Last Updated 28 | 02 | 2013 at 11:17

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Deputy Leaders face-off in KSU debate

Article By:
Kevin Schembri Orland
kevin.s.orland@di-ve.com

The KSU debate being held at the student common room at the University of Malta was between PN Deputy Leader Simon Busuttil, PL candidate Owen Bonnici and AD Deputy Chairperson Carmel Cacopardo. Chairing the debate was Daniel Benson Camilleri. Owen Bonnici took the spot of the PL Deputy Leaders who were unable to attend.

Today’s discussions focused on education, economy, work, healthcare, the elderly, pensions and environment. This was followed by a student question and answer period.

The first question regarded education, asking the vision of each party on the topic.

Dr Simon Busuttil expressed his surprise as neither one of the PL Deputy Leaders saw fit to attend this important debate. He spoke about the PN’s results in the educational sector over the past legislature. He emphasised the need to take another leap in quality in education, by working harder in all sectors, beginning from primary school through to tertiary education. The PN are proposing a comprehensive plan for education, which will entitle people to free education. He stated that this would only be possible if Malta’s finances would remain stable. If students want to achieve their potential, then students need a Government who can offer them this possibility.

Carmel Cacopardo said that the AD wants to help students achieve their potential. He spoke about numbers, mentioning that opening a school each year is not enough, but the parties should focus on smaller quality schools. He spoke about the PN and PL’s plans to reduce taxes, asking where the money to sustain education and their other projects will come from. It doesn’t make sense to attack the money source whilst proposing even more spending.

Owen Bonnici said that in the education sector, the PL will continue to work on the success which has been achieved, however changes are needed. If one were to grab all the 17-year-olds in Malta and see how many chose to continue studying, one would find that half have not. The PL believes that the Government’s investment in education compared with other EU countries is good. However, why are Maltese students not as good as foreign students? he asked. The PL wants more students to exit education with the necessary skills to enter the world of work. He mentioned the PIRLS report, which saw Malta behind other EU countries in this regard.

The next question regards work after school.
Dr Busuttil emphasised that over the past legislature, the amount of students continuing education skyrocketed. He mentioned that a number of Mediterranean countries had tried to choose another party with similar proposals to the PL, however their economies suffered. After education, students must be sure that they would be able to find a job. Spain has seen a 26% unemployment rate under their equivalent of the Labour Party. Cyprus has resulted in the same and France, which PL Leader Joseph Muscat had idolised, has started to go downhill after changing their Government, he explained. He reiterated the PN’s promise to create 25,000 jobs. Students must vote for the party which can create jobs and PN has the track record.

Owen Bonnici said that the Government should look at the number of students at age 19 only half continued studying, he said. The PN have done well in education, however everything is not alright as the country needs more students to further their education. Agreeing with Dr Busuttil, he said that the students must decide on the party which has the ability to create jobs. The PL candidate then described the PL proposals on the matter, emphasising on the need for quality jobs. There are 4600 students who are currently looking for jobs, he mentioned, stating that the PN lied when they said that there is enough employment for youth’s. Jobs need to be created in Gozo, he mentioned, saying that there is a lack of jobs on that island.  He mentioned the meeting with INTO University Partnership, who are interested in building a Medical school in Gozo.

Carmel Cacopardo, emphasised the importance of jobs and said that the Government is encouraging precarious work through the current tendering system. He spoke about the minimum wage, where certain workers working for companies who have tenders are receiving below the minimum wage. He mentioned the PN constantly proposing laws, such as the Whistleblowers law, however never implementing it. It cannot be that Whistleblowers aren’t protected. He mentioned party financing, arguing that the PN only mentioned it towards the election and not before. “The PN decided to borrow from the bank of Vassallo” he said.

The next question regarded the healthcare.

Owen Bonnici mentioned that Healthcare is important to society. It is one of the PL pillars, where proposals for the elderly would include taking medicine to the homes of people with severe disability as well as people over 70 years old. He mentioned the IVF where the PL had proposed in Parliament that, where a person has the possibility to lose their fertility, then the storing of their eggs or sperm would be possible. We believe that these new proposals which were accepted by Parliament must be made law as soon as possible.

Dr Busuttil defended his party’s credibility, mentioning that the PN’s track record in healthcare speaks for itself. He mentioned that in 2011, the budget was brought under the required EU aims, he said. The aim is to bring down the deficit to 2.3% by 2014, Dr Busuttil argued. He reiterated the point that in countries which changed Government to those similar to Labour, their healthcare systems have crashed. For healthcare to improve, then solid finances must be in place, adding that students have been celebrating in the street unlike other countries. The future Government would need to decide where to invest its money to achieve the best possible results, he said. 45,000 operations have been undertaken since the opening of Mater Dei, he added. The PN has published its costings, he mentioned. In addition, 75% of the PL’s proposals were taken from the PN he said, adding that with over 600 proposals more than the PN, how is it possible that the PL’s costings are less than the PN’s. It wouldn't be the first time Malta has jumped over the EU's projection for Malta's economic growth as the EU holds it on the low side, whilst the PN took it on the median. This means that the PN's proposal to drop the deficit is possible.

Carmel Cacopardo mentioned that Malta’s finances are not safe and that the EU has pointed this out. The Deficit is a problem he said, adding that Malta is going to jump the EU targets. The proposals the parties have made are not doable with the tax cuts they have suggested.

The next question regards the Elderly and the future of pensions.

Owen Bonnici replied to Dr Busuttil’s statement that the next Government would be able to invest money in the right places. He said that Malta is in a good situation as Maltese workers work hard, not because the country has natural resources. The PL will not give itself €500 euros a week like the PN Cabinet, he said. He explained that he is glad that the Maltese people do not need to protest in the streets. He reminded that in 2008, when Dr Gonzi took Government, all the trade unions criticised the Government after raising water and electricity bills. For all the unions to come together was a surprising event, he said. This was done on the same day that the Cabinet decided to give themselves the €500 rise, he accused. He mentioned public transport, which has made Malta a laughing stock in the eyes of other European countries, particularly mentioning England. On finance, he spoke about the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) decreased credit rating of Malta. If one looks at S&P, they urged that Malta has to bring more women into the workplace. If pensions are to remain sustainable without raising taxes, Malta would need to have a larger workforce, and women could help solve this problem. When looking at the workforce in comparison with the number of capable workers, Malta is falling behind, he said. There have been positive developments over the past few years in this regard, but more needs to be done, he said.

Carmel Cacopardo said that the problem regarding women entering work is in those aged 40 and up. Below this age, Malta compares well with the rest of Europe he said. Regarding pensions, the AD Deputy Chairperson said that a number of people only have part-time jobs, which results in a problem for their pensions. Pensions are based on a single family model, he said, adding that this should be expanded to newer forms of families, including same sex couples. He spoke about the universal citizens pensions.

Dr Busuttil mentioned the four-year protest against the modernisation of the Saint Anthony recycling plant, of which the PL were part of the protest against bringing in €16 million in EU funds. Over this the PL protest, but when building two massive gas storage units, the PL do not protest on the issue. “We do not need the new plant either,” he mentioned. With regards the breakwater bridge, the PL had called it a bridge to nowhere, which shows that the PL do not know anything about tourism and culture. That bridge will be a tourism site, he mentioned. He mentioned that as soon as the PL want to reduce costs, then students suffer, stating that Joseph Muscat himself admitted this in the debate earlier this week. Malta has one of the best rates in Europe for women working between the ages of 20-25. He admitted to the number dropping from 30 years and up, blaming the problem on the disastrous handling of the Educational system in the past. He spoke about the raise regarding the retirement age from 61-65. The economy is not strong enough to ask employers and employees pay even more for the second pillar pensions, he announced. The PL has been resistant to all reforms which the PN have brought into the country, he said. In the PN Electoral Programme, the PN will start paying for pensions of students whilst they are studying in order for people to have better pensions. He mentioned the child pension account proposal, which would see €1000 placed in a created account for every child born.

The final official question surrounds the environment and development.

Carmel Cacopardo emphasised the need to protect the environment, alleging that the other parties have chosen to abuse the environment. The other parties have refused to act on the situation in Armier, he said, adding that there are over 70,000 vacant housing properties on the islands. This is unacceptable he said. Instead of the Government taking a stand against development in this light, the Government decided to entice further development, by allowing people to build up. Those who were encouraged to install PV panels or solar water heaters are not overshadowed by towering buildings, the AD Deputy Chairperson argued. The AD proposed that major residential development must be halted. Speaking about ground water, the AD alleged that there has been immense abuse by people and the EU has  indicated this situation in the Water Framework report. The Government completely ignored this report, as well as others made by the Ombudsman, he accused. Large projects must see Local Councils have the right to stop large developments from taking place in their areas. This would exclude projects of national need, he said. The PN are full of environmental buzzwords, he accused.

Dr Simon Busuttil disagreed, stating that Malta has received millions in EU funds for the environment. He spoke about the drainage plants which have resulted in no drainage being sent into the sea. He also mentioned the recycling plant, adding that the PN has done a lot for the environment. There is a National project which addresses flooding at the moment, which also costs €57 million of Euros, he emphasised. Regarding empty properties, the majority of those empty are not owned by Government, but by private individuals. “What would you have us do, take the private property like Labour did in the 80s?” There are subsidies in place to entice private owners to take on residents, he said. He mentioned keeping the environment and planning sector included in MEPA, in order for decisions regarding development will hear the environmental lobby’s voice.

Owen Bonnici stated that the Environment is the key to a higher quality of life. He mentioned the PL being against heavy fuel oil, emphasising the problem of black dust found around Fgura. He spoke about the PL’s energy plan and removing the Delimara chimney. Gas is cleaner than oil, he emphasised, adding that when the PN had the option to change to gas, the PN chose to use the dirtier fuel. The PL have proposed using a mix of energy, rather than, as the PN have said, forcing Malta to be dependent on the interconnector. The PL does have culture at heart, he mentioned, stating that it is a sector which must be brought to the forefront. He spoke about the PN having a number of good proposals, however their costings are questionable. The PL agree with the Church’s environmental council proposals, which would see a planning authority and an environmental authority. The PL believe that this will fix the situation where the environmental voice is not being heard.

Student questions

A law student asked how the EU would view Dr Muscat, considering he originally was against voting the EU. Owen Bonnici replied that when looking at the fact that Malta is one of the smallest EU countries means that “we are punching above our weight”. Responding to his question, Dr Bonnici urged the people to judge Joseph Muscat by his track record as an MEP.

With regards to PN and stipends for repeating students, Dr Busuttil said that the PN have substantially worked on Stipends, however it must be there for students who are succeeding as an incentive. The Government cannot keep adding to the stipends he stated. With regards to the PN’s promise to create 25,000 more jobs. Based on the 20,000 jobs which have been created is proof that the goal is doable, he stated, emphasising that the choice on March 9 will decide who will be creating jobs. The Cola for stipends will rise pro rata, he promised.

When asked about the PN’s medicine delivery plan, Owen Bonnici said that this is a good proposal and will help many people. With regards to divorce, he stated that the PN had heavily criticised the issue.

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