The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Friction – Abela, Fearne and the virus

Wednesday, 5 August 2020, 08:34 Last update: about 3 months ago

So much has happened and is happening in the Nationalist Party that what the Labour Party is going through is not being given the importance it deserves.

The evolving situation in the PN, with top people fighting each other in public fora and an election for the leadership on the way, is certainly more exciting to follow. But the Labour Party has undergone and is undergoing its own difficulties which, as a party in government, should also be scrutinised.

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One of the most glaring difficulties is the strained relationship between Prime Minister Robert Abela and his deputy, Chris Fearne.

The two contested the election for the PL leadership in January. The PL tries to belittle the rift that was created before the poll and continued afterwards, but it is easy to see that the way Fearne thought he had the leadership battle under wraps only to be outsmarted by Abela after the party machine geared up behind him has affected the rapport between the two.

Soon after Abela’s election to the leadership, there was even talk that Fearne was considering a resignation from the deputy leadership and that he was not ready to accept the post of health minister Abela offered him. But he was convinced to stay on and retained the same positions he held when Joseph Muscat was leading the party and government.

Then came the Coronavirus, and the differences between the two were more in the open, as Abela was more inclined to safeguard the economy while Fearne was more for the protection of the people’s health. In the earlier stages of the virus, March and April, Abela was persuaded to give more attention to public health with a number of restrictions that inevitably had a negative impact on the economy in spite of the support given by the government to the business sector via incentives and financial assistance.

This enabled Malta to contain the virus, and there was a time in mid-July when we had almost eradicated it. But suddenly the virus reared its head again. This came after Abela had succumbed to the pressure that was being made by hoteliers and the business community for the airport to be reopened and for restrictions to be eased.

While Fearne – with the backing of the health authorities and the medical professionals –continues to insist on the health aspect of the Covid situation, Abela has found the support of Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia who, in her first year as minister responsible for the sector, is seeing the numbers plummet to unprecedented lows after successive years of records.

In public, Abela and Fearne will never admit that there is some discord between them on how Covid is tackled. Fearne made it a point to say so last week when he addressed a news conference to announce limitations to mass activities, an event for which Abela was conspicuously absent. Abela was always present on previous occasions related to important developments on the virus, but last week stayed away.

It is clear that the tug-of-war situation between health and economy – not to say between Abela and Fearne – will not go away easily.

 

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