Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said today that the government should have already unleashed a massive tourism publicity campaign to draw tourists to Malta in view of instability in North Africa.
Millions of tourists had been planning to go to countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, which are major tourism destinations, and Malta should be aggressively promoting its own attractions instead, he said.
In this way Malta could enjoy even more tourist arrivals, benefiting its economy, particularly SMEs, Dr Muscat said.
Egypt yesterday closed its major antiquities museum in Cairo and placed the Giza pyramids under army guard.
Replying to questions in a radio phone-in early last week, the Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, Mario de Marco, denied a caller's claim that Malta was not seeing how it could attract tourists which were having to cancel holidays to Tunisia. He said that Malta regretted unrest in neighbouring countries, but pointed out how a major tour operators had re-directed three planeloads of tourists to Malta from the UK.
In other comments this morning, Dr Muscat underlined the importance which his party gives to the self employed. He said that the self-employed and small businesses should compete on a level playing field where no abuses were tolerated, such as through imports which were not taxed.
He said that a Labour government would give SMEs the space where to work. One problem, he said, was exaggerated bank fees. A report was supposed to have been drawn up, but no progress had been reported. This was an area where the government's administrative action was called for.
Dr Muscat referred to the S&P downgrading of Enemalta and said that moves were in hand to create a special purpose vehicle to shoulder Enemalta's massive debt. Dr Muscat said the Labour Party would insist that all such moves should be transparent and people would be held to account.
On the euro, Dr Muscat said that he agreed that Malta should shoulder its responsibilities to help other eurozone countries in difficulty in order to support the euro, but only as long as Malta itself found the necessary support should it need it. Unfortunately, the Finance Minister had agreed to wording in a Council of Ministers resolution that said that support for eurozone countries would only come about if a country's problems had an impact on the eurozone as a whole. This, Dr Muscat said, went against Malta's interests - because Malta was small and its problems were hardly likely to impact the eurozone.
It was to the credit of Labour MEP Edward Scicluna that this wording had been amended by the European Parliament. He hoped that the government would now take up this amended version and propose it to the other EU government.
FINANCE MINISTRY'S REACTION
In a reaction, the Finance Ministry said talks within the EU on the stability pact to defend the euro were still in progress and Dr Muscat was therefore wrong in his claims.
The Maltese government remained committed to getting the best conditions for Malta, in the same way as Malta had successfully negotiated exemptions of VAT on medicines and food.