Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said this morning that the government was working to achieve an agreement for joint oil exploration with Italy in areas claimed by the two countries, in the same way as agreement was reached last week regarding joint exploration with Libya.
These disputes had been dragging for some 40 years, with nothing having been achieved for any side, Dr Muscat said in a One Radio interview.
He also announced that the government is working to attract investment for the setting up of a facility for the maintenance of Antonov aircraft in Malta.
He also intends to hold high level talks in China, Israel and Palestine in the coming days.
AGREEMENT WITH LIBYA
On the agreement reached with Libya for the procurement of oil by Malta at favourable rates, Dr Muscat said this was a ground-breaking deal covering oil, gas and LPG. The agreement, he said, included provisions for both crude and refined oil. The agreement would come into force as soon as Libya was in a position to produce enough oil.
"What somebody was not able to achieve in a quarter century, we achieved in five months thanks to hard work and a Libyan government which was prepared to listen," Dr Muscat said.
The government was working on related aspects of the agreement, such as the training of Libyan oil workers in the English language, he said.
Detailed talks would also be taken in hand on the joint oil exploration of disputed waters following the agreement in principle. This issue had been pending for 40 years, he said.
The government, he said, wanted to achieve similar results on joint oil exploration with Italy.
"There is more to come," Dr Muscat said.
The energy sector, he stressed, was being treated as a priority sector.
"This has been a millstone for the Maltese economy. Prices hinder our economic competitiveness, they hinder the spending powers of families. We intend to reduce tariffs. The Libyan agreement and other strategies will hopefully have an impact on petrol and diesel prices from next year, and we are having talks with companies aimed at reducing the price of gas cylinders," Dr Muscat said.
Dr Muscat reiterated the government's commitment to stop the use of heavy fuel oil at the power station. He said the use of HFO had to continue until the plant was converted to gas, which could not happen overnight. But PN spokesman should be the last to comment, since it was the PN government which opted for HFO in the first place.
Dr Muscat said Malta could not continue with a situation where Enemalta was a burden on the economy.
The corporation, he said, had a debt of €800 million. This debt was endangering the Maltese economy and needed to be paid, he said. The corporation's credit rating affected the country as a whole.
The government's strategies, he said, would also safeguard the workers' jobs and conditions, he said. Indeed, the government hoped its strategies would see the energy sector creating more jobs.
Asked to comment on his visit to the Ukraine last week, Dr Muscat said that over the past decade, Malta's foreign policy focus was, out of necessity, focused on Brussels. But now Malta needed to refocus its international agenda. EU policy was not foreign policy.
Foreign policy focus had to be on the countries beyond the EU, not least because economic growth could in large part come from those countries in the future. These were the countries from which Malta could attract foreign investment.
He said Malta could be attractive for the Ukraine for the maintenance of Antonov aircraft which are widely used in Africa.
Dr Muscat welcomed US government plans to establish the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law in Malta. This was a sign of confidence in Malta and an augury for further development in Malta-US relations, he said.
VISITS TO CHINA, ISRAEL, PALESTINE
Dr Muscat said he would have important talks in China next week. The talks, he said, would be important for Malta's future. The Chinese people respected Malta for having, under Dom Mintoff, been among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations, he said.
Relations over the past few years were not given the importance they deserved. China was one of the biggest economies. It was showing a willingness to speak to Malta, and talks would be held on how the two could collaborate in win-win situations. The subject matters would be concrete and he hoped agreements would be reached, he said. The talks would be held with the Chinese Prime Minister, among others.
Dr Muscat said he would be one of a small number of European prime ministers invited to China for a meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The Prime Minister also pointed out that the investment arm of the Kuwaiti government will take a majority stake in Malta-based FimBank. Talks were being held with the Kuwaiti government on further projects.
Talks were being held with several Gulf countries but also with Israel. He intended to lead a trade delegation to Israel and Palestine, he said. Malta had always had good relations with the Palestinian people, and Israel too should be an important partner. The Palestinians were talking with Israel, so why not Malta?
OIL PROCUREMENT HEARINGS
Questioned on the Public Accounts Committee hearings on oil procurement procedures, Dr Muscat said he was being led to suspect that Simon Busuttil did not have full control of the Nationalist Party.
This was evidenced by the way how Beppe Fenech Adami was forcefully defending former minister Austin Gatt and his system.
It was amazing how the Auditor General's report showed that the former government had had no oil procurement policy, and how the minutes of meetings of the Oil Procurement Committee were scribbled in a way which would not even have been acceptable in the smallest local council.
Just as amazing was how one company, Totsa, won nine of the 11 contracts awarded in two years even though sometimes their bidding was not the lowest.
Four bids were opened without the password having been requested form Mita the government's IT agency, leading tot he suspicion that somebody could have taken a sneak view of the bids.
The police, Dr Muscat said, should continue to investigate this case. Whoever had benefit should be held to account.
THE BUS SERVICE - DISCRIMINATORY TARIFF STRUCTURES HARMING THE COUNTRY'S IMAGE
On the bus service, Dr Muscat said the people demanded an efficient, punctual service where trips did not take too long. The bendy buses, he said, had been shown to be part of the problem in the roads, with many people commenting how their removal had eased congestion.
The bendy buses, he said, had to be certified safe by an international organisation but road congestion was a factor in their use.
Other issues were also being discussed, including the different tariff structure between Maltese and foreigners, which he considered as discriminatory. The issue had been raised by the European Commission and not been sufficiently tackled by the old government.
There was also a related issue regarding discriminatory Enemalta tariffs which did not achieve much for the country but harmed the image which the country sought to portray, Dr Muscat said.
On the Budget, Dr Muscat said there would be no surprises and the government would priorities its electoral commitments. Power tariffs would be reduced, as announced. There would be more incentives for women to work. There would be measures to strengthen education and health including tackling the problems of the Pharmacy of Your Choice Scheme.
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