It’s been over two weeks since Robert Abela was appointed Malta’s Prime Minister. While he’s pledged continuity, the country has seen some shake-ups, while admittedly also keeping up with old habits.
There have been resignations galore with the government vowing to set a new standard for good governance.
However, revelations of dubious consultancies and appointments have dampened the mood, with critics raising the alarm that Malta could be set for more of the same rather than the changes it desperately needs.
Whether they’re good or bad, here are eight decisions Abela has taken:
1. Reshuffled the cabinet
Despite promises to keep the exact same cabinet if elected, Abela dished out massive promotions to backbenchers left on the outskirts of the previous administration and veterans like Joe Mizzi facing the chop.
He’s shifted the Planning Authority from the Infrastructure Ministry to the Environment Ministry, in a move that will hopefully prioritise open spaces over constant development.
Enforcement, in which Malta is severely lacking, could also be set for improvement, after being given its own portfolio within the Home Affairs Ministry.
Not all appointments have been well-received. Joseph Muscat fanatic Edward Zammit Lewis is now heading the Justice and Good Governance Ministry.
At the same time, Carmelo Abela was handed the vague Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Responsible for Sustainable Development, Social Dialogue, and the Implementation of the Manifesto, or MOPMRSDSDIM in short.
It’s not been plain sailing, Justyne Caruana was forced to resign as Gozo Minister just days after being re-appointed. Meanwhile, Abela’s decision to transfer the hunting regulator to Caruana’s successor, hunter Clint Camilleri, has left conservationists fuming.
2. Lawrence Cutajar’s resignation and the new selection process for Police Commissioner
Within a few days of his tenure, Abela responded to activists demands and forced Lawrence Cutajar to resign as Police Commissioner. The public’s faith in Cutajar had eroded following years of perceived inaction in corruption cases.
While the decision was praised at first, it has its drawbacks. Just days after resigning, Cutajar was handed a €31,000 consultancy within the Home Affairs Ministry.
Abela has also submitted proposals to change the method of appointment for Malta’s Police Commissioner.
He has passed on the duties of the nomination process to the public service commission. However, Abela will still have the final say with critics saying the changes are merely superficial.
A bill was published on the government gazette on 24th January.
3. Konrad Mizzi’s €80,000 consultancy and dubious nomination
Konrad Mizzi, a key ally of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, was left out of Abela’s cabinet, paying the price for his involvement in the Panama Papers and numerous allegations of corruption.
However, he was quickly back in the news after the revelations that he had been chosen to head Malta’s EU delegation at the OSCE, and that he was handed an €80,000 consultancy two weeks after resigning.
Abela has rescinded Mizzi’s resignation, while Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has called on the Malta Tourism Authority to terminate his contract. The MTA CEO who approved Mizzi’s contract, Johann Buttigieg, is yet to face any action.
Until then, questions will remain whether any concrete action would have been taken had it not been for widespread public outrage.
4. Justyne Caruana’s quick-fire resignation
The first major crisis in Abela’s tenure. Justyne Caruana was made to pay the political price after the revelations that her husband, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, had an intimate relationship with Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect, Yorgen Fenech.
Caruana resigned less than a day after the reveal, with the government tapping itself on the shoulder for taking action. She has vowed to stay on as an MP and will even contest in the next general election.
Despite her resignation, Caruana was appointed as the new chairperson of the Consideration of Bills Committee, a crucial component in the legislative process.
5. Putting Gozo’s hunter Minister in charge of hunting regulation
Abela has already found himself on the wrong side of environmentalists and conservationists, after transferring the hunting regulator to the Gozo Ministry, which now being head by Clint Camilleri, a hunter who has vowed to protect hunters rights.
Camilleri has often been the focus of criticism for the government’s lax attitude towards enforcement of hunting and trapping regulations. Meanwhile, Gozo itself is known to be a glaring loophole when it comes to enforcement.
Not a single ALE officer was sent to the island in 2019, according to activists.
Birdlife Malta has since filed a judicial protest against the decision, describing the move as “diabolical and purely for electoral purposes”.
The hunting lobby has over 10,000 members and has flexed its muscle in the past, with the government even challenging the EU for finch trapping to be allowed in the country.
6. Dumping government consultancies
Within a week of his appointment, Abela dumped several dubious consultancies handed out during Joseph Muscat’s administration. Lou Bondi and Anton Attard lost lucrative contracts, while the son of EU Commissioner Helena Dalli lost his legal consultancy at the Economy Ministry.
It may seem like tough decision are being taken, but we’ve seen this all before with Muscat employing a similar tactic in 2013, only to dish them out to the people of his choosing.
Lawrence Cutajar has already been given a €31,000 consultancy, and it remains to be seen whether others who fell under the guillotine will be granted one too.
7. Taking a stand on the Daphne Caruana Galizia protest sight
A point of contention between the state and activists, the protest site kept workers from the government’s cleansing department busy over the last two years, with the memorial regularly being cleared during the night.
This was done under the orders of then-Justice and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici, who now heads the Education Ministry.
A court has ruled that Bonnici was breaching protestors human right by dismantling the protest site. Activists called for Bonnici’s immediate resignation, but Abela insists he sees no reason to do so.
8. Keeping up a confrontational relationship with protestors
During his election campaign, Abela already earned the ire of protestors after referring to demonstrations as a “mere provocation”. And while he took a stand on the protest site, he has kept up a confrontational demeanour.
Ahead of last Wednesday’s protest, Abela said that the demonstration was “unnecessary” and “out of place”, even if it was their right to do so.
The move would have got the support of his base but did nothing to help start building bridges with a portion of the population who have lost complete faith in the state’s authorities.
With Abela’s every move and word under the microscope, he’s still got a lot to do to win people over.