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Q&A | People matter | Albert Buttigieg

From God’s servant to serving social justice: Nationalist candidate ALBERT BUTTIGIEG explains how his plight for social justice led him first to priesthood then to politics. He promises to put people at the centre of politics

19 May 2017, 12:59pm
Albert Buttigieg
Albert Buttigieg
How did you first get involved in politics?

In 1981, I joined the Franciscan Capuchins, and gave my contribution to the society before being ordained a priest in 1989, and serving for 20 years. The reason why I took this step at such a young age was because of an existential crisis I was going through. I was continuously asking myself ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What is our purpose?’ And the answer I came up with was to make the world a better place. I believe in the importance of the environment, I’m inspired by social justice, and my background in religious orders pushed me not to remain a passive citizen, but to be active in the social sphere.

About 15 years ago, I left the priesthood and I started working with SEDQA, coordinating the Prevention Services Unit within schools and the community. In 2010, after a public call for applications, I became CEO of the Housing Authority, where I felt I could directly be of service to individuals and families striving to improve their quality of life.

In 2014, I started working for CARITAS, and today I run the Equal Partners Foundation, in support of  families with children with disabilities.

It was a natural, logical progression for me to enter politics, because my motto is “People matter”, and the  country finds itself at a crossroads in terms of values. Therefore, I felt I needed to give my contribution with the values I uphold, that is, the environment, inclusivity and public integrity.

Which part of the political life appeals to you?

I am drawn to social policy, although of course I am interested in other aspects too, as everything is interrelated.

Why the PN?

I was actually approached by both the Labour and the Nationalist Party, but I opted for the PN because looking back, the country made a lot of progress under Nationalist administrations, especially in education. Education is particularly important to me because it is only through education that you can break the vicious cycle of social injustice. What’s more, in the words of Ghandi, I want to be the change I want to see. Therefore, I joined the PN to leave my mark on the party and the country. Also, unfortunately, the PL is not the party it should be – it is not representing the marginalised or the underprivileged.

If elected, what do you personally hope to change?

A lot. I would like to be an agent of change. First of all, I want to change the perception of politics. Politics should not be a means to fight each other. I want to have politics of serenity, of consensus. I believe both the PL and PN have elements that can be used and can be fruitful. If the two parties collaborate a lot of good can be done. I always tell people, the day after the election remain one nation.

Secondly, we need to see the end of clientelism. One should not have to grovel to a minister in order to receive services.

Also, as a former Housing Authority CEO, I believe that authorities should be completely autonomous, and should avoid being influenced by other elements or individuals. Such a situation breeds social injustice.

Another point is the environment – we cannot keep exploiting it. We need a clear plan on what can and cannot be done. Furthermore, key positions should be appointed not by a simple majority, but with the approval of two thirds of the parliament. This would mean more consensus on such decisions.

Lastly, and most importantly, the common citizen deserves to have a voice in how this country is run, and I want to be the voice of those who have none.

Based on your door-to-door encounters, what are the top three concerns of families?

I’m contesting on the 9th and 10th districts. From my interaction with people, it is evident that corruption is a major concern. People who work and pay taxes from their wages are hurt by the injustice of politicians evading tax.

People are also worried about money, and a strong sense of social injustice can be felt. Their line of thought is: “Why is it that I barely make €13,000 in a year, while others earn €13,000 a month”. People, especially pensioners, feel they cannot keep up.

Labour supports, in particular, feel that their party does not represent them. They tell me that they are voting Labour either out of habit or under protest, but the PL is not aligned with its supporters. What’s incredibly worrying is the younger generation, which has become apathetic. They believe all politicians are the same. But this only makes me work harder, because not every politician is corrupt and there are those, from both parties, making sacrifices for the good of society. 

The PN has often criticised the Labour government of having given individuals jobs and positions, disregarding the principle of meritocracy. How would a PN government ensure that jobs are not given to individuals because of their political affiliation?

The PN is making a serious proposal, whereby key positions will be appointed to individual by a three fourths majority in parliament. Authority chairpersons will be selected from qualified people by means of public tender. To become CEO of the Housing Authority, I had to sit for three exams, but I do not feel that my successor after I was removed was well-prepared for the role. Even the government admitted that it had not accomplished all that it wanted to in social housing. Our biggest resource is human resource, so our people need to be selected based on their abilities and not on their political affiliations.

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

Calling a spade a spade, the government made good choices with regard to childcare centres, civil liberties, youth guarantee and the rights of disabled people. On the other hand, besides issues with corruption and transparency, this governments biggest mistake was retaining Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi last year. How could the Prime Minister not make those two resign after they were proven to have secret offshore companies in Panama and elsewhere when others like Michael Falzon and Godfrey Farrugia resigned over much less significant issues. Muscat dented his credibility and abused the trust shown in him. Apart from that, the government has failed to protect the environment. Like in the case of the Paceville masterplan, this government’s policies were designed to make the fat cats even fatter.

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

Our best decision was electing Simon Busuttil as our leader. Over four years he has proven himself and grown in the opinion of others. When he walked in he found the party at its lowest point, but he has managed to give the party back its integrity. But the Nationalist Party is not about Simon Busuttil, it is about the vision. PN has recognised its mistakes and is trying to be the party of the people. Simon is making the propsoals that raise the level of local politics to a European level, meaning politics based on finding common ground. I think this is the way forward: negotiation and collaboration to reach common ground for the good of the country. With Simon Busuttil as Prime Minister, Malta fairs better not only economically but also socially.

Our worst mistake, I admit, was being overly negative, especially in the beginning – perhaps because of the results from the last election. But the party recognised this and corrected its position by coming up proposal after proposal.