[WATCH] Change does not scare me | Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says that after Egrant, he cannot hope to build a relationship with Simon Busuttil: 'If I win, I hope for the good of the country Simon Busuttil will resign' 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was interviewed by MaltaToday
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was interviewed by MaltaToday

An allegation has emerged implicating Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi in a Dubai company that was supposed to have taken commissions from the LNG tanker owners, stated in an as yet incomplete FIAU report. Have you investigated the allegations in this report?

I can confirm that it is absolutely false. I can also confirm what the FIAU said – it is rather extraordinary that it has released a statement to deny the conclusion of that report.

In fact the FIAU said the results are ‘not as has been reported’ – the newspaper report says the Dubai company could have been used to transfer money from Armada to your people. Don’t you think it is time for this report to be made public?

That decision is in the hands of the FIAU. In my opinion, the whole point is that it demonstrates how there is no truth in what the Opposition leader says about the institutions being hijacked by this government. I have never seen this sort of selective and systematic leaks from people within the institutions with the aim of giving the Opposition a political advantage. In the end it only proves that there is no truth in what the Opposition says about the institutions. It is rather extraordinary that the FIAU felt the need to release this statement because it indicates that the newspaper’s report, which doesn’t actually say money was transferred but is rather ambiguous, is not truthful.

The allegation is bribery on a key policy plank of the Labour government – energy, the LNG tanker. Your government has this negative reputation because of the Panama Papers. Isn’t the allegation a result of the fact that we never saw an automatic investigation into Mizzi and Schembri on Panama?

I think the whole point with the retention of Schembri and Mizzi is that I made a decision that cost me points politically, but it was the decision the country needed. I needed them to carry out a crucial project, to lead forward investment in the country. I’m paying the political price but in the end I take responsibility for it. Now we are in a situation where Mizzi will be judged by the people, where I will be judged by the people, where Schembri will resign if there is any kind of investigation into him… I think there is hardly anyone who agrees with me about my handling of the situation with these two people. Maybe it was because I didn’t give a thorough enough explanation …

People say you chose your friends...

They also say that I am a hostage to them. So I believe there are few people who agree with me on this point, but I shoulder responsibility, unlike the Opposition leader, who jumped on the bandwagon of a lie and doesn’t want to shoulder the responsibility of that lie. But while I take responsibility for all this, the malicious aspect of the situation is that others are stirring the pot, talking about Adrian Hillman and so on even though they have nothing to do with the matter, just to connect everything to this issue of Panama… on other things, there isn’t ‘just’ allegations but mudslinging and insinuations. I take pleasure in the fact that there is a magistrate who will look into things, and if it turns out that there is somehow some link, he will open a criminal investigation.

The FIAU reports released on Friday paint a picture of Schembri’s offshore connections. He is your right-hand man. How can such predicate offences not be investigated automatically?

I don’t believe it is a crime, because, in the same way, Mario de Marco is committing a crime, because he is present in the structure of other [offshore] companies, as other people in the Nationalist Party. The difference is that we don’t agree with tarnishing people’s names simply for the sake of it. Schembri has a business background. He had structures which were declared before he entered politics and he has reasons for doing it. Everything is declared and tax is being paid, that is the difference.

But the FIAU’s preliminary reports went to the police, let’s mention one, on 17 May, 2016. A week later Michael Cassar resigned. Was he not allowed to investigate or did he not open an investigation?

I never interfered in the work of any police commissioner.

In fact, there is the problem that Lawrence Cutajar himself does not speak at all about the investigations that are supposedly taking place.

Yes, but if they ask about the investigations into Beppe Fenech Adami they won’t get any answer either. That’s the point. Currently there is an ongoing investigation into money laundering, that Beppe Fenech Adami helped a foreign company launder drug money. If you ask the Commissioner he won’t answer you either, because it is not his job, and it is not ethical to answer questions about possible investigations.

That is why I think the Opposition leader has double standards. He published a [FIAU] report on Pilatus Bank. I am informed the report was followed by another report that says the bank’s issues were solved. I think the Opposition leader has this second report because he has good contact with the FIAU. The fact that he didn’t publish it proves he has ulterior motives, that is to tarnish and lie.

I expect more lies… I heard rumours that I am the owner of Gozo General Hospital, that I have a company with John Dalli in Dubai, that I have a home in Targa Gap, that I have a home in Sliema. These are all inventions and all lies….

I put myself on the line with this issue. I am saying that when the results of the investigation come out I will resign from whatever position – not if it emerges that there is proof, but if it emerges that there is a hint of truth to it. That’s different from proof, because you could be telling the truth and not have any proof. I am putting everything, my whole career, my reputation, on the line. Why? Because what is being said about me is not true….

I am prepared to accept anything that comes out of the investigation because I know the truth. It is not right for the Opposition leader to try to hide once setting all this in motion. Once again, yesterday, he proved that he does not wish to shoulder responsibility.

Don’t you think it was controversial for the investigation to be launched, and then calling a general election? This is a referendum on Joseph Muscat.

I think it is an election about the future. I don’t mind having a referendum about me because I kept my word with the Maltese people. It is a decision of whom the people want as Prime Minister and I don’t mind the people choosing between me and Simon Busuttil. It is also a decision on who has the best plan for the future. I am certain people will consider everything and that they can see who has the best plan. There may be many who disagree with my decision to call a general election in this way. Today they can understand that if all these weeks had passed, the economy would have halted due to the instability that would have been created. In this way, after next Saturday, I will continue to lead, if the people choose so. I have time and time again said that if the people don’t choose me, I will accept their decision and leave straight away and continue my battle to clear my name of everything that has been said about me and my family… 

Once I’m re-elected I will continue my work, knowing where my plan must go for this country. But I will also make sure the Opposition leader will be held responsible for what he said about me and my family, and that he was the victim of a lie that someone else managed to convince him of.

You said that it would be the magistrate’s problem if the Egrant allegations are not true but you won’t be Prime Minister. And certainly it is not fitting of a Prime Minister to speak of the magistrate in that manner.

No, no, I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. It is not fitting of the Opposition leader to say that it is ‘impossible that the magistrate does not find anything’. I think that is pressure, to say that if the magistrate did not find anything, then there is something wrong with him. On my end, I was asked what will happen when the results of the inquiry will come out… In reality, it will be the Opposition leader’s problem, with a government with perhaps a one-seat majority, based on a lie. That will not be a sustainable position for him.

However, if you remain Prime Minister you will have Keith Schembri by your side and Konrad Mizzi, as well…

The people will choose their MPs and I will choose as ministers MPs chosen by the people. The issue is when the moment arrives, I have learned that I am not a person who is afraid of change. Keith Schembri has already said that he will resign from whatever position he holds if any kind of criminal investigation is launched into him.

So do you have a substitute in mind for chief of staff?

I’m not saying that. I’m saying that I have never been afraid of change and that change doesn’t scare me.

You put your head on the block on Egrant and it appears the Opposition has been wary lately on this allegation. You mentioned that you know who coordinated this campaign against you. Don’t you think it is time you explained this?

It would be time once all the facts are known and then I will publicly reveal all the information I have about how this issue transpired.

The debate on Xarabank on Friday illustrates how there is no courtesy at all between you and Busuttil. It is almost a reflection of the climate of emergency that the country currently finds itself in.

For the country to move forward, one of us has to go. That is why I say that if I lose the election, I will leave politics. It is clear to me, because I cannot work with a person who used political tactics of this sort, who used a lie to destabilise the country, to endanger jobs, because of his own personal political ambitions, because of his thirst for power. If I lose, even if because of a lie, I will leave. Because the country would need a system of people who can work together. In the same way, I expect that if he loses, he himself will leave.

One could say the same thing about you. Today, Konrad Mizzi is contesting for the election… will you let him be minister if he is elected on two districts, depending on his performance?

The people will decide on Konrad Mizzi. Once I see the people’s judgement, then I will decide. What I am saying is completely different. You asked me about my personal relationship. My relationship with Lawrence Gonzi was one of a political adversary, but it was courteous… With Simon Busuttil I tried to build a relationship, maybe I did not succeed. What he did to me and my family, lying about me in this manner – I can forgive, but not forget. I cannot build a relationship with him… If I win, I hope for the good of the country that Simon Busuttil will resign.

You mentioned the issue of Simon Busuttil using his influence with the cabinet about an out of court settlement. What else shall we hear about this allegation?

You will hear facts, it is not a question of inventions, it is a question of facts. It was an issue that had been dragging along for nine years on a company that had an issue with the government and they ended up in court. The advice was that it could have gone either way. It went up to parliament a few weeks after Simon Busuttil became de facto member of the cabinet, because he was deputy leader of the PN, and an out of court settlement was reached to the tune of €5 million. This means €5 million were paid just like that, and Simon Busuttil was paid part of this sum.

Moving to proposals. There has been success in public finances, creation of jobs, social security and civil liberties. What is the Labour Party’s vision for the next five years?

A cosmopolitan society, meaning a changing society, one that is more open, more prepared to accept other cultures, one that understands that our economic growth is not part of some cycle but this is the new norm that we can acquire together. To accomplish this we have challenges in terms of infrastructure, which is not keeping up with economic development.

We also have challenges with regard to the number of workers, and we need foreign workers to come work for us, and that means cultural challenges which will lead to integration. That word still appears to have negative connotations for a lot of Maltese, and we need to be honest enough to say that anyone who contributes to society deserves to be respected.

Another challenge is that our competitiveness cannot be based just on wages but also on quality, and I think we are well on our way on this issue. It also means that we have to have more respect for the environment, and be more aware of the environment sensitivity of this country. It means that our electoral manifesto, if you look at it, is based on issues of quality of life.

One of our main pledges to give back public holidays is an issue that today people are telling us that, “yes they want an increase in their wage,” but when compared to an increase in wage or spending one or two more days with the family, you’ll find that people always lean towards spending one or two more days with their family.

We are already facing a lot of these challenges in this country… is this the reason for the disengagement from environmental lobbies, things like the American University of Malta, the land given to the DB Group…

We introduced completely new systems. If you look at the way Hal Far was handed out to the Island Group, it was a disgrace. No one had spoken out then, not even the Opposition to be fair. Obviously, this time there was a discussion on the DB Group, maybe because the economic rhythm is different…

Obviously we have to take on board the criticism. I think one thing that severed ties with the environmentalists was my position on the hunting referendum. I think that a lot of environmentalists believe, I don’t know if they are right or not, that the fact that I spoke clearly about hunting shifted the weight in favour of the hunters, and if I had remained silent, the referendum result would have tilted to the ‘No.’ I know that that is the opinion of a lot of environmentalists. I think something was severed then.

From my end, I’m not the kind of person who is going to say one thing to the environmentalists and another to the developers. We were judged on that issue and the issue of Zonqor, and then there are other things – I won’t call them perceptions because there are realities in me too…

There is a bridge building exercise, but the onus is on us. I know that the environmentalists will not rest on my words but on facts… The only point where I can complain is that I feel we were short-changed on our progress on the quality of air. When you consider the progress we made when we switched from heavy fuel oil to gas, the amount of dust in the air was reduced, and the amount of renewable energy that we introduced – it hurts me when we mention all these achievements and the reaction is ‘whatever’. It is a major health and environmental issue that this government made great progress in.

The PL’s slogan at the moment is ‘the best times for our country’, but there is a feeling out there that after this election, regardless of who wins, it won’t be serene times due to the climate the country finds itself in….

There are solutions which I’m sure we can achieve. The leadership of the Nationalist Party is not the PN, it is the people in general. I believe we will be able to work with many people, but my problem is with Simon Busuttil, but as I said, after the election I think one of us should make way. I have a track record too. When I was elected PL leader in 2008, the party was fragmented, with five very strong contestants who had stepped out for the role, and everyone told me that I couldn’t unify the party. But I did. Contrary to Simon Busuttil, who inherited a party in shambles, and reduced it to dust. I am convinced this country has a very strong foundation, and I will unify it.