[WATCH] Robert Abela and Bernard Grech make their case for election to SMEs

The Chamber of SMEs is holding a debate between the two leaders

Robert Abela and Bernard Grech made their case to the Chamber of SMEs on why their respective parties should govern for the next five years. 

The chamber held a pre-election debate between the two party leaders, with a chance for its members to field questions to Abela and Grech. 

In his opening statement, Abela said that his government would steer clear of austerity politics. He said there are plans to meet with social partners for a meeting by the MCESD to prepare for any economic impact brought on by the war.

However, Abela admitted that he feels impatient with Malta's banking system, especially the added bureaucracy brought on by increased due diligence. 

"I find it difficult to understand this level of bureaucracy. But we recognised the difficulty - in many meetings the issue was often sidelined," he said.

He mentioned that the Labour Party pledged to set up a credit review office that arbitrates and gives recommendations on processing business loans. Government due diligence will also be centralised.

Bernard Grech reiterated the Nationalist Party's pledge to create 10 new economic sectors. He added that some economic activity already exists in the sectors proposed, but he insisted that the PN will transform these existing niches into economic pillars.

"We've always had the lottery, doesn't mean we've always had igaming," he said.

He too said that any excessive bureaucracy in the banking process must be eliminated. "Not everyone deserves to feel like they're a criminal, having to explain themselves."

Grech pledged that the Nationalist Party would not increase tax, social contributions, nor VAT if elected into government on 26 March. 

He insisted on giving a new life to localities with the aim of creating "ten minute neighbourhoods", with all retail needs accessible through a 10 minute walk.

Cashless economy

When prompted on a possible shift to a cashless economy, Abela said that it can't happen overnight. "There are diverse pockets in society that need to adapt to this change."

Both Abela and Grech said that the absolute majority of local companies are "clean" in their operations and work with integrity. However, Grech said that clean companies are being made to feel like they're criminals, despite companies that are less compliant only making up a small percentage of companies.

"This is why it's bad to be greylisted," he said. "We have a paln for enterprises and self-employed workers to change their systems to digital."


On pharmaceuticals and the government formulary, Grech said that his PN administration would pay the difference for any medication that is needed by a patient but is not on the formulary.

"If there is a medicine on the formulary, but your doctor told you that you need another medicine that isn't on the list, our government will pay the difference until it is on the formulary."

Abela said he doesn't feel that pharmacies are becoming less viable in the local economy. He said government remains committed to offering free medicine for the elderly, while also widening the government formulary and keeping in mind the interests of local pharmacies and pharmaceuticals.

Third-country nationals

Abela insisted that employing third-country nationals (TCNs) shouldn't be equated to cheap labour. He said that many TCNs enjoy high salaries, some coming to Malta and finding jobs in software development or working as scientists.

For the Key Employee Initiative, which provides fast-track services on visa applications for highly-specialised TCNs, Abela said the Labour Party is looking to lower the bracket from €30,000 to €20,000. 

Grech said that there needs to be a level playing field in this area, with some employers waiting months to receive a visa for their TCN workers, and others days. 

"We need to be punctual and hands-on. When your finger is on the pulse you can address issues more quickly."


When asked how the two parties will afford to implement their pledges, Grech said that the PN will create 10 new economic sectors to find new opportunities and see what the market wants. 

Abela said that five criteria are needed to sustain the Labour Party's measures. These include costings, lowering governmet debt and increasing labour market participation.

Both leaders said they would look into the idea of having more free trade zones.