The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

The State mentioned in public inquiry is different than the State we have today – PL President

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 8 August 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Kevin Schembri Orland speaks to PL President Ramona Attard about the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry, Labour’s 100 Ideas, euthanasia and abortion, among other topics.

The State mentioned in the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is a different State than the one we have today, PL President Ramona Attard said during an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday.

“A new Prime Minister was appointed, and a number of reforms were implemented,” she said.

The public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had found that the Maltese State “has to bear responsibility” for the assassination due to the culture of impunity that was created. 

The PL President was asked what the Labour Party is going to do to ensure that responsibility is shouldered. She said that the government assumes responsibility by implementing the recommendations that were made within the report. She also said that the report was published with due transparency, that a discussion was held in Parliament despite it not being required in the terms of reference, and that Prime Minister Robert Abela apologised to the Caruana Galizia family.

Attard was also asked whether she believes there should be any resignations, to which she said there already was one, that of Joseph Muscat.  

Aside from facing questions about the inquiry and government, Attard was also asked about the document recently launched by the PL formed around 100 ideas. She was asked whether the party is in favour of voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, and if a stand has been taken on abortion.

 

The public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia found that the government has to bear responsibility for the murder of the journalist due to the culture of impunity that was created. What is the PL going to do to ensure that responsibility is shouldered?

Firstly, the Prime Minister’s reaction to the inquiry was most transparent. The conclusions, the recommendations were issued and just hours after, the report was published. It was published transparently so that everyone can read it.

Secondly, there was complete respect towards the institutions. The third was the discussion in Parliament, which took place despite the terms of reference not requiring such a discussion to be held.

The fourth is the Prime Minister’s apology to the Caruana Galizia family. As Prime Minister he shouldered responsibility on behalf of the State and made that apology, which was accepted, and that is the way in which a government assumes its responsibility.

The State that the inquiry mentions is a State that was different than the one we have today. Why? A new Prime Minister was appointed, and a number of reforms were implemented which the same board praised.

These included reforms on the rule of law as well as others. There is still more to be done. The government assumes responsibility by now implementing the recommendations and we, as a party in government, will continue putting forward our points of view, making suggestions for the implementation of the rule of law, as well as proposals concerning other sectors, such as on the use of marijuana and electronic tagging.

There is nothing wrong if the points of view of the party would differ from those of government. Robert Abela as Prime Minister and as Leader of the Labour Party would be more comfortable if the government’s line would be the PL’s line, but Robert Abela instead urges us as a party to have our points of view and positions.

Don’t you think there need to be some resignations due to the outcomes of the report? There are ministers who were close to Yorgen Fenech, as was revealed recently, and other ministers who, through their inaction over reports which emerged under Muscat’s government caused the culture of impunity to grow. Some of these ministers are still in Cabinet. Shouldn’t there be more action taken than just an apology? Shouldn’t some of them be made to step down?

Firstly, there was a resignation, that of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat ... the Prime Minister who was elected with the most votes was the only PM to assume the greatest political responsibility.

He assumed that political responsibility so that, in his words, “our country starts a new page.”

Our country started a new page with Robert Abela, who implemented a raft of reforms, and took several decisions. This doesn’t mean that nothing was done in the past. However, in the case of the appointment of the Police Commissioner, this is now done by public call and the candidate is subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the Public Appointments Committee. Other reforms regard the appointment of the Chief Justice, the appointment of the President and of members of the judiciary. The State passed a number of reforms which are not only mentioned by the inquiry board, but also by the Venice Commission and the EU Commission. 

There is more to be done and the government’s responsibility, as long as it remains in government, is to keep on implementing these reforms.

 

Arguments have been made that the PL should distance itself from the last legislature. Is the PL doing that and does the PL condemn the actions of Muscat’s government?

As I said, Joseph Muscat resigned and is no longer a part of the Parliamentary Group, nor of the government. But Robert Abela’s administration always worked as follows: what was good under Joseph Muscat, we will keep and improve. Take the childcare centres as an example - a measure that sent a positive shock through the economy by increasing the participation of women in the workforce. We worked on improving them and recently, the hours were extended. There were also economic measures, attracting foreign investment, and the government continuing to increase pensions as well as others.

What wasn’t being done well, we fix, and we are seeing reforms enacted. 



You’re saying that you’ll fix what was wrong, but what was wrong resulted in a culture of impunity. You can say that you want to fix it but without condemning it, you’re condoning it.

The culture of impunity mentioned by the inquiry has been around for a number of years. Today crimes are being solved when, for many years, major crimes were not being solved. 

Those who criticise this culture of impunity from the opposition benches were themselves building this culture of impunity. What a difference there is between preceding administrations and this one! A person was sentenced to 15 years in jail, six others are undergoing court proceedings over this macabre assassination. A culture of impunity is never acceptable in a country, but if there is someone who is really fighting the culture of impunity with facts, it is this administration.

 

The PL had attacked the Nationalist Party when it was calling out a number of scandals for alleged corruption in the last legislature. An example would be over the 17 Black revelations and the press conference which Robert Abela and Edward Zammit Lewis held last legislature at the time when the courts blocked a request for a new inquiry into the matter. Was this a mistake? Should the party have acted differently?

I think the party always acted based on what resulted at the time. In the same way I believe in the institutions today, I have always believed in the courts.

The institutions are not à la carte, where you believe in them when they decide in your favour and when they decide against you, then you attack them. And we saw attacks on the courts, we saw PN exponents protesting in front of the court. Let’s move beyond partisanship. I think the inquiry teaches us this lesson. 

If you trust in the institutions, you must always have that trust. Now you can ask: were there things the PL could have done better? Of course. But the PL continues to learn and grow stronger. We are not arrogant people who will say that everything was done well. Did the PL in government do everything wrong? No, and the people have seen a difference in their lives from a social aspect, in infrastructure, as well as in other sectors. Environmentally, the difference is also starting to be felt.

We are here to improve things wherever we can, with a new Prime Minister and a new PL administration.

You mentioned having faith in the institutions, but the inquiry found some institutions to be at fault. If everyone just had faith in the institutions at that time, then maybe this change wouldn’t have come about?

I imagine you are referring to the police for example.

Yes.

Today we’ve seen that those who had to take action, took action. As politicians we have a responsibility to trust in the institutions. We’ve had corruption involving judges in past administrations. God forbid however, that because there were individuals at fault, someone would have irresponsibly said that all the courts are like that. It is not the case.

There are people within the institutions who make mistakes. We have a separation of powers, a system of checks and balances and they would be caught, just like they were in the past. Then they would pass through the institutional procedures.

You spent time working within the Office of the Prime Minister under Muscat. Is your position still tenable? Weren’t you part of the issue back then?

I was a consultant under former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Obviously, with regard to the positive work that was done, and there was a lot of good work such as the infrastructural, social and educational investment, I am pleased that I gave my services. Today, I use that experience so that I can bring about change through my current position on what I believe could have been done better, and make it better.

 

You said Muscat is no longer part of the Parliamentary Group and PM, but an NGO is calling for his removal from the party itself. What do you say to that? Should he be removed?

The NGO also sent me a letter. Firstly, in a democratic society every NGO has the right to present its point of view. The person from the NGO who came here is the brother of Karol Aquilina, who is a PN MP. The position regarding Joseph Muscat is that he resigned from the post of Prime Minister, assuming the greatest form of political responsibility, that was never done by previous administrations. We had a previous administration with a Prime Minister hanging on by 1,500 votes, while an MP became independent, another hanging on to be dropped, not convening Parliament, while government stagnated, the economy at a standstill, the minimum wage was being taxed, and everything remained in status quo. What a difference to how Joseph Muscat acted, who resigned as Prime Minister and is no longer an MP. 

Repubblika has the right to say whatever they want, and I respect that, but the country does not start and finish with Repubblika.

So Muscat will still remain part of the party then...

I answered this question and I have nothing more to add. Muscat resigned from Prime Minister and is no longer an MP.

What are the main aims the PL would want to achieve if it is elected for another term?

The PL’s goal is to remain close to the people. You remain close to the people by understanding what families need. So our aim is to keep the economy strong since, through it, we can create the framework to tackle people’s needs. This includes people having good jobs, good training and education, a good healthcare system as well as an environment which we can enjoy, where families can spend their quality time. These are the PL’s priorities.

The PL has come out with these 100 ideas. One calls for a discussion on voluntary euthanasia for persons with terminal illness. Does the PL have a position on this issue?

We have different positions within the party. The Deputy Leader has already commented and I also have my own opinion, and my opinion is in favour. However, that doesn’t mean that the party’s position is that at this stage.

At this stage, we are calling for a discussion. I met and spoke with people who advocate it and who need this for themselves. Having said that, I don’t think this should be tied to a manifesto. Actually, I believe there needs to be a discussion on a national basis that goes beyond partisanship … a mature discussion where we understand people’s realities and needs.

Do you see this particular topic being decided upon within the next legislature, or do you think it would take longer?

I hope it will be decided in the next legislature. It depends on whether the country is ready, on where the discussions lead. I hope that the discussion does not take long to start, even if the decision ends up being one I don’t agree with. However, we need to discuss it and not sweep certain topics under the carpet.

What about abortion. Has the PL taken an official stance?

The official position is that every discussion that takes place must not be politically partisan. Everyone knows Prime Minister Robert Abela’s position, that he is against abortion. The PL is in favour of a discussion on this subject that goes beyond partisanship. 

I, as a woman, am against any form of name-shaming and against any kind of discrimination or insults aimed at those who choose to go through with an abortion. I believe there is a need for more discussion and understanding. We have different positions within the party and we, as a party, believe in discussion.

Another point within the 100 ideas was that the PL wants a national discussion over the electoral system. What kind of electoral reform is the PL looking at? Are you talking about something cosmetic, or a different system?

There are different electoral systems. A discussion is needed as it seems as though we have always taken it for granted that this system is the best one for us, no questions asked.

Elections have long been taking place, are we sure that this is the best system? Or can we discuss and examine other systems as a country? Mind you, after discussion it could result that the current system is still the best for us.

This will be the first election which will be slightly different. It will be the first time 16-year-olds will vote in a general election and for the first time, we will see the gender equality mechanism operate.

It should make us reflect on what was taken for granted on two aspects - that to vote one had to be 18 and that there wasn’t a gender equality corrective mechanism for representation in Parliament. This has changed, so we have already moved away from what we took for granted.

I believe the moment has come to discuss whether there are other electoral systems that might better fit our country. As said, we may conclude that our current system is the best for us, but let’s not take things for granted.

The importance of sustainable tourism, finding a balance between quality and quantity was mentioned in the 100 ideas. How does the PL propose it achieves that goal?

The 100 ideas are a series of principles on which we could build our vision for the country in the coming years, and on which we can also build our electoral manifesto. On quality tourism, I think discussions are needed and that the pandemic has taught us many lessons.

I don’t think quality tourism is just about people coming to buy branded clothing, for instance. I see quality tourism as that which promotes and makes Malta an idyllic location, a place for families, a place where people can come to spend family time. Our success would be that, when a family with children come to our country, Malta would remain in the children’s minds and, when they grow up, they would also come back with their own family. I look at that kind of tourism. Obviously, the principles bring about discussion, and discussions about the 100 ideas will continue, even through more events in the future. 

There has been concern that the uglification of Malta could negatively impact tourism. This issue has been present for years under various administrations. Can it be tackled and does the PL have ideas on how to deal with it?

Every issue can be tackled through discussion, by offering solutions. While we used to believe that roads would always have potholes, unprecedented investment in infrastructure was made. 

What is happening in construction is due to inherited policies. Through discussion, everything can happen, with balance.

There was an MDA representative who recently said that through the sustainable building sector, prices are rising and a couple who would want to buy an apartment will find it too expensive and end up not becoming homeowners. Malta is one of the countries which has the highest percentages of homeowners, and we want to keep that up as it provides certain stability.

A balance must be found which allows people to continue becoming homeowners, while having sustainable building, among other things. I live in Siġġiewi, for example, and I enjoy seeing buildings being renovated in the main square. I also look forward for public squares, and there is already a project for six localities to be car free, so that the spaces can be enjoyed. 

People say that both the PN and PL lost their credentials on the environment. I’m referring to green spaces, especially those within the community at the heart of towns and villages. What can the PL do about this?

I don’t agree with this. There was the Wied Fulija project, the Bengħajsa park, work is ongoing on the Ta’ Qali park, and other spots are being identified where open spaces can be created. If you’re saying that people think like that, it may be the case, and so we need to better communicate and undertake more projects. These projects are very important.

Issues such as where a family can take their children to relax are important. This is a government priority and should remain a priority.

 

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