“We believe in Malta with its head held high” – Grech

The Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech in reply to the proposed financial estimates thanked the Covid front liners saying that in this pandemic their sterling work was not recognised by the government. He said that the Budget touted as the best budget ever has been given the lie through a series of stories which show the lack of preparation, lack of containment for COVID and lack of willingness to be transparent on the reality of the Electrogas contract. This was the first budget speech by Grech who emphasised that the vision of the Opposition is to ensure that all policies are centred on the wellbeing of the citizens so that these can be the best versions of themselves.

Togetherness

Grech emphasised that strength comes through unity and that unity requires a political will to collaborate. He said that the key to the future lies in the hands of the electorate especially of the youths. The political thought, said Grech, needs to be one which broadens our thoughts and horizons, enabling a critical approach to life. He said that it is time to look to forge a future in which unity is possible. “The country requires leadership which has the courage to transform the future,” said Grech.

Pandemic

Referring to the pandemic, Grech criticised the government for his lack of recognition of the work of front liners in the COVID pandemic. He apologised in the name of the government for not working hard enough to save the lives of those who passed away in the pandemic and promised that the politicians would do their best to help those afflicted by the virus. Grech said that the Prime Minister should have spoken the truth and said that it was not true that Covid had been defeated and the proverbial ‘mechanisms’ had failed. He said that the pandemic was not the government’s fault and that in such circumstances all needed to pull together, and they did. Grech said that when the numbers abated, instead of preparing for bleaker times, such preparations were not affected and the only solution which the government could come up with was the re-issue of vouchers.

‘Under Control’

Grech criticised the Prime Minister’s laissez-faire attitude to the pandemic saying that the health of persons could not be put at risk and that the comments that ‘at least’ deaths were not in big numbers. He said that the Opposition had put together a task force which the PM had sought to disparage. Grech said that this team listened and acted on the advice of experts, something which the government benches failed to do. He referred to the multitude of press releases from expert bodies invoking government to take scientific steps. He suggested a task force made up of expert who will review the steps taken by the government and to incentives as a priority teleworking and enforcement without loopholes. Support to bars and clubs needs to be given but sacrifices made by these establishments should not be in vain. Grech said that all points of entry should have rapid and immediate testing and improve the test-trace-isolate regimen. Grech said that there should also be specific vouchers for the purchase of masks, sanitizers and other protective equipment.

The deficit

Grech criticised the government estimates of a €1.2 billion deficit saying that this is short of reality. He said that the estimates are over-optimistic in the recurrent income given that in 2021, the economy will still be limping under the weight of fewer taxes, VAT, etc due to the COVID pandemic. He said that the government was being optimistic in a time when unemployment doubled, tourism is down by 90% and consumption has been slashed. He called this a budget of virtual reality, adding that the vote for the pandemic assistance was as large as what the government gives to Stewart Healthcare annually.

Grech said that the economic decline had started before the pandemic, with an economic model which he described as ‘on steroids’. As in sports the use of steroids give a temporary boost but fail in the long term, so, said Grech, with a surplus based on the sale of passports. Subsidies said Grech, salvaged employment but even in this sector the cracks are beginning to show.

Shameful associations

Covid said Grech saw an exodus of foreign workers and this will have an impact on the local economics given that this will affect consumption and rentals. The tourism industry shrunk by 90% in the Covid period but in 2019, this sector had already seen a decline of 22% in the tourist’s spending power.

The country’s good name has also been brought into question and Grech took the opportunity to Cardinal-elect Mario Grech, newly honoured Dame Gerada, Miriam Dalli for her new appointment in parliament and Roberta Metsola for being nominated to run for VP of the EPP. This, he said, is the way Malta should be known. He criticised the government for dissipating Malta’s good name into a mire of shameful associations.

Dubious reputation

Grech said that when the opposition tried to instigate an inquiry into Electrogas, to provide a united front against corruption, the government looked askance and re-aligned itself against transparency. He quoted a study by Ernst & Young which showed that Malta’s attractiveness to FDI had declined due to the dubious reputation which Malta had accrued over the past years. He said that the Moneyval report was critical to our reputation and no one wanted this report to be negative. “we extend the hand to help but it is a shame that you do not want to accept it,” said Grech. Grech said that whatever the Moneyval Report will say, banks are already in difficulty over the problems in finding correspondent banking.

Corruption

Turning to the controversial Electrogas project, Grech said that the busk finally stopped with the minister of finance in this deal and that he should shoulder his responsibility. He said that while his predecessor Dr Adrian Delia, had worked hard to expose this deal, the minister for finance found no time to speak of the Electrogas or the other controversial deal, that of Vitals. He slammed what he described as the incompetence of government on the case of the sale of passports, now being scrutinised by the EU. Grech thanked the media for its continued efforts to expose corruption even in the Montenegro project. This was truly a planned roadmap which destroyed the reputation of the country said Grech. He said that Abela, as a consultant, used to attend cabinet and was in a position to know who was responsible. The Maltese deserve much better than a corrupt and incompetent government said, Grech.

Gozo

Grech criticised the government for initiatives not honoured particularly in Gozo where the cruise liner terminal, the fourth ferry and the fast ferry, as well as other aspects, were repeated in various budgets until they disappeared gracefully out of sight. He said that the budget ignores completely the plight of Gozitan youths and the consequent rise in criminal behaviour. A one million euro vote for Eco-Gozo was pitiful said Grech and the government were doing nothing to bridge the average wage gap between Malta and Gozo. This he said was increasing every year and confirms the incompetence of government.

Incompetence

Education said the leader of the opposition was a shambles and provisions for online learning were very deficient. He said that the government has just proudly unveiled a new school which was promised two years ago. He praised educators for soldiering on in spite of all the criticism, adding that these should also foster critical thought so that their students can reason out their life events. This is a government which has forgotten the creative sector as well as crucial sectors such as the Air Malta Pilots.

Immigration

Grech said that it is to be expected that the PM will re-iterate its position on migration. He said that for the opposition, Malta cannot bear this burden on its own and if Malta is not going to implement a strategy to fight illegal human trafficking, the issue will remain. He said that this needs to be tackled at the source so that no one will need to leave their country of origin. Grech said that the opposition is determined to seek a solution to the problems which this issue raises.

Values

Grech said that the plans for the future need to be based on a system of values which look to a just system which helps the weak and respects the environment. He said that the vision is one where talent takes pride of place and that the market does not lead to the detriment of the citizen. “We have a vision of a country where immigration is not a dirty word which leads to xenophobia, where youths are the hope of the future, where each has the opportunity to be the best version of themselves,” said Grech.

Environment

Grech said that environment and construction are not mutually exclusive. He said that the opposition wants a long term strategy where what is necessary is built to high aesthetic standards and in full respect to the need to retain open areas in the urban areas. Referring to the current developments as ‘cages’, Grech said that this vision is not a dream, pie in the sky. The natural environment is the way for the future and the basis where a good quality of life may be enjoyed. He said that the environment has become the centre of our quality of life and as such needs to be addressed urgently. From schools and workplaces to domestic dwellings, win-win solutions need to be found so that the quality of life is strengthened as a pillar of life. He blasted the politics of tokenism and urged the government to acknowledge the signs of the times to improve the economy. Education, Dialogue, Persuasion, are the basics of this political vision, said Grech.

Poverty and youths

Grech referred to the issue of poverty. He said that in 2013 15% were considered as poor. As the economy and the surplus grew, so did the number of the poor which rose to 17%. He said that either the economic growth was fake or government had failed to push the economic benefits to those who needed them most.

Youths need to be incentivised to work for a country because they truly believe in a better and sustainable future said Grech. He added that these needed to also feel that they were being rewarded for their work and criticised the fact that stipends are withheld if they have a part-time job.

Politics built on people

Grech said that the vision of the opposition is one in the tradition of the Partit Nazzjonalista where the people are perceived to be the centre of the economy and on the worship of money. He said that government had to backtrack on crypto currency and the economic model needs to be based on the heritage of the country and in full respect to the independence of the pedagogy of the University of Malta. Salaries must be just for the work carried out and only thus will poverty be addressed said Grech, announcing that the party is working on a new social pact to ensure that workers are fairly treated with an adequate work-life balance.

Grech said that the social policy needs a radical overhaul since it is based on a politics of handouts rather than one which encourages work which is fairly recompensed. The elderly said Grech are being short-changed since the benefits are being given when the living expenses will have already eaten the increases given. Grech said that cultural and structural discrimination on women needs to be addressed as equality needs to be rooted in the Maltese culture.

Tunnel vision

Grech said that the connectivity between Malta and Gozo needs to be discussed, planned and enacted into law so that the Gozitans are truly better served. He said that no steps in the direction of creating a tunnel should be taken before getting to know what the people really want.

Rule of Law

Grech commented that the country cannot be strong if it is constantly divided and if the vision will remain blue vs red, the will to change will be weakened. He said that the image on Malta needs to be rehabilitated and those who were responsible for the murder of a journalist remain prowling the streets with impunity. “We believe in Malta” said Grech, adding that the country deserves to have its head held high, based on values and strong in the faith that its institutions work and that freedom reigns in the rule of law.