‘The people’s voice’ | Norman Vella

MEP hopeful Norman Vella interviewed by MaltaToday on Sunday.

Norman Vella is no stranger to the limelight. After becoming a household fixture while anchoring a popular television show at the height of the 2012/13 political tensions in his inimitable style, Vella is now contesting the European Parliament elections in May.

In 2013, the 37-year-old had a rollercoaster year. His distinctive presence on television was often the target of online satire and he opened himself up to accusations of displaying a strong political bias (towards the Nationalist Party) and employing a simplistic line of questioning, which annoyed some audiences.

Shortly after the 2013 elections, Vella's job at PBS was terminated after the government decided that his services were urgently required at the Immigration Department, from where he was previously seconded to Where's Everybody and later to PBS.

"Up until yesterday I was a journalist and now, under the circumstances created by the Labour government I have decided to enter the political fray," he says in reference to his arrest after being accused of photographing the government's head of communications Kurt Farrugia at the airport while he was on duty as in October.

But more on that later. I begin by asking Vella whether his decision to contest elections on the PN ticket bolstered the perception that he was heavily biased while hosting a show on national television.

"I do not believe that journalists, whoever they are, are not entitled to their opinion. During my time at PBS I also expressed opinions which were not in synch with the PN government's," he says, citing divorce and IVF as a case in point.

Admitting that working at the national broadcaster carries additional responsibilities, Vella said that fairness is assured by declaring biases and giving equal space to all.

He adds that his performances on TVM should not be judged by what is being said now, but by what went on while he was at the public station.

"I rest my case on facts, in the last schedule I was there, I presented 200 programmes, the majority of which were shown during the electoral campaign. In these 200 programmes, I was not sued for libel once and no complaint against me was filed. Neither the PN, Labour or Alternattiva Demokratika - and the latter have gone on record saying that I gave them most airtime - ever filed a complaint."

Asked whether his decision to contest elections was influenced by his brief arrest, Vella says that circumstances almost left him with no option.

"I realised that the moment was right to enter the political fray," he says, underlining the pain his arrest caused to his family and the people around him.

Was your arrest motivated by a sense of revenge?

"I do not assume anything, but I'll leave it up to others to decide... after being informed that I'm no longer employed at PBS, I filed a judicial protest asking for an explanation for my termination. By October, no answer was forthcoming and I opened a court case over the political discrimination I suffered. I was not removed for my bias, but because, as the Office of the Prime Minister claimed, my services at Immigration Department were essentially required."

Insisting that he was only pointing out the sequence of events, Vella reminded me that before the election Joseph Muscat had told Vella, "for each blow to the Labour Party, we'll hit you back twice over, below the belt, where it hurts".

He adds that on the Sunday following the opening of the court case, Labour Party newspaper KullHadd ran a headline saying that Vella 'was on his way to Brussels' and one week later, he was arrested.

Vella was held for questioning on Sunday night for allegedly snapping pictures of Head of Government Communications Kurt Farrugia and Home Affairs Ministry communications coordinator Ramona Attard as they passed through passport control, a supposedly restricted area.

However, the court declared that there was no reasonable suspicion that Vella had committed a crime and ordered that his smartphone and tablet be returned immediately by the police. Moreover, Muscat admitted that the case was mishandled by the police.

Was the case blown out of proportion, I ask? "Who created the case? Did I create it? We had the Police Commissioner leading the prosecution, which does not even happen in murders or drug trafficking cases. Did I ask for his intervention? Did I ask the Prime Minister to say that I wasn't under arrest? If the court decided against government I should not get the blame."

Insisting that he was not used by anyone - including the Opposition - Vella says that he appreciated the support he received by PN leader Simon Busuttil.

What does he have to offer if elected? He says that everyone has different capabilities, adding, "I am offering myself to be the people's voice in Malta and in Europe. If elected I will not go to Brussels and wave goodbye. I want to be the people's voice, in Malta and Europe, and within all institutions, including my own party."

Coming from a family of devoted trade unionists, Vella admits that he edged closer to the PN before Malta's accession to the EU when both the General Workers Union and the Labour Party were opposed to membership.

Labour, according to Vella, is to the right of the PN on many issues and he insists that despite singing from a different hymn sheet on various matters, he finds no difficulty in militating for the first time ever within the PN's ranks.

However, given his trade union background, does he feel at home in a popular party? "I believe the PN is the party closest to the workers. No doubt. Out of the two major parties, it's the one which represents workers best."

Pointing out that by workers he refers to all kinds of occupations, from white-collar to blue-collar workers and the self-employed. Vella describes himself as a "democrat who believes in social justice and in the need for greater rectitude in politics".

I point out that many a time honesty is a handicap for politicians. However, Vella is less cynical and stresses that for something great to happen, there must be a great dream.

Despite my doubts, a defiant Vella retorts: "I believe that I can make it by being honest."

Turning to the issues dominating the headlines in Malta, Vella says the PN "cannot afford sending signals that it has an issue with gay persons".

"It should not send such signals," he says when asked whether the PN was in fact portraying itself as a party, which was against granting equal rights to LGBT persons.

However, while stressing that he believed that all citizens should be treated equally irrespective of their sexual orientation, he backs the Opposition's amendments to the civil union bill, chiefly making a distinction between the recognition granted to same-sex couples and civil marriage and removing the reference to adoptions in the law.

"Child adoption is not a right enjoyed by heterosexual couples, so granting this right to homosexual couples would result in a discriminatory law. I believe the civil union bill should be concluded and grant equal rights to all, then discuss adoption separately."

Insisting that adoption is not a right, Vella fears that children adopted by gay couples might suffer discrimination in a society where the majority of people oppose gay adoptions.

Calling for caution, he says that the country should not rush into taking a decision, especially when only a handful of countries have introduced such a law.

"I think its too early, I'd rather give it more time," he says. However, he warns that politicians should be careful when discussing the issue because they could upset gay couples that already care for children and the children themselves.

"You should be proud of your parents, whoever they are, and I commend gay parents who are raising children," Vella says, adding that the introduction of gay adoptions could adversely affect all persons seeking adoption if foreign countries blacklist Malta, as some countries are already doing.

Just before our interview got underway, the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a cross-party resolution calling on Malta to amend its citizenship-by-investment scheme.

"Whatever happens from now onwards, government must shoulder its responsibility. It was of its own making and after a whole charade, I was surprised that government did not foresee the reaction it provoked." 

Insisting that the scheme was only introduced as an alternative to increasing taxes, Vella asked: "What will happen once the €1 billion are used up? What is the opportunity cost of this €1 billion?"

But wasn't it the PN government which introduced the tax cut for high earners? Vella duly replies that Labour could have opted against retaining the tax cuts promised by the previous government, however he also argues that low-income families also benefitted from the tax cuts in the last five years.

Pointing out the bad company Labour is in over the scheme, with far-right French politician Marie Le Pen among the 22 MEPs to vote against the resolution, Vella added that "the most worrying aspect, apart from the humiliation Malta suffered, is that this scheme is putting jobs at risk".

Asked to expand on this, he says that that Malta is portraying itself as a country which has given up on attracting investment and creating wealth.

"A country which gives an impression that it has given up, a country so desperate that it has resorted to selling passports and has received bruising slap in the face in the international press and the European Parliament will not attract investment. Would you invest in such a country? I guess not."

Claiming that Malta's reputation has been tarnished, and that the scheme will cost the country much more than €1 billion the government is expecting to rake in, Vella slams the Prime Minister for "giving up" and giving the wrong impression - that Malta is bankrupt.

Turning to migration, Vella possibly exposes himself to an onslaught from the anti-migration camp, when he says: "I refuse to describe immigrants as a burden. People are not a burden. If we want to convince other countries to open their doors to migrants who enter Europe through Malta, we need to shift our discourse from one of burden to one of opportunity."

"What I cannot understand is that when we joined the EU, one of the most appealing factors was the fact that it had no internal borders. I can travel freely, goods and services can also be exported freely. However, we have built a wall for migrants. My aim is to demolish this wall and they can decide where to go and the markets will also adjust. We either believe in freedom and the free market or not - we cannot be selective. We need opportunity sharing and not burden sharing. Naturally, migrants will relocate to countries where jobs are available."

Do others back his views within the PN? "I was born in a divided Europe and I voted to join an EU with no borders. I believe in a Europe which should grant freedom for all, not only goods and services. Once a migrant enters Europe they should be able to move freely within the Schengen zone. Is it far fetched? No, we (the EU) created the problem, and we can resolve it," he says in reference to the Dublin convention which stipulates that asylum applications can only be processed in the country of entry. 

Warning that the PN should not expect to win elections by default, Vella proposes the creation of a structure within the party to assist individuals and civil society on all matters European.

"I propose the creation of an office which assists organisations to tap into European funds, which would help such organisations create jobs and strengthen their structures. The PN could and should be a bridge linking citizens to European institutions."

Will the PN elect three MEPs for the first time ever? Vella unflinchingly says, "yes" and retains that the people have an opportunity to "send a message".

But should voters cast their ballots to pull somebody's ears or should they vote for a person or party they believe in?

"I always believed in the people. People vote for whatever reason they choose and our job is to understand their message and subsequently shape our vision for tomorrow," he replies.

"The PN paid a high price for its errors and its now time to look forward and shape its policies for future elections. We have to listen to the people and understand their aspirations, otherwise we will stay in opposition for ever."

‘The people’s voice’ ~ our very own NORMAN (no wisdom) VELLA :) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The ‘The people’s voice’ IS LOUD AND CLEAN ...in comments hereunder :) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Yes "SOME MOTHERS DO AV'EM" :)
kixifa l'maskra,ghalkemm ma kien hemm l'ebda dubju li hu nazzjonalist bil fjakkoli.
U l-isbah hi li habibtu tal-Bidnija qieghda taghti palata lill tal-PlayMobil u mhux lilu.
Norman Vella will be the PN's and his own voice punto e basta. He is a clown, ignorant (he wasn't even able to conduct a discussion on a crappy tv program let alone lead a discussion at EP level). Let's open the bets, that he will be amongst the first 3 to be eliminated.
How on earth do Norman Vella wants us to believe him when he's contesting on the PN's ticket. If he really means what he said, he should have contested as an independent candidate. Does he think that were stupid enough to swallow the bait?
nemmen li is sur vella l ewwel wiehed li jinqala barra mit tellieqa....
Tell that to the Marines!!!! He used the National TV, PBS, for his very personal politically biased agenda and in total disregard to the Broadcasting Authority's directives. I do not want such a voice, and neither do 167,000 voters.
L iktar fejn jidhlu l-immigranti llegali jkun il-vuci tal-poplu!
That is really news, as he was against the majority when he hosted a sham of a talk show. Do not vote for him.
Poor Norman. You bring tears to my eyes with laughter you joker.
Irrid jghid xi haga ..... jkun il-vuci ta' xi haga dan l-Ex Gurnalista "Indipendenti Part-time" u Nazzjonalist FULL-TIME ! ;)
nemnuh tghid!!!
Oh jolly good...oh the joy