Last Updated on Thursday, 17 March, 2022 at 11:44 am by Andre Camilleri
The Malta Chamber of Commerce yesterday hosted a debate between Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech.
During the debate, the Prime Minister was asked about governance. He said that when he was appointed PM, he introduced reforms such as those relating to the appointment of certain posts.
He said that the government implemented the Venice Commission and MONEYVAL recommendations and also respected the decisions made by institutions, like the Standards Commissioner, “whose decisions led to two resignations from Cabinet.”
Abela had a message for all politicians contesting under the Labour Party banner. “Every day we must keep working to win people’s trust. We must translate that trust into more work. I understand there were episodes in this country over tens of years that disappointed people and led to an element of disillusionment. I understand it and they are right. That is why my clear message to all PL candidates is that while there will be mistakes – only those who don’t work don’t make mistakes – the principles of righteousness and integrity must be what guides us in our work. There are standards that I will keep on driving that must be met, standards that we must continue raising. I am convinced that we will reach them if everyone continues to believe that politics is a service we must give to the country.”
Asked about clientelism, he said that he does not believe that the absolute majority of the electorate look for favours. “The electoral system is not one that I can say does not incentivise parochialism,” he said, adding that discussing electoral reforms might find solutions to this issue.
Grech took aim at the Prime Minister over these statements, highlighting the cheques that the government handed out recently so close to the election. “Is this good governance?” Grech said that Abela thinks he doesn’t ever make mistakes. “We need to recognise where mistakes are made,” he told Abela.
He said that the PL is constantly calling people to see what they can give them.
Grech, addressing the Chamber earlier in the debate, said that from what he understands, the Malta Chamber of Commerce is not content with the level of dialogue and good governance in the country. “Serious business people want these to be important elements on which we move the country forward.”
Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that the wage supplement will be extended by a month until at least April as this is an important period for Malta’s economic recovery.
Asked about the government subsidising energy costs, Abela stressed the importance of sustaining the economic recovery at this moment, referring to the government intervening to keep electricity, petrol, diesel and LPG gas prices stable. “It is crucial for us to continue and if we allow prices to rise, the impact on the country’s recovery will be very bad.”
Asked about this issue, Grech said that “we cannot leave businesses and people on their own under these circumstances. There are many people not able to keep up with today’s cost of living and so it is a social obligation, yes, that this subsidy will continue under a PN government.”
The Prime Minister took aim at the PN for not having yet published the costings of its manifesto. Grech said they will soon be published.
Abela said that the PL’s manifesto will lead to a reduction in taxes. “There is no rise in taxes contemplated if the PL is elected to govern,” Abela said. Part of the proposals will be financed through economic growth, he said.
Grech also said that under a PN government, there would be no increase in taxes, no increase in VAT and no increase in social benefit contributions.
Bernard Grech, responding to a different question, spoke of the PN’s proposal to invest in ten new economic sectors, and that this will create generate wealth in the country. “In ten years, not one new economic sector was created.” He said that the Prime Minister is saying the PL’s manifesto costs €3.3bn, yet it doesn’t at all factor in the €6bn metro, “that is if they really are going to do a metro, as now they are saying they would study it and see if it is viable.”
Both leaders also sparred over planning and the environment, with Grech calling the Planning Authority a Permit Authority, and Abela saying that many planning problems today stem from the 2006 local plans introduced by the PN.
Abela spoke of the PL’s environment focus, and the €700 million investment in environmental projects proposal. The issue of permits must be evaluated, he said, in the context of the PL’s strategy. While the authority has autonomy, he said, “and the government cannot enter into the individual decisions it takes, the authority has an obligation to see the government’s new priorities and every permit given must be in line with that strategic direction.”
Grech said that under a PN government, mistakes were made, but the PN has listened. He said that recognising ones mistakes is a difference between the two parties. “We learnt from our mistakes and we will do all we can to improve things.” He mentioned the PN’s proposal to turn 50,000sqm of government land into ODZ land each year.
The debate was moderated by Rachel Attard, Media and Communication Strategist at The Malta Chamber.