[WATCH] Electric cars changeover process must be sensitive to low-earners - Prime Minister

Changeover to electric cars and energy efficient buildings must be done in such a way as to avoid creating burden for those who can’t afford the expense, Joseph Muscat says

Joseph Muscat was addressing party faithful during an event in Mosta on Sunday
Joseph Muscat was addressing party faithful during an event in Mosta on Sunday

The eventual changeover from conventionally-powered to electric and hydrogen cars must be done is such a way as to safeguard those in society who might not be able to afford the expense of purchasing a new vehicle, Joseph Muscat said.

The Prime Minister said that while it was important to carry out the change in order to look out for future generations, any new laws made in this regard have to be formulated in such a way as to ensure low-income earners do not suffer.

Muscat - who was speaking on Sunday during an event in Mosta - said the same applied to the implementation of EU rules for energy efficient buildings, which might make it necessary for older homes to be retrofitted to meet new requirements.

Member states have until March 2020 to implement the EU’s revised energy efficiency directive, but Muscat said that when drafting any such rules into laws, the government would be making sure that vulnerable people, such as pensioners, are not subjected to a financial burden which they couldn’t afford.

“Apart from buying a home, the biggest expense people face is usually purchasing a car. We have a big second-hand car market in Malta, because this is what people afford,” Muscat said, “The moment we switch to electric and hydrogen-powered cars, what will we do about those who can't afford a new car? The change we have to plan has to be done in such a way as to ensure these people don’t suffer.”

“We make new laws, but we help every sector of society to make the necessary changes. This is why we need more education about the changes we will need for the future,” the Prime Minister highlighted.

The changeover date when the sale of petrol and diesel fuelled cars will be banned has not yet been made public, and will be announced in 2020.

Muscat said that the people recognised that his government had solved a lot of the problems it had inherited, but that there were now new problems which were a consequence of the economic wealth which has been generated.

“The people also recognise that it is only this movement, this government, which can solve these problems.”

PN government’s strategy to reduce emissions involved hiking up power bills

One of the major changes the country had to start focusing on was climate sustainability, Muscat said, as he emphasised that this would require that people are educated about the issues.

“Until a few months ago, I still felt climate discussions were confined to the environment. But this is not the case. Climate has to do with the economy, the environment and the social sphere.”

He went on to refer to an old speech in Parliament by Lawrence Gonzi, where the former PN Prime Minister had said he would be voting against a motion by the then Labour Opposition to lower electricity bills.

The reason Gonzi had given for this was to discourage electricity consumption to subsequently lower emissions, he said.

The Gonzi government had no plans to shut down the “cancer factory” power stations, and saw higher bills and a surcharge as the only way of fighting emissions, Muscat underscored. “Thousands of pensioners fell into poverty because of the higher bills. Families weren’t able to keep up with expenses due to the tariffs.”

While the goal of reducing emissions was positive, the way the PN government had gone about doing it was bad, he said. The Labour government, however, had invested in electricity generation and had managed to lower emissions while not putting a burden on pensioners and families.

He said that now that power generation had been addressed, the next challenge would be to deal with the country’s biggest source of pollution - cars.

Discussion on raising age of compulsory education to 17 or 18

Muscat also spoke at length about the education sector, saying that this was an area where a lot of investment had been made by previous governments, both Labour and Nationalist ones.

PN administrations had built a school every year, something which the Labour government was also investing in, he said.

The government was building new schools by taking on board educators’ input on how they should be constructed to help improve the teaching process, he said. “We’ve built the first schools designed together with educators. While doing this, we are also renovating older schools.”

Apart from investing in infrastructure, however, the government had also extended its drive to integrate technology within schools, such as by providing a tablet for all students from the fourth year of primary school.

Young people, he said, had an innate talent for using technology. And by giving them a solid basis in technology, this could lead to them choosing this educational path in the future.

This, he said, indicated a silent revolution in education.

Touching on the issue of vocational education, he noted that trade schools, which had served a controversial purpose, had been closed down years ago.

From this year, however, vocational training had been fully integrated within mainstream education, allowing students who showed promise in a trade to be trained in it from within their existing schools, enabling them to expand on it in the future.

“The idea of having a trade doesn’t mean that you don’t attend university - on the other hand, you could even obtain a degree in that sector. This is also a silent revolution in education,” he said.

Muscat also spoke about the age of compulsory education. “Some countries are raising this to 17 and 18. There are strong arguments in favour of this, but it can’t take place overnight.”

However, raising the age of compulsory education also had its cons, since more people would be still in school at 17 and 18, which would necessitate the need for more foreign workers.

A discussion was needed on the matter, he said.

The issue of poverty was also related to this, since families at risk of poverty might need their children to start working to help out with expenses. Muscat noted, however, that having a better education would eventually allow them to get a them a job with a better salary.

These, he said, were the challenges of the future.

Muscat added that he was satisfied that the government was able to think of such future challenges instead of only planning for the immediate.