The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Promoveatur ut amoveatur

Noel Grima Sunday, 22 November 2020, 08:31 Last update: about 12 days ago

Another one from Joseph Muscat's old team has hit the ground.

Take away the usual hype of promotion to Governor of the Central Bank and the fact remains there is now a vacancy at South Street.

Edward Scicluna has been Minister for Finance since Day One of the first Muscat term, one of the oldest if not the oldest around the Ecofin table. Older than him in terms of government service is his Perm Sec inherited from the Gonzi – Tonio Fenech times.


For all this long-term service he was nevertheless excluded – as Scicluna himself admitted – from Muscat’s kitchen Cabinet or the core group composed of Konrad Mizzi, maybe Chris Cardona and the ubiquitous Keith Schembri who took all the strategic decisions including decisions which regarded Scicluna's own remit.

Scicluna proved to be a loyal supporter, voting over and over in support of the government in many votes of confidence. He also defended his government's record in innumerable speeches, articles and meetings.

Yet, as we are daily becoming aware, the real and complete power was never in his hand. And as successive investigations have shown, the bodies now looked on at the core of the moral deficit of the Muscat years were nominally within his remit. Such as MFSA and FIAU.

Over the past years and increasingly in recent times, Scicluna has been exhibiting signs he had grown tired of being the fall guy. Heavens know what remarks he must have faced from colleagues off the record in the innumerable (and interminable) Ecofin meetings.

It was always clear that the past Budget would be his last one. I do not think this was due to any disagreement with Robert Abela. Rather, I think, the trigger may have been the coming verdict by Moneyval which if less than favourable would constitute a dark blob on his career.

He has always railed against the international and sections of the Maltese media as being antagonistic against the Labour administration. But such have been the faults and deficiencies uncovered by many investigations that nobody now believes the international bad press was the result of media spin 'by Daphne’s children'.

For all that,  I am not persuaded that his conduction of his ministry is the glorious success that government spin makes it out to be.

It is true that he found an Excessive Deficit situation and turned into a profit, which was reached by careful management of the economy. One must also factor in revenues generated by the sale of passports and the citizenship schemes.

And it has been proved by many international studies but somehow never given much traction in Malta that wage growth in Malta has been among the lowest in Europe. This has been kept down by the numbers of migrants flocking to Malta and working for starvation wages, always better than unemployment in their countries of origin.

The successive Budgets read out by Scicluna year after year have been gradualist in format but there have not been any real breakthrough, no new initiative to reach. The real new initiatives date from the last PN times – aeronautical especially, while the initiatives bombastically launched by the Labour administration especially Blockchain have been a non-starter.

It is quite ironic that the two main contenders to succeed Scicluna, Clyde Caruana at Jobsplus (increased entry of migrants) and Minister Silvio Schembri with regards to Blockchain are identified with these non-starters economic-wise.

Scicluna has had to live with an economy skewed towards and dominated by mass tourism. The pandemic has caused massive disruption in this regard and it is far too early to speak of post-Covid.

And the economy is pushed ahead by a construction industry that is speedily gobbling what remains of Malta's countryside, building ever smaller apartments, turning into Malta’s connurbarion.

Now Scicluna will become Governor of the Central Bank instead of Mario Vella who is getting some sort of new posting.

We have not been told why is Vella moving on. Nor why Scicluna has been chosen instead. I can list quite a number who would have been willing candidates, some from inside the Bank itself.

There has not been a call for applications as far as I am aware, and I am not so sure whether Scicluna's appointment will be discussed by the special parliamentary committee – not that it makes any difference. Surely, other countries do things differently.

People at ground level are thus led to conclude this is all a game of musical chairs at the higher levels of government. Alternatively, the old Latin adage comes to mind – Promoveatur ut amoveatur – promote him to move him out.

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