[WATCH] Labour-led council fires salvo against Busuttil on Freeport expansion

Birzebbuga council votes to condemn Simon Busuttil’s Freeport expansion statement, PN councillor Hermann Schiavone insists PN leader hasn’t taken a stance in favour of expanding Freeport footprint

Labour mayor Kevin Barun (centre) filed the motion for a vote on Simon Busuttil, while Hermann Schiavone (second from right) accused the Labour councillors of being misleading
Labour mayor Kevin Barun (centre) filed the motion for a vote on Simon Busuttil, while Hermann Schiavone (second from right) accused the Labour councillors of being misleading
Labour-led council fires salvo against Busuttil on Freeport expansion

Birzebbugia’s Labour-led council has voted to condemn Opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s statements in favour of an expansion of the Malta Freeport, when he said that he was shocked at Joseph Muscat’s pledge not to expand its footprint.

All Labour councillors voted in favour and all PN councillors, which included PN candidate Hermann Schiavone, voted against it, following a heated meeting that was rife with political tit-for-tats over differing interpretations of Busuttil’s statement. 

Labour mayor Kevin Barun, who filed the motion for the vote, insisted that Busuttil’s statement of “shock” was akin to a stance in favour of expanding the Freeport on land outside development zones. 

“Muscat pledged not to allow the Freeport to expand further into the heart of Birzebbuga. Busuttil said that he was shocked at Muscat’s statement, which logically means that he was shocked that the Prime Minister doesn’t want the Freeport to expand.”

But PN councillor Hermann Schiavone accused Barun of twisting Busuttil’s words around. 

“Busuttil never said that he wanted to increase the Freeport’s footprint or build on ODZ land, only that he is in favour of increasing the Freeport’s operations,” he said. “Its operations can increase without the footprint increasing, such as if Medserv is relocated away from the Freeport.”

He presented a counter-motion that called on political parties to come clean on their stances on further Freeport expansion, on the Freeport to build bridges with Birzebbuga residents through the principle of corporate social responsibility, and on the government to give an account of the impact on residents of a gas tanker that will be moored in Marsaxlokk Bay as part of Labour’s flagship LNG power station project.

“The greatest concern of Birzebbuga residents is the gas tanker, not the expansion of the Freeport,” he argued.

However, this motion was soundly defeated by the Labour councillors, with councillor Joseph Baldacchino arguing that the tanker hasn’t even arrived in Malta yet. Schiavone and fellow PN councillor Stanley Zammit promptly retorted that this meant there was still time for a risk assessment study to be carried out.

The Nationalist Party in a statement hit out at the PL councillors for lying about Busuttil's statement and for voting against Schiavone's motion, arguing that the gas tanker in Marsaxlokk will endanger Birzebbuga's families and businesses. 

"The PN is in favour of increasing operations at the Freeport, so as to increase the amount of high-paying jobs it offers. It is a lie that the PN has proposed to extend the Freeport on ODZ land," he said. "Joseph Muscat is so detached from reality that he has now launched a direct attack on workers who dedicate their energy towards expanding Malta's logistics and distribution sector."

Labour has lambasted Busuttil for what it claimed was a U-turn on his ‘ODZ is ODZ’ statements, when he supported proposals that no development takes place outside development zones (ODZ).

The Nationalist Party has accused Joseph Muscat of “launching an attack” against the Freeport and its workers, by opposing further Freeport expansion.

The council’s emergency meeting was convened on short notice, and indeed Schiavone admitted that he had only heard of Barun’s motion after he had arrived at the council’s offices.

While he took a personal stance against the expansion of the Freeport’s footprint, he urged fellow councillors to respect the Planning Authority, which would have to assess any development applications by the Freeport. 

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