‘We need young people to be critical thinkers’
Gudja’s local councillor Mark Anthony Sammut explains to Christian Peregin why Nationalist Party members cannot be satisfied with being better than a mediocre PL.
Profession: Engineer, councillor
What made you decide to contest the general election?
I was asked by the Prime Minister and accepted because I believe I can make a positive contribution.
I’m tired of seeing self-interest and egoism rule in all spheres of life. Not just in politics... it’s trickled down into social behaviour.
In what way?
We have lost a sense of ethics and basic manners. The maxim in Malta is: “Those who cheat move forward and those who don’t lag behind”.
I want to live in a society where honest and diligent taxpayers move forward and those who are cheating stay behind.
Are you idealistic?
Yes, I believe in ideals. And I think we need to believe in ideals once again.
What do you like most about your party?
The fact that it has always strived to provide opportunities for everyone: young people, workers, businesses...
And these opportunities are open to everyone, not tied to political beliefs.
And what do you hate most about the PN?
The thing I hate most is that some elements in the party have grown to be satisfied with just being better than Labour.
When Labour is in such a mediocre state, being better than them is not good enough. I want the PN to excel in everything it does.
What differences do you see between the leadership of Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi?
In Dr Fenech Adami’s time, the party had a common goal (EU membership), which made it easier to keep everyone united.
I became involved in the party only after Lawrence Gonzi became leader and I must say that from my experience with him he is a very good listener and very hardworking.
The Nationalist Party is divided and looks as if its glory days are over. Why join the party ticket at this time?
The PN has a proven track record of providing the people with the opportunities they need to move forward.
I can’t be attracted to the Labour Party, which has an electoral manifesto being written by someone who in his time as a minister presided over double the number of unemployed we have today – with a much smaller population and a lower percentage of women working.
The Nationalist Party is going through some difficulties, yes, because there are people who are looking at their self-interests before the interests of the nation. But I think it can emerge stronger out of this situation.
Surveys show many young people seem to agree with you and are not yet convinced by Labour. But every other group is showing a massive shift towards Labour. Is there something you are not seeing? Why are so many people swinging to Labour?
Let’s start from the young people because they give us hope, I think.
Young people are not being persuaded by Joseph Muscat’s talk of meritocracy and job guarantees because they have grown in a system that is meritocratic – we can go to university, Mcast, use ETC’s youth employment programmes...
And what about the rest of society?
I think many people tend to vote more according to what is affecting them personally rather than what is affecting the nation as a whole.
Are you saying that younger people are more mature?
I think they look for substance more than what is in it for them personally.
We hear a lot about disgruntled Nationalists, for instance. But while many have good reason to be disgruntled, others use their vote to try and threaten politicians for personal favours. Unfortunately, some of these are finding support from the Labour Party.
What do you think are the major issues concerning young people?
Education and employment.
And what are your ideas to improve the education system?
We have improved the opportunities offered at a post-secondary level but we must now focus on preparing people to grab these opportunities.
In the primary and secondary sector, education needs to be more holistic. We need to teach young people to be critical thinkers rather than absorbers of information.
We should also stop looking just at academic performance but also their physical (sport) and artistic capabilities.
Do you think stipends are sustainable?
I think stipends are sustainable as long as they help people to continue their studies.
They are especially important for young people from the lower end of society.
Let’s talk about the euro crisis. Do you think it was good for Malta to join the eurozone?
Yes, because it helped Malta sustain itself in the eventual crisis.
What worries me about the euro is that if the financial system behaves in such a way that we need to take taxpayers’ money to bail out banks – taking money from the poor and channelling it to the already rich – we need a whole rethink. In a true free market, if a bank fails, you allow it to fail.
We rarely see young Maltese protesting. Recently, a few hundred protested in favour of the legalisation of marijuana. Do you consider this to be a serious issue?
I would tend to agree with decriminalising marijuana, not sending people to jail for being caught with a joint.
Sometimes certain penalties in our laws are ridiculous: someone caught with possession of marijuana is sent to jail for years while someone caught drink-driving and almost killing someone gets a suspended sentence.
During this legislature we have spoken about various social issues: divorce, gay rights, IVF. Do you consider yourself to be liberal or conservative on such issues?
I tend to favour individual liberty, but before we talk about liberty we have to talk about responsibility. We live in a country where we want everyone to do whatever he wants, but we want society to always bear the brunt of the consequences.
But how does that factor into a debate on IVF or gay marriage, for example?
Let’s take gay marriage. I have no difficulty in someone signing the civil contract of marriage with someone of the same-sex.
It is an individual choice that doesn’t affect anyone else. So I wouldn’t oppose it.
During this legislature we spoke about loyalty. How important is party loyalty to you?
Party loyalty is of utmost importance. If you are standing on the party’s ticket, you might criticise – and I’ve criticised the party on a number of issues, even in the general council – but politics should consist of arguments and persuasion, not threats and fulfilling one’s expectations.
Nationalist MP Franco Debono spoke about a lot of issues and then went against the party line? Did he cross the line?
I think there is a limit to everything. The biggest problem with Franco Debono’s behaviour is that he tied those issues to his personal ambitions.