Government should not have to appeal for Opposition’s unity – Muscat

The Prime Minister again appealed for constructive dialogue while underlying his administration’s ‘holistic plan’ for social mobility

The Prime Minister said government was succeeding in reducing poverty and stimulating upward social mobility
The Prime Minister said government was succeeding in reducing poverty and stimulating upward social mobility

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has once again called on Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia to “take control” of his party, and ensure that the opposition engages with the government constructively.

Addressing a political activity in Birgu, Muscat said he was convinced that Delia did not “personally agree” with the damage being done to Malta’s reputation abroad, but insisted that the new PN leader still lacked the power to control a few people “for whom the 2013 and 2017 elections never took place”.

“This is the irony. We are in a situation were the Government has to appeal to the opposition to be united,” said Muscat, adding that it was in the interest of both the Nationalist Party, and the country, for the party’s new leadership to take control of the situation.

Referring to criticism of Malta and its institutions in the foreign press, Muscat warned against adopting a siege mentality, and appealed to those working in the financial services sector, not to shy away from engaging with those set on attacking Malta.

“It is important for us to engage even if we are sitting round a table were everyone has already made their mind up against us,” he insisted. “We know our systems many not be perfect, but they are just.”

Turning to events in parliament this week, where a motion filed by the PN, to revoke a legal notice entitling those seeking IVF treatment to 100 days of leave, stressed that the legal notice was passed with people who needed to travel in order to receive such treatment in mind, insisting that nobody chose to do so “for the fun of it”.

“We said that as a humane gesture we would give these people 100 days of leave,” the Prime Minister explained passionately.

Muscat said he was proud of what he said was confirmation this week that in five years, the government had succeeded in reducing Malta’s poverty levels, after they had started to soar under the last PN administration.

“There were 6,000 children living in poverty in 2013, who today are no longer in poverty. Who no longer live in deprived families,” he said, insisting that government’s aim was to reach a situation were no child with a working carer lived in poverty.

In order to do this, Muscat said the country needed to invest in ensuring upward social mobility, through work and education.

In the education sector, he said government had shocked the system by incentivising parents to no longer keep their children home from school, adding however that this was a one-time scheme intended to get the ball rolling, since nobody should need to be paid to send their children to school.

He said that with the country’s current rate of economic growth meant that one of the biggest problems it was facing was a lack of workers. He appealed to parents to ensure that their children pursued some form of qualification, and to make the sacrifices necessary for them to have a better future.

In the meantime however, Muscat said the government’s position with investors wishing to move to Malta was to say that it would help with bringing the necessary expertise from abroad.

This, he said, was the only way to ensure that the country could continue to grow economically.

“We must get used to this and no longer consider foreigners to be a threat,” he said. “ It’s true, they create some problems – with housing, for example – but they are people who are paying taxes, which will pay for pensions and social services.”

He said that thanks to the tax and social security paid by foreign workers for a “pension they probably won’t not be getting”, given that most were only in Malta temporarily, the government could provide more services to the nation.

Muscat stressed that, whereas in the past, credit agencies would voice concerns about the sustainability of Malta’s pension system, this had now been solved.

“We solved it partially thanks to foreigners. Do not let others convince you with xenophobic and racists ideas,” he said. “Yes they take something but they also give us a lot.”

This week the government unveiled a 16-day awareness campaign on domestic violence, and Muscat pointed to increased female participation in the workforce, as key to combatting the behaviour.

“The vast majority of cases of domestic violence are women who are the victims of abusive men as well as an abusive system,” he said, adding that numerous studies had shown that a lack of financial independence meant victims were more likely to put up with abuse. 

 “We need women to work not only to fill work places, or for them to improve their family’s earnings, but it is almost an insurance, that if there is an abusive relationship, that person can leave,” said Muscat.

He said he remembers a time “when every problem in the country was blamed on single mothers”, and pointed out that this had been tackled through schemes which helped shift people off benefits, and into the workforce.

“This is the difference between the two parties – the conservative idea is to reduce their benefits, for them to go out and work. Out progressive idea was different, he said. “We told them they could keep their benefits and we would reduce it over a number of years.”

This way, he said, rather that taxpayers subsidising someone staying home, those who had joined the scheme were now working and paying taxes themselves.

Finally, on Air Malta, Muscat said the company’s workers were finally believing there was a future in store for them. He said that after four years of hard work, and a renewed impetus in the last four months, the government was succeeding in turning the airline around, while appealing to “workers and their representatives to consider the big picture”.