Leaders face off at the Big Debate
The debate tonight took place at Intercontinental Hotel, St Julians, between the Nationalist Party Leader Lawrence Gonzi, the Labour Party Leader Joseph Muscat and the Alternattiva Demokratika Chairperson Michael Briguglio.
This was the 8th week of the campaign, and marked the 5th debate of the campaign. Voting will begin on March 9 and this is expected to be the final one before the election.
The debate followed the Broadcasting Authority rules, meaning there was no cheering of any kind. The first half saw all three leaders answer questions. A seven minute break was then granted and the second half saw Michael Briguglio sitting out.
Joseph Muscat said that a vote for PL is a vote for change which will result in better education and healthcare.
Lawrence Gonzi spoke on the importance of jobs and how the PN will over the next few years focus on both old and new industries.
Michael Briguglio said a vote for AD will result in a watchdog on the other two parties in Parliament.
Dr Gonzi stated that the PN is the only party which has stated facts. It has lowered income tax for a number of people including parents who sent their children to private schools and elderly who reside in private homes.
Dr Muscat explained how the PL is the party of responsible politics. Unlike the PN’s policies which would increase debt, the PL’s proposals cost just over €700 million, he said.
Dr Briguglio explained how it is the only party to propose an increase in the minimum wage and that it was the first to release its manifesto, which resulted in the other parties copying its policies.
AD in Parliament
With regards to controversial policies, the AD Chairperson said that AD speaks about issues which are on the forefront. The AD is in favour of decriminalising personal drug use, not drug distribution he said. If in a coalition, or in opposition, the AD will make a number of proposals which the other parties, regardless of whether they like it or not, would need to discuss the issues. It’s about time after 50 years, Malta become a true democracy with more than two parties in Parliament.
Today the PL is the only party which has a plan which was approved and realistic, Joseph Muscat said. “We have said how when and for whom electricity bills will drop. The PL plan will drive costs down, he said. The PN had seen the storm across Europe, yet keeps saying he created 20,000 jobs. The fact is that unemployment is on the rise, Dr Muscat said.
Dr Gonzi spoke about closing the Marsa power station, arguing that the interconnector will result in making this a reality. Without the cable, no project, be it of the PL or PN would be possible. The PL’s plan is disastrous he said, indicating that the PL’s own experts said it was a bad idea. The night tariff will result in SMEs and hotels benefitting, he said. The gas pipeline the PN recommend will take 5 years to build he said. He warned of the coming economic storm, and how Malta would need to be careful when running the country.
The AD will tackle hard issues including hunting, the AD said. Those who want a voice of reason should vote AD and with 2000 votes, this will be made a reality.
Dr Muscat stated that the PL will be ‘humane’ with immigrants. Regarding public transport, the Government flopped and the PL would introduce a system which will help people arrive on time.
Dr Gonzi rebutted that the reform in public transport brought in vehicles which are Euro 5, however admitted to them not working out quite as expected and as such would need work. He reminded the PL of the old busses, which was criticised by everyone and used to result in people falling out of busses. “To this day I do not know what the PL proposals are”.
The campaigns degeneration
Dr Gonzi said that no one throws the first stone which leads to negative politics and following every debate, the parties have ended on a good not. "I do not believe it has degenerated", if there is a question of drugs, then it must be addressed, Dr Gonzi announced. “If we try to hide them, then we would be wrong”. When asked about pushing the Toni Abela case to far, the Prime Minister said that every report which is questionable, he forwarded it to the police and asked them to investigate. What Dr Muscat did just to save face for the PL is unacceptable.
Whistle Blower said Minister let someone out of jail
The PL are doing their best to remain clean, Joseph Muscat said, adding that he has no problem criticising politicians actions, however political assassination is a line which shouldn’t be crossed, and the PN have crossed this line. He mentioned a Whistle Blower in the case regarding a Minister who had someone taken out of Jail. Dr Muscat mentioned that he sent all his information to the Commissioner of Police. With regards to Anglu Farrugia, Dr Muscat mentioned that he is convinced that they would be able to work together in the future.
When the question regarding oil procurement began, Dr Gonzi publicly stated that he was ready to give a pardon for anyone who is willing to testify in court relating to the issue. The pardon was given and if this person had tried to influence a Minister, then that would be looked into. Dr Gonzi was heavily questioned regarding the questionable activities of Tonio Fenech and Austin Gatt however defended his Ministers, stating that Tonio Fenech had denied meeting George Farrugia on oil procurement.
Regarding the large loan the PN took from Zaren Vassallo, Dr Gonzi said that this was a loan and would have to be paid back.
Regarding hunting, Dr Muscat spoke about the need to follow EU regulations, however hunters also have their rights and they should not be forced into conditions which are not forced upon other countries. Regarding immigration, he said that with the EU, the country needs to drive the point home and must bring up the issue more effectively.
Dr Gonzi was asked about the lack of the family being mentioned in his Electoral Programme. He stated that jobs are the key to family life and the principal message the PN are pushing forward is that outside of Malta, families are suffering without work and in Malta we created 20,000 jobs. The Marital breakdown is not something that is in the programme he said, but in order to strengthen the family, then education and jobs are key.
A Yes or no question and answer session followed.
If an economic disaster strikes, both leaders said that they would not raise vat,
With regards to publishing the minutes of Cabinet Meetings, Dr Muscat said yes after certain time has passed, Dr Gonzi said yes.
Dr Gonzi said people chose well on Divorce as the people’s voice was heard.
When asked if the Leaders were ready to use the veto in the EU, Dr Muscat said yes and Dr Gonzi said yes in extreme cases
Both leaders dodged the question regarding tackling illegal boathouses
If a private members bill on euthanasia is introduced, both leaders would be against.
They both agreed that gay couples can bring up a child.
Dr Gonzi admitted that he will not resign if he loses election, whilst Dr Mucat did not answer the question.
When asked if Dr Gonzi read the PL Manifesto he said he skimmed through.
Dr Muscat said that his biggest mistake was falling for a tit for tat with the PN however the PL is committed to being positive for the conclusion of the election. Dr Gonzi gave the same answer, however also said that the PN has had to defend itself.
When told that there are several people who feel distanced from politicians, Dr Gonzi announced that this shouldn’t be as politicians decide what direction to take the country in, case and point, the Libyan crisis.
Dr Muscat spoke about the importance of proposals for the people, emphasising their importance. He said that people need to have a larger say in policies and the PL are trying to take these steps. He mentioned the 500 euro rise for the Cabinet, which was unacceptable.
Dr Gonzi mentioned that the family are at the centre of the PN’s proposals, speaking about education, health and work. These are the fundamentals for a strong family, he said. He pledged to keep emphasising that Malta has beaten the odds and drove through the economic turmoil in Europe.
The PL promised to be a Government of the people, regardless of who they voted for. He also pledged that he will work with the PN should the PL be elected.
Dr Gonzi spoke about the PN’s track record and that Malta must keep up its success regarding tourism and manufacturing as well as introducing new industries.