Exclusive Interview: Dr Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta - Temple Magazine
The Auberge de Castille in Valletta is one of the Maltese Islands’ most distinctive edifices. It commands a distinguished position above the entrance to the capital city and is instantly recognisable by its impressive ornamental and decorative facade. Rarely do members of the general public have the opportunity to venture into its interior but, on one morning in early November 2017, Temple was made welcome. The destination was the Office of the Prime Minister and a meeting with the Honourable Dr. Joseph Muscat. Here he gives some insight into his passion for the islands and their people.
What do you think has led to the rapid increase in visitors to Malta over the past few years?
‘It is my belief that over the past few years the product on offer has become ‘Deeper, Wider and Higher. By this I mean what we offer is more substantial to the visitor. There is more information and more on offer that is increasingly relevant to the modern tourist. Wider, because we are we are able to attract a broader perspective of tourist and cater to niche markets more successfully. And Higher because Malta now stands proudly on the world stage as a quality destination.
The cause behind this is a little difficult to pin down. There was no grandiose or overarching plan. It was, as it is with most things, a combination of factors and efforts on the part of many individuals. Was it the feel good factor that brought the success? Was it the increase in investment both locally and from overseas? Was it the general increase in tourist numbers? Was it the increase in global connectivity? Was it the openness of the Maltese people to embrace new ideas? We really can’t tell what kicked it off, but there has certainly been a domino effect from one to the other, leading to the success we are enjoying today.
I feel that a positive factor has been people’s reaction on their first visit to Malta. Before they come here they must ask why should I visit a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean with a population of just half a million? They simply don’t know what to expect. They arrive and are overwhelmed by how special, unique and magnificent Malta truly is: they’re just not ready for the postcard pictures to be actually real. Once here, people are increasingly willing to take the next step in favour of Malta’.
Valletta 2018 is on the horizon. How do you feel the preparation has impacted the city and what are you looking forward to in the coming year?
‘Really and truly, Valletta18 is not about the event itself, but more about the legacy of what it has brought and what it is going to bring about. There have been so many projects that have rejuvenated the life of the Capital that today the area is almost unrecognisable in terms of the culture and entertainment. There has been a distinct change: Only five years ago I remember going to dinners with the Valletta business community and they would express their concern with the perceived view of the Capital as a second choice for shopping, nightlife and entertainment. Today, the same business community have quite the reverse problem; there’s so much choice here now. Small and medium size businesses and enterprises have been the driving force behind this development. There has been a very encouraging focus on quality. Personally, I am stunned by the speed at which this has all happened. It is very exciting to see the City so lively all over again, and I am very glad to see that people’s passion for the City is genuine. Valletta has become a magnet not only for people who seek culture, but also for those who want to have fun. The increasing numbers in Valletta is the secret of its success. This has led to more people wanting to return to the city; to live and to open the right sorts of businesses that will prosper in the ‘new Valletta’. The real legacy of Valletta is how much the capital will change after 2018. We have created a sustainable city that will continue to grow and develop for decades ahead.
As for what to look forward to – well, the cultural programme looks great fun with lots from which to pick and choose over the course of the year. I’m very much looking forward to that’.
What are your favourite personal experiences on the islands and what do you like to do if you have a moment to relax?
‘We are really blessed on the islands, as there are so many lovely places to enjoy. For myself, I have always been taken with Mellieħa overlooking Għadira Bay; watching the boats return from a day out at sea. To me, that is one of the most spectacular views in the world. Also, at the top or the list, is sailing around the islands. There are few more magical ways to discover them; you gain an entirely new perspective. Another favourite of mine is entering The Grand Harbour, especially at sunrise, near Rinella and Cottonera – it is simply breath-taking. There are few places more special - you feel truly embraced by it all and connected to history.
I am also privileged to be able to enjoy the Prime Minister’s summer residence - the Girgenti Palace. The view from the palace is something out of this world. I do try to enjoy it as much as I can when I have the opportunity’.
Is there anyone in your life that you have found particularly inspiring and who have created an example you have tried to follow.
‘There are two politicians that I have always found particularly inspirational. The first is FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt). He is, in my view, the greatest American President. His achievements are remarkable. To pull the United States out of the Great Depression with the ‘New Deal’; to guide the country through the majority of the Second World War; and establish the social welfare programmes that they still enjoy today, is simply astounding. The second is Robert Kennedy. His ideas, liberalism and passion were phenomenal.
Even though I didn’t live in their life time, anything about them I try to watch and read.’
Lastly, what would be your advice to those wishing to enter a political career?
‘I would have to say that you can never underestimate the responsibility that you undertake in this job. Secondly, you have to be in it for the right reasons. Ultimately, you have to be the person who is ready to commit to making the right changes, to take responsibility, to stop complaining and to get on with it. You also have to be ready to take blame and say when necessary ‘’the buck stops here!’’. There is no one else to turn to, so you have to be ready to accept that. If done properly, one finds that this is a very rewarding job and I would do it all over again!’
TEMPLE would like to thank the Honourable Dr Joseph Muscat for giving us the opportunity for this interview. It has been an honour for all of us. We would also like to thank the Office of the Prime Minister for making the arrangements.
Published TEMPLE Magazine 2017/18
Copyright: Temple Concierge Ltd.
Images: Jan Zammit and Temple Concierge