Our Leaders’ Voices: Anthony Buttigieg

A Bird’s Eye View has recently launched a new series of articles with the aim of reaching out towards our politicians. In the effort made to give citizens a voice to make their opinions heard, it is only fair that we also act as a bridge between the leaders and the people, thereby further facilitating communication between the two. The set of questions shown below were chosen and formulated by a group of students and put forward to several Maltese politicians. Although an analysis could be made of each of these answers, it would probably be best not to do so within this article to allow you the reader to form your own opinion about what was said.

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In this article, one can see replies given to us by the ex-Leader of the PD, Anthony Buttigieg:

*The questions and answers were not modified in any way except for reasons of grammatical correction

1. Considering the Maltese economy needs to import workers in order to keep its current level of growth, what policies do you think should be created in order to ensure that these workers have good and legal working conditions?

Firstly, we need to see whether the workers coming into the country are being brought in to enhance our economy or as a source of cheap labour to increase corporate profits and thereby hindering real wage rises in the local populace. Legal workers are protected by law, illegal workers are not. We must clamp down on the use of the latter. We must also ensure that the accommodation they are living in follows recognised European standards such as the No. of persons per sq. metre in a dwelling.

2. How do you think we should address the problem of the high residence lease in a sustainable way while protecting those who are currently being victims of great pressure from these rising prices?

This issue stems from the first question. Many of those coming to work in Malta are doing so just to work for a few years and leave. They do not mind living in substandard or overcrowded accommodation. Sharing a 600 euro per month apartment between six means that they are only spending 100 per month to have a roof on their heads. Locals cannot do that if they have a family and cannot compete. By ensuring that this abuse of packing as many people as possible into an apartment stops, maybe locals will be able to compete. Of course, the government also has a duty to provide affordable social or assisted housing schemes for residents of Malta.

3. What is your opinion on the overflow in the construction of high-rise buildings in Malta, especially in rural areas in which trees are being cut down for the sake of building a block of flats?

I am not against high rise buildings per se. I am against the issuing of permits without the completion of a National Masterplan. If we are to have high rise buildings they must be properly zoned and the with the service infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supply, transport and sewage already in place or in an advanced stage of planning PRIOR to issuing permits. Regarding the cutting down of trees to widen roads, in particular. It is a short-sighted and temporary solution to an ever-growing problem. It is time we understood that a better environment leads to a better quality of life.

4. Do you think that the separation of the Planning Authority and its Environmental counterpart has created a conflict of interest within very entities that are supposed to complement rather than oppose each other, keeping in mind that this act has amplified public unrest resulting in several protest groups and unnecessary pressure on the development watchdogs?

The answer is yes. The primary reason being the ERA is effectively toothless and has no veto over development decisions. Its chairman is one member of a 14-member board and he himself has proved inconsistent in his decision.

4. What long-term plans or ideas would you recommend in order to minimise the effects of the increasing number of cars entering our roads every day?

We need a new mass transport system that does not use our roads and can, therefore, be reliable. Many people do not use Public Transport simply because the buses get stuck in the same traffic jams as the cars, and whilst, in a car, you can try an alternative route, a bus does not have that luxury. I think we seriously must start planning and budgeting for an underground/overground light railway system.

We can also make better use of our waterways. The idea of passing a tunnel under Valletta to link both Marsamxett and Grand harbours for water taxis and ferries is a good one and a case in point.

5. How do you think that politicians should address the phenomenon of hostility between their followers?

Simple. Show mutual respect, tone down their own speech and recognise they cannot always be right and their opponents always wrong. The same goes for the media of the main two parties. If you lead by example, others will follow.

6. What is your opinion on Malta’s realistically bi-partisan system? Do you think that the political system would be better if this was not our reality?

Definitely. Being a small country, the bi-partisan system, whilst having advantages like a strong incumbent government with an absolute majority of seats, also has several huge disadvantages. Firstly, that strong government is a virtual autocracy for five years with no real checks and balances that there would be within a coalition. Secondly, in Malta where everyone knows everyone any major company wanting to garner favours only needs to back both parties to know they are going to be onto a winner. You cannot lose if you back both horses in a two-horse race. Thirdly, with our system and election cycles, both parties and the public know that at one time or another one of the two will be in government. This has led to a lot of cronyism and corruption.

7. What measures, if any, can be put in place from the government’s side in order to ensure that other smaller parties are given a more realistic and fair chance at parliamentary elections?

I would put a threshold of votes for getting a seat. Right now, a party must get 17% of a district’s votes to be elected. Almost impossible. If, say, we introduced a threshold of 5% on a national basis then people may be more likely to vote for a small party as they would feel their vote would not be wasted. Also, any registered party should have access to a state fund which would be the same for all irrespective of their size. This would put all on a more level playing field and allow the smaller parties to get their message across, and by default, give the electorate a better and more informed choice. These suggestions are not likely to happen as it is not in the interest of either major party to implement them…

8. What do you think should be done with regards to the ever-controversial Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial in front of the Maltese courts?

I knew Daphne well; her family have been my patients. Having said that, whilst I often agreed with what she wrote, I often disagreed with how she wrote it. Work permitting, I attend the vigils on the 16th of the month out of respect to a person who put fear aside to pursue what she believed in and out of respect to our entire journalistic class who do a hard job in difficult circumstances and deserve all the protection they can get. Would it matter to me if the vigil was held by the Great Siege Monument, Bidnija or anywhere else for that matter? The answer is no. BUT it matters to her family and closest friends, and I think that should be respected. I believe the government is playing this tit-for-tat game to split the opposition as it is well known that Daphne had her detractors even amongst them. Initially, it worked, but now the government itself is coming across as petty and infantile. I would leave be or at least sit down with those closest to Daphne and reach a solution acceptable to all.

9. What is your message to the Maltese youths in face of the ever-changing atmosphere of today’s Europe, be it political, environmental and social?

Europe is in a dangerous place reminiscent of the 1930s. After the severe depression of 2008, just like that of the 1920s extremist groups are gaining strength playing on people’s fears and insecurities. The only way to fight them is to believe in dialogue and embrace change, seeing it as an opportunity, not a setback. Malta is a mini Europe. cosmopolitan and fast changing. You can think small, close up, associate with people who fight change; or you can think big and understand we are no lesser than any other nation. When it comes to adaptability we surpass them by a long stretch. It is a strength that time and again in our history has proven vital. Walk tall, be proud, embrace change and thrive with it.

Written by: Gianluca Vella

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