The Malta Independent 6 December 2023, Wednesday
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Watch: PL admission of need for new economic model is 'biggest certificate of failure’ – Gonzi

Albert Galea Sunday, 29 October 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

The government’s own admission that the country needs a new economic model is the “biggest certificate of failure” of a decade of leadership of the country by the Labour Party, former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Gonzi, who led a Nationalist government between 2004 and 2013, was asked about a raft of topics including the current political situation in the country, the situation pertaining to the party he led, and the appointment of Malta’s next President during a sit-down interview this week.


Asked how he would sum up the situation in the country today, Gonzi referred to comments by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Finance Minister Clyde Caruana themselves, with both having said that the country needs a new economic model.

“This is the biggest certificate of failure of 10 years of leadership of this country by a Labour government,” Gonzi said.

“To, after 10 years, end up admitting that you have an economic model which needs to change because the country is facing big problems which were caused by that same economic model… my judgement – and I admit that I might be prejudiced but I try to look at the facts – is that the government itself is realising that the last 10 years represent decisions which damaged the country rather than improved it,” Gonzi said, saying that he hopes that the people will judge that for themselves in the election.

For Gonzi, the solution is obvious: “We need a radical change when it comes to leadership,” he said.

He continued that leadership must set the example by being serious, honest and with integrity, noting that this example will then leave an effect on society.  The last decade, he said, was filled with things which were not the best for the country.

He mentioned the Court of Appeals decision to confirm the annulment of the Steward Health Care contract – a decision handed down on the day this interview took place – and the outcome of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry, which found the state responsible for creating an environment which enabled the journalist’s assassination to take place as examples.

Gonzi said that when he was Prime Minister, his foreign counterparts used to ask him what Malta’s secret was for offering such a good quality of life, something he says was down to the merits of investors, workers, and the Maltese public itself in fostering a good reputation for the country.

“Our secret was that we led with certain values which guided us on what was right and wrong.  We weren’t perfect – nobody is – but the road and the results speak for themselves,” he said.

There is a considerable chunk of the Maltese public who, however, may not share Gonzi’s views on the past – chief amongst them being Robert Abela himself, who frequently refers to the times of Gonzi’s administration as a means of try to extoll the Labour government’s achievements in comparison.

Gonzi however is not impressed by such narratives.

“The Prime Minister has a habit of forgetting that his party – and he too as he’s been in Cabinet, even as a consultant to Joseph Muscat – has been in government for the last decade. Using the past as an excuse is banal,” he said.

Abela’s main critique of the Gonzi administration is of how the government back then chose to – in the Prime Minister’s rough words – have the people shoulder any financial burdens that the country may face, while the Labour government has absorbed these itself such as through the Covid-19 Wage Supplement and the more recent energy subsidies.

However Gonzi pointed out that the “difficult decisions” that his administration had to take were during the 2008-2009 financial crisis which left countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland amongst others economically crippled.

“In that financial crisis with the decisions we took – some of which weren’t easy but were necessary – we managed to go through that storm which broke other countries and keep moving forward,” he said.

He said that the inflation rates back then compared to now are of no comparison: today the Maltese are facing inflation so high that the Cost of Living Allowance in the next Budget will be a record again.

“Unfortunately sometimes I think Robert Abela forgets he is the Prime Minister and speaks more as the leader of the Labour Party.  I want to remind him that there are circumstances where you can speak as leader of your party, but that he has to remember that he is the Prime Minister for the whole country – both for Labourites and Nationalists – and I expect from him that he speaks with some seriousness instead of ridiculing himself in a manner which lacks the political substance that the country deserves,” Gonzi said.

Appointing a new President

The country is less than six months away – at least on paper – from having a new President of the Republic.  This will be the first time that a President is appointed by a cross-party majority – something not previously a legal requirement.

There have been cases where the appointment of the President is a unanimous decision in Parliament, and one such case was when Gonzi himself nominated George Abela – who was part of the Labour Party at the time – to become President.

It was something which goes against the grain when compared to the rest of Malta’s political history – although he doesn’t see it as having been anything particularly special: “Yes, it’s something rare, but the criteria was that I had and still have faith that George Abela was a person with integrity and honesty and had values which I shared and the courage to speak up for what he believed in,” he said.

It just so happens that the man Gonzi appointed to be President is the father of the man who happens to be Malta’s Prime Minister right now.  Gonzi affords a chuckle at the irony, but says that this and the choice for the next President should not be mixed up.

There had been some rumours circulating that Gonzi’s own name may be put forward for the post, but he quashes them immediately: “I have no interest – I am declaring it from now in this interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday that I have no interest so that nobody comes knocking on my door, as I will say no immediately.”

However, he does believe that the next President should be someone with political experience – something which hasn’t particularly been an idea shared by all.

“If whoever is chosen has experience of how politics is done in the country, that would be an asset as there will come moments of crisis where you need someone capable of facing them,” he said.

He added that while the President’s role is a symbolic one, if a constitutional crisis were to occur, it would be the President to safeguard the constitution.

The thought that George Vella’s successor should be someone from the political arena – past or present – however elicits an obvious question, particularly given the recent tetchiness between the two major parties: will they be able to come to an agreement on someone with political experience?

“I hope so, and I believe they will,” Gonzi said.  “Experience has taught me that certain things are said in public because it’s part of the political show, something which happens in every country, not just Malta.  But there would be contacts behind the scenes.”

“I think that with good intentions and discussions not in front of the cameras, and without kite-flying and throwing names around and putting people in embarrassing positions. It would be better if the two party heads meet, discuss together and then if need be even discuss with other social forces so to be sure that we have a person who has the support and respect of the whole people,” he said.

George Vella’s successor is unknown as his term comes to an end in April next year.  The Nationalist Party has reportedly suggested three shortlisted candidates, only one of whom – Dolores Christina – has party political experience.

Political ideologies, the PN, Roberta Metsola, and the MEP elections

There is a lot to say about how Malta’s political ideology has developed in the last 10 years since Gonzi left the political scene, and an interpretation frequently made is that realistically speaking both major parties don’t really have a distinctive ideology to speak of anymore – many, including people from within, have said that the Labour Party is certainly no longer a socialist, but it also feels like the PN is struggling with its own political identity. 

Asked about this however, Gonzi expressed agreement on the Labour Party but not on the Nationalist Party.

He noted that in Europe and elsewhere the ideological distance that existed in the last 20 to 30 years has fizzled out, mentioning France, Germany, the Netherlands and even Italy as examples.

When it comes to Malta, Gonzi firmly believes that the Labour Party has changed: “It has abandoned everything it believed in,” he said.

“It was against the EU, now it is in favour.  It was against liberalisation of the media, now it is in favour.  It was against private investment, now it is in favour.  It was in favour of doing government corporations when today we’ve realised that corporations led by the government have a higher chance of bankruptcy and poor leadership,” he elaborated.

The PN on the other hand, he said, has “refined” its politics in a number of aspects, but has “remained the party believing in private enterprises, believing in initiatives and investment in education, believing that the country can keep moving forward only if we have youths who are qualified and prepared for the workplaces of the future, and it’s a party which believes in the sanctity of life.”

“I don’t want to paint everything as perfect because we weren’t… the Nationalist Party lost in 2013 because we deserved to lose; the time had come and the Maltese people decided to try something different.  But that the Nationalist Party continued to form its politics around the values it believes in is a fact.”

“I don’t say that the two parties are the same.  They are not the same.  What happened was that the Labour Party tried to wear the Nationalist Party’s suit, but that suit fits a bit tight and they have to be careful as it is almost bursting at the seams from everywhere,” he said.

There have been a number of different political surveys in the past few months showing that while the Nationalist Party is now closer to – or in some cases ahead of – the Labour Party, this is more because people don’t want to vote for Labour rather than people wanting to vote for the Nationalists. 

Asked first and foremost how much attention he as a former party leader used to give to these types of surveys, Gonzi described them as a “snapshot which becomes out of date the day after it is taken.”

The more important part of the survey for him was the part which asked people what was worrying them most.

Asked about the results of the surveys itself, Gonzi said that “it seems like the Maltese people in its majority is not happy with the Labour Party’s leadership.” 

“The Labour leadership is being savagely criticised by the people; they aren’t happy, but it’s also true that the Nationalist Party has not taken advantage of the people’s criticism of the government and pulled them towards them,” he said.

He noted that the journey of a party in opposition is not easy because few take what that party says it can do seriously, but he added that he believes that with its thoughts and proposals the Nationalist Party is going in the right direction.

“It is the party which is looking not at the crisis of today, but towards where the country can go and I’m pleased that there are good proposals,” he said.

The counter-argument is whether that vision inspire the people to vote for it though – because so far that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“That’s because there are still things to be done in order to develop and explain that vision and explain why it is better to vote for the Nationalist Party,” Gonzi replied.

“I believe that the track record of our country in the many years that this country was in the PN’s hands speaks for itself.  We were proud of our country, we could go wherever we wanted and present our passport and people would be surprised at what we could produce.  The PN can recover that and recover it again,” he continued.

He cycled through the party’s three leaders in the last decade: Simon Busuttil who he said had the task of leading a party adjusting itself to being in opposition but realised the “crises of dishonesty and lack of integrity” that the Labour government had brought; Adrian Delia who he said exposed major scandals such as the hospitals one concluded just this week; and Bernard Grech who is pushing the new vision for the country “if and when the people decide to trust the Nationalist Party.”

The subject of the Nationalist Party leadership however is in many ways a painful one for the party.  It has caused much division within the party, particularly when Adrian Delia was ousted from the post.

With Bernard Grech, those divisions appear to be well on the road to being mended – but the elephant in the room that is Roberta Metsola and her potential for party leadership in the future remains very firmly there.  Her address at the party’s recent Independence Day celebrations only led more to wonder what a PN led by Metsola would look like.

Asked about this, Gonzi first noted that one cannot compare the two political parties when it comes to leadership changes, noting that Joseph Muscat was forced to resign from the Labour Party’s leadership because of the circumstances in the country, including the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

He agreed that a change in leadership – particularly when an election is involved – is a “painful process”, but said that today the Nationalist leadership appears to have things moving in the right direction.

“Roberta Metsola is a jewel – not for the Nationalist Party, but for Malta,” Gonzi said, turning to the European Parliament President.

“From a small island we have elected a woman, a mother of four children, who has dedicated her life to politics in the best interest of the common good.  She was chosen by all of the European Union to be the President of the European Parliament – a role which is the second most important in the entire EU.  So she has this potential,” he said.

He continued by pointing out that Metsola has contributed to the party and continues to do so like other MEP candidates by sharing the party’s vision for the country.

“Roberta is already an important part of the PN today, and she can be such in the future as a contributor to the vision for the country’s future.  But she has her own future, and I would say that the opportunities open for her are opportunities for the country,” he said. 

“I think the PN has a luxury in having both Roberta and Bernard and other spokespersons who present the vision for the country, and she brings nothing but respect to the country’s name.  She is a treasure who we have to take care of,” he added.

After all of this though, can the PN transfer everything into votes in the upcoming MEP elections and win a third seat? 

Gonzi is cautious, but says that the indications are encouraging even if anything can happen in the next six months.

“What I want to say is that we do not live in a bubble cut off from the realities around us.  Our country has to face the major storm caused by the Ukraine war and the major trouble in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.  We are living in a very difficult moment for our country and this has created great issues around the world which has been a long-time coming,” he said.   

“My hope is that in the coming months, the whole country realises that this is a moment where we need to work together for the common interest and good of the country, and not the moment to get lost in populism and party politics that will take us nowhere.”


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