The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial - Robert Abela: Good Cabinet, but more concrete leadership required

Friday, 17 January 2020, 09:39 Last update: about 2 months ago

At face value, Robert Abela’s new Cabinet is an attractive one, albeit big in size.

This is a relatively young Cabinet where veterans have been asked to make space for aspiring politicians, who now have a chance to shine and show their mettle.

Others who had shamed the previous administration, such as Konrad Mizzi, and people like Chris Cardona, who was embroiled in one controversy after another, also have no place in Abela’s team.


This is quite positive and seems to show that the new PM means business and is determined to change things for the better, at least where image is concerned.

Some observations;

The appointment of Aaron Farrugia as Environment and Planning Minister and of Silvio Schembri as Economy and Trade Minister are to be lauded. Both are young politicians with vision, who have worked hard and delivered in their previous respective fields.

The reserved Farrugia, for example, has a reputation of being a no-nonsense man who works in silence and gets results. The fact that planning and the environment have been brought together under the same ministry again is certainly a step in the right direction. Over the past few years there was a total disconnect between the two, and there were several instances where the planning and environment ministries were heading in two completely different directions. The environment suffered as a result. Hopefully, that will change.

Schembri, while perhaps a bit cockier than Farrugia, seems to be confident in his work and has spearheaded the introduction of new and exciting economic niches. As Economy Minister, he now faces the daunting task that is Air Malta. We believe that he is up to the task and will hopefully also bring to Malta new economic sectors, perhaps ones that do not require a huge workforce, like what happened over the last legislature with construction.

Chris Fearne has retained the health portfolio, so we can expect continuity there. Fearne is probably best placed to fix the VGH/Steward fiasco.

Evarist Bartolo has lost the education portfolio and been given foreign affairs instead. While this is usually a post that ministers get towards the end of their political careers, Bartolo has the charisma needed to start rebuilding Malta’s image abroad. More importantly, he has been critical of the Muscat administration, and this might give him more credibility to perform the task at hand.

He is replaced by Owen Bonnici, who lost the justice portfolio. While this may be a sign that that Abela wants fresh blood in a sector that caused controversy, it is by no means a relegation to Bonnici since he has been given one of the toughest ministries.

The choice to retain Edward Scicluna as Finance Minister promises continuity in a sector that is doing well.

Some of Abela’s choices seem to reflect that the new PM was unhappy with the way things were being done in certain sectors. Michael Farrugia is no longer police minister. While the lack of credibility in the police force may have come about as a result of interference from higher up in the political chain, Farrugia did not show enough leadership in this portfolio. Yet he is an able politician, so moving him to another important ministry – energy and water – was the right thing to do.

Byron Camilleri is a good choice of successor at the Home Affairs and National Security Ministry. The reserved lawyer is a doer, we are told, and will likely do a very good job in his new role. As Government Whip, he was somewhat ‘wasted.’

The choice to retain Ian Borg as Transport and Infrastructure Minister has its pros and cons. Borg has shown us a better way to manage large-scale projects that are improving our road infrastructure. Yet, at the same time, the environmental destruction that came as a result of some of these projects is not something we are happy about. Hopefully, things will be done with more sensitivity towards the environment and the green NGOs under the new premiership.

Alex Muscat also deserved a Cabinet role – he is now PS for Citizenship and Communities, and Rosianne Cutajar has been given a portfolio she is very passionate about – Equality and Reforms.

So, overall, Abela’s Cabinet promises to deliver.

We have to add, however, that appointing a good Cabinet, on its own, is not a good enough measure of how good the new PM is. We still need to see what kind of leadership Abela will offer.

Implementing the electoral programme is one thing, putting the country back on the right path and rebuilding its reputation is another thing entirely.

The fact that Abela has so far refrained from stating his intentions with regard to the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General does not bode well. Both the Police Commissioner and the AG have reached the point of no return and they must be replaced immediately. There is no time to lose.

We can only wait and see, but Abela does not have the luxury of time on such important issues.


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