The Malta Independent 19 June 2019, Wednesday

‘We cannot have an opposition divided into a thousand fragments’ – Muscat

Sunday, 9 June 2019, 11:11 Last update: about 10 days ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the government cannot have an opposition divided into a thousand fragments, while being interviewed on One Radio.

Muscat said that the country needs a united opposition that agrees where it wants to go, and what direction it wants for the country. He said it would also not be good for the government long-term.

As an example, referring to proposals regarding more gender equal representation in Parliament, he said that the government needs to know the opposition's views. "It will require a change in the constitution which requires a 2/3rds majority. If we have part of the opposition say one thing, and the rest say another, then it is harder for us to understand their position, and such an important change could end up taking longer."

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Speaking about the economy, Muscat said that it is happening in a structured way and is not reliant on a single sector.

"We do not depend solely on financial services or tourism or retail or manufacturing." He said that if a problem arises in one sector, the economy will keep moving forward. Malta's economic growth rate is the highest in the Eurozone, he said.

This is not due to public investment, but investment from the private sector, Muscat said. "The private sector only invests if they have trust in the economy. If they do not believe that the country will keep moving forward, then they would not invest. "

Having so many people believing in Malta is crucial, and this translates into more jobs and helps the country keep moving forward, he said. In order to fulfil peoples aspirations for a better quality of life, with more family time, better care services and more open spaces, we need to keep up the strong economy, he added.

Muscat was also asked about the European Commission's country specific recommendations for Malta. Among other things, the Commission had recommended that Malta "address features of the tax system that may facilitate aggressive tax planning by individuals and multinationals, in particular by means of outbound payments. Strengthen the overall governance framework, including by continuing efforts to detect and prosecute corruption. Continue the ongoing progress made on strengthening the anti-money laundering framework, notably regarding enforcements. Strengthen the independence of the judiciary, in particular the safeguards for judicial appointments and dismissals, and establish a separate prosecution service."

Muscat explained that the country specific recommendations are made for each country, and that Malta would always receive recommendations. "Many a time the EU Commission does not repeat a recommendation, as we would have acted on it." He said that there have been occasions in the past where the country would not agree with a recommendation, and gave the example regarding the COLA.

"As an example, a recommendation made a few years ago was not to continue giving the COLA. Both the previous government and this one argued that the EC's analysis on the COLA was not correct. Over time the EC understood the argument and stopped making that recommendation. In the same way, there are recommending the tax system change.  They did not only make the recommendation to us."

He said that similar recommendations were made to Cyprus, Luxembourg and Holland.

"They reacted the same way Malta did, saying that we do not agree with the recommendation."

He said that Luxembourg, in their answer, said that their system conforms with EU regulations and that they have had it for years.

"I would add that Luxembourg was a founding father of the EU. Malta was a country that entered more recently. In our case, we underwent a screening process. They took our laws one by one and saw what conforms and what we needed to change. We had laws we needed to change as they did not conform. One of laws they told us they had no problem with was our law on tax.  It wasn't a problem then, and should not be a problem now."

He argues that the EU Commission is not zeroing in on Malta, but that it wants a group of states to do something on taxation. "We are saying no as it was approved by them already."

Asked about the recent announcement, that 74,000 working married couples will be able to apply for the option to fill in their tax forms and receive their tax refunds cheques separately from next year, Muscat said that he could never understand the old situation.

"There was a political will for this change, and we did it." He said that some women felt humiliated with having to get their husbands signatures for it.

Muscat argued that government is trying to change the mindset. He said that sometimes government introduces a policy shift, but the systems don't immediately follow. This, he said, is not due to any malicious intent, but due to the weight of years of institutionalisation which makes it difficult to change things.

Referring to the public consultation on equal representation in Parliament, he said that it closed yesterday. In the coming weeks, he said, government will analyse the feedback.  While praising the result for equality in the European Parliamentary elections, and good representation at a local council level he said it is not enough.

Muscat was also asked about the upcoming 6th Summit of Southern European States soon being held in Malta. He said that such meetings take place every 6 months, and the heads of the EU nations in the Mediterranean, including France, Spain, Italy, Malta and others, come together to discuss their plans.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the past two years, and said that he cannot believe so much time passed since the last general election. He said that the positive interim results have re-energised Cabinet.

Muscat also spoke about the building collapse in Mellieha, which was reported on Saturday.


 

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