The Malta Independent 26 May 2024, Sunday
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PL MEP candidate says comment on ‘exaggerated’ presence of Rangers 'exercise of political spinning'

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 14 April 2024, 07:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

Labour MEP candidate Marija Sara Vella Gafa strongly advocated for the right of people’s privacy in their own private property and said that her comment of an “exaggerated” presence of Rangers in the countryside was an exercise of political spinning.

Vella Gafa was speaking in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, where she was asked about comments she made on social media, claiming that there is an "exaggerated" presence of Rangers from the Malta Ranger Unit in the countryside, and called for a balance between Maltese pastimes and protection of the environment.


She had since received criticism, with a reply from the Malta Ranger Unit saying that in reality, there is an excessive amount of environmental crimes, and too few people who protect the environment. The Ranger Unit also accused Vella Gafa of increasing the sense of impunity enjoyed by environmental criminals.

"That is how they decided to spin my comment. As I said in that comment and others, I am against all illegal abuse, committed by whomever," Vella Gafa said, denying allegations that she was defending any particular person.

"This is not the case. I believe that everyone should have the interest of taking care of our environment, and we should protect it," Vella Gafa continued.

She emphasized however the need to protect people's privacy when there is nothing illegal occurring.

Asked if she was claiming that Rangers from the Malta Ranger Unit have been entering people's private property, Vella Gafa said that there are cases where fields and private property would be circled with cameras and drones, repeatedly and for a prolonged period of time, perhaps to check for any abuse.

"If I am in the quiet of my own home or field, and I am not doing anything illegal, why should there be someone trying to see what I am doing? Even if they don't try to enter," Vella Gafa said.

She clarified that if there is any abuse going on, then individuals must be stopped and reported, but the argument is that if an individual is not doing anything illegal, they should be left in peace.

"This is a subject I believe in, and I believe in the privacy of any person in their private property, and I will continue speaking about this," Vella Gafa said, adding that spins on her argument as well as criticism with unjust words will not stop her from discussing these issues.

Vella Gafa, a lawyer by profession and currently the mayor of Gudja, will be contesting June’s European Parliament elections for the first time, yet will not be seeking another term as a councillor or mayor.

She had contested and was voted is as Gudja mayor in 2019, believing that she could contribute better to her community and lead the locality better.

Asked what made her contest for the EP elections, Vella Gafa said that having occupied the role of mayor for the past five years, there were many who asked her if she will once again contest for the upcoming local council elections.

Last year, Prime Minister Robert Abela had spoken to her, and asked her if she would be interested in the MEP elections.

Her first reaction was that of surprise, Vella Gafa said, as she had not actually been considering it. At the time, Vella Gafa said that she was still contemplating on what she would do for the local council election.

"When the Prime Minister asked me, it was something which seemed interesting to me," Vella Gafa said, having studied European Studies before going into law.

"My interest in the European Union was always there, and I feel that I can serve the country in the EU as I understand well the credentials a person within the EU must have to be able to represent the public's expectations from the European forum," Vella Gafa said.

When she took the decision along with her husband and her family, Vella Gafa said that she felt that it was important to have women and youth representing Malta in the European Parliament.

Asked which committees interested her, Vella Gafa said that the mental health portfolio greatly interests her, as well as women and human rights.

Vella Gafa said that she also holistically advocates for the environment in all aspects, as well as having an education which is right for today's realities.

"Currently, two themes which are very important to discuss are affordable housing, as well as the enforcement of laws on our banks," Vella Gafa said.

She said that unfortunately, the EU does not give much importance to affordable housing, and there is no single portfolio addressing this. Vella Gafa said that she would like to see which committee would be best to discuss the issue.


‘Banks seem to think they are “holier than the pope”’

Vella Gafa has spoken about the current issue surrounding banks, where she criticised Maltese banks for excessive bureaucracy, and failing to truly put the client's interests first.

Laws which are imposed by the European Central Bank (ECB), and are subsequently being imposed in Malta, are being taken to the extreme, Vella Gafa said on the country's bank situation.

Vella Gafa has been resorting to her Facebook page to voice criticisms and concerns on Malta's banks, where she claimed that banks are not paying attention to the client, caring only about the bottom line.

Asked to explain further, Vella Gafa, quoting studies done by the University of Malta's Faculty of Social Wellbeing, said that many people get stressed out when having to deal with anything financial.

"Having said this, we know that dealing with banks can stress us out, across the board," Vella Gafa said.

Opening bank accounts, taking out a home or business loan, or else simply exchanging small amounts of money, has been coupled with extra and unnecessary questions and increased bureaucracy, Vella Gafa said.

To add to this, the interest rates are extremely low, which means that the client has not been receiving the adequate services they deserve.

"At the end of the day, when a person puts their money into the bank, the bank will be profiting," Vella Gafa said, emphasizing that these are "the basics which are not being tended to."

Vella Gafa said that one must remember that the Maltese people have always looked to save their buck, yet at the same time, the bank gives little in return, or nothing at all.

Describing the daily issues people face, Vella Gafa said that there is also a problem on the lack of centralised data for everyday services.

"They tell the individual that they have to go to the branch, what's more, the very first branch they went to, to open their account," Vella Gafa said, questioning the lack of centralisation of data.

"Frankly, the people feel that this is all bureaucratic, and it certainly is," Vella Gafa said, adding that it has even become difficult for a couple, or a person over the age of 40, to obtain a bank loan.

She said that banks seem to think that they are "holier than the pope," describing this situation as "impossible."

The problem is that the ECB imposes regulations on Malta's banks, yet the country seems to seek to protect the banks as much as possible, and continue giving the client a hard time, Vella Gafa said.


Local councils greatly benefiting from regional councils

Vella Gafa was asked about statements made by several mayors and local councillors, including Labour ones, criticising the centralisation between the local council and government, and having been reduced to "customer care."

She noted that she was proud of currently occupying the role of Vice-President of the Southern Regional Council.

"Certain services which were transferred to the regional council were important as well," Vella Gafa said, adding that she believes local councils are greatly benefiting from the Regional Council.

Vella Gafa mentioned services offered by managers which benefit the regional council, such as managers for culture, waste, and more.

Each region benefits from these services, though not all regions have the full complement. Vella Gafa said that the Southern Regional Council has the full complement of these human resources and are utilised well.

"When it comes to the local council, it is good to look back at the past, at where we started 30 years ago, and look at the relevance of where we need to go forward," Vella Gafa said.

She said she believes that if we want local councils to be strengthened, rather than the regional ones, one must look at what we want the Local Council's function to be.

“The regional council working with the local council, even on a basis of centralisation, seems to have worked well for the Local Council,” Vella Gafa said, explaining that services are being utilised very well.

"Obviously, not everyone is in favour of these things, but I believe that with the regional cuncil, we have continued to move forward in our communities," Vella Gafa said.

Asked about the recent bill passed in Parliament which will allow 16, 17 year-olds becoming mayors, Vella Gafa said that she became mayor for the first time at 24 years old, which can be considered quite young to many.

"I believe in the person's qualities, and that is what makes a person good for the local councils. It is not the age, but it is the credentials you must have for the role," Vella Gafa said.


‘Very problematic’ parking problem due to Airport in Gudja

Vella Gafa, in her capacity as Gudja mayor, was asked about concerns Gudja residents face, especially in the area of the airport.

"One of the issues particular to Gudja is the parking problem caused by the airport," Vella Gafa said.

She said that there are many people who choose to drive their car and park in Gudja residential streets before travelling, to avoid the parking fees imposed by the airport's parking lots.

Vella Gafa said that this creates a huge problem for Gudja residents. Cars which spend days in one single parking spot pose several inconveniences for residents, who cannot carry out necessary works on their home, or simply be able to find parking easily after a day's work.

She said that the Gudja local council applied with the central government to create a Residential Parking Scheme in the locality and is now waiting for government on its implementation.

"This is very problematic. Up until the last day in my capacity as mayor, I am committed to solving this problem," Vella Gafa said.


PN does not care about institutions and laws

She was asked to further explain the recent legal action herself and another PL MEP candidate Daniel Attard, filed against the Nationalist Party, where they claimed that the party did not publish its accounts according to the legislation on parties' financing.

In a judicial protest, the two lawyers stated that the PN treasurer did not present reports about the income derived from donations in the years 2021 and 2022, and should pay a fine up to €40,000.

The two candidates also said that the Nationalist Party did not present to the Electoral Commission the verified accounts for the same years and a €20,000 fine should have been imposed.

Vella Gafa said that there is the legislation on parties' financing, and each party is obliged to it.

"The Labour party, year after year, presents its financial statements along with the statements of donations received, as obliged by law," Vella Gafa said.

She said that the PN has not presented these statements for a number of years. Consequently, the two lawyers wrote to the Electoral Commission via judicial protest, so that it can ensure enforcement of the law, and order the PN to present its financial and donation statements.

"We believe that if the PL has everything in check, the same should apply for the PN," Vella Gafa said.

Vella Gafa said that the Electoral Commission had communicated with them, and told them that the Commission had tried communicating with the PN five times.

"This clearly shows that the Nationalist Party does not care about our institutions, as well as the laws," Vella Gafa said.

She added that Opposition Leader Bernard Grech then went on to say that this was ridiculous, and had "lied back in September, when he said that these accounts and statements had been presented."

The next step was to report Grech to the Standards Commissioner for Public Life to investigate his actions, Vella Gafa said, adding that she was astounded that the Opposition Leader, who wants to be the alternative to the current government, is choosing to lie so blatantly.

"I can never accept this attitude, and that is why we made these steps," Vella Gafa said, not excluding further steps upon receiving a reply from the Standards Commissioner.


Gender mechanism ‘boosted’ more women coming forward into politics

Vella Gafa was asked to explain the reasons why the Maltese tend to have no problems voting for female candidates in the MEP elections - as compared to the national elections, where women can be elected through the gender mechanism in Parliament.

"I believe that in the previous general election, it was important to implement the gender mechanism to give a boost forward, and this boost worked," Vella Gafa said, adding that the turnout of how many women come forward and contest will be proven in the next general election.

She said she believes the public is ready to trust a woman, both for the European Parliament elections, as well as the general election.

"Obviously, we need more women to come forward, and I believe that a woman should not be afraid of making this step, as it is good to have more women representing Malta," Vella Gafa said.

Vella Gafa was asked if she believes she has a better chance of being elected in the upcoming European Parliament elections, given that three-quarters of the current Labour MEPs will not be re-contesting.

"I believe that the Labour party has a very formidable group for the upcoming elections, and people out there have a choice. The choice is certainly up to the people, and on 8 June, the public will choose who they want to see as their representative," Vella Gafa said.

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