Updated | Malta risks ‘serious ramifications’ due to populist tactics, Busuttil warns

PN leader Simon Busuttil says government is an ‘orgy of nepotism and vote-buying’ and is standing idly by watching Air Malta’s collapse • Labour Party say Busuttil's surplus critcism belie claims that Malta woudl need a bailoiut

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (Photo:Ray Attard)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil (Photo:Ray Attard)

European Union member states risk “serious ramifications” unless politicians scale back on populist tactics, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said today, arguing that Malta risks consequences due to the government’s populist and vote-buying tactics ahead of the election.

Speaking to PN faithful in Dingli, Busuttil said the government was “an orgy of nepotism” and was “buying people’s votes”, and claimed that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat sought to mislead the public by announcing a budget surplus.

Describing the Labour Party as a “fake copy of the Nationalist Party”, Busuttil denounced the government’s populist tactics as an attempt to buy people’s votes, and argued that the country, particularly Air Malta, was at risk due to the dangers posed by populism.

“Just like Malta, the European Union risks serious consequences due to the rise in populism. The European Union is at crossroads, and as highlighted by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, populist tactics could give rise to huge problems. Voters should not be hijacked by politicians who speak only of half truths and who in substance, offer no solutions,” he said.

The PN leader pulled no punches in denouncing the government’s “bluff” arguing that the Prime Minister’s announcement of a budget surplus – Malta’s first balanced budget in 35 years – highlighted Muscat’s “populist gimmicks”.

“While the Nationalist Party was hosting the EPP Congress in Malta, the government wanted to come up with something to steal the headlines … The surplus in itself is a good thing, but when looking between the lines it becomes apparent that it is just another populist tackle aimed to take people for a ride,” he said.

National statistics on Thursday showed that the Consolidated Fund registered a surplus of €8.9 million in 2016, an announcement that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat hailed as a “Maltese economic miracle”.

However, Busuttil argued that “there was a catch” and that the surplus was only registered because the government’s capital expenditure had been slashed by 47% - from €581.5 million to €310.3 million.

“The surplus should not have been at the cost of capital expenditure but at the cost of the government’s many positions of trust. The majority of the people, bar the members of the government’s inner circle, are not reaping the benefits of the economy,” he said.

Busuttil’s disdain was also voiced by Nationalist MP Clyde Puli, who in his address to the Nationalist faithful, said the budget surplus was “thanks to the roadmap of the Lawrence Gonzi administration” and the government had created a surplus in poverty and the cost of living disparity. 

Lambasting the “apathy that has besieged Malta”, Busuttil argued that the decrease in the government’s spending continued to exacerbate the country’s traffic problem, arguing that the government had not delivered on any infrastructural project to mitigate congestion.

“It is useless for this so-called socialist administration to boast about the surplus when it did not invest in social housing. There have not been any tangible investment in the infrastructure, education or the health sector,” he said.

Speaking on Air Malta, Busuttil said the government had underestimated the airline’s situation and was now refusing to take important decisions due to their political impact.

Busuttil, who did not describe the “important and difficult decisions” that the ailing airline ought to take, pledged that a future Nationalist administration would secure the future of Air Malta.

“A Nationalist administration would guarantee a national airline which serves the workers, the people and the economy. The government has not taken the difficult decisions, it underestimated the airline’s situation and it is now slowly collapsing.”

“If Air Malta were to close down, Malta would lose an important connection to the rest of the world. If this happens, the economy would suffer,” he said. 

Labour: 'Surplus belies Busuttil's claims that Malta would need a bailout'

In a reaction, the Labour Party hit out at Busuttil, arguing that the surplus registered by Malta belied claims made by himself that Malta would need a bailout under a Labour administration.

“Simon Busuttil is fake when saying that the budget surplus was also planned by the Nationalist Party prior to the 2013 general election as he had claimed that Malta would need a bailout,” it said.

The Labour Party also shot down Busuttil’s criticism that the surplus was achieved because capital expenditure was slashed, arguing that when the PN government had spent the same amount in 2012, Malta had registered its biggest ever deficit.