Newly elected opposition leader Bernard Grech sat down in an interview with Ivan Martin to discuss his positions on a wide array of policies.
A tunnel to Gozo, yes or no?
It is they [Gozitans] who first have to decide what they really want. It seems that there has been a shift to the ‘no’ with people. So we’ll have to see what they really want. For me it would be yes, because it would be easier to get there. But I go to Gozo because of its beauty and with a tunnel, things will change.
It’s been decided. There was a referendum. So I don’t think it’s an issue anymore. So it’s yes.
What is your position on the handing over of public land to hunters?
We are speaking about very large areas of land. We all know that land is very scarce in Malta. So we really have to take this seriously.
What I would like to see is sharing. If hunters want to use the area for their pastime, I have no problem with that. They have been doing so for a long time. But I think we can find a way for all to share the area.
Do you think we should increase the mandatory schooling age?
It could be an idea, but we need to discuss this properly. But yes, I would like to look into it.
Should we keep selling Maltese passports?
Not in the way they have been sold. But yes, if we find the right balance, I think it could be a good way to create investment.
What about land reclamation?
It depends. We have to see what the effects are. I am not against it. But I’m not a ‘yes’ yet because we don’t have the proper studies in place.
What would you have done differently about COVID-19?
The important thing is to tell people the truth. Unfortunately, the government has lied to us. They told us it was over and that we can go out and back to normal.
I would like the health authorities to keep doing their good work without politicians interfering.
When we went into partial lockdown, did you agree with it?
We have to admit that we were all afraid at the time. It was a new thing. I was not happy about it. But initially, everybody thought that it could be a solution.
What about recreational cannabis? Yes or no?
For me, no. But again, we need to look into it properly, discuss studies and take an informed decision.
If we were to have a national discussion on abortion, would you allow your MPs to express their own opinion on it in a vote in parliament?
If you’re suggesting that we should have a national discussion, I’m against abortion, I’ve been very clear about this. And I don’t see why we should discuss whether we get abortion or not in Malta.
But if there is a referendum, we have to participate in that and I’m going to make sure that my opinion is heard out there.
Our party doctrine is that we protect human life from conception until death. So it is very clearly stated there.
Is Malta ‘full up’ as the prime minister says?
I think that Malta has been burdened with thousands of foreign workers and this is what created this ‘full up’ situation. The problem is that this government has no strategy and now we are feeling the burden. Especially today.
We can’t ignore the fact that many people can’t even have a decent place to live
The government has to take on board our suggestion that we should hold a national debate and national conference about population and migration.
We have duties, legal duties, international duties, to save people at sea.
When the government says we are full up, this is just populist and it is not really addressing the issue.
Does Malta have a racism problem?
Yes, I think we do.
The thing is, we think that the issues in Malta with regard to criminal activity and so on, are a result of migrants.
I think the truth is that everybody can be a criminal, even Maltese. There are good Maltese people and not-so-good Maltese people. And there are good foreigners and less good foreigners.
Does Malta have a corruption problem?
Of course it does. It has seriously affected our reputation internationally.
Did Malta’s corruption problems start in 2013?
No, they didn’t. But unfortunately, it is out of hand.
What Joseph Muscat and his friends did to Malta has created irreparable damage on some levels.
Do you think the police are doing enough to get to the bottom of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder?
I think we can always do more.
What we need is to make sure that the institutions, the police, even the public inquiry, are given all the necessary tools and investment and time to make sure that they really solve the issue.
We need to know the truth because at the end of the day, what Daphne was working on is the reason she was assassinated, and we need to get to the bottom of that.
You’ve said that we might want to explore having a public inquiry on the power station deal. Do you think that the deal should be rescinded?
If the deal was vitiated, as it appears, then yes, we will have to look into that because we shouldn’t let criminals and those who have taken control of the institutions to continue to benefit.
Have property prices spiralled out of control?
They are not affordable, it is very evident. There are many people who struggle to rent, let alone own a property. And that is something that we need to look into.
Over the last seven years, the government hardly ever addressed the issue of accommodation and didn’t come up with any solutions. We can’t ignore the fact that many people can’t even have a decent place to live
So how would you bring prices back into control?
We should never control prices. But the government can never forget the social duty it has.
Do you have any policy proposals for this?
This is also a question of managing to get a foot on the housing ladder. There’s a problem with lending and borrowing. So we have to make sure that we create a system where people can actually borrow money to buy their own property.
The interview has been edited for brevity.
Busuttil’s fight ‘before its time’
Saving Malta from the mire of corruption and bad governance will be the Nationalist Party’s next mission, Grech says.
Just as the fight for EU membership had once been the PN’s mission in life, today the party must “save Malta”.
“We need to save this country. Unfortunately, Malta is being ridiculed out there. The PN’s objective is to clean up Malta’s reputation, its image. And the people out there are realising that something needs to be done.”
Grech agreed that this sounds similar to the political mantra of former leader Simon Busuttil, who had led the PN to its greatest ever electoral defeat in 2017. However, he says the former party leader was before his time.
“Simon really worked hard on this. And I really appreciate what he tried to do, to try to make sure that corruption in Malta is wiped out. Perhaps it was too early for people to take it up and understand it, because they were still happy with Labour,” he said.
Now, “the time is ripe”, as the public were really starting to feel the impact of corruption within government.
It was important, Grech added, that the party not focus exclusively on the issue of corruption and remember to fight for other issues too.
The PN needed a rebrand but this would not come in the form of “cosmetic” changes to name or banner. Instead, Grech wants to see the party attract new faces and adopt a fresh approach to doing politics.
Asked how a family lawyer with no political experience expected to lead a group of seasoned politicians, Grech admitted that the question is legitimate.
“It’s not about me wanting to lead but it’s they being comfortable with having me lead them. We are a team. So there is no problem with having less or more experience. We want to use our ideas and our experience collectively.”
Grech concedes that his reported tax problems, which saw him subjected to an audit and put into a settlement plan for unpaid dues, had been a low point.
Characterising it as one of his greatest regrets, Grech said he believes everyone deserves a second chance.
Grech says the PN’s electoral losses in recent years were simply part of a cycle. Everything goes through a cycle in life.
“Even if you try climb Everest, you go up, enjoy the view and then go down again. This is what the PN has gone through,” he said.
Grech knows it is a tall order to turn the PN’s last electoral drubbing around, especially with the possibility of an early election.
But, he insists, “nothing is impossible”.
While he has no fixed margin in mind as a target, he says he wants to improve the numbers significantly.
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