Muscat tells youths to be trailblazers and work for equality and integration

Prime Minister hosts Q&A in Castille Square to field questions from student organisations • University Students Council (KSU) takes umbrage at Muscat's sceptism about university elections.

‘Ask me anything…’ – Joseph Muscat takes questions from youths and students
‘Ask me anything…’ – Joseph Muscat takes questions from youths and students

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said the embattled national airline needs a “true game-changer” as he hailed an agreement to forge ahead with negotiations to sell a 49% stake to Alitalia.

Speaking during a Q&A organized by the Forum Zaghzagh Laburisti, and including representatives from a number of student associations including university students’ council (KSU), Muscat said the MOU signed with Alitalia – part of the Etihad group of airlines – was a first step in a long journey of negotiations. “We need a game changer to truly bring out its true potential and ensure that we safeguard jobs at the airline.”

Throughout the session in which Muscat fielded questions on Twitter, the prime minister urged students to be trailblazers and not to be intimidated by disapproval, if they were to shape the future.

He stressed on the importance of student participation, of understanding the way the world outside the educational system worked.

On equality, Muscat said that minorities had begun to speak up following the 2011 referendum on divorce, setting a number of other changes in motion, including the decriminalisation of drugs and the introduction of civil unions among others.

“Progress is pushed by social developments,” he said. “Young people were a crucial part of this development.

Muscat also hailed a proposed equality Bill as a way of enforcing equality on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation and not just pay lip service to it. “People should no longer live with closed barriers. Malta is, like other countries, facing a reality of ever more cultures and religions co-existing in the same place, as a sign of growth. We can learn from the mistakes of other countries, where different religions and ethnicities were segregated from the rest of society,” Muscat said, adding that this was the recipe for racial hatred.

He said his government wanted to work towards better integration of the disabled, and that it was now finalising an agreement with employers on disability quotas. “I hope that this government’s legacy will be to follow in the footsteps of previous governments and enforce integration in the workforce after it as been encouraged in the educational system,” he said.

Muscat said gender quality was his “favourite subject”, claiming his government had already increased visibility for women, with a female head of state, and giving 60% of new posts in the judiciary to women. “Encouraging financial independence is a crucial part of emancipating women,” Muscat said, referring to the introduction of free childcare for women among others.

On transport and infrastructure, Muscat said his government was in favour of creating better connectivity to Gozo, and supported a second connection to ensure constant energy supply to the island. He said he wanted to promote healthy lifestyle choices by providing space for bicycle users on roads, but also to provide more parking space at the University of Malta with a parking complex on he premises.

Muscat also commented on the awakening of the environmentalist lobby, admitting that the issue of the American University of Malta and ODZs, “could have been approached in a better way”.

“The ODZ issue has revealed a civil society is independent of political parties and leanings,” he said, adding that the government was committed to not using ODZ land for its projects and that the final decision in the construction of the campus at Zonqor point would be a “healthy compromise”.

KSU reaction

In a Facebook post after the event, the university council (KSU) said it was “extremely disappointed” at Muscat’s claim that during his time as a university student, he did not see the use of voting in the KSU elections due to the electoral system in place.

“Although the turnout of such elections is not as high as the percentages in nationwide elections, this does not invalidate the mandate of those elected, or make it any less relevant,” the KSU said.

Council elections are usually fought between groupings hailing from the Christian-democratic student organisation and Pulse, a centre-left organisation – usually providing the PN and PL respectively with their youngest political candidates in future elections.

The KSU said that it had set up two meetings with the Prime Minister that had been cancelled. “[We] have always maintained neutrality and worked hard hand-in-hand with other ministers like Evarist Bartolo, Chris Agius and Chris Fearne. KSU’s agenda is not dictated by any political party, as implied by the Prime Minister. Its autonomy and neutrality is crucial in order to ensure that the students’ best interests are always respected.”