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Muscat demands responsibility for MFSA's decision on Bank of Valletta

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat this evening demanded a statement by the prime minister over the decision taken by the MFSA against Bank of Valletta over the La Valetta Property Fund. (www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120604/local/mfsa-fines-bov-203-150-after-third-fund-investigation.422716">see http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120604/local/mfsa-fines-bov-203-150-after-third-fund-investigation.422716 )

Speaking in parliament during the confidence debate, Dr Muscat said the government could not ignore the issue once it appointed the chairman of the bank. He personally had confidence in the bank, Dr Muscat said, but somebody had to assume responsibility for what had taken place.

In a speech lasting some 90 minutes, Dr Muscat said that were it up to the prime minister, the opposition would not have a right to criticise the government in parliament.

This government, he said, had set a new record in that, in the space of six months, it  had to face three confidence or no-confidence debates. If this did not raise questions by investors, what did?

Unfortunately, the end result of this confidence debate was that Malta would be back to square one. Nothing would change, in the same way as nothing had changed after the leadership contest where he was the sole candidate.

The prime minister was hostage of the seat of power. He had said he wanted a clear confidence vote without conditions, yet he had just heard a government MP (Franco Debono) who, in effect, had laid conditions for his help to the government.

In his speech at the opening of the debate, Dr Muscat said, the prime minister had forgotten about admitting mistakes and going to people's kitchens to meet the electorate. Instead, one heard arrogance from government speakers who acted like everything was perfect.

Nothing had changed because the problem lay in the prime minister's style of leadership.

The government was imploding and the prime minister was in denial. He was not realising that he was the problem, and he would only win the vote in the House if he met the conditions set for him.

The prime minister had said he wanted a clear vote. This was a new confidence benchmark which, Dr Muscat said, applied to the rest of the legislature and which the Opposition would hold Dr Gonzi accountable for.

Dr Muscat said the Opposition was being consistent, as it was about the power station. Just today, even before the power station extension had been commissioned, the finance minister had said the power station would be converted to gas - as Labour had long been saying. More significantly, the minister had now said that Malta could look forward to lower tariffs, and he said that would be the result of the interconnector. At long last, the government was admitting that tariffs could go down.

Dr Muscat said it was strange how, on just one decision, about the bus service, the prime minister had linked the vote of no confidence in minister Austin Gatt to collective ministerial responsibility, whereas he did not do the same last week when the running of the whole Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs was under the lens. Once the PM treated his ministers so differently, one could only wonder how he treated the people.

The Opposition leader defended the Opposition's decision to move a motion of no confidence in the Minister of Home Affairs. What was strange, he said, was how the government expected the opposition not to have moved that motion because of the minister's personal good qualities. But the minister's personal qualities were never the issue, Dr Muscat said. Many workers, with good personal qualities, had been disciplined because they arrived late for work because of traffic. Did the prime minister want a parliamentary system based on personal relationships where there was tacit agreement that kept people from doing their constitutional duties?

A Labour government would want no favours from the PN when in opposition. Constitutional norms and accountability had to be observed.

MINISTERIAL APPOINTMENTS

Dr Muscat said it was unsustainable for the prime minister to assume ministerial responsibility for home affairs and local government and he was sure that his decision to do so was temporary.

When he was responsible for finance, the prime minister had a parliamentary secretary working full time in that sector. The same happened when he was responsible for tourism, Mepa and local government. One therefore could now hardly believe that in addition to his duties and without assistance, Dr Gonzi would be directly responsible for home affairs and local government.

Issues such as immigration, the prisons and the police demanded constant focus, something which the prime minister could not give.

He believed, Dr Muscat said, that it was only political expediency which led Dr Gonzi to say he was taking responsibility for those portfolios. He was a hostage to his system and did not want another problem within his ranks.

WHAT CHANGE IN HOME AFFAIRS?

How would the prime minister's management be different with regard to illegal immigration? A Nationalist MP had now declared that burden sharing should be mandatory. The government needed to take a stronger stand in the EU and not always dance to the set tune.

Would the prime minister, at last, take action on a law granting trade union rights to the police?

When would the Freedom of Information Act come into force? What would become of the Whistle-blower Act? The current legislative text was a disservice which would offer no real protection for those who revealed information after having themselves been involved.

Would the prime minister declare what he had done in the past few days about the case revealed last week on the death of prisoner Steve Spiteri, who was about to reveal information to the police? The Spiteri family had confirmed that no one in authority had told them what was happening.

Dr Muscat referred to the European Commission's comments last week on the national reform programme and noted that three risks had been identified for Malta - that government budget projections were over-optimistic, that the government was suffering cost over-runs, and the problems of Enemalta and Air Malta.

Referring to Dr Gonzi's comments on capital projects, Dr Muscat said such projects were useful to the country as long as they constituted productive investment.  What value-added activity would the new parliament building yield to the country more than it already had?

Enemalta and Air Malta had been under the PN government's management for the past 25 years, and they were in a mess. The EU had even said that atriffs were undermining investment.

Dr Muscat said he also expected the prime minister to say what he would do after the serious judgement handed down by the MFSA against Bank of Valletta, whose chairman was appointed by the government. He personally had confidence in the bank, Dr Muscat said, but this was another case where responsibility had to be assumed. 

The EU, Dr Muscat noted, was also demanding a higher retirement age. Would the government continue to be silent on this matter? After all, in the Council last year, the government agreed with recommendations which included a higher retirement age. This meant that the pension reform had failed. The opposition remained of the view that Malta should aim for economic growth, not having workers work for longer.

Concluding, Dr Muscat reiterated the PL's commitment for a fair society based on social justice and denied the claims made by the prime minister yesterday that residential services for people with disability were already being offered in various localities. He said the government was disconnected from reality and the country, despite this confidence motion, was back to square one with the prime minister having wasted the country's time.

PRIME MINISTER'S REPLY

Replying, Dr Gonzi said it was Dr Muscat who had wasted the country's time by saying nothing about job creation, education and health.

The government, he said, would continue to remind the PL of the worst years of this country's recent history because those were the years when it was in government, and whose ministers were still on the Labour front bench (interruptions). Reacting to claims that the government was arrogant, Dr Gonzi said the apex of arrogance was how Labour governed for a full five years against the will of the people of when Labour said it won the EU referendum.

As for being hostage to the seat of power, Dr Gonzi said Dr Muscat was hostage to his dream of becoming Malta's youngest prime minister. What Malta needed was a government which ran the country in the interests of the country.

Dr Gonzi reiterated that the government was seeking a vote which was clear and unconditional and he could confirm that that would be the case (applause).

The prime minister insisted that in defending Dr Mifsud Bonnici he had insisted that the motion of no confidence against him was not justified. This confidence motion, therefore, would confirm the lack of confidence in the opposition.

Despite the opposition's criticism, Malta had the fourth best youth employment situation in the EU, Dr Gonzi said. Malta was first with regard to the employment of graduates.

Dr Gonzi reiterated that the homes for people with disability found in towns and villages was a concept which this government launched in 2002 and supplemented it with LSAs for inclusive education. The ultimate aim was for persons wth disability to have an allowance which would enable them to have a personal assistant to help them in their life.

On pensions, Dr Gonzi said the government's position was clear in the law enacted five years ago which aimed at adequate and sustainable pensions. The EU wanted to link pensions to life expectancy. This was something which would continue to be analysed, but the position on the basis of the proposed formula showed that Malta would need no change to the current retirement age.

Concluding, Dr Gonzi said the government's priority was to give families what they truly needed - jobs, education, and a free health service. 

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