The Malta Independent 25 August 2016, Thursday

Cabinet reshuffle: Godfrey Farrugia ready to take environment ministry if asked by PM

Wednesday, 20 January 2016, 07:59 Last update: about 7 months ago

PL Whip Godfrey Farrugia said he would be ready to accept a ministerial post, including that of environment minister, should the Prime Minister see fit to ask him.

Dr Farrugia was asked by this newsroom about a possible Cabinet reshuffle. The PL Whip explained that it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to reshuffle Cabinet, and would neither confirm nor deny that such a change is on the cards.

This would be a return to Cabinet for the PL Whip, after he resigned from Cabinet when he was going to be removed as Health Minister. His answer - that he would accept a post in the possible upcoming reshuffle - indicates a change of heart from previous possibilities such as when he refused to take up the post of Minister for Social Affairs after Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was made President.

Should the Prime Minister choose to promote the current whip to the position of Environment Minister, it would seem to be an attempt by Dr Muscat to control Marlene Farrugia’s (Godfrey Farrugia’s partner) criticism of government’s environment policy. Marlene Farrugia resigned from the PL late last year primarily over environmental issues.

Speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle have been making their way down the grapevine, following reports that the National Audit Office report on Marco Gaffarena would soon be tabled in Parliament. Some other changes could also be in the offing further down the line.

Some of the other PL members being rumoured for a move include Environment Minister Leo Brincat, Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella and Parliamentary Secretary for Planning Michael Falzon, while there is a chance of a possible return to Cabinet for former PL Minister Manuel Mallia - all for different reasons.

Minister Leo Brincat could possibly replace Louis Galea in the European Court of Auditors, thus leaving the Environment Ministry seat open. This is where Godfrey Farrugia could possibly be moved should a reshuffle occur.

Mallia touted as next Foreign Minister

Inside information from within the Foreign Affairs Ministry indicates that Manuel Mallia is being touted to take over this position, thus leading one to believe that Minister George Vella, now 73, might step down from Cabinet altogether, and perhaps begin moving towards retirement.

PL MP Mallia, contacted by this newspaper, did not wish to comment. He was removed from his post as Home Affairs Minister after failing to resign following the whole saga involving his driver Paul Sheehanm, who had fired shots during a car chase. Prime Minister Muscat, at the time, said that Dr Mallia had fallen short in his duties as a minister by not issuing a new press statement when it became clear that the first one issued after the incident, mentioning "warning shots", had been incorrect.

Louis Grech to retire?

Sources within government indicate that current Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech (68) might be close to stepping down from Cabinet too. This would leave the Deputy Leader slot wide open, with two possible front runners vying for position. These are Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis. This, however, is more likely to take place at a later date and not in the possible upcoming reshuffle, considering that a vote within the Labour Party would need to take place.

This would effectively see two high-end Ministers on the road to retirement, Louis Grech and George Vella.

Another possibility could see the current Parliamentary Secretariat for planning also move under the Tourism Minister’s remit.

Michael Falzon to replace Farrugia as whip?

Parliamentary Michael Falzon has been at the centre of two major scandals, and thus the Prime Minister might be looking to remove him from Cabinet altogether. He could possibly be moved to the position of Parliamentary Whip.

Asked by this newsroom about the possible reshuffle, Dr Falzon said that Cabinet appointments are always the Prime Minister’s prerogative, adding that it is up to the Prime Minister who to remove from Cabinet and who to keep. Asked about the possibility of him being moved to a different post or removed altogether, he referred to his previous answer.

The NAO report regarding the Gaffarena expropriation scandal is expected to be released today. The NAO report reportedly concluded that the deal breached expropriation rules. The Parliamentary Secretary also faced another scandal earlier in the year regarding his BOV retirement package, which was revealed by The Malta Independent.

Ian Borg and Joe Mizzi

Another two members of Cabinet currently have question marks over their heads. Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds Ian Borg has faced a large number of scandals recently. The Coast Road project incident, which saw Malta slammed by the European Court of Auditors, as well a report by the Environment Commissioner at the Office of the Ombudsman stating that Dr Borg employed a “devious method” of applying for a development permit for a property in Rabat.

The second Cabinet member is none other than Transport Minister Joe Mizzi, who has come under fire for his handling of the transport sector in Malta. The Prime Minister could very well be considering removing these two, or changing their roles.

This newsroom approached a number of Ministers about the rumoured reshuffle. Social Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli said; “how would I know?”.

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis stressed that the reshuffle is the prerogative of the Prime Minister, “We are here in majority as the Labour Party at the Prime Minister’s disposal, and wherever he wishes to place us we will continue our important work to better the country”. Asked whether any discussions with the Prime Minister took place on a reshuffle, he said: “at this stage I will not say yes or no as it is confidential”.

Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness Jose Herrera was the only one to give a definitive answer, saying that formally there have not been any discussions regarding a reshuffle, and that no talks with the Prime Minister took place.

Parliamentary Secretary for Active Aging Justyne Caruana chose not to answer the question at all, but rather, when asked, said: “I thought you were going to tell me how much you liked the new day centre we have just opened in Swieqi”. 

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