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[WATCH] Prime Minister boasts he is not guided by polls: ‘I don’t follow numbers. I make them.’

Trump, ‘Frexit’ fears, minimum wage, Alitalia, and a new transport policy for Labour’s 2018 manifesto: Joseph Muscat was interviewed on TVM’s Xtra

Paul Cocks
24 November 2016, 9:45pm
Muscat said that although he acknowledged surveys’ results, he never let himself be guided by them. “I don’t follow numbers,” he said. “I make them.”
Muscat said that although he acknowledged surveys’ results, he never let himself be guided by them. “I don’t follow numbers,” he said. “I make them.”
The Labour Party’s next electoral manifesto will include a major plan for the complete transformation of the transport sector and mass-transportation in Malta, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on TVM’s Xtra.

Muscat said the PL’s plans would bring about a “quantum shift” in the country’s infrastructure, resulting in a better standard of living for everyone.

Muscat also spoke of his legacy inside Labour, speaking of a number of members within the party with excellent qualities to take over the leadership of the party and do “a better job than he had”.

Polls and surveys

As to polls showing him maintaining a lead in popularity ratings over Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, Muscat said that although he acknowledged surveys’ results, he never let himself be guided by them. “I don’t follow numbers,” he said. “I make them.”

He said he had ignored survey results in the case of civil unions and had opted to follow his and the party’s principles and convictions. “Thanks to our strong leadership, more people have come to realised that having a gay couple joined in civil union is not the end of the world.”

He said that a recent drop in poll results on his popularity and that of the government could mean that some people were reserving judgement until the end of the government’s term. “I am sure that come the next election, people will seriously consider whether they, and their families, are in a better place then they had been five years prior,” he said.

"If we cannot increase the minimum wage now, when the economy has increased by 6%, we never will"
Air Malta, minimum wage

In a quick-fire Q&A, Muscat confirmed that Air Malta was still negotiating with Alitalia for the sale of 49% of its shares, and that he was optimistic that a deal would be reached that would be beneficial to the national airline and the country.

He reiterated his pledge to increase the minimum wage next year, insisting the economy was strong enough to absorb the impact such an increase would inevitably have. “If we cannot increase the minimum wage now, when the economy has increased by 6%, we never will,” he said.

Muscat admitted that he was still opposed to the introduction of euthanasia, and that although stories like that of Joe Magro – the ALS sufferer and campaigner who says he would commit suicide unless allowed to undergo euthanasia – had left him speechless, but that he currently saw no solution to the impasse.

On the previous week’s detention by police of 30 migrant workers who were no longer in possession of Temporary Humanitarian Protection or any other status, Muscat said he was sorry they had been in Malta for many years, but insisted they were ultimately here illegally. “We would have no credibility with the EU if, after we have been insisting so much on the country not being able to take in immigrants, we fail to repatriate immigrants that have been found to be here illegally,” he said of the asylum seekers whose claims had not been accepted, but who were allowed to stay pending a final deportation.

The economy

When asked if he felt the administration was too focused on the country’s economy and major projects, ignoring the basic needs of the people, Muscat said the contrary was true and that all the government did was aimed at improving the standard of living of every strata of society.

“Today, the pharmaceutical company Actavis that it will be laying off 200 employees as of 2018,” he said. “To have this happen in the same week that De La Rue announced it would be maintaining a workforce of over 500, is further evidence of why the government places the country’s economy so high in its agenda.”

Muscat said that if those 200 workers were asked what their top worry was before losing their job, they would probably have identified the traffic on Malta’s roads as their main concern. “If you ask them today, they will undoubtedly all say that their jobs and their families’ futures were their main worries,” he said.

“This is why the government’s main concern has always been employment and why I can state here and now that this government will ensure the 200 employees will not be laid off until alternative employment opportunities are found.”

Panama Papers and good governance

On the Panama Papers scandal, Muscat acknowledged that he felt some bad judgement had occurred, but insisted the government “had dealt politically in the case of a political issue”.

In the Capitalone/Beppe Fenech Adami and Daniel Bogdanovic incidents, an inquiry had been launched since the police were already involved in both instances. “The Opposition leader is continuously making claims of corruption without presenting any evidence,” Muscat said. “I was opposition leader when the largest corruption scandal in our country – the oil scandal – came to light, and you know how I acted then.”

Saviour Balzan (left) interviewing Joseph Muscat
Saviour Balzan (left) interviewing Joseph Muscat
Referring to a pre-electoral promise to change the way government operated and on his failure to deliver accountability, Muscat said: “Although some people may be have been disappointed in some cases, I believe people also recognise how this government changed the country’s destination,” he said. “They expect more of us, but already the successes gained far outweigh the misgivings people might have on shortcomings in good governance.”

Muscat said the government had demonstrated this in the case of the appointment of magistrates and judges, where the PM could no longer appoint anyone to the judiciary without consulting with a number of bodies before making a final decision. “People might indeed agree with the opposition leader on his criticism on a lack o f good governance in some cases – as do I – but they do not believe him.”

Trump and the rise of nationalism

Muscat admitted that he had believed Donald Trump would win the US presidential election, so much so he had won “a nice bottle of wine” off a friend who believed Democrat Hillary Clinton would win.

He said Trump was already showing signs of compromise as he was conscious of the fact that he did not win the popular vote and that many countries seemed suspicious of his intentions.

“His obsessions with cancelling a number of trade agreements that the US has in place could lead many countries to seeking alternate deals with the EU,” he said.

On possibility of French far-right politician Marine Le Pen being elected president next year, and her promise to have France leave the EU if elected, Muscat said a majority of French people were against leaving the EU.

“I believe the EU must change before – not after – populist candidates are elected and before some country choses some extreme action that could lead to them leaving the EU,” he said.

What political commentators had to say

Lawrence Grech, former editor of The Sunday Times, said in a filmed interview that it was evident that the economy was on a strong streak, with tourism on the rise and unemployment in decline.

He insisted it was scandalous that two prominent people implicated in the Panama Papers scandal had not resigned and that a new PBS CEO had been imposed on the company and its board without prior consultation.

Josanne Cassar also agreed that the economy was doing well, but noted that this had not brought about a marked improvement in the standard of living.

“Progress and development had also resulted in more traffic on our roads and more building sites cropping up all over the country,” she said.

Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...
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