The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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Robert Abela and Bernard Grech stick to their scripts in final debate before election

Semira Abbas Shalan Wednesday, 5 June 2024, 22:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech faced off in a final debate on the national broadcasting station, where they each stuck to the narratives they had been preaching throughout their respective electoral campaigns.

The debate, which was moderated by PBS journalist Liam Carter, consisted of several themes, ranging from the environment, the current geo-political situation, the country’s economic growth, governance, and Malta in the European Union, sparking different responses from the two leaders as they promoted their respective political agendas, whilst accusing the other of “misinformation.”

Both leaders expressed their condolences over the recent death of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s father, Saviour Muscat, with the both of them agreeing that while they disagree with each other, great respect must be shown.

Asked to share their introductory remarks and explain their party’s slogan for the upcoming election, Grech began by saying that the debate is his opportunity to speak live on television freely, without being controlled, and that he would talk about facts, rather than resort to scaremongering as shown by Abela.

The PN’s slogan; Ghalik (for you) has clear proposals which work for the public. Grech mentioned the PN’s proposals for the Local Councils, both generic and specified for each council.

Grech said the slogan addresses traffic, the environment, waste management, security, immigration and population.

“We are a party who does not implement its politics on the eve of an election, as the government does, but speaks about the facts, and brings you proof,” Grech said.

He said that the PN will be seeking to recoup the €400 million in the Vitals deal which “were stolen from the sick,” and that the court said that high exponents in the Labour government were involved.

“Not only that, but Abela has gone to court to stop us from recouping that money,” Grech said, referring to the Vitals deal again.

Abela then spoke about what politics should ultimately mean, saying that the PL’s politics must be centred on the people’s needs, and strengthen their aspirations.

He said that government has strengthened the aviation sector, provided more courses and opportunities at MCAST, and has invested in sports and Malta’s youths.

Abela continued that he has listened to many people, and government wants to work on finding a balance between the youth’s vision of the environment and development. He said on 8 June, the people will vote for the PL to continue its vision and implementation.

Abela criticised the PN for presenting a “document of 500 words” as an electoral programme, which excludes important matters in the country, such as immigration and taxes. He reiterated that the PN wants to increase energy prices by removing subsidies.

“Next Saturday, the public will decide its future in the next years; if they want a Europe of peace or that of war. The two programmes put side by side shows that there is nothing in the PN’s document. Government offers solutions while the PN creates a culture of giving up,” Abela said.

Geo-political conflicts, Palestine as a recognised state

The two leaders were asked about foreign politics as well as the ongoing conflict in the Middle-East.

Grech first addressed Abela’s remarks, saying that the two parties have the same politics when it comes to energy subsidies, and also showed a document with former Minister Edward Zammit Lewis saying that there is cross-party support for energy subsidies.

On the war, Grech called out Abela’s hypocrisy, saying that the PM, with other EU Prime Ministers, have signed an agreement which allows for millions in spending money for the EU’s defence.

He presented timelines of previous comments Abela had said, accusing him of wanting war, while the PN wants peace. Grech said that four months ago, the PM voted in favour of more EU support towards its defence.

Grech said that the PN recognises the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, and Abela “says one thing, does another,” as he had the opportunity to endorse Palestine as a state, but did not.

Abela rebutted that Grech had a lack of credibility, as the PN’s politics has been consistent on wanting to raise energy prices. He said that while PN MP Adrian Delia was going to court, Grech left him alone, to do all he could to eventually take his place as leader.

On the war, Abela said that on 7 October Israel was attacked, and immediately after, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola “imbalanced herself and risked doing so to the EU,” when she went to Israel and shook the hands of the person who has approved the death of 35,000 Palestinians by bombing in Gaza.

“We were clear on a permanent ceasefire and for peace to start immediately,” Abela said, adding that Malta will continue to defend its neutrality and not on the insisting of increasing arms in the EU

Environment

The leaders were asked different questions about the environment, where Grech was asked about the PN’s calls for changes to the local plans.

He then said the PN’s position on the environment has always been clear, that it should become a fundamental right into the country’s constitution, a bill which government rejected in Parliament.

Grech said that drainage is being dumped at sea without control, which shows the lack of Labour’s work and effort towards the environment, despite the millions of EU funds granted.

Grech also said that half of the citations the Environment and Resources Authority makes goes towards government itself, as it is the one which breaches the most regulations.

He said that the 2006 local plans could have been changed in the years the PL has been in government, but were not. Grech said that PN local councillors have been defending localities, while Labour councillors who disagree with government are made to resign.

Abela said that Grech continues with his campaign of misinformation, retorting that the comment of drainage dumped at sea is false, as the Water Services Corporation is creating new water suitable for agricultural purposes.

He said that Grech’s largest problem is his credibility, as a PN government had actually opened the doors for Hondoq ir-Rummien to be further developed, and had included land the size of Siggiewi in the development scheme.

Abela spoke of the San Gwann proposed development on ODZ, and said that such developments are non-starters, warning developers not to apply for such major developments.

Grech then rebutted that Abela did not mention the temporary diesel-powered generator built in response to last year’s summer power cuts, which were done without vision and a plan. He said that government abandoned the plans for the second interconnector.

He said government spent €37 million on generators which will be used for a month and a half, while not investing in alternative energy which he said the country had the worst rate of in Europe, due to lack of investment. The metro has also been shelved, and bays have been closed for swimming due to drainage at sea, Grech said.

Differing views on the country’s economic situation

Grech was asked about the country’s economic situation, to which he said the economy is based only on cheap labour, as the PL wants it to be.

He continued that government has not created new economic sectors as the PN had long advised it to, but only wants to burden the Maltese and Gozitan public.

Grech mentioned that while government has introduced the Stabbilta scheme, prices in Malta have still risen, as government has not helped exporters and importers.

He said that 25% tax is taken from the COLA each year, translating into €170, which is then given as a cheque of what was already stolen from the people. Grech said government is not giving tax credits to employers to be able to pay employees their COLA.

He said that government is not addressing the 70% of youth who want to leave the country, and has ignored local competitiveness to keep attracting investment with advantageous taxation.

Abela reiterated Grech’s campaign of misinformation, as the PN wanted to privatise energy, meaning a drastic increase in prices for utilities.

Government has strengthened electricity distribution centres, and wished to never be in a position to use the temporary generators. Abela said that works are ongoing on the second interconnector and will be installed by 2026, accusing Grech of lying.

He said that the PN is populist, and says government is trying to win the people’s vote, yet government aided the people during inflation by introducing the COLA mechanism.

Abela said that the narrative of the economy being based on cheap labour is false, and that he is proud of Malta’s economy, being the best in Europe.

Grech then said that Abela should be ashamed as the PL privatised the Electrogas powerstation.

Governance

Grech was asked about criticism that the PN had not published its accounts on donations it had received over the past years.

He said that the accounts are being done, as the PN is honest and transparent with the people. On governance, Grech reiterated that Abela knew of the fraudulent Vitals deal through a letter in 2021, and continued to fork out €280 million more to Steward, while the three hospitals were neglected.

He said that government also ignored the PN’s 12 rule of law bills for better governance. Grech waved around more photos showing foreign news portals speaking about the country’s situation, with several individuals being arraigned in court over the deal.

Abela said that the physiognomy of how the PN works is not led by those elected, but by decisions made behind doors. He said that government has reduced its debt from 70% to 55% over the years, and is the best compared with the GDP.

He said that the PL government has totally reformed the way the judiciary, the Attorney General and State Advocate are appointed, removing the executive from the mix.

Abela said that PN MEPs and candidates want to use its tools under the umbrella of “rule of law” to do what’s in their interest.

The role of Malta in the EU

The last question revolved around the role of Malta in the EU, where Grech was asked about criticism that the PN works against Malta in Brussels.

Grech said that this was misinformation, and that Malta is in the last place in absorbing EU funds from those available, as “when it has no plan, it cannot invest.” He said that not a single new school was built in 11 years, and Abela seeks to twist the truth.

He said that during the country’s grey listing, which happened under his Abela’s government, it had to take action as the Venice Commission pushed it to.

Grech said that there would be no election had the PN not fought for Malta’s entry in the EU, while Labour did not want to enter.

He urged people to use their vote, and not be pressured into making a decision. Grech said that the PN MEP and Local Council candidates are dedicated to serve the public.

Abela was asked about similar criticism, that government is doing one thing in Malta, and another in Brussels.

He blamed this on the consistent misinformation instigated by the PN, and said that the country’s position is a clear one, where clear safeguards must be established in Brussels for Malta’s neutrality.

Abela said that government wants to oppose Brussels’ strategy to increase the percentage of the country’s GDP on weapons, wanting it for education and social benefits.

He said that the PN did everything in its power to try ridicule the government’s newly built school in Nadur whilst European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited.

Abela said Grech rushed its statement on the EU’s expansion, without considering its immediate effects. He said that there is a clear choice between the PN and PL MEP and Local Council candidates, where the PL puts Malta first, and will continue its work to strengthen the public’s priorities and aspirations.

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