The Malta Independent 18 May 2022, Wednesday

Prime Minister calls PN’s 12-bill document a ‘political stunt’

Sunday, 16 January 2022, 14:40 Last update: about 5 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela believes that the 12 legislative bill document presented by the opposition to implement the major findings of the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and to fight corruption was nothing more than a political stunt.

"For reforms in good governance to occur seriously, they must not be presented as a gimmick before a general election."

He was being interviewed on One TV by Fabien Demicoli on the occasion of two years since his taking over as Prime Minister.

"The Opposition has a problem, the lack of credibility," he said, "particularly of the one behind those bills. We know who was behind them and we know that when he was a Parliamentary Secretary pre-2013 and in his time as an MP, his actions were compatible with anything but good governance."

Abela said that his administration has worked on new laws to reflect the inquiry's conclusions. He said he met with the Institute of Maltese Journalists, the Caruana Galizia family and other stakeholders, saying that the process of dialogue turned into bills. He mentioned the anti-SLAPP law proposal by the government, criminal penalties for attacks on journalists, among others. These laws, he said, were passed on to a committee of press experts to analyse before being put before Parliament, instead of just sending them before Parliament. "This is the way things are done seriously."

Abela was asked about the large number of people at risk of poverty and what will be done about it.

"Contrary to what those who came before us, we never said poverty is a perception," Abela said. He added that the numbers show that in 2013, 25% of the population was at risk of poverty. "That decreased to 20% as of last year. It is no consolation, but it shows that we are working and the results of this work are positive."

In 2013 the country had 43,000 people were severely materially deprived and today there are 17,000, he added. He said he is not content with this number and more needs to be done.

Creation of jobs helped with the reduction, he said. Jobs provided dignity to those who did not feel that the world of work was accessible for them. He spoke about a number of incentives the government had implemented to improve the quality of life.

Challenges do remain, such as inflation. He said that as energy prices abroad rose, the price of gas rose, but the government instead of throwing the price of that onto the consumer, kept the energy bills stable.

He also spoke of the budget increase in pensions and stipends.

He was asked about the challenges Covid-19 brought and the decisions that he had to take. Abela spoke about the fears of Covid-19 when it first hit the islands, including about unemployment and potential deaths, and the decisions he had to take in the first months of the pandemic, including the introduction of a public health emergency at the time, the closing of shops, restaurants and other businesses.

"We always took the decisions we felt were in the best interest of the Maltese and Gozitan people."

He said there were decisions which could have been taken earlier, or took ones that were too harsh, and acknowledged that the government was not always perfect in its handling of the situation. "If there were people who were perfect, they were our frontliners."

Asked what he has to say to the people who feel discriminated against by the new measures coming into force today, he spoke of courage. "It is crucial that everyone continue to cooperate and that people go and take the booster dose and that those who did not go for the vaccination, do so. The higher the community immunity rate rises, the better position we will be in to continue removing restrictions."

He said that while the new regulations come into effect, some restrictions are being relaxed, such as mask wearing rules. He also announced the recent decision to reduce the quarantine period.

He mentioned that the government never went for a lockdown, adding that it believed such a measure would have been draconian and that the economy would have had major difficulties to recover from that.

The Prime Minister said that when the health authorities say that there is a high enough percentage of the population that took the booster shot, he will be the first to push for quarantine related regulations to continue being relaxed. Once the health authorities give the signal that other Covid restrictions can be relaxed, he will be the first to push for that to happen, he added.

"The measures coming into effect on Monday have one aim, to give more importance to the vaccine." He appealed for people to take it.


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