Muscat On Cannabis Law, Property Prices And His Strict Diet Regime

WATCH: Full 360° Interactive Interview With Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

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Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is planning to tackle property prices in the next Budget.

In a wide-ranging interview, he told Lovin Malta: "I understand the problem. With 30,000 or so foreigners coming to work here in Malta and with the stock of housing being what it is, it is only natural that the prices will go up. You address that with more quality and sensible developments but you also address that by addressing the inefficiencies of the rent market."

"So in our next budget we are looking very closely at the rental market and seeing how that can be addressed to help especially young Maltese families," he added.

If elected for a second term, Dr Muscat said his focus would be on infrastructural changes, and his aim would be to show more clearly "the physical difference between the country as it was and the country as it will become".

Dr Muscat also told Lovin Malta there is a "disconnect" in the way the police are handling drug cases since the decriminalisation law was adopted last year. 

When asked about the 101 people arrested with less than 3.5 grams of cannabis in the past three months, Dr Muscat said: "There is a huge difference from a policy decision that’s taken, from a policy direction that’s given, until it percolates down."

He said police who catch young people with a joint should follow the law by being "reasonable". 

Earlier, Dr Muscat admitted a "lack of vision" in the police force. However, he denied that the Panama scandal was responsible for the fact that Malta currently only has an acting police commissioner and no assistant commissioner on economic crimes. 

The Prime Minister said his major concern right now was the huge number of deaths on the roads caused by dangerous drivers. He said this was one area in which he would not fear being draconian in his approach.

Filmed in 360° video format at the Cabinet room in Castille, Dr Muscat was also questioned about the Panama scandal and international affairs, where he gave his opinions on terrorism, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson.

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Full Transcript

CP: So, alone in a room with the Prime Minister (laughs). 

JM: (Laughs) Alone in a room with Chris Peregin. 

CP: So, first of all thank you very very much for accepting to do this interview with Lovin Malta. You seem to have lost a lot of weight recently. What’s your secret? Nothing is working with me.  

JM: No, I think it’s a very strict regime. So, I looked at the mirror one day and said I need to lose a couple of pounds. And basically I stuck to a regime. Did away with the carbs, with sugars and with all the rest. With all the nice things.  

CP: Do you feel better?  

JM: Well, at first I felt much worse, then it started getting better but I have a couple of cheat days every week so then I have my fill of carbs and sweets yes.  

CP: You’ve been Prime Minister for more than three years now. What has been your proudest day so far? 

JM: Really and truly I think the day we introduced civil unions. I think that was really one of the biggest achievements. So, I could go on with a long list of economic achievements which people feel in their pockets really and truly, but that was… 

CP: More emotional? 

JM: Yes very emotional and it was a life-changing moment for so many people. It was the day that there was a clear signal that Malta started changing for good and for real, so I think that’s a very proud moment.  

CP: And what about your worst day? What was your biggest failure? 

JM: Well, I think there were two moments which I really felt... well I hope I took them in my stride. The first was when we had the sinking of one boat off Lampedusa which was in the territory between Malta and Italy. And together with then Prime Minister Letta we had to coordinate the, basically, the gathering of the sea of hundreds of corpses. And the second was during the Panama debacle. It was quite a hit, in the sense that... 

CP: What was it like to find out that you know your two right hand men (Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff Keith Schembri), or the two people on the right and left in a sense, had these structures in Panama without telling you? 

JM: I think the whole story was disappointing to me. Disappointing in the sense that I think they had their reasons and explained their reasons but at the end of the day, I think that it dented people’s trust in the whole political system and I need to work hard to rebuild that trust. Not only me, but I think people do understand what I stand for, what I mean, what I do, but I think that yes it was a huge lesson that I learnt. 

CP: Did you feel sort of personally a bit betrayed by them for that? 

JM: I felt disappointed, not just… Not by one single person. I think they explained their position and I believe their position. I think that I was so disappointed that the good things we were doing during that period went by unnoticed and people were focusing on just this issue.  

CP: You said you want to try and move on from that and sort of rebuild people’s trust. One of the things that was promised was audits of their situations. Three months have passed and we have not seen these audits. 

JM: Audits are not easy. If you need to do comprehensive audits. 

CP: Was it just a smokescreen?  

JM: Not at all because once concluded they will be public. 

CP: And they are still taking place? 

JM: Yes, yes.  

CP: Obviously, these are not acceptable standards, I imagine. How do you feel? As in, the fact that these two people behaved in this way, is that acceptable to you?  

JM: No, I think that we let people down. People expect more. It’s no excuse saying that our predecessors did worse things. But I think that responsibility was shouldered, decisions were taken and now we are moving on from this and we’re showing it in each and every sector that we’re tackling. For example, the new appointments to the judiciary, the way we have changed the appointments system to the judiciary, we’re showing that we mean business when it comes to transparency and when it comes to accountability.  

CP: Let me read you something that was written, that was said before the election: “We will have the highest political standards in Europe and will not tolerate any corruption. Standards of behaviour that have been accepted under a Nationalist Administration will not be accepted by Dr Muscat. If one of his ministers acts improperly, he will be out the next day.” Do you know who said this? 

JM: I wouldn’t know, maybe myself? (Laughs)   

CP: It was Konrad Mizzi actually. 

JM: Well, what I can tell you is that during this administration I’ve taken decisions, there are, there were ministers that had to go. And I think compared… 

CP: Do you think you’ve lived up to this standard? 

JM: I think we’ve lived up to a standard that was never reached by any other administrations. I took decisions, I fired ministers, I asked ministers to resign, people resigned out of their own will. I took portfolios from people. So, I think this was never done before. 

CP: You always said you have a 15 year plan. Five years in Opposition and 10 years in Government. Nowadays you say you are achieving results even quicker than was expected. So, are you still dead set on those 5 more years? 

JM: Yes, yes.  

CP: And why? What is it about the country that still needs changing that you haven’t yet managed to change? 

JM: Well I think that in the next five years if people trust us again for another five years once the next two years are over and done with we will be able to focus then on more infrastructural changes, changes where you can see the physical difference between the country as it was and the country as it will become and I hope that we will be able to achieve some changes in our Constitution, some changes that are even more enduring. Changes… 

CP: So you’ve given up the Constitution thing for this legislation…  

JM: No, I haven't given up but I’m realistic and it’s more piecemeal rather than a holistic exercise. So the changes in the judiciary were part of the constitutional reform but they’re being done in a piecemeal manner. I would like in the second term - if people grant us a second term - more civil union moments.  

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"If people grant us a second term I would like more civil union moments."

CP: One of the worrying, possibly one of the most worrying failures of this government in my opinion is the state of the police force. I mean, in December 2015* you said there was need for a total shake-up. And since then you know we’ve just had another police commissioner resign and we’ve been without a police commissioner for the past three months… 

JM: Well, we have an acting police commissioner that is doing his job brilliantly. 

CP: We don’t have let’s say a police commissioner on economic crimes, you know, which is... a cynical person would say this is related to Panama…  

JM: Well, well I’m not that cynical. I would say that we have made achievements in the Armed Forces, that have made strides really from one strength to another. On the other hand, yes I acknowledge that there was a lack of vision in the police force. I don't attribute it to one particular commissioner. It’s the fact that they were dealing with firefighting each and every day, and it’s only now that we’re setting up a proper academy to train people in the police force. It’s only now that we have tourism police. It’s only now that we are really working hard to restructure the police force - in getting on board a CEO - and this is not the result of any three years this is the result of so many years where the police force I think was just engaged in firefighting and didn’t keep up with the times. 

CP: One of the sort of examples of perhaps how it’s not keeping up with the times is the way that it’s still behaving on drug crimes. It seems that they’re not really, they haven’t really updated themselves the way the law has updated itself. 

JM: No, I think there is a disconnect… 

CP: We asked the police recently how many people have been caught for example arrested with less than 3.5 grams of marijuana as the law sort of allows, 101 people were caught… 

JM: I think there’s a disconnect. I think there’s a disconnect and I would rather see the police force focusing more on breathalyser tests and making sure people who drive are capable of driving are in their proper senses, and clamping down on irresponsible drink drivers or people under the effect of substances that don't allow them to concentrate. 

CP: But is it acceptable, as in, okay you’re saying they would rather focus their efforts on that, but you changed the law last year and still it seems something like cannabis is still being treated as a crime. Is this where you stop being progressive?  

JM: No Chris, this is the realisation that government is not one hegemonic monolith. It is made up of different factors different forces and really and truly there is a huge difference from a policy decision that’s taken from a policy direction that’s given until it percolates down.  

CP: So, in your opinion how should police act for example if they find someone with a joint? 

JM: They should follow the law. They should be reasonable. They should follow the spirit also of the changes in legislation that we have made where people are being cautioned rather than treated like criminals when it comes to cannabis and…  

CP: Taking a page out of (Canadian Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau’s book or? 

JM: Well, I think this is a natural progression. Really and truly and I’m telling you my major concern right now is inebriated people who are at the driver’s seat.  

CP: There’s been a crazy amount of deaths, no? 

JM: Yes, I think it’s unacceptable and we, I have asked the Justice Minister to look at the system we’re adopting right now, at the kind of fines the kind of…  

CP: Would fines solve that, do you think? Isn’t it also a problem with the infrastructure with the fact that there are, I mean, another point I want to bring up is the environment at the moment it seems like everywhere is covered in cranes, everywhere is covered in construction. 

JM: Well I don’t, I don’t think it’s a related issue. I think there are many decent countries where you wouldn’t, it wouldn’t cross your mind having three or four glasses of wine and then driving home. It would be unacceptable. It would be, you would know that you are risking not only your life but others people’s lives and you are risking your driving license. Over here it is almost a standard norm, that you know, its part of the game and it is not just Paceville, it is weddings, it is parties, it’s all the rest. So I think that it is one of the very few areas where I don’t exclude being draconian. Where I would say, look, let’s be hard on those who break the law to make sure... 

CP: Do you also think, do you also acknowledge though that there is a problem of infrastructure here in the general infrastructure as being what you are seeing for sort of term two as being your big project, so do you accept that our current infrastructure is…  

JM: It’s crumbling. It is crumbling.  

CP: It’s crumbling.  

JM: It is crumbling.  

CP: Is it getting worse with all this overdevelopment, in a sense? 

JM: Lets’ put it that way, this is a good problem to have. In the sense that it is becoming a problem because the country is moving ahead; the economy is booming, so many people are coming to visit us, so many tourists are coming here and so many investors are coming here and the population is increasing. So, we wouldn't have this problem if no one was interested in Malta, if there was no investment, if there was no tourism. So, we wouldn't have a crumbling infrastructure but we would have a disastrous economy. We’re on the other side of the argument. So, yes this is a problem that we need to face, and maybe it’s also the result of so many years – and I’m not blaming it on the Nationalist government or – no it’s the result of so many years people just thinking in terms of two, three, four, years when it comes to infrastructure rather than doing  the right thing, right away.  

CP: While this could be a good problem to have, in the sense that there is a lot interest in Malta, you know the housing situation is getting harder for a lot of young people. I mean a lot of young people can barely afford to rent at the moment. What do you tell these people? Do you think this is the price we have to pay for having your sort of pro-business attitude towards economy?  

JM: No, I think that I understand the problem and I understand that issue, I understand the fact that with 30,000 or so foreigners coming to work here in Malta…  

CP: And with iGaming and the high salaries it’s… 

JM: Yes, yes and with the stock of housing being what it is it is only natural that the prices will go up. We need to address that so you address that with more quality and sensible developments but you also address that with the inefficiencies of the rent market. So in our next budget we are looking very closely at the rental market and seeing how that can be addressed to help especially young Maltese families.

"In our next budget we are looking very closely at the rental market and seeing how that can be addressed to help especially young Maltese families."

CP: By providing more regulations, limitations or? 

JM: Not necessarily, we are looking at both supply side and demand side. 

CP: I mean the fear is that at some point let’s take an industry like iGaming, if that were to suddenly find a new home elsewhere - through no fault of the governments own - but maybe another country decides to become more attractive to them. We would be left with a lot of housing that is being developed for them. What are we doing to, what is our backup plan in that sense? What is the next big industry for Malta? 

JM: That is why we have the American University, that’s why we have the new investments when it comes to healthcare – so I think education and healthcare together with logistics are the three big new things that we will have in our country and that will attract more investment so I would… 

CP: Will that protect us from that sort of eventuality?

JM: Well, I don’t think you can protect yourself by simply saying I want to protect myself with new industries. This is a race. It should not be a race to the bottom, it should be a race towards better quality of life. But, you don't solve problems by simply thinking you can stop because it’s like you’re on a treadmill: if you stop, you’re just bang, you’re down, you’re down and out. So, really and truly I think it’s a delusion saying let’s not do this because then if they leave we might... it doesn’t work that way it works the other way round. You need always to be one step ahead. One step ahead with thinking about new areas but making sure that these guys don’t leave, and so being more competitive, being more attractive to foreign direct investment, that’s why the pro-business attitude is imperative.  

CP: Moving onto international affairs now. You’re very rarely asked about international affairs but I’d like to. First of all with what's happening in the UK. My question is: what’s the first thing you are going tell Boris Johnson when you meet him as Foreign Secretary? 

JM: (Laughs) I think he’s a nice guy at the end of the day and from what I’m seeing in the first couple of interviews he gave I think he’s getting to grips with the real world. So… 

CP: The things he said in the past sort of haunting him today?

JM: I loved that phrase he used about a thesaurus of offences he has dished out over the years and that he cannot go onto a litany of apologies. So, you know, he was a journalist, he said things, he wrote things. I see the British Prime Minister’s take on why she appointed him and I think she’s smart. I think she’s very smart in doing that.  

CP: Moving onto the other side, (Opposition leader) Jeremy Corbyn. Do you have any advice for him and the British Labour Party? I mean it seems that they’re in a worse state than the Maltese Labour Party was before you took over, don’t you agree? 

JM: Well I had a lunch with Jeremy Corbyn when he was here in Malta in December and we agreed that we basically disagree about everything. So I think he’s a very decent guy. I think he’s very nice. I think he has very sound values.

CP: So today you feel almost closer to the conservative side of the UK I guess? 

JM: Well, I don’t feel close to anyone really right now in the United Kingdom and I do think that I feel in a way like so many people feel in the United Kingdom right now.

"I don’t feel close to anyone really right now in the United Kingdom... I feel in a way like so many people feel in the United Kingdom right now."

CP: Annoyed about Brexit for example? Worried? 

JM: I wouldn’t feel annoyed about Brexit. I would feel annoyed about the fact that there is no Plan B and we have to wait until the end of the year to get to know what kind of relationship Britain now wants to have with the European Union. I would have imagined that people would have had this figured out well before referendum.  

CP: I guess that’s your first question to Boris Johnson then, when you meet him next: what’s happening?  

JM: Well, well and to the Prime Minister, my question would be what do you want? 

CP: Moving onto the US. That’s heating up as well. What do you make of the battle now between Trump and Clinton? Who are you rooting for?  

JM: Naturally, Clinton. 

CP: But do you think Trump is a danger to the world? Do you think he is a danger to the US? 

JM: To be realistic, I think that I do hope at least that as in many cases once people get elected to office - even if they have these you know, campaigns where they say the most outrageous of things - once the weight of office comes to you, you realise that you need to get serious. You need to get serious. 

CP: Do you think that happened to you as well? Were there things you said in the past that now you feel that you’ve kind of grown up from them, in a sense? 

JM: No, I think, I think it happens to everyone. No, I think I’ve said things in the past where I understand what I meant. I do think they were right but they’re not easy to implement. That’s why I’m grateful we’ve nearly implemented 70% of our electoral manifesto in first three years. It seems that most of the things we said were deeply rooted in reality.  

CP: So you’re not that worried about Trump becoming President of the US? 

JM: I think the United States is such a big democracy, such a solid country that irrespective of who is president there will be repercussions, yes, but at the end of the day, there will be a coming to terms with reality.  

CP: When you look at everything that’s happening around the world right now you know, I mean we mentioned Trump, and Brexit and obviously the coup in Turkey - the attempted coup in Turkey - and so many acts of terrorism, you know, one after another and in so many different places, do you get the sense that something is happening in the world? How do you explain all these things? Or is it just sort of run of the mill this is just what happens in the world? Or are you sensing something different?  

JM: No, I think every generation experiences a situation where they feel history is happening, where things are changing. I think that the biggest single change that we have right now is that the previous generation always knew who the enemy was, in one way or another, or who the people disrupting the whole balance of things were. Right now I think all credible world forces who want a sense of balance in world affairs could be fighting a guy who is driving a truck down the boulevard in Nice and killing people. How do you fight that? So, it’s not, you’re not sitting down to negotiate with even the most unlikely… 

"Yes, there is a political elite. It’s obvious."

CP: It’s like we’re fighting on completely different levels… 

JM: Yes, totally. You don’t have a counterpart. You cannot talk to these people because you don't even know who these people are. 

CP: Does that make politicians, politics, bureaucracy, all sort of obsolete? 

JM: I think it makes it irrelevant if it stays the way it is, yes. I think that the time of political parties is over. I’ve said that for quite some time. I think there is more the idea of a movement now, not only here in Malta but in many other places but it’s also that politicians need to understand that the political elite, the political class as we know it, is over and done with and the faster we realise that the better it is for everyone. 

CP: The political elite, you said? 

JM: Yes, there is a political elite. It’s obvious. 

CP: And what is that exactly? It’s interesting that that’s a narrative that has developed in US and in the UK as well and developed in Turkey as well to an extent. 

JM: No, I think it’s people who… 

CP: Are you part of political elite? 

JM: I hope not. I think it’s people who believe that they are godsent to lead and you know that elections are just irritating events that need to be catered for. No, it’s the other way around.  

CP: Thank you very much, just one last question. Your first sort of encounter with Lovin Malta was answering our quiz: How Maltese Are You? Out of curiosity who had you actually come up as? 

JM: You tell me. 

CP: I tell you? 

JM: You tell me. 

CP: I don’t know the stats. 

JM: (Laughs) Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

CP: (Laughs) Okay so I think that’s it. Now we can just go Pokemon hunting around Castille together. 

*The statement was actually made in December 2014. 

Take the Lovin Malta quiz the Prime Minister took: How Maltese are YOU?

What's Joseph Muscat saying about Austin Gatt, Franco Debono and Michelle Muscat? Watch this space to find out.

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Chris Peregin

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