Joseph Muscat: 'General elections in 2018'

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declares that the general election will be held in 2018 • Urges social partners to start discussing minimum wages

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

In the first categorical declaration ever since the Nationalist Party said it has switched on its electoral machine, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat declared that the general election will be held in 2018 bringing to an end rumours that the election will be held soon after Malta holds its Presidency of the European Council.

Addressing parliament in reply to the Opposition leader’s budget speech, Muscat said that he was “eager” to start campaigning “but will leave this until 2018”.

The jibe was directed at Simon Busuttil, whose party has recently announced that it had “switched on” its electoral machine. During his Independence Day speeches, Busuttil said he wanted the Nationalist Party to “be ready for whenever the election is announced”.

The Prime Minister’s two-hour speech was a culmination of the presentation of Budget 2017 last week, where Muscat pushed the message that the Labour government’s heart “beat” for social justice.

“This Budget is an expression of wealth redistribution – it’s a reflection of a government that is moving forward in the right direction,” he said, estimating that the cost of the 20 measures relating to pensions will be some €21 million.

Making his pitch on minimum wage, Muscat said the country now had a year until next year’s budget to discuss minimum wage. Arguing that he was in favour of increasing it, he said that such a decision could not be taken without consensus.

“A decision was taken for the government to shoulder this burden by increasing benefits for low-income earners; but now, a true discussion needs to kickstart,” he said.

Muscat said that families should judge the government by whether they feel that the country is moving in the right direction, whether they are better off now and whether they believed they will continue to improve under Labour.

“The difference we’re doing in people’s lives can be measured by the change in concerns: before it was energy bills, a stagnated economy and employment; now it’s good quality of life and the environment. This means that people are taking the cheaper energy bills for granted whilst focusing on new concerns,” he said.

Speaking about the country’s finances, Muscat said that the government has had a plan from the very start. He said that the government’s plan was always to stabilise the economy in the first year, to incentivise people to work in the second and to help businesses and to grow the economy in the third year.

He said that the government was now, in its fourth budget, redistributing wealth to those that had previously not benefitted from the country’s economic growth.

“We are implementing one of the biggest exercises in wealth distribution in living memory. More importantly, this budget did not take from anyone and gave to everyone,” said Muscat.

By growing the economy, Muscat said the government is able to introduce budgetary measures, like those presented in this budget, that would improve the quality of people’s lives. He said that the country’s deficit was projected to fall to 0.5%, the lowest deficit figure since Malta gained its independence.

“We have put forward a budget with a social package that costs €21 million, money that is being directed towards those who are most in need, this is hardly cosmetic,” said Muscat.

He pointed out that the government had succeeded in making work pay and was slowly weaning people of benefits and into work. He added that the number of people living in poverty as well as in conditions of severe material deprivation had been steadily decreasing.

On second pillar pensions, Muscat said that this would only increase the social security contribution that people are required to pay and said that those struggling to make ends meet did not need more expenses. Instead he said that the government preferred to introduce incentives for people to work and save more.

Muscat also said that the government will publishing every major contract by the end of the legislature and added that he could not understand how the opposition was associating blank pages in published contracts with corruption since a number of contracts signed under the previous Nationalist administration had similar clauses which prevent government from publishing certain specific details.

Responding to claims by the opposition that the government had created no new sectors for the country, Muscat said that the American University of Malta and Barts medical school, new hospitals, the IIP scheme and the logistics centre that is being set up were all examples of new sectors that were being created.

In another dig at Busuttil, Muscat said that in order for the country to achieve results, the prime minister had to act like a salesman. He went on to praise special envoy Sai Mizzi – wife of OPM minister Konrad Mizzi – for having been pivotal in the signing of two memorandums of understanding.

The government has signed two memorandums of understanding with the Bank of China and Beijing Caissa International Travel Services – the result of which will see 10,000 Chinese tourists coming to Malta by 2018, going up to 50,000 by 2020.

Turning to energy, the Prime Minister rubbished claims by the opposition that electricity purchased through the interconnector was a lot cheaper. Muscat said that the Opposition’s estimates had failed to factor in important factors such as operational and maintenance costs, excise duties, depreciations, among others.

“It is the same as when one buys a flight for only €50 with a low-cost airline and then realise that there are another €200 in charges that need to be pay.”

But his comments did not go down well with independent MP Marlene Farrugia who could be heard telling the Prime Minister that he was taking citizens for a ride. Farrugia has repeatedly called for further reductions in energy bills.

20:32 Revving up his MPs, Muscat ends his speech with the three questions he started with. Their clapping drowns Marlene Farrugia’s voice who could be heard objecting to Muscat’s closing address. Miriam Dalli
20:29 “Malta should be a leader not just in Europe, but across the world. We can become a cosmopolitan country, without losing our identity but embracing new cultures.”

Muscat says he’s eager to start campaigning … but will leave it to the beginning of 2018 – another jibe at Busuttil who said his party has switched on the electoral machine.

Miriam Dalli
20:27 According to Muscat, last night, Malta’s armed forces saved over 500 migrants as part of the Frontex operation. The saved persons will not be brought to Malta – based on an agreement reached with Italy. Miriam Dalli
20:24 If the government were to provide free transport services to students attending Church schools, Busuttil disagrees that parents who still drive their children should be fined: “Do you fine students at public schools whose parents drive them to school?” Miriam Dalli
20:21 Muscat’s gloating on his government’s achievements reached new heights, prompting the opposition MPs to start booing and moving in their chairs. Muscat, taking Busuttil to task over the “scaremongering” on the LNG tanker moored at Marsaxlokk Bay, Muscat said that the PN leader’s comments meant that “airports should be closed”.

“The tanker makes use of the latest technology which makes the risks of the airport higher than that of the tanker,” he said.

The Prime Minister, saying that he will not resort to the “low levels” of Busuttil’s speech, went on to add: “People expect better from us, but they don’t expect any better from you.”

The comment did not go down well with the opposition MPs who started murmuring and turning to each other, shaking their heads.

Miriam Dalli
20:07 Independent MP Marlene Farrugia is shouting "shame" at Muscat, saying that she "can no longer stomach to listen" to him talking. The outburst came as Muscat was ridiculing Busuttil on past comments made on whether electricity cuts were possible.

"Stop taking people for a ride," she added, shaking her head. Farrugia herself has called for further reductions in energy prices. Meanwhile, Speaker Anglu Farrugia urged Marlene Farrugia to be silent - cross-debate is not allowed according to standing orders. Miriam Dalli

20:04 On the criticism that the Labour government has failed to create new sectors, Muscat says the opposition has ignored the projects and investments in medical tourism, education, the logistics hub in Hal Far and the IPP – the sale of citizenship. He also announced that the government, in the coming weeks, will launch a chain block system related to FinTech.

“You can have all the laws in the world but it won’t translate into anything if you do not have a salesman promoting your country abroad,” Muscat said, in yet another jibe at Busuttil who has, for multiple times, branded Muscat as a salesman.

On Sai Mizzi, special envoy and Konrad Mizzi’s wife, Muscat said that, through her work, the government has just signed two memorandum of understandings with the Bank of China and Beijing Caissa International Services which will result in some 10,000 tourists from China by 2018, going up to 50,000 by 2020.

Miriam Dalli
19:47 Muscat says that the number of youths on benefits was brought down to 18. Miriam Dalli
19:46 The jibes at Simon Busuttil continue: yesterday, in his speech, Busuttil said that generic drugs were inferior because they are not branded. A generic drug is identical - or bioequivalent - to a brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use.

“If there was a red card for all the fouls he did yesterday: does he know that the West depends on generics? Yes, there are certain circumstances where patients need branded drugs and we can agree on those. But does he know that the pharmaceutical companies we have in Malta, and who employ hundreds of workers, produce generics? Is he telling them their work is inferior?

“He says he wants to know who Vitals Global Healthcare are … well, just ask [former PN MP] Albert Fenech, I’m sure he’ll tell you.” Fenech will be responsible of the cardiology hospital within revamped St Luke’s Hospital under Vitals.

Miriam Dalli
19:32 According to Muscat, the measures being pushed forward are helping in creating and supporting the new middle class. Miriam Dalli
19:24 “Beyond the numbers, the fight against the poverty is characterized by our attitude towards it. Just remember how the previous administration had handled the Caritas report: they had antagonized them and told them they didn’t know what they were talking about. We, on the other hand, invited them to brief our ministers on their findings.” Miriam Dalli
19:21 He is currently listing the measures which have increased the income of pensioners, families on low-income and persons who, due to their disability, will never be able to find a job.

On rents, a debate which was raised by Caritas, Muscat said the government has reviewed the means test to reach more families as well as an increase in the rent subsidies given to people renting private – as long as the contracts are registered and declared.

“The social package of this budget is €21 million … how can you even start calling it cosmetic? With all these measures, how can you not vote in favour of this budget? Busuttil’s speech on the social side of the budget was extremely poor.”

Miriam Dalli
19:11 Miriam Dalli
19:11 Miriam Dalli
19:08 Budget 2017, Muscat says, was the most effective in wealth redistribution which has not been “experienced in years”.

“This is a social budget, showing the beating heart of a government working to ensure that wealth reaches everyone. The opposition has made valid points, but there are others which I cannot understand. Everyone on minimum wage will get a minimum increase of €4 a week, going up to €15 a week.

“Average families will receive a total of €480 annual increase. You definitely cannot call it cosmetic, unless you received €500 weekly increase. Let me remind you that when Busuttil was deputy leader, people on minimum wage were taxed.

“I agree with Busuttil when he asks about minimum wage. I want social partners to discuss it. I admit that Louis Grech and I had long discussions about it because minimum wage no longer satisfies the requirements it was originally introduced for. I want consultation on this – we have a year until the next budget so let’s discuss how we can increase it.

“I am convinced that if we do not increase minimum wage, no one else will. I understand the concerns of employers, but we also want to be honest brokers. This year we shouldered the burden. Now, I want social partners to sit round a table and reach consensus.”

Miriam Dalli
19:02 Muscat says he can only describe the leader of the opposition as being “negative”: “The saying ‘a cloud with silver lining’ doesn’t exist for him … he’s more like the ‘l’uccello del malaugurio’, always trying to find the negativity in everything.”

Miriam Dalli
18:56 Muscat says the “sense of negativity” had percolated throughout society, until the Labour government changed the direction with facts. He speaks of a 4% deficit which has been reduced to almost 0.5%.

Here comes the first dig at Simon Busuttil: yesterday, Busuttil said that debt should not be analysed in percentages but in numbers. “These are the Simon economics. Which data is not analysed in percentages?”

Miriam Dalli
18:52 Focusing on the day-to-day matters, the Prime Minister talks of the clampdown on social benefits abuse, the support to students who failed their exams, the enforcement of law when it comes to alcohol abuse.

“I don’t care about losing votes; it’s about not losing any more lives which I care about,” Muscat says, referring to harsher fines on driving under influence.

“How can we not be proud knowing that we have stood up and voted in favour of gay rights? When you look at how 50 couples refused to adopt a baby with disability but was finally given a home by a gay couple.”

“These are no longer the budgets of austerity and this is what I want our legacy to be. Budget 2017 measures and more will always be affordable as long as we are in government.”

Miriam Dalli
18:47 “Change is not easy and the best compliment we can receive is when people start taking the improved taxes, the cheaper bills and work for granted. Because now, the concern is about quality of living and the environment, showing that concerns have changed because other issues have been addressed.

“Economy doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t translate into better quality of living. This depends on us as the government, by taking the big and small decisions that directly affect families and businesses – the cheaper school uniforms which do not make newspaper headlines but attract the attention of families.

“The incentives which have pushed women to join the workforce … it’s useless talking about rights on paper if women are not given financial independence. The difference we are making in people’s lives in terms of waiting lists: are we there yet? Of course not, but people know that there have been huge improvements.

“Whilst others said that the problem of out-of-stock medicines could never be solved, we solved it.”

Miriam Dalli
18:42 Joseph Muscat takes the floor and immediately turns to followers and tells them to ask three questions: Is the country moving in the right direction?

“I believe that there is consensus that the country is moving forward.”

“Ask yourselves, are you doing better than three years ago? And I am convinced that the answer is ‘yes’”.

“Do you trust that in the coming year and a half, and beyond, you will do better? Again, I am convinced that many families and businesses will reply ‘yes’ as well.

“For years, previous administrations indulged in a mediocre mentality, telling people to make do with what they have. But we have changed this direction; we told people to be ambitious and to believe that this country can be one of the best.

“Look at the successes being achieved; and I will share with you also the points where we need to work harder, because we have disappointed. We need to share the realities of those who are struggling, of the student who is getting stuck in traffic, of the pensioner who needs more support, of the grandparents who went to help out their grandchildren.

“At no point we will declare that we are perfect … but our aspiration is to continue helping our citizens. Our goal is to ensure prosperity for everyone; where wealth is created for the people and not for the numbers – numbers alone tell half the story. Behind every worker, every pensioner, there is a story of lives improved, of emancipation. Our passion is prosperity with a purpose.”

Miriam Dalli
18:41 Good evening and welcome to our live-blog as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat delivers his reply to Budget 2017. This follows the address given by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil last night. The speech is expected to start at around 6.30pm. The House is currently discussing parliamentary questions, taken up by waste collection and dumping of waste. According to Transport Minister Joe Mizzi, the cleansing directorate received over 1,300 complaints in the first six months of this year, 25 of which are still pending. Miriam Dalli


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