Opposition leader Adrian Delia has accused the government of populism and mixed messages on migration while a decision to accommodate migrants on a Captain Morgan boat as “bizarre”.
“One moment it is advocating a pushback to score political points with sectors of the population who want Malta to take a bullish approach, one moment it is in favour of rescuing migrants at sea such as the good stance adopted by Evarist Bartolo in parliament. One moment government is saying it will not do search and rescue operations, but later says this is being done,” he said.
Delia levelled this criticism when interviewed on Net Television on Saturday morning.
Asked about migration, the PN leader complained that contrary to Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister Robert Abela was not forthcoming in terms of information.
Delia said he was not in a position to take a clear stance on the government’s decision to accommodate a group of 57 migrants rescued in Maltese waters on a Captain Morgan tourist boat 13 nautical miles off the coast.
The arrangement follows Malta's decision to close its ports in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. On Friday the prime minister said that the costs of chartering this boat were being covered by the EU.
Delia described the decision as “bizarre” but did speak further.
“As Opposition leader, I am not being given any information on migration. It would be premature to pronounce myself on cases of which I do not have all details,” he said.
Delia added that the PN was in favour of safeguarding life, be it in the womb or at sea. Secondly, Malta had to adhere to international obligations in order to safeguard its reputation when lobbying with Brussels for more solidarity from other member states and an agreement on a relocation mechanism.
Changing its message
The Opposition leader accused the government of continually changing its versions of events.
“In the last three days, it moved from a position of saying it was not aware of any involvement of Neville Gafa', only for the latter to contradict that when testifying in a court inquiry, which was followed by government’s admission that Gafa' had been contacted after all,” Delia said.
The Opposition leader said the people had a right for the full truth on the government’s position and principles on migration.
“Turning the issue into a political football to foment public sentiment that the Opposition is against the army is disloyal,” he said.
Asked if the PN supported government’s decision to start relaxing COVID-19 restrictions as of next Monday, Delia said they were in favour of the decisions being taken by the Superintendence for Public Health.
When it was pointed out to him that in the early days of the pandemic the party had advocated a lockdown, Delia insisted they had not been calling for a “full” lockdown but a partial one, which was eventually imposed by the government.
He pointed out that if the airport had been closed before, as the Opposition had been advocating, the first batch of cases would have been avoided.
The Opposition leader noted that the party was basing its recommendations on the strength of the advice from a committee of medical experts who it was meeting regularly.
Delia refuted the prime minister’s criticism that rescinding the 30-year agreement with Steward Health Care of the US to run three state hospitals could threaten the healthcare system.
A PN motion tabled in parliament to rescind the deal was defeated on Thursday.
He pointed out that the PN could not have tabled the motion before, as the existence of a €100 million fine in case government terminated the contract only came to light last month in the media.
“The motion could not have been timelier as we cannot keep paying €90 million per year, while our healthcare system resources are being stretched due to the pandemic,” he said.
Delia admitted that the pandemic had disrupted the party’s five-year plan for its commercial operations, mainly its media arm, to break even. This was due to the fact that advertising had dried up, he said.
“Had there been no pandemic, 2020 would have been the third consecutive year [for the party] to reduce losses by the media,” Delia noted.
He said part of the plan going forward was not to sell its clubs, but to commercialise them in order to tap new streams of revenue.
Asked about the party’s electoral prospects three years into his leadership, Delia insisted new faces were coming on board but declined to mention any notable additions.
“We do not want star candidates like Konrad Mizzi who had been portrayed like God’s gift to the universe, but who ultimately destroyed Malta’s reputation”.
Delia noted that the likes of David Stellini and Marthese Portelli who had resigned as PN MPs were still party members and had only resigned to take up a new job.
Delia insisted that the PN could never agree in principle with granting exclusive access to public land to a specific group, if this meant denying access to the land to the rest of the population.
The Opposition leader was asked for his stance in the wake of ongoing talks to renew a 1986 agreement which established Il-Miżieb and l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa as hunting reserves administered by the hunters’ federation (FKNK).