Updated 1745- News Portal Briefing
Times of Malta reports that Hermann Schiavone proposed amendments to gender balancing proposal
MaltaToday reports that Nadur’s famous carnival has been cancelled and the council warns that no spontaneous gatherings will be allowed to prevent the spread of COVID-19
TVM reports that Candidate Gavin Gulia was today elected in the casual election to fill the seat vacated by Professor Edward Scicluna who has taken the post of Central Bank Governor.
Newsbook reports that the Malta Medical Association (MAM) declared an industrial dispute with the government in view of the removal of Dr Kenneth Grech from his role as coordinator of the Covid-19 response team. MAM has also requested an urgent meeting with the minister of Health.
Updated 1300 – Covid-19 Update
The Health Department reported 240 new cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, with 80 recovering. The number of active cases has reached 2519. 3354 swab tests were carried out in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 has reached 234.
Updated 1221: Gavin Gulia elected in casual election
Gavin Gulia will be making his way back in Parliament after being elected from a casual election on the 7th district. The election took place following the resignation of former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.
Updated 1213: Consultant Grech’s redeployment is Ill-timed and unethical – Malta Employers’ Association
The Malta Employers’ Association expressed its solidarity with Consultant Kenneth Grech, saying that it is difficult to convince anyone that his redeployment is not related to his stand concerning COVID and the situation in the schools.
“If he was acting in his capacity as a public health consultant, Grech had a right as well as an obligation to provide advice to minimise the impact of the pandemic and there is no reason why he should be penalised for taking a position, even if such position may not be palatable to all stakeholders”, the MEA said in a statement this afternoon.
The MEA added that health authorities have to be completely impartial to any external influence that may interfere with their judgement, and this would be the wrong time to start questioning the credibility of the COVID Response team after the sterling work they have done since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Updated 1050: Chamber, MHRA react to voucher postponement decision
The Malta Chamber commends the Government’s decision to postpone the issue of the second round of vouchers, in the interest of public health.
“As it has said all throughout the pandemic, The Malta Chamber reiterates its position that all, and any initiatives taken must, at all times reflect, the highest public health interest. The Government’s decision, as announced by the Minister of the Economy yesterday is hence commended”, it said in a statement.
The Chamber added that while the issue of vouchers is eagerly anticipated by many business operators, as it is expected to once again inject a much needed impetus into the economy, priorities of public safety must take precedence.
On the other hand, the MHRA said that while it understands the need for a consultation on the issue, it expressed hope that any delay should not exceed mid-February, adding that “its members are extremely eager to have some revenue going through their books.”
The hotel and restaurant association highlighted the extraordinary times the world is going through saying that it understood that “plans have to be adjusted according to the number of COVID cases being registered”.
Updated 0830 – Newspaper Review
The Times reports that members of the Covid-19 response team are insisting on the reinstatement of coordinator Dr Kenneth Grech who was removed without explanation. The government said Dr Grech is being assigned to a new role.
L-Orizzont quotes a statement by the Health Ministry denying claims by the medical association that Dr Kenneth Grech was removed from the national Covid-19 response team because of his opinions on the re-opening of schools.
The Independent carries a statement by the Medical Association which described the removal of Dr Kenneth Grech’s from the Covid-19 response team as an ‘act of intimidation’ by the government.
In-Nazzjon quotes PN Leader Bernard Grech who said that the recent gains in approval ratings are encouraging but warned for the party to remain grounded. Grech said that the party is investing in young people.
L-Orizzont reports that Pope Francis has accepted a request by the Franciscan Order in Malta to defrock Donald Bellizzi who was last year found guilty of sexual abuse on a boy in his care.
The Independent asks unions when they can expect working conditions to return to normal. The UĦM Voice of the Workers said it depends on the containment of the virus while the General Workers Union said that regular conditions have already been mostly restored.
The Times speaks with the father of Marcel Pisani who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Alfred Pisani appealed to the public to help find their son, who uses a wheelchair and drives a blue Renault Captur.
In-Nazzjon asks Prime Minister Robert Abela whether he will publish his tax returns. Abela replied that he has already published everything before going on to say that he has no difficulty publishing the information in full.
L-Orizzont says that the General Workers Union has requested an urgent meeting with the management of One Group amid concerns by employees that political party stations might be forced to close down.
Updated 0722 – MAM declares industrial dispute
The Medical Association of Malta has declared an industrial dispute as from Thursday, insisting that it was unacceptable that a medical consultant was transferred for sharing his professional advice. This decision relates to Dr Kenneth Grech, that was removed from the Covid-19 response team following his recommendation on school closures following festivities.
The doctors’ lobby is requesting an urgent meeting with Health Minister Chris Fearne. The Ministry has so far insisted that Grech was required to provide his assistance on a task related to the urgent allocation of EU funds.
The MAM described this decision as concerning, insisting that doctors should be free of expressing their professional opinion without fear of having to face retributions or consequences.
The dispute will not see any industrial action being taken so far but the MAM warned that measures may be escalated by Monday.
Second round of vouchers to be delayed until all establishments are open
Government is expected to delay the second issuing of consumer vouchers, due this January, in order to ensure that the establishments which are currently closed due to Covid-19 measures are also able to benefit. These include bars and clubs.
In a statement, the Economy Ministry said that the vouchers, which are expected to put around 45 million euro back in the Maltese economy, will be issued following consultations with health authorities. Substantial IT upgrades were also made to ensure that the process will operate much smoother than the first round of vouchers, with the Ministry adding that those businesses which had already downloaded the virtual app, can consider themselves ready to benefit once this scheme is launched again.
Additional seats for women debated in Parliament
In its first sitting after the Christmas holidays, Parliament debated bill amending the Constitution and the Electoral Laws to ensure a more equal representation between sexes in the House of Representatives. The bill aims to increase the number of women MPs and was introduced by Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms Rosianne Cutajar on 12 March 2020.
PM Robert Abela said that such a move will not tarnish democracy and the people’s choice of candidates. “The election process will not be influenced, people will still have a say” he added, explaining that if women are under 40% in the House, Parliament will be expanded by a maximum of 12 seats divided equally between the absolute majority party and the minority parties in parliament.”
Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg said that the Opposition will present a number of amendments to strengthen the bill noting that “one problem we may face with this mechanism is that people will think that they do not need to vote for women as they will be elected with this mechanism. Our aim should be that we do not make use of this mechanism despite it being there, and that is when we can say that we have made it. The mechanism is there in the chance we fail, and I felt that from what Abela said he was expecting failure so that the mechanism is used.”
She said that it is important for women of quality and strength to be elected as well since these are qualities that are needed to handle the assault women receive in such positions. “We don’t want to be elected for being women or by women, we want to be elected because we are capable.”
Parliament cannot investigate Muscat on Mizzi consultancy
Speaker Anglu Farrugia ruled that the House’s Ethics Committee is unable to investigate former PM Joseph Muscat over a consultancy role he had given to Konrad Mizzi because he is no longer an Member of Parliament.
Standards Commissioner George Hyzler had found that Muscat had abused of his power when he gave Mizzi the €80,000 job at the Malta Tourism Authority immediately after the resignation of the latter from a Ministerial position.
While Hyzler’s report was adopted by the same ethics committee, Government MPs argued last week that Muscat should not be sanctioned because he is no longer a Member of Parliament.
133 new cases of coronavirus were reported on Monday by health authorities, identified from 3355 swab tests. This takes up the tally of active cases to 2,360. The death tally stands at 233. Yesterday’s Covid-19 agenda was dominated by the aftermath of what the Medical Association described as the forced removal of Kenneth Grech from the Covid response team. The doctors’ lobby suggested that Grech was removed for advising that schools should remain closed after the festivities, while Government insisted that his experience was urgently required in obtaining EU funds in the sector.