Updated | Muscat pledges to tackle ‘inadequate’ infrastructure

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says countries that refuse to take asylum-seekers back should face sanctions

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has this morning conceded that the country’s infrastructure is one of the major challenges that the government is facing and one which requires immediate addressing in the upcoming budget.

Speaking on One Radio a few days after Malta’s roads were brought to a standstill after a traffic gridlock, Muscat acknowledged that the present infrastructure was showing signs of being inadequate to cater for the increasing demand, and that it needed to be improved.

“The infrastructure in Malta was built to cater for a country of 400,000, but, for example, in August, because of tourism, there were between 600,000 and 700,000 people on the island. The infrastructure cannot cater for this amount, and is inadequate,” he said while pledging to also focus on improving cleanliness and the upkeep of public spaces.

Even though Muscat’s take on Malta’s infrastructure problem was arguably far better than that of the transport ministry’s statement – which said that it was “aware of the traffic troubles and the traffic problem is real” – his brief acknowledgement fell short of mentioning any concrete measures to alleviate traffic.

Rather, the prime minister – who is on his way back to Malta after addressing the UN’s General Assembly in New York – reiterated his call for the burden sharing principle to be extended worldwide, arguing that the migration phenomenon is not just felt in Europe, but also in Asia and the United States.

Nevertheless, Muscat explained that this would not mean a “free-for-all” scenario. Rather he said, those people who do not qualify for asylum should be sent back to their respective countries.

“The countries who refuse to take these asylum-seekers back should be subject to sanctions, whereas the countries who collaborate should be rewarded through assistance,” Muscat said.

The prime minister also argued that even though Malta received fewer asylum-seekers than in previous years, this does not mean that it was going to desist from its call for European solidarity.

“The easiest thing to do was to say nothing. However, we forced a debate and vote in the EU, and said that there still should be solidarity with those countries that received an influx of asylum-seekers. Out of sense of solidarity, Malta will receive 189 asylum-seekers from other countries … Should Malta have its own crisis, it would then expect the some sort of solidarity,” Joseph Muscat said.

On the budget, the prime minister said the budget would focus on maintaining the country’s economic growth, low unemployment levels, and higher living standards.

Taking a swipe at the PN’s pre-budget document, the Labour Leader said the Opposition’s proposals were littered with errors, saying that Simon Busuttil either failed to understand what was written or was taken for a ride.
Muscat argued that the Opposition’s proposal to give free lunches to vulnerable children would create a stigma and prejudice. Similarly, he said, the PN’s proposal to increase the price of ODZ land would seem to justify the development of ODZ land. On the other hand, Muscat disagreed with the Opposition’s proposal which would see energy tariffs be determined by the fluctuation in international fuel prices, and also said that the government did not want to raise social security contributions.

However, in a reaction, the Nationalist Party said Muscat’s criticism confirms his “immaturity and stubbornness” as he refused to even consider the PN’s proposals. “The PN’s pre-budget document was praised by everyone, except Joseph Muscat,” the PN said.