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Labour proposes constitutional protection of the environment, no new ODZ projects

Joseph Muscat said the government had heeded criticism over its environmental track record

yannick_pace
Yannick Pace
8 May 2017, 8:53am
Last updated on 8 May 2017, 10:23am
Labour leader Joseph Muscat (right) together with Edward Zammit Lewis (left) and Labour Party deputy leader Chris Cardona (centre)
Labour leader Joseph Muscat (right) together with Edward Zammit Lewis (left) and Labour Party deputy leader Chris Cardona (centre)
A new Labour government would see the protection of the environment enshrined in the constitution, Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat said this morning.

Muscat was addressing a press conference where he outlined another five priority areas that will be tackled if the party is elected to a second term in office.

He said that following the criticism levelled at the government over the past legislature, it was proposing measures that would help safeguard the environment.

“The protection of the environment would be given weight and priority,” he said. “In every major governmental decision.”

Asked how exactly the protection of the environment would be defined, Muscat said he would be giving details about the proposal in the coming days.

Furthermore, Muscat said that a new Labour government would commit itself to a legislature where no public projects on Outside Development Zone land are implemented.

The final environmental proposal put forward by the Labour Party would see the Sant Antnin recycling facility closed down over a period of seven years and replaced by an open space for “families to enjoy”.  

Muscat said this would take place in two phases. The first phase would see the relocation of the “black bag” (domestic waste) to a new plant in Maghtab. In addition, he said the “organic bag” project would be extended nationally. This was being proposed in order to remove, once and for all, the causes of bad smells around the facility. In the second phase, recyclables will also be relocated.

Transport

On transport, Muscat said the government intended to offer free, supervised transport to students attending all schools. The proposal, he said, was intended to reduce the traffic load resulting from parents taking their children to school in the morning.

A second transport-related proposal, would see students, children, pensioners and people with a disability no longer paying for public transport. According to the Prime Minister, this system had already been tested with 18-year-old students and would be extended to the mentioned groups. The measure, he said, would cost the government up to €3 million.

A new Labour administration would also offer the possibility to motorists to renounce their driving license in exchange for free use of all forms of public transport, Muscat said, while also keeping and potentially existing broadening scrappage schemes open.

“It’s a method of give and take. You give up on your right to drive and the state gives you the opportunity to use public transport for free,” he added.

Finally, he said that owners of old cars will be able to trade this is for a voucher of up to €2,500 to be used on purchasing a motorcycle.

Muscat said that in the coming days the government would also be announcing details of a proposed Rapid Transport System, which it would be “committing” itself to enacting and which would be implemented with the help of the private sector.

Health

The Labour Party leader said that health was another of the priority areas that would be tackled by a new government, while emphasising that under no circumstances would Malta’s healthcare system not remain free.

Muscat said that, if elected to a second term, a government led by him would offer a tax refund to anyone voluntarily taking out private health insurance, insisting that the reducing in the load from the public health system would ultimately benefit the tax payer.

Turning to Mater Dei, the Prime Minister proposed increasing the number of parking spaces at the hospital by between 600 and 700 spaces, building a new psychiatric hospital and a “mother and child” hospital.

He explained that a new psychiatric hospital would help to shift services out of Mount Carmel hospital, which would in turn be refurbished and used for “specific cases”.

“Over the past four years we drastically reduced, and practically eliminated the problem of a lack of beds at Mater Dei,” said Muscat, adding that tcahe planned mother and child hospital would increase Mater Dei’s capacity by some 230 beds.

In order to increase Mater Dei’s efficiency, Muscat said that strategy would remain that of making better use of small regional hospitals such as the ones planned for Kirkop and Paola. He said work is underway to locate a site for a third regional hospital in the North of Malta.

Furthermore, he said a new Labour government would also be introducing a remote patient monitoring system that would see a set of services dealt with remotely.

Over the next legislature, a Labour government would continue with its efforts to constantly increase the number of freely available medicines said Muscat, and would ensure that all medication used in the treatment of cancer would be free.

“Using modern technology, we can measure certain things remotely and this would reduce the queues that tend to build up at hospitals,” Muscat said, adding that in many cases, people went to hospital with relatively minor issues that would be easily handled in this way. This proposal would cost up to €1 million.

Education

The first proposal announced by Muscat for this sector was to remove payments for MATSEC and SEC exams, and to have public exams held in the same school children attend. This he said would help reduce the stress and pressure experienced by students sitting for public exams.

Muscat added that a process would also be initiated to increase wages for school staff and to improve teachers’ “well-being” and to reduce their work load. Moreover, he said a process to ensure that supply teachers and LSA’s are switched on to an indefinite contract would also be commenced.

The third education related measure relates to apprenticeships, that Muscat said would be paid at lowest, minimum wage.

“Companies taking on apprentices must pay them at least the minimum wage, and that will be reduced from the company’s tax-bill so as weigh down on the company,” he added.

Retailers

Finally, Muscat announced a number of proposals for the retail and small business sector. He said that during the past legislature, the government had shown it was ready to stimulate and give impetus to the retails sector, and would now be building on the results.

“We have managed to give business a new lease of life and we plan to keep on this same track,” he said.

A new Labour government would make access to financing for small business a priority.

“Shops are facing situations where the banks are not giving enough access to finance, especially to smaller operators.”

Muscat said the government would not be interfering with bank operations but would make use of the newly set up Malta Development Bank to help finance small and medium enterprises.

In addition to this, a new Labour administration would address the problem encountered by many small companies that provide service to government entities, said Muscat, adding that while the Late Payments Directive offered a remedy to this, it came at a financial cost.

He added that under the envisaged system, the government would automatically apply the late payment directive, including interests on late payments. Moreover, Muscat said a new Labour government would introduce a Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) system for government departments and entities.

Furthermore, a reform in rent laws would be introduced in order to better protect tenants operating shops. He added that the reform would take into consideration the length of the lease and the number of employees engaged by the business.

The threshold for VAT exemptions would also be raised from €14,000 to €20,000 under a new Labour administration.

“These businesses will be saving up to €1,000 a year, as well a considerable amount of bureaucracy,” Muscat said, who pointed out that the threshold had not been increased in some 18 years.

Finally, Muscat announced that a second term would see the government update a number of schemes intended to boost entrepreneurship on the island.

Specifically, this would be done by increasing the value of Micro Invest grants available through Malta enterprise, with the maximum value of assistance increasing from €30,000 to €50,000 for local enterprises, and up to €70,000 for those based in Gozo and for companies with a majority of female shareholders.

yannick_pace
Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...