The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

‘We need to stop certain people in the construction industry acting like cowboys’ – Sant

Jake Aquilina Sunday, 14 February 2021, 08:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

Gozo tunnel, Qormi flyover ‘not a good idea,’ MEP says

Certain people in the construction industry are not following the laws and more should be done to enforce against these illegalities, MEP Alfred Sant told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

This newsroom held an interview with the political veteran to discuss several issues, including EU relations, local politics, and personal works. One of the topics discussed was construction, on which Sant remarked that some of the people within the industry are not acting professionally and a certain degree of enforcement should take place.


“Laws should be enforced. There should be good apparatus, which there is not, to monitor what is being done, to control construction and to not let certain people in the industry act like cowboys, which is what is happening,” Sant noted.

“I think people associated with construction need to be much more professional than they are being.”


European Affairs

On European affairs, Sant noted that one of the things the EU is facing currently is a slow vaccination roll-out process. “Frankly, the rollout of the vaccination has not been so swift.”

“The European Commission claims that they underestimated the production problems. I think they need to be more flexible. Firstly, in terms of how they allocate production jobs and, in my view, they should also increasingly insist that production gets sub-contracted to many more suppliers – if they have the capabilities – but they are not being brought into the loop.”

He also believes that the time it will take to achieve economic recovery has been and is being underestimated. “There's quite a substantial fund now in place to tackle the economic issues, but my suspicion is that we are underestimating how long we will face this problem to have a real recovery,” he said.

“This is partly because the EU economy is based hugely on services and lots of service networks have been dismantled by Covid-19. Getting them back into shape is not a question of having the material infrastructure in place, but also the human infrastructure, and that might take more time than we are reckoning.”


Correct strategy

However, the MEP did point out that in terms of economic recovery, the EU is sticking to the correct strategy.

“The EU is also keeping to a good strategy – as far as recovery is concerned – by sticking to its goals of promoting the European Green Deal on the one hand, and digitalisation on the other hand. It should not take those two goals as the exclusive ways of maintaining recovery as there are other things that need to be done but keeping this kind of strategy is good as it keeps the other movements going.”

Aside from the ongoing pandemic, Sant pointed out other prominent topics which are going to be at the forefront of the EU strategy in the next 5 years.

“Forward movement of digitalisation, which is happening, and forward movement on the Green Deal, which is related to climate change and containment of climate change. But then there are other issues which are of interest for us as well, like migration issues.” 

Asked what issues Malta leads in and lacks in when compared to other countries, Sant believes that although there are certain positive aspects in Malta, the country does not really lead in anything.

“Frankly, I don't think we lead on any kind of area. One could have claimed that quality of life is not so bad, that we have statistically less poor or less people at risk of poverty, but I think this is something about which we can't say we lead in that area. Where we lack – and lack quite strongly – is on environmental issues.” 


Flyovers and corruption

Sant recently said that he is against the proposed Mrieħel flyover project, and explained further as to why. “I disagree with that project; I don't think it’s a good idea. I think what we should do is close the turn off there, so the argument that is being advanced – to avoid traffic and safety problems – is easily solved. Just cut it off. Don't allow traffic to cross over.” 

“We've had a very excellent project in Marsa, it was needed and very well done. But it doesn't mean that we should have flyovers all over the place.”

Given our history under both parties regarding allegations of corruption, Sant was asked, objectively speaking, what needs to be done to ensure that corruption is mitigated.

“You can’t ensure that corruption does not take place. But you have to have some kind of instrument that will allow corruption to be investigated impartially. In the years between 1996 and 1998, we had a project when we were in government to do that. Namely to have a special investigative magistrate or judge, with his or her own apparatus on standby to investigate corruption charges and that would have followed the continental model which exists.”

He noted, however, that the idea faced a lot of backlash, even though he still believes that a structure like that is needed. “Nobody liked it, frankly. The judges did not like it, the police did not like it. There was suspicion that something like that would intrude on police functions. Judges didn't want to appear so committed to certain issues and lawyers didn’t like it at all because they said it would mix up functions, and politicians did not like it either because they claimed there could be judges with a particular personal or political agenda.”

“We need to have effective mechanisms that act against corruption effectively and I don't think we have them yet,” he mused.


The media

On the topic of media, Sant said that he doubts that PBS would ever be impartial as “all governments are inclined to transmit their messages as effectively as possible, and there are multiple ways of doing that.”

“The only change of the last 20 and 30 years is that with social media coming in, they have changed the media landscape. Public broadcasting is just another media outlet in a way.”

Sant recently expressed his disagreement with criticism directed towards party stations, saying that “the fixation against the party media” has features of “a jihad led by people who still live in the age of dinosaurs”.


Asked about further comment on this, Sant said: “They're living 30 years back when this issue perhaps needed to be discussed because there weren't so many media outlets; now there are media outlets.”

“I discount completely the idea that independent media are non-political media or that they are impartial. What I dislike a bit about party media is that they still need to adapt to the situation of social media, and they have to watch that their transmission does not serve to heat up people too much... but no, I'm totally for the continuation of party media.”


Parliament and quotas

Sant was also questioned about his recent statement that there are too many MPs and adding more will only make matters worse. Malta is already one of the countries in the EU with most MPs per capita. 

“I agree with the quota system that is being introduced to address gender equality in parliament, but again, all reforms to make parliament better in Malta have hit on a snag in the sense that the proponents of reform don't want to make MPs feel threatened,” he remarked.

The MEP also cited his concerns on the financial services industry in Malta. “This sector is going to be one of our crisis situations in the future. The pressure on taxation the country is facing and the fact that even in the EU they consider Malta as a tax haven, is putting pressure on financial services.”

“The fact that anti-money laundering is not considered as being done well in Malta is affecting our reputation, and our reputation is not good. When a country does not have a good reputation, financial services are bound to have a problem.”

Sant also pointed out that court cases are taking too long, causing “a back log that grows and grows and grows.”

“There is definitely something that is wrong within the procedure of the courts, with professionals of the court, with the justices of the court – because the justices, frankly, should be criticised as well, as it seems you can't criticise them,” Sant remarked. 

“Then, it’s a question of how matters are left to die out. A number of high-profile cases have never been completed. You can go back and see from my times and other times as well; cases just drag and drag and drag.”


Transport and Gozo tunnel

On transport, Sant said that the concept of an underground railway is something which he endorses, but noted that it is a project which will take a number of years to complete. “I thought it was a very good idea when it was suggested, but it has to be done through consensus because it is not something you do in 2 years, it needs a bit like 30 years. It has to be carried on from administration to administration.”

“I think it’s the real solution. It should not be done as if it is a private sector project or a profitable one; it is not. But to curb traffic and provide easy ways of commuting without having to use private transport all the time.” 

However, he said he does not agree with the proposed tunnel between Malta and Gozo.

“I never agreed with it. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I do think that an underground system going as far as Gozo makes sense ... but a tunnel specifically for Gozo, not really."

“I don't even think all the Gozitans want it; I think they want the fast ferry, which has been done, stopped, and still not done again, and better commuting on the Gozo channel.” 

As for the next election, the biggest issue which will sway voters is the pandemic, he believes. “The kind of measures, problems and challenges we face now are the challenges of a pre-electoral period of a year and a half.”

“It is a question of how badly and how well the government is handling the Covid-19 problem – which I think the Government has handled well – and other issues which could come out would be employment, standards of living and how salient problems like environment, construction, migration there are going to be.” 


Upcoming memoir

On a personal note, Sant was also asked about the memoir he is writing, which will deal with parts of his life between 1975 and 1992.

“It's going to be published in around March. It deals with my life between the years 1975 and 1992. It deals with my studies abroad at university, Castille during Mintoff's time, how I got into politics, journalism, how economic and industrial developments happened in Malta and other topics of interest. It can be read in a way that the reader can skip certain parts, as I was told it was a bit too long.”

This book will be a follow up on his memoir published in 2003, which cover the years between 1948 and 1974.

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