[WATCH] PN says environment top priority after COVID-19 crisis is over

At this time it is the health emergency which gets priority, Delia says, adding that the environment will be at the top of the agenda as soon as health crisis is over

Opposition leader Adrian Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia

Adrian Delia has urged national unity as he listed the priorities that the PN is emphasising for immediate action against the coronavirus pandemic which continues to wreak havoc on society and the economy.

“It is something the government must do, but we must be proactive,” began the Leader of the Opposition, in a press conference also addressed by PN deputy leader David Agius, Robert Arrigo, Alex Perici Calascione and Francis Zammit Dimech.

First in Delia’s order of priorities is what he termed the “health and climate emergency.” 

“At this time it is the health emergency which gets priority. Now is the time to listen to the authorities. This is certainly not the time for partisan politics, but to unite behind our health authorities.” Recently a health state of emergency was declared, noted Delia, saying that politicians were required to give their input but that the most important voice in all this is that of the health authorities. “The best tool we have to combat the virus is to obey health authorities,” Delia said.

But the climate emergency is still here and will remain here, possibly turning out to be a wider issue in time, he went on. Recent tests show that air pollution has improved, explained Delia. “As soon as the health crisis is over, we must give our environment priority,” Delia told the press conference.

Another priority is work, he said, saying it had been taken for granted in the past few years, with boasts of low unemployment. “We mustn't lose jobs and must ensure that no one is left behind.” Malta has over 290,000 people in the private sector, Delia said, of whom the government has helped 50,000 to 60,000, but there are hundreds of thousands of others out there who need help. “We must be in this together,” Delia said.

The strengthening of democracy was Delia’s third priority. He pointed to Hungary, where there was a power grab by its leader Viktor Orban, saying that “this cannot be allowed.”

Delia said that he had written to the President of the European People's Party Donald Tusk and asked for a summit on what is happening in European countries, whilst “in Malta we were prime movers to strengthen the judiciary and select the Chief Justice through a two thirds majority without the sole direct influence of government.”

The coronavirus pandemic also presented opportunities, Delia went on. “We must look beyond the immediate and prepare for opportunities to bounce back.” Noting that the press conference was held on Zoom, he said Malta should invest in technology and AI “in everything the government does,” from transport management to healthcare. “Our nation, in its small size, can be a pilot project in several large projects with international bodies, to show that we are not only at the frontline but leading the digital society,” Delia said.

Delia also argued that Malta needed a bigger chunk of EU funds to assist its recovery, saying that if need be, small countries should get more than proportional assistance from the EU. He gave tourism as an example, saying that this is a major part of Malta’s GDP. “We need more help here because our economy relies on this more than other countries.”

The Opposition leader also called for pensions to be made more “adequate and sustainable,” pointing out that pensioners were having to deal with increasing burdens.

Related to the that point was the issue of people who were still on the poverty line which, Delia said, was growing. “Poverty also in the sense of loneliness, disability, domestic abuse.”

He also called for Gozitans to be given a greater say in decisions affecting their island. 

Delia called for equality, saying that “we must break the social walls and taboos which divide us... the person, not sectors, must be at the centre of our politics.“

Taking questions from journalists, Delia said he didn’t want there to be suffering and loss of jobs. “We made a call for action and the government left 110,000 workers out... Let us carry this burden together,” Delia said. “We have to be first to market with the best product as soon as the bounceback starts. We must give assurances to those who rely on us that we are on the ball.”

PN deputy leader David Agius said the PL’s economic model meant that people have had to work harder and longer for a decent lifestyle. 

He pointed to minimum wage workers, those living on the edge of poverty and those who must bear greater financial burdens due to the COVID-19 crisis. This model will lead to more poverty, he said. “Pensioners will feel more pressure on their finances and so we must ensure that their pensions are adequate for their needs.” 

Agius, the newly appointed Family and Social Solidarity shadow minister said government must ease the burden on these people.

“The day after the virus [is eradicated], there will be no return to tourism immediately,” he said. 

PN MP Robert Arrigo echoed these sentiments, saying that AirMalta must be kept alive with competitive prices and a vision of how to compete for a slice of the diminished tourism cake.

But Arrigo also had criticism for Robert Abela's aid packages, which were meant to boost the economy. “I expected better from the government with regards to reductions in tariffs,” he said, adding that the people will start to feel the pinch as from April.