“I will launch an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry on the Panama Pa­pers scan­dal if I am elected Prime Min­is­ter” - Si­mon Busut­til

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - He­lena Grech

Leader of the Op­po­si­tion Dr Si­mon Busut­til yes­ter­day evening said that if he is elected Prime Min­is­ter he will ask for an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry on the Panama Pa­pers scan­dal. He said this dur­ing the 2017 Bud­get re­ac­tion. He also pledged that a Na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment will re­move the LNG tanker from Marsaxlokk bay be­cause the risks are too great and the need is not there.”

In the be­gin­ning of his speech Dr Busut­til read out a let­ter from a woman suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes who is also pregnant. She is con­cerned that when suf­fer­ing a hy­po­gly­caemic fit, typ­i­cal of per­sons from suf­fer­ing di­a­betes, she does not act in her right mind and is fear­ful that she will hurt her un­born baby.

She has writ­ten to ask for med­i­cal treat­ment, for the ma­chine used to mon­i­tor su­gar lev­els in the blood and a num­ber of other treat­ments that would se­verely im­prove her qual­ity of life as well as could po­ten­tially saver her baby. Dr Busut­til urged Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat to as­sist this woman.

Dr Busut­til slammed the gov­ern­ment for em­ploy­ing a “cos­metic” bud­get. He ex­plained this state­ment by say­ing that not all the mea­sures will be im­ple­mented, as was the case with last year's bud­get where 27 per cent of the mea­sures never came into force.

“And this is not the first time, bud­get af­ter bud­get we con­tinue to see a cut and paste from the pre­vi­ous years' bud­gets. Mea­sures that were an­nounced pre­vi­ously have been in­serted in this year's bud­get, as though it is no big deal,” Dr Busut­til said. Gozo Tak­ing the Gozo as an ex­am­ple to high­light pre­vi­ous bud­get mea­sures that never came into fruition, he spoke of the pro­posed casino, the fast-ferry ser­vice, the fi­bre-op­tic ca­ble be­tween Malta and Gozo, an air strip, the new Gozo courts and a new old-peo­ple’s home “which has been pro­posed since this gov­ern­ment's first bud­get”. He then high­lighted the bud­get mea­sures for Gozo that were an­nounced in 2016 but never came

to fruition:

“We were sup­posed to have a pool built, a new mu­seum, a home for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties but noth­ing of this was done. As re­gards the tun­nel or per­ma­nent link be­tween Malta and Gozo all that was done here is a call for ex­pres­sion to con­duct a study, with the ap­pli­ca­tion process still open,” he said.

So­cial Mea­sures

“In last year’s bud­get the €50 mil­lion so­cial hous­ing bud­get was an­nounced - ab­so­lutely noth­ing was done. This means that there is a queue of 3,000 peo­ple wait­ing for hous­ing,” he said.

Turn­ing to the area of agri­cul­ture and fish­eries, he pointed out that the break­wa­ter of Marsaxlokk was never built, “while the fish­er­men are still wait­ing”, he said.

The PN’s vi­sion

Dr Busut­til proudly an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment took up 18 of the 91 pre-bud­get doc­u­ment pro­pos­als that were re­leased some weeks ago.

“While this is not a high rate of up­take, how­ever we still view this as a pos­i­tive move. If only ev­ery op­po­si­tion was will­ing to share its ideas, and not just be­fore the elec­tion to gain votes.”

He slammed the gov­ern­ment for not clearly out­lin­ing the longterm plan for Malta, the kind of sec­tors it will be cre­at­ing jobs in and it has failed to show to­day’s youth where the op­por­tu­ni­ties will lie in the fu­ture. It has failed to show to­day’s adults that when they reach pen­sion age they will be liv­ing with the high­est stan­dards of liv­ing.

“This is a bud­get that sim­ply looks at the here and now and not to­wards the fu­ture.”

He said that the PN be­lieves in gov­ern­ments think­ing long-term, and not just in five year in­ter­vals, in or­der to pro­vide safety, op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­ti­nu­ity for its peo­ple.

“Our vi­sion is for ev­ery­body to man­age to­gether, for op­por­tu­ni­ties to be there for the Mal­tese and Goz­i­tan peo­ple and for us all to man­age to­gether.”

He said that while it is im­por­tant for the econ­omy to run smoothly, it is not the be-all and end-all, and it is not enough for the econ­omy to be run­ning well.

He high­lighted four prin­ci­ples which the PN be­lieves any gov­ern­ment should be em­ploy­ing: an econ­omy that serves all - and not just the rich, so­cial jus­tice for all, bet­ter qual­ity of life - high­light­ing crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture and lastly good gov­er­nance, one that acts ex­em­plary in the stan­dards of pub­lic life.

An econ­omy for the peo­ple

He spoke of the pre­vi­ous PN gov­ern­ment’s mea­sures which also con­trib­uted to the boom­ing econ­omy Malta is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. He men­tioned the in­tro­duc­tion of the euro - which he said was fun­da­men­tal to grow­ing Malta’s econ­omy.

Dr Busut­til pointed out that the gov­ern­ment’s claim, that Malta’s credit rat­ing was up­graded for the first time in 20 years was a lie. The last time this took place was ac­tu­ally in 2007.

Econ­o­mist Joe FX Zahra was cited for his post bud­get anal­y­sis:

“The heavy de­pen­dence on prop­erty de­vel­op­ment, con­struc­tion, the In­di­vid­ual In­vestor Pro­gramme, in­ter­na­tional busi­ness, es­pe­cially iGam­ing, are volatile, cycli­cal and def­i­nite. For ex­am­ple, what hap­pens if we are blow­ing up a prop­erty bub­ble? In more than one re­spect, the stage we are in re­minds me of Ire­land and Spain pre-2008. For good­ness’ sake, let us be care­ful.”

Dr Busut­til con­tin­ued to quote him by say­ing that the dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth must be spread more justly, and that there is not enough in­vest­ment in ac­tive pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“Mr Zahra stopped short of say­ing that the bud­get was a missed op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing gen­uinely good.”

Pub­lic Fi­nances

Dr Busut­til slammed the gov­ern­ment for the high level of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers. He ad­dressed Labour Party claims that the PN wants to sack pub­lic sec­tor work­ers, by say­ing that the PN ac­tu­ally would not em­ploy new pub­lic sec­tor work­ers once a num­ber of ex­ist­ing ones re­tired.

He said that the Labour Party (PL) is now re­cy­cling its scare­mon­ger­ing by high­light­ing that it made the same claim back in April 1987.

He cau­tioned against the low cap­i­tal spend­ing - mean­ing that the gov­ern­ment is ready to spend money on re­cur­ring ex­penses, but it is not in­ter­ested in longterm in­vest­ment.

Turn­ing to the cre­ation of new eco­nomic sec­tors, Dr Busut­til openly crit­i­cised Econ­omy Min­is­ter Chris Car­dona for not car­ry­ing out the nec­es­sary work in this re­gard.

He drew com­par­i­son from the in­vest­ment in FINTECH - Fi­nan­cial Tech­nol­ogy - that is hap­pen­ing in France and the buzz this is cre­ated. He ques­tions why Dr Car­dona is not do­ing some­thing along those lines.

On the state of fi­nan­cial ser­vices in Malta, Dr Busut­til an­nounced that he has con­crete in­for­ma­tion that a num­ber of com­pa­nies have al­ready closed up shop in Malta due to the Panama Pa­pers scan­dal.

He slammed Dr Mus­cat for an­nounc­ing a dis­cus­sion on the min­i­mum wage of Malta, when he had a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to share his ideas on the mat­ter in the 2017 bud­get.

Dr Busut­til then slammed Dr Mus­cat for giv­ing a €360 mil­lion guar­an­tee of tax pay­ers’ money for a “new power sta­tion we do not need”.

“Stop and think about what an eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion we could have had if in­stead of giv­ing a €360 mil­lion guar­an­tee for a power sta­tion we do not need, imag­ine the Prime Min­is­ter guar­an­teed €100,000 to start-ups. We would have man­aged to kick-off 3,600 start-ups in Malta,” he said.

On the chal­lenged faced by small shop-own­ers and the self­em­ployed, Dr Busut­til an­nounced that the PN will be re­leas­ing a doc­u­ment that will show­case its ideas for the sec­tor.

He made note of the lack of men­tion of Al­i­talia and Air Malta, where a strate­gic agree­ment be­tween the two where the for­mer would buy a mi­nor­ity stake in the na­tional car­rier.

“Dr Mus­cat man­aged to give more at­ten­tion to Comino in this year’s bud­get then it did to the na­tional car­rier,” he said.

On the price of elec­tric­ity, Dr Busut­til said that the gov­ern­ment choos­ing not to re­duce util­ity bills is the big­gest dis­ap­point­ment.

He spoke of the BWSC power sta­tion, us­ing Heavy Fuel Oil, by say­ing it is not in fact a “cancer fac­tory,” so much so that he sold the sta­tion to the Chi­nese com­pany Shang­hai Elec­tric.

He also high­lighted how the in­ter­con­nec­tor, brought in by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, does not pol­lute in any way, shape or form.

Turn­ing to the Prime Min­is­ter’s ar­gu­ment that he has not re­duced elec­tric­ity prices in case the price of oil spikes, Dr Busut­til said that prices have been con­sis­tently been low over the past two years so enough money should have been made to keep prices sta­ble should the in­ter­na­tional price of oil spike.

“The con­tra­dic­tion is here, when the in­ter­na­tional price of oil was USD120, Dr Mus­cat wanted the prices of elec­tric­ity, petrol and diesel to go down. Now, with the price of oil be­ing low USD50, the Prime Min­is­ter does not want to lower them.”

Com­par­ing the in­ter­con­nec­tor and Elec­tro­gas, Dr Busut­til made note of how €138 mil­lion was saved over two years through the com­bined use of both.

“When we start buy­ing elec­tric­ity from Elec­tro­gas, we will be spend­ing €180 mil­lion this per year. If we bought the same elec­tric­ity from the in­ter­con­nec­tor, we would spend €85 mil­lion. The dif­fer­ence is €95 mil­lion.

“In view of this, an ob­vi­ous ques­tion is raised: why are we buy­ing all the elec­tric­ity pro­duced by Elec­tro­gas and stop the use of the in­ter­con­nec­tor, when it clearly makes more sense to con­tinue us­ing the in­ter­con­nec­tor? This makes no sense. This is why sus­pi­cions of cor­rup­tion are raised,” he said.

El­derly

Dr Busut­til praised the gov­ern­ment for re­mov­ing the in­come tax on pen­sions and re­view­ing the tax on div­i­dends. He said these were two PN pro­pos­als and is happy to see the gov­ern­ment tak­ing them up. ”How­ever much more needs to be done when ob­serv­ing the in­crease in poverty within the el­derly.”

Hous­ing

“The courts have made un­con­sti­tu­tional the fa­mous 1979 rent­laws. This means that all those el­derly per­sons who rent a home un­der the 1979 rent laws now fear that they will be pushed out on the street with­out a roof over their head. This af­fects a lot of peo­ple, but mainly the el­derly. While we must ac­knowl­edge the rights of the owner, some­thing must be done to help these peo­ple,” said Dr Busut­til.

He also pro­posed a mea­sure that would in­cen­tivise the pri­vate sec­tor to charge “rea­son­able” rental prices for those low-in­come earn­ers by charg­ing them low rates of tax.

A bet­ter qual­ity of life

Dr Busut­til ques­tioned what is be­ing done about the high rate of stu­dents that are leav­ing school early and not train­ing, or the num­ber of stu­dents who leave school with­out learn­ing to read or write.

He cau­tioned that it is these peo­ple that are at risk of poverty fur­ther down the line, be­cause they are likely to be kept on min­i­mum wages.

An in­ter­na­tional call for ex­pres­sion was made in or­der for the Im­tarfa hospi­tal to be made into a school. “This is very in­ter­est­ing. So, I think to my­self, if, for a project they are is­su­ing an in­ter­na­tional call for ex­pres­sion, for the univer­sity project where the gov­ern­ment gave them (Sadeen Group) a his­toric build­ing in Cot­ton­era and a vir­gin piece of land in Zon­qor, why was no in­ter­na­tional call for ex­pres­sion also is­sued?” he said.

He made a pub­lic ap­peal to the rec­tor of the Amer­i­can univer­sity to se­ri­ously con­sider not de­vel­op­ing the vir­gin land that is planned to be used for the Zon­qor cam­pus, and find an al­ter­na­tive place.

Health

Dr Busut­til made note of a news item that fea­tured in the Mon­tene­gro me­dia, “a coun­try known as hav­ing the worse health sys­tem in Europe, and one of the most cor­rupt coun­tries in Europe.”

“It ap­pears that Vi­tals (the com­pany that has been cho­sen to over­see the pri­vati­sa­tion of a num­ber of hos­pi­tals) is also try­ing to pri­va­tise hos­pi­tals in Mon­tene­gro. Look at what the doc­tors’ union of Mon­tene­gro said: ‘the Mon­tene­grin doc­tors’ union said gov­ern­ment plans to al­low for­eign pri­vate com­pa­nies to man­age pub­lic hos­pi­tals means that profit will be put be­fore peo­ple’s health.’”

“Now they (the gov­ern­ment) want to pri­va­tise the men­tal health sec­tor. While there is no doubt that Mt Carmel can­not re­main the way it is, men­tal health must be based on solid foun­da­tions.”

On obe­sity, Dr Busut­til slammed the gov­ern­ment for plac­ing the is­sue on the agenda on the Euro­pean Coun­cil through­out its pres­i­dency when the Mal­tese are the most obese peo­ple per capita in Europe.

Traf­fic

He slammed the gov­ern­ment for scar­ing peo­ple when the op­po­si­tion sim­ply sug­gested mea­sures to en­tice peo­ple to leave their cars at home by say­ing the PN wanted to force peo­ple to leave their cars be­hind.

“Af­ter this, the gov­ern­ment came out with the idea of a con­ges­tion tax and park­ing against pay­ment,” he said.

“Our vi­sion is for a dif­fer­ent sys­tem of pub­lic trans­port: a na­tional state-of-the-art tramway or light rail­way sys­tem, which ide­ally con­nects Malta and Gozo via a tun­nel. This sys­tem would be so ef­fi­cient that it would not make sense to use the car.”

“I am happy to see that the gov­ern­ment has also men­tioned the tramway idea. We are in agree­ment then, and there is po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus - there­fore this project should come to fruition no mat­ter the gov­ern­ment of the day,” he said.

LNG tanker

On the con­tro­ver­sial LNG tanker, Dr Busut­til slammed the gov­ern­ment for giv­ing the pub­lic 30 days to re­view the 15,000 page­long im­pact as­sess­ment re­ports.

He pledged to re­move the LNG tanker from Marsaxlokk be­cause the risks are too great and the need is not there.

“In the re­port there is a sec­tion en­ti­tled the Ex­ter­nal Emer­gency Plan which is sup­posed to tell ef­fected par­ties what to do in case of an emer­gency. It out­lines the evac­u­a­tion process of evac­u­at­ing power sta­tion work­ers should some­thing hap­pen - how­ever no pro­ce­dures are in place. It speaks of the evac­u­a­tion of res­i­dents: ‘If the sit­u­a­tion war­rants, the de­ci­sion may be taken to evac­u­ate not only the non-es­sen­tial peo­ple in the fa­cil­ity but also part of the is­land res­i­dents.’ But we do not know which res­i­dents it speaks of, which lo­cal­i­ties. We do not know the emer­gency plan should things go wrong.

“In the re­port, there should be an op­er­a­tional plan of emer­gency that is sup­posed to be sent to peo­ple, which ex­plains the mea­sures that should be taken for res­i­dents, shops and any ef­fected per­sons in case of emer­gency. Here we find a blank page. This in­for­ma­tion was left out us­ing the use of na­tional se­cu­rity.

Panama Pa­pers

Turn­ing to the Panama Pa­pers scan­dal, Dr Busut­til said:

“If the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schem­bri and a lead­ing Min­is­ter, such as Kon­rad Mizzi was, should re­sign for the part they played, even the Prime Min­is­ter should re­sign.

“If these two (Dr Mizzi and Mr Schem­bri) are the prob­lem, then the prob­lem does not stop there, then the prob­lem is the Prime Min­is­ter. For re­tain­ing their po­si­tions, the Prime Min­is­ter has be­come com­plicit.”

“I would like to re­mind you all of a fourth com­pany, reg­is­tered in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Isles. This com­pany be­longed to the per­son who ne­go­ti­ated in the name of the Chi­nese for the sale of Ene­malta and the BWSC power sta­tion. Kon­rad Mizzi and Keith Schem­bri were caught with a se­cret com­pany in Panama on the one hand, and the Chi­nese agent sent up a se­cret BVI com­pany on the other hand. Dis­gust­ing!”

For these rea­sons Dr Busut­til de­manded an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of each con­tract Dr Mizzi and Mr Schem­bri were in­volved in: the Elec­tro­gas con­tract, the Ene­malta con­tract, the con­tract of sale for the BWSC power sta­tion and the con­tract of sale for the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karen Grech hos­pi­tals.

Dr Busut­til spoke of the al­le­ga­tions be­ing made against Deputy Leader Beppe Fenech Adami, that he has links with a Dutch com­pany who are ac­cused of money laun­der­ing and drug smug­gling.

“Dr Fenech Adami cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied these claims, and since an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched into why the po­lice failed to com­plete in­ves­ti­ga­tions be­cause they came across his name, then why wasn’t an in­ves­ti­ga­tion launched into why the po­lice did not in­ves­ti­gate Dr Mizzi and Mr Schem­bri?”

“And why wasn’t an in­ves­ti­ga­tion launched from the find­ings of the Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Anal­y­sis Unit re­port. And what hap­pened to this re­port? Is it fin­ished? And why was no in­ves­ti­ga­tion launched into the med­i­cal visa scan­dal, the Al­ge­rian visa scan­dal, the Gaf­farena scan­dal or the Cafe Pre­mier scan­dal?”

I ap­peal to the rec­tor of the Amer­i­can univer­sity to se­ri­ously con­sider not de­vel­op­ing the vir­gin land that is planned to be used for the |on­qor cam­pus, and find an al­ter­na­tive place

Pho­to­graphs: James Bianchi

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