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EU presidency: Muscat says Malta has no problem with Council over Panamagate

Joseph Muscat on Dissett: Louis Grech to lead talks with social partners over increase in minimum wage

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
26 October 2016, 10:00pm
Joseph Muscat has insisted Malta’s presidency of the EU enjoys the support of both Council and Commission. He is pictured here with EC president Jean-Claude Juncker
Joseph Muscat has insisted Malta’s presidency of the EU enjoys the support of both Council and Commission. He is pictured here with EC president Jean-Claude Juncker
The 13 key takeaways from Joseph Muscat's Dissett interview
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said his deputy prime minister will be meeting with social partners to discuss raising the minimum wage, and revisiting the basket of goods that determine Malta’s cost of living allowance (COLA).

He said Louis Grech will lead talks on raising the minimum wage, but that his government will keep topping up low wages, while keeping the government deficit down.

Speaking on TVM’s Dissett, Muscat admitted that higher rental prices were being bolstered by the salaries of highly-skilled foreign workers, such as gaming employees in towns like Sliema.

“Rents increase because of demand, because the country is going through a good turn, because there are more foreigners among us, and there are more who want to rent… despite the glut of empty homes.”

Muscat said he would not exclude a direct intervention in the rental market, but added that such a “heavy” approach would be the last resort. “I don’t exclude landlords will not be declaring the real amount of their rental income,” Muscat said, acknowledging a scale of tax avoidance that ran into the millions, and adding that making landlords declare rental contracts could also encourage higher rents to compensate for their tax dues.

“But we cannot close our eyes to these people not paying their tax… we are doubling subsidies for some 1,800 families, but they need to present a rental agreement, otherwise how could taxpayers pay benefits that end up in the pockets of landlords who don’t pay tax?”

Panama Papers

Muscat conceded that Malta faced a problem inside the European Parliament over the clear association his chief of staff Keith Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi had with the Panama Papers, but dispelled all notion that it would be problematic for Malta’s EU presidency.

Minister Konrad Mizzi
Minister Konrad Mizzi
“We have no problem with the Council of Ministers, who approved Leo Brincat’s nomination to auditor unanimously… our problem is with the European People’s Party, the Opposition’s political group, and we expect a hard time from them.”

Muscat said the PN had used its influence with the EPP to undermine Malta’s citizenship sale in the past, but said opposition parties in Cyprus and Hungary had shown no interest “in leading some pogrom” over similar programmes. “Cyprus launched a far wider citizenship sale programme today, but have we heard any opposition on this country… the PN used its influence in the EPP to make small Malta its whipping boy.”

Opposition leader

Muscat was unsparing in his treatment of the Opposition leader, saying Simon Busuttil was unwilling to show bipartisan consensus on various European affairs.

“The Opposition leader thinks he is the head of government… he can’t stomach the fact that a Labour government is holding the Maltese presidency of the European Council. I’m not interested in his threats. Dispassionate observers feel that the way someone like Leo Brincat was treated at the EP, was not on.”

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addresses press conference following his address to parliament (Photo: Chris Mangion/MediaToday)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addresses press conference following his address to parliament (Photo: Chris Mangion/MediaToday)
Muscat said he showed full cooperation with Lawrence Gonzi in securing Tonio Borg’s snap nomination to the European Commission in October 2012 upon the Dalligate scandal. “I was never consulted on government nominations, and this was the only time. I knew Busuttil was then touted to become deputy leader. Had I assumed Busuttil’s mentality then… I would not have brought over the socialist side to approve Borg.”

He also said Busuttil should apply the same yardstick on Panama Papers with the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, over his sweetheart tax deals when he was Luxembourg’s PM. “He should go to him and accuse him of being corrupt, the way he does here.”

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.