The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Prime Minister says push-back threats were a mistake, while PN leader regrets civil unions vote

Therese Bonnici Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 19:45 Last update: about 5 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil this evening took part in a televised debate in which both admitted their mistakes and engaged in heavy sparring over bribery claims.

The PM's main 'confession' was that he said the threats of migrant pushbacks was wrong, while Simon Busuttil's 'sin' was that given another chance, he would vote in favour of civil unions.

The PM offered another tantalizing titbit in that he did not exclude that former Minister Manuel Mallia could return to cabinet.

Asked about whether he would resign as leader if his party lost the next general election, Dr Busuttil said: "It depends on the result".

The Prime Minister said that a prestigious UK medical university will be set up in Gozo in a €200 million investment that will include the refurbishment of the Gozitan hospital as well as that of St Luke's, making them on par with, if not better, than Mater Dei".

Hot under the collar

The two leaders, taking part in a debate on Times Talk on TVM, clashed on claims made by Dr Busuttil that the Labour Party had taken bribes. It started when Dr Muscat made reference to Dr Busuttil predicting that the country might be forced to ask for a bailout should Labour be elected in the run-up to the last election.

"I think what he wanted was a bailout for his party," Dr Muscat said.  Dr Busuttil instantly fired back: "That's because we don't get bribed."

Flustered, the Prime Minister asked if Dr Busuttil was suggesting that he got bribed and Dr Busuttil again retorted in no time: "Of course".

He went on to substantiate his comment by saying the report of the Auditor General into the government's decision to buy back the lease of the Café Premier for €4.2 million raised this sort of suspicion. The Prime Minister said the statement was unacceptable and that his opponent had reached new depths.

The reality, said Dr Muscat was that if the government had not made an offer for Café Premier, a fast food chain would have taken the lease, which is would not befit the national library.

Opposition Leader does not deny economy is stable

Speaking about the economy, Dr Muscat said unemployment levels are at their lowest with several family-friendly and business friendly measures being implemented.

Dr Busuttil acknowledged that the economy is stable, but argued that the government had promised utility tariffs would decrease as a result on the new power station. "Utility tariffs have been made cheaper, so where is the money coming from? Is it from high fuel prices, and added taxes?" Dr Busuttil questioned.

Answering, Dr Muscat said that the government has a good economic plan, and has managed to keep its pledge on utility tariffs by safeguarding Enemalta. Dr Muscat said also said that Electrogas contracts will be published soon.

Dr Muscat said criticism on the new power station was justified, but added that closing down the Marsa plant was crucial for cleaner air, particularly for residents of the south.

Dr Busuttil said the reality is that the new power station is still 'invisible' and that Malta no longer has control of the generation of electricity. Asked about what the PN would have done, Dr Busuttil said that the PN already had a plan for restructuring Enemalta, which did not involve building a new power station. Dr Muscat reminded Dr Busuttil that a Nationalist Administration had increased utility tariffs.

Government fails test on meritocracy and environment, scores well in economy and finance and social security

During the programme, two political commentators - Martin Scicluna and Michael Briguglio - were asked to give points to the government on five sectors: environment, energy, economy, meritocracy and social change.

Martin Scicluna

Mr Scicluna gave the government 1/10 for meritocracy, saying that the government replaced all permanent secretaries and replacing them with people who are not appropriate for the role. Mr Scicluna said that gave a score of 8/10 in economy.  Mr Scicluna said that the environment sector is 'an absolute disaster area'. A government which has promised to find a balance between the environment and development has gone totally for development, and MEPA has no other interest than to weaken the law to permit greater development. He gave a score of 0/10 in that field. Mr Scicluna said that the energy sector has been a mixed bag, with utility tariffs being reduced, but the gas-fired power station not being ready within the promised framework. Mr Scicluna said that he is expected the Labour government would have focused more on the poor, giving a score of 6/10.

Michael Briguglio

Dr Briguglio said that the government lacks transparency and meritocracy, even though Dr Muscat is charismatic and well liked. He added that he should stop blaming things on the previous administration. He gave the government a 5/10 score for meritocracy. On the economy, Dr Briguglio said deficit is decreasing, however the government should not rely on the IIP scheme - giving the government a score of 7/10. On environment, Dr Briguglio said the government is solely interested in pleasing major contractors, and not caring about the environment and pollution issues. He gave the government a score of 3/10. Dr Briguglio said that while it is good that Enemalta is being sustained, dependency on Azerbaijan's agreement is controversial, giving the government a score of 5/10 for energy.  On social change, Dr Briguglio said the government has taken huge leaps on civil liberties, but has put aside precarious work, giving the government a score of 6/10.

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