The Malta Independent 17 November 2018, Saturday

Election On 8 March: PM shows ‘the way forward’

Malta Independent Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

As was widely predicted by the media, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday announced that the general election will be held with the local council elections on 8 March, the fifth anniversary of the day Malta said ‘Yes’ to Europe.

Dr Gonzi was expected to turn up at the President’s Palace at 9am; however, he did that at about 9.30am. He then requested that President Eddie Fenech Adami sign the writ to dissolve parliament, before calling on the Speaker of the House of Representatives to inform him of the developments.

Once he emerged from the Palace, Dr Gonzi confirmed that 8 March would be the day that Malta would go to the polls for both general and local council elections to the journalists present.

He said that after informing the President of the Republic and the Speaker of the House, a writ would be drawn up and filed calling the elections.

Dr Gonzi then walked to Castille with his assistant, Edward Galea Curmi, stopping to speak to well-wishers, but especially taking time out to have a few words with the many children who were dressed up in their Carnival costumes.

On the way, he was stopped by dissident PN supporter Jo Said, who told him that he would be filing an affidavit in court if the Prime Minister did not answer to his claims of corruption within the Nationalist Party. Dr Gonzi had a brief discussion with him before heading up to the Auberge de Castille. (See story on page 14)

A press conference was held in the courtyard of the auberge at 11am. Dr Gonzi emerged into the yard looking confident and purposeful, getting straight to the point in announcing that parliament had been dissolved and that the date was set.

Dr Gonzi said that his four-year tenure as Prime Minister was characterised by the great changes that took place in Malta. “Changes we all made together,” he said. He said that during this time, Malta’s economy, social justice and finances improved. “I have always believed that if you face challenges together, you can win. During these four years, Castille has been open to the public, as well as social partners, to discuss the best possible way forward for Malta. Take the pre-budget consultation meetings, for example,” he said.

Dr Gonzi said he became Prime Minister of Malta on 23 March, 2004. “On that day I outlined 10 issues, including strengthening the country’s finances, creating jobs, attracting direct foreign investment, improving competitiveness, having a coordinated government, investing in research and education, roads and capital projects, the environment and waste management and making the best of our EU membership,” he said.

Dr Gonzi said that while a lot had been done to improve the state of affairs in all these sectors, a lot still needed to be done. “We had three priorities and we stuck to them during the last legislature and those were employment, education and the environment,” said the Prime Minister.

Employment

Dr Gonzi said that a lot of work had been put in to improve employment. “We have seen huge investments come in, such as SmartCity, but there have been others, like Lufthansa Teknik. We have also signed collective agreements with doctors and nurses, as well as the public service,” he said, adding that these would lead to better conditions and pay for all concerned.

He said that in the last two budgets, the PN government cut taxes which have left millions of euros in the pockets of Maltese and Gozitan people. “Unemployment is the lowest it has been in 12 years and is now under the EU average,” he said.

“As I have said before, judge us on our actions not on words,” said Dr Gonzi. The Prime Minister said that positive results were achieved even in view of globalisation factors.

“We have seen factories close. It was sad, but we have also retrained those workers and found them new jobs,” he said.

Dr Gonzi said that one must look at the realm of job creation from a standpoint of knowing that we are seeing thousands more people in university and that there was a boom of pensioners leaving the workforce.

Education

“We want all our children to move ahead. We spent a lot of money on building new colleges; in fact, there has never been so much expenditure in this sector. This is resulting in record numbers of people studying, obtaining qualifications and graduating,” said Dr Gonzi. He said that apart from the capital expenditure on buildings, all schools were now kitted out with computers, something that he said is now a must. In addition, he said, EU membership has given hundreds of Maltese people the opportunity to study and find work abroad.

Environment

Dr Gonzi said his administration had done much to improve the environment in terms of air and water quality, pollution and, of course, waste management.

“Four years ago, Maghtab was a monument to the practices we employed in disposing of our waste. Now, not only have we closed it, we are turning it into a national park. Maghtab is being rehabilitated,” he said. The Prime Minister pointed out that Kennedy Grove and Ta’ Qali had been extended, while Xaghra l-Hamra was declared a National Park.

“Over 50,000 trees have been planted, building regulations have been changed to make life easier for the people who live near and we have carried out some 120 restoration projects. We will not rest easy, there is more to do,” said the PM.

Health

Dr Gonzi said that the new Mater Dei Hospital was a symbol of how far Malta had come. “We gave our doctors the tools they needed to provide a top class health service in a new, modern state-of-the-art environment. But we did not stop there, a new cancer hospital is being built, as well as one for rehabilitation,” he said. Dr Gonzi said that it was not he who was grading the hospital. “The World Health Organisation placed us fifth in the world for medical care,” he said.

The way forward

Dr Gonzi said: “OK, does that mean we are perfect? No, far from it. We are human and to err is human. We made mistakes and perhaps we did not reach everyone,” said Dr Gonzi.

The PM admitted: “Personally, I feel that we did not strike a balance between protecting the environment and development. We could have done better. Another area where I think we could have done better is cutting down red tape.”

Dr Gonzi asked for forgiveness where the government did not deliver or might have delivered better. “But the good things we achieved, the positives, I would like to thank the people of Malta. It is your collective success,” he said.

The Prime Minister continued: “It is now time for the people to choose. And I take this opportunity to announce that transfers and promotions in the civil service will be frozen till one day after the election, barring those that are already being processed.”

Dr Gonzi said that the election campaign will be intense. “That is a Mediterranean trait. But I hope that we will see mutual respect. We, the politicians must set the example,” he said. Addressing the journalists present, Dr Gonzi urged them to question things, to investigate and not take everything at face value. “But please be just and fair with all concerned,” he appealed.

In closure, he said that Malta was a beautiful country. “We have a duty to look after this place and develop it because we can truly pass on a jewel to our children. We must work harder and we must work together,” he said.

Question time

Dr Gonzi then took questions from the media. Answering one about economic performance, he said that since he took over as PM, Malta had managed to reduce the deficit from 10 per cent to 1.6 per cent, meaning that the country was heading for a surplus in the near future. He said that this went hand in hand with various reforms to pensions, ports, taxes and the introduction of low-cost airlines. “Now we have joined the Eurozone and the Schengen area. This will allow for more investment in Malta because we have a new, stable and very strong currency,” he said.

Answering another question, Dr Gonzi said that there were challenges on the horizon. “These include the rising cost of fuel oil and cereals as well as a potential worldwide crash of the financial markets which could lead to a global recession,” he said.

Dr Gonzi said that no one’s seat in cabinet was guaranteed. “The public is supreme and is sovereign. They will choose their government, but I will not guarantee anyone’s place. There is room for new blood and new faces,” he said.

TMID put this question to Dr Gonzi: “You have always told the people to judge you on facts not words. Do you feel that you have done enough to warrant another term in office based on your achievements?”

He answered: “I would not like to give an answer. I would prefer to let the people judge. But, I will tell you this. What gives me satisfaction as a politician is when I see just one person that we have helped by brokering SmartCity, constructing a new hospital, new roads, or by rehabilitating Maghtab. The people will make the right decision. They always do,” he said.

Answering questions about the defection of former secretary general Carmel Cacopardo, Dr Gonzi said: “I listened to his criticism and I gave it value. I agree with some things and not with others, and I think that is my right. But I did not go about calling him a traitor as others had done to their fellow party members in the past.”

Dr Gonzi said his government had passed on every allegation of corruption within the administration to those that mattered, the Police Commissioner and the Anti Corruption Commission. “I ask how many people Dr Sant’s government took to this commission?”

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