NGOs are not our adversaries, Opposition leader says

Ahead of a national protest organised by NGOs, PN leader Bernard Grech says environmental groups should have an active role on environmental and planning decisions

PN leader Bernard Grech (Photo: PN)
PN leader Bernard Grech (Photo: PN)

Environmental NGOs should have a more active role in environmental and planning decisions, Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech said, insisting that such groups are not political adversaries.

In an interview on the PN’s television station Net TV, Grech said that he wants to maintain constant dialogue with NGOs and keep them around the discussions table.

His comment comes ahead of a national protest being organised by several NGOs demanding urgent environmental and planning reform. The protest, titled ‘Xebbajtuna!’ (Enough!), will be held on Saturday 27 May at 10:30am in Valletta.

Grech said that the Labour Party in government has failed in protecting the environment. He said that the influx of workers in Malta has put pressure on the construction sector due to increased property demand.

He also said that the Planning Authority’s role should not be limited to regulation. Instead, it should play a proactive role in giving planning direction.

“For us, development is not just construction,” he said. “Last year before the election we said we want 10 new economic sectors. They are all sectors that can grow without unnecessary construction.”

Rising cost of living

Grech said Prime Minister Robert Abela is failing to acknowledge Malta’s cost of living crisis, noting that pensioners, families, couples and youths are struggling to make ends meet.

“This is the reality that people are living, that we are going through as a country. But you know who isn’t living in this reality? People who earn €17,000 a month,” he said, a dig against Robert Abela’s €17,000 retainer contract with the Planning Authority before becoming prime minister.

Grech said the Nationalist Party would address the cost of living at source, by incentivising importers while making sure they don’t abuse of any subsidies.

Grech remarked on the COLA mechanism, which provides for monthly adjustments to workers’ wage depending on inflation. He noted that this adjustment is paid out by the employer to the government, which pushes up labour costs for private companies.

He said this leads to a vicious cycle, and suggested that the COLA should not be taxed by government. He added that this suggestion, first made to the party by UĦM, has been endorsed by the Malta Employers’ Association and the Chamber of SMEs.

Investments in the health sector

Touching on the Steward-Vitals hospitals scandal, Grech said Robert Abela and his predecessor Joseph Muscat failed to invest properly in people’s health. “They made business off of people’s health,” he said.

“We gave up on RA. He doesn’t have the interest, intention or political will to address people’s problems. We will focus on what we will be doing in the health area.”

Grech said that a Nationalist Party in government would continue investing in Mater Dei Hospital, but would also build a new mental health hospital closeby.

He added that the Nationalist Party is still committed to building a new general hospital in Gozo, but would not do so while neglecting other hospitals in Malta that need investment.