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Q&A | Politics means change | Deborah Schembri

Labour candidate Deborah Schembri says every piece of legislation or regulation she worked on has touched lots of people in various ways. She pledges to keep on delivering whilst encouraging more women to join politics

18 May 2017, 1:02pm
Deborah Schembri
Deborah Schembri
Which part of the political life appeals to you?

Politics for me means ‘change’, ‘reforms’ and helping everyday people lead better lives. It gives one a platform from which to address problems on a national level. Giving people rights I only dreamed of when I was growing up, contributing towards their general well-being, handling big projects such as the lands reform or the building of new structures for the Planning Authority which effect many people in their life. 

How would you describe your first four years as an MP?

I had the benefit of working both as Member of Parliament on the backbench and as Cabinet Member. I have enjoyed both in different ways. The first few years I was very much involved in Parliamentary Committees. I chaired the Social Affairs Committee during which we debated important issues and made interesting legislative proposals amongst which proposals on Organ Donation legislation and presented reports on issues such as precarious work and domestic violence. I also represented government on the Council of Europe where I presented the first ever report on Transgender Rights in Europe. This gave me a European perspective and an even larger platform from which to influence legislation in various European countries. All in all it has been a very positive and fruitful experience.

How would you describe your experience as a member of the Cabinet?

My experience as a member of Cabinet during the past 15 months has been very active and constructive. My enthusiasm to make changes and push forward reforms was very well met by my colleagues and I am proud to have delivered in bringing the Lands Authority to life, in seeing through the massive task of consolidating legislation regarding government lands and bringing it up to speed with new realities and in giving a new structure to the new Planning Authority, amongst a myriad other things. I have done so in a very short period of time and look forward to continue working if given the chance.

Do you believe that you’ve made a difference in people’s lives? How?

I believe that every piece of legislation or regulation I have worked on has touched lots of people in various ways. People who used to wait for ages to get a planning permit today get it in a maximum of a hundred days, or get reimbursed up to half the fee they paid due to time frame regulations I have set in motion, making the Planning Authority the only authority to be held responsible in this manner. People will now see and feel the new changes in the Lands Authority. Now, it is in its infancy but we’re determined to keep on delivering. We’re employing more people in order to give a better service to people, a service that is long overdue and one which they truly deserve.

As a member of the Cabinet, you can serve as a role model to encourage more women to enter politics. Yet, the PL is only fielding 11 candidates. Do you think that you have a role to play in this regard?

Although I can’t say that I’m happy with the numbers when it comes to women in politics, I recognise the Prime Minister’s effort in this regard since we presently have all women on government’s benches in Cabinet. This should act as an encouragement for women to make politics their choice. I personally try very hard to show other women how important it is to give their contribution but we also have to make the political environment one which is more family-friendly if we really want them to enter the political arena. That is what I am trying to contribute towards.

As opposed to other female Cabinet members before you, you were not given ‘a soft’ portfolio: do you think you have proven that gender is irrelevant when assigning portfolios?

It has been my honour to be the first female in charge of such a portfolio, however, it is dedication, hard work, enthusiasm and a good work ethic that is important really, not gender. I’m a workaholic by nature, I give my work my all and I enjoy every minute of it. An important character trait of mine, which has helped me a lot in my daily work is that I don’t shy away from taking decisions although I do make it a point to take well informed ones. It does take a strong character to handle such a portfolio but strength is not only found in men! 

We’ve heard the Prime Minister say many times that he was ‘sorry  for mistakes done. Do you think that it’s enough for the PL to say, ‘I’m sorry?’ What action should be taken to PL to prove that it was truly sorry?

Learning from one’s mistake is always the best way to prove one is sorry, it shouldn’t be any different just because we’re in politics. Recognising one’s mistakes is also an important part of the learning process.

Four years ago, you said that it was important to have an anti-corruption policy. Today, the government is facing accusations of corruption. Where has the government failed?

Accusations and the finding of guilt are two completely different things. This government has done its best form the get go to pass legislation that put all politicians legally responsible for their actions for the rest of their lives. That is not to be taken lightly. We have also set other laws in motion such as the party financing legislation and the Whistleblower Act. The Prime Minister has also given his word that he would resign any posts held by him if any accusation thrown at his is found to be true. We should only be so lucky as a country if we had a leader of the Opposition with that kind of moral fibre.

Which, in your opinion, was the government’s best decision and worst mistake during the past four years?

Our best decisions in government, whilst they can’t be pinned to one single decision in itself, is the focus it has given the economy. The economic stimulus we have delivered has provided the right results, creating 37,000 new jobs, reducing people in material poverty by half, increasing female participation in the work force, and seeing Gozo starting to flourish. On the other end of the spectrum I believe that as a Government we haven’t reacted quickly enough and vigorously enough against allegations of corruption and the myriad of lies that have been spun by the Leader of the Opposition. 

Which, in your opinion, was the opposition’s best decision and worst mistake during the past four years?

The Leader of the Opposition’s worst mistake, which will haunt him for the remainder of his political carrier, is joining himself at the hip to the hate blogger, adopting her politics for his own. This negative, divisive and deceitful politics will taint the Nationalist Party for years to come. Their best decision is the 360-degree turn the Nationalist Party made on matters of Civil Unions, even though I think that this was driven more through political expediency rather than genuine belief.