Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has for weeks been avoiding a debate with Opposition leader Simon Busuttil and has come under fire for not taking any proper interviews either. So was his Facebook Live Q&A yesterday a cop-out or an ingenious way to reach the people without being roasted by a journalist?
The answer is, well, both.
On the plus side, the Q&A session went off without any technical hitches, Muscat came across as his personable self and he managed to pluck out questions that were both genuine and useful to him strategically. Using specific gripes, he was able to show concern for issues facing people every day, while still making his political messages loud and clear.
On the flip side, without a journalist to counter the points Muscat made, the discussion fell somewhat flat at times, some important questions were left unanswered and there were occasions where Muscat did go off at a tangent.
Here’s what we thought went most significantly right or wrong in the Q&A as it unfolded.
1. He positioned Malta as a leader in Europe
Muscat opened on a positive note, citing the country’s advancements in civil liberties and economic achievements. Given this session was intended to mark the government’s four years of existence, Muscat used his introduction to really drill home a feel-good message about how Malta is excelling worldwide on a number of issues.
He also said Malta had become a victim of its success, admitting that rent prices were skyrocketing, for example, because everyone wanted to live here and the economy was doing so well. #firstworldproblems or as he put it #sfiditalgid.
2. He gave a lucid takedown of the recent PN scandal
Muscat capitalised on the recent headline-making PN scandal, where the Nationalist Party is accused of breaching the party financing law by giving “false invoices” to at least one of its donors in return for non-existent media barter deals.
Muscat refuted the idea that this was a system Simon Busuttil inherited, pointing out that he had four years to clean up his party but failed to do so. He also used strong words like “fraud” and “money laundering” against Busuttil, in an attempt to even out the accusations being faced by the two government officials embroiled in the Panama scandal, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.
While admitting having made mistakes, including on the Panama scandal, Muscat pointed out that he never pontificated perfection, while Busuttil did and has now lost his credibility.
3. But he evaded questions on the environment
Muscat fell short when it came to questions relating to the environment. He argued that his government has done a lot for the environment, but has made mistakes, and that urban environmental issues should be judged on what gets approved not what gets applied for. He’s apparently tired of reading outrage articles in the press about planning applications.
4. He (perhaps inadvertently) revealed he still uses his personal email [email protected]
5. He agreed with having a quota for women in parliament
After recognising the arguments against quotas, and having a system based more on meritocracy, he insisted that progress was taking too long and quotas must be introduced, even at national parliament level.
6. He said he’s raising the minimum wage – no matter what
Muscat said an agreement on raising the minimum wage was being sought between the General Workers’ Union and the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development. But he said that if that doesn’t happen the government would enforce a raise in next year’s budget anyway. If you don’t raise the minimum wage when the economy is doing well, when do you raise it, he asked.
7. He stood by his Panama actions
Muscat basically said he had to take tough decisions on Panama and he paid the political price for it. In short, he was like – I know it was f*cked up but I couldn’t drop Konrad and Keith. #SorryNotSorry
8. He did a Prime Minister’s version of Eileen Montesin’s Ara Doris!
Giving a shout out to one of the people that posted a question, letting us all know that he hadn’t seen her in years. #IslandLife
9. He received A LOT of cult-like praise
If you had any doubts about the sort of support Muscat enjoys, just take some time to read through the comments. Some people genuinely think he is the Messiah.
BONUS: Everything else he mentioned that can be summed up in one line
1. Animal rights – He said this issue was less about harsher punishment for perpetrators, and more about better education.
2. Exploitation of our shoreline – Muscat denied that desirable shoreline land has been sacrificed to yacht marinas, and claimed that – anyway – marinas are not just for the super rich, they’re for everyone who will eventually work there too.
3. Brexit – He admitted that it’s a massive headache, but that Malta needs to offer itself as part of the solution, as it has already done – and he’s already talking to many investors who want to move their business to Malta.
4. Better pensions for the self-employed – He didn’t entirely provide a solid answer to this one, but said that work was being done to improve the situation.
5. Free cancer treatment – Muscat said the government was introducing a concept where if you don’t manage to get the operation you need, in the timeframe you need it, through public healthcare; then government will pay for your private treatment.