February 15 2004
Mine is not a new electoral programme Gonzi says
Before actors take to the stage it is customary for them to wish each other good luck by saying ‘break a leg’ and yesterday Lawrence Gonzi almost did that when he slipped on the parquet just before launching his leadership campaign at the Radisson hotel.
The innocuous incident brought a smile to Gonzi’s face.
Sitting down in front of a blue backdrop with the slogan ‘Together we determine the future’ (Flimkien niddeciedu l-gejjieni) and surrounded by journalists, Gonzi preferred to list his priorities if elected, rather than spell out a vision.
However, in what was a telling statement from a man considered by many to be a carbon copy of Eddie Fenech Adami Gonzi declared his independence from the Prime Minister: "For me it is a compliment that people say I have the same principles and values of Eddie Fenech Adami. But I also have my own style of working. I don’t want crutches to help me win the race and just like when I contested the deputy leadership post, Eddie did not commit himself, I believe he will do the same now."
A seemingly determined man, taking in his stride criticism often levelled towards him about his perceived weaknesses, not once did Gonzi directly pit himself against rivals, John Dalli and Louis Galea. But the discourse was peppered with veiled references to the difference between himself and Dalli.
The first jibe: "The new Prime Minister is not going to be a new party with a new electoral programme. I have no right to impose a new electoral programme. Let’s not forget that this is a party that won an election just 10 months ago and I pledge to implement the electoral programme voted for by the people."
Gonzi’s statement came the same day John Dalli distributed a booklet outlining his vision on a number of policy areas to PN councillors – a mini manifesto in its own right.
Another jibe: "Taking decisions in a bulldozer way, imposing them, is counter productive. The capacity lies in convincing people to come over to your side."
Gonzi was responding to a question posed by a NET TV journalist on different styles of decision making and although the comparison was with Dom Mintoff’s arrogant attitude, the underlying message was a reference to the perception that John Dalli is a decision taker.
Constant throughout Gonzi’s speech was an insistence that he can take decisions, a counter reaction to the general perception that he is weak and cannot take hard decisions. Gonzi referred to the time he served as Speaker of the House, a post described as one requiring the occupier to take important decisions all the time.
"It is not the capability to take decisions that is important but the capability to take good decisions. Whenever I had to take decisions responsibility always prevailed over political convenience," Gonzi said.
"You are often credited for having helped turn round the fortunes of a large private company in the time you spent working there, what do you have to say?" Pierre Portelli a Nationalist journalist put to him to elicit a reply about the years Gonzi spent working in the private sector.
Gonzi’s answer: "I spent 20 years working in the private sector of which eight of them as chairman of a group of companies. I am conscious of the needs of the private sector and the self employed."
Gonzi was talking about his career at Mizzi Organisation. The reference was a veiled counter reaction to John Dalli’s claims that decision-making is part of his DNA because of his (Dalli’s) background in the private sector.
"Councillors cannot base their decisions solely on what is being said today. They have to weigh our track record, character and method of working," Gonzi said.
Asked by MaltaToday whether being relatively new to the party when compared to his rivals would put Gonzi at a disadvantage, he answered: "The track record should not put anybody at a disadvantage. If anything I am the youngest candidate and if we are to draw comparisons Eddie Fenech Adami was the youngest candidate in 1977 competing against two heavyweights."
As for the executive’s decision to bar one-on-one debates between candidates, Gonzi said he was four square behind the decision. "This is a race that one would want to win but in a mature way. If the executive did not take such a decision I would have personally declined participating in any debate with my rivals.
"It would give the media much to talk about but it would ridicule the contest. A debate is not becoming of the decision ahead."
An important priority listed by Gonzi was the adoption of the Euro as early as possible. "It is an economic, political and social target that has to be reached," he stressed. Other priorities mentioned by Gonzi were the better use of human resources with emphasis on education and training, the environment with particular reference to waste management, social dialogue to reach an agreement on a renewed social pact and the importance to reap the advantages offered by the EU. Another important target: "I want to win the next election because it is going to be crucial for the country that the Nationalist Party is returned to power."
On his campaign, Gonzi said it was a two-pronged effort, one directed towards the party councillors and another to the general public. He added that PN councillors also had to give weight to what the general public felt because the decision did not only concern the Nationalist Party, but the country’s top post.
The Marsaskala lawyer has no qualms about his political future and said he would continue to serve as deputy if not elected leader.
Rounding up the tete-a-tete with the media with not a single reference to God and religion, Gonzi said he would remain the same person he is now if elected leader, with smile and all.