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INTERVIEW | Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Redemption song

Charlot Zahra spoke to Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN) President Charles Attard about the far-right party’s business agenda for the March 8 general elections and beyond

Far-right party Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN) projects itself as a business-friendly party. Even its leadership is made up mainly of entrepreneurs like leader Josie Muscat and deputy leader Anglu Xuereb.
Asked what measures the party was proposing to live up to its claims, Attard was as evangelical as George W Bush in his response. “We want to teach our fellow politicians to start looking at entrepreneurs as the bread-winners of our country.
“Up till now they are only considered as dishonest traders, which are definitely not the case. These are the people who risk their houses on loans, risk their capital, work odd hours to the detriment of their families, employ people, trade overseas and more.
“Imagine what happens if they decide to stop existing for, say, two or three weeks! No wages, no business, no communication, no banking, unattended liabilities, what else?
“This is election time and I am going to show exactly what we mean when we say we are ‘pro-business’; just keep following AN,” he said cunningly.
There has been a proliferation of plans for the Grand Harbour area by the Government and the Opposition. Asked for his assessment of these plans and about AN’s proposals to regenerate the area, Attard was equally scathing of the two main parties plans for the Grand Harbour:
“Angelo Xuereb, in a press conference, has outlined various defects in the PN presentation of the Grand Harbour master plan some of which are extremely impossible and out of proportion.
The MLP proposals have been discussed with Architect Charles Buhagiar on Smash TV programme produced by AN: ‘Agenda Plus’; which proposals also consist of a collation of artworks and pictures with no valuations and feasibility studies.
“Xuereb has presented a detailed project for the Grand Harbour Master Plan, incorporating sea transport, promenades rehab programs, yacht marinas, and structural works that keep rough seas from harming our ports.
“Above all, Xuereb insisted that most of the works can be done by Maltese contractors and also the supervision thereof. Full-page colour adverts covering this issue have been released lately,” he said.
In its report about Malta last September, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was critical of the way Malta lags behind other EU countries in its growth rates and competitiveness, warning that Malta might slip further behind. Asked whether he agreed with this assessment or not and what were AN’s proposals to bolster the country’s economic growth and competitiveness Attard said: “The IMF criticism is absolutely correct. I have serious doubts also about the veracity and precision of the reports submitted by the government when applying to adopt the Euro currency. Malta is claiming to be financially healthy when it’s not!” he insisted.
As to AN’s proposals to boost the Maltese economy, Attard promised that if elected to Parliament, AN would promote adopt a stringent fiscal policy.
“AN will boost the country’s economy by cutting the excess expenditure on local ‘fabricated’ authorities and other governmental parasites; by controlling the fraudulent claims in social services and unemployment benefits; by saving on electricity costs with the introduction of eco-technological plants that will be introduced shortly by AN; by converting Gozo into an investment jewel; by attracting agri-tourism, health tourism while boosting existing tourism,” he said.
AN is proposing a flat rate tax of 18% for individuals as well as companies. Asked what the rationale behind this proposal was and whether he believed that there was too much tax evasion at present or not, Attard said people were getting disincentivated because of the present high income tax rates.
“It is not only a case of tax evasion, but also a scenario where citizens fail to work hard because they know that their efforts will be punished with the exorbitant taxation.
“People don’t like to work hard and pay hard; they look forward to reaping, thus our motto ‘Biex int tgawdi l-frott tal-_idma tieg_ek’ (So that you reap the fruit o. With this incentive, people work harder, become wealthier and demand less assistance from the state, therefore a wealthier state with a healthier economy,” he said. Not even Adam Smith would have said it so well.
Asked whether this proposal has been costed or not, and if yes, how much would the government earn less or more as a result, Attard was rather cagey in his reply. “Sure, it has been costed. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Vote for AN,” he said.
At the same time, AN is proposing a tax rebate equivalent to the national minimum wage to those parents who opt to stay at home. Asked to explain more about this proposal and the rationale behind it, Attard said:
“Yes, parents opting to sacrifice their career in exchange to bringing up their children must receive such rebate, which rebate may be waived onto the working parent.
“So many words have been said in favour of women going to work and so many fora were held: all this is good but we cannot forget about those parents opting to stay at home while their children are growing up.”
One of the major issues in this electoral campaign is proper governance and the eradication of corruption. Asked how would AN effectively tackle corruption and inefficiencies and conflicts of interest by politicians and civil servants in the Government, Attard said that the party was in favour of introducing a Whistleblowers’ Act to protect those people who expose.
“In August we spoke about the Whistle Blowers’ Act. It was mentioned by other parties long time before and nothing has ever happened, but AN has brought up the idea with more advantages and deeper considerations. With a seat in Parliament, we will definitely start promoting this law.”
However, when asked how could AN be credible when tackling conflicts of interest when its leadership and deputy leadership are owners of a chain of private hospitals and a construction tycoon respectively, and what concrete actions would AN take to address this concern, Attard dismissed the possibility of a conflict of interest outright.
“There exists no conflict of interest. In Malta we have a plurality of hospitals and the same with building contractors. Sharing the cake is a right, stealing it was the sin!” he said curtly.
Asked what were AN’s proposals on VAT and whether he believed that the present taxation regime was fair with taxpayers or not and why, Attard said that “VAT is a fair taxation”.
However, AN was pledging that it would reduced taxation on catering (excluding drinks) “at least for as long as permitted by the EU”.
Asked what was AN’s position about the MLP’s pledge to removed VAT on items and services used in education, and whether the party would make a similar pledge or not, Attard was Solomonical in his reply.
“I do not want to steal ideas because it is unfair. It is important that the implementation of such proposal carries with it the proper instruments to monitor abuse,” he said.
Another battle cry for AN during this electoral campaign is the party’s call for greater efficiency in the VAT, Tax Audit and Tax Compliance Unit. Asked what the party’s proposals in this respect were and whether he believed that there was a lot of tax evasion, particularly by self-employed people or not, Attard was scathing in his response.
“There is no evasion because the VAT system is very straight forward.
“Meanwhile, problems are being generated by the Ministry of Finance when creating serious doubts on self-employed and also entrepreneurs; which doubts are being thrown at businessmen dating four or eight years backwards.
“The Ministry of Finance is investigating our businessmen, making estimates galore and the onus of proof falls on the victim and not on the Ministry! ….and this because our legislation was made by people whom we elected to protect our rights!
“Let us not forget the famous agreements suggested by the Ministry of Finance, whereby businessmen were requested to make three year forecasts, on an irrevocable basis and if they opted out they would be investigated.
“Where is ‘Il-Partit tan-Negozjanti?’ (The Businessmen’s Party) What was the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to the SME’s that were chosen to do this agreement of ridicule? Any strike orders by the GRTU?
“But yes, AN is pro-business and we strive to bring justice to entrepreneurs because they are our economy.
“The government is stealing their wealth arrogantly and soon it will backfire on PN, on election-day because both the entrepreneurs and their employees are living in hell.
“AN will bring down taxation gradually to 18%. Those companies and self-employed persons that present a realistic budget, which budget will be vetted by the Ministry of Finance, and accepted, will enjoy the 18% taxation flat-rate straight away.
“Tax investigations, on the other hand, will be run on a two year basis as opposed to the eight year term currently tormenting our tax payers. Our businessmen want to pay tax, but not extra tax. They hate to see their money spent on pompous governmental activities and mismanagement issues,” Attard insisted.
There are more than 43,000 properties that are vacant all year round. Asked what incentives would AN give to owners to put their properties on the market and tackle the issue of rent reform, Attard said: “We are reducing drastically the taxation on rent revenue so that landlords will not prefer to keep their properties vacant.
“This is a chain exercise because it affects property owners, lessees and the family in general. Readers can easily consult our manifesto at www.azzjoninazzjonali.org.”
Asked whether AN believed that the electricity surcharge mechanism as it is being implemented was fair or not, how would AN revise the electricity surcharge mechanism, and how much would it cost the government to implement, Attard was rather economical in his reply.
“This (the fuel surcharge) is definitely unfair. AN will re-compute the surcharge and its ‘modus operandi’ in order implement the system efficiently in a way that this sure cost of energy will not hinder the business or the economy, or the families.”
AN is proposing a tax rebate equivalent to the national minimum wage for a parent who opts to stay at home to bring up the children. Asked whether this was an invitation for women to stay at home rather than work or not and why, Attard denied this was the case. “We are giving housewives and house-husbands their liberty, their choice, their esteem.
“AN is proud of its manifesto. We are giving the Nation a social approach, thoroughly balanced for families, workers, entrepreneurs and statesmen. I honestly believe that Malta and Gozo deserve better than what they are getting from PN and MLP. This is my philosophical assertion,” he concluded.

czahra@mediatoday.com.mt


20 February 2008
ISSUE NO. 523


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