The lack of an energy policy was the most glaring absence in the present government’s policy, Labour leader Joseph Muscat argued yesterday.
Dr Muscat was speaking at the National Park in Ta’ Qali, where the party is holding its first-ever congress, in which party members are given the opportunity to approve guidelines which are to be used to form Labour’s electoral manifesto. The last three discussions, on energy, a just society, and the young, were held yesterday, and Dr Muscat concluded the first and the third debate.
Unsurprisingly, high utility rates and the use of heavy fuel oil at the Delimara power station extension were key topics in the first session.
Geologist Peter Gatt opened the session with a discussion on oil exploration, in which he argued that Malta has not yet started proper efforts in the field. He noted how persistence paid off with many other countries, including Israel and North Sea states.
Former Enemalta financial controller Tarcisio Mifsud argued that the price of electricity also reflected several overheads, including an increasing amount of people working in administration. If such overheads were taken care of, he said, bringing down utility prices should not be difficult.
Jonathan Scerri observed that Malta was not afraid to set up the world’s largest reverse osmosis plant 30 years ago, and should be similarly brave enough to tackle the present challenges.
Concluding the debate, Dr Muscat said that the points raised betrayed the absence of an energy policy, as did the fact that ministerial responsibility over energy was split, with Enemalta, oil exploration and the Malta Resources Authority handled by three difference ministers.
He announced that such a policy would be an absolute priority for a new Labour government, and that it would be part of its plans to reduce, as promised, electricity bills, along with increasing efficiency, adopting new technology and employing a mix of energy sources.
The guideline put to the vote focused on reducing energy bills, and was, somewhat unsurprisingly, approved unanimously.
The second topic paved the way for discussions on a wide range of issues, including, among others, the plight of people with disability, Mepa and abortion. The National Council of Women’s president, Mary Gaerty, stressed the need to safeguard the rights of the unborn child, a proposal which was met with approval by the crowd.
San Ġwann councillor Violet Bajada argued that local councils should have some responsibility over community work, noting how councillors’ position put them close to residents and made them aware of their needs.
Mark Grech, from the Malta Gay Rights Movement, noted how countries with higher levels of equality and social justice register stronger economic growth, noting that this was logical since people can reach their full potential.
Deputy leader Toni Abela concluded this debate, noting how a just society had been a primary aim for the party since its inception. He stressed that economic growth was useless if resources were not fairly distributed, and argued that such a trend was occurring in present-day Malta.
The second guideline voted on yesterday called for a “just society where everyone moves forward,” and once more, support proved to be unanimous.
The third debate saw a host of young people discussing various topics close to heart – including job prospects, education and entertainment – but a number also asked questions to Dr Muscat, seeking to find out his stance on gay adoption and on the introduction of a full-time parliament, among other matters.
On the former, Dr Muscat said that gay couples deserved family rights, although he noted that adoption was a thorny issue, in which the children’s interest must be placed first.
Forum Żgħażagħ Laburisti president Daniel Micallef lamented about the poor state of political debate, noting how people talked about things which happened before he was born but not about present concerns.
Michelle Muscat took part of her husband’s speaking slot to discuss stipends and IVF, drawing on her own experiences. She noted that she and her husband were able to graduate on the strength of stipends, and said that after the difficulties she went through to have children, she could not accept hindering others from having them.
Concluding a week of discussions, Dr Muscat insisted that the congress proved that the Maltese want to be heard, and that the time of traditional political parties had passed. He also noted that the event’s protagonist was not the party, but the movement around it, which, he said, used the party as a base but was ultimately bigger than it.
Going on the offensive, he noted that the prime minister, who was presenting himself as a force for change, did change a number of things, including utility bills and his own salary.
Labour, on the other hand, offered real change after 25 years of PN governments which started out well but which have been failing since, he said.