Final leaders’ debate: the eight salient points from Muscat’s and Delia’s face-off

We watched the debate between Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia and these are the eight salient points that emerged

Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia shaking hands before the start of the debate with TVM journalist Mario Xuereb looking on
Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia shaking hands before the start of the debate with TVM journalist Mario Xuereb looking on

Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia had a tame exchange in the second and final debate of this electoral campaign on Wednesday evening.

The Prime Minister accused the Opposition leader of leading a campaign based on “nonsense” by raising non-issues like abortion.

Delia rebutted by accusing Muscat of embracing the socialists’ lead candidate Frans Timmermans, who has proposed an 18% corporate tax across the EU, which would be damaging to Malta.

The debate formed part of the Broadcasting Authority’s schedule and the leaders took pointed questions from TVM journalist Mario Xuereb.

Here are the eight points we picked up.

1. PN’s abortion scaremongering

Joseph Muscat: “Adrian Delia had said that he will not conduct an election campaign based on hate but ended up campaigning on nonsense. The introduction of abortion is a decision only the Maltese people can make… he [Delia] invented division when there is none.”

Adrian Delia: “The PN has it black on white in its manifesto that we are in favour of life from conception to natural death. The Socialists and Democrats manifesto has it black on white that they are pro-choice… the Labour Party agrees with this manifesto, it agrees with abortion becoming a right. You are right to say that abortion is a national competence but if abortion becomes a right like Frans Timmermans wants, anybody in Malta can claim that right.”

Joseph Muscat
Joseph Muscat

2. Labour’s choice between Muscat and Delia

JM: “We have focussed our campaign on what unites us more than what divides us. We spoke about housing, jobs and pensions, which are also EU themes. But these elections are also a mid-term test for the government and I am asking people to judge me. We do not shy away from the problems and the question I ask people is who do they trust to tackle these issues: Joseph Muscat or Adrian Delia. It is obvious that this is a choice between me and Adrian Delia.”

AD: “These elections are not what we say they are. They are an election to elect MEPs and local councillors. In the EP election campaign, we spoke about what our MEPs have to offer, what challenges we can overcome through Europe and how we can convince our political family to work for Malta in the EU.”

3. Foreign workers

JM: “The PN’s battle horse has been the fear of foreigners when 70% of these are EU nationals who have a right to come and work here. This fearmongering is coming from the party that had fought for EU membership. The free movement of people is a key principle of the EU so it makes no sense calling for the country to set its carrying capacity because any EU national has a right to come and work here just as us Maltese have a right to work anywhere in the EU. Foreigners are coming here because there is work.”

AD: “When we speak on foreigners we are referring to the economic model adopted by the government that is basing itself on population growth. Malta is a small country and the model of growth chosen by the government is to grow the cake by increasing the population and in the process, your slice of the cake is growing smaller. We propose an economic model that focuses on value-added industries and services that create well-paid jobs for Maltese and foreigners.”

Adrian Delia
Adrian Delia

4. The sale of Maltese citizenship

JM: “Adrian Delia does not seem to know that in its electoral programme of 2017, the PN had proposed keeping the IIP. Now, he is doing a U-turn on this, like he did on the Gozo tunnel.”

AD: “I did not agree with this scheme (the Individual Investor Programme). The bad that comes out of it is far superior to the short-term good it has achieved. This is not an investor programme… ghost foreigners come here, pay money and leave. We need to attract foreigners who come here to invest.”

5. Racism and the murder case

JM: “The arrest and arraignment of the accused is proof that the rule of law works in this country. If Dr Delia wants answers to his questions he can ask one of his MPs who was the lawyer to one of the accused.”

AD: “We have zero tolerance on racism. But we have to see from where this racism is coming and the discourse used in the past on pushbacks by the Prime Minister… on the latest case [concerning soldiers charged with the murder of Lassan Cisse Souleymane] we have to know how the army carries out its recruitment. One of the accused is reported to have been found guilty of a criminal act by the court when already a soldier. How was he allowed to remain? What was he found guilty of? We need to know and political responsibility has to be shouldered.”

6. What about the green credentials?

JM: “We could have been more sensitive to the environment but most applications that caused controversy over the past few years were on land that was included in the building zones in 2006 by the PN. People who had land included in the development zones then, have vested rights that cannot be easily removed now. We would need a national plan. The change to gas from heavy fuel oil in power stations was important to improve air quality but now the problem we have are cars. We will start the shift to electric cars and make public transport free.”

AD: “I am happy the Prime Minister is persuaded on the need for a long-term plan like we have been saying. The Prime Minister wants to see more electric cars but then allows petrol stations to sprout up in ODZ. The mistakes of the past are mistakes whoever did them. We need to look ahead. What country are we going to leave our children? We have to invest in a mass public transport system and we have to do this by planning ahead. Let us aim for a carbon-neutral country.”

7. Council of Europe draft report: A threat to democracy

JM: “We now have a totally biased draft report by a Dutch MP that will be presented to the Council of Europe. This MP had tried to tell victims of a downed passenger aircraft that exploded over Ukraine that it was not the Russians who shot it down but the Ukrainians. He eventually had to admit this was fake news. The Venice Commission did criticise our systems but most of these have been in place since independence. The commission did not criticise one law this government introduced.”

AD: “The latest report to tarnish Malta’s reputation comes from the Council of Europe and it says democracy is under threat in Malta. This is bad. It damages the country’s reputation and the financial services sector. We have the Moneyval report telling us that unless we make changes we will be blacklisted. This report follows other reports by international institutions that harm Malta’s reputation.

8. The EU tax danger: Tax harmonisation and Timmermans

JM: “Taxes are decided by national governments. Both sides in Malta agree on this. The only people in the European Parliament who voted for unanimity on taxation matters to be removed were PN MEPs. When the PL was in Opposition it always supported the government on financial services. The problem is that when the PN is in Opposition it agrees with nothing.”

AD: “The Prime Minister embraces Frans Timmermans and his attempt to harmonise corporate taxes across the EU. This will damage the financial services sector in Malta, which we painstakingly built up over the years.”