Debate, policies and dodged questions
The Xarabank debate tonight, chaired by Peppi Azzopardi saw PN Leader Lawrence Gonzi, PL Leader Joseph Muscat and AD Chairperson Michael Briguglio in attendance.
This was the 2nd Xarabank debate, with the first having taken place on January 18. This is the last opportunity for the Leaders to faceoff before the General Elections on March 9. Videos entitled 'a day in the life' were aired of PN Leader Lawrence Gonzi, PL Leader Joseph Muscat and AD Chairperson Michael Briguglio.
The first question was aimed at Joseph Muscat and asked what he thought about the phrase Futur Fis-Sod.
Joseph Muscat replied that it is only possible if 'Malta Taghna Lkoll'. He explained that the Government has done well over the past legislature, however a change is needed to bring this country forward. He dreamt of a country which would see a unified people.
The next question was directed at Lawrence Gonzi and asked what he thought of Malta Taghna Lkoll.
Dr Gonzi explained that he immediately thinks about the students and the success the country has had in education, specifically mentioning MCAST. Malta also has a successful healthcare system he explained.
Dr Muscat was asked what change Malta needs. He explained that although the Government has done well, mistakes have been made. He stated that Malta needs a change in mentality, emphasising that the people want a campaign on policies and on the future of the country.
Dr Gonzi said the PN were the authors of change, adding that there is still a lot to be done, including the creation of more jobs. If change doesn't bring work, then there will be a problem. Good jobs are the key to the future, he stated. "I want Malta to keep having the success it has had".
Dr Muscat rebutted that unemployment is on the rise. He mentioned Dr Gonzi's statement that the number of youths not finding work is minimal, however the number is over 4,000 he emphasised. There are sectors where jobs are being made, but then there are other sectors which are heading downwards.
Dr Gonzi stated that his opponent visited a number of companies which are doing well. These factories were saved by the PN, he said. New investors came to Malta because the country is doing well. The ICT sector is on the rise he mentioned and so is the aviation sector.
Dr Muscat accused that a number of workers he has spoken to are unhappy with their wages. He admitted to visiting a number of successful companies however failed to find any workers at Smart City. Official statistics show that for 12 on-going months unemployment has risen and the fact that Dr Gonzi doesn't recognise this fact is worrying.
Dr Gonzi then spoke about the 20,000 jobs the PN has created in the past legislature. He spoke about the dockyards and the PL who wanted to keep it open. Dr Gonzi added that this would have been a weight on public funds. Dr Gonzi said that he did not agree with Dr Muscat on this and can't understand why his opponent wanted to save it.
Dr Muscat explained that the problem with the dockyards did not begin in 2008, it started when the PN sent out a letter promising to save their jobs. A foreign person had said that even if the dockyard workers had worked for free, the dockyard would not have made money.
Dr Gonzi said that his opposition has forgotten that the PN had fought hard to save the dockyard. He spoke about the success of the aviation industry, which has succeeded thanks for expertise from students coming out of MCAST. This sector has huge potential to grow, he added. Where is the economic disaster that the PL keep arguing about, he argued. Malta is doing well he said, mentioning that the PL wanted to follow in Cyprus' footsteps who have now crashed.
Jobs will only be made through actions not through words, Dr Gonzi said and spoke about a number of PN-made schemes, whilst Dr Muscat intervened by mentioning the current deficit. Dr Gonzi demanded for people to look at the good which has been created. Dr Muscat asked the people to look at their lives now and see if they are worse off than in the past as families are struggling. The PL Leader then mentioned the energy tariffs. He mentioned that the PL is the only party with a plan to reduce energy tariffs.
Dr Gonzi then argued that the night tariffs will save money for a large number of manufacturers who operate a lot of machinery at night, also mentioning hotels. The PN Leader then said that the PL's plan to build a new station is a waste of funds. Dr Muscat mentioned Standard and Poor's stating that the PL's plan would work and the PN's wouldn't. Dr Gonzi mentioned the KPMG report arguing that the PL's plan is not possible. Dr Muscat rebutted that the same study had a big disclaimer which said that they had to work on the information which was given to them by the PN.
Change in Direction and dodged questions
Joseph Muscat spoke about the need to create more jobs, save more jobs and reduce the energy tariffs which have decimated businesses. He spoke about Arriva which has suffered from severe delays. He mentione the PL's energy plan, and how it would use gas instead of heavy fuel oil. Next, the PL Leader spoke about the waiting times at Mater Dei Hospital. Dr Muscat also mentioned education, and his party's proposals which will try and entice students to re-enter education. He condemned the PN's blue and red attitude, adding that people should be seen as for what they know. This is the meaning of the PL's message that a change in direction is needed.
Dr Gonzi still doesn't understand what change the PL wants. He mentioned that the PN want to create more jobs, adding that taxes would also need to be reduced. This would only be possible through good decision making he said, mentioning the dockyard closure. Tourism was mentioned, where the PN has committed €100 million euros for factories. He also spoke about the €1.1bn in EU funds he brought back from Brussels. Keeping Malta's finances on track is the key to moving forward he said. He asked Dr Muscat why the country should look at Cyprus as an ideal country.
Dr Muscat dodged the question and mentioned that this is the style of politics which is not needed in Malta. The PL trust the private sector, adding that the PL's plan is the only one which clearly explains how it will be reducing taxes. When the CEO's of three large companies spoke, they mentioned that the tax per square metre, bureaucracy and the energy tariffs were at fault for being unable to create jobs, he stated.
Dr Gonzi stated that he still doesn't understand the PL's roadman. He mentioned the reduction in taxes over the next five years, adding that those in lower tax bands will also have their taxes reduced. The Prime Minister moved onto pensions and his party's plans in this regard. He mentioned Cyprus stating that his opposition had argued on this country during Parliament and demands an answer as to why the Government should be more like Cyprus.
Dr Muscat spoke about the PN's two weeks of discussing the PL's energy plan, thereby again dodging the Cyprus question. He mentioned that the PN had never seen such a concrete energy plan. He promised that the plan is 100% costed adding that the PL are careful with people's funds. He mentioned pensions, adding that the PN have been making these promises for ages but nothing ever came of it. He criticised the PN's plans as being unprofessional especially since the country's economic growth will grow by the PN's stated amount, adding that the Central Bank have said the same.
Dr Gonzi stated that the although the Central Bank has said that it wouldn't grow as much as the PN has said, several economists agree with the PN. He mentioned that England's credit rating has just been downgraded adding that the economic growth in Malta is envied by many. He brought up Cyprus again, stating that the PL had made an invalid calculation in this regard.
Michael Briguglio joins the Fray
Dr Briguglio stated that the AD have concrete proposals and it is the only party which didn't lower itself to petty arguments. It has proved that if in Parliament, the AD can be a huge factor. AD can attempt to find consensus between the parties and will attempt to pass its proposals in Parliament. He mentioned that the parties might be scared of proposing certain policies, but the AD will attempt to bring these to the forefront.
Dr Muscat discussed Cyprus, stating that the PN know what Cyprus is about. if the Prime Minister chooses to speak about the past, then one must mention Ireland. This is not the politics of the PL however, he said and proceeded to mention that the funds which the Prime Minister brought for Malta are for next year, however the economy will not grow by that amount this year, meaning the PN's forecasts are blatantly wrong.
Dr Gonzi spoke about the jobs which the country must create for students, asking first time voters to vote for those who are more capable to create jobs. He spoke about the past five years, mentioning that whilst other countries suffered, Malta created jobs. Everything else will fall into place, ha announced, adding that the number of Government workers has reduced, and that the private sector has done very well.
Dr Briguglio spoke about the Elderly, arguing that in the past, a number of pensioners have had some of their funds taken away. The AD spoke about future pensioners adding that if things don't change, the pensions will not be able to sustain them. Dr Muscat spoke about private pensions which would result in people capable of paying for pensions would be able to, whilst those who can't, wont, he said. Dr Briguglio spoke about the importance of the second pillar, adding that Malta has an aging population, so if nothing is done then there will be huge problems.
Dr Muscat wished that he can expand pensions for everyone, however he cannot do this as the country is not ready to sustain more NI contributions from workers and employers. He spoke about raising the standards of elderly homes. He mentioned a host of PL proposals, including that elderly should have the option to work and not be forced to with problematic pensions.
Dr Gonzi spoke of a large number of pensioners who kept their pensions whilst working, which wasn't the case years ago. He mentioned a letter which he received from an grandmother, thanking the Prime Minister for a beautiful school which the Government had built for her grandsons. The elderly appreciate good educational institutions for their grandchildren, he said, adding that there are a number of PN proposals to help the elderly live within the community. He described the quality healthcare service.
Michael Briguglio is pleased with both parties for being open to a coalition with the AD. He mentioned that the AD would be happy being both in opposition or in a coalition. If in opposition, the AD will propose a number of its ideals. Regarding a coalition, the AD will link up with the party which has the closest ideology. With the exception of Italy, Europe's coalition have been successful.
Michael Briguglio said that he is unsure, but based on polls the PL are in front. He mentioned that with 2000 votes AD would be in Parliament. The electoral system allows for cross-party voting he stated.
Dr Muscat wants the people to win the election. He doesn't want people to feel like half have won and half have lost. If elected, the PL will not look at people as blue or red, but rather will respect and work with everyone. The youths will play a huge role, he mentioned and March 9 allows the country to break the ties of the past. He said that he has been honoured to work with and against the Prime Minister and whoever wins, the people will win.
Dr Gonzi said that the people will win. He mentioned that he loves Malta and enjoys the democratic freedom the people enjoy here. Everyone puts themselves in fron of the people and allows them to choos and this is special. He mentioned his thanks to the students, elderly and the rest of the population.