[WATCH] Scicluna: Muscat asked me to contest deputy leader position

The finance minister and the two other candidates for the post of Labour Party deputy leader discussed their candidature as well as the Labour Party and its governmental track record on XTRA

Finance minister Edward Scicluna
Finance minister Edward Scicluna

Finance minister Edward Scicluna has indicated that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s hand was behind his contesting the post of Labour Party deputy leader for parliamentary affairs.

“When he gave me the finance portfolio, he told me would like me to contest the post of deputy leader and I said if it was in the best interest of the party, I would,” said Scicluna.

Speaking on current affairs programme XTRA, Scicluna admitted he had not been certain about whether to run in the 2017 general election.

“I set an appointment with [Muscat] and asked him what he thought,” said Scicluna. “He said he wanted me by his side for the campaign and that we would be presenting a good team.”

Asked what he would bring to the role, Scicluna highlighted that Muscat needed someone he could rely on, something he said he had done on various occasions.

Host Saviour Balzan with Edward Scicluna (right)
Host Saviour Balzan with Edward Scicluna (right)

“The prime minister needs someone who can carry responsibility and deliver,” said Scicluna, who pointed to various instances where he was called upon to defend Malta’s tax system and reputation abroad.

On criticism of Malta’s tax system and its tangible effect on the financial services sector, Scicluna emphasised that ultimately the buck stopped with governments, and that there were no problems with Malta’s system in this respect.

Turning to his decision to enter politics, Scicluna said he had always worked behind the scenes on a technical level, and that after a career at institutions such as the Central Bank, the Malta Financial Services Authority and the electoral commission, to name a few, he felt he was ready for a role on the front lines.

He said his decision was crystallised when he realised Muscat was serious about bringing about change.

Asked about what the Labour Party’s biggest mistake in the last legislature was, Scicluna said the government’s “enthusiasm for results” had perhaps been “too fast” which could have led to certain risks.

The minister rejected claims that the last government was the most corrupt one in the country’s history, insisting that he was aware of “what happens in other countries”.

“I’m not saying there is no corruption in Malta, but it is not blatant as it is in certain countries where hospitals or ports are constructed with their being the need for them,” he said.

The most qualified candidate for the job

EU Affairs and Equality minister Helena Dalli highlighted how her parliamentary experience, amongst other qualities, made her ideal for the role.

“I can offer my experience on two levels,” said Dalli. “38 years in the party and 21 years in parliament. This is a role for the leader of the house after all.”

She pointed out that the position meant organising the house business committee and other parliamentary work, and that her parliamentary experience, both on the government and opposition benches, made her the best candidate.

Dalli is the only woman in the three-horse race, and told host Saviour Balzan that the fact that she had got this far in politics showed her resilience, especially in light of the fact that she had been entrusted with former deputy Louis Grech’s portfolio, as well as much of her previous one.

She said that while politics often boiled down to a shouting contest, she was still able to focus on her beliefs and ideas, and her determination to improve people’s lives.

EU Affairs and Equality minister Helena Dalli
EU Affairs and Equality minister Helena Dalli

“When this is the basis of your motivation you are able to convince both men and women,” she added.   

Dalli pushed back against claims that the Labour and Nationalist parties were identical, insisting that the PN “might have changed its name” but remains a conservative party.

“Our dream is for an open and liberal country where every person has the opportunity to realise his or her potential,” she said on the “essence” of Labour’s politics.

“I don’t think the Nationalist Party comes close to having this aim,” added Dalli.

On the Marriage Equality Bill, she said while the Opposition had said it was in favour of the bill, the language used in parliament led one to believe it was a position based on convenience rather than conviction.

She underscored that the proposed law was not about “gay” marriage but about marriage equality, while dismissing the notion that the issue should have been put to a referendum.

Dalli denied that she was plotting a future leadership bid.

“I would make it my mission to convince Joseph Muscat to stay on a while longer,” she said. “I know he is difficult to persuade, but this will be my mission. Absolute loyalty to Joseph Muscat in the hope that we can work together for many years to come.”

‘I have tied my political career to Joseph Muscat’

On his part, Health minister Chris Fearne said that among his best attributes was the fact that he was loyal to the country and the Labour Party, as well as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“I have tied my political career to Joseph Muscat’s,” he said. “I endorsed him for the Labour Party leadership, and have continued to work with him to this day.”

Moreover, he said that he had a great deal of energy that allowed him to be relentless in his work.

When Balzan pointed out that he could be earning more as a surgeon, Fearne said he enjoyed politics, adding that “money is important but it isn’t everything”.

He said he had been raised to consider what was right, rather than what suited him, something he had always sought to do over the course of his political career. 

Health minister Chris Fearne
Health minister Chris Fearne

Asked whether the Labour and Nationalist parties had become identical, Fearne said he disagreed with the analysis, despite acknowledging that both parties are today “fighting for the middle-ground”.

He insisted however that while the Labour Party truly believed in policy positions like universal free healthcare, a just society, and free and open education, the Nationalist Party did not.

“The Nationalist Party says these things when it is convenient,” insisted Fearne. “When they think that they are safe and nobody can hear them, they speak differently.”

On housing, Fearne admitted social housing was an area that needed attention, acknowledging that Labour was not perfect and things could have been done better in several areas of the government’s work.

“It is for this reason that a parliamentary secretary was been appointed to specifically take charge of the situation,”he said, emphasising the need to address social problems while also investing heavily in social housing.

According to Fearne, Labour’s biggest mistake during the past legislature was not acting quickly enough to dismiss allegations of bad governance.

“I’m not saying there weren’t bad things but there were instances where the Prime Minster took immediate action and nipped them in the bud. There were others he let drag on for too long and it has tarnished the party’s image,” he said.

On whether he considered the role as a stepping stone to becoming party leader, Fearne jokingly pointed out that the role available was that of deputy leader.

“Joseph Muscat has turned the party from one that lost one election after another, to one that is winning while achieving success for the country. I want to be on Muscat’s team. I am prepared to work with him for a long time and I am prepared to dedicate ten years of my life to being deputy leader,” said Fearne.

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