Gonzi offers hand of friendship in ‘fostering of economic success’

Tough speech by Opposition leader warns Muscat that safeguarding job creation will be tall order in current financial climate.

Lawrence Gonzi addresses the House
Lawrence Gonzi addresses the House

Opposition leader Lawrence Gonzi today lauded his parliamentary group's decision to vote unanimously for the Budget without proposing any motions of no-confidence or amendments to the budget.

The former prime minister, whose Budget 2013 failed to be passed last December but was being presented by the new Labour government with few amendments, said it was his party's duty as Opposition to "show with actions, that it was ready to work in the national interest."

Gonzi, who will stand down as PN leader and Opposition leader in the next month after losing the 2013 election, said the Nationalist Party would act as a watchdog that will work in the national interest towards greater job creation. "We will help the government towards this end and vote in favour of this budget, in the hope that this government pulls up its sleeves, ditches its clichés and gets down to work," he said.

Contrary to the standard practice of Oppositions voting against the budget, Gonzi said he would vote in favour of the Budget and all its ministerial votes.

He said that record unemployment levels that had been achieved by his administration had to be safeguarded, and that his party would continue to contribute to the success that Labour had inherited. "We will work towards this progress of which Labour now carries the burden of fostering," Gonzi said.

"Never before in the history of Malta had there been an Opposition that voted in favour of a budget presented by the government. I think this decision shows maturity and political consistency...

"Four months on, we see a Labour Party that now votes in favour of what it had voted against. I think this is a step forward. We won't choose partisan criticism for the sake of political convenience, as Labour did in the past."

Gonzi also laid into the "doubling of ministerial salaries" after Joseph Muscat increased the size of the Cabinet to 14 ministers and seven parliamentary secretaries; and criticised the "partisan tone" of the speech for the President of the Republic to read during the state opening of parliament.

"This government is not yet clear in its strategy in those sectors that are really important for this country. I hope we will be debating the President's speech in the coming weeks... the uncertainty does not get created when a country does not have an approved Budget, but also when a government does not have a clear route of where it's heading."

Reaction to President's speech

In a lengthy speech, Gonzi ripped into the "lack of substance" of the finance minister's speech, and how the President's speech was unconnected to the budget or to job creation targets.

Gonzi insisted that his administration's 2012 figures had been verified by the European Commission, saying Scicluna had not denied that the 2013 budget had been approved by the EC.

He said that the €66 million in levies owed by Enemalta and which were not being passed on to government, would only contribute to a further increase in the deficit over 3%, and that without these levies revenue would decrease by €150 million instead of €84 million. "This is gross irresponsiblity, because it would mean that government wants the EC to put Malta under the excessive deficit procedure without any need," Gonzi said.

The Opposition leader denied that projects such as the Youth Organisation Projects, the Out of Home Care Programme, the residential Home for Youth, Therapeutic Facility, Embark for Life, and increased stipends for the after schools programme, had not been voted financial allocations for these programmes. "This government would have found enough money had it not increased recurrent expendityure with the salaries for the new ministers and parliamentary secretaries, and their cabinets and consultants."

"The President's speech did not mention one word of the crucial need to increase workplaces by 25,000 in the next five years... this should concern the public. How could have nothing be said of the most important priority for this nation?"

Gonzi said the same speech was equally bereft of references to the strengthening of the financial services industry, manufacturing, research and development, IT, tourism, Gozo, or the future of Air Malta. "The information I have is that after the election, a large number of people headed to the Employment and Training Corporation to register for work as loaders. The rumour is that Air Malta will employ 400 such employees: I hope this is nothing more than a rumour that the government will be denying this evening."

"We heard a lot being said about an arrogant government, abotu a clique, about a movement... but nothing of real, political substance for what should be a plan for economic growth and job creation."

Job creation and Cyprus

Turning towards the creation of 25,000 new jobs over the next five years, Gonzi proposed four specific ingredients to the aim which he signed up to in the last electoral campaign.

"We need a well-trained human resource that is efficient and also multilingual. We need to have an education system that responds well to the needs of industry, both manufacturing and services. We also need a stable economic, financial, environmental and social landscape that welcomes investors. And finally, we need a fiscal environment that attracts investors who want to pay less tax and earn more money than in other countries."

Gonzi paid tribute to his contribution in European fora in fighting off a financial transaction tax that would have placed Malta at a disadvantage.

"The public surely knows the kind of earthquake that shook entire countries' financial systems. Our prudence helped us overcome these difficulties. Others like Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus, failed. We managed to overcome this storm with just a one-seat majority.

"But if there is someone who thinks the same can be achieved with a nine-seat majority, they are mistaken. We can learn a lesson from the Cypriot example. I tell the Prime Minister that it is the Opposition that is offering him the hand of friendship: let's do our utmost not to see our people pass through the same humiliation that Cypriots are having to endure."

Gonzi responded to Scicluna's speech that took the previous Nationalist government to task over the level of national debt by saying that it was below the European average, and the bulk of it was from local and not foreign borrowing.

"The government has done well in the past days to make it clear that Malta's economic and financial structure is very different from that of Cyprus, and it's thanks to a savings ethic that the Maltese have, that gives us this good level of liquidity... I urge the Prime Minsiter and the Finance Minister to pay attention to what will be taking place in the European institutions and how this will impact a small country like Malta."

Gonzi called for a "strong voice" around the European table of state leaders, telling the government to treat the European fiscal pact as an important instrument for economic success and not as some bitter pill. "The Opposition will be shoulder to shoulder with the government on this front... I honestly hope this government will manage to achieve all this and also finance its electoral promises, even under the strain of a larger cabinet of ministers."

Jeffrey Camilleri
Mr Justice, Gonzi did not criticise the budget! he is voting in favour since there are no changes that could harm. You better say that PL in opposition should have voted in favour not leaving the country four months without the budget passing!! now that in government ok!!??!! budget can pass now. PL are hypocrites!! like this surely I will always vote PN. PN offer a helping hand and labour never ofered a helping hand in oppostion, now they want a helping hand. IF PL cannot govern, move out cause PN can mange better!!!
Gonzi criticised his own budget tonight, for after all it was his own budget, with minor changes, that was on the table. Yet Gonzi went into a diatribe about how good his Government was, when 57% of the people believed it to be corrupt, arrogant, deceiving, full of lies etc. He criticised the Government for not emphasizing the manufacturing industry when his own minister, the infamous A.G. alias Aust, boasted that he would bet that the industry will be decimated. The arrogance and the cheek has and will remain in the GonziPN clique.
Gonz, int ma titghallem qatt. ghidt li sejjer tivvota favor il-budget ghalkemm qatt ma oppositzzjoni ghamlet hekk. Nixtieq inkun naf kif tista ma taghmilx hekk meta qed tiftahhar li il-budget huwa tieghek stess. Kummiedja wahda wara l-ohra. Mulej henn ghall proxmu teighi imam lili tinsiniex.