The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

‘Muscat inspired me; he was PL's silver lining’ - Scicluna; no interest in EU Commissioner role

Gabriel Schembri Sunday, 9 July 2017, 09:30 Last update: about 6 years ago

Finance Minister EDWARD SCICLUNA is one of the three contenders for post of Labour Party Deputy Leader. In an interview with Gabriel Schembri, he speaks about his experience in the private and public sectors and how he believes he can fill the role of Deputy Prime Minister with diligence

A quick look at the last few decades shows that successful political leaders in Malta have one thing in common: they all reached the top echelons of the party after a long history of working in it. Do you have this track record?

If you are asking whether I have the ideological credentials, there is no doubt that I do. My socialist inclinations started with my very first studies. Since that time, I have always voted Labour. Some operate one way, others operate in another. I worked behind the scenes, in a technical way. I helped, from Dom Mintoff to Alfred Sant, the latter especially. This was my way of helping out. But I never planned to become a politician.

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So how did you end up contesting an election?

In 2008, I heard Joseph Muscat speaking and I could see the modern and moderate way of bringing business back to Labour. I thought, ‘this is it, there is a silver lining’.

I asked for an appointment with Joseph Muscat and offered my services. However, this time, I told him I was ready to come out in the open to strengthen the Labour Party. Joseph Muscat thought it was a brilliant idea and encouraged me to contest the MEP elections.

Later, Muscat asked me to contest the general election. I thought deeply about it and decided to do it. I thought I would have an opportunity to prove myself. The rest is history.

 

How did your profession help when you entered politics?

You need good judgement and to do so, you need a lot of practise. Being on so many boards in the private sector, you learn how to avoid getting into trouble. You learn how to do the things the right way.

 

At the centre of this last electoral campaign, there was the question of integrity. What does Edward Scicluna, as Deputy Prime Minister, bring to the Cabinet table in this respect?

I will be a little more influential in finding the right balance between swiftness and planning. It is a fine line between trying to get a project done as quickly as possible, and simultaneously the time to work things out.

Our youngish attitude as a party, trying to do things very fast, could have contributed to a couple of problems. But my understanding of the regulations, for instance, will help for better governance. I have the background in political and philosophical studies and I am sure these will help.

 

You did very well in the last election. Does electoral success help at all in making you a better Deputy Prime Minister?

First of all, this Deputy Leadership post has two elements to it, the political side and government side. I think that this post would be put to the test when, God forbid, the Prime Minister disappears for a month, and the Deputy Prime Minister is able to lead the country without interferences. A Deputy Prime Minister is neither an assistant, nor a briefcase holder, nor appearing with the Prime Minister on certain occasions.

Also, being Minister for Finance gives you a bit of an advantage because finances are an issue that have to deal with every single Ministry and sector in government. There is no other Minister who keeps this contact on a daily basis. So I need to keep a good relationship with everyone; I have to be firm and fair.

But a Deputy Prime Minister goes beyond this. This post carries an international responsibility, and I believe I enjoy a good reputation in the international scene. When the Malta Files story came up, for example, I stopped my election campaign and flew to Germany. Who defended Malta? Me. Because I was convinced that 90 per cent of the story was fake. I realised that unlike the Panama Papers or LuxLeaks, this was a non-story.

 

Speaking of international reputation, there is a rumour that Joseph Muscat might be interested in a political post in Europe after the next election. Do you have similar ambitions?

There were rumours that I want to be an EU Commissioner probably because they know I have a good relationship at an EU level. The fact is I am not interested in this role. My role will be to facilitate for other people, for new blood to come in and create a level playing field for all.

The truth is, I was there in Brussels, earning a good salary and I decided to return. Once I took this decision, I will never consider abandoning those who voted for me and go abroad again. When Karmenu Vella went to serve as EU Commissioner, everyone thought I was going to get the post. But I am not interested.

We need someone who is neutral with all Ministers. I want to see young aspiring people replace us eventually.

 

Do you exclude that eventually you will contest the leadership post?

I do not see myself in that role. I never aspired to be Prime Minister. I think to fulfil that role you need another quality besides knowledge and experience. Now I know that the Prime Minister does not wish to contest the next election. However, in my heart I want him to stay.

 

Joseph Muscat has entrusted you with one of the largest and most crucial ministries. How do you get along with your boss?

The results of the budget show it. I still remember his Tweet on my birthday when we were drawing up the budget. We were like three young kids enjoying ourselves, because the budget is, in the end an exciting project.

We enjoy a very good working relationship. On a social and political level, we have the same vision. Be it economy and policy, you name it.

 

Speaking of this relationship with Muscat, there were reports suggesting that the Prime Minister wants you by his side. What went on exactly, especially since Helena Dalli, for instance, said that the Prime Minister encouraged her to contest?

I do not wish to comment on the other contenders. I respect them both and they are very valuable politicians.

I am trying to convey to the delegates the qualities I can offer. But to reply to your question, the Prime Minister did tell me to contest the Deputy Leadership race. He told to contest the same day he told me I was going to be given back the Finance Ministry, a day before the swearing in. He did not come up to me and tell me I was the chosen one. He just told me to contest.

 

Over the years, Joseph Muscat has successfully put liberal and progressive issues on the national agenda. Will you as Deputy Prime Minister add to this momentum?

Yes. That is why the background in social and political sphere matter a lot. Some think I am a narrow-minded economist, that all I think of is numbers. I think this question of equality has become a major issue. The issue of ‘family’ has changed completely. We have to take this utilitarian approach, the greatest happiness for the greatest number. It is not just a question of LGBTIQ, but about freedom and equality. And I move with the times with a certain ease.

 

Next time round, the PL will be facing the uphill battle of trying to win the third election in a row. It will also be an election without what has been Labour’s winning card: Joseph Muscat. If you are interested in leading the party, or even being part of the leadership, does this daunting challenge scare you?

Both the Prime Minister and I share the view that although PL had a campaign that was centred on one person, in reality the movement now has a life of its own. It is taking a life of its own. It is on semi-automatic. Joseph Muscat has prepared the ground for the system to find the best leaders.

As I said, I want Joseph Muscat to stay. He is young and he has still got a lot to give. 

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