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[WATCH] Choosing Malta | Simon Busuttil

PN leader Simon Busuttil says the 3 June election is not a choice between himself and Joseph Muscat and is quietly confident that the people will choose Malta and do away with the Labour government 

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
28 May 2017, 9:30am
Simon Busuttil: 'I’m doing because I love my country, and because I believe our country deserves better.'
Simon Busuttil: 'I’m doing because I love my country, and because I believe our country deserves better.'
You have in the past admitted that your plan was to spend 10 years in opposition until the party regenerates itself. Is today’s PN ready to be in government after only four years in opposition?

Yes, it is. To clarify, it wasn’t the party’s plan to be in opposition for 10 years. A party exists to lead a country, otherwise it can simply dissolve. We started off with a disadvantage of 36,000 votes and I was the first one to be realistic, and entered into the project thinking it would be a more long term one. Yet, the way things developed, we realised early on that some things are fundamentally wrong in the way Joseph Muscat was leading the Labour government. Therefore, on one hand, we started focusing on what was most important – cleaning up politics – and on the other, bolstering the party’s structure to make it election-ready as soon as possible.

But four years ago, there was not only a haemorrhage of votes but also of ideas and more importantly credibility. Why should voters who didn’t trust you four years ago trust that you are not the same party of four years ago?

Firstly, because the party has a new leader and every leader leaves his own mark. I think after four years, everyone has a better idea of who I am and my worth, and what I stand for. Everyone knows that before setting foot in this arena, my first commitment – I like to call it my first mission in public life – was leading Malta into the EU, and in this case I let nobody down. I did not betray the people. It’s ironic that even at the time Joseph Muscat was my opponent. Thus I humbly think that when people see and hear me, they know that I am truthful. This does not mean that I’m perfect but I adapted to the circumstances. I resurrected the party and we readied it for a general election. It is important to add that we did not waste four years in opposition. While we strongly criticised the government, we also put forward our proposals. Never have we had an opposition that released so many proposals, such as the pre-budget document. With time people got the feeling that this was a strong opposition despite where we started from, and full of energy and ideas for the future.

Moving to the most crucial issue in this election. Keith Schembri is currently subject of two magisterial inquiries after you presented Magistrate Aaron Bugeja with evidence. However, the elephant in the room remains Egrant. Are you convinced that Egrant belongs to the Prime Minister and his wife, and what does this conviction stem from?

Let’s put Egrant on the side for a minute, and assume it isn’t an issue. Even without Egrant, there is more than enough reason for Joseph Muscat to resign and I’ll tell you why. Because he should have acted a year ago and fired Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, and the fact that he didn’t means that he is either involved or that he is certainly as responsible as they are, because it was his responsibility to fire them and he failed to do so. But this is not all, there is evidence which I have seen and presented to the magistrate that shows that Keith Schembri took money through corruption, bribes and money laundering, all on the sale of passports. If he made €100,000 on the sale of three passports, God only knows how much he’s made with the €320,000,000 sale of Enemalta. And it’s not only I coming to this conclusion, it’s everyone. The question remains, why did Joseph Muscat continue to stand by him, and why did Joseph Muscat himself not resign.

Bringing Egrant into the equation, when you consider the way things developed, the suspicion that it belongs to Joseph Muscat was there from the beginning, even considering the fact that when the secret Panama companies were revealed, the company was named straight away but the name of the owner was too important to be communicated through email. With time, the suspicion continued to grow stronger, even as we observed Joseph Muscat’s cavalier attitude, as if it was no big deal. One starts to think: ‘This man does not want to fire them [Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi] when it is so obvious that he should fire them. The fact that he doesn’t indicates that Egrant belongs to him.’ This suspicion was already present in the public’s mind from the very beginning.

Fast-forward to last month, there are three elements that convince me that these allegations are very serious. Number one: these allegations are being made by a physical person, who exists. This person went to court when she didn’t have to. She showed up on the court’s doorstep not even knowing what to do or who to talk to, saying I am here to give testimony, under oath. That is something we have to give weight to. This person is a former employee of Pilatus Bank, who saw things with her own eyes, who saw the document in the safe and took it out and put it back. So this is something that as Opposition leader I cannot but say: ‘Hello, something is not right here.’ Does Joseph Muscat expect me to remain silent?

Secondly, an FIAU report was published more or less saying that Pilatus Bank is a money laundering machine. It says that the owner is very close to Keith Schembri, that Keith Schembri took particular personal interest in [Pilatus] getting a banking licence. The report corroborates a lot of what the whistle-blower said.

Thirdly, on the first day, when Joseph Muscat responded to this shocking revelation, that Egrant belonged to his wife, and thus, to him, he told five lies. How can you deny something and get caught telling five lies?

So, the whistle-blower, the FIAU report and Joseph Muscat’s five lies tell me that the magistrate cannot find that the case should not continue. Also, the magistrate will not give a definite verdict, but he will only decide whether or not there is enough prima facie evidence for the case to continue. With these three things, there is already enough.

This brings me to my last point. If Joseph Muscat were so clean and innocent, why wouldn’t he wait for the results of the inquiry before calling the election, as opposed to pulling the plug on the atomic bomb, which is a general election in the shortest amount of time possible. This to me indicates that he tried to rush it as much as possible to try to take advantage of his lead in the opinion polls, in order to try to get away before the magistrate made his decision. This means that if Joseph Muscat wins, we will end up in a very unstable situation where our Prime Minister would still be under criminal investigation with the likelihood of the magistrate deciding to pursue the case, and Muscat having to resign shortly afterwards. Can you have a worse situation than that?

I believe, that just as I am seeing this, the people are seeing it too, and for this reason, the people, like me, understand that on 3 June, the decision is about our future. And that is why it was almost providential that our chosen slogan, that puts people’s feelings into words, is ‘I choose Malta.’ That’s what it’s all about.

However, as you said, the people want proof that Joseph or Michelle Muscat received money from Azerbaijan and so on. Do you expect people to rely on the circumstantial evidence so to speak, that you mentioned?

In my opinion, the people don’t need any more proof. People are looking at the whole picture. When the people see everything, there’s enough reason for them to say that Muscat must go as soon as possible. They are aware that he is dragging our name through the mud, there are sectors that are dangling on a thread, like the financial services sector, and with the gaming sector, technology and construction. Muscat has boasted so much about the construction business. But just take a look at what the estate agents said this week, they said there is a big problem with Malta’s reputation. Who is going to clear our name? Joseph Muscat, who tarnished it? Or someone else?

This week saw allegations being made about the involvement of Russian secret services in the Egrant saga. Some have taken these allegations seriously, and others less seriously, including you. What’s your position on Russia? Do you agree with EU sanctions?

First of all, as soon as you mention this issue, a smile crops up on everyone’s face. That in itself shows you the level of ridiculousness Joseph Muscat has fallen to. All you have to do is go on social media, as I’m sure you did, to see what is being said to ridicule this. Joseph Muscat cannot be believed, he’s being ridiculous, but also presumptuous. He thinks that he is so important that Putin would go out of his way to interfere in our elections. I don’t think Putin really cares. But specifically on your questions, my position is that we stand by the decisions made by the EU. There’s no question about my commitment on the EU, Malta’s place in the EU and to safeguarding our position in the EU. I really don’t need to emphasise, and so my position on the EU sanctions on Russia is very clear.

Your proposals on good governance include the appointment of a police commissioner by a two-thirds majority in parliament. Is this enough to safeguard the independence and integrity of the police force, which today has unfortunately been rendered powerless, or is there the need for a more holistic, radical reform in the police force’s structure, as well as in the structure of other institutions?

No, it is not enough on its own but it goes a long way to show you what we want to do. We are taking away the power of the prime minister and giving it to parliament. This is the shift in mentality, in policy. And so the message is clear, we need someone we can trust, someone who carries out his duties and serves the people, not me. That is an indication of the kind of the autonomy we want to grant our institutions. In other words, I don’t want our institutions to be independent and credible only while I am Prime Minister, but even after I am no longer there. This is the biggest problem we’ve had over the last four years, Joseph Muscat not only appointed people to serve him, but he obliterated the people’s trust and credibility in the institutions. Let’s take another example. The Ombudsmen and the Auditor General are elected by a two-thirds majority and these are effective institutions. The model is there. I’m not reinventing the wheel, but I’m taking a model that is already working and applying it to the most important positions in the country from the President downwards… but you are right, that alone is not enough, because the disintegration of our institutions – you mentioned the police but there are others as well – is incredible. They have turned everything into a Labour Party club. And this is not right because these aren’t paid by the Labour Party, they are paid by you and me, and they should be there to serve us too.

How can you guarantee that a government run by the PN and PD would be stable, especially if the PD would control the balance of power?

Compared to the instability brought about by Joseph Muscat we will have one of the most stable governments of all time. Firstly, because Joseph Muscat didn’t even complete his five-year term and drowned in corruption after only four years. Also, Joseph Muscat is under criminal investigation, meaning even if he is re-elected, the instability is enormous. How can you have stability with a Prime Minister under investigation when the magistrate will most likely decide that there is enough evidence to take legal action against him. This is the biggest recipe for instability and I haven’t even yet mentioned Malta’s reputation, the damage to our reputation on a European and international level, and so on. But let me come to us, the stability coming from the work of the Forza Nazzjonali stems from our sound foundations. Something I admire about Marlene [Farrugia] is that she never imposed any conditions such as being named minister. She never asked for a driver, a wage, or some other perk. And this is after she left from a party that had a lot more to offer to her, and could have offered her anything she wanted. Instead she joined forces with me based on what we both believe – and I have great respect for her great courage and her actions. This means we have to clear Malta’s name and clean the political system. We have an opportunity on 3 June and I assure you I’m determined not to let this opportunity slip my grip if the public entrusts me with the responsibility.

I also believe that what we’re doing with the PD is important because everyone knows how committed Marlene is on certain issues such as good governance and even the environment. So people can rest assured that with her by my side, I will have additional controls on me to do the right thing. Not that I need Marlene to do this, but Marlene is such a standard bearer in these two areas that I will have more pressure on me. And that is exactly what I want. I want the highest controls to be on me. If I cannot reach the highest levels then I’m not the right candidate for the job. Full stop. Then I don’t deserve to be chosen. Yes, I want the highest controls on the government I lead because people have lost so much faith in politics, because if we do not make an enormous leap in quality and do away with mediocrity, people would never forgive us, and they would be right to lost hope in politics.

In 2013 after the government launched the IIP programme, you said that Maltese citizenship is priceless and not for sale. Now you are saying you are going to clean up the system and you are going to impose stricter conditions. Does this mean your position has changed?

That’s a fair question and it merits an answer. No, I haven’t changed my opinion and I still disagree with the sale of our passport and citizenship. So let me explain what we are going to do. We don’t want to shock anyone, much less the economy, and much less the workers. It is important to us to send the message that we want a smooth transition. We don’t want to demolish, but strengthen what is already in place. Specifically, I’m making it clear that the IIP will not remain the same, and that I will change it in two ways: firstly by cleaning it up – because Keith Schembri tarnished it – and secondly by gathering a group of experts and asking them how to remove the element of ‘sale,’ which goes against my principles, while still attracting investors. After all, the scheme is called the Individual Investor Programme – so I’ll ask these people how the scheme can truly attract investors while addressing the aspect of principle, which is important to me and to many, many people, I believe. To the people who think I’m going to keep it or scrap it, I say that in life there is no black and white, there is the in between. I say that one can change something bad into something good, and one can improve on something that has given results.

If you don’t win this election, will you remain leader of the PN?

I’m not so much focused on winning but rather on the people choosing Malta. I’m doing what I’m doing because I love my country, and because I believe our country deserves better, much, much better. Our focus and our message is ‘I choose Malta.’ I have a lot of faith that that is what will transpire, and so I don’t really need to answer your question, because I almost blindly believe that people will choose Malta, because they are Maltese. Everyone loves their country and even the Labourites know that this is what we should be doing for Malta. It’s not a question of choosing me or Joseph, it is much bigger than I. And because it is much bigger than I your question for me is almost secondary, because what happens to me personally, is completely secondary. I am not that important in the equation of what I will do if this does not happen.

 

Watch the full interview on www.maltatoday.com.mt 

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...