Bernard Grech slams government for submitting EU COVID recovery plan without consultation

It is unclear whether Malta's COVID Recovery Plan included the stakeholder consultations necessary to benefit from EU funding

PN and Opposition leader Bernard Grech has been highly critical of the government's decision to submit its post-COVID Recovery and Resilience Plan to the European Commission without consulting social partners beforehand.

"The fact that the Labour Party decided on such an important financial package by itself, without embarking on a wide-ranging discussion on the package as other countries have done, is worrying," Grech said on Thursday.

The PN leader was speaking during a General Discussion in Parliament on Malta's Recovery and Resilience Plan with EU funds.

"This discussion is taking place thanks to the Nationalist Opposition after we requested so. While Government met this request, the sentiment felt is that this was done purely as a formality."

Grech accused government of submitting its EU funds package late and without consultation, despite strict criteria on the part of the European Commission that this recovery plan must be submitted with proper consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including local councils and the Opposition.

"You couldn't care less about this, and came to us two months late with a document that you've already submitted to the European Commission," Grech said.

The European Council adopted a regulation last February establishing a €627.5 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) that Member States can tap into for post-COVID economic recovery. 

However, in order to receive support from this facility, EU countries were asked to set out a package of projects, reforms and investments covering several policy areas.

EU countries were asked to submit this plan by 30 April, but MEP candidate Peter Agius said Malta missed this deadline.

Bernard Grech emphasised that the plan should address the needs of Gozo in particular, stating that government failed to commit 10% of the budget to Gozo.

He praised government's suggestion for environmental retrofitting in public schools and hospitals, but questioned why this couldn't be done for public offices.

"These funds need to reach more people. Why can't we extend the concept of environmental retrofitting to private homes as well?" 

In a similar vein, Grech praised the investment proposed on electric vehicles, but said that the focus should be on private vehicles, and not ministerial vehicles.

"According to this plan, part of the €111 million will be spent on ministerial vehicles, while the remaining funds could maybe be enjoyed by the public eventually," he commented.

"In light of all this, it disappoints us to say that we cannot accept this recovery plan as submitted by Government."

The plan does not have to be voted on in Parliament, and Government is under no legal obligation to withdraw its recovery plan if the Opposition disagrees with its content.

The Nationalist MPs echoed a similar sentiment during their interventions, while on the Labour benches several MPs rebutted Grech's arguments. 

Justice Minister Zammit Lewis explained that government had to take into account the country-specific recommendations put forward to Malta by the European Union, while Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia said that the Recovery Plan was discussed at Committee level.

After several interventions, Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi concluded the debate, explaining that the plan has not yet been presented to the European Commission so that Government can present it to Parliament and to the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD).

He said that the plan will see €345 million injected into the local economy, with government having met 145 entities since 2019 in order to identify the key priority areas for EU funding.

From the funds allocated through the recovery plan, almost half will be dedicated to the environmental sector, while around 26% will contribute to the digitalisation of services in Malta.