'Economic plan on track, more people finding work' - Muscat [live blog]

Follow our live-blog of Joseph Muscat's reply to Opposition leader Simon Busuttil's speech here at 6:30pm

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Ray Attard)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Ray Attard)
Joseph Muscat
Joseph Muscat

Simon Busuttil's speech on Monday: live-blog here and full report here

21:40 This live-blog ends here. Miriam Dalli
21:40 Bringing his speech to an end, Muscat says the government will award the hard workers. Miriam Dalli
21:40 Muscat says Malta will become more liberal after the government approved the civil unions legislation, “while others abstained”. “We may not take the most popular decision but we take those we feel are just. The biggest challenge will be the change to the decriminalisation of drugs. A generational change. These changes will affect our children and there is also a cultural change. Certain sectors, like cannabis, we understand it can be used for medical purposes.

“While helping the victim, we will fight the drug barons. And those who end up in prison, and where the courts orders the confiscation of assets, this confiscation doesn’t take place. Mostly, because court officials are afraid to do it.” The government will launch an international expression of interest for the setting up of an Asset Management Bureau to effectively implement asset confiscation. Miriam Dalli

21:33 Muscat praises former PM Lawrence Gonzi and former ministers Louis Galea and Dolores Cristina for “their legacy in the integration of persons with disability” at school. He says, that the government will continue building on this good but push for the integration of persons with disability in employment.

“I want to know what Simon Busuttil thinks of our plans. I know there are people who ask ‘why should we pay for persons with disability to work’. And I thought that we would find consensus in this room on our measures. I am convinced we could have bipartisan consensus.”

The government will be enforcing a 1967 law where a 2% quota has to be met in the employment of persons with disability. Companies who refuse to employ a person with disability will be asked to pay a fine. Income from these fines will be deposited in a fund for use by the government to help persons with disability. Miriam Dalli

21:28 Muscat says the one area they inherited a mess was in the public transport and said Busuttil didn’t make one sense when, on one handed he lambasted the €23 million public transport subsidy and on the other called for free transport for schools.

Muscat says a white paper launched on the opening of school hours, Muscat says change will only take place after wide consultation and after being fully convinced that such a change would be needed. Miriam Dalli

21:21 Muscat says Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi will be announcing the timeline of the new power station during the parliamentary debate on the energy budget line item.

Muscat says the price of fuel was reduced twice under the Labour government.

Talking on the environment, Muscat says it was “shameful” how ODZ plants were “designed as a jigsaw puzzle” with lines starting on one side and finishing on another without a guideline. “When we ask MEPA who designed them they all bow their head,” he says, after earlier having called PN MP George Pullicino ‘Judas’. Miriam Dalli

21:10 Dedicating a few minutes of his speech to react to Busuttil’s comments of Muscat’s “lack of moral authority”, Muscat said the Nationalist members of cabinet who had “agreed” to pay back their ministerial increase but, out of €1,600,000, they returned €300,000. “If you want to speak about moral authority, start by telling your MPs to return what they promised.

“Shall we tell them that your fuel and car are paid by the government? I went for the cheapest choice, saving taxpayers money. I pay my own insurance and the services my car needs. On the other hand, Mr leader of the Opposition, your insurance is paid by the people.” Miriam Dalli

20:58 Muscat confirms that the tax burden has increased by 33%, as pointed out yesterday by the PN leader. However, Muscat told parliament that, based on an election report written by Busuttil, the forecasted tax burden would have been of 34%. “1% may seem little, but it translates to €30 million. In other words, Busuttil would have increased the tax burden by €30 million.” Miriam Dalli
20:48 Muscat says Busuttil was “completely wrong” on Air Malta but decided against going further. “What I can say is that we will have a lot to write and speak about after the restructuring process is over.” Miriam Dalli
20:44 “Yesterday I wondered what Busuttil would have talked about if that deplorable incident did not take place. Like I already said, no one will find refuge in this government, made even worse by the fact this was a police officer … he was appointed with the minister. But Busuttil is Sherlock Holmes, judge, jury and prosecutor and sentence delivered. He is not interested in the truth and he even refused to nominate a former judge to lead an inquiry.

“Do you really think that I am happy with what happened? Do you really think that? I am disgusted. This inquiry will be a way to make things better. Manuel Mallia is making an important job to rid the prisons of drugs. What I know is that he receives threats but we don’t air it. Shall we remove escorts? Shall we remove the armed escort with your friend Richard Cachia Caruana or former presidents?”

Muscat tells Busuttil that he “abused of his parliamentary privilege” to repeat “lies” against Ministers Anton Refalo and Owen Bonnici. “They were lies pushed by your media and which they retracted on your own newspaper,” Muscat said, with Busuttil shaking his head saying no.

Replying to criticism of nepotism, Muscat asks Busuttil whether they should talk about “Busuttil’s friend” who was employed at Dar Malta – Malta’s representation in Brussels – on the eve of the election. “And we kept him there while you talk about nepotism. If there existed meritocracy in your party, you would not be the leader of the Nationalist Party today.” Miriam Dalli

20:34 Muscat also hit out at Busuttil for not discussing health issues, adding that, under the previous administration, Busuttil had likened out-of-stock medicine to “out-of-stock peas at the grocer’s.”

The PM announces a pilot project will be launched in two localities to deliver medicines to elderly at their residences. Miriam Dalli

20:28 Muscat says he was scandalized that Busuttil chose partisan politics over youths, families and businesses: “He was more intent of making a partisan speech rather than speak about the families and the youths. We are investing in youths, helping them with training and skills. We cut youth unemployment by 30%.”

Muscat says the government will not be allowing abuse of benefits, simply because a person did not want to work and not because of a genuine reason.

Lambasting Busuttil for quoting “high” poverty statistics which referred to the period under the PN administration, Muscat said the government was addressing the most vulnerable, with the main key being education, “the key to social mobility”.

Referring to the €1,000 aid per child to be given to vulnerable families, Muscat says that families have to ensure that their children go to school. He says that the government had once again increased stipends, despite much criticism by the PN that a Labour government would cut stipends. Miriam Dalli

20:16 Muscat goes at length to blast Busuttil over his criticism of employment figures, with the PN insisting that numbers employed with the public had exploded. Muscat argues that, going by Busuttil’s argument, a worker retiring from the public sector and is replaced resulted in an increase of two jobs in the public sector.

“I am convinced you weren’t the one to come out with these calculations, and I suggest you give him the pay off,” Muscat told Busuttil, reminding him that the number of people retiring from work this year were 600 after the age of retirement is now at 62.

Turning to the cameras transmitting his speech live on television, Muscat addresses bus drivers who were employed with Arriva telling them, that if it were to Busuttil, they should “have ended without a job”. “750 workers of those employed with the government are former Arriva bus drivers, numbers which will be removed from the list as soon as the new bus operator takes over.”

He adds that the government had employed 400 workers without qualifications in 19 months while the PN administration, during its last 19 months, had employed 787.

Miriam Dalli
20:07 Muscat said the government made up of the miserly 58c COLA increase and bonuses – as announced in the budget – will be given to full-time workers and stipends increases. He says that people would be given €65, including the COLA, which was “far more” than ever given by the PN administration. Miriam Dalli
19:58 Muscat says Malta, out of the Eurozone countries, created the largest amount of jobs: “Busuttil has failed to grasp our economic policy, based on a flexible market and structural reforms. Let’s face it, we inherited a situation the rate of unemployment increased by a person a day. Today, the rate of unemployment is going down. As much as the Opposition claims the manufacturing sector is not producing, under our watch, a job every two days is being created. “In Gozo alone, 1,200 jobs were created in the retail sector. We are helping the companies, with one major manufacturing company to save €900,000 in energy bills.” Miriam Dalli
19:52 “Yes there are issues that we have to tackle…but if Busuttil is today worried, then he should have been more worried when he wrote the PN’s electoral manifesto. Because, manufacturing and exports are doing better than they used to. We registered the second largest economic growth in the EU, and next year we will have three times the growth than that of the Eurozone. Our biggest satisfaction are real wages which increased by 3%.

“It’s the modern social democracy where wealth is created and redistributed.”
Miriam Dalli
19:48 Muscat says Malta’s debt increased by a third to the increase registered across the EU, while reiterating that under former finance minister Tonio Fenech, the government debt had increased by 50%.

Muscat says that contrary to what the PN leader had forecasted, Malta never required a bailout. “Reality is that, today, the country is faring better. Truth is that, Busuttil with his plans, he would have created less economic growth than we are. During the electoral campaign, he had projected a 2.8% economic growth under the PN government. We, however, have registered a 3.5% growth. Miriam Dalli

19:42 Muscat blasts Busuttil’s speech as one built on “politics of jealousy and negativity, an attempt to push one man against another”. The PM says that Busuttil may “have been paid to correct his [PM’s] thesis but this evening I will give you some teachings in economy, free of charge.”

Muscat says that the PN administration had missed the deficit projections one after the other, while his government had always met its targets.

Miriam Dalli
19:38 “We don’t care whether the people talk about this budget or not. What we care about is that the people feel the positive measures we are implementing.” Miriam Dalli
19:37 Muscat says that, for far too long, people were used to politicians who did one thing but then, once elected, they acted differently. He goes on to list several positive measures which have led “to the highest ever rate of people in employment and the lowest rate of unemployment; the lowest rate of cost of living and confidence among businesses; construction and gaming can feel this positive energy.”

Miriam Dalli
19:35 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat takes the floor and expresses “optimism” that Malta was moving in the right direction. “We are not a perfect government but people know that are an honest, energetic and dynamic government to move ahead and implement change. People can feel this change and can see that our goal is to improve people’s lives.”

Muscat says the people expected a budget that awarded hard work, that fought against abuse. He says the people have a clear choice between the positive and negative attitudes. “We won’t say that all that our predecessors was wrong. And yes, they want to depict us devils. But without arrogance, we are here to see an improved country.” Miriam Dalli

19:25 Mallia adds that he has no problem in answering the questions unrelated to the PQ, after government whip Carmelo Abela said the Opposition had yesterday opposed to Mallia speaking on the incident during the PQ time.

In reply to a series of questions by Zammit Dimech, during which Mallia hailed him “a seasoned politician”, Mallia says that his credibility is bound to his actions and an independent inquiry has now been appointed.

“When I discovered that parts of that statement had been incorrect, I called a press conference to correct it. I left the event at 11.30pm, and yes, I was shocked. But I was not involved in any cover-up. Don’t you think that, as a minister, I’m shocked at what happened? I spent my life fighting against certain things and do you think that, today, as a minister for home affairs, I want see things to return to the 80s…the same years I fought against? I’m sorry that you want to give the impression that I tried to cover up this incident. I understand that you want my head on a plate, because I’m no longer a Nationalist. If I did anything wrong, I would have gone voluntarily to the Prime Minister. I entered politics recently, after I built my professional career and then saw things [by the PN government] which I was not liking.”

Amid much booing and shouts and after Zammit Dimech says the PN “don’t want Mallia’s head on a plate”, Mallia, jokingly, invites Zammit Dimech to be his defence lawyer during the independent inquiry. Needless to say, Zammit Dimech politely refuses. Miriam Dalli

19:15 Good evening and welcome to our live-blog.

Tonight Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will be delivering his address in parliament, as part of the presentation of Budget 2015 to parliament. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil made his intervention yesterday evening.

It’s question time and Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia takes the floor. Jason Azzopardi, following a question on the Marsascala mobile police station, makes a supplementary question and turns the attention on Wednesday’s shooting incident.

Azzopardi asks whether a question he had tabled months ago on lack of training for police officers, to which Mallia had replied that Azzopardi was being “negative” and “childish”. Azzopardi had asked Mallia whether he would be ready to shoulder political responsibility if, due to lack of training, a police officer was to accidentally hit a person through the use of a firearm.

Mallia replies that, as a minister, he is not responsible of which police officers are given a weapon. “When a weapon is given to an officer, I imagine that such officer would be well-trained is using a weapon,” he says, adding that president emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami has an armed escort. “If this escort were to make a mistake, it surely shouldn’t be shouldered by the former president.”

Subsequently, Azzopardi asks at what time had he been informed of Wednesday’s shooting incident, involving Mallia’s driver and police constable Paul Sheehan. Mallia replies that there is an internal inquiry going on and that, during the shooting incident, he and his wife were at a reception organised at the Floriana police headquarters.

To a subsequent question raised by Labour MP Anthony Agius Decelis, who asked how many times police officers made use of a firearm, Mallia replied that he didn’t have such information and that the information requested had nothing to do with the original question on the mobile police station.

In reply to a question raised by PN MP Francis Zammit, Mallia confirms that Acting Police Commissioner Ray Zammit was present for the event but he [the minister] was not involved in an order issue to load the Scotsman’s car on a police low-loader.

Mallia also says that he was not involved in the statement issued by his ministry on Wednesday night: “I wasn’t consulted or informed of the details of that statement. But I didn’t write it, nor did I read it.”

Zammit Dimech then asks how Ray Zammit had not kept him informed of the details, such as that shots fired were not warning shots. “The first information I received that my ministerial car had been shot at. Zammit, at that point, went out to verify facts. What I can say is that I never went up to Zammit’s office. Dr Zammit Dimech, you won’t be the one to rob me off my dignity. I had nothing to do with that statement and with a decision to load the car. Don’t attack my integrity just to score political points. What I’m saying is the truth and don’t attack my integrity,” an impassioned Mallia said.

Miriam Dalli

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