The new leaders have been appointed. These are the people who will guide a struggling, debt-ridden Malta into an increasingly turbulent world.
Perhaps the most notable feature of Robert Abela’s first mandate as ‘his own man’ is how many ministers have retained their portfolios.
The major ministries remain largely the same.
Chris Fearne is still in charge of health. Who would shake that one up when he’s done such a great job managing the VGH / Steward Healthcare debacle?
Clyde Caruana still has what is now the poisoned chalice of finance. The country’s economic outlook is grim, and anyone responsible for that portfolio has been set up for a very hard fall.
Perhaps a fall is exactly what Abela has in mind, given that the poorly performing Silvio Schembri has retained the economy ministry. Will the disappointing ‘young rising star’ of the Muscat era shoulder blame as Malta’s key industries — financial services, tourism, passport peddling — fail, and as ‘Blockchain Island’ and ‘robot citizens’ prove to have been nothing more than the pipe dreams of bad sci-fi?
But all was not ‘continuity’ in the cabinet of Robert Abela. Two major portfolios have seen major — and rather odd — changes.
Evarist Bartolo’s long overdue departure from politics means The Oracle will have more time to devote to his Facebook prognostications.
Unfortunately, appointing Ian Borg Minister of Foreign Affairs isn’t likely to improve Malta’s tarnished international image. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine signalled a clear return to a turbulent multipolar world, one where skilled diplomacy is called for. Can Borg overcome his legendary arrogance and navigate this complex political landscape?
It will be a steep uphill slog given how badly Malta’s reputation has been battered during the past nine years and the suspicion with which it is regarded by its erstwhile allies. The time for freeloading, and shamelessly taking advantage of friendly countries for personal gain, is over.
Malta’s increasing isolation as the EU’s pirate state must come to an end, and that requires real change. The alternative is a Mintoffian shift to some sort of desperate junior alliance with countries like China and Russia, whose support comes with a price that future generations will have to pay.
Who could possibly replace Borg as Destroyer of Trees and Paver of Green Space? The former environment minister, Aaron Farrugia, is moving to the polar opposite portfolio to take over the massive ministry which controls transport, infrastructure and capital projects.
There are major changes in the justice ministry, too. Abela has wisely ditched the utterly inept Edward Zammit Lewis, whose credibility was fatally eroded by both his desperate fawning over accused murderer Yorgen Fenech and his close personal friendship with the disgraced former prime minister. Although it could have been the “Ġaħan” line that sealed it.
Will this pave the way for Muscat to finally be investigated for corruption? I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.
Other changes involved the shifting of boundaries rather than the shuffling of roles.
Environment goes to Miriam Dalli, but she isn’t moving from the Energy portfolio that sees her responsible for doing something about Malta’s dodgy dependence on Electrogas, and by extension, overpriced gas from Azerbaijan. No, she’s somehow going to balance fuel burning with Labour’s ‘green lungs’ pledge to plant trees to replace what Ian Borg cut down.
Bryon Camilleri’s role has expanded, too. The Home Affairs Minister, who is responsible for the police and the armed forces, will also be responsible for passport peddling and Identity Malta.
Is it a sign of solidarity with the EU, which sees Malta’s sale of passports as a security threat to all member states? Or is it a recognition of the sad fact that passport peddling has become a vital pillar of Labour’s hold on power?
Unfortunately, Abela didn’t take this opportunity to ditch more dead weight. Somehow, despite his utter incompetence in every portfolio he ever held, Owen Bonnici is still hanging on to his perks. He’s taken over culture and local councils from the also-inept Jose Herrera, whose career in politics was finally ended by voters.
Rejection must have come as a blow after all the Arts Council money Herrera dished out in his own electoral district. Perhaps someone should calculate just how much money taxpayers can be expected to save with his departure? Don’t forget to include the public money he wasted when a Croatian scammer duped the then-environment minister into coughing up tens of thousands of euros for a few white flags.
Alleged bank robbery collaborator Carmelo Abela also failed to get a cabinet post, as did Michael Farrugia. As home affairs minister, Farrugia was responsible for the failings of former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar to act on FIAU reports, and his conspicuous avoidance of investigating Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Former parliamentary secretary for the peddling of passports Alex Muscat, Deo Debattista and Chris Agius were also left out.
But it wasn’t just the prime minister who gave the cold shoulder to Joseph Muscat’s men. Voters also saw fit to turf two of Labour’s most visible stalwarts.
Glenn Bedingfield failed to get reelected despite Joseph Muscat joining him on the campaign trail, and Rosianne Cutajar suffered the same fate. Did Muscat’s involvement taint their campaigns, despite the adoring crowds that gathered to shake the hand that picked their pockets?
The MP who casually neglected to mention her business dealings with Yorgen Fenech is almost certain to squeeze back in to Malta’s beleaguered house of parliament thanks to casual elections. I suppose she’ll boost Labour’s gender quotas even as she tarnishes Abela’s international credibility.
But what of Bedingfield? Given his poor results, he may not make it, allowing Abela to get rid of one of his predecessor’s most vocal supporters.
Casual election didn’t just benefit those who hadn’t earned enough votes to win their district. It also offered new career prospects to Labour propagandist Randolph Debattista. The editor of Labour-owned website The Journal was co-opted to parliament after some rather deliberate shuffling that saw no other candidates left to fill the ninth district role.
Debattista certainly wasn’t the voters’ choice. He hadn’t run for election at all. Why not co-opt a candidate who received significant voter support in another district, instead? Could it be a reward for Debattista using his English language faux-news channel to shovel €13,000 into pro-PL and laughably anti-PN electoral ‘coverage’?
Is ditching the sycophants of the Muscat era an indication Abela intends to strike out in a new direction? And does that direction include removing whatever protection has prevented a real investigation into the allegedly dodgy deeds of Joseph Muscat?
It’s too early to say. Abela’s own baggage of questionable property deals and unexplained wealth gives the impression that he’s in need of a little protection of his own. And Muscat’s ongoing popular support means the fight would be a dirty one.
Clearing the deck of some of the old guard is a good sign, but I wouldn’t wait too long before demanding results.