Abela vs Grech: Party leaders go head-to-head in only election debate

Robert Abela, Bernard Grech debated party slogans, the environment, good governance and the situation in Palestine in the first and only televised debate between them ahead of voting day

Prime Minister Robert Abela (left) and Opposition leader Bernard Grech (right) at the PBS studios for the election debate (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (left) and Opposition leader Bernard Grech (right) at the PBS studios for the election debate (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Robert Abela and Bernard Grech went head-to-head on Wednesday evening in a final televised debate ahead of voting day to talk about the environment, good governance, and Malta’s place in the EU. 

The Prime Minister and Opposition leader took turns to state their positions on numerous issues. 

Both leaders started by offering their condolences to Joseph Muscat over the death of his father, but were then asked about their party slogans – Għalik for the PN, and Is-Saħħa lill-Maltin for the PL. 

Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Grech said the PN focussed on the idea of a party working for “you”, the audience and electorate. He referred to a manifesto published by his party for its local council campaign with general principles and dedicated measures for each locality. 

“We worked to get the hospitals back, for you. Adrian Delia and I went to court to get the €400 million back from the hospitals deal, for you,” Grech said.  

He also mentioned the Nationalist Party’s work in applying pressure for a public inquiry to be held into the death of Jean Paul Sofia. “Abela told Isabelle Bonnici [Sofia’s mother] we were using her. When we work for you, they call us negative.” 

Meanwhile, Abela said he believes politics should be centred around people’s needs, and the Labour Party in government will work to improve on previous achievements to better people’s lives. 

“On the other hand, we have an Opposition that only provided a one-page document with 500 words as a manifesto,” he said noting that issues like migration were left out. 

Opposition leader Bernard Grech (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Opposition leader Bernard Grech (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

On the situation in Palestine, and whether the EU should increase military spending, Grech pointed out that Abela had signed several council resolutions to increase military spending in the EU. “So don’t come here with this hypocrisy saying that we want war, and you want peace.” 

Abela later pointed out that EP President Roberta Metsola, who is a Nationalist MEP, had gone to Israel ‘prematurely’ after the October 7 Hamas attack. “35,000 lives have been lost in Palestine and even in Israel. That day she made a wrong decision. The message she sent that day resulted in serious consequences. We had insisted on a permanent ceasefire.” 

Abela said he was always clear in Brussels that Malta would not support any European Council resolutions that do not respect Malta’s neutrality.  

Grech rebutted Abela on this, saying that the Palestinian Embassy in Malta has praised Metsola in the past for her work on the issue.

Environment and economy 

When asked about the environment, Grech recalled a Nationalist Party proposal to make the environment a fundamental right. However, this proposal was put on the shelf by the governing Labour Party.  

However, Abela said the Opposition is failing to acknowledge that it was the Nationalist Party that, in 2006, “placed an area the size of Siġġiewi in Malta’s developable zone”. 

Instead, Abela said the key is to have a holistic plan when it comes to the environment and to development. 

Grech later said Malta has one of the lowest rates of renewable energy and went on to remark on the need to create new sectors – something which the Labour government is failing to do, he said. 

“That’s why the electricity goes off, sewage spills into the sea, people get stuck in traffic. This is all due to a lack of vision from the government.” 

Abela pointed out that the Nationalist Party had proposed liberalising Malta’s energy market, which Abela says would have resulted in higher consumption prices. 

Grech said Abela is not one to talk about market liberalisation, after it was a Labour government that sold off its BWSC plant to Chinese investors.

Good governance 

Asked about his party’s financial accounts, Grech said the Nationalist Party is working on them, but it’s a process that takes time.  

Later in the debate, Abela ridiculed this and said it’s taken years for the party to submit any accounts. He said this doesn’t bode well for the party’s ability to take important decisions in the shorter term.  

Grech then turned to the Vitals hospitals deal and showed a print-out of an email sent to Abela in 2021. In that email, according to Grech, someone within the deal told Abela that it was a fraudulent deal. 

 “Abela ignored it and continued to give them money. He didn’t try to open an investigation,” he said. 

“Everyone has a right to defend himself, but you had an obligation to defend the public,” he said. “Instead of attacking the criminals, you attacked the courts and journalists.” 

Abela said his government had helped implement several reforms in the name of good governance. 

“Meanwhile, David Casa wrote to the ECB attacking a fellow Maltese citizen,” he said, referring to Edward Scicluna. “Peter Agius wrote to an EU vice-commissioner to try and deprive Malta of its voting rights.”

Malta in the European Union 

Grech said if it wasn’t for the Nationalist Party, Malta would not have received any money from the European Union. “You didn’t want to be members of the EU, and you say we don’t want European funding?” 

Grech said Malta is last when it comes to the absorption rate of European funds. “You know why? Because when you don’t have a plan, you can’t invest.” 

Abela then criticised the Opposition leader’s position in favour of European expansion, and pointed out that a lot of money negotiated by the Labour Party in recent years might be lost. “Did you take that consideration before making a hurried stance?” 

“On voting day there is a clear choice between me and Grech. A choice between Nationalist Party candidates and those in the Labour Party. To us, you always come first. To us, the priorities and aspirations of the public are our priority. That’s why I ask you to give me another mandate so that this work can continue,” Abela concluded.