The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

From Muscat in 2013 to Abela in 2020: Labour’s silent revolution

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 6 September 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 12 months ago

Only three ministers appointed by Joseph Muscat in the first Cabinet he formed soon after taking office in March 2013 are still holding a ministerial portfolio.

Of these, only one retains the same position that was given to him by Muscat, while the other two today have different responsibilities from those they were given in 2013.

There are then six ministers in the Robert Abela Cabinet who seven years ago had been appointed parliamentary secretaries by Muscat.


This shows Labour’s ability to regenerate itself even when it is in government although, it must be pointed out, some of the major changes that it went through were forced because of scandals that hit the Joseph Muscat government.

Needless to mention, Muscat himself was forced to resign after his office was linked to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia – and so much more has been learnt since that resignation, via the court proceedings that are taking place.

Added to this, there were also the resignations of Konrad Mizzi first and Chris Cardona later, both of whom quit under pressure, not of their own accord.

Most of the ministers appointed in the first Joseph Muscat Cabinet had been rewarded for their long service to the party by being given a ministerial job. Many of them had formed part of the Opposition benches during the previous three consecutive Nationalist governments between 1998 and 2003. It was time for them to reap what they sowed.

But then, little by little, they moved on to new pastures as first Joseph Muscat handed them lucrative and prestigious positions, and later Robert Abela made his own choices to give his Cabinet a fresher and younger look.

In some cases, they were re-assigned to other positions, with two of them succeeding each other as Presidents of the Republic. Others were given a post as Malta’s representative in European Institutions, were demoted to the backbench or resigned, as explained earlier, in murky circumstances.

Muscat’s first Cabinet included several veteran politicians at the end of their career, and they were eventually replaced by a younger crop of politicians that the Labour Party had cultivated. It is possible, not to say likely, that the three ministers who are still part of the Cabinet seven years later will not be part of the next Cabinet after the 2022 election.

To think that, in the Nationalist Party, there are MPs who already served as ministers and/or parliamentary secretaries for several years and who are now still aspiring to be part of a PN Cabinet the next time the party wins an election, whenever that may be, goes a long way to explain how the Labour Party managed a generational change while the PN is still clinging to the past. But more about that some other time.

To go back to Labour’s turnover, this has been smooth and seamless, and now the PL finds itself with a mixture of a few veterans and many novices. By the time the veterans will be calling it a day, the novices would have gained their own experience and will no longer deserve to be called such. Some have done well and are doing well, others not so much and they’ve been somewhat lucky that the Opposition is too weak and embroiled in its own internal issues to put them on the spot. But there is still chance for them to improve.

It has been a silent revolution as Labour now knows that, in spite of being already in its second consecutive term in government, it possesses a relatively young team with which it could face the future.


Three ministers

The only minister to still hold the same position with the same responsibilities given to him by Muscat is Edward Scicluna, the finance minister. The other two ministers who still retain the title are Evarist Bartolo, who was initially Education Minister for nearly seven years until he was moved to the Foreign Ministry by Abela in January; and Anton Refalo, who was Gozo Minister between 2013 and 2017, lost his portfolio in the second Muscat government, but made a return to the Cabinet in January this year when his successor in Gozo Justyne Caruana resigned a few days after being re-appointed, and Abela was forced to carry out a mini-reshuffle which included Refalo’s return, this time as Minister of Agriculture.


Two Presidents

Two of the ministers appointed by Muscat in his first Cabinet ended up as Presidents of the Republic. The first was Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, whose political career was cut short at 55 years of age when Muscat insisted on naming her as head of state, some say not without her resistance. Her five years as President ended in 2019, and she was replaced by George Vella. The Zejtun doctor had already retired from politics, as he had not contested the 2017 election.

European appointments

Karmenu Vella was the first to go from the Muscat Cabinet. He spent a few months as Tourism Minister, a position he had occupied in the Alfred Sant 1996-1998 government, but was then marched to Brussels where he was appointed as European Commissioner in charge of maritime affairs and fisheries. When his term expired last year, another of “Muscat’s ministers”, Helena Dalli, took his place, this time as commissioner for equality.

Another former minister appointed by Muscat, Leo Brincat, was appointed in 2016 as Malta’s representative on the European Court of Auditors, a position he still holds.

The others

Joseph Muscat, who resigned from Prime Minister earlier this year, Joe Mizzi and Manuel Mallia are now on Labour’s backbench, while former deputy prime minister Louis Grech is an adviser to the Cabinet. Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi, incidentally both also former Labour deputy leaders, have both resigned in the past months, with Cardona also leaving Parliament while Mizzi retains his seat as an independent MP after being kicked out by the PL parliamentary group. Godfrey Farrugia left Labour to join the Partit Demokratiku but has since resigned and still serves as an independent MP.


Many of the parliamentary secretaries first appointed by Muscat are now ministers. Some had already been seasoned politicians in 2013, such as Jose Herrera, Roderick Galdes and Michael Farrugia (Farrugia had been minister in the Alfred Sant 1996-1998 government, but was only PS in the first Muscat government of 2013), while others were still in the early stages of their career. These included Ian Borg, Owen Bonnici and Edward Zammit Lewis.

The current health minister Chris Fearne had not made it to the first Muscat Cabinet in 2013, but was appointed parliamentary secretary for health a year later, taking over as minister in 2016. He later also became deputy prime minister and lost to Abela in the PL leadership race.

All have retained a position in the Cabinet appointed by Abela, but now they have been joined by other young politicians who have been given the chance to prove themselves. These include the likes of Byron Camilleri, Aaron Farrugia, Silvio Schembri and Julia Farrugia Portelli, while other young politicians were appointed as parliamentary secretaries.


Stefan Buontempo and Franco Mercieca are the other two parliamentary secretaries appointed by Muscat in 2013. Both were not elected in 2017.


Joseph Muscat first Cabinet in 2013


Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister – Now an MP

Louis Grech, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of European Affairs – Now adviser to Cabinet 

George Vella, Minister of Foreign Affairs – Now President 

Karmenu Vella, Minister of Tourism – Spent five years as European Commissioner 

Evarist Bartolo, Minister of Education and employment – Now Foreign Minister 

Leo Brincat, Minister for the environment, sustainable development and climate change – Now member of the European Court of Auditors 

Joe Mizzi, Minister of Transport and the Infrastructure – Now an MP

Anton Refalo, Minister for Gozo – Now Minister of Agriculture. 

Helena Dalli, Minister for Social dialogue, consumer affairs and civil liberties – Now European Commissioner.

Chris Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business - Resigned.

Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Minister of the Family and Social Solidarity – Now President Emeritus. 

Manuel Mallia, Minister of Home Affairs and national security – Now an MP.

Edward Scicluna, Minister of Finance – Same position

Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Energy and Water conservation – Resigned, now independent MP.

Godfrey Farrugia, Minister of Health – Resigned from PL, now independent MP


Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds and 2017 presidency – Now Minister of Transport, Capital projects and Infrastructure

Michael Farrugia, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Administrative simplification – Now Minister for Energy and Water Management

Jose' Herrera, Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government and Culture – Now Minister for National Heritage, Arts and Local Government

Stefan Buontempo, Parliamentary Secretary for Research, Innovation, Youth and Sport – Not elected.

Roderick Galdes, Parliamentary Secretary for for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights – Now Minister of Social Accommodation.

Edward Zammit Lewis, Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Economic Growth – Now Minister of Justice, Equality and Governance

Franco Mercieca, parliamentary secretary for active ageing and disability rights – Not elected.

Owen Bonnici, parliamentary secretary for justice – Now Minister for Education and Employment



Robert Abela Cabinet 2020


Robert Abela, Prime Minister

Chris Fearne, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister

Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs 

Edward Scicluna, Minister for Finance and Financial Services 

Michael Farrugia, Minister for Energy and Water Management

Owen Bonnici, Minister for Education and Employment

José Herrera , Minister for National Heritage, Culture, and Local Government

Carmelo Abela, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister (responsible for sustainable development, social dialogue, and the implementation of electoral manifesto)

Ian Borg, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects 

Justyne Caruana, Minister for Gozo (she resigned a few days after her appointment and was replaced by Clint Camilleri, while Camilleri’s original portfolio went to Anton Refalo)

Michael Falzon, Minister for Family, Children's Rights and Social Solidarity

Edward Zammit Lewis, Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance

Roderick Galdes, Minister for Social Accommodation

Silvio Schembri, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses

Julia Farrugia Portelli, Minister for Tourism

Aaron Farrugia, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning

Clint Camilleri, Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Animal's Rights and Consumer Protection (now Gozo minister, portfolio taken over by Anton Refalo)

Byron Camilleri, Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement


Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds within the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs

Clayton Bartolo, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and Digital Economy within the Ministry for Finance and Financial Services

Chris Agius, Parliamentary Secretary for Lands and Construction within the Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects

Clifton Grima, Parliamentary Secretary for Youths, Sport, and Voluntary Organisations within the Ministry for Education and Employment

Silvio Parnis, Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing and Persons ith Disability within the Ministry for Family, Children's Rights and Social Solidarity

Rosianne Cutajar, Parliamentary Secretary for Equality, Reforms, within the Ministry for Justice, Equality and Governance

Deo Debattista, Parliamentary Secretary for Consumer Protection and Public Cleansing within the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries, Animal Rights and Consumer Protection

Alex Muscat, Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Communities within the Ministry for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement


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