Two years of Labour: stability at the expense of accountability

This week’s edition of Reporter asked former UHM secretary-general Gejtu Vella, former PN mayor Robert Musumeci, former Alternattiva Demokratika leader Michael Briguglio and Josef Caruana, editor of the General Workers’ Union newspaper l-Orizzont, to grade the Muscat government’s mid-term report card.

Former union leader Gejtu Vella yesterday poured scorn over Labour’s election slogan ‘Malta Tagħna Lkoll’, saying that the three values of meritocracy, accountability and transparency had not been implemented well under two years of Labour.

Labour’s administrative record was put under the microscope on TVM’s Reporter on Monday, with Orizzont editor Josef Caruana putting up a defence of Joseph Muscat’s bid to lower utility rates and keep economic fundamentals in place; while former Alternattiva Demokratika leader and sociologist Michael Briguglio questioning whether good governance and meritocracy should be given second place.

“You cannot lump the electorate into a homogenous category. At present, the absolute majority still support Labour,” Briguglio said, attributing this in part to a stable economy, but also to the widening of civil rights and free childcare.

He opined however that meritocracy was a weak spot for the government. “It is clear that in certain areas, certain posts were not awarded meritocratically, but because they appeared on billboards, or had supported the party before the election.”

He added that Labour was more interested in comparing itself to the Gonzi administration. “I did not see any election billboards saying that if Joseph Muscat becomes Prime Minister, half of his speeches would be aimed at the previous government. The billboards I saw were that Muscat will give us a new style of leadership, of governance. Meritocracy, Malta Tagħna Lkoll. “

Former PN mayor Robert Musumeci, today a government consultant on planning who has sworn allegiance to Labour’s so called ‘movement of progressives and moderates’ said the reality was that Joseph Muscat was bigger than Labour.

“We have a prime minister who has managed to attract and absorb persons who, even if they do not identify with the politics of the labour party, identify themselves with the politics of Joseph Muscat,” noting successes such as the reduction of utility tariffs, and the planned €400 million in passport sales under the IIP.

“This isn’t a case of the honeymoon period not being over after two years. We must not forget that in 1998 we had the same Labour party that lasted one year and eight months [in government ] and lost a majority of 13,000 votes.”

Vella suggested the reason for many people switching their vote to Labour was self-interest. “A good number of Nationalists must have felt that they had taken all that they could expect to take from the PN. They decided to cross the road to see what they could get from the other side.”

The trade unionist complained that the common good was no longer a priority, blasting the selfishness of “a number of people who decided to throw away the PN, in spite of there being an international recession which did not affect Malta as there was steady employment and the economy was working.”

Café Premier bailout

Reporter’s guests were also asked about the €4.2 million bailout of Cities Entertainment, the leaseholders on Café Premier, the subject of a damning report by the NAO that criticised the direct involvement of the Prime Minister in the negotiations to buy back the government property.

“The only mistake Muscat made was to pay to repossess government land,” Caruana said.

But Briguglio doubted Muscat would have got off so lightly abroad. “The government is saying that you can be bailed out if you are acting illegally,” referring to the company that owed €1.5 million in arrears to the State but which was granted a lifeline by ceding its 65-year-lease on the property.

“Even if there is no evidence of corruption, simply on a procedural level the issue was worrying… the fact that the Lands Department was not involved, that is enough for me. This government, especially on environmental issues, is showing that big businesses have more privileges than ordinary citizens. This is a failed company that was bailed out by government. What if those millions had been spent on the roads or on assisting those on the minimum wage? To me this is money wasted.”

Musumeci defended the Labour administration on environmental and planning policy, claiming that MEPA’s procedures were more rational. “The previous government had, in good faith, introduced a number of concessions, which created loopholes which create a legal uncertainty. The government would do well to address these loopholes.”

Briguglio interjected, saying that George Pullicino’s extension of development zones in 2006 was also termed as “rationalisation” to justify the changes in ODZ boundaries which turned Malta into a building site. “It’s like chewing gum: you can stretch it anyway you want”.

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