The Malta Independent 17 February 2020, Monday

TMID Editorial: Abela’s maiden speech - We will hold you to your word

Tuesday, 14 January 2020, 08:58 Last update: about 2 months ago

By far, the most important declaration that Robert Abela made in his maiden speech as Labour leader and PM elect on Sunday was the promise that mistakes that happened over the last seven years would not be repeated.

While he did not mention what these mistakes were specifically, we assume he meant the closing of an eye to corruption, the nepotism, the lack of meritocracy, the defence of government members embroiled in scandals and the destruction of the environment.

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Abela said that mistakes do happen, but they should not be repeated. One hopes that any ‘new’ mistakes will not be as serious as the ones made by his predecessor, who saw his stellar political career turn into a nightmare, but also cost the country dearly.

There were many positive aspects to Abela’s speech. He said, among other things, that the rule of law will be strengthened. We hope that this will truly be the case and that all necessary measures are taken so that Malta once again becomes a properly functioning democracy with respected and impartial institutions.

Chris Fearne seems to have paid the price for hinting that he would have taken hard decisions – that heads would roll and incompetent people would be removed and replaced. Abela might have been more cautious because such statements would have hurt his chances of getting elected, but now that he is PM he must stick to his word and deliver the promised change.

Abela also spoke about national unity and of helping the most vulnerable in society.

Perhaps ironically, he said that he wants to give peace of mind to businesses. We say ironically because, just a few days ago Abela failed to show up for a Chamber of Commerce event where he was to be asked about his economic vision. And Abela’s comments on having a level playing field – interpreted by many as a hint that he could remove the 5% corporate tax that is crucial in attracting foreign direct investment to Malta – let to some uncertainty.

Both the Chamber of Commerce and the GRTU have urged Abela to turn a new page and start working on repairing Malta’s reputation which, according to the Chamber, is currently “in tatters.”

We also noted that Abela at no point in his speech tried to reach out to the Opposition or Civil Society. Granted, this was mainly a Labour Party event, but if Abela really wants unity in the country he should be willing to engage with all stakeholders and not be afraid to say so.

On Sunday morning, Opposition Adrian Delia said the PN would be willing to back Abela if he takes up its proposals for good governance, meritocracy, accountability and transparency. Perhaps Abela could have tried to offer an olive branch – a sign of willingness to work with the Opposition for the benefit of the country.

With regard to civil society, Abela had previously stated that people demonstrating against corruption in Valletta were merely “provoking,” so it is quite clear that he does not like them very much. But he would do well to listen to and reach out to all sectors of society – after all he is everyone’s Prime Minister now, not just for Labourites.

We have also noted that the environment, a matter of concern to many in this country, did not feature in the speech. We trust that this was just an oversight, and not a sign of things to come.

We truly hope that, as PM, Abela will practice what he preaches, especially when it comes to not repeating past mistakes. We will definitely hold him to his word.

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