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Covid-19: Italy shuts restaurants early; Spain orders curfew; Bulgarian PM tests positive
Italy's leader imposed at least a month of new restrictions across the country Sunday to fight rising coronavirus infections, shutting down gyms, pools and movie theaters, putting an early curfew on cafes and restaurants and mandating that people keep wearing masks outdoors.
Worried about crippling Italy's stagnant economy, especially after 10 weeks of a severe lockdown earlier in the pandemic, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte opted against another heavy nationwide lockdown. The new decree goes into effect Monday and lasts until Nov. 24.
"Our aim is to protect health and the economy," Conte said.
A day earlier, Italy surpassed a half million confirmed coronavirus cases since February, when it became the first country in Europe stricken by the pandemic. The last two days have seen daily new infections creep close to 20,000 and Italy still has Europe's second-highest virus death toll after Britain, at 37,210 people.
Restaurant and bar owners had lobbied hard against the new measures, which orders them to close at 6 p.m. Most restaurants in Italy usually don't even start to serve dinner before 8 p.m. Cafes and restaurants were allowed in recent months to re-open for outdoor dining or limited indoor seating. But many are struggling to pay their bills and some have already failed after tourists were banned from the United States and many other countries.
Conte promised financial aid from his center-left government as soon as November to the food sector and noted that cafes and restaurants can do delivery and takeout orders until midnight. But before the curfew, no more than four diners will be allowed per restaurant table, unless they are from the same family.
Under the new rules, ski slopes are off-limits to all but competitive skiers and all spectators are banned from stadiums during professional sports matches, including soccer. Receptions after religious or civil ceremonies like weddings are forbidden. The decree continues to exempt children younger than six and those exercising outdoors from wearing masks.
Spain orders nationwide curfew to stem worsening outbreak
Buckling under the resurgence of the coronavirus in Europe, the Spanish government on Sunday declared a national state of emergency that includes an overnight curfew in hopes of not repeating the near collapse of the country's hospitals.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the decision to restrict free movement on the streets of Spain between 11 p.m.-6 a.m. allows exceptions for commuting to work, buying medicine, and caring for elderly and young family members. He said the curfew takes effect Sunday night and would likely remain in place for six months.
"The reality is that Europe and Spain are immersed in a second wave of the pandemic," Sánchez said during a nationwide address after meeting with his Cabinet. "The situation we are living in is extreme."
The leaders of Spain's 17 regions and two autonomous cities will have authority to set different hours for the curfew as long as they are stricter, close regional borders to travel, and limit gatherings to six people who don't live together, the prime minister said.
The curfew does not apply to Spain's Canary Islands, which were recently removed from Britain's and Germany's list of unsafe travel destinations due to the favorable trajectory of the virus on the archipelago.
With the mainland curfew, Spain is following the example of neighboring France, where the government ordered a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for major cities and large swaths of the country this week.
Health officials have been targeting nightlife and partying as some of the main sources for the latest revival of infections.
Bulgarian leader tests positive for new coronavirus
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has tested positive for the new coronavirus as the number of infected with COVID-19 in the Balkan country has been on a steady rise in the two weeks.
Borissov made the disclosure in a Facebook message on Sunday.
"After two PCR tests, today I am positive for COVID-19," Borissov wrote.
He said that he has a "general indisposition" and, following the recommendations of doctors, will remain at home for treatment.
The Balkan nation of 7 million people has recorded 37,562 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,084 deaths.
MOSCOW -- Russia's tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 1.5 million on Sunday as authorities reported 16,710 new infections amid a rapid resurgence of the outbreak that has swept the country in recent weeks.
Russia's caseload remains the fourth largest in the world. The government's coronavirus task force has also registered a total of over 26,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The task force has been reporting over 15,000 new infections every day since last Sunday, which is much higher than in the spring, when the highest number of daily new cases was 11,656.
Despite the sharp spike in daily new infections, Russian authorities have repeatedly dismissed the idea of imposing a second lockdown or shutting down businesses after most virus-related restrictions were lifted during the summer. In some Russian regions, officials urged the elderly to self-isolate at home and called on employers to have at least part of their staff work from home. Several regions have shut down nightclubs and limited the hours of restaurants and bars.
BERLIN — Austria has tightened its coronavirus rules as the Alpine country sees new daily records of infections.
Starting Sunday, no more than six people are allowed to meet indoors, including events such as birthday parties, yoga or dance classes. Outside, a maximum of 12 people are allowed to get together. In restaurants, the number of guests has been reduced to no more than 10 per table.
People also need to wear masks in train stations, markets and nursing homes.
On Saturday, the daily virus numbers reached a new high of reported 3,614 cases. On Sunday, the figure was lower at 2,782, however not all new cases get reported on weekends.
NEW DELHI — India's daily coronavirus cases have dropped to nearly 50,000, maintaining a downturn over the last few weeks.
The Health Ministry says 50,129 new cases have taken the overall tally to nearly 7.9 million on Sunday. It also reported 578 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising total fatalities to 118,534.
The ministry also said India's active coronavirus cases were below 700,000 across the country and almost 7.1 million people had recovered from COVID-19.
India is second to the United States with the largest outbreak of the coronavirus. Last month, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily cases have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third.
Some experts say the decline in cases suggests that the virus may have finally reached a plateau but others question the testing methods. India is relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.
BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, its health ministry says, becoming the second country in Latin America to report that number in less than a week.
The nation of 50 million saw cases peak in August and has seen a decline since but still continues to register around 8,000 new infections a day.
Eight countries now have more than 1 million confirmed cases, and three are in Latin America. Argentina hit 1 million confirmed cases on Monday. Brazil ranks third worldwide in the number of virus cases, with more than 5 million, and passed 1 million infections back in June. Peru and Mexico are expected to reach 1 million cases each in the coming weeks.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 16:54:00 +0000
Archbishop hits out at loan sharks: ‘the money is cursed and I curse them too’
Archbishop Charles Scicluna on Sunday did not mince his words when dealing with usury, saying that people abusing of others through loans were causing so much distress to others.
In his homily during the weekly Sunday Mass, which was shown on TV, Scicluna said there were people who were charging 20 or 30 per cent for the money they loan, giving the borrowers little time to pay their exorbitant dues and pushing them towards the edge.
The archbishop said: “You will be accountable to God for bringing people to the brink of collapse. Some end their lives because they cannot pay the debt racked up through usury. I am warning those who are usurping our people by fattening their pockets: that money is cursed and I curse them too.”
“Lending is an act of mercy. But to ask for another €100 for every €100 you gave is theft. It’s sinful. There are people who do not make ends meet and make it to the end of the month by borrowing from these people who in return ask for people’s gold, not just as a pledge but as payment, over and above the repayments,” he said.
“There are those who are victims of usury because their business was going south or because of gambling addiction. In any case, when a person knocks on your door and asks you to borrow money, you will be going against the law when you ask for more than the eight per cent allowed by the law,” the archbishop warned.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 15:56:00 +0000
12 Covid cases among prison inmates
Twelve prison inmates are being kept in quarantine after testing positive for Coronavirus, The Correctional Services agency said.
The patients are all being kept in isolation in Division 6 at the Kordin prison.
The division is being used as a quarantine facility to isolate incoming prisoners, the agency said..
"This is a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 - prisoners are held in quarantine and all necessary tests are performed during that period. In fact, all the positive cases were related to people who had recently entered the facility," their statement said.
Another eight inmates who had tested positive cases over the last few weeks have recovered and have been removed from the division.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 15:50:00 +0000
Trapper attacked by foreign couple - FKNK
The FKNK has said that a man was attacked by a foreign couple while legally trapping in Gozo.
The lobby said that BirdLife Malta was intensifying its provocation, "even through the aid of their foreign friends like CABS," of hunters and trappers now that the trapping season and recently announced research exercises had opened.
Trappers are allowed to trap protected songbirds as part of a study on their migration habits after a government decision on the matter was made. This has been a highly controversial issue.
The FKNK said that the latest victim of provocation was a Gozitan trapper who was legally trapping "according to the research rules."
"A foreign couple went onto the trapper and began alleging that he was doing something illegal, and instead of reporting to the police, the foreign man pushed the trapper onto the ground and began punching him."
"This wasn't enough, and the man called the woman to hold the trapper's feet so that he could continue punching him. It was thanks to a hunter who was close by that the attack stopped. The trapper went to hospital and suffered injuries, including to his face, and he filed a police report."
"While the police are investigating, the FKNK is also offering its help to trappers, even through the FKNK's lawyer.
"Another incident that was reported was when a couple, possibly also foreign, opened a cage for a songbird to escape, while the couple managed to run off before the trapper who owned the bird could have stopped them."
The FKNK blamed birdlife for the provocations as on 11 October, "they organised a protest in an FKNK reserve when the FKNK had a planned event on the same site."
The FKNK said that a confrontation would have been the easy road for the FKNK, but instead postponed the event.
BirdLife Malta also issued a statement on the matter.
The NGO condemned all forms of violence, "even when this violence or alleged violence takes place against hunters and trappers."
"This is a principle which BirdLife Malta has always valued since its inception. Any incident, however, is a drop in the ocean when compared to years of abuse, violence, intimidation and hate speech coming from many members of the hunting and trapping lobby and directed at environmentalists and BirdLife Malta staff, volunteers and members together with members of other environmental organisations," BirdLife Malta said.
BirdLife Malta calls on the authorities to enforce the law in all circumstances, both laws which regard bird protection and illegal hunting and trapping, and also in all other acts of violence.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 13:36:00 +0000
‘Politicians don’t need praise for doing the right thing, it is their job’ – Bernard Grech
Politicians do not need to be praised for doing the right thing as it is their job to do so, Opposition leader Bernard Grech said in reaction to reports and editorials in the media stating that the Nationalist party's reaction to Budget 2021 was too negative.
Last week, the government announced the budget for the upcoming year which was met with a mix of reactions from people and stakeholders working in different sectors. While there was a lot of positive feedback for having a sizeable budget during a pandemic, there were those who believed the budget lacked vision, including the PN.
During a discussion on party media on Sunday, Grech noted that the media seems to think that the PN reacted too negatively to the budget and said that while he understands this perception, the opposition has an obligation to comment on what it disagrees with.
"We can congratulate the government; however, we have to eliminate this need for praise for things that they do well. Politicians are there to do what is right. If they do so, they are just doing their job. If they fail to do so, the media and the opposition are there to point this out and help the politicians correct their shortcomings."
Government has to provide people with a fishing rod not fish
Turning to the topic of COVID-19, Grech explained that no one knew how to react to it in the beginning, comparing it to a boat sailing in clear seas but which is then hit by a storm.
"As you battle the storm, you try to get to your destination while also removing the water from the boat. This is what we did form March till June with the added help of measures that were suggested by the Opposition. However, once the first wave was over, the government had to ensure that they do not go through the same situation in the future. This is what we mean by having a vision for the future," he said making clear reference to the second wave of the virus Malta is currently experiencing.
Grech believes that the government introduced a number of COVID-19 measures that were rushed in their procurement, and the same applies for this budget. "It issued a lot of immediate measures without showing people where the government is headed with this aid in the next months, so as to avoid people becoming dependent on the government."
"This is why we think the budget is addresses only the short- to mid-term; the government provided people with fish but we are still waiting to have the fishing rod so that we can catch fish on our own next time."
He said that the PL has always had a problem when it came to looking beyond the tips of its nose, basing strategies on immediate results through consumeristic measures. He noted that he will be addressing this issue in parliament on Monday and will provide strategies that bring hope to Malta, which will strengthen the relationship between its people.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 13:21:00 +0000
‘This is a moment of national unity’ – Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela said that this is a moment of national unity, "and that is what the budget represents."
The Prime Minister was addressing a political activity in Victoria, Gozo, where he spoke of the 2021 budget and the Covid-19 situation
He looked back over the past nine months of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that Last week was meant to be his first budget, but in reality it was his fourth this year, referring to the Covid-19 support measures the government introduced since March.
He said that the government saved 100,000 jobs through the measures it introduced. "We introduced one measure after another... and today we have the lowest unemployment rate in the Eurozone."
"Where everyone expected our economy to fail, we introduced the best budget in Maltese history," he said.
He spoke of a number of budgetary measures, adding that no new taxes were introduced. He said that the budget includes the in-work benefit, the first-time buyers scheme, free childcare, reducing income tax. He said that in moments of difficulty, the government further divides the benefits among the people.
Abela said that the government took nothing in return, while giving a lot. "It is a budget of principle as today's circumstances can be compared to the 2009 financial crisis. Today we have an economic, social and medical crisis.," he said, while adding that in 2009, there was an economic crisis
He said that the difference is that in 2009 there was a PN government and today there is a PL one, adding that there was a difference in how both acted and looked at the circumstances. "In much easier circumstances (referring to 2009), the weight was thrown onto the people. Today, in more difficult circumstances, the government is carrying the weight."
"In 2009, the PN government had promised to reduce the income tax ceiling, but then said that the circumstances changed." Abela said that, to the contrary, the PL always remained optimistic throughout the current crisis.
The Prime Minister said that while giving a lot to the people over the past budgets, it worked carefully. "We had a full warchest at the start of the pandemic, and that is the result of seven years of a PL government, always thinking ahead for when the country might face a difficult moment."
He spoke about now incentivising businesses and helping people. "We looked at foreign countries. In the UK there is a debate as to whether they should raise taxes. We did the opposite, we introduced measures and did not increase taxes."
He said that last week's budget created trust. "People trust and have peace of mind. People are serene knowing that the government knows what it is doing."
"If the PL wasn't in government today, would things be as they are?"
"There is a new Opposition Leader, who, according to him, the solution for Covid-19 is to create a committee that will decide never to decide. They will give us, according to them, the solution for everything."
He said that the government opened the country for jobs and the PN criticised this and for allowing feasts. "Then they go and organise an election with celebrations."
He referred to the recent image of people gathering in St George's Bay, saying that while people are making sacrifices, others are being irresponsible.
"So we restrict bars and then instead of going home they congregate in a bay."
He said that the situation is under control, "but we cannot relax."
He said that it is what the people, collectively, do that will determine what will happen in the coming months.
"There are no compromises when it comes to people's health. I always stressed on the balance between health and the economy. How that balance is held depends on how responsible we all are."
He spoke about solidarity between each other, and thinking about society.
Abela referred to a Parliamentary session this past week, where he asked Bernard Grech what he would have done differently. "He said nothing."
"We have a reserve that allows us to do more If needed. That is a PL government that, in a pandemic, showed its best qualities."
This wasn't a pandemic budget, he said, but one that defines the coming ten years.
"The Opposition Leader said that this budget does not think about tomorrow. I agree, it looks to the coming ten years."
He turned to pensioners, and spoke of the increase given to them being three times higher than the COLA.
The social measures were central to the budget, he explained, adding that it targeted pensioners and those most in need. The wage supplement, he said, was aimed at saving young workers and those with low skills who would have been the first people that businesses would have cut.
He also mentioned the government's vision for Gozo. "Our vision is clear, day-trippers will remain part of Gozo's tourism, but our vision goes beyond. We want Gozo to serve for quality tourism." He said that he wants Gozo to offer opportunities for youths to have a choice whether to work in Gozo or Malta, for the island to offer the same opportunities. Abela mentioned the need for a permanent link, slamming the Opposition for being indecisive on this issue.
Prime Minister Abela also spoke about the 2022 general election. He said that the electoral test is edging closer, and said that it is more important than ones in the past. "This will be the moment where people not only decide on which party is capable of leading... but on what style of politics we want, from 2022 onwards."
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 13:04:00 +0000
125 new cases of Covid-19; 89 patients recover
125 new cases of Covid-19 were announced by the health authorities on Sunday, while 89 patients recovered.
This brings the total number of active Covid-19 cases up to 1,880. In total, there have been 51 deaths and 3,567 people have recovered. The total number of cases since the pandemic reached Malta last March now stands at 5,498.
The authorities said that between Saturday and Sunday 3,285 swab tests were carried out, bringing the total number of tests conducted since the beginning of the pandemic up to 317,904.
The cases announced on Sunday are still being investigated, however the authorities gave an overview of the cases that were announced on Saturday.
From Saturday's cases, 46 were family members of previous cases, six were contacts of positive work colleagues, two had direct contact with other positive cases, one was from Paceville and one was imported.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 12:52:00 +0000
Updated: Mario Grech to be appointed Cardinal, ceremony on 28 November
Mario Grech, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and the former Bishop of Gozo will be elevated to the rank of Cardinal, the Gozo Diocese has said on Facebook.
"In his mass, Pope Francis just honoured us with the appointment of the first Gozitan Cardinal, Mario Grech, Bishop Emeritus of Gozo and Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. Congratulations!"
The post also read that the official appointment for Grech and 12 others will be on 28 November.
Grech had served as Gozo Bishop for 15 years before he was succeeded by Anton Teuma. Grech's move from Gozo to the Vatican had been announced last year, when Pope Francis had appointed him as Pro-Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops.
Malta has had Cardinals in the past. Cardinal Fabrizio Sceberras Testaferrata served between 1818 and 1843. He cast his vote in conclave at the Palazzo Quirinale at the election of Pope Leo XII in 1823, again in 1829 at the election of Pope Pius VIII, and of Pope Gregory XVI in 1831. Prospero Grech was also a Maltese Cardinal, but was not able to vote as he was over the age of 80. He died in 2019 at the age of 94.
Grech is aged 63 and thus will be able to vote in conclave.
The President, the government, the Archbishop, the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party all congratulated Grech on his nomination.
Grech was one of 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis.
The others include Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who would become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.
In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on Nov. 28.
Apart from Grech, other new cardinals include an Italian who is the long-time papal preacher at the Vatican, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan friar; the Kigali, Rwanda, Archbishop Antoine Kambanda; the Capiz, Philippines, Archbishop Jose Feurte Advincula, and the Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Celestino Aos Braco.
Another Franciscan who was tapped is Friar Mauro Gambetti, in charge of the Sacred Convent in Assisi. The pope, when elected in 2013, chose St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake saint. Earlier this month, the pontiff journeyed to that hill town in Umbria to sign an encyclical, or important church teaching document, about brotherhood.
In a reflection of the pope's stress on helping those in need, Francis also named the former director of the Rome Catholic charity, Caritas, the Rev. Enrico Feroci, to be a cardinal.
Others named cardinals include Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, an Italian serving as prefect of the Vatican office which runs the saint-making process; Bishop Cornelius Sim, a Brunei native who serves as apostolic vicar of Brunei; the Italian archbishop of Siena and nearby towns in Tuscany, Augusto Lojudice; the retired bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, Monsignor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel; and an Italian former Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.
Wilton, 73, was picked by Francis to lead the prestigious diocese in the U.S. capital last year. The prelate has his pulse on factions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has both strong conservative and liberal veins since he served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
Nine of the new cardinals are younger than 80, and thus eligible to elect the next pontiff in a secret conclave. Some cardinals head powerful Vatican offices, and pontiffs frequently turn to cardinals for advice.
No details were immediately given by the Vatican about the concistory, as the formal ceremony to make the churchmen cardinals is known, especially in view of travel restrictions involving many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he has in other groups of cardinals he tapped in his papacy, Francis in this selection reflected the global nature of the Catholic Church and his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics.
Churchmen over 80 who are named cardinals are chosen to honor their life of service to the church. Those in this batch too old to vote in a conclave are Cantalamessa, Tomasi, Feroci and Arizmendi Esquivel.
Il-Qdusija Tiegħu l-Papa Franġisku għadu kemm għamlilna unur kbir bil-ħatra tal-ewwel Kardinal Għawdxi fil-persuna...
Posted by Diocese of Gozo on Sunday, 25 October 2020
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 12:30:00 +0000
Six spine-chilling Maltese ghost stories
With Halloween around the corner, here are some terrifying stories of hauntings that will get you in the spirit to join one of our spooky ghost tours.
The Ghostly Procession - Birgu
Prior to the construction of the Vittoriosa primary school, on the road which leads towards Kalkara, the site was occupied by an old plague cemetery, dedicated to St. Rocco. Late one night in the 1950s, a couple of women were walking back home from a late function, their route taking them past the old cemetery, long-abandoned and almost forgotten.
One of the women occasionally used to visit the place, to pray in the chapel there, which might have been what now made her look in the cemetery’s direction. But if she had intended to say a prayer, it was never uttered, for instead she was choked into silence at the sight of a ghostly procession. A number of ghostly figures, all wearing the familiar long white habit of an arch confraternity, with their heads covered by hoods, were floating out of the cemetery, passing right through the locked gate, before disappearing into a tree trunk just outside the main entrance. The woman was gripped by terror but did not say anything, for fear of being ridiculed by her companion. But when they got back home, her friend gasped with obvious relief and asked her if she had noticed anything strange on the way there. It turned out that she too had seen the apparitions.
Any doubts that they had both imagined it were dispelled in the morning, when they found crowds of people in the streets, all discussing the news of a woman who was taken to hospital during the night, suffering from shock after having seen a procession of hooded ghosts going up the street where she lived!
The Restless Spirit - Santa Venera
One of the stranger ghost stories is told by Joseph Attard in his book The Ghosts of Malta. In 1955, Mrs. Julia Tanti, who lived in the town of Santa Venera with her family, started being woken up between 4.30 am and 5 am every morning, to the sounds of a human voice crying and groaning from one particular room.
At first, the woman mistook this for a recurring dream, but when the voice starting uttering intelligible words expressing suffering, she changed her mind. When her children began to hear the voice too, Mrs. Tanti plucked up the courage to ask the spirit what he wanted, but alas she never received a reply.
In the end, the woman approached the parish priest, who considered an exorcism, but before this could happen, one of the children woke up screaming in the night, claiming that the ghost had spoken to her: “My name is Joseph Mangion and I am 66 years old. I am suffering so much.” He told her to visit his relatives and ask them to pray for his soul. He gave no address, but told her they lived opposite the Radio City Theatre in Ħamrun. There, the family found a widow by the surname Mangion, who claimed that Joseph had been her late husband’s brother, who had died young, several years before she had even met her late husband! Upon checking, they confirmed that had he still been alive, he would indeed have been 66 years old. Interestingly, even the Radio City Theatre had not yet been built when he died, and yet he had given detailed directions to the Tanti family, who were now finally rid of paranormal activity.
A Troubled Soul - Żurrieq
This story takes us to Żurrieq, and the cemetery dedicated to Pope St. Leo I. Every morning at around 3 am, a local farmer known as ‘Ta’ Ċoqq’ would load his mule-driven cart with produce to sell at the centre of the town. On his route, he always had to pass from in front of the cemetery, and almost every time he was being bothered by a very strange experience. As he approached the gates of the cemetery, a young lady dressed in white would emerge from within and approach the cart. She would grab hold of the mule’s head and stop him from proceeding any further.
The farmer used to get irritated, for this made him lose a lot of time, but despite urging the mule forward, the beast would not budge until the girl let go and returned to the cemetery. Eventually, ‘Ta’ Ċoqq’ got fed up with this business, so he went to a priest and told him what was happening. The priest asked to accompany him on his next trip, in order to see for himself what was going on. Sure enough, as they approached the cemetery the following morning, the girl appeared as usual. Upon seeing this, the priest climbed down from the cart, took the girl’s hand, and let her back inside, while the farmer looked on.
A few days later, the local undertaker removed a girl’s corpse from her grave and reinterred her elsewhere. It seemed that the young lady had lived a very good life, and been buried with an immoral man. After the change, ‘Ta’ Ċoqq’ never saw her again.
An Unexplained Mystery - Senglea
Many years ago, a Mrs. Mangion from Senglea used to make it a point to attend daily the first mass of the day at St. Philip’s Church. Although the service started at 5 am, she was usually quite early, something she did not mind as she would chat with other churchgoers while they waited for the sacristan to open up.
One morning she arrived earlier than usual however; it was still dark when she got there. Despite this, the church was surprisingly already open, so she decided to wait inside for her friends. Upon entering, she realised that there was nobody else there, not even the sacristan. The only light came from two lit candles on the altar, which was prepared for mass. She was even more surprised when a priest appeared and approached the altar to start the service, despite the fact that it was at least half an hour too early. The lady could not see the priest properly because of the lack of lighting, but she thought there was no harm in listening to another mass, so she stayed until the end of the service. It was only then, when the priest turned to face her, that she was shocked to realise that where his face should be, there was only a skull!
Trying hard not to scream, she felt herself going faint, just as keys could be heard unlocking the church door. The sexton and the rest of her friends were shocked to find her already inside the church. Upon looking back towards the altar, the lady realised that not only was there no sign of the priest, but everything had also gone from the altar, and even the two candles were still waiting to be lit!
The Phantom Hitchhiker - Burmarrad
Late one night, two friends - John and Paul - were in a car, driving from St. Paul’s Bay to Mosta. On reaching Burmarrad, near the parish church, they saw an old man standing in the middle of the road. He seemed to be in no hurry to cross, and just stood looking at the car as if unaware of the danger of being hit.
Paul, who was driving, stopped near the man, to ask him if he needed a lift. But there was no reply, and the man just stared at them as if he had not heard, so the two men drove on. But they had hardly gone a few metres, when they saw the old man again right in front of them, in the middle of the road as before. Both men thought it strange, as Paul this time swerved round him and drove on. John tried to bring up the subject, but at this point realised that Paul had started accelarating rapidly, and soon the car was flying along. “Why are you driving so fast? Do you want to get us both killed?” John exclaimed. But Paul took no notice of his friend and simply kept speeding on, only stopping the car when they finally reached Mosta.
“What’s going on with you? Why were you going so fast?” John exclaimed. “It was the old man. Did you not see him?” Paul said. “Yes, I saw him both times.” “No, not that” Paul replied. “After we saw him the second time, an instant later I saw him again in the driving mirror. He was sitting on the backseat right behind us, and only disappeared when we reached Mosta!”
The Haunted House - Gozo
In a quiet Gozitan village, there was an old, long-abandoned house that everybody stayed away from, especially after dark, as the building was reputedly haunted. The story was that it had once been lived in by two brothers; the younger one was quiet and gentle, but his older sibling had a very jealous nature, and always got what he wanted, one way or the other. The younger brother eventually fell in love and started spending a lot of time with his new girl, while his older brother looked on, his jealousy growing at the fact that she could never be his. With time, his jealousy turned to hate and he decided to get rid of his sibling. The story goes that he threw his brother into a well, having first chopped off his hands to make sure that he could not climb back out. His girlfriend, oblivious to the truth, waited for him for a long time, but eventually gave up, and in the meantime ended up becoming close with the older brother, whom she eventually married. One day soon after, however, she woke up to find her husband dead, strangled while he slept. That was when the house was abandoned.
Many years later, some locals drinking at a nearby bar were overheard talking about the house by a foreigner, who claimed that their stories were mere superstition. In fact, he bet them that he would spend a whole night in the building on his own, and nothing would happen to him.
Well, the night got off to a good start, so much so that the man soon fell asleep, only to be woken up some hours later by a strange sound. Getting up off the floor where he was lying, he looked out onto the stairs where the sound seemed to be coming from, only to see a pair of severed hands coming up. They went into the room where he had been sleeping a few moments before, no longer looking empty. The room now appeared to be fully furnished, including a bed on which a sleeping man was lying. The hands wrapped around the man’s throat, and he could see him struggling, until he was choked to death. The terrifying apparition then disappeared in front of his eyes, and he was again in an empty room. Needless to say, he made a hasty exit from the building.
Want to hear more stories? Then why not join one of our popular ghost tours held regularly in Valletta, Birgu and Mdina? Visit www.colourmytravel.com to see all our tours, or send us a message with your request.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 11:33:00 +0000
Cartoon 25 October 2020
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 11:00:00 +0000
TMIS Editorial - Abela vs Grech: Let the battle begin
It will be the first direct confrontation between Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech.
It will also be the first time, for both, that they will deliver a speech in Parliament in reaction to the budget in their respective role. It is, on the whole, the first time in history that the two major political parties changed their leader in the same year.
Grech will be giving his address in the House of Representatives on Monday, with Abela to reply on Tuesday, starting off a political debate that will continue with sessions dedicated to the different ministries over the next two weeks.
Two hours for each leader in which, apart from budgetary considerations, they are both expected to tackle the issues that are being faced by the country, most notably the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit us during this year, and how it has affected the economic performance with a view to what is ahead of us in 2021.
But what happens on Monday and Tuesday is not only about the budget. It will be an occasion for the two leaders to prove themselves, or attempt to, in their respective quest.
Grech will seek to convince the Nationalist tesserati – those who voted for him, those who did not – that he is a better leader than his predecessor Adrian Delia. Even his own MPs, many of whom were instrumental in getting him on the PN’s top pedestal, will be judging his performance, and will be asking themselves whether they have made the right choice.
Abela will aim to persuade the Labour members – the majority who chose him, and the minority who opted for Chris Fearne in the race for the PL leadership last January – that he can walk in the footsteps of the man he substituted: Joseph Muscat who, for Labour hardliners, is still considered to be a saviour in spite of the dark clouds that cut his political career short.
More than this, they both have to try to win over that chunk of the electorate which does not have a party at heart, but which sways from one side to the other of the political spectrum depending on the policies presented – and also depending on who the party leader is.
This part of the voting population, it must be said, grows bigger with each election that passes, in particular among the younger voters, who are less inclined to follow tradition and are more prepared to move from one party to another – even going against their family’s allegiance.
It must be said, at the outset, that neither Grech nor Abela have the same gift that Delia and Muscat had – the gift of excellent public speaking, the use of simple terms to reach out to and be understood by everyone, and the flow in their verbal arguments and argumentation.
Whether one agreed with them or not, and irrespective of whether they were being believed, both Muscat and Delia had the ability to come across well because they possessed clear articulation which they coupled with energetic and convincing performances and perfect timing of political barbs.
In this regard, as yet both Abela and Grech have not shown themselves to be at the same level as Muscat and Delia. Abela has had more time to practice, since he took over the reins of the Labour Party 10 months ago, while Grech is still in his first month as leader of the PN.
But the art of public speaking does not come natural to everyone, and no matter how much training is given, it is not easy to totally eliminate anxiety and the stress of addressing an audience, a skill that both Muscat and Delia mastered almost to perfection.
And so Abela and Grech must make up for this with the content of their speech. What they lack in public speaking skills, they must compensate with substance. What they lack in charisma they must replace with credibility.
It is expected, of both, to speak in the national interest, not to try to score political points. Malta is passing through one of its major crises because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and although the government has so far been able to sustain the economy and help the private sector, one must wonder how far the government will be in a position to maintain its support. As we all know, no-one can forecast the end of this predicament.
It is also expected, of both, to provide a mature debate, one that is based on facts, not suppositions; one that offers constructive criticism (Grech) and one that provides credible answers (Abela); one that is free of personal attacks, vitriolic comments and character assassinations; one that, irrespective of political colours, gives the nation the idea that the government is trying its hardest and that the opposition is, finally, getting back on its feet.
Malta will be watching.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 11:00:00 +0000
25 years ago: When one of Palestine’s most notorious leaders was assassinated in Malta
It was fifteen minutes past one when Ibrahim Ali Al Shawesh, a Libyan businessman, turned onto the Sliema front on what was a quiet, sunny October afternoon.
Shopping bags in hand, Al Shawesh made his way to the well-known Diplomat Hotel, where he was staying.
It was then that the idyllic mid-afternoon peace was shattered.
A man in a bandana walked up to Al Shawesh, shot him five times in the head, sprinted around the corner and hopped onto a motorcycle which an accomplice blustered into life and rode off on.
Al Shawesh, probably dead before he hit the ground, was left lying in a pool of his own blood on the Sliema pavement, practically at the doorstep of the hotel he was staying at.
On that day, Thursday 26 October 1995, few could have foreseen the international ramifications that the cold and calculated assassination would have.
It took local police three days before it became apparent that Ibrahim Ali Al Shawesh did not actually exist.
Indeed, the man who had been killed in such precision fashion was Dr. Fathi Shaqaqi – a Palestinian doctor, known better as the leader of the Islamic Jihad, a group which had orchestrated a number of terror attacks on Israeli targets.
Today, 25 years on, The Malta Independent on Sunday looks back on an assassination which was a key moment in the continued tensions between Israel and Palestinians, and which put a target on Malta’s back.
Fathi Shaqaqi pictured above on his fake Libyan passport, where he used the alias Ibrahim Ali Al Shawesh. Photo: Joe Mifsud Archives
Fathi Shaqaqi: from doctor to Islamic Jihad leader
Fathi Shaqaqi was born on 4 January 1951, in the slums of a refugee camp on the Gaza strip in Palestine. Getting his education through the United Nations school and through Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, Shaqaqi initially graduated as a maths teacher, but in 1974 he moved to Egypt to study medicine.
It was in Egypt that Shaqaqi’s political beliefs began to form. He felt that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)’s opposition to Israeli occupation of Palestine was worthless as it was not based on Islam; in fact, by the late 1970s he had broken away from both the Muslim Brotherhood and secular Palestinian nationalist groups, dismayed that the former spoke too little about Palestine and the latter too little on Islam.
In 1981 he founded the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine. The aim was simply to establish a sovereign, Islamic Palestinian state within the border of pre-1948 Palestine, except that the belief was firmly that these goals can be achieved through military means as per the Jihad – which translates to “struggle”.
Shaqaqi would be arrested twice by Israel, and the second time he was deported to serve his sentence in South Lebanon. Upon his release, he settled in Damascus, Syria, under the protection of the country’s President Hafez al-Assad.
It would be from here that Shaqaqi would lead the Islamic Jihad Movement.
A still of Fathi Shaqaqi addressing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement Rally. Photo: Al Jazeera
Setting the scene
The scenario in Palestine since the state of Israel was declared by David Ben-Gurion in 1948 has always been delicate to say the least.
Decades characterised by warfare and killings would follow.
However, come the early 90s, a shift seemed to begin. Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister of Israel after calling for compromise with the country’s neighbours, and in fact the following year, Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas for the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO also recognised Israel's right to exist and pledged an end to terrorism.
Not everyone greeted the Oslo Accords with satisfaction though. Indeed, Shaqaqi was a key player in the setting of a coalition between liberation organisations, the Islamic Jihad, and Hamas against the Accords.
The Islamic Jihad continued on its warpath.
It’s first suicide bombings happened in January 1995, at the Beit Lid junction. Two Islamic Jihad members walked into a crowd of soldiers who were going through the junction to return to their posts after the weekend.
In a calculated and orchestrated attack, the first bomb was detonated within the crown, while the second one was detonated minutes later as people began to congregate on site. 20 Israeli soldiers and a civilian were killed in the attack.
Islamic Jihad claimed full responsibility for the attack.
The aftermath of the Beit Lid suicide bombing in January 1995.
In an Al-Jazeera documentary aired in 2018, titled Fathi Shaqaqi: Don’t Kill Him in Damascus, Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman speaks of how Prime Minister Rabin returned from Beit Lid to Tel Aviv “red with anger”, and details how he called in the chief of Mossad – Israel’s secret service – and ordered for Shaqaqi to be killed immediately.
The challenge for Mossad now was how to carry out the kill order while Shaqaqi lived in Syria and the country’s protection. It was eventually concluded that Shaqaqi could not be killed in Damascus, owing to logistical and also political concerns, because secret negotiations were going on between the two countries at the time.
An alternative was needed.
When Libyan strongman Muammer Gaddafi decided in September 1995 that, because of the signing of the Oslo Accords, the estimated 30,000 Palestinians in Libya would be expelled, Shaqaqi was one of a Palestinian delegation of three to visit Tripoli for talks.
This was Mossad’s chance.
The Malta connection
At the time there was an international embargo on flights in and out of Libya, which meant that Shaqaqi had to fly into another country to get to Libya through other means.
That other country was Malta. From Malta he would then board the Malta to Libya ferry, and arrive in the north African country through that means.
Mossad were aware of his movements, possibly through an informant who had embedded himself in Shaqaqi’s inner circle, and were waiting for him in Malta.
Shaqaqi travelled through Malta on 4 October, but it would not be until his return trip, three weeks later, that the move was made.
Talal Naji from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who accompanied Shaqaqi in Libya, told Al Jazeera in their documentary of how he had told Shaqaqi that he could arrange his return trip through Tunisia or Egypt because Malta was dangerous for him.
Shaqaqi however insisted that he would make his return to Syria through Malta.
The assassination and the escape
He arrived in Malta on 26 October 1995 under the alias Ibrahim Ali Al Shawesh. He planned to fly to Damascus the next day, and checked into the Diplomat Hotel that morning.
Witness testimonies detailed in Magistrate Joe Mifsud’s book Terror’s Footprints: Shadows of International Terrorism state how two men had been loitering around the hotel for the whole morning.
A foreign couple testified to police that just after one o’ clock in the afternoon, one of the two men walked up to Shaqaqi while carrying a black and blue bag when suddenly shots were heard. The couple did not see the weapon, which seems to have been concealed in the bag. Shaqaqi fell: the killer fired more shots into his body, before escaping round the corner into Arturo Mercieca Street, where his accomplice was waiting for him on a motorcycle.
Fathi Shaqaqi as he was found, face down on the Sliema pavement in front of the Diplomat Hotel. Photo: Joe Mifsud Archives
The motorcycle sped off, and was later found covered under the bridge in Manuel Dimech Street, not far off from the scene, which is where the duo most probably met a third person, who aided their escape via a car.
The motorcycle itself had been imported from abroad. The Yamaha XT-600E was in fact first exported from Japan to Spain, from where it ended up in Greece. There it was purchased by a man by the name of Harmand Philippe Rene. It was given Greek plates, and was ridden into Malta by Rene himself in August.
The motorcycle itself was found with a Maltese plate – Q-6904 – which it transpired had been stolen from a Yamaha 86 in 1989 – six years prior. This is a piece of the puzzle which is yet to be solved, but it may perhaps indicate some sort of local element to the assassination.
The fact that a forensic analysis of the motorcycle’s fuel found that it was fuelled up with a type of unleaded petrol that wasn’t sold in Malta at the time indicates that the motorcycle was not used until the day of the assassination.
The short-range 9mm bullets used to kill Shaqaqi. He was shot five times in the head. Photo: Joe Mifsud Archives
There is speculation as to how the killers made their final escape from Malta, but the most likely scenario is that they escaped the island onboard a rubber dinghy (a RHIB) from Msida marina and onto a ship waiting at sea.
Indeed, Magistrate Mifsud’s book quotes workers at the Msida marina who reported seeing two suspicious people – who were at times joined by a third – loitering around the marina for some three days, to the point that the workers thought that the duo were sizing up a robbery.
The same witnesses told Mifsud that on the day of the assassination, maybe an hour after it took place, they had seen the trio close to Pier N of the marina. When they went somewhere else for a few minutes and returned, they were nowhere to be seen.
It was only when police released an identikit of the two alleged assassins that the workers realised whom they had seen at the marina.
Gordon Thomas’ book Gideon’s Spies theorises that the assassins left Malta towards a ship which had reported mechanical difficulties just outside Malta after leaving Haifa, onboard which was Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit. The ship, identified by Mifsud in his book as possibly being the Emily Borchard, in fact that afternoon reported to Italian marine traffic that its mechanical issues had been solved and that it would be returning to Haifa.
There have been other theories on how the killers escaped, not least one that they escaped on an aircraft to Djerba in Tunisia – with two flights leaving Malta to there on the day of the assassination. Speculation in this regard was reinforced when a Piper Lance with the registration 9H-ABU mysteriously crashed at sea on its way to Tunisia just five weeks later.
No evidence however has come to light supporting this theory.
Shaqaqi's watch amidst his blood-soaked clothes. Photo: Joe Mifsud Archives
It was not immediately clear that the man killed was in fact Shaqaqi. The front page of The Malta Independent on Sunday on 29 October 1995 in fact states that the police still thought that the victim was Libyan businessman Al Shawesh.
However, by then, reports were emerging that Shaqaqi had in fact been the victim: Reuters quoted two unnamed sources who identified Shaqaqi as the man assassinated.
The news was met with grief and anger in Palestine. The Islamic Jihad immediately pinned the assassination on Israel and warned that the assassination made every Zionist a target for them.
The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhik Rabin – who had supposedly ordered Shaqaqi’s assassination – by a Zionist extremist, only six days later, was seen by the Jihad as “the blessing of martyr Fathi Shaqaqi’s blood.”
In Malta meanwhile, a crowd of demonstrators gathered at the Libyan embassy the Monday after the assassination, demanding that Malta arrest the perpetrators or face worsening relations with Arab countries.
It later emerged that the threat to Malta was far more serious than that.
In Terror’s Footprints: Shadows of International Terrorism Magistrate Mifsud details how he met Shaqaqi’s successor, Ramadan Shallah, for an interview in Syria in 1999.
Here, Shallah admitted that it had been agreed that attacks against Malta’s foreign interests would be carried out as a means of retribution for the fact that Shaqaqi had been assassinated on Maltese soil.
These attacks never transpired, but only because Shallah had insisted that their attacks should only take place within Palestine – a principle that the Islamic Jihad movement still follows today.
In terms of the case itself, Maltese police have not officially solved the case, but it is widely agreed that Israel’s Mossad was in fact behind the assassination.
The Islamic Jihad Movement – while weakened by Shaqaqi’s assassination – continued to operate and continued to carry out a number of terror attacks on Israeli targets.
Shallah remained leader until 2018, when he began to suffer from ill health. He died in June this year.
The Islamic Jihad Movement meanwhile is designated as a terrorist organisation by the USA, European Union, Australia, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand but continues to receive significant support from Iran.
Fathi Shaqaqi’s death continues to be commemorated in Palestine every year.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 10:30:00 +0000
Covid-19 cases reach an alarming number at Mater Dei Hospital – MUMN
The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) is "alarmed and seriously preoccupied that the patients in Mater Dei Hospital's ITU are increasing exponentially."
In a statement, the union said that on Sunday morning, 15 Covid positive patients are in the intensive care unit compared to last week where there were only 6 Covid-19 patients.
"Mater Dei Hospital (MDH) management, righty so, increased the staff in the ITU by deploying more nurses from the relieving pool. This implies that with the depletion of nurses from the relief pool, MDH does not have enough nurses to open new areas if the admissions to MDH continue to increase."
"Such depletion of nurses from the relief pool placed MDH management in such a position that no nurses are available to be deployed in areas such as MDH corridors or wards which already have depleted staff and need the support of more nurses. Such areas include those taken from the University of Malta to care for Covid-19 positive patients."
The MUMN said that the number of ITUs at MDH have already increased from two to six.
MUMN is appealing both to the Health Division and the General Public. "The General Public should be aware that if the hospital is overwhelmed with patients, there would be no other option but a lock down, due to the fact that there will be no room for the sick in MDH anymore."
"It would be wise for people to stop mixing and having parties in their private homes or other areas."
"Nobody wants a lockdown, including the nurses and all healthcare workers, but if the hospital is overwhelmed with patients, then all freedom and entertainment would be lost. The number of Covid-19 positive patients are increasing at a very high rate in MDH and the nurses/doctors are doing their utmost to cope with the huge demand that such admissions are bringing about. This is just the tip of the iceberg since winter has not even started and more cases would be expected." The general public should stop having social gathering in their own homes, stop inviting relatives and adhere more rigorously to social distancing and other measures, MUMN said.
MUMN appealed to the Health Division. "With all the boasting that 200 nurses are to be employed soon by the Health Minister, only 5 nurses have been employed in MDH. This is not the time of theatrical tactics as this is literally a life and death situation. The Health Minister is to keep his word and deliver the promised 200 nurses much needed to MDH."
The MUMN expects that the needed 200 foreign nurses be employed immediately, "since MDH nurses are already working under high stress conditions due to a staff shortage."
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 10:04:00 +0000
Opinion: Maltese proudly striving forward - Robert Abela
2020 will be a year that will be long remembered. Whereas in the first two months we were striving forward, in March we faced an unexpected shock. Instead of reacting passively, the Maltese proudly rose to the challenge. Employers did not close shop. Workers supported their employers. Stakeholders came up with rapid and workable solutions.
The war chest accumulated in years past was utilised well. The wage supplement saved half of private sector jobs. The vouchers replaced the spending of thousands of tourists who could not visit. Firms were allowed to defer taxes while Government provided guarantees for hundreds of millions in subsidised loans.
For the last four months, while unemployment continued to rise inexorably in Europe, in Malta a thousand unemployed found work. The number of those on social assistance, which in past recessions had spiked, this time continued to fall. Instead of downgrades, our ratings were stable and international institutions agreed with our economic measures.
Rather than making us rest on our laurels, these results spur us to do even more. Previous assistance stopped the drop. Now we can make up for lost time and strive forward with our vision of a better Malta for all.
This is the underlying philosophy of the Budget. It is the budget of a proud nation, a nation that has withstood its greatest challenge and wants an improved future.
Faced by an international recession, though less challenging than today's, a Nationalist administration had gone back on its word to reduce income tax. We instead increased our tax refunds by a third. In 2009, a Nationalist administration cut public investment by half. We instead will do much more. A decade ago, austerity was seen as a badge of prudence. Today we know austerity is a badge of failure, a failure to believe in the families and businesses of this proud nation.
In the Budget we invested in improving livelihoods. Vouchers, higher children's allowance, increased in-work benefit and improved tax refunds mean that a family on the minimum wage will receive a €880 boost, the equivalent of more than an additional month's worth of wages. For pensioner couples on the minimum pension, the Budget provides a €770 boost, the equivalent of an additional month's worth of income. Those on average wages who are saving for a pension will see a €930 boost.
We reduced burdens for businesses, with an increase in the VAT-exempt threshold that will affect thousands of self-employed, and by modifying the wage supplement so that those most affected get the most support. At the same time, we reaffirmed not only our ongoing investment in the road infrastructure, but also our plan for the largest investment in industrial infrastructure in history.
During the pandemic, many had the time to stop and think about the future. In Government, while busy implementing solutions for immediate challenges, we also took care to develop a new vision to build a better future. A vision based on five principles, summarised in five words: Governance, Quality-Of-Life (QOL), Education, Infrastructure, Environment.
Our republic turns fifty in a few years. We have improved its institutions during recent years, but it is time to make more substantial changes, and raise our governance systems to levels even higher than those of our European partners.
We have doubled the size of the economy in seven years, and reached the EU's average GDP per capita. It is time to shift from GDP to QOL, from economic production to general well-being as the key policy target. Livability, equality and human development will now take centre stage.
To achieve this we need to transform completely our education system, from a system that tries to teach things to one that forms capabilities.
We also deserve an infrastructure that is in line with the prosperity of our nation, an infrastructure that acts as the springboard for more economic progress.
We have to match, and I dare say even surpass, the past boost of investment in productive capacities with an unprecedented amount of investment in our environment. Malta needs to spearhead the European Green Deal.
This is this Government's vision. Maltese proudly striving forward.
Dr Robert Abela is Malta's Prime Minister
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 10:02:00 +0000
Parliament: Of resignations, co-options and other changes
Almost one fifth of the Members of Parliament who started this legislature will not be sitting in the House of Representatives when the last session will be held before parliament is dissolved ahead of the next general election; or else they will be present but under different circumstances than when the House convened the first time on 24 June 2017.
In the last three and a half years, there have been 10 resignations, three changes of party allegiance and one death – a total of 14 of the 67 MPs.
Added to this, for the first time in history both major political parties changed their leader in the same legislature (the Nationalist Party did so twice), meaning that both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader will be taking their party to the next election as leaders for the first time.
Of the nine resignations, four are from the Labour Party and six from the Nationalist Party.
The PN resignations included those which regarded the double change in leadership, which meant that MPs who had legitimately won their seat via popular vote had to give it up to make way for the leader, who needed a co-option to take a seat in the House.
The resignations from the Labour camp included those of a former Prime Minister and deputy leader, both of whom quit in murky circumstances. The resignations from the PN camp included that of the former Opposition Leader.
Helena Dalli was the first to leave Parliament for Labour in this legislature. She had achieved the feat of being elected from two districts in 2017, one of only two women who managed – the other was Marthese Portelli, on the PN side, and even she later resigned.
In 2017, Dalli had been appointed Minister for European Affairs and Equality, but she resigned after she was nominated by the government to become Malta’s European Commissioner, with responsibility for equality. In the Cabinet, she had been replaced by Edward Zammit Lewis; in Parliament, by Jean Claude Micallef.
Chris Cardona was next, but his resignation was not because of a more prestigious appointment. Cardona, it must be remembered, was also deputy leader of the PL. He had first suspended himself when, late in 2019, his name cropped up during investigations into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He denied any involvement or wrongdoing, and was re-instated within a few days. But then he did not make it to the Cabinet of Robert Abela in January, and later mounting pressure led to his resignation from both roles – as an MP, he was replaced by Ian Castaldi Paris; as PL deputy leader, he was succeeded by Daniel Micallef.
The two latest resignations, on Labour’s side, arrived this month.
Joseph Muscat had quit as Prime Minister in January this year, forced to leave in the wake of developments in connection with the Caruana Galizia assassination after his right hand man, Keith Schembri, had been arrested. Earlier this month, he also resigned from Parliament. A dark cloud still hovers above Muscat, who had strenuously defended Schembri, now also under investigation for money-laundering activities. Schembri, together with Konrad Mizzi, had opened companies in Panama; Muscat (and Labour) had vigorously defended both, although in recent weeks it has become clear that various ministers were privately complaining to Muscat that no decisive political action had been taken.
A few days after Muscat’s resignation came that of Etienne Grech, officially for private reasons. Grech was a backbencher.
With no eligible candidate submitting a nomination for a casual election to replace Muscat, and with Grech having been elected via casual election, the PL had to co-opt two new MPs. The party chose MEP Miriam Dalli and OPM chief of staff Clyde Caruana were chosen. They were officially co-opted last Monday.
Soon after the 2017 election, Simon Busuttil quit the PN leadership post and had been replaced by Adrian Delia, who had not contested the election and needed a co-option to find a place in Parliament. It was Jean-Pierre Debono who sacrificed his place. Debono had been elected for the first time and had worked assiduously for Delia. But, in what was possibly the first sign of so much discontent within the parliamentary group for the choice made by the tesserati, no-one else wanted to give up their seat to Delia until Debono stepped up.
Debono's place was taken by Peter Micallef via a casual election, but Micallef resigned on the same day that he took the oath of office, making way for the co-option of Delia.
Simon Busuttil stayed on in the Maltese Parliament for nearly three years until he found the right opportunity to leave. He is now the secretary general of the EPP group in the European Parliament. Busuttil was replaced by David Thake after a tight casual election race against Graziella Galea.
As for Debono, in 2019 he could have returned to Parliament, via co-option, after the resignation of Gozitan MP David Stellini, who returned to a job in the European Parliament. Debono had the support of the party administration to fill the seat vacated by Stellini, but in what was yet another chapter of the internal rift within the PN under Delia’s leadership, the party ultimately chose to co-opt Kevin Cutajar who, like Stellini, had contested on the Gozo electoral district.
The most unexpected resignation from within the PN fold was that of Marthese Portelli, who resigned in February this year and, a month later, was appointed director general of the Malta Developers Association.
She was replaced via casual election by Ivan J. Bartolo, whose adventure in the House of Representatives barely lasted half a year. Bartolo was the one who gave up his seat earlier this month for the co-option of the newly-elected PN leader Bernard Grech, who defeated Delia in a PN leadership election race spurred by a group of rebel MPs.
CHANGE OF PARTY
There have been three official changes of allegiance in the House of Representatives in this term, two out of choice and the other was forced.
Godfrey Farrugia and Marlene Farrugia were both elected in 2017 as representatives of the Partit Demokratiku, which had formed a coalition with the Nationalist Party, known as Forza Nazzjonali. But they immediately distanced themselves from the PN as soon as Busuttil resigned and was replaced by Delia.
The two, it must be remembered, had been elected on behalf of the Labour Party in 2013, with Godfrey Farrugia also serving as a minister and later as a whip. But they had broken ranks from the PL before the 2017 election – Marlene in 2015 and Godfrey just before the 2017 vote. Marlene had formed the PD, which Godfrey later joined, and both had temporarily served as PD leaders. But in 2019 they together announced their resignation from the PD, and since then have continued to serve as independent MPs, saying they have no interest to contest the next election.
For some years, and until he had the protection of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi had been viewed as a “star” by Labour. In spite of the Panama Papers scandal, he had remained a minister in 2016 and was re-appointed a minister after the 2017 election. Mizzi resigned as Tourism Minister in November 2019, on the same day that Keith Schembri had quit as OPM chief of staff after the latter’s arrest. After Muscat was replaced by Abela, Mizzi’s star quickly faded and in June of this year, matters had changed so drastically that he was kicked out of Labour’s parliamentary group. He now serves as an independent MP, although he pledged allegiance to the Labour government.
Nationalist Party long-serving Gozitan politician Frederick Azzopardi passed away on 17 October. He is still to be replaced in Parliament.
The resignations of Simon Busuttil and Joseph Muscat mean that the two major parties will both be facing the next election with a new leader. In Labour’s case, it will be Robert Abela and, in the PN’s case, it will be Bernard Grech, who took over from Adrian Delia earlier this month after Delia had replaced Busuttil in 2017.
It is the first time ever that both major parties changed their leader in the same legislature (in the PN’s case, it happened twice).
Between 1951 and 1976, the leaders were Dom Mintoff (Labour) and George Borg Olivier (PN). In came Eddie Fenech Adami for his first election as PN leader in 1981. Mintoff was still PL leader in 1981, with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici taking over Labour’s leadership for the first election in 1987, and was beaten again by Fenech Adami in 1992.
Alfred Sant was elected PL leader in 1992, and there followed three elections between Sant and Fenech Adami (1996, 1998 and 2003). Lawrence Gonzi led the PN in an election for the first time in 2008; against Sant, who was then replaced by Joseph Muscat for the 2013 election. Muscat then had newcomer Simon Busuttil as his challenger for the 2017 election.
PL – Joseph Muscat, Chris Cardona, Helena Dalli, Etienne Grech
PN – Simon Busuttil, Jean Pierre Debono, Marthese Portelli, Ivan J. Bartolo, David Stellini, Peter Micallef
Change from party to independent MP
Konrad Mizzi, Marlene Farrugia, Godfrey Farrugia
Frederick Azzopardi (PN)
Party leaders at election time
2022 – Robert Abela (new) – Bernard Grech (new)
2017 – Joseph Muscat (old) – Simon Busuttil (new)
2013 – Joseph Muscat (new) – Lawrence Gonzi (old)
2008 – Alfred Sant (old) – Lawrence Gonzi (new)
2003 – Alfred Sant (old) – Eddie Fenech Adami (old)
1998 – Alfred Sant (old) – Eddie Fenech Adami (old)
1996 – Alfred Sant (new) – Eddie Fenech Adami (old)
1992 – Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici (old) – Eddie Fenech Adami (old)
1987 – Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici (new) – Eddie Fenech Adami (old)
1981 – Dom Mintoff (old) – Eddie Fenech Adami (new)
1976 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (old)
1971 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (old)
1966 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (old)
1962 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (old)
1955 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (old)
1953 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (old)
1951 – Dom Mintoff (old) – George Borg Olivier (new)
1950 – Dom Mintoff (new) – Nerik Mizzi (old)
1947 – Paul Boffa (old) – Nerik Mizzi (old)
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 09:45:00 +0000
Updated: Two elderly men die of Covid-19, total reaches 52
Two elderly men became the latest victims of Covid-19, the health ministry said.
An 82-year-old man has passed away with Covid-19, the Health Ministry said in a statement onm Sunday morning
The man was taken to Mater Dei Hospital on 30 September, and he tested negative. Due to having Covid-19 symptoms, he was againt ested after passing away and found positive.
"The man suffered from other chronic conditions." The health ministry expressed its condolences and urged everyone to follow the Covid-19 guidelines.
On Sunday afternoon, the ministry issued a second statement about a 75-year-old man who also died.
The man tested positive on 23 October and today was admitted to Mater Dei Hospital, where he died some time later.
The number of people who have died of Covid-19 in Malta is now 52 - 19 women and 33 men.
All deaths related to Covid-19 so far
- Wednesday 8 April - Woman, 92, Gozo General Hospital
- Thursday 9 April - Man, 79, Karin Grech Hospital
- Saturday 11 April - Man, 84, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 25 April - Woman, 96, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 5 May - Man, 81, Karin Grech Hospital
- Wednesday 13 May - Man, 53, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 27 May - Man, 97, Karin Grech Hospital
- Friday 29 May - Man, 56, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday 29 May - Man, 68, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday 21 August - Man, 72, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 29 August - Woman, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Sunday 30 August - Man, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 1 September - Man, 89, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 5 September - Man, 85, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 10 September - Man, 80, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday 14 September - Woman, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 17 September - Woman, 91, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 19 September - Woman, 71, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 19 September - Woman, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 19 September - Man, 85, Mater Dei Hospital
- Sunday 20 September - Man, 86, St Joseph Home
- Monday, 21 September - Man, 98 Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday, 21 September - Man, 83, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 22 September - Man, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 23 September - Man, 84, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday, 24 September - Man, 91, old people's home
- Thursday, 24 September - Woman, 73, old people's home
- Thursday, 24 September - Woman, 78, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 25 September - Man, 90, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 25 September - Woman, 94, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday, 26 September - Woman, 92, elderly people's home
- Sunday, 27 September - Woman, 91, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday, 28 September - Woman, 82, elderly people's home
- Monday, 28 September - Woman, 79, elderly people's home
- Wednesday, 30 September - Man, 85, St Thomas Hospital
- Thursday, 1 October - Man, 90, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 2 October - Man, 78, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 2 October - Woman, 69, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday, 3 October - Man, 70, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday 5 October - Woman, 90, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 7 October - Woman, 96, Mater Dei Hospital
- Sunday 11 October - Man, 67, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday 12 October - Man, 67, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 13 October - Man, 71, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 14 October - Man, 59, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 20 October - Woman, 72, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 21 October - Man, 68 Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 22 October - Women, 72, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 22 October - Man, 82, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 24 October - man, 77, Elderly home
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 09:02:00 +0000
COVID-19 cases expected to increase in winter – Health Minister
Health Minister Chris Fearne painted a bleak picture as Malta battles against the Coronavirus pandemic, saying that the number of cases is expected to rise even further in the next few months.
Malta has seen an exponential increase in the past weeks, with cases climbing beyond 5,000 while active cases continue to shoot up, reaching more than 1,700 when, in mid-July, they had been whittled down to just three.
Interviewed by The Malta Independent, Fearne insists that the situation is still under control, saying that it was predicted in early summer that there would have been an increase once the warmer months are over.
“The best weapon we had against this virus was social distancing, so we have to keep avoiding crowds. We also have strengthened our measures at the airport as well to reduce risks of imported cases without having to close the airport.
"We did all that needed to be done. The limiting factor is our doctors and nurses. Malta's human resources are what they are, and we are trying to use them as effectively as we can while training staff from other wards so that they can help if needed."
In the past few weeks, Malta has experienced record numbers of new COVID-19 cases, but we keep hearing that the situation is under control. Do you still think that it is under control considering the spike in cases?
“Yes, it is under control,” Health Minister Chris Fearne said.
He pointed out that the authorities are seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Europe, and the entire northern hemisphere where winter is coming in and they are expecting that numbers in November will be higher and even more so in December and January.
“During the summer months, we had already predicted that numbers will start to increase again come September, it just happens that the EU started seeing a rise from August instead. However, we expected that cases increase during the winter as it is easier for any virus, including the flu, to spread since people start meeting more in closed spaces. Malta's weather is yet to switch completely, which is why we are foreseeing higher number soon.”
However, he said that, while they know that the situation will get worse, they also know that something can be done about it by following the measures implemented throughout the pandemic.
“The best weapon we had against this virus was social distancing, so we have to keep avoiding crowds. We also have strengthened our measures at the airport as well to reduce risks of imported cases without having to close the airport.”
Fearne also mentioned the importance of recent developments on the use of masks and urged people to not try to find loopholes when using them in public following the recent regulation which made the use of masks mandatory. “Even I found it difficult at first to carry a mask everywhere, but I believe that this is something that people will get used to.”
He added that, from the government's side, the focus has been on ensuring that Malta's health system can keep up with the number of cases that might need to be hospitalised because of COVID-19.
"We did all that needed to be done. The limiting factor is our doctors and nurses. Malta's human resources are what they are, and we are trying to use them as effectively as we can while training staff from other wards so that they can help if needed."
He reiterated that the situation is under control because Malta is in a position to provide all the help that the country may need in relation to health issues, even if it has to come at the cost of some other services.
"Malta has had a lot of success during this crisis compared to other countries. If we look at mortality rates, Malta has one of the best rates in the world, let alone the EU," Fearne added. Addressing the recent EU report showing that Malta had the highest mortality rate in the EU, he said; “since we are a small population, when we experience even a few deaths in a week, statistics will still rank us high in mortality rate."
He emphasised how well Malta is doing by referring to Worldometer statistics which show that Malta is at the bottom of the list of total COVID-19 deaths among countries in EU regions having a 0.94% while Italy, which is first on the list, stands at 8.45%.
As the Health Minister had done during the Easter period back in April, he called for caution for the upcoming Christmas season by limiting gatherings or parties to just people living in the same household.
When we see a spike in cases, usually it is attributed to certain clusters like the mass events or elderly homes spikes. However, this doesn't seem to be the case now. Which are the most problematic areas at the moment?
Fearne confirmed that there are no clusters at the moment and noted that when the virus spreads in the community, the most common areas where the virus is transmitted is among families, as a person brings the virus home and infects the household, or at workplaces.
He said that while family clusters cannot be controlled, the government has implemented the mandatory use of masks and social distancing measures in workplaces while encouraging the use of virtual meetings.
Over the past weeks, we have seen younger individuals being admitted to hospital because of COVID-19. Could this be an indication that the virus has evolved and become stronger?
“There is no evidence which indicates that this is the case. As I said previously, winter will bring about an increase in cases which, in turn, will result in an increase in the number of individuals who need to be hospitalised,” he said. Nonetheless, the percentage of people under the age of 60 being admitted to hospital is still minute.
“What we have at our advantage is that we know of every positive case that comes up due to the vigorous testing we are doing. In fact, statistics from the European Surveillance System (TESSy) and country-based statistics, show that Malta has one of the highest testing rates in the EU, second only by Luxembourg.”
This rate is expected to increase with the introduction of rapid testing in the coming days.
Furthermore, Fearne revealed that the government is currently in the process of adding two new hubs, the location of which is yet to be announced.
“Obviously, the more we test, the higher the number of new cases, but this is the most effective way of keeping track of the virus in the community.”
Recently, the government announced that bars and clubs have to be closed by 11pm. What impact can this measure have realistically considering there will still be people congregating?
Fearne explained that this measure was suggested by the Superintendence of Public Health and the police force who reported that despite bars having to operate in the same way restaurants do, the situation becomes difficult to control later in the night.
“The later it gets, especially after 10:30pm, people start getting rowdy and mingling with other tables as they start to drink more which is difficult to keep up with. For this reason, we implemented the curfew for 11pm which has been helping our enforcers control the situation better already.”
Seemingly, there are situations where schools discover positive cases from a third party as some parents do not inform them about it immediately. Do you consider introducing disciplinary action in this regard?
“Contact tracing takes place regardless of whether or not parents inform the school,” Fearne assured.
He explained that there is a specified system for schools, separate from the contact tracing system for the general public, which informs schools about any positive cases that may arise in their institution.
“We have to be cautious and not cause alarm by posting such things on Facebook or spreading news which may not be true at all. This kind of false contact tracing can cause more harm than good.”
In Parliament, you said that if everything goes as planned, we will have the vaccine by next January. How optimistic are you that this will happen?
The Health Minister said that this depends on the results of the ongoing tests which should prove that the vaccine is not only efficient but also safe to administer, as is taking place in a number of health institutions around the world.
He explained that usually small countries like Malta suffer in a situation when there is a product in high demand and with limited supply as usually larger countries are first on the list. However, the Maltese government has been communicating with larger countries since February and later extended the call for the whole of EU so that when the Union gets the vaccine it has enough to cater to all member states.
“We have three arrangements with AstraZeneca plc, Sanofi u Janssen from Johnson and Johnson, and, yes, we have enough of the vaccine booked for all of the country. We will first prioritise vulnerable people with the first batch and in around six months the authorities will have enough vaccines for the whole population.”
A lot of people are hoping that the vaccine will take life back to normality. Is this true or will certain measures like social distancing still be recommended?
Fearne alluded to the fact that COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that the world experienced and these viruses, apart from smallpox which is eradicated, are still around but in a very limited manner. Additionally, since most people have had a shot for them, the population is resistance to it.
“If the vaccine works and the resistance for COVID-19 lasts for a long time, the same will happen with this pandemic; the virus will stay and become a part of our lives but it will infect smaller pools of people and gradually decrease its presence.”
Do you think that because of COVID-19 we will have more flu-related infections and deaths?
“Actually, the opposite is happening,” the Health Minister pointed out.
He explained that the measures that were implemented for COVID-19 help keep the flu at bay as well; a phenomenon that has been reported in Australia and also Italy.
“Thus, maintaining the measures we have now can not only help us with the pandemic but also with other viruses.”
At the start of the pandemic in Malta, a tender for a temporary hospital was issued but was later halted when cases diminished. If cases keep increasing like you said, do you think that this was a rash decision?
“No, when we opened a tender for this hospital, we had a lack of resources like ventilators and we started seeing where we could get more. Having the infrastructure is not enough, it must be fully equipped,” he said.
He went on to say that, all the things Malta needed have been bought and delivered, the only limiting factor now is not beds or apparatus, it is human resources who need to care for the patients.
“We have also launched a tender for a pandemic reserve so that even when the pandemic blows over, we will have a reserve of equipment that will keep us prepared for any other similar situation without having to sacrifice other services for it.”
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 09:00:00 +0000
Company funded by 17 Black was introduced as ‘sole agent’ of Montenegro project - report
A company funded by 17 Black was introduced as the 'sole agent' of the Montenegro wind farm project by a Chinese negotiator, the Times of Malta reports.
Cheng Cheng, who had been implicated in the Panama Papers, had given the presentation regarding the project to the Enemalta Board in 2014.
Cheng, the newspaper report reads, described a company called Cifidex as the sole agent for the project. This was a year before the company bought the shares from the original concessionaire of the Montenegro project. The board approved the project in principle that day, the report adds.
Cifidex entered into a promise of sale agreement with the original concessionaire - Fersa - two months later in February 2015, for €2.9 million.
The report read that Cifidex was secretly funded by 17 Black - Yorgen Fenech's company.
Cifidex then sold the same shares for €10.3 million to Enemalta, and Cifidex then reportedly sent €7.8 million to 17 Black by May 2016.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 08:53:00 +0000
Clyde Caruana says he will stay on as PM’s Head of Secretariat
Clyde Caruana will remain Prime Minister Robert Abela's Head of Secretariat despite being co-opted to Parliament, he told The Malta Independent on Sunday in an interview.
Caruana is one of two new PL MPs who were co-opted to Parliament this past week, after former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Etienne Grech resigned as MPs. Miriam Dalli was the other.
He denied that occupying such a post while also being an MP is a conflict of interest. Asked whether he would feel the need to hold back from criticising the government, given the position he holds, he said that constructive criticism is part of his job.
Caruana, an economist, was previously the head of JobsPlus. Back in January 2019, Caruana was reported to have said that Malta would need another 13,000 foreigners that year to maintain its economic growth. The issue of Malta’s growing population was, at the time, a point of contention between Malta’s political parties, with the PN arguing that the government was basing Malta’s economic growth on a strategy of population increase.
Caruana was asked whether Malta will be as reliant on foreign workers come March or even November next year given the Covid-19 situation.
“As a result of the reduction in economic activity, we have seen that the absolute number of foreign workers has gone down when compared to pre-Covid-19.”
“In terms of whether we would need any foreign workers, the answer right now is, of course, no, and actually they are going back to their home countries,” he said.
Caruana said that employers, once economic growth starts, will try to increase the productivity of their workers. “Once that is exhausted, it is only thereafter that, if needs be, they will start to employ additional employees. If the talent is not here, then they will again resort to hiring foreign workers.”
Speculation has also been rife that this was Edward Scicluna’s last budget as finance minister, and that Caruana might replace him. Asked about this however, Caruana neither confirmed nor denied it. “Cabinet reshuffles are the prerogative of the Prime Minister,” he said.
As an MP, what areas would you like to focus on?
My area of expertise has always been in the area of economics and the labour market. There is where I can give my 100% output.
Having a background in economics it’s a very interesting time for you as the budget was just revealed. There has been some criticism that the budget did not look far enough into the future. What's your opinion?
I beg to differ for the simple reason that there is one particular measure that speaks volumes.
This government has the credentials when it comes to economic growth. Since 2013, bar this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the average growth rate for the country was around 6% in real terms.
The measure I am referring to is the fact that government is going to, over a period of seven to eight years, allocate the sum of around €450 million for the upgrading, refurbishing and creation of new industrial zones, where we can have enough space to accommodate new economic activity.
I don't think there has been such a large monetary commitment before, to create all that space for new economic activity. If we are going to allocate those funds it would mean that projects will start to flow as time passes.
You're still serving as Prime Minister Robert Abela's Head of Secretariat correct?
Will you be stepping down from that role now that you are an MP or will you be staying on?
No, I will still hold my position.
Do you see any potential conflict of interest?
No. In the previous administration there was someone (Alex Muscat) who was an MP and was also the Prime Minister's Deputy Chief of Staff.
There were some issues raised in the past by The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life regarding MPs being able to speak out openly if they are employed with the government.
Only if, for example, you are a member or chairperson of a board. In fact, prior to being sworn in as an MP, I had resigned my position as chairperson of JobsPlus.
But you're the Head of Secretariat for the Prime Minister...
From here I do not have direct influence on government's policy. I work in the Office of the Prime Minister, so my position is purely political, rather than as a public servant. My position here is that of a person of trust. I am politically appointed rather than holding office as a chairperson of an entity or any particular civil servant post.
So if it came to a point where you need to criticise the government you wouldn't feel the need to hold back because of your position?
To be quite honest, constructive criticism is part of my daily job. For the simple reason that, if we want the government to remain strong and keep in touch with the general public, that is something that I have to do on a daily basis. Among my colleagues I am well known for not being a person who says yes to everything, but rather I tend to give my input. I have always been like that and will remain like that.
There has been a lot of talk about Malta's war chest to combat Covid-19. There is concern as to how much support the government can continue to provide to the economy in the current situation. Given the latest batch of measures was just announced, are we now reaching the point where, if no real solution is found by March Malta will be in trouble?
No. We still have significant room where we can manoeuvre. We can still exercise leverage if we need to introduce new measures.
The reason is simple, the debt-to-GDP ratio - that is the size of the government's debt in relation to the country's GDP. This year we will close with a figure of around 54% and next year it will reach 59%.
Where does this leave us? If we had to compare our burden relative to that of Italy, France, the UK and Spain - those countries are all north of 110%. So of course the amount of debt and the burden these countries will carry will be significant and they will have no other option except to increase taxation or cut expenditure. It might not happen now, but they will need to do it in the foreseeable future as it is very difficult to carry that burden and it will suffocate public finances.
With respect to Malta, the burden is still low relative to GDP. When the PL was elected to government in 2013, the debt to GDP figure was around 70%, which was even higher than what we are going to have by the end of next year. Simply put, even by just comparing the ratios, we still have significant room to manoeuvre, both by domestic standards and even relative to other Eurozone countries.
The wage supplement in itself takes up a substantial amount of funds...
But it would be more negative for the economy if the government had to pull the plug now, rather than stop the haemorrhage and keep the patient alive until the patient can get better. If we pull the plug now we risk losing the patient. We are quite confident that the patient can survive and as such it makes economic sense to keep injecting the funds, given that it is possible, until there is a vaccine and the economy can start to recover.
One of the contributors to the Maltese economy was the IIP scheme. The EU Commission has now put the scheme under the microscope. If the Commission were to clamp down on the incoming IIP replacement scheme and say Malta cannot implement it, what economic impact would this have?
Firstly, the government will try to persuade the Commission by putting forward all the relevant arguments to support our position in favour of the new programme. The old IIP programme has been closed and there is now going to be a new one with different rules and terms.
Secondly, it is true that the IIP proceeds used to contribute to the public purse. But having said that, the public purse did not rely on those funds. So while the contribution was positive, as it added additional funds, under no circumstances did public finances depend solely on the scheme, nor are they at some kind of risk if those proceeds no longer come into the public coffers.
So while it is nice to have additional revenue, under no circumstances will there be a meltdown of public finances if that revenue is jeopardized.
The EY Attractiveness Survey showed that Malta's attractiveness to foreign investors has declined - in 2019, 77% said Malta was attractive, in 2020 62% said Malta is attractive - and this was partly attributed to Malta's damaged international reputation. It also showed that companies were concerned about the Moneyval report. What is your opinion on this and how do you think the government should work to tackle this issue?
This is something one would expect. That is why over the past nine months the government has been busy addressing the Venice Commission's concerns as well as those of GRECO and Moneyval. This work has still not concluded and we still have work to do with respect to Moneyval. Eventually the outcome will be made public next year.
I am confident that at the end of the day, the international community and even the local business community will see all the developments made in a positive way, as a substantial amount of legislation has been produced. A lot of work has been done, there is still more to do and I am sure that the government will continue to do whatever it takes so that, one year from now, that percentage would hopefully rise.
The Moneyval report and the damage to the country’s reputation were caused by events under the previous administration, under Joseph Muscat. There were corruption allegations, scandals etc. How do you think the government should act now to avoid such situations in the future?
The Prime Minister made it quite clear, since January, that the government will do its best to right all the wrongs and to strengthen the institutions. The amount of hours the Prime Minister has dedicated to ensure that the required reforms make it to Parliament was commendable. I am sure that the Prime Minister is committed to ensuring that the country's reputation among EU member states is what it has to be.
Do you personally believe Malta will pass the Moneyval test?
We will do whatever it takes to ensure that we will pass.
When you were head of JobsPlus, the country's economic situation was different and the government at the time focused on the requirement of having a certain number of foreign workers employed in the country each year. Do you think that it was right to take the economy down that path or should a different path have been taken and secondly, given the Covid-19 situation, will things change? Will Malta be as reliant on foreign workers come March or even November next year?
In terms of requiring more foreign workers, as a result of the reduction in economic activity, this year we have seen that the absolute number of foreign workers has gone down when compared to pre-Covid-19. In March 2020 there were 71,224 foreign nationals (including EU citizens) living in Malta, which dropped to 69,383 in September.
One would expect this given that the economy is going to register a decline of around 7%. It stands to reason that the demand for labour will not be what it was.
As a result, employers are not renewing permits for foreign workers, hence they are returning to their countries of origin.
Tying this in to the first part of your question, foreign workers were and are required in the absence of Maltese workers. Now that the economy is no longer growing because of Covid-19, then of course employers are adjusting.
I recall the reports being published last March, that unemployment will hit 20,000 or more. Those figures did not materialise for the obvious reason that employers would do their utmost to retain native employees, as native employees are here to stay.
On the other hand, if there is no longer a demand for the services rendered by a non-EU worker, the employer has every right not to renew the work permit.
Looking at unemployment abroad, it is increasing at a gradual pace, but here in Malta it increased but is now going down. Looking at the increase in unemployment among Maltese citizens, the figure is now less than 1,000.
In terms of whether we would need any foreign workers, the answer right now is, of course, no, and actually they are going back to their home countries.
In terms of forecasting, employers first, once economic growth will start, will try to increase the productivity of their workers. Once that is exhausted, it is only thereafter that if needs be they will start to employ additional people. If the talent is not here, then they will again resort to hiring foreign workers.
There's a lot of speculation that this was Edward Scicluna's last budget as Finance Minister and that you might replace him. Can you confirm this? Have you heard anything to that effect?
Cabinet reshuffles are the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
If you were to be given a ministry, what ministry would you like to have?
Cabinet reshuffles are the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 08:15:00 +0000
Malta’s Covid-19 reproduction number now stands at 1.54 – Vincent Marmara
Amidst a record spike in cases, Malta’s Covid-19 reproduction number has increased to 1.54 in the past week, statistician Vincent Marmara told The Malta Independent on Sunday in his exclusive weekly video blog on the Covid-19 situation in Malta.
The reproduction factor of the virus is one of the key figures which countries across the world have been trying to reduce ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began. The aim for countries has been to reduce the ratio to a level of 1 – which would mean that one person would transmit the virus to one other person.
The reproduction number is based on a variety of factors, such as the source of new cases – for instance, whether they are imported or whether they are part of particular clusters – and the amount of testing being carried out.
Marmara explained that the r-factor has increased again after a record-high of 976 cases of Covid-19 was found in the past week.
This is a significant increase on the 701 cases reported last week, and the 442 cases reported the week prior.
The number of positive cases when compared to the number of tests has also increased to record heights, now standing at 5.1% when compared to 4.1% last week.
It is the week in the whole pandemic where the highest percentage of tests returned a positive result.
The above calculations do not include the 115 cases from a record high 3,114 tests which were reported on Saturday.
Delving into some details about the situation overseas, Marmara said that Spain has reported a major increase in cases compared with the past weeks. The situation is the same in the UK, with the daily number of cases now dwarfing the in the first wave.
The story is similar in Italy and France as well, with the first waves of their pandemic now looking negligible in comparison.
In the United States – which has seen sustained transmission for months – a record number of cases are being found daily as well.
Marmara said that the numbers make it clear that pandemic is growing in a number of countries abroad too.
He said that everyone must do their part in order to stem the pandemic, through measures as stipulated by health authorities – such as social distancing and the use of masks.
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 07:30:00 +0000
Pharmacies opening today between 9am and noon
Valletta: Royal Pharmacy, 271, Republic Street; Ħamrun: St Gaetan Pharmacy, Kappillan Mifsud Street; Santa Venera: Collis Williams St Venera Pharmacy, 532, St Joseph High Road; Swatar: Collis Williams − St Mark's Pharmacy, P. Borg Olivier Street c/w Gianni Vella Street; Msida: Deby's Pharmacy, 1, Misraħ il-Barrieri; St Julian's: St Julian's Pharmacy, 24, G. Borg Olivier Street; Sliema: Wales Pharmacy, 183, Manoel Dimech Street; Iklin: Il-Mehrież Pharmacy, 31, Giovani Curmi Street; Mosta: Tat-Tarġa Pharmacy, Plot 2, Constitution Street; Mellieħa: Remedies Pharmacy, 111, George Borg Olivier Street; Tarxien: Tarxien Pharmacy, 59, Tarxien Road; Vittoriosa: Milia's Pharmacy, Cottonera Road; Fgura: Hompesch Pharmacy, 207/2011, Hompesch Road; Birżebbuġa: Blossoms Pharmacy, Gurgier Street; Safi: Safi Pharmacy, St John Street c/w Bieb il-Ġarra Street; Siġġiewi: Remedies Pharmacy, Peter Pan, Nikola Zammit Street; Rabat: Nova Pharmacy, 142, College Street; Malta International Airport: The ‘8 Till Late Pharmacy’ is open every day from 8am to 10pm
Gozo: 9am to noon
Victoria: Abela Pharmacy, 42, G. P. F. Agius De Soldanis Street; Kerċem: Sokkors Pharmacy, St Gregory Street
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 07:01:00 +0000
Europe, US watch virus case totals grow, debate new restrictions
Confirmed coronavirus infections continued to soar Saturday in many parts of the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, so did anger over the restrictions governments put in place to try to stem the tide.
Oklahoma, Illinois, New Mexico and Michigan were among states announcing new record highs in daily confirmed cases Saturday, a day after a nationwide daily record of more than 83,000 reported infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it’s “now more important than ever that people take this seriously.” The 3,338 new COVID-19 cases in her state topped the old record by more than 1,300.
German authorities reported a record one-day total of new coronavirus cases this weekend while leaders in Spain and Italy debated how to control the resurgent virus amid public pushback to curfews despite a global death toll topping 1.1 million people.
In Italy, officials huddled with regional authorities on Saturday to determine what new restrictions could be imposed as confirmed cases surpassed half a million.
Premier Giuseppe Conte has said he doesn’t want to put Italy under severe lockdown again, as he did at the pandemic’s start. In past days, several governors ordered overnight curfews in their regions to stop people from congregating at night outside bars and other venues.
One such curfew fueled anger in Naples, triggering a violent clash by protesters with police. Italian media said protesters hurled rocks, pieces of broken ceramic tiles and smoke bombs at police while they battled back with tear gas. Elsewhere in Europe, police in Warsaw, Poland, used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters angry over new virus restrictions, and anti-lockdown demonstrators gathered in London's Trafalgar Square.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Saturday branded the Naples protests “unacceptable” and said prosecutors were investigating.
According to Health Ministry figures, Italy’s one-day new caseload of confirmed infections crept closer to 20,000 on Saturday, a slightly bigger daily increase than Friday. The nation’s confirmed death toll, second-highest in Europe after Britain’s, rose to 37,210 after 151 more deaths.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez plans to meet with his Cabinet Sunday morning in Madrid to prepare a new state of emergency, a strategy used twice since the start of the pandemic.
The first in March ordered strict home confinement across the nation, closed stores, and recruited private industry for the national public health fight. The second went into effect two weeks ago, focused on transit limits in the Madrid area.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens again to reduce their number of social contacts as the nation recorded a new daily high for infections.
The 14,714 cases reported on Saturday includes cases from both Friday and Thursday because of a three-hour data outage at the country’s disease control agency Thursday. Forty-nine more people died, bringing the overall death toll past 10,000.
The chancellor said in her weekly podcast “if we all obey (to social distancing) we will all together survive this enormous challenge posed by the virus.”
Other European countries have tightened restrictions hoping to cope with their own rising case counts.
Slovenia closed down hotels, shopping malls and other non-essential shops as authorities reported a record high of both new daily infections and deaths in the small country of 2 million people. Greece unveiled a mask requirement and a mandatory nightly curfew for Athens and other areas deemed high risk.
In South America, Colombia became the eight country to reach 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, according to the Colombian Ministry of Health. Two of the others are also in Latin America: Argentina, which hit that mark on Monday, and Brazil, which has more than 5 million confirmed cases.
In the U.S., the virus has claimed about 240,000 lives, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard published by Johns Hopkins. The total U.S. caseload reported Friday was 83,757, topping the 77,362 cases reported on July 16.
Many rural communities are bearing the brunt. In Columbia, Tennessee, Maury Regional Medical Center said Friday it was suspending elective surgical procedures that require an overnight stay for two weeks, beginning on Monday. The Daily Herald reported that it was treating 50 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of whom were in the medical center’s 26-bed intensive care unit.
Martin Chaney, Maury Regional’s chief medical officer, said small home gatherings have become the emerging threat through which the disease is being spread in the six-county region the medical center covers.
“In our homes, we all let our guard down,” Chaney said. “You think it is safe to not socially distance, and you take your masks off. That is spreading the disease very rapidly.”
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 06:59:00 +0000
Watch: Police officer saves girl who was choking
A police constable saved a girl who was choking on her food, the police said today.
The accident took place on Friday at 7.30pm in St Publius Street, Rabat.
The officer, Andrew Caruana, was doing the rounds when he heard a commotion in a private residence.
He knocked on the door and identified himself upon entering, finding a two-year-old girl who was choking.
He assisted the child until she spat out a piece of meat.
The two-year-old appeared to have immediately recovered but was taken to a doctor as a precaution.
Officer Caruana was later informed by the girl’s family that she was well, thanking him for his intervention which saved her life.
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 17:15:00 +0100
Eritrean arrested over €15,000 worth of damage to bus stops
An Eritrean man was arrested early on Saturday morning over the alleged vandalism of a number of bus stops across the island.
Police said that they were informed at 1:45am on Saturday that a man was destroying the bus stop on Triq Dun Karm in Birkirkara.
District police on site did not find anyone there, but found the glass at the bus stop broken. A search was mounted and soon after a man who fit the description given of the alleged vandal was spotted.
The man was stopped and when police spoke to him, they noticed that he had blood on his trousers. Police searched the man’s bag and found a long piece of metal and pieces of glass.
The man, who is 31 years old, was arrested and is being held at the police’s lock-up in Floriana.
Further investigations by the police’s major crimes unit found that the man had allegedly vandalised another 13 bus stops, some more than once, around Malta in the last month.
Bus stops in Marsa, Luqa, Marsaskala, Hamrun, Lija, St. Paul’s Bay, Burmarrad, Cirkewwa, and Mellieha were damaged, at a cost of over €15,000.
Police investigations are ongoing.
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 16:03:00 +0100
115 new Covid-19 registered, active cases now reach 1,845
The number of new Covid-19 cases registered on Saturday was 115, with the total number of active cases shooting up to 1,845, health authorities said.
There were 39 patients who recovered.
Malta has had a total of 5,373 cases since 7 March, with 50 deaths. There were 3,474 people who recovered.
It is the 11th day in a row that more than 100 cases were recorded.
The health authorities did not give details on today's cases.
From those registered yesterday, 43 were family members of previously known cases, 12 were work colleagues, four direct contacts with positive cases, one from social gatherings, three from Paceville and four were imported.
The number of swab tests in the last 24 hours was 3,144, a record, for a total of 314,619.
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 12:38:00 +0100
Budget 2021: Supplement out with The Malta Independent on Sunday
A Budget supplement will be published tomorrow together with The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Apart from a synopsis of the key measured it also includes various opinion pieces analyzing them. Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries explain in detail the ones falling within their portfolio. Economists and stakeholders also pitch in.
Make sure you pick up your Budget 2021 supplement this Sunday with The Malta Independent on Sunday!
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 11:14:00 +0100
Updated: Bar curfew moves crowds to St George’s Bay; crowd dispersed soon after, minister says
The newly implemented bar curfew seems to have had the effect of moving crowds to public areas such as St. George’s Bay in St. Julian’s.
Pictures uploaded on social media and shared extensively show significant crowding on the beach on Friday night, which is right next to entertainment hotspot Paceville.
Bars must shut their doors at 11pm under new restrictions announced last week in an effort to curb the high number of Covid-19 cases which Malta has been experiencing in the past weeks.
Malta currently has a record high 1,770 active cases of Covid-19.
The pictures show a beach crowded with revellers – with very few wearing face-masks, and even fewer wearing them correctly.
This too is against the law, after a legal notice was implemented last week stipulating that face masks must be worn at all times outside.
The images sparked anger across social media, with many lamenting the selfishness of those gathered and the lack of enforcement to not disperse the crowd.
St. Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg himself wrote that it is “an insult to all our elderly people locked inside, to parents who are doing their utmost to protect their children and to students /workers who have to wear face masks all day!”
He lambasted those gathered as selfish and irresponsible.
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri posted later in the morning that he was angered to the death by the crowds which gathered at St. George's Bay.
He said that he was informed that the police dispersed the crowd in little time afterwards.
He added that yesterday hundreds of inspections were carried out around the country, and many fines were handed out for Covid-19 related reasons.
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 10:13:00 +0100
Malta’s strategy for carbon neutrality to be finalised in coming weeks, Environment Minister says
Malta’s strategy for carbon neutrality – which the country wants to reach by 2050 – will be finalised in the coming weeks, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia told ministers in Luxembourg on Friday.
During the Environment Council of Ministers in Luxembourg, the Minister said that the government’s efforts to ensure that Malta’s power generation is LNG-based means that today, our country is already low-carbon: a leap that other member states have not yet made.
In fact, Malta is the lowest emitter per capita in the European Union, the minister said.
The Minister explained that Malta’s potential to reduce further is comparatively more difficult than in other member states due to the specificities of being an island member state.
Being blessed with sunshine and pristine seas, Malta has no chance of hydro-electric power and further opportunities for renewable energy, whether solar or wind, are also limited by the country’s small size, extensive protected land and marine areas and deep surrounding sea, Farrugia said.
He stressed that it is essential for Malta to reach neutrality in a just way, while taking into consideration all socio-economic repercussions, as competitiveness for an island member state in the Mediterranean is key to safeguarding jobs and growth.
“Our calculations show that it will be challenging but we will stay the course. We are committed to climate action, and recognise the need for the EU to show drive towards climate mitigation where our combined collective efforts must set the pace for the rest. It is precisely in this conviction that, despite its unique circumstances and disproportionate marginal mitigation costs, Malta has embraced carbon neutrality,” he said.
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 09:42:00 +0100
Covid-19 death count reaches 50 as elderly man passes away with virus
An elderly man has become the 50th person in Malta to die with Covid-19.
In a statement, the Health Ministry said that the 77-year-old man passed away on Friday while positive for Covid-19.
The man tested positive for the virus on 13 October, and was receiving treatment at the home for the elderly where he lived.
The Ministry said that the man suffered from another chronic illness.
The Ministry expressed its condolences and said people should follow directives issued by the health authorities.
All deaths related to Covid-19 so far
- Wednesday 8 April – Woman, 92, Gozo General Hospital
- Thursday 9 April – Man, 79, Karin Grech Hospital
- Saturday 11 April – Man, 84, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 25 April – Woman, 96, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 5 May – Man, 81, Karin Grech Hospital
- Wednesday 13 May – Man, 53, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 27 May – Man, 97, Karin Grech Hospital
- Friday 29 May – Man, 56, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday 29 May – Man, 68, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday 21 August – Man, 72, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 29 August – Woman, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Sunday 30 August – Man, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 1 September – Man, 89, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 5 September – Man, 85, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 10 September – Man, 80, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday 14 September – Woman, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 17 September – Woman, 91, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 19 September – Woman, 71, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 19 September – Woman, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday 19 September – Man, 85, Mater Dei Hospital
- Sunday 20 September – Man, 86, St Joseph Home
- Monday, 21 September – Man, 98 Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday, 21 September – Man, 83, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 22 September – Man, 86, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 23 September – Man, 84, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday, 24 September – Man, 91, old people’s home
- Thursday, 24 September – Woman, 73, old people’s home
- Thursday, 24 September – Woman, 78, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 25 September – Man, 90, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 25 September – Woman, 94, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday, 26 September – Woman, 92, elderly people’s home
- Sunday, 27 September – Woman, 91, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday, 28 September – Woman, 82, elderly people’s home
- Monday, 28 September – Woman, 79, elderly people’s home
- Wednesday, 30 September – Man, 85, St Thomas Hospital
- Thursday, 1 October – Man, 90, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 2 October – Man, 78, Mater Dei Hospital
- Friday, 2 October – Woman, 69, Mater Dei Hospital
- Saturday, 3 October – Man, 70, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday 5 October – Woman, 90, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 7 October – Woman, 96, Mater Dei Hospital
- Sunday 11 October – Man, 67, Mater Dei Hospital
- Monday 12 October – Man, 67, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 13 October – Man, 71, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 14 October – Man, 59, Mater Dei Hospital
- Tuesday 20 October – Woman, 72, Mater Dei Hospital
- Wednesday 21 October – Man, 68 Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 22 October - Women, 72, Mater Dei Hospital
- Thursday 22 October - Man, 82, Mater Dei Hospital
Sat, 24 Oct 2020 09:29:00 +0100
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