Free school transport scheme already a success – Muscat

The Prime Minister warned that perfection couldn’t be expected from the first day but said that the interest shown by parents was already greater than expected 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that the government’s scheme to provide free school transport to all children was already a success, despite the scholastic year not yet having started.

Speaking during an interview on ONE radio, Muscat said that the demand had been greater than expected.

“We knew demand would increase, but it has increased so much, especially now that parents have seen it will really be free, that there isn’t one mini-van that won’t be in use during those hours of the morning,” he said. 

Despite the interest, he acknowledged that there were still those who have not yet been accommodated.

“The good news is we can say it is a success, the not so good news is that there are people who want to use the system and for whom it won’t be available yet.”

He said that a number of meetings had been held between the Education, Home Affairs, Transport and Justice ministries, to coordinate traffic flows once the scholastic year starts.

 “We aren’t expecting perfection from day one, we are expecting complaints, but it will be an important learning curve and we are appealing for cooperation and for people to pass on their criticism.”

More enforcement required

Turning to migration, the Prime Minister said that while Malta had seen a reduction in the number of third-country nationals arriving by boat in recent years, those travelling to Malta from other EU member states, like Italy, had increased.

“They come here legitimately, by plane or catamaran, and they have a right to be here,” he said, adding however that these people might not always have permission to work in Malta.

As a result, he said that local authorities, on a daily basis, see to it that people who shouldn’t be in Malta, or who shouldn’t be working in the country, are sent back.

He stressed that more of an emphasis was being placed on the enforcement of laws. Muscat stressed that measures needed to be taken, in collaboration with local councils, to ensure that people living in localities with a high concentration of foreign nationals could live in peace.

In this regard, he said the government was exploring the possibility of introducing facial recognition CCTV cameras in some localities, such as Paceville. Such a system, Muscat said, “would discourage anti-social behaviour”.

Clamping down on these types of actions was essential, irrespective of who the person behind it was, Muscat said, while underscoring that any such system would be implemented “with full respect toward data protection and privacy laws”. 

EU would take UK back

Touching upon his trip to London, Muscat reiterated his belief that it would be better for both the EU and UK if Brexit were to be reconsidered.

“Had the UK to reconsider it I am sure the EU would be very happy to facilitate it staying,” he said, adding that while the EU should be flexible with the UK this should only be done in a way that respects EU rules. 

While in London, Muscat said he had held meetings with representatives of ten companies that were interested in investing in Malta.

In this regard, he said announcements would be made over the coming weeks.

He said work was currently underway to see to it that all Maltese living in UK received the necessary assistance for them to register as residents after Brexit comes into force.

Similarly, he said that Malta would be ensuring that UK citizens living in Malta are able to continue doing so with minimal disruption.

PN can’t talk about domestic violence

Referring to comments by PN leader Adrian Delia this week in which he defended his party’s decision to vote against amendments to Malta’s domestic violence laws, Muscat said the discussion had been needlessly politicised by the PN leader.  

“The last thing the PN can talk about is the issue of domestic violence,” he said. “They invented a banal excuse related to abortion, in the most imaginative and skewed of ways, to vote against the law,” Muscat said, stressing that the changes made penalties harsher and allowed victims more defences.

Turning to the broader problem, Muscat said that more needed to be done nationally to ensure that the necessary safeguards were in place, and to change people’s mentality.

International praise for customs authorities

Earlier in the week it was reported that roughly 10 tonnes of cannabis resin by discovered on a cargo ship by customs officials. Muscat said the operation had won the customs department international praise from law enforcement agencies.
He said that he could not at this stage give details about where the drugs were going, or where the money from them would have ended up.

“All I can say is that our authorities have been commended by various international agencies,” Muscat said.

More in National