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As a 35-year-old accountant entrusted with the country’s first Budget in 2004, Tonio Fenech was raring to go, except nothing could have prepared him for the nail-biting mishap that marked his ‘baptism’. Mr Fenech, who was behind nine budgets, now laughs at what happened but he describes the run-up to the Budget 2005 speech as the most tense and certainly the most memorable. “It was [the Gonzi government’s] first Budget so as you can imagine there was a lot of tension. We were also running late because we had miscalculated how long it would take to write it. We were really down to the wire,” he recalled. At the time, then prime minister Lawrence Gonzi was finance minister, and Mr Fenech only turned up on his doorstep with the speech literally on the eve of Budget Day. Dr Gonzi had spent the entire night correcting the document and making it his own, since he was responsible for the finance portfolio at the time. “I was at his place at about 8am to collect the CD so that we could ensure the figures from the Budget speech and the estimates tallied and vice versa. “We were still very paranoid it would be leaked so nothing had been e-mailed,” Mr Fenech said. Lawrence Gonzi and I turned up at the President’s Office for the ceremonial event without a Budget speech in hand. “Lawrence had not slept a wink that night. What he hadn’t realised was that he had opened the file from his e-mail and was saving on temporary memory instead of on his desktop – he lost the entire document which was a huge tonne of work." It was an awful moment, but thankfully, Dr Gonzi had had the foresight to print the document before it disappeared into the web’s black hole. “I think we’d have had to postpone the Budget if Lawrence had not printed out a copy,” Mr Fenech said. A regiment of people was called into the Finance Ministry and everybody was handed a number of pages each and entrusted with furiously retyping the entire speech. Tradition dictates that before the Budget is read out in Parliament, the finance minister visits the President Office’s to deliver a copy. “Lawrence and I turned up at the President’s Office for the ceremonial event without a speech in hand. Instead, we presented the Estimates and the Economic Survey,” Mr Fenech said, laughing as he remembered the frenzied moment. That evening, the police escorted copies of the Budget speech from the Marsa printing press to Parliament just a few minutes shy of 6.30pm. And although it started being read out slightly late, nobody would have ever guessed the drama unfolding behind the scenes.

Timesofmalta.com Sunday, October 11, 2015, 10:16

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Dr Gonzi, who was led to a birthday cake after the formalities, also let the crowd in on a little secret. "I made the mistake of thinking that I was going to be 53 this year until my wife suddenly reminded me I was going to be 52; so it is one of the best birthdays I've ever had because instead of getting older, I got younger!" ? The Times 2.7.2005

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