24 – 30 January 2001

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Vassallo suggests Bay Street chief is manipulating public opinion
[ will not be pressurised on Sunday shopping issue]

By Miriam Dunn

The government will not be held to ransom by either the Association of General Retailers and Traders or the Bay Street complex over the issue of Sunday shopping, Parliamentary Secretary in the Economic Services ministry, Edwin Vassallo said yesterday.

Mr Vassallo had harsh words for Bay Street chief Chris Grech's proposal to put the Sunday shopping issue to a public referendum.

"Although it is the right of every citizen to make such an appeal, I see this move as a bit egotistical," he told The Business Times. "In this instance, I believe Mr Grech is simply manipulating public opinion for his own cause."

The Parliamentary Secretary also said it was important to bear in mind that Bay Street was not lobbying on behalf of consumers in its push for Sunday shopping, but was "really speaking on behalf of a group of entrepreneurs that have made a substantial investment in a project".

Mr Vassallo somewhat scathingly pointed out that both Mr Grech and the GRTU director general Vince Farrugia had received considerable publicity from the Sunday shopping dispute, thanks to much media hype.

Making it clear that the issue was "not a popularity war", he said he would not be sidetracked and that the proposed new legislation governing Sunday trading would stay as originally planned.

"As I have made clear, there will be no drastic changes to the law and I plan to ensure Sundays are kept separate from the rest of the week, even if this makes me unpopular," he said. "It might take me some time to explain my course of action to the people, but that is the price to pay for the principle of tackling Sunday shopping in a responsible manner."

The Sunday shopping issue has been in the public eye sporadically over the past months, but came to a head two weeks ago when Police ordered shops in the Bay Street complex to close.

Chris Grech had protested that the outlets were inside a hotel precinct and therefore had the right to restricted opening – an argument challenged by Vince Farrugia of the GRTU. But Mr Grech has also made it clear he is in favour of Sunday shop opening in general.

Mr Vassallo said yesterday that he didn't believe the argument was just between these two protagonists, although he admitted this was the picture being portrayed.

"I think it is much more than this," he said. "There are many factors involved here. The commercial sector is made up of traders, many of whom currently enjoy the right not to open on a Sunday. This is not just through their own choice, but also because of legislation."

He said that the government had an obligation to measure the cost of drastic changes to Sunday trading laws.

"And the cost would be extensive changes to Sundays as we know them," he said

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt