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Forget Winners And Losers, Here’s What Robert Abela’s Cabinet Means For Malta

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Despite promises to keep the exact same cabinet if elected, newly-appointed Prime Minister Robert Abela has gone and done the opposite, instituting sweeping changes with some big hitters missing out and fresh faces coming forward.

Winners and losers are there for all to see, but what hints can the new cabinet provide for what an Abela premiership could look like?

A shift from the old to young is clear, with Abela giving massive promotions to backbenchers left on the outskirts of the previous administration and veterans like Joe Mizzi facing the chop.

Seeing the backs of Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona will be a positive for critics of Joseph Muscat’s administration, even if they remain firmly part of the parliamentary group, just like the former Prime Minister

However, Finance and now-Financial Services Minister Edward Scicluna, a steady figure in the previous government, is still subject to a magisterial inquiry over the Vitals hospitals deal.

Malta’s international reputation will need to be rebuilt after Muscat’s office’s links to corruption and the murder of a journalist. Placing Evarist Bartolo in the position as Foreign and European Affairs Minister may bring some much-needed gravitas and political will to the role.

However, beyond Facebook posts, it remains to be seen how Bartolo will communicate with the EU. Twitter might also be useful.

Abela’s Cabinet is even younger than that of Muscat’s, with an average age of 46.5, showing massive faith in the party’s next generation to lead much-needed reform. The same cannot be said for the PN.

Abela, a former consultant of the Planning Authority, knows the issues within the construction industry well and seems committed to address the poorly functioning state body. It’s telling that in his interview with Dissett, he specifically called out problems within the sector while remaining relatively coy on other policies.

He’s already shifted the responsibilities of the Planning Authority from the Infrastructure Ministry to the Environment Ministry. The move will be headed by another young gun, the capable Aaron Farrugia, ousting the oft-criticised Jose Herrera, who’s been handed the rather vague Ministry for National Heritage.

That being said we’ve been promised changes in Malta’s planning laws before, only to see the situation worsen with the Labour Party’s pledge to “make the environment truly a priority” still fresh in the memory.

Follow-through has been absent, with cowboys still reigning supreme whether that’s in the highest office in the land or drivers on the street. Abela’s decision to add a new Enforcement portfolio to Home Affairs Minister Byron Camillieri seems to be an admission that enforcement has been badly lacking in the country.

Infrastructure Malta’s decision to plough through with the Central Link project despite the application being under appeal is evidence that the problem is state-deep.

With apartments dropping and the country slowly transforming into a rubbish dump, it’s clear for all to see. Still, maybe a sustained and focused effort might be all the country needs to get some basic principles functioning once again.

Alex Muscat and Rosianne Cutajar, peripheral figures in the previous administration, have also made massive gains.

Abela has been vocal on the changes needed in the sale-of-citizenship scheme. With Julia Farrugia Portelli moved onto the Tourism Ministry and Air Malta shifted to Silvio Schembri’s Economy Ministry, Alex Muscat’s promotion to Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Communities means he is the real winner here.

Rosianne Cutajar, on the other hand,  seems to be willing and determined to finally follow through with the government’s promises for cannabis and prostitution reform.

She’s already managed to lead the introduction of cremation in Malta within the space of a year, while she is also one of the few political figures who regularly speaks out on progressive and liberal issues.

Unfortunately, a confrontational relationship with activists means she’ll have a lot to do to win her staunchest critics over.

Meanwhile, Michael Farrugia seems to be an impressive individual. A family doctor by trade, he’s somehow been able to head the Family, Home Affairs, and now Energy ministries within a matter of years, a political representation of a jack-of-all-trades but master of none.

Expect Farrugia to be Malta’s infrastructure minister within two years.

The decision to place Edward Zammit Lewis as Justice and Good Governance Minister has also raised eyebrows. His spell as Tourism Minister was weak, and with a justice ministry desperate for reform, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to handle this massive role.

His predecessor, Owen Bonnici, burned bridges with protestors and activist groups that will be hard to rebuild. At the same time, Zammit Lewis’ embarrassing adulation of Muscat (in song and tear format) raises questions on his suitability for the role.

Meanwhile, Carmelo Abela has been handed the Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Responsible for Sustainable Development, Social Dialogue, and the Implementation of the Manifesto, or MOPMRSDSDIM in short.

A title so long and vague it seems more like a handout to a longstanding Labour Party figure desperate to keep his ministerial salary than any attempt to implement long-term planning.

Even though Abela might insist that his Cabinet is the same size as it was a few weeks ago, because he himself is no longer Cabinet’s legal consultant (which was an unpaid role), it is undoubtedly more expensive.

With an annual cost of €1.5 million, Abela’s Cabinet’s wage bill beats that of his predecessors. Still, Malta’s longstanding history with incompetent and corrupt politicians means maybe more funding is necessary.

Ultimately, Abela’s cabinet is promising, but let’s not get carried away. We’ve been promised the earth and the sun by politicians in the past around election time only for them to fall flat once we’ve voted them into power.

With the country at a crucial juncture following an unprecedented political crisis and people desperate for change, Abela’s first 100 days will be crucial to winning people over.

READ NEXT: Who's In The Running To Replace Simon Busuttil As An Opposition MP?

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