Thursday, 20 September 2012

Independent: PM dismisses claims of stepping down if re-elected
20 September 2012 by Keith Micallef

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday evening dismissed claims aired earlier during the evening by the Labour media that his intention is to step down from his post if he is re-elected as Prime Minister. According to the Labour media, Dr Gonzi was due to make this announcement this evening during the traditional mass meeting marking the end of the PN’s Independence activities. Dr Gonzi promised to remain at the helm till he enjoys the necessary backing, referring also to the 97% support garnered in February in the internal contest, where he was unchallenged.

The prime minister was put to the grill by One reporter Charlon Gouder, Matthew Vella from MaltaToday, and Kurt Sansone from The Times. As expected much of the questions focused on the political crises and the ever- growing speculation of the country going to the polls. Unsurprisingly, Dr Gonzi kept his cards close to his chest when asked about election date, and the concrete possibility of a no-confidence motion against the Health Minister.

At the start of the interview Dr Gonzi urged all those present to show respect, emphasising that journalists were carrying their duties and thus bound to ask what they felt relevant. However the highly charged atmosphere took its toll on some members of the crowd, with some embarrassing remarks being hurled whenever issues focusing on the political crises surfaced.

The Prime Minister repeatedly remarked that in spite of all the internal trouble – which he acknowledged – the government has delivered and reached its goals. At the same time he drew comfort from the fact that this legislature is drawing to a close and that the country has overcome all the challenges stemming from the economic turmoil abroad. He also based his defence on a contrast with neighbouring countries such as Greece and Cyprus.

The Prime Minister ridiculed the PL and its leader for having forecast the country going to the polls on more than 23 separate dates, saying that now the election is really drawing to a close.

Dr Gonzi remarked that leading the country is a privilege. He added that he is looking forward to be granted another five years at the helm, since the PN believes in the people. He said that his primary ambition is to serve the electorate, and vowed to continue transforming the country for the better.

Regarding the political stability and Dr Debono’s hard line stance with his public outcries in his blog, the Prime Minister reiterated than in spite of all these setbacks the government reached its targets. He backed his argument referring to the low unemployment rate and a series of economic indicators including the record levels reached in tourism. While showing empathy for such questions, Dr Gonzi said that to him bread-and-butter issues facing the families are much more relevant. He remarked that following the next general election the government can sustain its efforts to improve the country.

Regarding the impeding no-confidence motion in the Health Minister, he saluted former Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici for his efforts including the Libyan crisis. Similarly he saluted Richard Cachia Caruana with the crowd bursting in a long applause. He reiterated that Dr Cassar’s track record was endorsed recently even by the World Health Organisation. As for the no-confidence motion he bluntly said “I will only reveal my intentions at the right moment”.

Dr Gonzi explained that since 2007, the government modified the tax bands thus easing tax burdens as promised. He also referred to this year’s budget which introduced a new category specifically aimed for parents, with Dr Gonzi claiming that this translates up to €3,200 less tax a year. He also referred to the introduction of tax credits for mothers returning to work.

He claimed that a recent NSO statistic showed that the net income increased by €1,000 a year. Regarding the removal of the 35% tax rate, he admitted that he would have liked to take such a step. As for the level of consumption he said that the VAT income is reaching the set targets for this year’s budget, which is encouraging. According to the Prime Minister the government has already hinted its intentions with the pre-budget document suggesting that incentives for the construction industry may be in the pipeline. He said that rather than following the Cypriot economic model as suggested by Dr Muscat a year ago which would have resulted in bankruptcy, the government chose to keep its focus on the right priorities.

Other issues dealt with the divorce referendum, the honoraria saga and the power station extension in Delimara. Dr Gonzi said that he has no regrets about his decisions as he is witnessing “a country moving forward, enjoying a good reputation abroad”. He said that it is useless crying over spilt milk, while acknowledging that he could have treated some issues in a different manner.

According to the Prime Minister the most blatant example of the country’s witness to a new style of politics under his leadership was the choice of a President hailing from the opposite camp, which was unprecedented. He added that were it not for Labour’s refusal, even the Speaker would have been nominated from amongst its benches.

Dr Gonzi added that even when it came to the choice of other constitutional appointments, there was agreement. He said that the most recent example of a new way of doing politics is the proposal for the appointment of a commissioner to enforce that MPs abide by their code of ethics.

The PM urged the PL to attend the independence activities if it really means business on political maturity. He thus floated the idea once again of having the 21 of September as the national day.

The Prime Minister reiterated that those deciding to stay at home in the general election will be voting Labour. He discarded Labour’s Congress being held concurrently remarking that it is only now that the PL seems to be acknowledging the necessity to place the individual at the centre of its policies.

He also referred to Edward Scicluna’s recent remarks expressing his bewilderment that Dr Scicluna still believes in ‘Mintoffian economics’. “If this is the star candidate of the PL, this is another reason for voting PN”, stressed the PN leader.

Regarding the rate of students opting for post-secondary education, he said that the PN never decided to close any schools, unlike Labour. He reiterated that from a 43% rate, in a span of ten years, this rate increase to 82%. Regarding the drop-out rate by the age of 19, he said that nevertheless there is still a record number of students in the tertiary level. However he acknowledged that there is room for improvement. Dr Gonzi took the opportunity to criticise the Labour media for adopting a doom and gloom strategy, urging more respect to its audiences.

Asked whether he is ready to table a bill legalising same-sex marriages, the Prime Minister emphasised that all categories of society should be respected. However he declared that “marriage should only be between a man and a woman.” On the other hand, he acknowledged that there are other forms of relationships, and this led to the tabling of the cohabitation bill in recent weeks, which drew harsh criticism from the gay community.

Asked for his message to the PN candidates, the Prime Minister urged them to make their utmost to serve the country, claiming that the PN was always on the right side of history. He said that back in 2008 following his announcement to call the general election he had promised to transform Malta for the better. “The time is near when we will be reiterating this promise, and I trust the electorate to take the best decision”, concluded an upbeat Prime Minister while the crowd applauded incessantly.

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