Last Updated on Thursday, 24 March, 2022 at 10:52 am by Andre Camilleri
In the final debate before Saturday’s general election, Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech faced off on the national broadcasting station, Public Broadcasting Services.
The debate, which was moderated by PBS journalist Liam Carter, consisted of several themes, ranging from the environment, health sector, and the country’s economic growth, sparking different responses from the two leaders as they further promoted their respective political agendas.
Opening remarks: Grech on trust, Abela on credibility
Invited to share their introductory remarks, Grech began by asserting that the PN’s vision for the country is the most trustworthy one, focusing on how to better the country for future generations. Grech said that he is aware of the difficulties the country is currently facing, and the PN is prepared to investigate and overcome these difficulties, as it has always done when the PN was in government, he said.
Grech categorically denied the allegations he said were made on the national broadcaster, of Grech declaring earnings of €6,000 a year on his private residence. He also denied that his Mosta home was built without permission, saying that Abela had sent a drone to film his Mosta home to make these allegations.
Abela began his remarks by observing that the PN leader focused his energy on the PL, instead of focusing on the proposals which ensure a better quality of life for the public. Abela said that Grech is being inconsistent in his shortcomings on his history on tax evasions, noting that Grech himself had apologized for failing to pay due tax.
“The PL, on the other hand, is focusing on its competency and credibility, something the PN does not have,” Abela said. He commented on how the PL managed the crises the country has faced over these past two years – on health, the economy, and the social repercussions the pandemic brought about, as well as the current Ukrainian crisis which the world is facing.
Strengthening public health
Prompted on a question on how the leaders plan on strengthening public health services, Abela replied that the country has been recognized and praised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) over its handling of the pandemic.
Abela praised Malta’s efficient vaccine rollout, saying that the European Commission used Malta as a model for its vaccination plan.
Abela accused Grech for politicising the pandemic, saying that Grech first called for a total lockdown, then contradicted himself by opposing the health authorities’ advice on restrictions.
Abela said that the health sector advanced under his legislature, with more medicine being added to the government formulary, the opening of more clinics, investing in new services as well as reforming the current health centres.
The PL’s focus for the upcoming years will be on preventative cure, entailing lowering the age for breast screening, extending services for testing for prostate and pulmonary cancer, and strengthening mental health services by opening a new hospital near to Mater Dei hospital.
On the other hand, Grech rebutted Abela’s claims of progress with regards to the health sector, saying that the PL only promises, but does not truly fulfil on its promises. He said this with regards to the IVF scheme, which, “is not truly free, as the PL is leading you to believe,” Grech said.
Supporting families, youth, pensioners
Abela said that the PL will continue to invest in citizen’s futures, by increasing the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for pensioners, of at least €15 weekly. He said that great increases have been made for pensions, this being the seventh consecutive increase throughout the Labour legislature.
He noted that first time buyers will be given €10,000 over the course of 10 years, to aid youths looking to buy homes.
Abela remarked that under a PN government, pensioners do not know where they stand, as despite the PN proposing to increase pensions, it has not yet said by how much.
Rebutting, Grech said that Abela is not credible in what he says, as “someone who earns €28,000 a month cannot begin to understand the citizen,” he said.
Grech said that a PN government will increase pensions and minimum wage, as well as return back to the public the money which the PL has stolen through taxes and electricity and water bills, he said.
“The PN has proposed a €40 million national fund to ease import and exports costs, a problem which has not been addressed by the PL,” Grech said.
Economic wealth: Both leaders propose tax reductions
A question was asked about how the parties plan to strengthen economic wealth, and contribute to its growth. Grech said that the country needs a serious government which knows how it wants to increase the economy, and not one where the Finance Minister calls businesses, ‘communists.’
“The PN is pro-business, and you won’t find me making deals with criminals or aiding Russian oligarchs,” Grech said.
Instead, the PN will create 10 new economic sectors, which will create thousands of well-paid jobs, which in turn will contribute to economic growth, he said.
He added that the new economic sectors will not have negative impacts on the environment, and the PN will not increase taxes and social contributions. Grech challenged Abela, asking him if he will resign should he increase taxes under another PL government.
Abela answered that tax will be reduced, continuing to give reductions of tax of up to €300 per year, and water and electricity bills will reduce by 25%, commenting on how Malta has the lowest utility bills in Europe.
The Prime Minister said that the PN’s claims of the PL not having created a single new economic sector within 10 years are false, naming sectors such as biotech, AI, and natural language processing as examples of economic sectors the PL has created.
Once again, Abela called out Grech for failing to say how much pensions will increase under a PN government. He said that tax reductions as the PN is proposing will come with terms and conditions, as companies will have to be compliant with the environment, social obligations and good governance (ESG) criteria.
Reforms for Gozo
Grech said that Abela is an accomplice in the destruction of Gozo’s environment, saying that the PN wants to buy back Ħondoq ir-Rummien and turn it into ODZ land.
Abela said that Grech is proposing measures which already exist for Gozo, such as the incentives for Gozitan students. The PL has proposed a total of 53 proposals directly attributed to Gozo, as well as 300 indirect proposals which will include Gozo, he said.
The ambitious plan to make Gozo ‘climate neutral’ is also a measure the PL is proposing, which includes that all energy provisions in Gozo come from renewable sources.
Concluding, Grech said that the country needs a leader who does not escape from journalists, and has the vision of a better country.
“We want to invest for you to have a better future and an opportunity to work, earn money and enjoy your family,” Grech said. He said that if citizens want to a dictatorship, they should vote Labour. “If you want a government free from oppression, vote PN,” Grech said.
Abela said that the country has a choice; to remain stuck in the past, or progress into the future. He said that the PL has a track record on the positive reforms it has made, and if it is given the public’s confidence, achievements will be made for the country.
He said that the PL’s 1,000 proposals will lead to a beautiful Malta, and better quality of life for Maltese citizens.