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24 April 2014

Country Losing out while government buys time – Muscat

 - Monday, 26 March 2012, 00:00 , by John Cordina

The country is losing out while the government was prioritising reaching compromises to buy time over dealing with its problems, Labour leader Joseph Muscat said.

Replying to questions by The Malta Independent managing editor Stephen Calleja in an interview aired on the party’s One Radio, Dr Muscat said that Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was aware that the present situation was untenable, but was preoccupied with holding on to power.

As a result, the country was losing out, he said, adding that he was particularly concerned about economic stagnation, the state of public finances and the health sector. The Labour Party, he said, was expecting parliamentary votes to be held shortly, including on the motion of no confidence in Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici which the minister, in his role as Leader of the House, was seeking to prevent from discussing in parliament.

Dr Muscat said that the latest statistics on public finances showed that the government was off-target by at least €60 million in the first two months of this year alone, despite the €40 million cut to the 2012 Budget announced last January.

He said that little by little, shocking details were being discovered about the €40 million budget cut, including a €1 million reduction to the allocation to church schools, a €2.5 million reduction in the university’s budget, a nearly €1 million reduction at MCAST and a €1.4 million cut in the Malta Tourism Authority’s budget.

The Labour leader said that government’s priorities were proving themselves to be wrong, as the City Gate project was left untouched. Government should, at the very least, adjust the project and reduce its budget rather than cut reduce funds addressing waiting lists at Mater Dei Hospital.

He said that the government was seemingly more concerned with its appearance, and that Dr Gonzi was concerning himself with appearing to be listening to the public in an exercise of “convenience, not conviction.” The Labour leader said that he has been meeting organisations for three years, doing so without hype as he believed that doing so should not be the exception but the rule for the leader of a political party.

On health, after pointing out that the sector’s budget was reduced by €8.5 million, the Labour leader said that the situation had worsened, and that even the authorities’ management by crisis had given way to a full-blown crisis. He said that he was shocked that no forum grouping together all stakeholders in the sector existed until a committee was set up in recent days in an attempt to discuss the sector’s problems.

He referred to a case of a woman whose father died after she tried to admit him to Mater Dei Hospital for days. He said that the man was repeatedly discharged from hospital, and that it was too late to save him when he was taken to hospital for the last time.

The Labour leader also remarked that Health Minister Joe Cassar was now describing the collective agreement signed before the last general election was wrong, pointing out that this agreement had received the go ahead of Dr Gonzi and that clarifications was required.

Dr Muscat noted that a failure in primary healthcare was contributing to the situation, as not enough resources were being allocated to government health centres. But he also noted that the last Labour government had decided to add an additional floor to Mater Dei – then known as San Raffaele Hospital – and that the situation would have been much worse if this did not occur.

A Nationalist government, however, subsequently placed the hospital’s service infrastructure on the roof, making the construction of an additional floor problematic, he observed.

The Labour leader also referred to precarious work, remarking that while addressing such situations cannot be done overnight, they had to be addressed, and that a Labour government would not consider contracts leading to precarious jobs, which would spur the private sector to follow suit.

The Labour Party commemorated Freedom Day yesterday – a week ahead of the actual date – and Dr Muscat was thus asked to give his opinion about having one national day rather than five.

He said that he hoped for the establishment of one national day which would unite and not divide the country, although he also made allowances for the prospect of two national days. The remaining national days should remain public holidays, he insisted.

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