12 January 2005

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The country has no crisis – Prime Minister

By Kurt Sansone

Despite a massive protest by all but one of the country’s unions on Monday against Government’s budget measure to curb public holidays and in the face of widespread concern that living standards are sliding, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi still believes the country does not have a crisis.
“The country has no crisis. We are at a time of renewal. The crisis exists for those who fear change,” Gonzi said yesterday in a televised press conference from the Nationalist Party headquarters. The conference was marking the party’s 125th anniversary.
After a rather lengthy introduction on the theme of the media event, during which Gonzi made no reference to the current precarious situation but preferred instead to traverse the party’s historical achievements, it was left to journalists present to ask the Prime Minister for his reaction to the previous day’s protest in Valletta.
“Government wants to listen and if possible arrive at a broad agreement with the social partners to make this country competitive. We had been discussing these issues with the social partners at the MCESD for more than four months. We cannot have a debating society. I remain open to discussions but there comes a time when Government has to take a decision,” Dr Gonzi said when asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times about the situation prevailing in industrial relations.
The Prime Minister insisted the country was not in crisis but rather passing through a period of renewal. Questioned by a PBS journalist why people were being asked to make sacrifices when the country was not facing a crisis, Gonzi reiterated his statement.
“We are at a time of renewal and it is those who fear change that see a crisis. We’ve been through this in the past. Take the eco-contribution on plastic bags. It is not intended to raise taxes and I am certain that when we explain the intentions behind our actions people will understand that the eco-contribution on plastic bags is aimed to safeguard their health.”
Monday’s demonstration was historic in that it brought together nine unions including the GWU, the Malta Union of Teachers, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses and the Union of Bank Employees. The UHM had opted out of the protest pending today’s meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Tonio Fenech.
Asked by this newspaper for the cut off date by when he would stop discussing things and move on to implement the budget measures, Gonzi was not specific. “I hope tomorrow’s (today’s) meeting will be a constructive one. We want concrete measures to be taken to boost competitiveness,” he said.


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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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