Malta Council for Economic and Social Development president John Bencini chaired his first meeting of the council this evening, a meeting that most social partners attended under protest because of his appointment.

Only the GWU and the Forum – of which Mr Bencini was president until two months ago, were in favour of Mr Bencini becoming president.

But at the end the meeting the partners, who raised their objections to Mr Bencini at the beginning of the meeting, appeared to have reluctantly accepted the appointment and said they were willing to look ahead.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat defended his decision to appoint Mr Bencini president saying he was sure Mr Bencini would rise to the occasion.

Speaking at the end of the meeting Mr Bencini described the meeting as a positive one. He downplayed the objections to his appointment saying he had expected them and added that today he was a “happy man”.

He said he would meet all members of the council on an individual basis for the MCESD to really be a consultative council. He also appealed to Social Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli to increase the MCESD’s budget.

Dr Dalli said that the government’s idea was for the chairman to rotate. A legislative reform of the council could be carried out to introduce this and other measures, she said.

The social partners were given an overview of the economy by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, who said that although the deficit was bigger than projected, it appeared that it could be brought down to under 3 per cent by the end of the year.

Speaking to journalists at the end of the meeting, GRTU president Vince Farrugia said that never in the history of the council was its president appointed without consultation.

“We will work with what we have,” he said, adding he agreed that the chair should rotate as the government was suggesting.

Mr Farrugia said that economic figures showed a deficit that was much worse than expected but said he was confident that if the projects listed in the budget expected to be approved next week were carried out, "we will be ok".

GWU general secretary Tony Zarb said his union had been wanting a reform of the council for it to become closer to similar councils in Europe for years.

UHM secretary general Josef Vella said his union was hopeful that economic targets would be met. The government, he said, planned on balancing the books and getting to a surplus by 2015. The UHM’s Jobs+ plan approved by the council before the election, he said, would help reach these economic targets.


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