The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

PN ready to commit to PL-leaning President when in government

Malta Independent Sunday, 19 January 2014, 11:30 Last update: about 6 years ago

Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil said he is ready to commit himself to nominating a President from the Labour camp when the PN is returned to government if the Prime Minister appoints a person with a Nationalist background to replace George Abela, whose term of office expires in April.

Lawrence Gonzi’s action in appointing Dr Abela as President in 2009 was an experiment, one which we now know worked well, said Dr Busuttil. It should now become a tradition for the President to be appointed from the opposite side of the political spectrum. After all, he said, a President is a unifying figure and there is no better way to express this unity than to have a President from the opposing end of the political sphere.

Interviewed by The Malta Independent on Sunday, Dr Busuttil confirmed that he has a name in mind which he will propose if he is consulted by the Prime Minister regarding the next President. Asked whether he has communicated the name to Dr Muscat, Dr Busuttil replied in the negative. “I do not want to impose,” he said - a strong hint that he would like to be consulted by the Prime Minister before the name of the new President is announced.

Before the nomination of George Abela, both Nationalist and Labour governments had appointed people from their own party to the post of President. Dr Gonzi broke this trend by nominating someone from the opposite political camp.

The question Dr Muscat should ask himself is whether he should continue on the same path, said Dr Busuttil. “If he wants to change this experiment into a practice, a tradition – one in which the President is nominated from the other side of the political fence... – I can tell the Prime Minister that if I am elected to government, I will keep up the tradition.”

Dr Busuttil said that, as Dr Abela had stated, it is time for the country to find a different solution to the one currently in place with regard to the number of national holidays. Dr Abela had suggested that the number should be reduced from five to two, with Independence Day and Republic Day being retained as national holidays, while Freedom Day, Victory Day and Sette Giugno would be retained as normal holidays. “I agree with this proposal,” Dr Busuttil said.

 

Citizenship scheme

This year, Malta will be celebrating 50 years of independence, 40 years since it became a republic, 35 years since Freedom Day and 10 years since the country became a member of the European Union. It is a “beautiful year” with all these anniversaries, said Dr Busuttil, noting however that it all started with independence in 1964. None of the other events would have taken place, were it not for independence, he said.

It also follows the Year of European Citizenship and it is ironic, he added, that in this symbolic year for Malta the government has chosen to ridicule the country by selling off Maltese citizenship and identity through a scheme that is causing irreparable damage to Malta’s reputation.

Dr Busuttil said he was not surprised by the outcome of the European Parliament vote on Thursday, in which nearly 90 per cent of MEPs voted in favour of a resolution against the scheme introduced by the government to sell Maltese passports to people who have the means to pay for it.

It was clear that the scheme as implemented by the government is wrong. Dr Busuttil said that it had not been necessary to influence MEPs to vote against it. They knew that the scheme is intrinsically wrong and did not need any prompting to reject it.

However, he said, the government is “too stubborn” to listen to what the European Parliament – apart from the Nationalist Party and the Maltese public in general – is telling him. Besides this, the government now also has to face the European Commission, whose vice-president Viviane Reding has made it clear that the scheme as presented goes against European and international law. The opposition to the scheme has now gone a step higher, said Dr Busuttil, and Malta will have to face the consequences of its actions.

 

Parliamentary motion is first step

It is not the PN that is instigating hostility towards the scheme, Dr Busuttil said when asked about the government’s claim that the PN is causing great harm to Malta. “If I punch you and you report the incident in the newspaper, it is not your report that is wrong, but my punch. The PN has a duty to speak out against something that is wrong, and it should not be accused of harming Malta for doing its duty.”

The next step for the PN is to once again challenge the law in Parliament, and it has presented a motion in this regard. Dr Busuttil hopes that the government will take the opportunity to see what damage this scheme is causing and review its position. But the PN leader would not be drawn into saying what other steps the PN could take if, as expected, its motion is defeated in the House of Representatives, given that the Labour government enjoys a nine-seat majority.

“I will not speak of what step number five is now that we still have to see what happens in step one,” he said.

Asked whether the citizenship saga could turn out to be an issue that could reverse the political result of the last election – as the decision taken by the PN government to grant parliamentary honoraria over and above ministerial salary had been instrumental in turning public opinion in Labour’s favour in the past election – Dr Busuttil said that the PN does not base its position on how many votes it will win.

“This is a fundamental difference between the PN and PL,” he said. Whereas the PN attacks something because it is wrong, the PL chooses its battles depending on whether they will be translated into vote-catching exercises. The PN picked on the citizenship scheme because the government’s idea is wrong, so much so that the Labour government is now totally isolated on the issue. Even the Socialist group, of which the PL forms part, in its great majority voted against the Labour government, he said.

It is ridiculous, he added, that the Prime Minister continues to liken the citizenship scheme to European Union funds obtained by the previous government and now even abortion. “In less than a year, we have lost the respect for Malta that the Nationalist governments built in nine years of EU membership.”

Dr Busuttil said that what the PN used to say in the run-up to the EU membership referendum is turning out to be completely true. At the time, the PN said that EU membership would give the Maltese people a shield with which it could defend itself. The citizenship scheme is an example that confirms what the PN was saying 10 years ago. The EU and European institutions have come to the defence of the Maltese on an issue in which the government is completely wrong.

 

MEP elections

Dr Busuttil said that the Nationalist Party target in the coming elections for the European Parliament will be to elect a third representative. In the two elections held so far, the PN has always managed two, and the aim is to elect a third.

But he warned that having three PN MEPs is not a given, as the Labour Party would like to make it appear to be. The PN is coming from a 36,000 vote defeat in the last election, and this has to be kept in mind when speaking of what might happen in May.

The target is to win a third seat, and “if we do that” it would mean that the PN will already have started to eat away at the disadvantage it accumulated last March. Dr Busuttil, however, would not set a benchmark on the way voting will turn out, saying that it is still early days.

He said he would have liked to have had more time in-between the general election and the MEP election to gain a clearer picture. This would have given the party a better chance to get its machine going after its election defeat.

Asked whether European Commissioner Tonio Borg had been asked to form part of the list of PN candidates, Dr Busuttil said it would have been a pity that Dr Borg leaves his office, where he is doing a sterling job, months before his term comes to an end.

He said the PN list includes candidates who cover various sectors, and said that “it may well be complete”, although he did not rule out “additional good candidates” who might want to contest.

The PN election team will this time not include people such as Austin Gatt, Joe Saliba and Richard Cachia Caruana. “It does not mean that we have a rift with them,” he said, adding that he has probably not seen Austin Gatt since the election. “In life there is a beginning and an end to everything. We will be facing the election with a new team that will work in full respect for what those before them have done.”

 

Parliament  

Asked whether the PN could be seen as trying to impose its own agenda by pushing for the motion on the citizenship scheme and for the impeachment motion on Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco to be discussed in Parliament as a matter of urgency, Dr Busuttil replied that this shows the Opposition is active in its work.

It is the Opposition’s duty to monitor what the government is doing, and the PN deputies have been very dynamic in their obligations as representatives of the people. “We are an effective Opposition that is not afraid to talk,” he said.

The House Business Committee has already discussed the position taken by Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco’s lawyers, who argue that the impeachment motion is null because it was presented by a Prime Minister who is no longer in office, and will be taking a decision shortly, he said.

Dr Busuttil said Opposition MPs were doing a great job in keeping the government on its toes, and at present he sees no reason to reshuffle the portfolios that he has entrusted to the other 29 MPs. But he said that he expects total commitment and high standards from all the representatives, and did not rule out making changes if he thought it would be in the party’s best interests.

Dr Busuttil also referred to the lengthy court procedures in a case instituted by the Nationalist Party on mistakes committed in the 2013 election counting process by the Electoral Commission which deprived the Opposition of two extra seats.

The Labour Party, said Dr Busuttil, is doing its utmost to delay proceedings as much as possible in the hope that more time in the current legislature will have passed before the court gives its ruling. He hoped that the court would be in a position to pass judgment on the case in the earliest possible timeframe.

 

Migration

Dr Busuttil said that the European Union has woken up to “smell (Joseph Muscat’s) bad coffee” with the stand taken by the Prime Minister on migration. He had acted like a “cowboy and a bully” on the issue, and this kind of attitude with the EU will get him nowhere. The thing is, said Dr Busuttil, that in Dr Muscat’s 10 months as Prime Minister, all that he has come up with on this issue is “words and bluff”. Nothing concrete has been achieved by Malta in this regard, Dr Busuttil said. “How can you get something from someone if your attitude towards the other is wrong, if you offend and insult him, threaten him?”

Successive PN governments had managed to place the migration issue at the top of the European agenda, and – in the spirit of burden-sharing – it had persuaded EU countries to take 2,000 migrants who had landed in Malta, said Dr Busuttil.

Conversely, what the Labour government has done is close down the EUREMA (European Relocation for Malta) project, which had been working for the relocation of migrants from Malta to other countries.

 

Employment, health and education

The PN slogan for the last election – employment, health and education – still forms the basis of the party’s political work, since the three sectors are the foundation of our society.

Dr Busuttil expressed concern that although jobs have continued to be generated by the Labour government – “the PN has no qualms in admitting this” – the number is not enough to meet demand. It was, he said, no good creating three jobs if there are five people looking for employment. Statistics show that the number of people registering for work has increased in the first 10 months of the Labour government, which means that more needs to be done to satisfy demand in the employment sector.

Under PN governments, surveys showed that people were generally satisfied with the health sector. It was, said Dr Busuttil, no surprise that the World Health Organisation had said that Malta was an example to be followed where health was concerned. Problems existed, but whatever crisis there had been, the PN had never resorted to the ridiculous decision to erect a tent outside Mater Dei Hospital with the intention of using it to accommodate patients awaiting surgery.

As far as health was concerned, the government seemed more intent on attacking the Opposition – and the John Dalli report was one way of doing this – than focusing on what needs to be done to resolve the outstanding issues, said Dr Busuttil.

The PN was in favour of co-education and will support the idea. The question is whether this system should be introduced, considering that the pilot project that began last September is still to be completed. It would have been better, said Dr Busuttil, if a comprehensive evaluation of the project had been carried out before the government decided to expand the idea across the board.

 

Civil unions and gay adoptions

Civil unions and gay adoptions are two separate issues, Dr Busuttil said. With regard to civil unions, the PN is in agreement and will vote in favour, but it will insist on a clear distinction between a civil union and marriage. This does not mean that the intention is to reduce the rights of gay people, but the law should establish a difference.

For example, legislation should recognise that there should not be a religious celebration for civil unions and also that what applies in marriage should not necessarily apply in a civil union, said Dr Busuttil.

This distinction would make it clear that marriage is between a man and a woman and a civil union is for either heterosexual couples who prefer this option to marriage, or for gay couples, he said.

On this, the two parties are seemingly ready to agree and if this happens it would be a great step forward.

Gay adoption is a different issue, said Dr Busuttil. It was not a case of the rights of the parents or prospective parents, but the rights of child or children. Sexual orientation is not part of the equation here, because no couple has the right to have children, not even in a natural way. When it comes to gay adoption, the argument based on gay people’s rights does not hold water, he said.

This means that the focus must be on the interests of the children. “I am not saying that we are absolutely for or against gay adoption, which is on the whole a new concept in our society as it is in other societies. In Italy, for example, Socialist leader Renzi has said it is time for Italy to introduce civil unions but not gay adoptions. Can we not take more time? Would it not be better to study the impact [of gay adoptions] on our society and on the children?”, the PN leader said.

 

Party matters

Dr Busuttil said that, at the end of this month the PN will be discussing changes to its statute, aimed to renew the party and the way it operated. Changes had already started, in that as soon as he became leader, it had been agreed that there should be two deputy leaders instead of just one. This was intended to bring the party closer to the people and its members, and Dr Busuttil said that the new set-up has started to bear fruit.

Among other changes envisaged is the way the party elects its leader. It will be proposing that, the next time this is necessary, the responsibility will no longer be restricted to PN Council members, but will be open to all party members. This will enable the new leader to be elected by a wider spectrum of the population.

Another change is in the composition of the representatives of the general council on the party’s executive committee. At present, the election is for 13 members, four of whom must be women. This situation creates a disadvantage on both counts: there are men who should be elected but have to make way for women and women who feel uncomfortable in taking the place of a man just because of the quota.

What the party will be proposing is the election of 18 members – nine women and nine men, with the difference that councillors will be voting for them separately. In other words, there will be an election for nine men from among X number of male candidates and an election for nine women from X number of female candidates. Dr Busuttil said this will lead to total equality of the sexes on the party’s executive committee.

The party will also be creating a movement for professional people. The PN had given so much to this sector of society in the past, and is looking forward to having a structure of professionals forming part of its set-up, Dr Busuttil said.

 

Excerpts from the interview may be viewed on www.independent.com.mt

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