What are you going to do differently from Simon Busuttil?
The party needs to better understand what the people are saying. I want to adopt a bottom-up approach, meaning that on most issues our position will be based on the people’s feedback. Therefore, at the beginning of my campaign, I outlined my plan to commission the party’s think thank, AŻAD, to do a sociological study. My new way will be to listen to the people without being populist. As a member of the European’s People’s Party, we need to translate our Christian Democratic values into the aspirations and realities of our citizens today.
Going back to the last campaign, we will keep criticising the government, particularly on issues of injustice and corruption, which have become the order of the day. However, our people want to understand how the country’s alleged financial surplus is affecting their lives. We have about 100,000 people on the poverty line. We are no longer talking about the cost of living and utility bills, even though there are many who are struggling to make ends meet. I personally witnessed such circumstances in the 12 weeks of my campaign.
What is your plan to defeat Labour at the polls?
A party wins an election based on its ability to represent people’s aspirations. If we are close enough to the people, I am confident that the electorate will understand that the PN is not only there to criticise but to propose an alternative government which will render their everyday lives better. By reaching out and getting people on board as our ambassadors, not just messengers, we can win their confidence back.
Concretely, what steps would you take to reunite the party?
I have already started such a process, by focusing more on party unity and meeting both Alex Perici Calascione and Frank Portelli following the first phase of the leadership election. My message is that the party comes first and that everybody is welcome in the new Nationalist Party, which embraces rather than fends off people from different strata of society.
Which of the following would be your top priority: good governance and anti-corruption, the economy, environment, poverty, traffic or some other issue?
Poverty is the issue closest to my heart. The fact that people may opt to vote for different parties does not mean that they do not share values with others harbouring different political beliefs. I am sure that if MPs were given a free vote on moral issues, there would be a lot of common ground. Values should not be dictated by political parties. There are some values which are common across the board, like family and generosity. There are people in a continuous struggle even to fill their fridge, as they do not have the means to buy food for their children.
What exactly is your plan to win a seat in Parliament? The tesserati need to know.
[The electoral laws say that a straight co-option is only possible if the MP relinquishing the seat was elected through a casual election. Otherwise, a casual election must be held on the district relinquished by the sitting MP, in which case the possibility of co-option only arises if no candidate submits the nomination on the PN’s instructions. The issue has been complicated by the fact that the PN’s list also includes Democratic Party candidates, who may opt to contest the casual election, thus derailing the entire co-option plan.]
The options are there, but I do not want to enter into technicalities. I have met a number of MPs already, and there is a way. I am confident that the parliamentary group will be foursquare behind me, so that the PN leader is also the Opposition leader.
I believe Dr Busuttil still has a lot to give to party and country. In the case of other MPs, they must shoulder the responsibility for their actions
Has an MP offered to step down?
I have already identified solutions.
Don’t you think the tesserati should know before the election?
I don’t think it is prudent to mention names at this stage.
When will they know?
After the election, I will be concluding the issue.
However, it seems that you have already held talks with various MPs.
So far you have failed to publish, as promised, your tax returns and an audit which you commissioned. Don’t you think this damages your credibility in the eyes of the public?
No, it does not. If you see what was published by MPs in their declaration of assets, nobody went close to the level of scrutiny which I will be going into. They only did so after being elected, and according to the timeline established by law.
It is only then that they published the list of properties, assets and liabilities, which I have already done. I am going a step further.
However, the certification and verification process I am having done by professionals is more complex and time consuming, as it requires checks with third parties like banks to get clearance to disclose certain information.
What about the tax returns?
I already handed some returns to my auditor, but the publication has been delayed due to a personal issue with one of my business partners, who was abroad.
Can you give a publication date?
I am pushing for this to happen before next Saturday’s election.
And the audit?
It’s not an audit, but a process whereby auditors would verify and certify all the information.
You audit a company not a person. I am doing my utmost for the process to be completed before the election.
How will you tackle people like outgoing leader Simon Busuttil, Karol Aquilina and Jason Azzopardi, who have been very critical in your regard?
I met Dr Busuttil after getting through the first round of the election, as I have no issue with him expressing an opinion. [Dr Busuttil had said that if he were Dr Delia, he would have retired from the race in the wake of the ethics committee report conclusions.] Had I been in his shoes, however, I would not have expressed such an opinion.
It is very rare for an outgoing leader to make such a pronouncement.
In my memory, I do not recall such an instance. Yet I believe Dr Busuttil has still a lot to give to party and country. In the case of other MPs, they must shoulder the responsibility for their actions. My role as leader will be to persuade them that their opinion in my regard was wrong, as I am trying to do with the tesserati and councillors who have not backed me so far.
How can you view Daphne Caruana Galizia as a liability to the PN if she was to one to uncover so many corruption scandals under Labour?
I never expressed myself in the sense that she was an asset or a liability. I am not interested in judging journalists.
Despite her attacks, I will keep fighting for her right to expression. All I said was that that the PN would be setting its own agenda. Ms Caruana Galizia will not have such influence in the manner I feel that she exerted it.
However, I will back, for an investigation, every single serious allegation, with documentation, that she might flag up and which in the PN’s opinion is serious enough to merit attention.
I form an opinion based on facts, rather than hearsay.
All the processes that the PN has been pushing will be diligently followed under my leadership. If other allegations crop up, I will do so as well, possibly in a different manner to get a more effective remedy, for example, by exploring constitutional remedies when institutions fail in their obligations.
If you become prime minister, will you push for the authorities to launch investigations on good governance issues, which seem to have been relegated to the back burner under Labour?
Even from the Opposition, the PN will have leverage in the constitutional reforms in the pipeline, as these require our support to go through. I will ascertain that in these discussions. Our institutions will be bolstered.
But as prime minister, would you try to ensure that the authorities probe the Panama Papers revelations?
Anything possible to strengthen the independence of institutions like the judiciary and other watchdogs will be done.
According to Daphne Caruana Galizia, you had a bank account in Jersey which was used for money laundering on behalf of a client. Did you carry out the proper checks before becoming involved? Did you ever report any suspicious transactions?
I have been given the opportunity by this newspaper of going into detail on the full documentation to shed more light on the background of this issue. I have also shown that the only document which was published by her was from an entire client file, which nonetheless showed that at no point in time did I act in my personal capacity. I always acted as a lawyer and never did anything untoward, illegal or abusive. This absolutely leaves no shred of evidence on how I acted.
You have been accused of trying to morph the PN into Labour to become electable. What is your reaction?
This cannot be true, as I am not even able to do so. I am still campaigning to become leader. Nonetheless, this is absolutely not what I have in mind. If need be, I will restate the PN’s solid values and stick to a style of politics along the lines adopted by Dr Busuttil, based on honesty, integrity and truth. We will never forget where we came from, nor our values, while looking at society. We are not morphing into any other party but strengthening things in a practical manner more in tune with society’s modern realities.
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