‘We modernised Malta’
PN candidate Manuel Delia is best known for being the face of the public transport reform that gave us Arriva. He tells Christian Peregin that he is not ashamed to say so.
Name: Manuel Delia
What is your background and why did you decide to contest the election this time?
I work in politics. I’ve been doing it since my University days.
I ran the student council for a couple of years and after that I moved into political work, holding various political offices under Minister Austin Gatt.
What is your greatest achievement?
I’ve always worked in a team... I played a very small role in the most important achievement of this country in the last several years: we joined the EU. We modernised Malta.
Your website says you have been working for Dr Gatt’s ministry for 11 years on areas such as roads, public transport and Smart City. These three are surely not the proudest aspects of the Government?
I don’t know if they’re the proudest or not but I think they are proud elements for the Government.
In terms of roads, we have transformed the country over the last years.
There are a lot of challenges left, but the road-building programme is something everybody sees...
Road works are being carried out all the time but as soon as there’s a bit of rain the tarmac either disintegrates or breaks out into bumps.
I think we’re talking about different roads. There is certainly a problem with the ones that haven’t been done up yet.
Over time, they weren’t built very well. We’re going through a long process of replacing all our old roads.
You have been described as the architect of the public transport reform in Malta. Is that a label that makes youfeel proud?
Well, it is not an adjective I gave myself. I certainly played a big part in the preparation. I got that description because I was also a very important part of the promotion of the changeover.
Is it something you regret, politically?
That is yet to be seen. I won’t judge. But I grew up hearing repeatedly: why do we still have buses dating back 50 years?
I’m proud to have been part of the team that changed that.
The surveys show people prefer the old buses now.
For what? Do they prefer being in them or seeing them drive around? I disagree. It depends on who you ask.
Arriva is always in the news for the wrong reasons. People now love to hate the service. What went wrong?
That can happen to a product and I think that is a discussion you should also have with Arriva.
I think there are quite a few things that need improving.
The first thing that comes to mind is discipline in time-keeping. People are right to expect that a nice, spanking new, air-conditioned bus picks you up reasonably on time.
But overall, has it been a success?
It has been a success in terms of having solved many old problems we had. I think the reform needs to go on and there is a lot yet to be done to reach our target, which is more people using buses.
London mayor Boris Johnson recently poked fun at Malta for buying the bendy-buses. How did you feel when he said that? Were you conned into buying them?
No, we expected it because we knew what he thought of bendy-buses. But there was a London mayor before him and he had introduced articulated buses in London.
But people didn’t really like them.
The new mayor didn’t really like them.
And he was elected on that call.
I don’t think that was the only reason. I would certainly say bendy-buses are a very popular means of transport, including in Malta. I think bus users are relieved to see a bendy-bus because that’s a really sure way of boarding a bus.
The Transport Ministry said the same thing when it replied to Boris Johnson. What are you basing this assessment on?
I think the facts speak for themselves. When you are on a bendy-bus that takes 160 passengers and it is full and you’re on it, you know very well that if the bus was any smaller you would be waiting in the sun or the rain for the next bus.
There’s also a fear it is going to break down.
No, I don’t think that’s reasonable. Bendy-buses break as often as any other vehicle.
Labour said it will remove bendy-buses from problematic routes. Is that something that you think the Government should consider?
Labour should say what the problematic routes are. The assignment of which buses go where is really the responsibility of the operator. I think it is really silly to blame a bendy-bus for a traffic jam.
You’re sometimes referred to as Austin Gatt’s clone because, like him, you do not mince your words. What is your assessment of Dr Gatt?
I agree with you that he does not mince his words, but I think it is good for people to know where they stand with you.
Austin Gatt is a leader, a talented reformer and has led very important changes in this country over the last 15 years.
Besides IT and transport, we should also mention the major economic transition we went through, from hard-steel subsidised industries to the modern economy we live in today. He was a big part of that.
Yet people love to hate him, just like Arriva.
I don’t know what people you refer to. I can imagine that some people may feel that way but other people feel differently.
I think what I admire most about him is that he is not really affected by that too much.
If George Borg Olivier strove to achieve independence, Dom Mintoff worked for freedom from the British, and Eddie Fenech Adami for democracy and the EU, what is Lawrence Gonzi’s vision?
Lawrence Gonzi led this country through the toughest economic times in living memory. I think he will be remembered as a war Prime Minister in that he took us through very tough times.
But I don’t want to speak as if Lawrence Gonzi is in the past. History has yet to form an opinion about him after he retires. He is still leading us into the next five years.
Do you see another five years in him?
Oh yes. And I think the country does as well. I think the choice ahead of us is: do we think Lawrence Gonzi would do a better job than Joseph Muscat?
Who is your greatest political hero?
The first one that comes to mind is obvious and I think you could have answered that for me: Eddie Fenech Adami... and Lawrence Gonzi.
Is there any Labourite you admire?
I think, because they chose the wrong party, I would find that very difficult.
The Labour Party has repeatedly and consistently proven itself to be the party of the wrong time and the wrong politics.
What do you think of Labour leader Joseph Muscat?
I think he is too young and too shallow. Age does not disqualify you but I think experience helps if you are running for the top job.
But also, I hear his analysis of the country’s problems and how he proposes to solve them and they are skin-deep.
Do you think John Dalli was a good choice for EU Commissioner?
I think he turned out not to have been but no one could have known that before.
So don’t you entertain the idea that he was a victim of OLAF or the European Commission?
I couldn’t begin to imagine why that would have happened.