Updated | Grech condemns 'ridiculous' Prime Minister as Abela fails to show up for radio debate

Correspondence seen by MaltaToday contradicts OPM claims that it had not received an invitation. Radio show host reiterates his willingness to host a live debate between the government and the opposition leaders.

Bernard Grech being interviewed on RTK
Bernard Grech being interviewed on RTK

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech said that Prime Minister Robert Abela was encouraging Labour supporters not to attend a demonstration outside the courts on the day of Joseph Muscat's arraignment, to make it look like he is more popular than his predecessor, in a wide-ranging radio interview on Saturday, which the Prime Minister failed to attend.

At the start of the program, host Andrew Azzopardi informed his audience that Abela had also been invited to the live RTK radio show, but had not shown up. A spokesperson from the Office of the Prime Minister later contacted the MaltaToday to say that Abela "had not received an invitation." 

Grech commented that it showed a lack of respect on Abela’s part and observed that other pre-election debates, which are organised by the Broadcasting Authority, were strictly regimented and guide-railed, and that the questions that could be asked were limited.

The PN leader’s interview with Azzopardi was dominated by issues concerning government corruption, a fact that was not lost on Grech. “Unfortunately, although you have the Leader of the Opposition on air, the first half hour of the interview had to be about government corruption, not the opposition’s alternative vision,” Grech quipped at one point.

“We have been explaining for months about how we plan to combat the rising cost of living. We aren’t simply asking importers to reduce the price, we are looking at other avenues. Not taxing COLA, for example - even the General Workers Union agreed with us, but Abela stamps his feet and refuses. It’s as if he’s refusing to accept he was wrong, like he did with Jean Paul Sofia’s mother,” Grech said. 

Grech said his party also had plans to set up a national fund to assist importers and wanted to provide incentives to employers, such as tax credits on COLA. “We didn’t just give out cheques before the election.” 


“The government is stomping on the institutions” - Grech

Bernard Grech said Robert Abela’s government was “stomping on the institutions” and had not tried to recover the vast sums paid to Vitals Global Healthcare in the fraudulent sale of three public hospitals.

“We had €400 million stolen from us and the government did nothing to try and recover them. Do you know that the Prime Minister lied about who filed this case? It was Steward who filed the proceedings against Malta - only then did Malta file a counter-request with its reply.”

Few were aware, Grech said, that of the €400 million paid out, €280 million had been paid to Steward by Abela’s administration. The PN had insisted that the government stop paying them, even after it was told that the agreement was fraudulent, but Abela had refused, he said.

“The money went into the pockets of fraudsters, while hospital patients are left facing a shortage of basic supplies, like pillows and medicines.”

“Politics should not be something decided in court….but unfortunately, due to the fact that the institutions have not all been working as they should, over the past few years, the opposition had to take the initiative. Had they been working properly, in a free democracy, they would have taken the necessary steps themselves.”

“Shopkeepers who cashed a cheque for a customer were arraigned on money laundering charges.  If people received extra social benefit payments, they were arraigned for fraud. There was no need for the issue to be raised by politicians, they were arraigned without any problems,” Grech said, remarking that it was “impressive how, when it comes to theft from the public - Pilatus, Electrogas and so on, then the institutions freeze.” 

“There is, as Evarist Bartolo had once said, but did nothing about, ‘a law for the gods and another law for the animals.’”

On the topic of fraudulent registration of voters at social housing projects which were still under construction, Grech said that the 99 cases filed by the PN in front of 22 magistrates had all been found to have been fraudulent.

The radio show host pointed out that the 99 individuals in question could still vote, but Grech urged sensitivity to their circumstances, adding that he had never wanted to deprive them of their vote. “Let us be sensitive,” Grech said. “There is a saying in Maltese - "I have to eat from the hand that I want cut off.” He pointed to the long waiting lists for social housing. “You don’t waste the opportunity when your turn finally comes, you sign where you’re told to,” Grech said. He observed that the fraud cases had all emanated from housing minister Roderick Galdes’ district, alleging that this had happened “with Robert Abela’s blessing.”


Prime Minister "will use Vitals-related criminal cases to warp public reaction"

“I do not enjoy seeing the former prime minister of my country being arraigned in court but unfortunately, because they did what they did, they must answer for their misdeeds,” Grech replied, when asked about the looming arraignment of disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and others on charges emanating from the fraudulent hospitals deal.

The non-public nature of magisterial inquiries and the acts of criminal cases in general was being abused by the Prime Minister in a bid to manipulate the public’s reaction, Grech said.

“The Prime Minister is telling the public to judge him on what happens, without allowing the public to see for themselves what actually took place.”

“The Attorney General had provided a copy of the inquiry to the Prime Minister, in breach of the law,” Grech said. “And if she did so, she must also pass it to the Opposition and the public.”

Reacting to the host’s suggestion that the presumption of innocence had “gone out the window,” in this case, Grech was adamant in his rejection of that statement. “No. It is the Government who has been stomping on the institutions. Had it not been for journalists, foremost among them Daphne Caruana Galizia, the process would not have even started.”

The Government was still attempting to silence journalists who sought to uncover the truth, Grech said, adding that the international community was watching the developments in Malta.

Asked whether the inquiry had indiscriminately lumped bit-part players with the big offenders, Grech said he hadn’t seen its contents, but expressed confidence that the magistrate knew what she was doing, pointing to the fact that she had, in fact, issued freezing orders for different amounts, accordingly.

The Government was using its power of incumbency to play a “dirty and illegal game”, Grech said, pointing to the recent scandals involving government ties to corruption in issuing driving licences, politically-enabled benefits fraud and fake voter registrations in government housing projects.

However, Grech acknowledged that in spite of this, some voters would never accept that they were being cheated, telling Azzopardi “if someone has spent their life listening to Super One, what else can they believe?” But, he said, a silent portion of the electorate “knows that if Labour keeps or increases its majority it will only continue its attacks on the freedom of the judiciary and the press.”

“I hate to use the word, but the Prime Minister is ridiculous. He doesn’t realise that he is making the situation more dangerous for PN supporters, the judiciary, journalists with his rhetoric.”

“He is seeing that everywhere Joseph Muscat appears, there are more attendees there than at the events attended by Abela. Labour MEP candidates are inviting Muscat to their rallies and not Abela,” Grech said.

“When Abela warns Labour supporters of a trap, he is saying that to try and avoid scenes of crowds of supporters wanting to show their support for Muscat. It is a divided party.”

Andrew Azzopardi reiterates his invitation 
In a reaction to this story, sent to the MaltaToday on Saturday evening, together with forwarded copies of emails sent on April 7 and 13 to both the Prime Minister and the OPM's head of communications, Azzopardi said that "it seems the OPM got confused."

"Having said, that I am still willing to host a live debate on my radio show next Saturday, 1st June, between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, anytime between 9am and 12 noon, a time that works for both."