The depot for the proposed metro will sit on the same site which the government has said it has earmarked for a motorsport track, the shadow minister for transport, Tony Bezzina, said in parliament on Wednesday.

He tabled documents prepared by the government’s advisers Arup, showing the Hal Far site to be the most favoured option.

 “Who is the government deceiving, the public in general or motorsport enthusiasts?” Bezzina asked.

Speaking during the budget debate, Bezzina said the Opposition was not against having a metro, but proper studies were needed, not documents timed for the electoral campaign. 

He also complained that some of the metro stations, as proposed, would replace gardens and open spaces.

Furthermore, the proposal for the metro came with costs which the government had kept hidden, such as higher taxes for on-street parking, road licences, fuel and building permits. 

Bezzina referred to plans for a free bus service and said the government was showing it had not planned properly before making the announcement.

He also spoke briefly on road works, calling for better planning and criticising the fact that spending on this sector would decrease. 

Capital projects planned by the PN 

Nationalist MP David Thake focused on capital projects which a new PN government would take up, including a new hospital for mental health integrated with Mater Dei Hospital, enlargement of Mgarr harbour hand in hand with the commissioning of two new Gozo ferries, five new homes for the elderly, a home for persons with mental difficulties, a home for persons with persons with disability and another for patients suffering dementia.

By 2025, a new PN government would convert all route buses to run on electricity. People importing used electric cars would be made eligible for the government grant currently only available for new cars. Older electric cars did not pollute any more than new ones, Thake observed. 

Thake referred to plans for a free bus service, and said that however good that proposal may be, the bus service needed to be up to scratch first. What was the government doing to make the operator achieve the expected quality standards, including having enough buses and running the service punctually? If the operator could not provide a proper service for paying passengers, what could one expect in a free service? Or was this an election gimmick? 

The Nationalist MP referred to a court case involving a property purchase by Ian Borg, observing that the court had declared that the minister lacked credibility.  Borg's declaration of assets, he noted, showed that his wife was a partner in a catering company. The Transport Ministry was issuing a record number of direct orders - 350 in six months.  Had any been awarded to the company in which the minister's wife has shares? Where was value for money and financial prudence when so many direct orders were being issued? Was it true that a contractor was serving as consultant at Transport Malta, for €90,000?  

Thake said there was a disaster in the sector of electric vehicles. Electric car owners who had no garage could not find charging points, with no new ones having been installed in three years despite promising 180. Perhaps a few would be installed as an electoral gimmick, but who would believe the government's commitment of installing thousands more?  

The reality was that under this government, nothing moved unless there were kickbacks, Thake said. 

Poor upkeep by private operators handed concessions by the government

Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield welcomed various restoration and rehabilitation works, particularly the new promenade from Vittoriosa to Kalkara but complained of poor maintenance along the Birgu Waterfront by the private operators who were awarded concessions by the government.

He observed that, a palace on the Birgu waterfront handed to private operators 20 years ago for rehabilitation and use, was in a dilapidated state. It was important that private operators awarded properties by the government observed the conditions attached so their agreements, he said. 

In his winding-up, Transport Minister listed the various measures announced in the budget speech and thanked MPs who participated in the debate but criticised Thake for spewing 'vomit' in various accusations he had made. 

Referring to plans for a free bus service, the minister said one could hardly learn any lessons from the PN after its Arriva fiasco. One only needed to remember the bendy buses which got stuck in Malta's streets, or caught fire. The free service was being delayed to October precisely to avoid the sort of mistakes which PN governments made. 

On assistance for the purchase of second-hand electric vehicles, Borg said the government would listen to what was being said. A €40m commitment had also already been made for electric buses.  

The minister said 709 residential roads were built by Infrastructure Malta in three years apart from major projects such as the Marsa junction, the Sta Lucija underpass and the Central Link, which is set to be completed. The investment was spread all over Malta and Gozo, he stressed.

On the metro plans, the minister stressed that a price would be paid by society in the future if no action was taken now. 

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