‘I had to stand up to be counted’

‘I had to stand up to be counted’

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

PL candidate Franco Mercieca is a Gozitan who believes the islands must be bridged. An ophthalmologist by profession, he also tells Christian Peregin that free healthcare is a problem both parties must live with.


Age: 45
Profession: Ophthalmologist
District: 12 and 13
Residence: Qala

What is your background and why did you decide to contest the next election?

I don’t think it is a good thing for the country if a party is in government for more than two legislatures.

I’m from a Gozitan working class family. I graduated as a doctor in 1990 and trained in the UK for six years in ophthalmology, which I’ve been practising in Malta for the past 14 years.

I felt the need to stand up to be counted. I don’t think it is a good thing for the country if a party is in government for more than two legislatures and I think it is time for change.

Why the Labour Party?

I was never involved in any Labour committee. In fact when they asked me to go to the Labour Party centre in Victoria, I asked for directions. I had never even been to any mass meetings. But, who else if not the Labour Party? The Nationalist Party has been there for a long time, they’re not credible anymore...

Is their only failing that they have been there for a long time?

They’re not credible anymore... They say things and don’t deliver. Before the last election they promised a surplus by 2010. They knew there would be economic turmoil and said they would reduce tax to stimulate the economy. It was a lie. Also, the party is coming apart.

Do you think Labour’s history is misunderstood or does the party need to repent for its many mistakes in the past?

I think Labour’s history is illustrious. It has been the defender of the Maltese people and workers much more than PN. The PN has been the party for the few while Labour was always for the many. There was a dark period but I’m not sure where the truth really lies...

Which period, specifically?

The 1980s... Early 80s.

What about the more recent blemish in the party’s past: its position on EU membership and the way it claimed it won a referendum which it lost?

I wasn’t very happy with Labour’s stand, honestly. I voted in favour of the EU, as did my wife. I worked in the UK so I knew what a problem it was to come from a non-EU member trying to work in another European country.

Does it worry you that your current leader Joseph Muscat voted against EU membership?

People evolve. It was a stand by the Labour Party and the stand was that it wasn’t the right time to enter EU, not that it was against the EU. But that is the past now and we have to look forward. People are not interested in the past. People want to know about the future.

What kind of MP do you aspire to be?

What I promise is honesty, accountability, transparency and that I will be close to the people.

As a person from the medical field, don’t you think the Nationalist Party delivered when it came to the health sector?

It depends how you look at it. If you look at how much we’ve invested in health, we’ve invested millions. But I’m doubtful on the return on investment. We were promised that waiting lists would be abolished. Have they been? I don’t think so. If you apply today for an MRI you will have to wait 18 months.

How would you improve the situation?

You have to increase the service. There was a time when the PN were thinking of closing all the health centres...

What does it mean to increase the service?

You have to increase the number of consultants and people working in the hospital and you have to give incentives.

So you’re talking about investment in the professionals, not the infrastructure.

Also, certain services can be transferred to health centres to decrease the load on the hospital. For example, the Gozo hospital is in tatters and there are lots of services missing. So for every five patients operated upon in Gozo, three Gozitans must be operated upon in Malta every day. The Gozo hospital has to help Mater Dei hospital, not contribute to the burden.

Can we afford to keep giving free healthcare?

Free healthcare is a problem because if you keep on with free healthcare then investment is going to be difficult. But that is what is being promised by both parties and we’ve got to work on those lines.

You don’t believe it though.

I think free healthcare is a need for every single individual; for example, somebody who comes from a low class and doesn’t have money to go for private services.

But you said it is a problem. Do you question its sustainability?

It’s a problem in every single country which has free healthcare, including the UK and Germany.

So what is the solution?

The solution is more public-private partnerships.

The electoral campaign’s first week has come to an end. Whose campaign do you think was the strongest?

Labour’s is the most positive. We haven’t heard what the Nationalists are going to do. We’ve heard Labour’s proposals and the Nationalists trying to pull them apart. So there’s no match at the moment.

For many years Labour criticised the PN for being in the pockets of businessmen and having enormous expensive campaigns. It seems the tables have turned. What’s happening?

The people want a change. It’s very simple. If you want a change you go with the party you believe in.

Including contractors, developers, big business...

Ophthalmologists, nurses, surgeons... everybody.

One of the most high profile candidates on the Gozo district is former parliamentary secretary Anton Refalo. Do you think he should be made Gozo minister if Labour is elected?

That is Joseph Muscat’s prerogative. I am here to contest for the Labour Party and help it get elected.

But are you being pushed by Dr Muscat to elbow him out?

Anton Refalo is a very valid person. He has given a lot to the party. He has yet more to give. We’re colleagues. It is Joseph’s decision who he will choose. I’ve got no particular ambitions to be anywhere.

So you’re not hoping to be the next Gozo minister...

I only wish that the Labour Party is in government.

There are rumours Joseph Muscat will contest the Gozo district? Are they correct?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Are you helping to come up with Gozo-specific policies for the party?

I’ve organised four public discussions in Gozo on health services, transport, work and tourism...

What can we expect regarding Labour’s proposals for Gozo?

The most important thing for Gozo is to create more work. The PN took five years to build a two-mile road. But they haven’t thought about the people. The people need work and money to live. The salary in Gozo is 25 per cent lower than in Malta.

But how can work be created?

For Gozo to remain sustainable, a permanent link is essential.

A permanent link?

A permanent link being a bridge, an underground tunnel, between Gozo and Malta.

So are we expecting the Labour Party to propose this?

We’ve already spoken in favour.

How does that help to generate employment?

If you see how much foreign investment there has been in Gozo since 2008, you get the answer. For every €100 invested in Malta, only four cents was invested in Gozo and we’re eight per cent of the population. The reason there is no investment is transport.

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