Student concerns addressed in MCAST debate
The debate held at the MCAST campus in Paola between PN Leader Lawrence Gonzi, PL Leader Joseph Muscat and AD Chairperson Michael Briguglio has concluded. The debate saw students pose a number of topical questions regarding their future to the leaders.
The first question regards why people should vote for the Leaders' respective party.
Dr Gonzi replied that this was the first political debate held at MCAST and explained that over the past 14 years thousands of youths have had the opportunity to study and further their education. He emphasised that the PN had opened the MCAST school and urged students to vote for the party which can create more jobs for them.
In his reply, Dr Muscat said that PN Government have done their best to move the country forward and emphasised that he sees a need for change within the people. A new political style is needed, he stated, adding that the main goal is to create quality jobs, not just base the success of a Government on the number of jobs. He spoke about the different visions between the two party’s adding that he is ready to listen to ideas from all people regardless of political affiliation.
Dr Briguglio was asked about one of AD’s billboards which read; “we will give an answer”, asking him to further explain its meaning.
Dr Briguglio explained that politics isn’t just about two partys but rather should include all members of society. He spoke about civil society, adding that the AD is the only party who is addressing the issue of the minimum wage. He explained the AD’s proposal for gay marriage, emphasising that there should not be any discrimination. He added that drug abuse should be better handled and not just result in a jail sentence.
The next question regarded Smart city and was directed at both Joseph Muscat and Lawrence Gonzi.
Dr Gonzi stated that both partys agree over the need for Smart City to be opened, however to say that nothing had been done is wrong as €78 million have been invested into the project through foreign investors. The project will lead 7000 jobs he added, explaining that ICT jobs are being taken up by private companies all over the island. Speaking about the MCAST car park, he said that the project is nearly complete and will hold hundreds of cars.
Dr Muscat stated that his opponent had promised the 7000 jobs at Smart City last election, but nothing became of it. The developers had explained that the reason the project was halted was due to a water pump not being build, he said, expressing his anger at the situation. Mentioning the car park, he said that although it is good, public transport needs to be revamped and bus stop wait times would need to be addressed.
Dr Briguglio explained that if in Parliament, Smart City will need to be powered through renewable energy, which would create more green jobs. This would also result in a cleaner environment he concluded.
Dr Muscat was asked about investment and the youth guarantee.
Dr Muscat described the Youth Guarantee, which was accepted by the EU and of which funds made available would benefit Malta. It guarantees jobs for youth’s he added. He spoke on Standard and Poor’s rating, stating that a number of industries, including the maritime industry as well as SME’s must be expanded. He spoke of incentivising investment and helping those foreign investors already based in Malta. Speaking about bureaucracy, he described it as a main issue for investment, along with the current energy tariffs. He added that the PL is the only party with a clear energy plan to reduce costs, poking fun at the PN’s night tariff idea. A 75% employability rate will be reached by 2020 he promised.
The Leaders were asked about the relationship between Church and State and a secular society.
Dr Gonzi spoke about civil rights, mentioning freedom of religious choice as well as stating that if there is someone in danger of being ‘cheated’, then the Government must guarantee their rights. He spoke about the importance of addressing discrimination.
Dr Briguglio said that the Maltese constitution must change as it is currently monopolised by religion, adding that pluralism needs to be addressed proposing that students should have the right to learn about their own religion in school.
Dr Muscat spoke about the need for distance to be created between Church and State. He spoke about the importance of the Church, which benefits a lot of people and does a lot to help the poor, however the State must be secular and a separate entity.
The Leaders were asked about disability
Dr Muscat described the PL plans, arguing that disabled people who work will keep their disability pensions.
Dr Briguglio explained that the disability pension is not enough to sustain someone, adding that it must be reviewed. The AD would propose clear laws on this issue which would end discrimination and ensure their rights.
Dr Gonzi said that today, under certain conditions, disabled people who work already keep their pensions. He described the PN’s aim for disabled people to be able to advance further in society. He spoke of the special disability schools in the past, emphasising that this shouldn’t be as disabled people should take part in society and should have the opportunity to find work. Those who are unable to take care of themselves however, would find a solid Government which can help provide for them.
The leaders were asked about the engineering course at MCAST and the students not receiving their warrants.
The PL Leader emphasised that students from the engineering course must have the facilities to help them learn their course well and should have the opportunity to find work and achieve their warrant.
Dr Briguglio spoke about the standardisation of qualifications. He mentioned green jobs, adding that renewable energy is the future for Malta. He described the prices of gas and oil which are skyrocketing abroad, emphasising that renewable energy is free.
Dr Gonzi spoke about the engineering profession being crucial for the country. He said that Malta cannot continue to succeed without having a generation of engineers who are ready to tackle today’s technology, stating that the profession must be helped in every way possible. He spoke about robotics and explained that Malta has some of the best engineers in the world.
The Leaders were asked about their plans relating to Culture as well as incentives for students who choose not to continue studying
Dr Gonzi emphasised the importance of culture, adding that aside from traditional cultural activities, new-age technology have allowed for new areas of the industry to flourish, such as the digital gaming industry. The PN Leader mentioned Valletta, which will be the EU capital of culture in 2018. Speaking about students, he explained that the Government has opened doors for these people to re-enter the educational industry through incentives. He spoke about the budget, adding that people on minimum wage who are willing to spend 6 hours a week training, then these people would receive a bonus.
Dr Muscat also mentioned new-age technology, stating that the PL want to provide areas for bands to hold concerts. He spoke about a plan to find people who excel in performing arts as well as visual arts and incentivise their return to education to further improve their craft. Speaking about people without jobs, he spoke about a number of incentives for these people to re-enter the educational system.
Dr Briguglio explained that Dr Muscat has taken the proposals relating to bands out of the AD’s Manifesto. The AD are proposing that Culture be a seriously addressed policy, particularly with Valletta being voted the 2018 EU capital of culture. He said that Malta needs a Minister with a focus on culture, who would look at all kinds of Music, including those which perhaps are not streamlined, mentioning Punk as an example. The AD will attempt to gather further investment for the libraries and archives, adding that local councils must have a focus on culture.
The Leaders were asked about stipends.
Dr Gonzi said that stipends will only be given to students who succeed and not those who are held back a year. He explained however, that those students who have disabilities or certain problems, will continue to receive stipends. “This is to incentivise students to succeed” he said.
Dr Muscat promised that stipends would be kept, however believes that students who fail once should still receive the stipend as this would incentivise them to keep trying rather than quit. “This would give them a second chance”.
Dr Briguglio mentioned the protests in the 1990s, which brought about the creation of stipends. Stipends are a right, and students who fail should still receive them, he added, explaining that students who don’t turn up to class is another matter altogether.
A student who has not resided in Malta for five years, however has Maltese parents as well as a Maltese ID card, took a stand and demanded to know why she is not eligible to receive a stipend. She explained that foreign students who have resided in Malta for five years but are not Maltese receive the stipend. The leaders did not answer the question, although Dr Briguglio explained that technically she should receive it.
All candidates were asked a number of specific questions.
The Prime Minister spoke of the last Labour Government, adding that they did not keep their promise on stipends them. He spoke of energy, adding that the PL’s plan to build a new power station is a waste of money.
Dr Muscat said that the PL believes in the Maritime sector, adding that students at the Maritime Institute, he explained that these students should have the opportunity to garner more experience in their field.
The AD Chairperson mentioned the promises made by both partys, explaining that he has no idea where the money for their proposals will be brought. These proposals could result in Malta delving into economic turmoil, especially since they are both assuming that the Maltese economy would boom.
Dr Muscat spoke about helping students studying abroad, who will undertake education in specific fields. The need to lower bureaucracy within the educational and stipend systems will be a priority, he added.
Dr Briguglio spoke about animal rights, adding that the drivers of this topic within the EU are the green parties. Regarding a possible animal rights coalition, he asked what position he would take, would it be that of the political parties, or that of the animal rights movements. He mentioned the need to stop allowing animals be used in circuses and stated that the AD is not in any way involved with hunters.
Dr Gonzi mentioned that the PL Leader has been wrong at every turn, starting with his vote against entering the European Union
Dr Briguglio emphasised that students can be the protagonsits of Malta’s success adding that instead of having a black and white Parliament where both party’s fight back and forth, an AD candidate would bring balance to the equation and will give a voice to proposals which the two major partys would never address.
Dr Muscat said that after March 9, regardless of who wins the elections, there must be serenity. People’s choice of colour must not result in any discrimination. He spoke about the need for change, adding that he dreams of a country where success will not be based on who a person knows, but rather on what that person can do.
Dr Gonzi spoke about the past five years, emphasising the PN’s worry on the students, adding that the majority of students who have graduated MCAST have found work. He emphasised that 25,000 jobs would need to be created over the next five years to deal with the amount of graduates.
Some of the teachers who were occupying the balcony of the MCAST hall, were asked to leave by the police as it was too crowded.
Every Leader had 20 minutes to answer questions.