Updated | Retaining Mizzi, Schembri 'a decision to be taken after election' – Muscat

Labour leader Joseph Muscat doesn’t rule out retaining Keith Schembri as his chief of staff: ‘Any decision that I will take will be after the election, and if elected’

Labour leader Joseph Muscat
Labour leader Joseph Muscat

A decision on whether Konrad Mizzi will have a place in Joseph Muscat’s Cabinet and whether Keith Schembri will remain his top aide is one that will be taken once the election is over – and if he is re-elected as Prime Minister.

On Day 4 of the electoral campaign, Muscat and finance minister Edward Scicluna addressed a press conference at the Labour Party’s headquarters, explaining the government’s financial projections for 2017-2022. The PL is arguing that, with the fiscal measures and infrastructural projects being pledged in its electoral manifesto, the country’s rate of economic growth will increase by a further 2% - 2.5% every year on top of the forecasted 4% in real terms.

“Any decision that I will take, if elected, will be based on the crop of MPs that will be elected. These decisions will be taken after the general election,” Muscat reiterated, when asked whether Mizzi would be reappointed minister and Schembri chief of staff.

The two men, closest to Muscat, have been found to have offshore companies in Panama.

The Labour leader has acknowledged that his government has done “big mistakes”, but insisted that he will be the one shouldering responsibility for them. As he insists that the election is about choosing a prime minister, Muscat said he was sorry that the Panama Papers revelations had cast a shadow on his government’s work.

“I’m not a control freak and I delegate a lot,” Muscat replied, when asked what lessons he learnt from the Panama Papers revelations.

Asked by MaltaToday whether the lesson learnt should translate into the removal of Schembri and Mizzi, Muscat reiterated that any decision taken would be informed by the election result.

“This election is about the future of our country and whom do you trust to best lead it. On one side you have my team and me and on the other side there’s the coalition of confusion that cannot even agree among themselves.”

Four years ago, the Labour Party was elected on the promise of a ‘Malta for all’, hitting out at the then Nationalist administration of being ruled by the few; today, it’s the Labour administration that is facing the same accusation.

But Muscat insisted with MaltaToday that Malta is indeed “for all”, as he listed cheaper energy bills, free childcare centres and benefits for first-time buyers.

“Before it was about increasing energy bills whilst the ministers took a €500 raise,” he said.

More attention will be given to the 2013 pledge of meritocracy and transparency, Muscat said, adding that it was the intention of a future Labour administration to work harder.

“We made strides forward but we’ve also disappointed. We will make sure to deliver better.”

‘Doable proposed fiscal measures will lead to greater economic growth’

Scicluna and Muscat presented the government’s projections on how the proposed fiscal measures would impact the country’s economic growth. According to the simulations provided, without any new proposals, Malta’s economic growth would be of 4.5%; the proposed fiscal measures would boost it by a further 2%, leading to a 6.5% growth.

Both the finance minister and the prime minister rebutted suggestions that the decision, to give back workers public holidays that fall on the weekend, would impact small businesses’ productivity.

They reiterated that the measure would be introduced incrementally and following consultations on how to best introduce it.

“We are at a time where the country affords it,” Muscat said. “We’ve had similar pressures in the past but the country simply wasn’t in a position to implement it. Now, the country’s finances afford it.”

The proposal could be implemented either through a system similar to bank holidays or it could add up to the workers’ leave hours.

Muscat reiterated that the Labour Party was coming before the electorate with measures that have been studied and knowing that the country affords them.

“This is what determines a competent and strong leadership,” he said, adding that the party would be presenting more priorities in the coming days.