Louis Galea is the White Knight the Nationalist Party desperately needs to save it from tumbling into irrelevance, or so the PN would have people believe.
The move to bring him on to undertake the massive reform the party desperately needs (which really should be Adrian Delia’s job) may prove to be a masterstroke in the attempt to appease party members still clinging on to the nostalgia of past victories.
While he has certainly long been held in high regard within the party due to his intellect and political nous, his continuous links to clientelism and patronage mean that the PN’s supposed saviour has got plenty of shades of grey.
Here’s a look at what you need to know about Louis Galea.
Louis Galea’s political career: A strategist who helped transform the PN from opposition to a leading force
Galea has long been held in high regard by the party and its constituents, often ranking as one of the most popular ministers during his tenure. His political nous, strategic qualities and intellect made him stand out from the crowd.
Louis Galea, who had initially formed part of Labour’s youth wing, was elected to parliament on the PN’s bracket in seven consecutive elections, starting from 1976.
His distinguished career saw him serve as the PN’s Secretary General, and as one of the principal architects of the party’s transformation to a more left-wing Christian Democratic organisation.
A Nationalist cut from the same cloth as Peter Serracino Inglott, Galea set up party clubs across the islands, the party’s youth wing, a workers’ secretariat, and the party’s women’s branch.
Once the PN took became the governing party in 1987, Galea was appointed Minister for Social Policy. This was the start of a career in the cabinet that saw him also serve as Minister for Home Affairs and Social Development (1992) and Minister for Education (1998).
Often ranking as one of the most popular ministers during his tenure, some of his most credited achievements include transforming Corradino prison into a “correctional facility”, undertaking the growth of MCAST, and introducing educational colleges.
He did, however, finish third in the 2003 PN Leadership Race by some margin, due to issues surrounding his controversial political history (more on that later).
Galea was displaced from his parliamentary seat in the 2008 election, losing out to then-newcomer Franco Debono on the fifth district, while he also missed out on the sixth district which included his stronghold of Siggiewi.
However, his constituents had also grown tired of their long-serving MP, while he was also hampered by his personal assistant, Charlo Bonnici, leaving the ministry to pursue his own candidature.
Galea was then appointed Speaker of the House for the 2008-2013 legislature.
Louis Galea’s grey politics: political patronage and direct orders
As is often the case with Maltese politicians, Galea’s political history is murky at best, the PN’s supposed white horse often being the subject of intense criticism from the Labour Party (you may remember the billboards) due to an alleged network of patronage within his constituency – something which Nationalist Party supporters are very quick to criticise Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi for.
A cornerstone of the allegations is his involvement with the Auxiliary Workers Training Scheme. Geared to take on workers who were illegally employed just a day before the 1987 election, Galea spearheaded a plan to rent out construction machinery from private contractors for the sum of Lm4 million (€9.2 million).
However, the majority of the equipment ended up being leased from his constituents. The Permanent Commission Against Corruption, it should be noted, cleared Galea. However, Tonio Azzopardi (a member of the Permanent Commission) did cast some doubt on the testimonies given during the case.
Notable recipients of the AWTS included Kola Mallia, Galea’s chauffeur, Haż-Żebbug canvasser Joe Caruana, and PN’s Siggiewi branch president and future FTS board member Mario Callus.
On a separate note, one of Galea’s former consultants was even jailed for 18 years and fined €40,000 after he was found guilty of importing 2.2 kilograms of cocaine from Canada.
His time as Education Minister was also marred by similar allegations, after the Auditor General claimed that he was issuing direct orders at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools without the approval of the Finance Ministry (a claim opposition critics often level at current Finance Minister Edward Scicluna).
It was also revealed that 30% of these direct orders were issued to Galea’s constituents. However, he was shielded by then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.
More comically, Galea disclosed that he was a registered part-time farmer when he was given a building permit on agricultural land in Fawwara.
The constant links to political patrimony were brought up during his grilling to become Malta’s representative on the European Court of Auditors, and may have been among the reasons why he failed to become party leader.
While he was often seen as a natural successor to Eddie Fenech Adami, the election saw him finish third by a considerable margin behind John Dalli and Lawrence Gonzi, with controversies appearing to severely damage his chances.
Questions also remain over Galea’s own ability to transform the party into an electable alternative, given that he became unelectable within his own party and constituents even five years before they crumbled.
An over-reliance on nostalgia is also worrying. The PN’s reluctance to look forward has meant that it has consistently ended up on the more controversial side of many key political and social issues in recent years.
Turning to Galea might make sense when appeasing party members longing for the past. However, questions must be raised as to whether a person who was an astute political strategist more than 30 years ago can remain relevant after so long, especially in such a fast-changing world.
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