Malta is moving in the right direction on most of the big challenges facing the country. The economy is growing, and in the short time we have been in office we have enacted some vital reforms.
I have no doubt that 2014 will be a particularly busy year in government; there is still an enormous amount of work to be carried out. The Maltese people elected us to improve their lives and that is what we are duty bound to do.
When I look back on the election I think we can all be proud of what a mature democracy we live in. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Lawrence Gonzi, for the service he gave his country, and to our President, George Abela, for overseeing the transition of government and representing all Maltese.
While we came into office with an ambitious plan for change we were also careful to maintain stability. We sent a message to the rest of the world that Malta was a stable, dynamic country offering tremendous benefits for those who wanted to do business here.
Our global perspective is of the utmost importance. We have secured a substantial investment by Chinese multinationals in Enemalta. A company that had been reduced to junk status will now be relieved of much of its debt burden and can equip itself for the future.
We have secured an advantageous oil deal with Libya and we continue to do all we can to help a fragile democracy take hold there.
We will also work with the Libyans as we further tackle the immigration crisis that peaked in the summer, with our heroic AFM rescuing many people in the Mediterranean, but, sadly, huge loss of life too. We have made our European partners sit up and take notice that Malta cannot be expected to cope on its own. This is an issue that we will not let lie.
It is important for us to build alliances and promote Malta abroad. It was a particular pleasure to come away from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka with Malta the unanimous choice for hosting the next conference, in 2015.
The Citizenship by Investment Programme that will attract international talent and provide a financial boost for Malta, caused some unease at home. We arranged for talks with the Opposition and made important modifications. It has been gratifying to have important stakeholders in the Maltese economy supporting the revised citizenship investment scheme but disappointing to see the Opposition running down their country abroad.
We made progress in our plan to switch electricity production from oil to gas, which is not only cheaper but also cleaner. A year that began with the PN dismissing our energy plans as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ ended with a Budget commitment to cut electricity tariffs by an average 25 per cent in March. This will benefit to families and businesses alike.
We have made progress on introducing free childcare for parents in full-time work with children under five, and tax cuts will benefit working class and middle class families.
Several initiatives will help boost the economy. We invited ideas for a maritime hub and land reclamation, and were not disappointed with the response. Some exciting, innovative ideas were put forward and we shall be careful to strike the right balance between economic development and protecting the environment.
Some days it can be frustrating in government
And, just as we aim to develop the economy in new directions, we also cherish and support existing sectors such as manufacturing, financial services and gaming. It was a particular delight to see the tourism industry have a highly successful summer. In the coming weeks we will launch the Digital Malta Strategy to ensure we stay ahead of the game in technology.
While the economy will always be paramount there are other issues for us to deal with. This country tolerated corruption for far too long, with all of us paying the price. We have changed the law so that there is no time limit on people being called to account for misdeeds of the past. We will protect whistleblowers and we will never allow again the farce where the recording of multi-million euro deals at Enemalta is reduced to squiggles on a scrap of paper.
There is much work still to be done on reforming the criminal justice system and this will be a priority in the coming year.
We now know the extent of the chaotic administration at Mater Dei. This year we will stabilise the situation, improve efficiency and ensure a more patient-oriented service. We cannot turn things around overnight but we will no longer tolerate incompetence and chaos.
2014 will bring more changes and some surprises too. We begin the year trying to rescue the bus service from the fiasco this administration inherited. The withdrawal of Arriva has been managed carefully, with a full service maintained and jobs not jeopardised. We will press ahead with a call for expressions of interest to find a new company to take over as soon as practicable.
We will continue to build a fairer society, and that will include the Civil Unions Act coming into law. I hope too it will be the year many young people manage to get a home of their own, now that we have temporarily lifted the payment of stamp duty on properties of up to €150,000 for first-time buyers. This amounts to a tax cut of more than €5,000.
This spring, the term of office of our President comes to an end. I pay tribute to George Abela and his wife, Margaret, for their dedication. Dr Abela followed the fine tradition of his predecessors, elevating himself above partisan politics, uniting the country at home and being a fine ambassador for Malta abroad.
This year will also see a focus on Europe. I have no doubt the European Parliament elections will provide lively debate. A new European Commissioner will be appointed to replace Tonio Borg who has given good service to Europe in his role as Health Commissioner.
Some days it can be frustrating in government. The worst part is seeing the need for change but having to be patient in bringing it about. However, I never forget what a great honour it is to be given this responsibility. The people entrusted us to deliver, and I am determined 2014 will be a year of further progress.
Joseph Muscat is Prime Minister.
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