Abortion, Racism and environmental degradation were among the main topics discussed in a televised debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The debate was the final and only showdown between the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Leader of the Opposition Adrian Delia. An opportunity to hold what has become a traditional pre-election debate on the popular tv program Xarabank was missed after the Prime Minister turned down the invitation to participate.
The PN is pro-life, the PL…who knows? – Delia
Delia said that the MEP and Local Council elections are clearly defined in their remits. He said that the PN had entrusted the localities with responsibilities which Labour, in government, was slowly eroding. He said that the European market is lucrative, and Malta has benefitted from the €1,200 million in funds which the PN administration had negotiated out of the EU budget. The PN is pro-life, said Delia while the PL is part of a group that lists in its manifesto that it is pro-choice, something that was endorsed by the PL. “The PL is maintaining lack of clarity in this issue but stressing that it agrees with this pro-choice manifest” said Delia. He said that the PN had made various proposals which could be brought into effect on a national level.
The PN has lost its soul – Muscat
Muscat said that the PL was focussing on the issues that unite the country rather than divide it. He proceeded to lambast the leader of the opposition for his stand on abortion, saying that Delia was creating division where none existed. The PN has lost its soul, said Muscat and the PN is only intent on scaremongering particularly on immigration and foreigners coming to Malta. He said that the PL manifest based itself on three criteria: infrastructure, innovation and inclusion. Muscat said that this was why the race was on between the two leaders. He said that government was set to build about 1,700 new social housing units.
Decline in ‘at risk of poverty’ – Muscat
Muscat said that the people at risk of poverty have declined drastically and that the number of early school leavers had declined. He said that pensions had been frozen for over 25 years and the increase in pensions will, assured the Prime Minister, continue as long as the PL is in government. Muscat said that the minimum when needs to be able to keep up a family, even if this must remain a wage which is only a basic safety net. He said that all medicines are now in stock and erstwhile social benefit dependents have now moved on. Today people receive cheques not bills, said Muscat.
An economy which benefits the ‘haves’ – Delia
If GDP is on the up, said Delia, this does not mean that there is not a multitude who is increasingly feeling the pinch. He said that while a few are wallowing in wealth, many are increasingly feeling the weight of increasing expenses. He said that the way the government is managing the economy benefits the ‘haves’ but penalises the ‘have nots’. He said that rebates are given because the bills issued by government have been illegally inflated. Delia said that with pollution being the worst in Europe, the solution shall not lie in widening the roads and therefore increasing pollution. “Mass transportation systems need to be actively considered” said Delia. Turning to the issue of healthcare, Delia derided the claims that the public was no longer waiting in queues in hospital and asserted that pensioners were spending an average of €120 out of pocket on medicines which should be provided by government.
When the chair of the debate raised the issue of racism and foreign workers, the Prime Minister was very pithy while the leader of the Opposition contexualised the murder in the framework of the heavy criticism levelled at the recruitment and promotion processes in the AFM by the Ombudsman.
Delia objected to the suggestion that the comments on foreigners were incitement to racism. He said that the language on pushbacks was conducive to this attitude, said Delia, not arguments of foreign workers. He said that one is a discussion on how to expand the economy while the other is an issue of racism which is rooted in a culture. He said that the root of the matter is the involvement of personnel of the armed forces in the case of the murder of Lassana Cisse, in a background of Ombudsman’s reports that the staffing and promotions in the AFM are decided by the OPM. “Political responsibility must be shouldered” said the leader of the opposition.
Muscat said that the questions raised by Delia should be addressed to a member of his parliamentary team, who was defence counsel to the accused. He said that there had been similar incidents in the past in the detention centres and that people arraigned had been found not guilty.
Environment and quality of life
Muscat said that the air quality had improved with the removal of heavy fuel oil and that the policy on single use plastic was being enforced. He said that the opposition had declined to participate in a committee on what should be done with waste which cannot be recycled. “Yes, we could have been more sensitive on the issue of development,” said Delia, “but the truth is that the most controversial applications were all on land which had been included in the 2006 rationalisation schemes”. Now, he said there are vested rights of individuals.
Delia said that he was glad that he had persuaded the Prime Minister on the need of a successful development and environmental plan. He said that on the one hand the PM wants clean air and on the other hand, scientists are saying that the air quality in Malta is very bad. He said that the government is living in the past and the environment as government had said, was truly a priority, but one on the list for destruction.
In conclusion, Delia said that the PN wants work and rule of law and free speech. Work is threatened if rule of law and free speech are not protected. Referring to the report by the Council of Europe and the reports by Moneyval and the Venice Commission, Delia said that if the rule of law is threatened, foreign investment will fly from Malta. He said it was futile getting blockchain and cryptocurrencies if the trust in our banking systems evaporates.
Muscat said that Malta is the best in Europe and said that improvements have been made in various aspects including agriculture and fisheries. He said that the work on infrastructure and roads will actually decrease travelling time and therefor pollution. Muscat said that if one queries the carrying capacity of the country, that is how many people can actually live in Malta, the logical conclusion on that argument may be a restriction on family size. “We should have asked this question when we joined the EU 15 years ago” said Muscat.