The Malta Independent 18 January 2020, Saturday

New Prime Minister: 10 tasks for the first 100 days

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 5 January 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 13 days ago

Malta will have a new Prime Minister next week. Chris Fearne and Robert Abela are contesting the election to replace Joseph Muscat, who announced his resignation on 1 December. The new head of government will have to take over a country that has been torn apart in the last weeks and which sees its reputation abroad reach an all-time low. Here is a list of the main situations that need to be tackled in the first 100 days.

It is said that the first 100 days of any new administration will give a strong indication of what is to take place from thereon.

During these first three months or so, a new leader must show that he means business, and he must address issues that were not tackled by his predecessor and which, in some occasions, brought the latter down.

Next week, Malta will have a new Prime Minister. It will be either Chris Fearne or Robert Abela who will succeed Joseph Muscat, after the latter was forced to quit in the wake of revelations linking his office to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Muscat announced his resignation on 1 December, but delayed it by six weeks until his successor is elected.

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Fearne or Abela have the tough task of taking the country out of the political and constitutional crisis that it has been thrown into. What happened in the last six weeks of 2019 was only the culmination of a long period of maladministration, neglect and laissez-faire; a culture of impunity, lack of tolerance and an unwillingness to change what is wrong.

In the first 100 days, the winner of the leadership race must show that he really wants to start a new chapter for the country.

The list below is what should be the new Prime Minister’s main tasks in the first three months of his tenure.

1.     Create a distance between the new leadership and Joseph Muscat. There can be no element of continuity between the new leader and the outgoing Prime Minister. Muscat has not yet declared what he will do with his parliamentary seat. The new leader must try to persuade him to leave. If Muscat does not, the new PM must not give him a portfolio in any Cabinet reshuffle that needs to take place. Muscat must not feature in the next election.

2.     The same goes for Konrad Mizzi. He carries too much baggage. He lost his portfolio in the past legislature as soon as the Panama Papers scandal broke; he has now resigned from his ministerial position “in the interest of the nation”. Well, if he really has the interest of the nation at heart he should move out of politics completely. If he does not, then the new Labour leader and PM must see that he is kicked out. Mizzi must not be re-included in any revised Cabinet set-up. And, more than this, he should not be allowed to contest the next election.

3.     Malta should have a new police commissioner. Lawrence Cutajar has proven to be unworthy of trust the people should have in a man who occupies his position. For too long, the police ignored calls for a thorough investigation into serious situations that brought the country to its knees. We’re not just talking about the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, important as it is. We’re also highlighting the reports that were compiled by the FIAU which were left to gather dust.

4.     The Attorney General, Peter Grech, must also go. He has been too often acting more as a defender of the government than of the people. His legal defeat against the Opposition Leader in the constitutional case regarding the publication of the Egrant inquiry report would have led to a resignation in any country where the principle of accountability is upheld.

5.     The new Prime Minister must also order a full investigation into all the leads that emerged from the Egrant inquiry report. For 18 months, the government withheld its publication. We now know what it contains, thanks to the Opposition Leader. And we know that there are many dark areas which need to be explored. What the inquiring magistrate uncovered and suggested should not be ignored. The new police commissioner and the new AG should be given specific instructions to give great importance to what was revealed in those 1,501 pages.

6.     There should be no government jobs, with lucrative salaries, to parliament backbenchers. This is creating too much of a conflict of interest, a matter that has also been highlighted by the Standards Commissioner. It is “fundamentally wrong”, to quote him, to give consultancy jobs to government MPs who have no role in the Cabinet. Such a practice goes against the principles of the Constitution and against the Code of Ethics for public employees and board members. To further quote George Hyzler, it places MPs in a position of financial dependence on the executive and reduces their independence. The new PM must bring all of this to an end.

7.     In similar vein, the new Prime Minister must also tackle the wave of nepotism that took over ever since Muscat was put in office. Too many people expected – and many times were given – something back for the services they provided to the Labour Party. This should stop immediately. This exercise must also include a thorough revision of the positions of trust that some people were given in the various ministries, at the taxpayers’ expense, as well as the many jobs that were undeservedly given to PL supporters in the country’s institutions and government-controlled companies.

8.     The people have lost so much confidence in the country’s rule of law. Over the years, too many situations gradually dented the institutions that are supposed to be there to protect all of us. The new PM must make it a point to at least start a process to revise how these institutions work. One example is the way judges and magistrates are appointed. What has been done is not enough. The Prime Minister still has too much discretionary power over the appointment of members of the judiciary. The new head of government should have the courage to give it up.

9.     One huge task for the new PM is to restore Malta’s reputation. It has been hit hard, really hard, in the past weeks. It had already been under fire for the sale of passports scheme, which brought so much criticism to the country, largely because today Maltese citizenship also means European citizenship. Now that the PM has resigned after his office was linked to a murder, the country’s image abroad has reached an all-time low. For many years Malta was seen as a country that could be trusted. Now it is no longer so. The new head of government must quickly embark on a process to rebuild that trust. It will not be easy.

10.   In 1992, when Alfred Sant took over the reins of the Labour Party, he set out to clean it from the violent elements who had given the party such a bad name in the 1980s. It was a tough nut to crack but Sant had been successful. The new Labour leader (and PM) must now embark on a similar task. Physical violence, thankfully, is no longer the theme, but the party does embrace people with the wrong connections. These should be weeded out.

 

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