Parties clash over energy proposals and government debt in political debate

Parties clash over PL's energy proposals and government's growing debt as they jostle for trust and credibility in third political debate for 2013 election.

Labour's energy proposals, coupled with government's growing debt, dominate the third political debate in the run up to the 2013 general election
Labour's energy proposals, coupled with government's growing debt, dominate the third political debate in the run up to the 2013 general election

It was on trust, credibility, proposals, and past administrative track records that party representatives butted heads during the third political debate of the 2013 campaign as they tried to outdo their opponents on why they best represented the debate theme "With us, you know where you stand."

Defending the PN government's track record over the past several years were Deputy Leader Simon Busuttil and Parliamentary Secretary Clyde Puli, also pressed home that with the PN at the helm, Malta's finances were "safe and secure" (finanzi fis-sod).

In Labour's corner, Deputy Leader Toni Abela and Labour candidate Carmel Hili propounded Labour's vision for the future, pointing to its energy proposals and inclusive movement, and accused the government of being out-dated and weighed down by its own inefficiencies and corruption.

Alternattiva Demokratika was represented by Carmel Cacopardo who opened broadsides on both the PL and the PN in equal measures. He criticised the PN for its track record on environment and financial mismanagement, while taking labour to task for its overly optimistic energy proposals.

PN deputy leader Simon Busuttil warded off the suggestion that the 2013 budget was somehow socially regressive, insisting that lower income groups are catered for by other measures. 

He accused the PL of being opportunistic: "When Labour wants your vote, it calls out to the middle class. But when not, they criticise measures aimed at you as socially regressive."

Busuttil also insisted that "the PN is the party of civil rights" pointing out to how it worked towards freedom of expression, democracy, and EU accession.

Busuttil also defended government's track record on issues such as the White Rocks project, SmartCity, and others, while criticising labour's energy proposals and Labour's suggestion to 'fast-track' it.

He insisted that the PN is committed to "doing things properly. If we don't have an agreement that is good for the country, we do not rush into things, like the PL is trying to do with its energy proposals."

He also said that Labour's proposals "ignore the safety and health" of people living around the Delimara area.

Rebutting criticism regarding Malta's financial situation and the debt incurred by PN governments, Busuttil said that Malta's financial situation is favourably compared with Germany's, which is one of the solid blocks of the EU economy.

In his own addresses, Labour deputy leader Toni Abela hit out at the PN's financial track record, insisting that while in 1998 the debt stood at only 35% of the national wealth, it currently stands at 75%, zooming up by 50% in the interim.

Abela reiterated that Labour's energy proposals are clear for all to see and understand.

"On energy, you know where we stand. We delivered detailed proposals, explained our plans, and explained the reduction on your energy bills. We said the how, the when, and the how much."

Abela added that while the PN is doing its best to demolish its plans, it had delivered no details regarding its own assurances that it would too reduce utility bills.

Abela also emphasised that Labour is pledging to be an accountable and transparent government "that would not raise its own pay" and reiterated Labour's commitment to coming down hard on political corruption.

"MPs need to understand that if they want to earn money from politics, they need to do their jobs and attend parliament," he said. "Those who abuse will be held account for their abuse."

He added that a Labour government is committed towards instituting a culture of meritocracy, cutting down bureaucracy, and establishing the idea that government should lead by example - such as with regard to employment practices.

AD candidate Carmel Cacopardo warned that despite the PN's assurances of "safe and secure finances", the fact remains that Malta is €5 billion deep in debt, adding that the lion's share of the debt was accumulated from 2004 onwards.

"This is not indicative of strong finances. If anything, it indicates that we undermined our financial security in order to carry out projects," he said, adding that because of this, the 2013 Budget's proposed tax cuts "are not well-timed."

Cacopardo also emphasised AD's position as the only party that supports true equality, reiterating the need to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and provide marriage and adoption rights tog ay couples.

Cacopardo also heaped scorn on the PN's suggestion that Labour's campaign funding was coming from illicit sources, pointing to the cheek of such statements given how both parties are not regulated by party-financing laws.

"[AD] had declared a budget of €20,000 for the entire campaign. How much are the PN and the PL spending? Who is financing them? And what will they be giving in return?"

Regarding Labour's energy proposals, Cacopardo said that AD's doubts pertain to the project's timeframes and costings.

He said that the proposal's costs are not clear regarding what is included and what isn't, while adding that the time frames are unrealistic given that the administrative and application processes will take a year alone.

"We estimate it will take between three to three and a half years to finish."

Cacopardo also called for an end to Malta's two-party system, insisting that Malta needs to move aware from a system whereby one party demonises anything that is done or proposed by the other party.

"We need a system of consensus based upon mutual understanding, mutual appreciation and recognition of what each of us can contribute," he stressed. "Having AD's voice in parliament will mean having a voice of reason."

Labour candidate Carmel Hili said that when government was elected in 2008, he was one of those who expected change. When did this not happen, it left many dissatisfied, him included. "Today, I am militating in the PL's movement to bring about the change that the country truly needs."

He also said that the movement is being clear in its aims and goals, and has admitted to and apologised for the mistakes of the past.

He insisted that the PN's credibility was shattered because of multiple large-scale national projects that overran their budgets and their time frames, pointing to the Mater Dei hospital.

"They say and promise one way, and then act and do something entirely different," he said.

Nationalist candidate Clyde Puli reiterated the PN government's assurance that it has managed the country's finances safety and responsibly, saying that thanks to this, the average wage rose by €2,000, and the minimum wage rose by €1,200.

He also said that this allowed the government to invest heavily in tourism, industry, job creation, and health. "If finances remain strong, we can assure a strong future for future generations," he said.

While welcoming Labour's proposals regarding childcare, Puli however warned that Labour's policies and proposals are not truly innovative, dismissing them as "a cheap imitation that, like imitation clothes, fades and frays after a wash or two."

"While we talk about change, we need to make sure that the change ewe go for is the change we truly need," he warned the audience.

Puli also insisted that Malta is still suffering the consequences of mistakes committed by past Labour administrations, pointing to the closure of MCAST and the removal of VAT.

He said that the PN was correct in recalling these mistakes, saying "we talk about the past because the mistakes are influencing our future."