[WATCH] Bernard Grech’s first priorities as prime minister: tackling greylisting and reimbursing overcharged utilities

Xtra on TVM News Plus | Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech is interviewed about his party’s plans if elected to government

Opposition leader Bernard Grech
Opposition leader Bernard Grech

Bernard Grech's first priority will be to get Malta off the greylist if elected prime minister in the next election.

His second priority will be to order a review of the utility billing system so that people will be refunded money overcharged over the past years.

Grech was speaking on TVM News Plus’s Xtra on Monday evening.

The Nationalist Party leader said greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force has caused a lot of problems in the financial services industry and other sectors, including notaries.

“Robert Abela has no idea how to deal with greylisting and only tries to tick the boxes by persecuting businesses… This is why people have to choose me because a Labour government that got us on the greylist in the first place, cannot get us off it,” Grech said.

He insisted that just like a new PN government in 1987 brought about immediate change in the country’s reputation abroad, the people should deliver a clear message in the next election that they will be putting corruption aside.

“We are not perfect but we can get the country off the greylist,” Grech said.

Malta was greylisted by the FATF in June last year and Grech had promised that a PN government would get the country off the problematic list within three months.

On energy bills, Grech reiterated his party’s pledge to reimburse people the money they have been overcharged on their utility bills. He added that higher international prices in the energy market will not be passed on to consumers.

“We have a plan for the energy sector. What we will definitely not do is discuss contracts behind people’s backs. We will invest in offshore wind turbines and a second interconnector,” he said.

Asked whether the PN is ready for an election, Grech said the party has been ready for it since November.

“Whenever the election comes we are ready to show everyone that we have a socio-economic plan for this country and we can be an alternative government that is better than the Labour government,” he said.

Just 8% of PN candidates formed part of Gonzi cabinet

Grech said the PN will put forward a varied crop of candidates but cautioned against ostracising veterans.

“Just 8% of all candidates today formed part of the Gonzi cabinet. This doesn’t mean these people should be ostracised or that they did wrong. After all, voters are sovereign and I ask them to give me the best team… we need a mixture of all ages,” he said.

Grech said the most important thing is having a good electoral programme that people can relate to.

“We have a clear plan that can deliver dignified living for everyone, based on judicious use of public funds. We want to make the economy more resilient by attracting new sectors and encourage innovation while protecting the environment. We have a plan to improve wages, improve lifestyles, incentivise those who obey the laws and those who protect the environment,” Grech said.

He promised an electoral campaign based on the party’s ideas and proposals. “I am convinced people will choose the PN.”

Prime Minister cut off from reality

Taking a leaf out of his speech on the eve of Independence Day last year, Grech said Prime Minister Robert Abela is unable to understand the troubles of ordinary people.

“A Prime minister who did not sully his hands and suffer for his income cannot understand what ordinary people feel,” Grech said.

The €70 million disbursement in tax relief cheques announced by government last week, he added, was an attempt to cover up the revelation that the Prime Minister’s legal firm benefitted from a €17,000 per month retainer.

“If Robert Abela was earning €17,000 per month in the private sector, good for him, but the problem is that this money was coming from public funds when he also benefitted from other public contracts and still carried out private work,” Grech said, defending his party’s targeting of the prime minister.

Grech said the PN had a duty to warn about corruption in 2017. “Malta is today greylisted because of the Labour government… today, nobody doubts that the PL government is corrupt.”

The Opposition leader pointed out what he termed as irresponsible spending by the government. He said government spent €2.5 million on the film awards while the industry is crying for funding. “Government spends €163,000 on the salary of a minister’s campaign manager from public funds, which could have gone to fund the free medicine for 45 couples undergoing IVF treatment,” Grech said, referring to the pay packet given to Carmen Ciantar as CEO of the Foundation for Medical Services.

Asked about appointments to government posts if elected to government, Grech pledged to choose the best people based on their competence.

“I will choose people on their competence and in the best interest of the country, irrespective of who the person is. I recently suggested Franco Debono to sit on the Broadcasting Authority… do you think everyone applauded me [in my party]? No. But that is my trademark. I will choose people based on competence and in the best interest of the country,” he said.

PN is not classist

Grech refuted the caricature painted by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri over the weekend that the PN was aloof and looked down on Labourites as ħamalli.

“Why does Clint Camilleri engage in divisive politics? The PN is not classist and it will not be classist under me. I lived in Birżebbuġa; I was born and vred in the south; I am the child of a working-class family; I am a worker but I am also a professional… does it make me classist? No. Everyone has his place in this society and every job is needed,” Grech insisted, dismissing Camilleri’s criticism.

Asked about the PN’s stand on cannabis legalisation once in government, Grech hinted that the law will not be repealed but changes will be enacted to “mitigate the damage” it has caused.