuses significantly on the environment, as reflected in the fact that 54% of all grants will be allocated to environmental projects including rendering public buildings more energy-efficient and introducing more incentives for the purchasing of electric vehicles. We are also investing in the building of more electric vehicles’ charging points and in replacing vehicles used in public service with electric ones with the same being introduced and applied to public transport vehicles. Another 27% of our expenditure from the Recovery and Resilience Fund will be allocated to projects related to digital economy, including strong investment in the digitilisation of our justice system.

In 2022, we also want to start other main projects including the building of a new ITS campus, the building of a new Blood, Tissue and Cell Centre and the creation of a landing facility in Bugibba to encourage more sea transport.

The new year will also bring about the fulfilment of several social measures announced during the Budget in October. This Budget strengthened our social framework even further via sustainable increases in pensions, social benefits, benefits for persons with special needs and with incentives favouring hard-working citizens, through measures such as reduced tax on overtime and more.

In addition, from 1 October, the free public transport measure will come into effect while university students also stand to gain from increased stipends.

We will continue to lead this country with courage and determination in order to safeguard the health of our people during this global pandemic, which has once again reared its ugly head.

While continuing to extend a helping hand to our businesses, we are also protecting our people by offering the booster vaccine, with the goal of achieving normality as soon as possible.

We are ready for 2022’s challenges, including the challenge of asking the people to reconfirm their confidence in our leadership once again. We must keep striving to achieve good results for our country. Our work will remain focused on creating wealth and ensuring that such wealth is accessible to all. We are determined to keep investing in our people and in achieving even more success for our country.