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BA debate: Labour extolls track record, PN makes bid to save Malta’s reputation

The second BA debate between the PL and the PN sees Labour praising its achievements while the PN set much store by its new proposals and the government’s scandal-hit administration

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
17 May 2017, 10:00pm
Julia Farrugia Portelli, Deborah Schembri, Marthese Portelli and Mario de Marco
Julia Farrugia Portelli, Deborah Schembri, Marthese Portelli and Mario de Marco
Nationalist Party deputy leader Mario de Marco has described the 2017 elections as a decision that was not based on electoral proposals, but a bid to save Malta’s name and its financial services industry, which employs 30,000 jobs “with good salaries”.

De Marco’s accusation that Malta’s reputation by Joseph Muscat was echoed by Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli, who in the second Broadcasting Authority debate between the PN and PL, said the Labour government was “heaving under the weight of corruption”.

De Marco reminded PBS listeners that Muscat was the subject of a magisterial inquiry, and had called an election for his personal interest. “If he had the national interest at heart, he would have resigned pending the magisterial inquiry… Labour voters rightly ask whether this is what they fought for. This is an election about whether we truly have our country at heart.”

Labour candidate Julia Farrugia defended Labour’s track record in government, saying voters will trust Joseph Muscat for having delivered on countless pledges in 2013 and for proposals which were all costed.

“Simon Busuttil’s achievements were to oppose giving students repeating their university years a stipend, to say that out-of-stock-medicines could not be solved, and to abstain on civil unions.

“Busuttil has been mudslinging every single day while the Prime Minister has been making proposals from day one. Malta today is toasted by the European Commission as an economy of solid growth, when in 2012 it was described by the same EC as a subdued economy.”

De Marco paid tribute to Nationalist achievements in building the foundations of today’s economy, and chastised the Labour administration for failing to achieve a salvation plan for national airline Air Malta. “Instead today we are trying to defend our reputation with an international press reporting the scandals in our country.”

Farrugia Portelli countered, accusing Simon Busuttil of having accepted undeclared donations from the db Group to pay his own party executives’ salaries when he was hitting out against the same company, while pointing out that De Marco himself had negotiated the acquisition of St George’s Bay for the db Group.

Education and transport

In their opening statements on education, Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli said Labour had taken on board a proposal by the PN to give free school transport to all school-children, in a bid to also reduce early morning traffic on the roads.

“Labour ridiculed the PN’s proposals to reduce traffic, and now it is saying that it will take on board a PN proposal offering free school transport. Now it is a matter of credibility. In four years, nothing was done to reduce traffic.”

Portelli said government should also lead by example by organising collective transport for its 40,000 workers, and said the PN’s proposal for an underground metro system was “financially feasible” but she provided no costings on either the PN’s proposal for the metro system or the free school transport.

Parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri countered Portelli’s statements that Labour had lacked credibility.

“Portelli speaks of credibility and certainly this government has done much to deliver in education – the delivery of tablets, a holistic reform in education, and yet more proposals. We will remove MATSEC fees for low income-earners, attract more people to the teachers’ profession with an improvement in salaries, give minimum wage to apprentices… education goes hand in hand with social policy to help people out of poverty and move up the social mobility ladder. Today we have more than 1,000 disabled people in gainful employment after this government enforced a law requiring businesses to employ the disabled.”

Environment

On the environment, both parties – seriously lacking in positive track records on green issues – defended their proposals and achievements. Marthese Portelli said the PN would respect the referendum decision to retain spring hunting and any such decision from the European Court of Justice, while Deborah Schembri hit out at the PN over its 2006 extension of development zones.

While Portelli said that the PN would not change the island’s high-rise policy but introduce a ‘skyline policy’, Schembri set much store by Labour’s decision to turn the Zonqor area into a national park (originally designated as such under the Gonzi administration). “Under Labour, we restricted the areas where a high-rise development could take place… before 2013, 18 high-rise projects had been approved under a PN government,” Schembri said.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.