The Malta Independent 27 January 2022, Thursday

Kiss and tell – the end of Cabinet solidarity?

Noel Grima Sunday, 28 November 2021, 09:11 Last update: about 3 months ago

We have now reached the stage where a senior minister publicly admits to a serious disagreement with another minister in the same Cabinet.

Reading this last Sunday I was amazed that people seemed to be taking it in their stride and did not seem overly concerned.

But as far as I know, this was the first breach of Cabinet solidarity I can remember.

Normally, ministers do not come out in public and speak about a ministerial colleague. They may murmur in private and perhaps leak their displeasure in an indirect way to the media. But normally they defend each other.

In fact, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, along with the rest of the Cabinet and the parliamentary group had voted in favour of Konrad Mizzi when the House debated an Opposition motion of censure.

After what Fearne was quoted as saying last Sunday I doubt if he would again vote in favour of Mizzi if the Opposition were to represent the motion of censure now.

Fearne's words of censure can even be interpreted to be a direct criticism of the former head of government, Joseph Muscat. Again, as far as I can remember, this is the first time that a former premier was openly criticized by his own side, by people who were in his own Cabinet.

This is not just an infringement of what can only be called Cabinet solidarity. The fact that it was made must have been deliberate. I can only interpret it as meaning that the Abela government is shaking Mizzi off as a toxic influence without daring to say, at least this side of the election, that he has no place in a future Abela government.

To be absolutely fair, reports that Fearne disagreed with the Vitals deal had appeared in various news portals before last Sunday but they were always reported as leaks. This was the first time, as far as I know, that quotes were ascribed to Fearne directly.

I think we can only read this in one way – the government is getting nearer to the thesis espoused by Adrian Delia that the deal must be reversed and Malta (and Gozo) get back their hospitals without paying damages.

In fact, just a few days later, the prime minister was quoted as saying that the deal could be reversed ‘if’ Stewards, who took over the concession from Vitals, are found to be in breach of the conditions (when it is clear they are).

Fearne’s criticism that he should have been involved in the deal from the beginning of course questions only one aspect of the deal. As the Auditor General had remarked, there are other aspects of the deal that should be questioned.

But Fearne’s strictures target also the head of the government under who this deal was negotiated and agreed – Joseph Muscat. Maltese politics are notoriously short on gratitude and, especially in Labour, yesterday’s hero is already today’s bad guy.

There are some former high and mighty ministers who have been sidelined – Joe Mizzi, Anthony Agius Decelis, Silvio Parnis. Others like Chris Cardona are no longer MPs. Muscat is implicitly accused of not running a tight ship and of allowing ministerial responsibilities to become blurred.

The ideas contained in the Vitals – Stewards deal contain quite a number of good ideas but implementation has proved to be problematic. Could it be that they could have been implemented by the Maltese for the Maltese? (Remember the long delays while Mater Dei was being built?)

The funds they have been given seem to have been spent mainly on human resources, which might also mean more funds will be needed.

It might have been a good idea in cloud-cuckoo land to outsource the lot but we now have a good idea what was the real reason for outsourcing - filling up the companies set up in fiscal paradises to receive illicit gains.

Konrad Mizzi is on the way out – as a minister, as an MP, as Deputy Leader. There goes the Great White Hope of the Muscat government. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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