in

Robert Abela set a new record

Prime Minister Robert Abela (centre) at his first Cabinet meeting. Photo: DOI, Jason Borg

On his first day in office, Abela gave to me… 26 members of Cabinet.

The previous record for largest-ever Cabinet was set by Joseph Muscat, who ran a bloated administration stuffed to the stone arches with cronies and friends of friends.

Well, loosen that belt and bust up that budget surplus. Abela’s new team will cost you a whopping €1.5 million per year in salaries alone. And don’t forget all those cars and drivers and persons of trust.

Just how many Ministers does it take to run a country the size of a small city? Ottawa contains twice as many people as Malta — some 934,000 — and they get by with 23 city councillors and a mayor.

When Abela promised ‘continuity’, was he promising to continue Muscat’s crony empire with a bottomless supply of non-jobs and direct orders for Labour insiders?

It was out with the un-retainable this week and in with the not-quite-new.

Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi were out. He couldn’t very well keep them, could he? As was Neville Gafa, that hot potato no one wanted to admit having hired.

Chris Fearne — the only Doctor in Cabinet who really is a doctor and not a lawyer — stayed at Health, where he’ll have a chance to contemplate his loss while trying to avoid the taint of Vitals, a dirty deal whose consequences landed in his lap.

Captain Cartoon is still Getting Roads Re-Done and pumping public funds into self-promoting billboards. And Edward ‘under investigation’ Scicluna is still running Finance. U ejja, that must have been welcome news first thing in the morning.

But poor Owen Bonnici has been demoted. The former Injustice Minister is now bringing his trademark brand of mediocrity to orchestrating your children’s education. He might want to start by boning up on Critical Thinking.

Some of the new Prime Minister’s other appointments seem rather questionable.

Silvio Schembri has been promoted to Economy Minister, no doubt based on his massive success building Blockchain Island. While his attention to detail doesn’t necessarily extend to his annual Parliamentary declaration of assets, you can rest assured that the national airline will soar to the lofty heights that Crypto has with Schembri at the stick. Both are based on the imaginary, now that Konrad Mizzi has taken away the landing slots that were the airline’s only real asset.

Muscat-crony Edward Zammit Lewis is now Minister of Justice. Last seen weeping copious and entirely genuine non-Pyongyang tears at il-Kink’s final public audience, this close personal friend of the former leader will bring to the courts the same keen management style he brought to Air Malta as Tourism Minister. If it’s any consolation, he can’t screw up Malta’s rule of law much more than it already is.

And what of the embattled Police Commissioner? Can we count on him to remain in the shadows, or will he be set free to enjoy a blissful bunny-nibbling retirement? Abela promised to replace Lawrence Cutajar, who has fumbled every ball that landed in his lap, but so far, there’s no sign that the new Prime Minister intends to stick to his word.

Perhaps he has larger concerns? He certainly has his work cut out for him.

Abela inherits the governance of a country on the brink of a financial blacklist, thanks to failing grades from Moneyval, and accusations that the Malta Police have no appetite for investigating financial crime. He has less than a year to fix this situation. Failure to do so will be devastating for Malta’s financial services industry.

Abela inherits a nation stunned by revelations that the brutal killing of a journalist investigating high level government corruption has connected Malta’s criminal underworld, its most prominent business families, and the Office of the Prime Minister — and the OPM seems to have done everything possible to slow those investigations down.

And he inherits an environmentally devastated country on the verge of economic turmoil, with frequent power cuts, a swollen construction bubble, and crucial sectors like iGaming showing signs of moving elsewhere as money laundering scandals rock the industry, and as the Bank of Valletta sheds high-risk clients.

It’s the Muscat family inheritance by way of Uncle Keith and Auntie Konrad. Abela will need all the help he can get.

The only blockchain this island’s tied to is the block chained to Malta’s international reputation. Joseph Muscat left that at the bottom of the Grand Harbour.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has to give clear answers to society

Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar’s resignation ‘long overdue’