Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made a statement in Parliament this evening, during his official reaction to the budget, telling foreigners: “you are welcome, but you have to follow the rules like everyone else.”
He also expressed his disgust at the racial hate speech seen on social media, following the Hal Far Open Centre riot.
Delia addressed parliament on Monday – a week after Finance Minister Edward Scicluna revealed the budget for the upcoming year – taking aim at various facets of the budget, saying that pressures in poverty, housing, and pensions will continue to increase, while noting that the budget will continue to increase the imbalance in society. Tonight, Muscat delivered his views on the budget, and also took aim at Delia.
Live blog below:
20.30: Muscat picked up on a list of budget measures which the PN had slammed the government for not implementing the previous year. He noted that one measure – increasing disability pensions to the minimum wage – was in the budget. He also said that the PN had actually left an internal note on an equality measure which stipulated that the measure may be included in this year’s budget, and that if this were the case it must be criticised anyway due to its delay. Muscat used this as an opportunity to note the sheer disorganisation within the opposition.
He said that the government had bought Villa Gwardamangia, which will be lovingly restored and turned into a “mecca for tourism” and will be open to the public. He mentioned the sports sector, where, he said, the government will be supporting a Malta Football Association’s initiative to set up a permanent team in a foreign country for Maltese youths to play and compete in.
Concluding, he called on everyone to remain united like the government has done, for Malta to keep moving forward.
20.15: He spoke of the need to have a ‘just transition’, referring to the changeover to more eco-friendly vehicles, and added that with cars now being the prime polluter on the island, priority is being given to making public transport free. A ship-to-shore facility will also be introduced to continue reducing emissions from cruise ships. He also noted how the government was right in calling for the need for the new power station, as otherwise the Marsa power station would still need to be used and there would have to be 1,800 hours without electricity each year. The choice to build the new power station has made Malta future-proof, Muscat said.
Speaking about the desire to move from a linear to a circular economy, Muscat praised the measure to ban single use plastics and said that these products will not be tolerated. He expressed satisfaction at waste separation measures, though he noted that certain waste contractors were not working correctly or professionally. and emphasised that an element of “soul searching” is needed.
Turning to the infrastructural sector, he said that the government had spent more in one year than the previous government had in five years. On the Gozo Tunnel, he questioned what the opposition was thinking, considering that they had already voted in favour; “our manifesto says clearly that the Gozo tunnel will be done, and it will be done so by this government”, he said.
20.00: He moved on and spoke about several measures which the government will be introducing, measures regarding workers; such as free childcare, cutting the tax bands on overtime, and an extra day of leave. He also took note of the increase in pensions that had been announced for the third year in a row.
He listed various measures on housing that were in the budget, such as the expansion of the first time buyer scheme, before then referring to the new rent law that is in the works. He said that the opposition itself did not know where it was going on this legislation.
Muscat referred to Delia’s assertion that everyone would have a house under their government; “The PN has had to sell its own clubs; how can people take the idea that everyone will have their own house seriously”, he said, prompting mass indignation from the opposition benches.
“We will start taking the PN’s plans seriously when they can plan a mass meeting or flower planting ceremony”, Muscat said to more shouts, referring to the PN’s poorly attended Independence Day mass meeting and its disastrous attempt at placing a flower wreath at the memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia, where they were confronted by the assassinated journalist’s sister.
He discussed the PN’s notion that poverty was increasing, saying that various reports had shown that this is not the case, before shooting off a number of measures that the budget is introducing.
On sustainability, Muscat said that the opposition seems to think that the meaning of this is to slow down and take your foot off the gas – but in actual fact it is making sure that the steering wheel is being well held. “This is the future-proofing of the country”, he said.
He turned to the climate, saying that this is not only an environmental issue but also an economic one. He added that the government has 35 measures in the budget to start preparing the country in this regard, and had started by closing the oil-powered Marsa power station and was now moving to dealing with transport.
19.45 Continuing on the subject of immigration, Muscat thanked the Armed Forces, the Police, and AWAS employees. He moved onto a statement issued by the PN about the goings on at the Hal Far Open Centre, which asked for answers from the government.
He targeted the opposition for the nature of the questions, where they listed Hal Far as a detention centre as opposed to an open centre, which it actually is; “this is the amateurish way in which this is being tackled by the PN”, he said.
He said that the incidents at Hal Far were not a question of nationality and were condemnable, and can never be tolerated. “Everyone has to follow the law”, he said.
“It could have been a man like me from Burmarrad or a man from Sudan like some in fact were – they broke the law, and now they must face the consequences”, he said.
He lambasted online comments, where comments seemed to indicate that everyone now wants to kill black people and appealed to media houses to remember their responsibilities and check what is shared.
Muscat said that he had checked a screenshot which had been circulating on social media which said that a woman is at ITU after being beaten at Hal Far, an assertion which is completely untrue, he said.
“Like I said when Lassana [Cisse] was killed, and I will say it again – in order to defend our country we need to learn from other country’s mistakes”, Muscat said, warning against the winds of populism.
Swapping to English, Muscat addressed those who are foreign, saying that he “would like to make it very clear to everyone, all those who are here as asylum seekers and also those contributing to economy with full rights, I assure you that the Maltese ethos is that we are a welcoming people. We need to make it clear that the rules are there for everyone. Yes you’re very welcome to be among us, but yes you have to follow the rules like each and every one of us.”
He called on all those in Parliament not to stoop to such low levels to embrace populist language – a remark which drew shouts from the opposition benches reminding Muscat of how he had advocated for a pushback while he was in opposition himself. He said that he had already said that his assertion in favour of the pushback was a mistake three years ago, and repeated it once more, telling others not to make the same mistake.
19.35: Muscat claims that the opposition leader had misquoted from a Central Bank report in saying that third country nationals stay in Malta for a shorter period of time than EU nationals. Muscat quoted the same report, noting that it actually says the exact opposite – that EU nationals are in general staying for a shorter period of time than third country nationals.
“This is the fundamental point as to why this side of the room is trusted and the other side has no credibility”, he said.
Another argument that Delia had made, Muscat noted, was that foreigners are coming to Malta for cheap labour. Muscat said that only 18% of foreigners come for elementary work, and that many others come in as skilled labour – to work where there is a skills gap and where the country does not have enough people to conduct such work. He said that in general there is no cheap wage phenomenon, even though there may be particular sectors which are feeling this.
On the question that foreigners are adding to the economy by consumption, Muscat said that by the PN’s logic, the percentage of the GDP that consumption contributes should have increased from 77% to 90%. Instead, he said, it had gone down to 63%, with the rest of the growth coming from investment.
19.20: Moving on to social measures, Muscat expressed his satisfaction with the measure whereby those people with a disability and who are unable to work will see their pensions rise and become equivalent to the minimum wage. “This is what social justice and dignity means”, he said.
Muscat then turned to Delia’s remarks on foreigners in Malta; “Maybe he tried to tow the line so that he could please everyone”, he said before noting that the government is not going to play a game and pitch the Maltese against foreigners. He said that the opposition should not play with “near-xenophobic” remarks.
Muscat noted that the number of foreign workers had increased from 3,800 to 15,000 under the last two PN administrations. “With the Opposition’s logic, since the number had gone up like this, then the economy would have exploded – instead it did nothing of the sort,” Muscat said, a remark which attracted arguments from the Opposition bench. Muscat answered and said that they can ask anyone to declare which era is better – today or seven years ago.
19.10: He said that when Delia had said that no licenses for blockchain businesses were issued, he had shown that he does not know the difference between a blockchain company and a cryptocurrency company. There are 17 VFA companies licensed, five system auditors, and 145 companies offering services as exchanges and wallet advisers, he said.
He noted that Delia had contradicted himself when he first said that there are too many foreigners, but then later said that the country was going to lose the employees of gaming companies.
Addressing criticism that Gozo was merely an afterthought in the 2020 budget, Muscat said that the budget for the sister island had been increased by 20%, and that Gozo’s economic growth rate was 2% more than that of Malta.
19,00: Another economic legacy of the government will be how they have managed “not to leave any bills for our children and their children,” Muscat said before adding that when they had originally been elected they inherited a debt of 78% on the GDP.
It now stands at 40% without any new taxes being raised, he said. “In real terms we are over €185 less in debt,” Muscat said.
This is not down to luck, as the Opposition has claimed, Muscat said before remarking that the opposition leader himself does not even have his own parliamentary group supporting him.
“It is down to the decisions which we are taking everyday.
He spoke about criticism being made surrounding Malta’s reputation, saying that in the past, PN governments were able to attract investment because they had an Opposition which helped them. He noted that the President of BaFin, the German financial regulator, had called the MFSA’s strategy a benchmark for them.
He spoke of his faith in the Attorney General and the judiciary, noting that even when the judiciary had decided against the government in the Parliamentary seats case, the government hadn’t made a fuss of it.
18.44:The European Union has accepted Malta’s budget “without hesitation”, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in Parliament on Tuesday while reacting to the speech given by Opposition Leader Adrian Delia on Monday.
“Maltese and Gozitans believe that the country is moving forward”, Muscat began. He said that this was borne out of the fact that help has been provided to all sectors of society, because the government is pro-business, because equality is being encouraged, because the country is open to everyone. A “cosmopolitan” country, he said as he took an early swipe at Delia’s speech, where he spoke of a “metropolitan” Malta.
The budget, Muscat said, will look to reward those working families who deserve it, to help those in need – the most vulnerable, the pensioners, and those who are disabled and cannot work, he said, while stressing that it aims to help create a sustainable future.
He spoke of the difference in the country between today and the country seven years ago, noting that while the country was already in a good place back then, it is now in a better place – a place which is full of ambition.
The Finance Minister, Muscat said, had informed him that the budget was one of the few that has been accepted, without hesitation, by the European Union.
Referring directly on what Delia had said, he said that the point where he diametrically disagreed with his speech was when he said that there was no part dedicated to women – he noted that any measure is dedicated to women as much as they are to men. This is what equality is about, he said.
Muscat noted that he was expecting Delia to mention his buzzword from the previous week – that being that the budget was “recycled”. In fact, Muscat said, the budget is recycled – with the term recycled here being used positively. He questioned why changes should be made to something which is successful, noting that amongst the “recycled” measures are a third budget without new taxes, and measures which give back to the people.
Delia addressed parliament on Monday – a week after Finance Minister Edward Scicluna revealed the budget for the upcoming year – saying that the budget will not help those who are in poverty, despite there being a surplus.
In his speech, the opposition leader took aim at various facets of the budget, saying that pressures in poverty, housing, and pensions will continue to increase, while noting that the budget will continue to increase the imbalance in society.
Photos by Alenka Falzon