With one week left until the Labour Party elects a new deputy leader for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Lovin Malta reached out to the three candidates to find out why they think they’re the best for the job. After a bit of chasing, Equality Minister Helena Dalli and Health Minister Chris Fearne sent their replies to our questions.
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna did not. He said: “I would like to answer the questions myself, but work pressures are keeping me from answering the vast array of questions which honestly many go beyond my immediate concerns. Will try to answer some leaving others for another time.”
It seems being Finance Minister doesn’t leave much time to run a deputy leadership campaign. In the meantime, here’s how Helena Dalli and Chris Fearne replied.
The story has since been updated with Scicluna’s replies.
1. What was the government’s best achievement since 2013?
Helena Dalli: “Every change we make to improve the lives of people is an achievement. Politics is about people and the lives they live, how they can reach their full potential without any hindrance or discrimination. The more people can achieve this, the bigger our success as a government.”
Chris Fearne: “Maltese people have always been hardworking. However during the last years of the Gonzi administration a feeling of lethargy had gripped the country. In a short space of time we managed to change that. The feeling in Malta today is of a dynamic, on the move society. Problems which had been festering for years and were accepted as almost inevitable – eg the out-of-stock situation – we managed to address and solve. We opened up our society to new, inclusive ideas and brought a widespread feel-good feeling to the country. What is more, today most of us feel that even better times are in store for ourselves and for our children.”
Edward Scicluna: “The new way of governing. By being more tuned to the needs of the people, its determination to raise the economy’s growth potential while lowering its borrowing needs, its particular attention to what it promises and the delivery of these promises.”
2. What do you think was the government’s biggest mistake since 2013 and why?
Helena Dalli: “On occasions, we lacked confidence. We did a lot of good work for Maltese families, and we delivered on the majority of our pre-electoral promises, yet we sometimes made the mistake of going on the defensive when we did not have to. Our track record of achievements was saying enough.”
Chris Fearne: “As the first Labour Government in almost a generation I believe that whilst we were focused on building the right conditions for creating wealth in our country – which we did very successfully – we lagged behind in distributing it widely enough. Whilst we introduced new social measures such as free childcare, student stipends for repeaters and increased pensions for the first time this century, as well as reducing people in poverty by half, we need to do more in eliminating precarious work conditions, proving social housing and providing decent living wages for all. I am confident that we can and will tackle these issues in this legislature.
Edward Scicluna: “Underestimating the Opposition Leader’s negativity, his state of denial that a Labour Government could govern and govern well, and his determination to pull down the government at any cost.”
3. What does the role of deputy leadership mean to you and why are you an ideal candidate?
Helena Dalli: “It means working even more closely with the Prime Minister and giving him all the support; leadership in the House of Parliament and seeing that parliamentary work is done in the best possible manner; seeing to the needs of my colleagues in the parliamentary group; also seeing that party delegates are kept in the loop with regards to the realization of the electoral manifesto. All this so that the electorate will get what it voted for. This good work will also ensure that we are again successful when we are up for re-election. My track record when it comes to producing results, my 38 years experience working within the Labour Party and 21 years experience in Parliament, both in government and in Opposition, are obviously an asset. Also, I am someone the Prime Minister can count on, we are on the same page. I have no further ambitions, my only ambition is to work for better lives for our citizens and to continue pushing Malta to be recognized as the best in Europe and beyond.
Chris Fearne: “Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is an inspiration to all of us. It is an honour for me to be in his cabinet of ministers. It will be a greater honour if I could work side by side with him as his deputy. Besides being a protagonist in the running of the country as DPM, the deputy leader will also have political responsibility for seeing that the electoral manifesto pledges are being implemented on track and in time. Also as Leader of the House the new deputy Leader will need to look at a possible revision of Parliament’s standing orders to give new life to our parliament. I have been involved in the Labour Party since I was 16 years old when I joined the youth section and was International secretary. I served in the Għaxaq sectional committee and on the party’s executive committee. So I know the party structures inside out. I am results driven and I have shown this in both my professional and in my political carriers. Finally I am full of energy and drive and can offer continuity since I am willing to give my full commitment to this role for at least the next 10 years.”
Edward Scicluna: “The readiness to carry the responsibility of the government as a whole if needed. It requires good judgement, sensitivity to both the needs of the government, while having an open communication with the Opposition, good relationship with all the members of the Cabinet, and providing a level playing field to them all when it comes to answering to their needs. I believe my competences, experience and sense of fair play provide me with those requirements.”
4. What will your priorities be as deputy leader parliamentary affairs?
Helena Dalli: “Loyalty and support to the Prime Minister. Seeing to the smooth functioning of our parliamentary work. Ensuring our promises are kept. That we maintain an open and honest dialogue, that we remain open. Making sure that we remain close to party delegates even in our Parliamentary work, after all it was the delegates who approved the electoral manifesto which has now become government policy; to ensure people remain involved and active within our movement. Dealing with our foreign counterparts in as excellent a manner as possible.”
Chris Fearne: “We are just out of a divisive election campaign. I believe the party leadership – under Joseph Muscat’s lead – has an important role in creating a national sense of unity. Both in and out of parliament. There is also a need to keep our feet firmly on the ground. I hate arrogance and will ensure that we remain open and transparent as well as accessible and accountable. As a party and as a government we will benefit from improved customer care structures. The party grass roots , sectional committees and delegates have an important role to play in this context.”
Edward Scicluna: “Strengthen the governance framework by ensuring better awareness of the working of the government, and its intricate financial regulations. Ensuring that the country updates its institutions to today’s needs.”
5. Are you also interested in the top position of Labour leader once Joseph Muscat decides to vacate?
Helena Dalli: “Absolutely not. My wish is that Joseph Muscat will stay on for longer and I will make it my mission to try and convince him. The party and the country need him.”
Chris Fearne: “In 2008 Joseph Muscat asked me to endorse him in his campaign for party leader. I did and am proud of it. Joseph changed the Labour Party from a serial loser into a serial winner. I want to be part of Joseph Muscat’s team. I believe the Labour Party can continue to win. I will do my almost to persuade Joseph to remain at the helm of the party for many more years.”
Edward Scicluna: “No. I prefer to be a facilitator.”
6. What do you think were the PN’s biggest mistakes in this election campaign?
Helena Dalli: “The PN made the political too personal; some of their members unleashed anger and arrogance, which ultimately took over their campaign. For the majority, it seemed like the campaign was built around personal attacks rather than principles and proposals. A huge mistake when going up against a government with a positive track record of delivery.”
Chris Fearne: “No doubt the PN will commission another Rapport tat-Telfa. They can save the effort. Unless the Nationalist party realises that society has changed, that people want politicians from whatever side of the political divide to contribute to the country’s well being, that negativity and name calling is a thing of the past, the PN will continue to lose.”
Edward Scicluna: “Not prepared to govern. The party underestimated this basic need of the electorate who found it wanting. Values and principles are important but they have to be translated into a number of meaningful measure which taken together make sense.”
7. Who do you think should be the next leader of the Nationalist Party in the interests of having a strong Opposition?
Helena Dalli: “I am unable to answer that question. There surely are valid people suitable for the job.”
Chris Fearne: “Żaren tal-Ajkla. No, joking apart, whoever steps up to the task has his work cut out for him. With the experience gained in the first 4 years, the Labour government will continue to go from strength to strength. Whoever it is, I wish him luck.”
Edward Scicluna: “Up to the PN to decide.”
8. After marriage equality, what do you think is the next big priority in terms of civil liberties? And where do you draw the line, if at all?
Helena Dalli: “There is still a lot that needs to be done for us to be able to say that we have reached full equality in our society. And it’s not only about laws, but also about education, attitudes, culture. I am a true believer that we should continue to be the agents of change, always in full respect of the people’s will, thus, while leading and showing the way, it is not I who draws the line.”
Chris Fearne: “Last week in Parliament I explained how the current law on Assisted Reproduction – passed through parliament in 2012 under the Gonzi administration – is discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. I intend to present amendments to parliament to correct this. During this administration we will also be addressing issues of gender equality, domestic violence and sex workers. We will start a discussion on the introduction of cremation. We will look at lowering the age for voting in General Elections to 16 years.”
Edward Scicluna: “It is up to the society at large to decide its mores and practices. There are many ways how society’s opinion can be heard and made to matter.”
9. Given that all pre-election surveys showed corruption was a main concern for voters, do you think the government still need to challenge the perception of corruption? And if so, how?
Helena Dalli: “There is always room to improve and strengthen our institutions further. We have worked on that and will continue to do so. To mature as a democracy we must start moving away from the purely partisan debate.”
Chris Fearne: “The last Labour administration was actually the most proactive ever in introducing good governance, anti-corruption legislation. Despite this, you are right in saying that the perception of corruption was a main concern for voters. We will address this vigorously. Amongst other initiatives we will ensure that the appointment of chairpersons of regulatory authorities are subjected to parliamentary scrutiny.”
Edward Scicluna: “It is up to the government and the opposition to ensure that the country’s regulatory institutions are strengthened. They are not strengthened by slanging matches and political name calling and “am holier than though” platitudes. Only through serious work, independent oversights and reforms.”
10. By what sort of majority do you think Labour can win the upcoming MEP election with you as deputy leader?
Helena Dalli: “Good, strong teamwork will again get us excellent results.”
Chris Fearne: “MEP and General Elections are different a kettle of fish. Much depends on who the actual candidates are and the state that the PN will be in in 20 months time. I predicted as long as 6 months ago that the PL would win the General Elections by a margin of 40,000 votes. I was right. I will go on record to say that we will win the coming MEP elections, but I will not put a figure on it just yet.”
Edward Scicluna: “The majority is very much dependent on the upcoming performance of this government and opposition. Both of them are under constant scrutiny.”
11. If you could be given another portfolio apart from the one you have been given in this Cabinet, what would it be?
Helena Dalli: “I take pride in my work and strive to achieve the best results for our people and country in any portfolio I am given. As Cabinet minister I serve the Prime Minister and my country and I will always do so no matter the role.”
Chris Fearne: “I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for reconfirming me as Health Minister. I believe that, working with a very competent team of healthcare professionals, we have managed to make a success of a sector which until a few short years ago was floundering. Of course whether the PM will continue to keep me in this role or not is entirely his prerogative.”
Edward Scicluna: “Foreign affairs.”
12. How would you describe the relationship between the Labour Party and the Maltese press? And how will you seek to improve this relationship if at all?
Helena Dalli: “At times the relationship has been strained with some sections of the press. The press is there to analyse and criticise our work, and that is obviously important. The relationship will be improved if there is more effort for this work to be done constructively. I have always been very open and respectful of the press’s mission, and an advocate for freedom of speech, expression and the press. I want to encourage an honest dialogue for the benefit of our citizens so that they may get a good picture of the reality being reported.”
Chris Fearne: “The Labour Party under Joseph Muscat is very media conscious. Relations with the Press in general I believe are good. This of course is in everyone’s interest. Transparency and accountability reinforce the fact that not only are we governing correctly but also are seen to be doing it. Conversely a strong and independent press can serve to keep politicians on their toes and is a given in any strong democracy. On the other hand excessive scrutiny and encroachment on the private lives of albeit public figures can have a detrimental effect. I believe that the less interference from political parties into how journalists and how the press works, the better. That said, self-regulated ethical parameters on how the press operates are beneficial to all.”
Edward Scicluna: “Both the Party and the local media should examine the last four years and learn from that experience.”