Labour, PN trade barbs on corruption whilst AD calls leaders out

With Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil trading barbs, Arnold Cassola drives home the message that PL and PN were the pot calling the kettle black

Left: Joseph Muscat, Arnold Cassola, Marlene Farrugia, Henry Battistino and Simon Busuttil (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Left: Joseph Muscat, Arnold Cassola, Marlene Farrugia, Henry Battistino and Simon Busuttil (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

A three-hour long event hosted by the University of Malta, saw the political leaders face off in the first live debate since Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called snap elections.

Joseph Muscat (PL), Simon Busuttil (PN), Arnold Cassola (AD), Marlene Farrugia (PD) and Henry Battistino (Moviment Patrijotti Maltin) went head-to-head before thousands of University students gathered at different venues on campus to follow the much-anticipated debate.

With the exception of Battistino – near silence in the hall as he spoke about his party’s stance against ‘excess liberalism’ – the leaders were either cheered on or jeered at, depending on who the speaker was.

The leaders’ strategy was evident: Muscat opted for proposals; Cassola called out the PN and PL on a number of issues; Farrugia spoke of how the PL had betrayed its 2013 pledges; Battistino insisted that “excessive liberalism” was leading to family breakdowns; whilst Busuttil insisted that the allegations of corruption endangered jobs.

“You are worse than each other. Both of you [PL and PN] appropriated everything, from the sports associations, to the hospitals to the banks,” Cassola said, adding that this could have changed with the constitutional convention – which the PN boycotted due to government’s decision to appoint former PN MP Franco Debono to head it.

He thanked the Malta University Debating Union and The Third Eye for inviting him to the debate: “You are the only people that allow us to confront Muscat and Busuttil. Another clear example of how the institutions have been taken over by the two.”

Holding photos of Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri, George Pullicino, Toni Bezzina and Ann Fenech, Cassola sought to drive home the message that there was little that differentiated the major political parties.

On his party, Busuttil pledged that, if the PN were elected to power, White Rocks would not be developed.

As the question cropped up on at least two occasions, Busuttil also suggested that he would not resign if the allegation that Egrant belonged to Muscat turned out to be false.

“I am not the one under investigation,” Busuttil reiterated. “You [Muscat] should have resigned. He appears to be convinced that the magistrate won’t find anything. Of course you’re convinced… since the evidence has already been taken out of the bank!”

As Muscat said it was clear that Busuttil won’t resign, even if the allegation turns out to be a fabricated lie, some of the students started shouting “shame on you” whilst PL student supporters shouted back.

The Prime Minister reiterated that he would resign if the inquiry finds him guilty, in any way, of involvement in Egrant. He argued that he would resign because the inquiry would – in that case – find that he had not declared company ownership.

“I am ready to shoulder responsibility; it’s the opposition leader who took people to the streets protesting something that will turn out to be a lie,” Muscat reiterated.

After a student asked Busuttil over Beppe Fenech Adami’s links with the CapitalOne investigation, Muscat asked the PN leader whether he would force Fenech Adami’s resignation if he were the one under investigation by the FIAU or the police.

“Depends on whether you’re the one to order that investigation,” Busuttil replied.