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