Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi in a frank, even contrite, speech at the PN council meeting this morning said the leadership contest experience of the past four weeks brought him closer to the people's everyday realities and the need for him and the government to be more sensitive to the people's problems - including the impact of gas prices in winter.

He announced initiatives meant to put himself, ministers and the PN back at the heart of society and said the PN was determined to hear, share and deal with the people's problems, challenges and opportunities.

At the beginning of his address, which was interrupted with applause several times, Dr Gonzi said that as he did eight years ago, he was promising to use all his energy to serve the party and through it, to help the country and its people.

He thanked all those who had participated in yesterday's democratic exercise and said he was also thanking those who voted against him or opted not to vote. All in all, he said, the exercise showed how the PN was one, united family.

All needed to remember that despite their sometimes contrasting views, they were all pulling at the same rope and they all wanted the best for the country and its people.

"Let us ensure that what we have done over the past few weeks will not be a wasted opportunity. This is a golden opportunity, the exercise of democracy has united us to look to the future, not the past".

This, Dr Gonzi, had been an experience where they had shown, as always, that they could understand each other. The party was formed of human beings and all needed to understand the ambitions and aspiration of the people, as well as their problems.

The PN was ready and willing to serve all the people. "We are here for you, you are the reason why the PN exists" Dr Gonzi said. Beyond the numbers, the real result achieved yesterday was that the party existed for the people, he said.

The party was continuing to build on its policies, based around the welfare of the people with a strong sense of solidarity to ensure that none fell back. This was the party which believed that truth always triumphed.

This was a party which wanted young people to be ambitious in their career paths and offering them the opportunities to succeed. It was the party which wanted the elderly to find just reward for their work and to continue to be at the heart of the community.

More than everything, this was the party which wanted to keep the family at the heart of all of its activities.

Dr Gonzi said he believed passionately that Malta had a good future and it was for that reason that he had sought a secret ballot on his leadership. 

He said he had needed, in conscience, to have the serenity given to him in 2004 when he was appointed party leader He was pleased that, eight years on, the support of the delegates had actually increased.

CLOSER TO THE PEOPLE

The outcome of the leadership contest was the messages which had been conveyed by the delegates to him during their various meetings. This was an exercise which brought him closer to the people and given him an even deeper  insight into the people's everyday reality.

He had met councillors and others in clubs and in homes, and had rediscovered the experience of everyday politics. One could speak on how Malta had performed, in, say, the Libyan crisis, but the past four weeks reminded him that there was more to politics. He was better able to appreciate that it was the party which had to seek the confidence of the people. It was not Gonzi who won the last election, but the party as a whole.

It was not enough to be head of government, one had to be a head of government who was close to the people and its everyday needs all the time.

It was good to control the deficit, to attract investment and to be respected internationally, but one also had to understand the impact of gas prices in winter. A prime minister had to understand the impact of such things as well.

Amid the government's investment in education and elsewhere, he had heard the plea of those parents worried for the future of their children, who lacked academic achievement, Dr Gonzi said.

He had met a person who congratulated him for the health service and for bringing down medicine prices, but he and other people also added complaints about medicines being out of stock.

He also spoke to a man who led him to understand better than before, how people had precarious jobs where they did not know whether they would have a job in the near future. Thus, while the government boasted of job creation, people like him could not borrow to set up their home, because they had no job security.

He had met another person who received two letters, one confirming that he was entitled to a social benefit , and another saying that he was not entitled to the same benefit. This man had asked him how this was possible.

Dr Gonzi said that while the government could not be blamed for everything, there were problems which needed to be tackled. Many people spoke of arrogance within government departments where people were treated as numbers not individuals, something which also should not be tolerated, Dr Gonzi said.

All these things, Dr Gonzi said, were a reality check.

It was unfortunate that pressure sometimes distracted him to the big picture of moving the country forward, but it had been necessary to go through this exercise where the clear message was - do not cut yourself off, and come back into the streets. The big picture was a mosaic made of many small parts and the PN needed to home in on those small parts, Dr Gonzi said, to applause.

The PN had to win the people's confidence in order to then form the government. It was the party, not the government, which won the people's confidence. The people expected from him and his colleagues to do their duty as prime minister and ministers but they also expected them to be politicians close to and in the service of the people.

The PN was not clinging to the seat of power, but to the confidence of the people, Dr Gonzi said, to applause.

NEW MEASURES AND INITIATIVES

On the basis of what he had learnt over the past four weeks, Dr Gonzi said, he had decided to put more energy and focus on placing the PN at the heart of the people and in the service of the people.

Therefore, he was appointing Simon Busuttil as his Special Delegate (standing ovation) to immediately, through Azad, organise meetings between him and  every sector of the country - from youth workers to workers in the various sectors, industry, contractors and even individuals -  so that he could hear about the challenges, problems and opportunities which existed and how the future of the country could be mapped out. The people would also be invited to apply to meet him to discuss the future of various sectors.

"I want to be at the heart of our society and I want the PN to be with me," Dr Gonzi said to more applause.

"We have to make sure that everyone can find his natural place within the PN, the party which welcomes everyone who wants to genuinely work in the interests of the country," Dr Gonzi added.

He said that PN General Secretary Paul Borg Olivier would also draw up a plan of meetings by ministers with society. "We want to come to you, we want to hear  you in the squares in your homes, we want to share your wishes, your pains, your wishes..." Dr Gonzi said amid applause.

"Let us hear exactly what the people are saying, let us hear it directly from the people, not necessary from the blogs or elsewhere," Dr Gonzi said.

"Go to the people's homes, it is such a wonderful experience to go into the kitchen to discuss what they are going through," Dr Gonzi said. 

I want to be at the heart of our society and I want the PN to be with me

The prime minister the PN was also making very good progress in the working groups it had appointed to draw up its policies for the future, with an eye also on the electoral programme and said all those wishing to participate were being invited to do so. Indeed, he was very encouraged by the response so far.

Dr Gonzi said these initiatives would renew the PN's links with the people, including those who had strayed away from the party, through the fault of the party, not their own.

The people who intended to vote for the PL after voting PN at the last election needed to be sought out. One needed to understand what the PL was offering, because the PL was not coming out with new policies.

People had also moved away because they expected something which was not given to them. In such cases, it needed to be explained why some requests could not be met. But when people had a right for what they expected then it should be given to them, and this was not charity, Dr Gonzi said. 

'THE PN IS NOT A CLIQUE'

Referring to the election, Dr Gonzi said the PN would not promise what could not be delivered. He would work to ensure that the election would be held on its due date, he said. He would work to find solutions, to open doors, to welcome all, in the interests of the country, he said (applause).

No one should feel excluded from the party. Everyone had a contribution to give and should be able to do so. The PN was not a clique and he would show it was a coalition of people with different views and from different sectors, with the common aim of serving the people to the best of their abilities. 

Yesterday, Dr Gonzi said, he had won the confidence of the delegates, but hard work had to be put in for the party to win the confidence of the people. Society had changed since 2008 and the people had to be shown how it was better to trust their future under a PN government than the unknown which was the PL.

It was the PN which forged a country where people could work in serenity, where they were assured of high quality education and healthcare, free of charge.

The people, Dr Gonzi said, also wanted a government which sought out and fought corruption, and that was what was being done, as the events of the past few days showed.

Internationally, under the PN, Malta was now a respected country and an active member of the EU.

His government, Dr Gonzi, had been able to safeguard jobs in difficult times while strengthening the social net. People's eyes lit up as a school was opened every year, and more was in store as the new Mcast campus and more facilities at the university were opened.

He was conscious, Dr Gonzi said, that more could have been done. What use was it to say that medicines were free, if they were out of stock?

He did not blame elderly people who complained that, despite pension rises, they could not keep up with costs.

True, Malta was doing better than other countries, but that counted only so much for the individual families who had to pay their bills. A mother pushing her pushchair in muddy streets in Mosta was justified in thinking that the situation in Greece was secondary for her, Dr Gonzi added.

The government, he said, would redouble its efforts to achieve the people's expectations. The government was determined to achieve everything that was promised in the electoral programme. The government still had the energy and ideas to raise the people's living standards. Putting the people at the heart of its actions was the government's biggest project, Dr Gonzi said.

"We will be the government of the people, your government, more than ever before, and in so doing, we will regain the people's confidence," Dr Gonzi said.

He promised, however, that there would be no gimmicks and the people would be told the situation as it stood. The gimmicks were made by those who tried to copy the PN - ties and all, he said.

Somebody else was trying to win the election by pretending that he was like the PN. But when one scratched the surface, one found that he was surrounded by the same people, and attitudes, which people rejected in the past. The gimmicks were made by Joseph Muscat, who claimed that the PL was the underdog, when surveys put his party nine points ahead of the PN, or when he accepted within the PL people who stood accused of corruption, as in the case of Sliema.

For the PL, it was clear that the overriding priority was to win elections, and what happened later was secondary. What happened in Mosta was just one example.

"We know where we are heading, others do not. If we communicate well with the people, the people will recognise the difference from the Labour Party," Dr Gonzi said.

Concluding Dr Gonzi thanked candidates for the local council elections. They had an uphill task, he said. But the PN would promise that it was the party of the people which was determined to stay close to the people.

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