The Malta Independent 5 August 2020, Wednesday

Beware the Chris Fearne avalanche

Noel Grima Sunday, 8 December 2019, 08:22 Last update: about 9 months ago

All of a sudden, the dark clouds threatening us cleared, the sun came out and the skies became blue again. Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne announced that he intended to run for Party leader.

The announcement itself was expected. What was not expected, at least not by me, was the avalanche, the tsunami, of favourable comments on social media.

At long last, so it seemed, the crisis is over. Joseph Muscat is as good as gone and, presumably, the whole ‘Mafia island’ tag that will be his gift to Malta.

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Had a leadership battle been held, people, Cabinet colleagues and potential rivals announced they were not running, or that they supported Chris Fearne. There was even talk that Mr Fearne would be the sole candidate and would thus be proclaimed Prime Minister in time for him to take part in the European Council in a few days’ time.

As for Joseph Muscat, the only Prime Minister since Independence to leave under a cloud, invitations were retracted – from Italian Prime Minister Conte, no less – and an audience with the Pope was downgraded to a private audience with no media present. They couldn’t get rid of him more quickly.

Soon, because even mid-January is soon, he will be gone, together  with his attendant group – those he chose to be more loyal to than to the entire country. They will not be missed.

Now this might seem unjust in Muscat’s regard: the economic growth registered and the lower unemployment numbers point to a success story, or so his supporters claim. But I am not so sure and I have been expressing my doubts for months now, because much of the growth was delivered by the passports scheme on the one hand and keeping wages low with the inflow of penniless refugees ready to work at starvation levels. The number of poor in Malta increased and the Commission’s own surveys – as reported in the Central Bank’s Quarterly Review – have been in negative territory for more than two quarters. The gaming sector is in flux, with some big names leaving.

The banking sector is facing huge difficulties, with Bank of Valletta being practically under siege by the ECB, with crises facing banks like Satabank and with HSBC de-risking savagely.

The Muscat record will be examined and weighed – and will be found wanting. It was mainly glitter and spin, focused around celebrations such as CHOGM and the ‘Capital of Culture’, with the latter being completely mismanaged by another of Muscat’s crony appointees.

So, goodbye and good riddance.

And welcome to the Fearne years. He is a hard worker and does not take fools lightly. Being a seasoned politician, he will no doubt realise that much of the praise he receives will be from people who want to hold on to their packets or from those who aspire to this or that position.

Many, or some, will have dark secrets to conceal and will want to hide behind the new PM’s aura. The skein of relations at OPM, uncovered in last week’s court sittings is an exercise in incest and conflicts of interest. One wonders if, had Fearne used an axe, would any be left.

But meanwhile his first duty, as I see it, is to speak clearly to the country and promise a new beginning, to infuse hope and to promise reconciliation – not the glitzy type, but the real one. There is much goodwill lying around that must not be wasted.

 

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