There were unsubtle differences yesterday in responses given by the prime minister and the finance minister to an identical question put to them by Newsbook.

When Robert Abela was asked if he was considering revising growth projections after war broke out in Ukraine, he fell back on his stump speech on why Malta’s deficit has gone up because of covid and how he’s planning to slash it back down.

When Clyde Caruana was asked the same question, his manner of giving a pre-electoral reassuring answer had the bed side manner of a butcher. “Our economy has just weathered a pandemic. It would not withstand a war.” Er. There’s no “would”. The war is not a hypothesis. It’s happening.

Clyde Caruana sticks to the short term. We’ll have to spend more than we planned in the last budget to shelter the economy from the impact of the war but that’s all right, Clyde Caruana says, because the deficit turned out not to be quite as big as we expected it to be, so we have some leeway. Then came those spine-chilling words you never want to hear told to you by someone in whose hands you have trusted your faith: ‘we know what we’re doing’.

Of course, the last budget only sees us as far as the end of this year. Perhaps to accommodate Robert Abela’s political hopes Vladimir Putin will by the time of the next budget speech bring the world to where it was when the election in Malta was called. Or perhaps not.

We could pretend to be comforted by Clyde Caruana’s claim that he knows what he intends to do. But Robert Abela doesn’t know what Clyde Caruana intends to do. Because right up to yesterday Robert Abela was giving assurances the deficit was about to be slashed while Clyde Caruana is promising to inflate it and use it as a cushion.

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine is neither Robert Abela’s, nor Clyde Caruana’s fault. Nor is the fact that the war follows on a yet unfinished pandemic. I say unfinished. I still don’t understand why (beyond narrow, yet expensive populism) the wage supplement for businesses is being extended until after the election when just about everyone should be back to work. Not sure what I’m missing there.

What is quite clearly missing is the ability or willingness of the prime minister to project anything short of mindless optimism. Robert Abela sounds like a child on Christmas Eve, too excited to consider any possible dampeners on his enthusiasm.

As Steve Mallia told his old newspaper this morning, it is surreal that Ukraine was not even mentioned in a political debate that was meant to give confidence to the business community that our political leaders really ‘know what they’re doing’. How can they know what they’re doing if they barely seem to know what’s happening?

Consider the way Robert Abela answered the question yesterday on how he proposed to pay for all his promises including the promise of cutting taxes. Robert Abela said the government had “clear projections that would see national GDP rise from just over €14 billion to €20 billion by the end of the legislature.”

Here’s the question. Were those clear projections drawn up before or after war in Ukraine broke out? If before, are you keeping them that way? If yes, you must be about as blind now as you were before the war started. If no, do you mind telling us what sort of projections you’ve revised them down from?