Fresh faces, same old hands – Ranier Fsadni

What do Victoria Buttigieg, Angelo Gafà, Miriam Dalli and Clyde Caruana have in common? They were all handpicked by Robert Abela to showcase the difference his leadership would make. And, within less than two years, they are conspicuous examples of his failure to do so.

The issue goes beyond a personal failing. If the new people don’t represent real change, it suggests this Labour administration cannot renew either itself or the country.

Buttigieg, the Attorney General, and Gafà, the Police Commissioner, went through a new selection process introduced by Abela’s government. The process was held up as proof of his reforming credentials but the picks didn’t surprise anyone.

Gafà’s and Buttigieg’s immediate predecessors were disgraced, with little credibility in Malta and abroad. When institutional reputations are at rock bottom, the only way to go is up. Yet, in 2022, under Gafà and Buttigieg, we have headlines that could be from the period of Lawrence Cutajar and Peter Grech. The new faces employ the same old touch.

Gafà was appointed two years ago this month. There are still no signs that the Panama royalty will ever be arraigned. Likewise for the top police officers who shamed the force. The police continue to be scolded by magistrates for shoddy work. The reputation of lack of cooperation with other European police forces lives on.

Buttigieg was appointed only 21 months ago but the calls for her resignation — including from a police union — keep mounting. In one notorious case, she approved a plea bargain against the interests of the State. In another, she somehow failed to provide the necessary authorisation for the police to arrest Iosif Galea.

When reforms fail spectacularly, there are no plausible excuses. Abela can’t blame his predecessor when he took credit for reforming his legacy and replacing Muscat’s men.

Next, let’s turn to the ministers who Abela handpicked early on, Dalli and Caruana. They were co-opted into Parliament in November 2020. Two MPs were coaxed into retiring so that Dalli and Caruana could become instant senior ministers.

And what ministers. They were given portfolios stained with scandal. Dalli took over energy, Konrad Mizzi’s old stomping ground. Caruana took over finance from Edward Scicluna, whose tenure is held responsible for Malta’s greylisting by the FATF.

Caruana and Dalli were to provide the necessary contrast with the Muscat years. Instead, Muscat’s legacy is entangling them.

Early on, Dalli defended the Electrogas power station, in spite of the Auditor General’s condemnation of the contract. She said the power station was necessary, whereas the issue is the significantly corrupt deal. She compromised her reputation from the start.

As the price of energy and Enemalta’s losses become critical, it’s becoming clear that Dalli is limited in what she can do. Real reform would expose the rot. It’s clearly off the table because who knows whose names a proper reckoning would reveal.

Instead, we’re seeing the return of one of Mizzi’s consultants, David Galea. Wicked tongues say you need the guidance of someone who knows where the secrets are buried, if you want to avoid stumbling accidentally over them.

As for Caruana, he began by trying to cultivate a reputation for straight-talking. In fact, he’s overseen crony spending on a par with his predecessor. Except, this time, we’re getting deep into debt.

He has allowed a de facto employment policy to flourish that, arguably, takes us back to the full employment policy of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s Labour government (1984-87) — which argued that any unemployed should be enrolled with the government. This policy is effectively operating in Gozo.

Meanwhile, as minister overseeing Air Malta, he is embroiled in many claims of political discrimination. Caruana was meant to represent a change of governance. Today, he just seems a change of face but with the same old hands.

We could add other new faces to make the same point. Abela began his premiership by replacing Muscat’s justice minister, Owen Bonnici, found guilty by a court of trampling over free speech. Bonnici’s replacement was, however, Edward Zammit Lewis, revealed to have sent fawning messages to Yorgen Fenech when the latter was already facing allegations of serious money laundering.

Now Zammit Lewis has been replaced with Jonathan Attard — handpicked by Abela for cooption to Parliament last year — only for this news portal to reveal, shall we say, fascinating invoices from Attard’s previous life as a lawyer, and which Attard hasn’t stooped to explain.

Is it so difficult for Abela to appoint a justice minister who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with justice? He’s making it look like it’s a real problem to find such a person in Labour’s parliamentary group.

One final example. Abela waited for Alicia Bugeja Said to be elected to Parliament (on the gender quota) so that he could appoint her junior minister. Yet it was soon revealed that her campaign had been significantly funded by major players in the industry she oversees.

Bugeja Said represents the newest of the new intake. Yet her campaign funding suggests relationships with big donors that are little different from those cultivated by ministers who have been serving for years.

And so, back to the question. Are these really just a string of individual failings? Or do they represent a system failure? Has Labour’s modus operandi damaged even its younger talent and spoiled the Party’s chances of genuine renewal while in government?

If that’s the case, Labour has a leadership crisis as serious as that of the Nationalist Party. We’re just not seeing it for what it is.


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2 years ago

Handpicked by one who has a lot of dirt himself and can only keep himself in office through the silence of the lambs: ROBBER Abela.

With a house of cards it is enough to pull out one card.

2 years ago
Reply to  KLAUS

Since Muscat the house of cards has been strengthened with paper-clips, tape, blu-tack, pins…
The problem is that now it’s incredibly top-heavy and rigid.
It’s not a question of collapse – it is one of out-of-balance toppling.
Unless they buttress it from the sides, of course…
And if so they will have succeeded in turning a simple, classic design into a modern-art twisted sculpture only fit for display on a traffic roundabout – to serve as a daily visual punishment to the opportunistic/partisan voter.

Last edited 2 years ago by viv
saviour mamo
saviour mamo
2 years ago

We said it many times before the last general election that Robert Abela can’t do the changes that Malta needed. Unfortunately, the electorates didn’t listen. This is another price that we have to pay. ,

2 years ago

Another superbly crafted article.

The evidence is there for all to see, but there is none so blind as those who won’t see… step forward the majority who voted the bunch of crooks and their enablers back for another 5 years!

You were promised continuity and you’ve got it… big time.

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