Malta halts passport agreement with Libya, fuel goes down 3c on Monday

Malta temporarily halts passport agreement enabling Libyans to travel to Malta without visa after office is taken over by militants; Muscat admits government rushed on €4.2 million Café Premier deal.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has this morning announced that Malta has halted an agreement enabling holders of Libyan passports to come to Malta without a visa after reports that a passport authority building in Sirte has been taken over by militants loyal to ISIS.

Muscat also announced a 3c cut in fuel prices, and while admitting to having rushed on the €4.2 million Café Premier deal, Muscat pledged that the government would learn from its mistakes.

Addressing the Labour faithful in Hamrun, the prime minister announced that the government has temporarily halted an agreement with Libya enabling holders of Libyan diplomatic passports to come to Malta without the need for a visa.

“This is just a precaution because the government received information that the passport office was taken over by Islamist militants. There are hundreds of blank diplomatic passport which may be used to travel to Malta,” Muscat explained.

In February, several government buildings, radio stations, and a hospital in Sirte were reported to have been taken over by gunmen loyal to the Islamic State. In addition, reports have also warned that the wave of Islamic fundamentalism that swept across Sirte and Derna is now edging closer to Tripoli.

But any fears of any Islamic insurgency hitting Malta were once again shot down by Muscat, who argued that the country’s intelligence agencies has not received any information of Malta being a target.

“Malta has not received any information that it is being targeted, it is just being vigilant. There is no cause for alarm, but if this were to be the case, it is my responsibility to inform the country of any problems,” he added.

Muscat also dismissed claims that terrorists would come to Malta posing as asylum-seekers, and pointed out that if any terrorists wanted to arrive, they would most likely travel from mainland Europe.

The Labour Party leader also said that while Libya and the Mediterranean is in turmoil, Malta must remain a unifying force and a voice of reason to bring the two rival governments of Tobruk and Tripoli together to better tackle threats posed by terrorists.

Fuel prices to go down by 3c on Monday, Muscat admits government rushed on Café Premier deal

The prime minister also announced that fuel prices would go down another 3c as from Monday. Muscat said the reduction in fuel prices – which news was greeted by a rapturous applause and chants of ‘Joseph, Joseph’ by the Labour faithful – is to be implemented in spite of other European countries increasing their prices.

Taking a swipe at the Opposition, Muscat insisted that if the government followed Simon Busuttil’s advice on the fuel prices, it would have meant a slight decrease followed by a sudden increase again.

On the Café Premier deal, a reticent Muscat explained that the government has learned from the shortcomings that were flagged in the Auditor General’s report. While pointing out that the report estimated the price of the property as being higher than the €4.2 million the government paid, Muscat nevertheless argued that the government may have rushed in its decision.

The deal, which has since been described as a “scandal stinking of corruption” by Simon Busuttil saw the government fork out €4.2 million in an amicable bailout between the government’s lands departments and Valletta’s Café Premier owners.

“We will not be arrogant, but we will take all measures to improve governance. This is the main difference between this government and the PN administration: we are ready to learn from our mistakes and take all the necessary measures. The PN on the other hand saw itself as having a divine right to govern over Malta,” Muscat said.

While acknowledging the shortcomings in the Café Premier deal, Muscat insisted that this done to correct what the government inherited from the previous PN governments – arguing that under the latter’s governance, “corruption became institutionalised.”

Describing Opposition leader Simon Busuttil as ‘Nostradamus’ for his prediction that Malta would be heading for a bailout in two years’ time, Muscat said the government has successfully delivered on its promise to reduce fuel prices, and argued that he had no intention of seeking a bailout.

Earlier Muscat welcomed the appointment of Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, arguing that even though the church and the government disagree on certain major issues and should remain separate, the two entities must work together for the better of the country.