[WATCH] Miriam Dalli on the PL deputy leadership: ‘When the time comes, we will see’

Miriam Dalli faced a red-hot summer in 2023 as the country suffered repeated electricity outages in the midst of a heatwave. The environment and energy minister now tells Karl Azzopardi that a lot of investment has since gone into strengthening the distribution system. She also speaks about Project Green and the impending PL deputy leadership race. 

Environment and energy Minister Miriam Dalli (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Environment and energy Minister Miriam Dalli (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Environment Minister Miriam Dalli insists Project Green is not merely a greenwashing exercise. The lack of visible progress, she says, should not be misinterpreted as procrastination. 

“Project Green has been running for around a year and has launched and completed a number of smaller projects which could be finished quicker, but this does mean that work did not progress on the bigger projects promised during the election,” the minister says in an interview with MaltaToday.  

The environment and open spaces have become a bigger priority for the electorate, and Labour sought to address these concerns during the 2022 general election through its flagship proposal – Project Green. Artistic impressions of several major projects revealed how main roads in some localities would pass through tunnels to make space for gardens above them. 

The San Gwann main road, Floriana’s St Anne Street, the roofing over of the Santa Venera tunnels approach roads and the transformation of the milk factory site in Hamrun into a big garden were some of the projects unveiled at the time. The PL election pledge was to spend €700 million over seven years to make Malta’s urban environment greener. 

Fielding questions on what some have interpreted as slow progress on these big projects, the minister insists background work is ongoing on several projects.  

“At the beginning, you always have a period of setting up and establishing the projects. Once you get the necessary permits, the work picks up pace. If we are speaking about the San Ġwann project, the first permit for the car park has already been filed with the Planning Authority (PA), so that work can then be carried out. In Bormla, an area which was to be turned into a dormitory, will be turned into a park with an underlying car park, with permits also filed with the PA. For the Santa Venera project, we are analysing traffic management there, as the area must be closed off, and the same for St Anne Street in Floriana,” she says.  

Switching focus to the energy sector, the minister says the increased year-on-year energy demand of the country, means the new 60MW “temporary” diesel-powered emergency plant in Delimara is crucial to guaranteeing security of energy supply in summer.  

Dalli says while demand had been increasing by a yearly rate of around 3.5%, during last summer’s heatwave it shot up by 14%, lifting the demand to 663MW. 

“The electricity provision of the country is around 800MW, but we want to ensure security of supply when something happens,” she says. The minister also points out that government has invested heavily in upgrading the electricity distribution infrastructure country wide.  

She insists the temporary measure does not mean government has lost focus on working towards shifting the country towards renewables.  

With a deputy leadership race on the horizon for Labour, the minister is coy when asked whether she will put her hat in the ring. “When the time comes, we will see,” she replies.

The following is an excerpt from the interview.

Last summer’s power cuts: Can you ensure the situation does not repeat itself this summer? 

Investment is being carried out to prepare the country for the situations we had last summer. Let’s not forget the UN labelled them ‘boiling temperatures’. Several other international organisations stated the temperatures shattered records Europe-wide.  

All this investment is being carried out to ensure we are resilient in such situations. We promised investment, we are carrying out that investment and people are seeing the investment being carried out. Yes, the work can create an inconvenience, but we are looking to minimise it.

Is it fair for someone who has a swimming pool and leaves their AC on during the whole day, to enjoy the same subsidies as someone who lives from month to month? 

We are not giving them the same subsidies. Our billing system is staggered according to how much you waste. Malta also faces realities which landlocked countries don’t. 

When you are an island state, costs easily reflect themselves in inflationary pressures. The prices are not as high as they were before, like when it was 80c per unit for example, but they are still high. The reason we wanted stable prices is because it helps stabilise the country. When energy bills rose in 2010, it resulted in a stagnated economy and unemployment. The repercussions are big.

Despite Labour’s grandeur pledge, people have voiced their criticism at the slow progress with which the projects entrusted to Project Green are being carried out. What are your views on this? 

At the start you always have a period of setting up and establishing the projects. Once you get the necessary permits, then the work picks up the pace... You have these preparatory works which are carried out before the project kicks off, but while this preparatory work is ongoing, we wanted to make sure we have these smaller projects so that people can see the projects are carried out around them.  The Pollinator Garden in San Ġwann for example, it is not that big – just 1,000 sq.m, but it is an innovative idea and approach.

Do you agree with Joseph Muscat contesting the European Parliament elections? Does it not undermine Robert Abela’s standing within the party? 

I am reading what is being said. I heard what Joseph Muscat said, what the Prime Minister said, and I agree. I am convinced about one thing – both Muscat and Abela will take a decision that is in the best interest for the party and the country.

There will be a vacant spot for the party deputy leadership later this year. Will you be contesting? 

We have a deputy leader and deputy prime minister who is still carrying out very good work. As a government minister I am 200% focused on the reforms we have promised as a government, and to deliver what we promised in the electoral manifesto. That is what the country and the Labour Party need from their ministers.

It’s not a no… 

There is Chris Fearne, who is carrying out very good work. When the time comes, we will see...