Cabinet is bracing itself for a reshuffle, its first under Robert Abela’s tenure, and the Prime Minister is reportedly analysing the work conducted by his ministers and parliamentary secretaries in the past ten months to decide how best to separate the wheat from the chaff.
With this in mind, Lovin Malta asked the current Cabinet members to list their three best achievements since the start of the year.
Ministers Chris Fearne (Health), Jose Herrera (National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government), Michael Falzon (Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity), Edward Scicluna (Finance and Financial Services), and Carmelo Abela (Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister) declined to respond by the deadline, but everyone else had very clear ideas in mind.
Here’s how they responded:
Silvio Schembri (Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses)
1. All the COVID-19 schemes that helped keep businesses afloat, including wage supplement, rent and electricity bill subsidies, €4 million in assistance for farmers, €2500 refunds for couples who had to postpone their weddings and €100 vouchers to spend on businesses impacted by the pandemic.
“All this resulting in protecting businesses and safeguarding 100,000 jobs while ending up today with the lowest unemployment rate in Europe.”
2. Capping prices for surgical face masks at 95c to combat price gouging, making use of a legal mechanism that hadn’t been used for over 40 years.
“Today I note that thanks to this decision, prices have gone down even further.”
3. Air Malta’s work during the pandemic, repatriating residents who were stranded overseas, transporting 662 tonnes of cargo to and from the island, and delivering 800 tonnes of medical supplies to Mater Dei workers, saving the government €5.5 million in freight costs in the process.
Owen Bonnici (Minister for Education and Employment)
1. Successfully opening educational institutions post-COVID-19, starting with childcare centres and summer schools and eventually schools, with €26 million allocated on placing them in line with new health protocols.
A special child-minding service is being offered for church school parents whose children have been placed on a rotating physical-online roster and post-secondary and tertiary institutions are offering a “blend” of physical and online lessons.
2. Investment in educational infrastructure, namely the opening of a new primary school in Qawra, the instalment of a bridge and footpath to connect two blocks at the Ħamrun Secondary School, the opening of a new block at the Żejtun Secondary School, the start of construction of a new primary school in Msida and facilities at the Santa Lucia Secondary School, and restoration works at the School of Art in Valletta.
3. The provision of hundreds of laptops and tablets to children from families who needed assistance during the period when schools went fully online. Requests were vetted by an internal committee and Bonnici himself donated a month’s worth of his salary to the cause.
Aaron Farrugia (Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning)
1. Financing of infrastructure for Malta’s long-term waste management plan.
2. The government including a Low Carbon Development Strategy and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 in its fireman pillars of economic vision.
3. Green infrastructure: financing for urban greening projects, a green facades scheme and intelligent planning with the revision of the rural policy and fuel stations policy.
Ian Borg (Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects)
1. Commencement of works on the Malta National Park, which is set to become the island’s largest open space, equivalent to 60 football grounds and including no fewer than 80,000 new trees.
2. Ongoing works on the Central Link, Marsa Junction and Santa Lucia underpass, along with hundreds of residential roads across the islands, notwithstanding the pandemic.
3. Conclusion of the first set of “voluminous” reports on the planned Malta Metro mass transport project.
“Looking forward to move forward for the second phase, economic viability and feasibility together with other studies.”
Evarist Bartolo (Minister for European and Foreign Affairs)
1. Proposing EU aid to Libya to help it stem the flow of irregular migrants before they can cross the Mediterranean Sea en route to Europe’s shores. Since March, the Libyan coastguard managed to stop 4,000 people from making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean while tens of migrants were relocated from Malta to other countries.
2. Assisting 1,600 Maltese residents and citizens to return to Malta from all around the world in the wake of the pandemic, helping 6,100 tourists and foreign nationals return to their home countries, and acquiring medical equipment for the health authorities through Malta’s network of ambassadors and diplomats.
3. Launching a bid for Malta to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2023 and helping broker a ceasefire deal in Libya, which should lead to a process of political transition, according to the will of the people of Libya and without any foreign interference.
“Malta will keep playing the part of a genuine interlocutor without any ulterior motive save the wellbeing and unity of the people of Libya. Malta will be the honest voice of Libya in the EU and beyond because peace and stability in the Mediterranean is crucial to ensuring peace and stability in the rest of Europe.”
Anton Refalo (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights)
1. Launching a reform of the Pitkalija vegetable market in Ta’ Qali.
2. Providing financial assistance to farmers to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, as well as compensation for damages they suffered in a notorious storm in 2019.
3. Negotiating the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy post-2020 and reaching a general approach which safeguards the interests of Maltese farmers.
Clint Camilleri (Minister for Gozo)
1. Ongoing roadworks in Triq l-Imġarr, Nadur and Triq Sant’Antnin, Għajnsielem, as well as the completion of Triq iż-Żewwieqa, Mġarr and other roads.
2. Concluding infrastructural projects, such as Pjazza San Franġisk in Rabat, the Marsalforn Menqa and the Dry Standing Facility for boats in Xlendi, as well as the start of works on an Aquatic Centre (which will include an Olympic-sized swimming pool) and a Gozo Museum.
3, Launching a series of schemes, such as the Gozo Employment Refund Scheme, the Gozo Teleworking Scheme, the Gozo Back Office Scheme, the Gozo Relocation scheme, and the MICE in Gozo scheme which is incentivising the private sector to upgrade their facilities so they’ll be able to host conferences and corporate meetings.
Byron Camilleri (Minister for Home Affairs, Law Enforcement and National Security)
1. Changing the Police Commissioner’s appointment method, from one where the minister would directly appoint them to a system that included a public call, regulated by the Public Service Commission, and a parliamentary grilling.
2. Extending the community policing scheme to another 11 localities, a process that involve internal calls for community officers, thorough training and physical space investment.
“The experience of citizens in the localities which were included has been immensely positive, and we are now working to extend this to more localities next year.”
3. Setting up a Victim Support Agency, which will see police, probation officers and other professionals housed in one place to provide a coordinated approach to lessen the distress caused to victims of crime.
Edward Zammit Lewis (Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance)
1. Ensuring the Chief Justice was appointed through parliamentary unanimity for the first time in history and presenting ten Bills for constitutional and institutional reforms, following discussions with the Venice Commission.
Among other reforms, these Bills will see the President and Chief Justice elected by a minimum of two thirds of parliamentary votes, judges and magistrates appointed by the President, responsibility for impeaching judiciary members shift from Parliament to the Commission for the Administration of Justice, and responsibility to prosecute serious crimes transfer from the Executive Police to the Attorney General.
2. Presenting a Bill against money laundering and organised crime, which will strengthen the Asset Recovery Bureau and establish a section of the Civil Court for the purpose of regulating disputes relating to the confiscation of the proceeds of crime.Improving resources in the justice sector, such as by setting up new offices for the Law Commissioner, legal aid lawyers, the Justice Department, the Mediation Centre and the Attorney General. The new office of the State Advocate will be inaugurated in the coming weeks.
3. Enhancing efficiency within the courts by presenting a bill to reduce the backlog of cases before the Court of Appeal, digitalising the filing of the majority of criminal acts, facilitating video conferencing in the civil courts, setting up a new court building with four new halls and 25 administrative offices in Strait Street, and extending the retirement age of the Judicial Bench from 65 to 68 years.
Roderick Galdes (Minister for Social Accommodation)
1. Launching the Private Residential Leases Act at the start of the year, which positioned the Housing Authority as the regulator of the private rental market and gave birth to its new platform for the registration of private rental agreements, using blockchain technology to ensure maximum transparency and security.
In the first 10 months of mandatory registration, over 26,000 rental contracts have been registered and 87,000 individual users have accessed the rent registration website. A new arbitration panel for minor disputes between landlords and tenants has already settles 64 cases.
2. Launching a Home Deposit Scheme through which young first-time buyers who are deemed bankable but who don’t have the necessary assets to affect the down payment of 10% upon the promise of sale agreement are loaned the money they need to provide this deposit. The deposit loan is payable over 25 years, with all interests paid by the Housing Authority, and the maximum property value capped at €175,000. 130 individuals and couples have already benefitted from this scheme.
Launching the Sense-Ability Scheme, through which parents of children and adults with autism and sensory processing difficulties are given grants up to €6,000 to purchase and install sensory equipment in their homes.
3. Reducing the waiting list for social accommodation by around 1,000 individuals and planning to reduce it further by completing 1,700 new units, the largest social housing project in the past 40 years with an unprecedented investment of €110 million.
“It is also crucial to mention that we are departing from conventional ways of building social housing blocks; we want to make sure that we shall not create ghettos nor segregate these new housing estates from the rest of the community.”
“This can only happen through sensitive design and the incorporation of elements within the project that suit the needs of the neighbouring communities – which include but are not limited to childcare centers, civic halls and communal amenities.”
Michael Farrugia (Minister for Energy and Water management)
1. Promoting renewable energy by launching a pilot scheme which will see 300 cars charged off peak at a fixed tariff, providing a grant for batteries which store renewable energy, providing solar lighting to 50 slipways around Malta, and launching a grant of 20,000 free solar panels to voluntary organisations.
2. Upgrading the water distribution network and reservoirs in different locations, working on a new reverse osmosis plant in Gozo, launching the WSC business plan for 2020-2023, and launching major EU-funded projects.
3. Closing the gas plant in Qajjenza, closing the San Luċjan plant, and preparing for the closure of the 31st March plant, all in Birżebbuġa.
Julia Farrugia Portelli (Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection),
1. Saving jobs and retaining the tourism workforce during the pandemic, with an estimated 100,000 jobs, mainly in tourism, saved through government intervention.
“We took the opportunity to invest in the tourism workforce through a €6 million scheme, of which more than 8,000 workers benefitted from. This has also improved the quality of service and upgrading of our destination’s offer. As a Ministry, together with the Malta Tourism Authority we have also partnered with MIMCOL and Malta Enterprise in supporting the wage supplement and the introduction of vouchers used mainly in the tourism sector.”
3. Initiating the process of a shore-to-ship power supply in Birżebbuġa, that will drastically cut sea and noise pollution in the respective areas.
It’s certainly been a turbulent 2020, but Abela’s recent decision to co-opt his chief of staff Clyde Caruana and the Labour Party’s most popular MEP Miriam Dalli into Parliament clearly shows that he believes it’s time to shake things up.
With Caruana tipped for a finance-related role and Dalli for an environment-related portfolio, the Cabinet could look very different in the near future. Question is, which ministers have done enough to keep their top jobs or even land better ones and which ones will pay the price for their lacking performance?