The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Robert Abela’s rollercoaster beginning

Noel Grima Sunday, 26 January 2020, 08:51 Last update: about 2 months ago

Ideally, a new Prime Minister ought to come to the office with at least a general idea of what he wants to do, at least a core team around him and a couple of heavies to watch his back when the going gets dirty.

Instead, Robert Abela seems to have none of these requisites. As a result, these have been roller-coaster days for him and his administration, with a new crisis every day.

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He won the race against all the odds and predictions, he managed to put together a revised Cabinet, he endured the Xarabank exposure and has seen his life turned upside down as crisis after crisis comes knocking on his door. And he has yet to go to Brussels and meet his counterparts or focus on the wider issues of Europe and the world.

Other opinion writers have touched on the Joseph Muscat toxic legacy and Abela has been doing his fair bit to circumscribe it and, in part, revert it. He spoke against the liberalisation of abortion, but it was in the drawing-up of the Cabinet list that he showed how easy it was to do what Muscat had shied away from doing all these past years. And he again showed his mettle when he accepted Justyne’s resignation when Muscat had accepted the situation and lived with it.

On the economy level, he moved away from Muscat’s hobnobbing with the super rich, such as the Fenechs and the Gasans, and spent time with the GRTU and the Valletta shop-owners.

There are now indications that at least some of his appointees are singing from the same hymn sheet. Jose Herrera, the Culture Minister, banned a scurrilous Carnival float and new boy Clayton Bartolo terminated Adrian Hillman’s consultancy with the Gaming Authority. Both decisions would have been unthinkable in Muscat’s time. Now what happens to the heads of the two bodies?

The elephant in the room – or rather the country – remains the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the conspiracy behind it. The investigations in this regard have covered a lot of ground but much remains to be done.

Abela has put two new men in the Home Affairs and Justice Ministries – one a complete neophyte. Then he was faced with the resignation of the Chief of Police. The Opposition and others suggested a two-thirds vote but Abela rebutted, probably correctly, that this would not work.

On a wider level, Abela’s huge task is to begin to address the enormous deficit in Malta’s credit worthiness in the wider sense of the word, of which the recent downgrade by The Economist Intelligence Unit is undoubtedly the worst. This is a task for the next 50 years, so much have we fallen in just a few years. The downgrades in local banking are just the beginning, we were authoritatively informed.

On a local level, I invite Dr Abela to do a walkabout in the town of my birth, Hamrun, especially from Daniel’s to Blata l-Bajda, and count the number of third-country shops that have turned the area into a suburb of Dhaka and to listen to what the Maltese – his constituents and supporters – have to say.

Others would want him to do something about the environment and, in fact, he touched on this subject in his campaign speeches but, just before he was elected, bulldozers were digging up pristine fields for the controversial Centre Link project. Will he pause the work until saner councils prevail?

 

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