Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Malta Today: Updated | Muscat reiterates that Borg's nomination will face problems over anti-gay statements

Labour Leader Joseph Muscat reiterates support for Tonio Borg’s nomination to EU Commissioner post, warns that anti-gay statements will be problematic.
Saturday 27 October 2012 - 10:34 by Nestor Laiviera

Speaking on Għandi X'Ngħid, Labour Leader Joseph Muscat reiterated labour's warning that Tonio Borg's nomination for EU Commissioner would not be an easy task.

Labour Leader Joseph Muscat reiterated Labour's support for Tonio Borg's nomination for the post of EU Commissioner, recently vacated by John Dalli.

"We cannot leave a vacuum," Muscat said, speaking on Andrew Azzopardi's radio talk programme Ghandi X'Nghid.

However, he reiterated that while Labour is openly and unreservedly supporting Borg's nomination, "we do not think it will be easily achieved. We should dispel the notion that this nomination will be plain sailing or a walk over."

While saying that he doubts that abortion will be an issue, Muscat pointed to "certain declarations" made by Borg on gay rights and other civil liberties that could be prove troublesome.

"All Maltese don't agree with abortion, and there is a consensus between [the PN and the PL] that we do not agree with abortion. "If it was about abortion, I doubt any Maltese individual would make the grade," Muscat said.

Pointing to recent statements in parliament by Borg regarding gay rights and gay legislation, Muscat said "Borg will face an uphill struggle to convince the European Parliament."

While conceding that everyone has a right to their own personal opinion, Muscat insisted that a European Commissioner "is bound to a charter, which spells out clear rights."

"Because of this, we warned it would not be easy," Muscat stressed.

At the same time, Muscat said that Labour was not entirely happy with the way the nomination was handled, and said that Labour would have liked some things "to be handled differently."

"We have clear ideas of how things should have been handled," Muscat said, without however going into detail on what Labour was dissatisfied or unhappy with.

Muscat also disagreed that there is a conflict between Labour's support for Borg, and statements by the European socialists group in the European Parliament that they would grill Tonio Borg to avoid another Buttiglione scenario.

Muscat said that his first instinctive reaction was to support Borg as, as Maltese individual, irrespective of the partisan political dimension, I felt obliged to support the candidature of another Maltese individual."

Muscat added that when individuals from the same country work against each other in European institutions, "it comes across as petty."

At the same time, Muscat said that he is aware of "the way that the European Socialists think" and added that they will be working to ensure that Tonio Borg's nomination will be approved.

Muscat pointed to statements by president of the European Socialists Hannes Swoboda, who had said that Borg should expect a tough but fair grilling in the European parliament.

"We cannot expect a blank cheque. We can only expect them to be fair," Muscat said.

Speaking about the on-going John Dalli scandal, Muscat was cautious, and insisted that premature pronouncements before the truth of the case is made public would be unwise.

He also insisted that "irrespective of who is right and who is wrong", Malta's reputation suffered as a whole, and urged for partisan politics to be set aside in favour of national unity.

"Currently, a Maltese individual is facing an unclear accusation, with unclear proof. The best course of action is to wait before making pronouncements on the issue," he said.

Muscat noted however that a number of developments, such as the resignation of the chairman of OLAF's supervisory committee, and a close-doors meeting held recently in the European Parliament, are adding to the speculation and the mystery of the case.

"Nobody is 100% sure of what was said. It is not a very transparent way of doing things," Muscat said, referring to the closed-doors meeting held in the EP.

He also noted how EU institutions are going head-to-head over this issue.

"Some institutions, like the European Commission are saying 'this is the way things are done', while however there are institutions calling for more transparency, like the European Parliament."

Muscat was however careful to not suggest that Borg's appointment was somehow premature, and affirmed that 'we cannot leave a vacuum' and that 'it is important that a new Commissioner is appointed."

Asked about recent statements by Labour MP Helena Dalli who had said that a new Labour government would not renew contracts of individuals who are not qualified to hold their government posts, Muscat opined that Dalli was misinterpreted.

"We have no intention of embarking on some sort of 'head-cutting' exercise," Muscat said, adding that Dalli had expressed a query regarding how those occupying high grades in the Civil Service were appointed.

Muscat assured the public of the continuity that Labour represents, and stressed hat "while justice will be done with those who have suffered injustice, however justice is not achieved through the perpetuation of new injustices."

"From our side, we will ensure a tranquil transition without bumps," he stressed.

Speaking about the St. Philip's hospital acquisition deal, Muscat reiterated Labour's call for the agreement to be scrutinised before it is signed, and not after.

"The last contract we handled in this way was the BWSC power station extension contract, and we can all see where that has got us today," Muscat said, stressing that government should not be in a rush to sign off on such large-scale agreements.

Muscat also welcomed the PN Government's recent decision to submit the agreement contract to scrutiny in the Public Accounts Committee before it is submitted once the agreement itself is finalised.

"If we are convinced that this is right choice, we will support government in this," Muscat reiterated.

At the same time, Muscat expressed concern at statements by the government regarding the option to rehabilitate the disused St. Luke's hospital, and noted that despite Health Minister Joe Cassar's statements that it would cost in the region of €40 million, Finance Minister Tonio Borg said that government did not consider St. Luke's as an option.

"This would make anyone immediately question whether government considered other options as well as it should have," Muscat said, also dismissing the notion that the St. Luke's land resource is preferable as an economic investment.

Muscat also noted the recent court ruling which found that Government had drawn up a plan costing thousands of euros for the establishment of an oncology hospital at Zammit Clapp Hospital, which dropped in favour of building one at Mater Dei.

"This is a clear sign of what the government's lack of planning is costing the country," Muscat said.

Speaking about the BWSC Delimara power station extension damage, which could postpone the handing over of the plant by up to six months, Muscat reiterated Labour's opposition to the project and the technology it will implement.

Muscat noted Government's intention to hold BWSC accountable for the delay of handing over the plant extension and to seek to apply the full contractual penalties which amount to €1.6 million per week if the 7 November is not respected.

Muscat however added that Government also confirmed that it will also attempt to pass on the costs of generating energy from the Marsa power station and any emission penalties stemming from Marsa's dirtier technology, which will amount to €3.6 million monthly.

"Will BWSC be willing to pay for this? [Finance Minister Tonio Fenech] said that the issue would most probably go into contestation," Muscat said.

However, Muscat said, this clashed with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi's categorical statements last Sunday where he stated that BWSC had already "accepted to pay and make good for all the costs that we will suffer as a country."

Muscat accused Gonzi of "either being misleading [in his statements], or having been misinformed."

The Labour leader also said that what scrutiny of the contract had uncovered was that this €1.6 million has a maximum threshold, which amounts to 24 million.

Once this €24 million is exceeded, government can decide to refuse the plant, Muscat said.

Asked if he was afraid of facing parliamentary dissent in his own government should there be change in government and he find himself landed with a one seat majority like the present administration, Muscat disagreed.

"It is not a question of numbers, but a question of leadership," Muscat insisted, pointing out that Dom Mintoff's 1976 administration also had a one-seat majority: "He coped."

He emphasised that a new Labour government would be composed of an inclusive team "in which everyone has a role."

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