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Labour Challenges government to discuss motion of censure

 - Monday, 23 April 2012, 00:00 , by John Cordina

If the government dismissed any concerns about Malta’s EU ambassador Richard Cachia Caruana discussing how to bypass parliament with US representatives, it should have no problems with discussing a related motion in parliament, Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat argued.

The motion of censure against Mr Cachia Caruana, presented by Labour MPs George Vella and Luciano Busuttil, based itself on a diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks. This cable dates back to 2004, and notes how the ambassador argued that Malta had not withdrawn from NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1996, but had simply ceased active participation.

The government said that Labour failed to understand the cable, and said that it did not concern Malta’s decision to rejoin the PfP in 2008. But at a political activity in Msida yesterday, Dr Muscat insisted that the government’s response was weak, and that it failed to address the concerns raised.

He subsequently challenged Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to ensure the motion is discussed and voted upon in parliament as soon as possible, since he apparently believed he had nothing to be ashamed of.

Dr Muscat argued that Dr Gonzi’s government was characterised by growing debts, pointing out that on average, government debt increased by €600,000 a day during the present legislature.

The Labour leader insisted that the government had nothing to show for the debts incurred, arguing that it might be justified if the economy was growing. But economic growth is set to be significantly less than the 2.3% projected by the government, he added, noting that the IMF and the European Commission had observed as much.

He said that since it had not been up front in the budget, the government subsequently had to cut €40 million in expenses – including from services for the most vulnerable, only for Finance Minister Tonio Fenech to state that the difference was not substantial.

He described this increase as a “disgusting complicity” against the consumer, stating that it had been planned before the local council elections but was kept hidden until afterwards, and condemning its announcement on the eve of Good Friday, when newspapers are not published. He urged the government to publish its workings and not simply mention international prices, stating that while these prices had an effect, transparency was important.

Dr Muscat moved on to the Delimara power station extension, noting that while the government had criticised Labour for years for proposing converting to natural gas, it is now proposing the same thing. He added that while the government spent years stating that the price of gas made such a conversion unfeasible, it was now negotiating with Libya and Qatar.

The Labour leader also noted that Education Minister Dolores Cristina’s silence was shocking in the wake of a court ruling which determined that doctors were overlooked for a consultancy post in favour of her son-in-law, who did not meet all the necessary criteria.

He said that such nepotism did not only bother Labourites, but also genuine Nationalists who were no longer recognising the party they had voted for as it had been seized by Dr Gonzi’s clique.

Dr Muscat remarked that while meritocracy had fallen by the wayside, the prime minister remained in an ivory tower, preoccupied with building “his palace”: the parliament building.

He insisted that a Labour government would not be an accomplice to the government’s plans to fund the building through a special purpose vehicle managing rental income from the airport and the cruise liner terminal. This revenue previously went straight to the government’s coffers, and Dr Muscat questioned whether funding for projects and services would be replaced or cut.

The Labour leader then said that his party wanted to build a “coalition of work,” bringing together employers, employees and the self-employed. He noted that such collaboration was important, since improving the lot of one improved that of others.

He said that simply creating jobs was insufficient: one had to ensure that working conditions were decent.

But he also stressed that investors need not worry about a Labour government, stating that it would support them fully and evaluate their ideas, and not their passports.

On health, Dr Muscat pointed out that the current health minister and his two predecessors have all described a 2007 collective agreement for doctors as flawed, and that it was signed because of “orders from above.” Whoever gave these orders should assume responsibility, he said.

He also noted that his meetings with doctors and nurses revealed their frustration at not being able to address patients’ legitimate concerns, adding that the government nevertheless determined it could cut €7.5 million in spending.

As his speech drew to a close, Dr Muscat noted that the government and the Nationalist Party resorted to lies and scaremongering as it found its back against a wall. However, he said, Labour would counteract this with a hope to create a better country and generate wealth.

In a reaction issued yesterday afternoon, the government focused solely on the motion, stating that Dr Muscat’s address confirmed that the party had not understood anything about the cable. The meeting discussed in the cable, it reiterated, did not in any way concern itself with rejoining the PfP, but with allowing Malta to participate in EU-NATO strategic meetings.

It said that his behaviour damaged Malta’s reputation and betrayed great incompetence, adding that the country deserved a serious and competent opposition.

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