[WATCH] ‘Muscat’s inaction on Panama scandal makes him equally corrupt’ – Busuttil

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil claims that prime minister Joseph Muscat’s inaction following revelations of the involvement of a minister and his own chief of staff in the Panama Papers Scandal makes him just as corrupt as them

Simon Busuttil facing Saviour Balzan on party politics, corruption, the PN's retail policy and other issues
Simon Busuttil facing Saviour Balzan on party politics, corruption, the PN's retail policy and other issues

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Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had failed to remove – and take action against – former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and his own chief of staff Keith Schembri, when the two were implicated in the Panama Paers scandal, and the prime minister was therefore himself equally corrupt, according to Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

The leader of the Nationalist Party, who was facing questioning by Saviour Balzan on Thursday’s edition of Xtra, broadcast live on TV, said that the corruption had been proven when it was revealed that Mizzi and Schembri had opened secret accounts in Panama – four days after the Labour Party won the election – where they were supposed to deposit “brokerage fees and consultancy fees” to the tune of at least €1million each year.

Muscat took no action to remove them and he was therefore just as corrupt, Busuttil insisted, adding that the police and other authorities were not allowed to carry out investigations into claims of corruption against the two.

But had Muscat done something right as prime minister, or was he simply a total disaster?

“On the issue of corruption, for closing his eyes to the corruption around him, yes he was a disaster,” Busuttil said, “In the case of economy, and the fact that this government managed to keep the country’s economy on a strong footing, we never criticised the government, but we did criticise the fact that all this wealth was not filtering down to the man on the street.”

Asked if the PN had distanced itself completely from the businessmen and the business and construction industry it had courted in the past, Busuttil said the party would continue to distance itself from all shady deals, like that of the Café Premiere and the recent underhand behaviour uncovered in the proposed masterplan for Paceville.

On the appointment of former PL deputy leader Toni Abela to the judiciary, Busuttil said this too was another wrong decision of Muscat’s, because he believed Abela had spent too many years in politics that many people – himself included – would not feel justice being served if they appeared before him in court.

He said party politics in Malta was no longer an issue of right-wing or left-wing, and that the next election would not be decided on those lines, but on how the current government had closed its eyes to corruption.

In quick-fire question-and-answer segment, Busuttil said the fad term ‘establishment’ referred to the people in power, contrary to what Muscat seemed to believe.

He confirmed his staunch opposition to euthanasia and said Daphne Caruana Galizia was to be thanked for bringing the Panama Papers scandal to light in Malta.

Retail and privatisation

When questioned about the PN’s recent proposal to reduce tax on profits for retailers and SMEs to 10%, Busuttil said the policy would not cost the country more than €85million.

He denied that the party had failed to consider the full impact on the public finances if all retailers, SMEs employing up to five people, and sole traders took up the scheme, under which they would pay 10% - not 35% - on the first €50,000 in profits.

On the privatisation of St Luke’s, Karen Grech and the Gozo hospitals, to be managed by Vitals Global Healthcare, Busuttil said it was disgraceful that Muscat had decided to privatise Gozo’s only public hospital, and to owners that are, as yet, unknown.

On polls, ratings and party politics

As to polls that showed the PN 35 percentage points behind the PL – in surveys as to who would win the next election – Busuttil said he always felt as if though he was running a marathon and that the race only ended at the finish line.

“But personal popularity ratings just after the election had me 20 points behind Muscat, whereas now the polls show I am already only seven points behind him,” he said.

Asked if the Nationalist Party was better off now under his leadership and if the gains the party recorded were due to him or to a number of scandals and claims of corruption surrounding Muscat – such as the Panama Papers, Café Premier and Gaffarena affairs – Busuttil acknowledged it was probably a bit of both.

He denied claims of being a negative person and always presenting a picture of doom, and said – if that were so – he would never have accepted to accept to lead a party that had just lost a general election by 36,000 votes.

“Those who know me best, know that I am a very positive person,” he said. “The choice to accept the party’s leadership was not an easy one, but I was motivated and changed the challenge into opportunity.”

With regards to claims that he should have set aside more

What political commentators had to say

Lawrence Grech, former editor of The Sunday Times, said that since Busuttil took over the leadership, the PN was very critical of government, but was also being quite pro-active, as it had shown in its recent publication of a number of proposals for the retail sector.

Josanne Cassar said that it was evident the PN was under new leadership, but she still had doubts as to whether Busuttil had done enough to win back the 36,000 votes lost in the last election.

She said she felt that many former PN supporters, who voted Labour in the last election, might still feel betrayed by the PN today for failing to make drastic changes to the party structure and to the way the party functioned.

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