Muscat promises to ‘up his game’ on environment

Prime Minister says he is ‘proud to be a salesman for families and businesses,’accuses Opposition leader of ‘bitterness and negativity’ in 2016 Budget speech

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat repeatedly questioned the opposition leader's economic credentials during his Budget speech
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat repeatedly questioned the opposition leader's economic credentials during his Budget speech

In a two-hour speech in Parliament, Prime Minsiter Joseph Muscat Muscat went to great lengths to discredit the opposition leader’s economic credentials while stressing his government’s economic successes, which have seen the country register exceptional growth rates.

“My job and my duty is to promote our country. I am proud to be called a salesman for the good of families and business. I am proud to be a salesman of investment … not a salesman of envy and bitterness,” Muscat said.

In clear reference to the growing awareness on the environment and recent protests against the loss of ODZ land, Muscat said “we have learned a lot on the environment and we must not content ourselves with doing better than our predecessors.”

However, insisting that “we need to up our game” Muscat said this goes beyond land use, Muscat said his government would be investing and supporting a number of projects in the southern part of the island, including the construction of a private university in Bormla and ODZ land in Zonqor, Marsaskala.

While relentlessly highlighting the PN leader Simon Busuttil’s slipups in his 2016 Budget criticism, Muscat outlined his vision for the country.

“We are changing this country and Malta is changing for the better, Muscat said in his opening remarks, adding that his government will ensure Malta is “future-ready” and on par with richer countries such as Singapore and Luxembourg.

“We aspire to make Malta the best place in the world to raise a family,” Muscat said, adding that he aimed at guaranteeing coming generations “a future” in Malta.

This, he said, cannot be achieved without a sound economy as he listed a number of measures introduced in the 2016 Budget.

“Previously people asked how much they have lost following a budget. Nowadays people ask themselves what they have gained,” he said.

In reply to the opposition’s criticism on government’s growing expenditure, Muscat emphatically said, “yes we’re spending more money on our children’s education and on health and we are proud of this.”

On the other hand, he added, government’s income had also grown despite income tax cuts.

“This government is the most pro-business administration of all time and we are proud of it,” Muscat said, adding his government is creating jobs and safeguarding workers’ rights.

Underlining his government’s successes, Muscat said his government will cut national debt to 65% of GDP by next year, from the 71% inherited from the previous government.

Referring to a 3.6% deficit in 2013, Muscat says his government chose policies which consolidated economy growth – resulting in a 1.6% deficit by end of year.

Taking a swipe at opposition leader Simon Busuttil, the Prime Minister said he was not fit to sit for an O Level exam in economics given his track record.

“In the last three months of the previous PN government, when Busuttil served as deputy leader, the debt increased by €300 million,” Muscat said.

Accusing Busuttil of “not having a clue” in economics, Muscat said his counterpart’s Budget speech on Monday was littered with “inaccuracies and lies.”

‘I’m not a salesman of envy and division,” he said as he dismantled the opposition leader’s criticism on Labour’s third budget.

On Monday, Busuttil said exports had decreased by €700 million, but the Prime Minister said Eurostat statistics showed that exports increased by 8%. “Learn how to read first,” a gloating Muscat said, much to the pleasure of MPs.

“I have nothing to apologise for,” Muscat added in response to Busuttil’s criticism on government’s engagement of 5,500 people. “We have employed teachers, learning assistants, midwives and nurses,” he said, telling Busuttil, “you cannot get one single sum right.”

429 people joined the public service over the past year, including 121 with health and 282 in education, Muscat said. 

He also dismissed Busuttil’s criticism on inflation, which stands at 1.05%, Muscat said “that’s why we have the Cost of Living Adjustment mechanism” adding that the PN leader did not understand the basic principles of economics.

On Monday Busuttil said that the average wage suffered a slump, but Muscat said the PN leader quoted statistics wrongly, missing “an important footnote” adding that while the average wage under the previous PN government increased by €303, it has now gone up by €333.

“We cannot ensure social justice without a sound economy,” Muscat said as he underlined his government’s efforts to aid the vulnerable, help workers exit precarious jobs and decrease income tax while increasing pensions.

“Our goal is to create a new middle class and promote social mobility,” he said as he took a break from puncturing the opposition’s criticism and listed a number of measures which will benefit working mothers, pensioners, young families and other people. 

Turning to the energy sector, Muscat said his government had successfully turned Enemalta around and announced the company would be launching its first investment overseas in the coming days.

In the closing stages of his speech, Muscat said he would not stoop as low as the “bitter” Busuttil had done a day earlier and said instead of dubbing the PN leader as “Mr Standards” he should have described him as “Mr Double Standards.”

In response to Busuttil’s criticism on the employment of former Labour media personnel by various government entities, Muscat reminded the PN leader that he was a PN radio station employee when he was engaged by the Malta EU Information Centre in 1999.

He also reminded Busuttil of the various contracts he was awarded under successive PN administrations, adding “we are slowly exposing your hypocrisy.”

On traffic, the Prime Minister failed to announce new measures and instead Muscat said finishing infrastructural works on time was government’s number one priority. However he also highlighted the incentives to increase motorbikes on the road and the importance of improving public transport.