The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial: Robert Abela’s first week as PM

Sunday, 19 January 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

It has been, on the whole, a good first week for Prime Minister Robert Abela.

While many, including the media, had favoured the other contender, Chris Fearne, thinking that Abela would be another Joseph Muscat, the new PM has made a number of praiseworthy decisions that have shown that he intends to do things very differently from his predecessor.

Perhaps the most important move so far has been the resignation of Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar. Abela has pledged to draft, in consultation with the Cabinet, a new and more transparent way of appointing Police chiefs. He has also pledged to reform the Malta Police Force, not because the force has not done good work but because things can be improved.

Abela’s choice of Cabinet is also a breath of fresh air. Young politicians have been given important roles and those with dark shadows hanging about them have been left out.

The new PM has also accepted the resignation of Neville Gafa, who no longer works with government, and has distanced himself from the disgraced Keith Schembri. His choice of Head of Secretariat – former JobsPlus CEO Clyde Caruana – has also been applauded.

The Prime Minister has also put his foot down on the issue of abortion, saying that the highly controversial practice will not see the light of day in Malta while he is Prime Minister. Effectively, he has told Joseph Muscat, who said that he will work for the introduction of new civil liberties in Malta, “not under my watch.”

Abela has also pledged to reach out to civil society groups that have been campaigning against corruption and for justice for murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

There, we have seen a change in rhetoric from Abela. Having previously accused demonstrators of “provoking,” Abela now says he speaks the same language as them. When asked by this newsroom on Thursday, Abela said he had given instructions for the makeshift memorial in Valletta not to be cleared out after the vigil – something that happened on the morning after the vigils over the past months.  The following morning, the candles and flowers were still there.

Abela has shown himself to be more tolerant than his predecessor, although he did make it clear that the monument per se remains a national one.

Members of civil society groups seem to be split on how to reciprocate with the new PM. Some have rightly pointed out that the right to protest is sacrosanct, that the PM should not be applauded for allowing something that should be taken for granted. Some have praised the approach Abela has taken, others were not so kind.

We believe that the new Prime Minister deserves a chance. The direction he seems to be taking so far is the right one, and hopefully he will keep going along this path. If he strays from it, we will be the first to keep him in check. But we will give him a chance, as all of us should.

Abela has offered an olive branch to civil society. It would be more fruitful for everyone if these two sides cooperate more, and in order for that to happen, both sides must give each other a chance. Some decisions can be taken overnight, such as the sacking of a police commissioner.

The indication given by the PM, that the Attorney General will likely not be removed, will probably not go down well with civil society, which has been calling for Peter Grech’s dismissal for many months.

One hopes that a mature discussion between the PM and these groups is held without delay, and that the issue can be ironed out.

If civil society is not pleased with the outcome it has every right to keep protesting, but dialogue should come before demonstrations.

Abela should also involve the Opposition in certain decision-making processes, particularly when it comes to the changes needed to strengthen the rule of law. Adrian Delia has called on the PM to consult with the Opposition on such changes, and one looks forward to what Abela’s reply will be.

Engaging with all stakeholders, including the Opposition, is necessary in a functioning democracy.

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