Repairs on Mater Dei concrete rise to €150 million

Prime Minister says energy minister Konrad Mizzi has no intention of succeeding him as Labour leader, says PN loan scheme is tantamount to 'institutionalised fraud'

Remedial works needed to fix the structural defects at Mater Dei Hospital as a result of poor concrete are expected to reach €150 million, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said today.

Speaking during a question and answer session with journalists and Labour party delegates at the party’s headquarters in Hamrun, the prime minister explained that Arup, an independent multinational engineering firm which had been entrusted with taking an X-ray of the hospital, determined that the poor concrete extended beyond the Accident and Emergency Department.

Muscat said discussions with Swedish contractors Skanska and the Swedish government over the state of concrete foundations were ongoing and were “in the hands of lawyers,” and said that repair works on the hospital would be carried out according to urgency.

Taking swipe at previous Nationalist administrations over the faulty concrete used at Mater Dei Hospital, the prime minister said the country was still paying for the PN’s “sheer incompetence and ignorance.”

Asked by MaltaToday journalist Miriam Dalli whether energy minister Konrad Mizzi would be asked to resign after having admitted to having a company registered in Panama as well as a trust fund in New Zealand, the prime minister insisted that Mizzi would be made to resign if it transpires that he lied.

“This is a legitimate question [whether Konrad Mizzi should resign] and one which is being asked by several people … There is an ongoing investigation by the Commissioner for Inland Revenue. If the audit reveals that Konrad Mizzi lied he will have to resign but if it transpires that he has been truthful all along, I would expect him to work even harder,” he said.

The prime minister also underlined that he would not hesitate taking any decisions, insisting that during his tenure as prime minister and as opposition leader, he never shied away from doing so, once the facts of the case transpire.

Moreover, Muscat – who had previously suggested that he would exit the political scene after completing 10 years in government – argued that “Konrad Mizzi is not interested” in succeeding him as the leader of the Labour Party and that the energy minister would leave with him.

“Konrad Mizzi told me that he is not interested [in becoming leader of the Labour Party]. Rather, he told me that once I leave, he leaves too,” Muscat said.

Earlier the prime minister said former PL deputy leader Toni Abela would again be his consultant and would again be attending Cabinet meetings.

The prime minister once again said that certain people had worked against Malta’s nominee to the European Court of Auditors to discredit him, but insisted that Abela’s nomination was not a ploy to get rid of him or kick him upstairs. Rather, Muscat pointed out, it was Toni Abela himself who wanted to become Malta’s representative at the European Court of Auditors.

PN loans scheme: ‘institutionalised fraud’ – Muscat

Hitting out at the Nationalist Party for creating a ‘ponzi scheme’, the PL leader said that the PN’s recently-announced loan scheme – which will see the party be financed by small loans of €10,000 on an interest rate of 4% - was specifically created to bypass party financing rules.

Although loans can be considered donations in terms of party financing rules, a loan taken out by a political party on rates that are not more favourable than prevailing commercial rates, does not make such loans ‘donations’, and consequently, such loans do not fall within the scope of the recently–enacted party financing laws.

Describing the PN’s loan scheme as institutionalised fraud’, the Prime Minister said that discussions will be instituted to amend the party financing law so it includes within its scope loans to political parties.

Asked whether he believed whether the electorate was losing trust in politics, the prime minister conceded that the government “disappointed” on certain issues or could have communicated better, but insisted that the government had managed to change people’s lives by delivering lower electricity tariffs, lower taxes, free childcare, higher pensions, as well as lower duties for first time property buyers.

“The people expect better from this government. Certain things could have been done better. The Panama and Old Mint Street issues disappointed me, not just the people,” he said.

Accusing the Opposition of being negative and of going for the tribal intrinsic of pitting blue against red, Muscat said that he is against replying in kind and will not engage in a tit-for-tat battle with the PN.

“The Opposition wants to build a wall around the Labour Party, but the party will engage with everyone, even those who criticise it, as happened with the Zonqor development,” he said.

“The attacks by the Nationalist Party will continue because the Labour Party has the moral strength and electoral power that empower us to change the country. We will respond to these attacks by working more and by delivering on our pledges,” he said.

Turning his attention on MaltaToday’s latest trust ratings – the results of which saw PN leader Simon Busuttil reduce his gap down by 4 points and the PN trail the PL by just one single percentage point – the prime minister said that it was normal that the governing party enjoys lower support mid-way through the legislature.

“Simon Busuttil’s biggest strength is that he manages to convey his message strongly through his criticism. However, this negative criticism is also his biggest downfall; whenever Simon Busuttil is asked what he would do if her were in my shoes, he avoids the question,” he said.

Muscat also reiterated that criminal libel will soon be abolished but the pending censorship and freedom of expression law takes precedence.

The prime minister also accused the PN of “double standards” over its criticism at the criminal defamation suit filed by former police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit against shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi. Muscat explained that the criticism was not justified as back in 2000, Beppe Fenech Adami had sued journalist Felic Agius while Simon Busuttil instituted a similar lawsuit against Manwel Cuschieri, then president of the Labour Party.

‘Refugees have to be integrated, not marginalised’ - Muscat

Muscat also said that he would continue adopting a tough stand against migration, arguing that when he had threatened to push-back asylum seekers, Malta had been noticed by the European Union and was taken seriously.

Reiterating his speech on the eve of Freedom Day, Muscat once again called on the Maltese to desist from racism and insisted that refugees and minorities should be integrated within society and not marginalised.

“While we may have the luxury of ignoring this at present, it will come back to haunt us in 10 years’ time. Future generations will question why we did not learn from the mistakes of other European countries,” he said.

Earlier, the prime minister said pensions would be raised again in the coming Budget and explained even though the government was encouraging private pensions and issue schemes for those companies wishing to operate their own pensions schemes, this did not mean that the government was changing its mind on second pillar pensions.

He also said that the government will sign a formal agreement with the Malta Employers Association in the coming days to facilitate the employment of persons with disabilities, as outlined in the Budget.