PN Leader Adrian Delia and his rival lawyer Bernard Grech faced each other in a debate on NetTV on Tuesday night, just days before the leadership race comes to a close.
Following months of internal dispute within the party, and Delia’s loss of two votes of confidence, the party opted to head for a leadership election. The debate was moderated by the Times of Malta’s Assistant Editor Matthew Xuereb.
Both candidates were then asked about their tax issues, past and present. Delia was told that he still needs to pay thousands in tax, while Grech had to go and settle tax with the authorities. “How can the paid-up members, and people in general trust you, who do not know how to manage their finances?”
Grech said that he could have handled things better.
A tax probe found that Grech had received income from the hosting of foreign students from al language school, and on this issue he said there was a failure from the school’s end, that they had to declare it. He said that the tax department, when reviewing, recognised there was this failure and went for a fair deal where he was told to pay tax on half the amount he earned.
On his taxes in general, he said that as of Santa Maria feast, no tax was left owed, except for a contestation on penalties and interest owed, but added that when he wanted to file his nomination and the remission was not decided, he wanted to clear it and thus paid it before going out for the election. He said that he has no cent of tax, VAT or penalties owed. He said that he paid and carried his obligations.
Delia said that he never had financial problems, or questions regarding tax. He said that tax in the country is what the people pay and what the people expect the government to make good use of to ensure the distribution of wealth to everyone.
He mentioned the government’s corruption and ‘dirty deals’. He said he always declared his taxes over the years he worked, and said that he declared over a million euros over the past five years.
The questions then turned to unity. “How will you bring about unity, and will you kick out the trouble makers Delia?”
Delia highlighted the PN’s decision to have the tesserati elect a leader after the 2017 election. He spoke about the Labour Party, and said that on Covid-19, the Prime Minister would say one thing and the Deputy Prime Minister would say another.
“Unity comes when there is goodwill from all sides.” He said that there were some who didn’t want unity, adding that one cannot have people say they want unity and then just create problems, lie and fabricate claims. “Where is the problem, in the leader who you, the tesserati wanted, who tried to invite everyone, who wanted to work with everyone, who wanted to work with everyone except for those intentionally damaging not for me, but for the PN.” If they truly want unity it must be sincere, with loyalty, genuine. Those who don’t want it must not be allowed to continue creating problems.”
“How will you work with those who were disloyal over the years,” Grech was asked.
Grech said that it is not correct to single out the people who pushed the no confidence vote in the Parliamentary Group, highlighting that the Executive Committee also voted against Delia and the General Council wanted a leadership election.
On the Parliamentary Group, he said that unity is not brought about by people submitting themselves to someone.
“The reality is that for there to be unity, you need to have respect and dialogue.” He spoke about the need to respect every person in the Parliamentary Group. “You must work for respect and loyalty daily.”
He said that other party organs are far from the leadership, and said he also wants unity there, for Committee members to feel part of the party and part of the leadership.
Turning to the party’s failure to attract new talent, the candidates were asked what the party would do to bring in fresh faces.
Grech said that without unity one cannot build anything. “We need to motivate more people to come to the party.” He said that youths are already coming to the party as many are helping him. “To achieve this we also need credibility. Without it we cannot attract people to be a part of this story.”
He said that a lawyer who leans towards Labour told him he wants a strong PN to move towards as he is disgusted with what the Labour Party has been doing.
Delia spoke about the past creation of a youth committee, following the introduction of Vote-16. He said youths need space, and that their voice must lead not just to decisions, but also to change.
Delia said that the PN had convinced the government on the Climate Emergency vote, highlighting that this is an issue youths care about. “Everyone wants unity,” he said, adding that one needs to see where the problem is. He said that he gave opportunities, created clusters and shadow cabinet. “But there are those who don’t want to give space to others,” he said.
The two were asked whether the PN is electable and can offer a credible alternative, asking what the voters out there want.
Delia said that more and more people are no longer tied to a political party, not voting for who their parents voted for. He said that an election is won or lost by the floaters. “Of course we have an alternative. The PN can never be anywhere close to the rampant corruption of this government,” he said.
He said that the people are being robbed. He spoke about VGH and the hospitals deal. “We will stop that contract and see how to bring the money back to the people.” He also slammed the government’s actions of the environment. Delia then turned to pensioners, and spoke about the amount who are at risk of poverty.
Grech said that everyone knows the country’s name is not respected. He said four people created a mess of Maltese politics, and captured the institutions. He said that even on immigration, EU countries don’t want to speak to Malta seriously because of this.
Grech said that the government forgot about workers, fishermen and farmers. He said that some people are struggling to have a roof over their heads, and pledged to bring credibility and work as a team for the party to provide solutions.
They were asked whether the PN lost its identity over the years.
Delia said that the PN, before 2013, had an important role in the country as the government managed to govern during an international storm, referring to the financial crisis.
He spoke about the need to show the floaters who switched from the PN to the PL that the party is there to help them, and not close the doors on them. Then the party will never regain their trust. “Are we able to help people, to distribute the benefits the country has to everyone, and break corruption?” He spoke of the need to help those struggling.
Grech said that the PN was always the party that, in difficult times, the people turned to. “The PN was established to look at everyone’s interests, to ensure that people can live dignified lives.”
He spoke of the need to keep in constant contact with people, and not just when an election comes round. Grech said he has met many people going through difficulties in their lives during his work as a lawyer, and said that when speaking with the people, he and his team are feeling their pain. “We want to turn this pain into an opportunity to help you live better lives.”
He spoke of the importance of coming out with ideas and proposals to help people live well.
The two were asked whether the environment has been put on the backburner due to construction, and whether the PN should be closed to developers and the business class.
Delia spoke about the government’s pledge to reduce energy tariffs while getting rid of the cancer factory (referring to the old power station), saying that this was the biggest lie.
He spoke about Electrogas stealing from the people, and said that there are over 600 people who die prematurely due to respiratory illnesses. He spoke about there being solutions for clean energy.
On development, he said it is happening without any plan. “The government wanted to increase the economy by increasing the population. That is a bad model, he said.
Grech spoke about sustainable development that should not damage the environment, but improve it. “Even if we build, it should be buildings one enjoys looking at. It must be built with a plan and people living around developments should be serene.”
He highlighted the complaints he received over the years in relation to construction noise and dust. He said that the government has no plan, adding that together with NGOs and groups, they must discuss to give new life to the country and let nobody steal the environment.
The contenders were asked about the state of the country, corruption and the rule of law. “What would you do to fix Malta’s reputation?”
Grech said that nobody is taking the country or the Prime Minister seriously. He said that due to a group of criminals taking over the government, the country is drowning not only in corruption, but in economic problems.
In a few days, he said, Malta will have the Moneyval report, the consequences of which could be bad for the economy. “The government to avoid this tragedy, this damage, could create problems to the neutrality of the country,” he said referring to the SOFA reports.
Grech said that the government did not have a plan for Covid, stressing the current high number of people with the virus and the issues it created, citing the PN’s need to have a plan.
Delia also spoke about SOFA, and said that “we must be vigilent of the price we are paying for government corruption. The price would be losing our sovereignty.”
On the VGH issue, he questioned what the Prime Minister is doing to cancel the contract today. He said that he will take steps for political and direct responsibility to be carried by the PM, Deputy PM and the Finance Minister, stating that they know the people are being robbed. “If they do not stop this contract, they must suffer the consequences.”