‘Environment must be improved’ – Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat welcomes PA’s call for demolition of derelict Jerma and Mistra Village but makes no mention of high-rise development in Sliema and Mriehel

More needs to be done to improve Malta’s environment, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday as he welcomed the Planning Authority’s decision to issue enforcement notices to the owners of the former Jerma Palace and the Mistra Village Complex.

Speaking on One Radio, the prime minister also welcomed the PA’s work in removing illegal scrapyards, but made no mention of the ongoing debate about the contentious high-rise projects in Sliema and Mriehel.

The PA has approved the development of a 38-storey tower in Sliema and four smaller towers in Mriehel, the former having been approved by a margin of just one vote. The Environment and Resources Authority – which following the MEPA demerger was created by the government as a means of strengthening the environmental voice in planning decisions – will not appeal the Townsquare and Mriehel high-rise projects, and has so far ignored calls by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to submit an appeal.

Speaking on Air Malta, the prime minister said Malta’s national airline had been left in a “mess” by the previous administration. Welcoming the agreement between the airline and the pilots’ union, the prime minister noted that talks with the cabin crews are ongoing and said he was confident that the right decisions would be taken by the negotiating team.

The national airline’s Union Cabin Crew filed work-to rule industrial action, a day after the government reached an agreement with the Air Malta Pilots’ Association (ALPA) following lengthy negotiations over a new collective agreement.

The prime minister also welcomed Malta’s ‘A’ rating with credit agency Fitch, but insisted that the government must take note of those families who are struggling to make ends meet.

“Reports by international agencies, such as Fitch, are an important yardstick for the performance of the economy. The rating reflects a better standard of living and an economy which has consistently performed well over the past three years,” he explained.

“Nevertheless, there are still people who are struggling to make ends meet. Poverty is a reality which must be addressed, and the government is committed to ensure that economic growth is translated into an improved standard of living for all,” Muscat argued.

The prime minister insisted that government had inherited an economic outlook seen by the ratings agencies as ‘negative’, before this was turned into ‘stable’ and now ‘positive’. Muscat also said that under the Labour administration Malta had the lowest unemployment rate in the Eurozone, less people dependent on social benefits, and more people in the middle class.

“The report by Fitch gives us an indication of how Malta’s economy is seen by international experts, disregarding the view of politicians. Malta’s unemployment rates have made us the best in Europe, but best is yet to come,” he said.

He explained that Malta’s ‘positive’ economic outlook is due to several factors, including the reduction in utility tariffs, lower income tax, free childcare, and growth in the tourism sector.