[LIVE] Follow the political leaders' debate at MCAST here

Follow our live-blog here from the MCAST campus where Lawrence Gonzi, Joseph Muscat, and Michael Briguglio host their second debate.

This is the second debate where the three leaders will go head-to-head before students.
This is the second debate where the three leaders will go head-to-head before students.

Welcome to MaltaToday's live-blog of the leaders' debate at MCAST, who are also providing livestreaming

13:38 The debate is now concluded, and students are filing out of the hall after yet another chant war between "Joseph, Joseph," and "Nazzjonalisti, Nazzjonalisti."

13:31 Concluding comments start.

Briguglio said that he was pleased with the student's activism during the debate, saying that students are a force for change and innovation. Briguglio added that if Malta wants more than the usual "stifling" pique and the "domination" of the PN and the PL through all levels of Maltese society, they can break the mould of the past and vote for AD.

"If 2000 people in a single district vote for AD, they can be the 2,000 people responsible for making history," he said.

Muscat said that after the 10 March, irrespective of who wins the election, "serenity should reign" both on the Mcast campus and elsewhere in Malta. "We might not agree, but we can do so by respecting one another and having a mature discussion. I am convinced that any government that led the country did its best," Muscat said.

Muscat said that the country is facing a time when young people can become protagonists in the leadership of the country. "We could have a country that feels united and that does not look at people's faces, but that operates on the basis of what one is capable of and not who that person knows."

Muscat's statements were met with considerable applause and chants of "Taghna Lkoll".

In his own concluding comments, Gonzi said that over the past four years, the majority managed to find work. "We are prepared for the coming five years. 20,000 new students will graduate. You have my guarantee that we will provide work for you as well."

He also said that the PN will safeguard their employment prospects "no matter who you might be," arguably in an attempt to ward off the flak that the PN is suffering following its red/blue face billboard.

13:27 Muscat also replied to Briguglio's accusations of optimistic economic growth projections by insisting that Labour was cautious by opting to base itself on figures issued by the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

Answering a question regarding animal rights, Briguglio challenged Muscat to say whether Labour would take a stand against hunting and trapping, and whether it would similarly oppose animal circuses.

Gonzi said that on animal welfare, he agreed with what Muscat said, adding that "I think that we share a common platform on this," without however referring to Briguglio's statement.

13:25 Regarding the penalties on crimes related to animal cruelty, Muscat said that these need to increase, but also pointed to the need for an awareness campaign to make people aware of what such acts truly mean. He also called for the appointment of a Commissioner for Animal Rights that would be responsible for this.

13:24 Stopwatch showing time consumed stands thus: Gonzi 19:11, Muscat 15:48, Briguglio 18:12.

13:17 Gonzi avoided questions regarding how stipends were reduced during his administration while his adiministration paid itself a 500 euro parliamentary honoraria increase by insisting over the past five years, the PN government spent 3 million euros on stipends, and by reminding audiences that Sant's government was the government that broke its promise to not touch stipends by trying to convert them into a loan.

Responding to questions by a maritime student, Muscat assured students that Labour beleives in the maritime industry, and said that a future Labour government would develop and expand this industry. Muscat also said that for reasons unknown, the PN government chose to dismantle Seamalta, and insisted that a Labour government would reverse this trend and seek to re-establish this sector for Malta's gain.

Muscat said that Gonzi is right in saying that the issue is how to spend the country's finances, and insisted that a Labour government would not spend 80 million euros on a new parliamnet, but would find better ways to use them. Again, the students descended into a chant-war.

In his own address, Briguglio called for a reality check, saying that what the parties are not saying is where the money for all these promises are coming from. He said that he cannot understand the PN's proposal to dismantle income tax, which he said is the biggest source of revenue. He also hit out at the Labour Party for agreeing to this proposal.

"If you want to promise everything to everyone. Fine. But don't treat people like idiots. You need to tell us where the money is going to come from," Briguglio said, adding that the PN and PL's growth projections supporting their electoral proposals are overly optimistic.

13:04 Fielding a question about stipends being given out to students that fail and repeat a year, Gonzi said that the stipends represent an incentive for people to succeed, and insisted that if this is removed, this incentive would end - a statement that was met with mixed reactions among students and a resoundingly positive reception among teachers.

Gonzi went on to say that stipends would be subsantially increased for those students who come from families with low income, as well as disabled people. Gonzi's assurance that stipends will be increased along with the COLA adjustment on a pro rata basis was met with some ridicule from the audience.

Muscat said that where he does not agree with Gonzi is that the Labour party is of the opinion that students who might do badly in an exam, "such as by blanking perhaps, which happens to many people", should not lose their opportunity to receive assistance to study, a statement met well by students but that gained little traction among the teachers in the audience.

"If a student failes once, we will give a year's opportunity to keep paying stipend," Muscat said.

Brigulgio said that the current system in stipends was achieved thanks to the protests in the 1990s that fought to secure them. "I was on the front lines of those protests back then" Briguglio said and reaffirmed AD's committment towards stipends as it means that it reduces the disrimination and disadvantages that students from lower income families suffer in the course of their studies.

Gonzi also took the opportunity to remind the audience that Sant's 1996-1998 administration had attempted to change stipends to loans, which was met well by the audience.

The students then broke out in a chantwar - with calls of "Nazzjonalisti, Nazzjonalisti" and "Taghna Lkoll" vying for supremacy.

12:59 Muscat answered the question by reiterating several of Labour's proposals aimed at encouraging early school leavers to study, such as Labour's proposal to provide both unemployment benefits and  study stipends to unemployed people returning to school, as well as the proposal to provide a year's sabbatical for teachers seeking to improve their professional and academic capabilities.

He insisted that a Labour government would not hold back and do all it can to encourage more young people to keep studying.

12:55 Answering a question about early school leavers, Gonzi said that his wish is all those interested in furthering their education should find all avenues open for them to do so, remarking that his ideal situation is that tertiary education venues remain open night and day.

"I wish to see their interest to learn fulfilled at any hour, even if its 1 am!" Gonzi said, a statement met by considerable and audible scepticism from the audience. "That is when electricity is cheapest of course!" Gonzi went on to add humorously, and the jeering turned to laughs and claps.

12:53 So far the timers showing speaking time 'consumed' stand thus: Gonzi 11:13, Muscat 09:34, Briguglio 09:39.

The students have also settled down, clapping or jeering only infrequently or when the political leaders deliver a particularly oft-heard soundbite.

12:48 Responding to a question related to engineers qualifying from MCAST but which are not receiving their warrant, Muscat said that it is unacceptable that upon graduation, students are faced with shifted goal posts and a situation that they did not expect. In this, Muscat said that it is not an issue of pique or preferentialism, but what is in the best interest of the student.

Briguglio latched onto the 'engineering' aspect of the question, insisting that it is about time that Malta starts moving towads renewable energy, something that he said Malta has been dragging its feet on for years.

Regarding the warrant issue, Gonzi said that he gave instructions for this issue to be resolved and said that discussions underway. He said that if a solution cannot be found, a solution would be legislated.

Gonzi went on to say that the engineering profession is essential for Malta's future success, adding that Malta cannot keep achieving the successes it has already achieved in sectors such as manufacturing. He added that the profession would be given the push it needs for this to happen.

12:46 Answering a question about assistance for disabled people, all three political leaders affirmed their respective parties' committment to enhancing social assistance for disabled people, in the interest of allowing them to develop their potential in the interest of social justice.

Gonzi took the opportunity to bind greater social assistance with its 'Finazi Fis-Sod' theme, insisting that only a government with strong finances can guarantee better social spending.

"Forgive me, I am not exagerating," Gonzi told students who booed when he brought up his government's track record in finances and EU funding negotiation, and insisted that it is a reality that cannot be escaped, pointing to other badly-performing EU countries.

12:41 Muscat also said that there needs to be a clear separation between Church and State, adding that it is time for the Constitution to be updated to reflect modern developments. At the same time, Muscat added that Malta must remain mindful of the cultural role that the Church plays and has always played in Maltese society. 

The Labour leader said that the government's values should however be secular ones, adding that he was proud to vote in favour of the introduction of divorce both in the recent referendum, and subsequently in parliament.

12:39 Briguglio said that AD is the only party that has a chapter dedicated to the Church-State relationship in its manifesto. He added said it is unacceptable that we have a Constitution that allows a monopoly to the Church over the country's values, and said that the Constitution should be free from religious interference or influence.

He also said that he believes in a pluralist society that does not allow space for intolerance or fundamentalism.

12:37 A question about secularism and government's role in promoting it has been tabled.

Gonzi replied by saying that the state is duty bound to guarantee a modern society with modern values, and saying that he believes in the division of church and state. At the same time, he said, we must respect the personal religious values.

He said that the state should not interfere in one's personal live or choices, but added that the state is duty bound to regulate with laws in situations where people are at risk of being exploited.

12:32 Asked regarding the youth employment guarantee, Muscat said that Labour will be providing training for those 16 year olds who do not opt to continue their studies so that they are able to improve their skills and find employment. Secondly, Muscat said that a Labour government would be following Standards & Poors recoomendatons, which is to diversify Malta's economic sectors for additional economic growth and employment.

He said that a Labour government would also assist local companies by addressing the leading concerns of business operators, such as the tax rent, alarmingly high bureaucracy, and excessive energy tariffs.

He said that through this coalition of employers and employees, "we pledge so that by 2020, we reach 75% employability rate, and we will do our best to reach it before"

12:30 Muscat said that five years ago Gonzi promised 7,000 jobs, a pledge that Gonzi failed to deliver on. He reiterated Labour's commitment to see the project through as promised, and pointing to statements by developers that the SmartCity project was not completed because a sewage outflow pump was not removed. "This is not an acceptable excuse."

Referring to Mcast's parking needs, Muscat said that the way forward is to improve Malta's transportation system, a statement met with considerable applause.

12:28 Gonzi insisted that the government has already invested in the Smartcity project, and said that jobs are not created overnight. He also said that Malta has been creating jobs in the ICT industry already.

Regarding the carpark, Gonzi said that government is already investing substantial amounts in the MCAST campus. He added that a carpark for MCAST students and teachers is already in its final stages. He also took the opportunity to remind students that Malta secured 1.1 billion for the upcoming EU 2014-2020 budget.

12:25 The time has come for questions by students. The first question is about the 7,000 Smartcity job pledge by the PN government, and how it has yet to materialise.

12:21  AD's Michael Briguglio is up. He said that AD represents the possibility of a better society, with better social justice. He said that AD is currently the only party that is talking about the need to increase the minimum wage.

He also said that AD has all the answers for those gay members of society, insisting that AD is the only party supporting the elimination of all discrimination against homosexual couples. "This is the true family-friendly policy," Briguglio said, insisting that it is in favour of recognizing gay families.

Similarly, Briguglio reiterated AD's stand on personal drug use decriminalisation, and its track record against hunting and trapping, environmental exploitation, and animal rights.

Interestingly, Briguglio's address was the only one so far that was not met with any negative reactions or jeers by the student audience.

12:18 It is Muscat's turn to ask a question, this time about Labour's message of change.

Muscat started by saying that despite how all past governments, both Labour and PN, all worked in the interest of the country, "there is today a thirst for change" and said that "we need a new style of government." He said that what the country needs is a government willing to listen, and pledged that he is willing to listen.

12:15 Asked why first-time voters should vote for the Nationalist Party, Gonzi said that the PN government had invested in education and employment, and that the PN government was the one that opened the MCAST school. His assertion that the PN's track recording on employment and education was not met particularly well by the crowd, being met with a mix of cheering and jeers.

"The truth is that while young people in other countries are looking for work, here they found work," Gonzi said. Similarly, Gonzi's pledge to create 25,000 new jobs over the coming legislation was not received well, as students descended into chants of "Shame on you, shame on you".

The appeal for order was reiterated.

12:13 The presenter is unable to start with the questions as the students are still taking in turn to chant political slogans, primarily alternating between 'Taghna Lkoll' And 'Nazzjonalisti, Nazzjonalisti'.

12:12 The political leaders are welcomed on stage, with PL leader Joseph Muscat and PN leader Lawrence Gonzi predictably being met with a welcome that is quantifiable only in decibels. 

12:10 The debate seems to be kicking off, with the customary warnings to students to not obstruct the cameras, and not to disrupt the proceedings. An appeal to students for order and respect has also been made.

The rules of the debate are also being explained.: 20 minutes to each political leader to reply to students' questions, and once that timer runs down, they have used up their speaking allocation.

12:01 Soothing elevator music has started playing loudly over the hall's sound system, possibly in an attempt to down out the students' chants. The political leaders have yet to make an appearance.

11:58 Students are taking their seats but the furore has still not died down yet, as the assembled students audibly make their impatience heard. Teachers and MCAST staff are also lining the gallery and jostling for position alongside the media, ready to follow the debate attentively.

11:51 The students packing the venue are in a cheerful mood, chanting political anthems of both parties, as well as some rather more eclectic choices such as 'Fejn hu Franco?' and 'Shame on you!' However the slant seems more towards the Labour party, at least going by the frequency with which Labour chants are cropping up.

AD spokesperson Arnold Cassola is already in the house.

11:47 The moderately sized hall is already full to the brim and like the Insite university debate that was held a week earlier, this debate is similarly characterized with queuing students protesting outside the venue.

Can Mr Briguglio tell me which calculator he is using when he presumes that if AD gets 2000 votes from 1 district, they can elect an MP? From where will AD inherit 3000+ votes when one considers it a rarity of cross party voting?
David Bongailas
Skuzawni imma ghalfejn kull attivita taht it-tinda miz-zewg partiti tkun ikkaraterizzata minn dixxiplina liema bhala u udjenza ordnata imbghad kull attivita ma' l-istudenti hlief burdell u ghajjat partiggjan ma jkunx hemm ? Ajma hej ghandna biex niftahru biz-zghazagh taghna! Jekk il-gejjieni tal-pajjiz jiddependi fuqhom mela ajma hej!
Fi ftit kliem Gonzi spjega kif se jkecci 20000 Laburist u jdahhal minflokhom 20000 Nazzjonalist u jghid li holoq 20000 impieg. Joseph Muscat spjega li bi Gvern Laburista nistghu nahdmu flimkien u nirrispettaw lil xulxin. Briguglio spjega kif 2000 vot lill-Alternattiva tirvina Malta.