Lawrence Gonzi’s first Cabinet is characterised by the fact that all ministers have been retained, one has been given a larger ministry while two others lost certain responsibilities within the same ministry. The Cabinet has one minister less while there are two additional Parliamentary Secretaries.
The most surprising choice remains the Prime Minister’s decision to include the finance portfolio under his responsibilities. His publicly stated reason, to give priority to financial matters, is far from convincing. His choice, which carries political risks for both Government and himself, was clearly conditioned by the declared reluctance of the former finance Minister to retain the portfolio after a tenure of ten years.
We firmly believe that the former finance minister who took many a hard and difficult decision to put into place the necessary structures which allow Government to collect and to enforce tax collection, should have been persuaded to accept this portfolio.
A seasoned and magnanimous leader would have amalgamated the finance minister with the deputy leadership post. This would have made the party look more united as it would have prized the minority within the party and allowed for the necessary continuity within the finance Ministry.
We remain astounded by the impulsive refusal of Josef Bonnici not to accept to serve as a PS in the Prime Ministers office. This refusal while understandable as it smacked of a demotion for the former minister was impolitic and spells political suicide as he has now placed himself outside the political loop. On the contrary, we note Michael Frendo who although worthy of ministerial rank agreed to yet again start climbing up the political ladder. We are however somewhat surprised that, with his reasoning, the Prime Minister did not give Michael Frendo a ministry especially when Lawrence Gonzi himself always acknowledged that his decision to contest an election was motivated by the ruthless treatment meted out to Michael Frendo by Alfred Sant.
The appointment of a new Prime Minister offers the Government a golden opportunity to start afresh. There inevitably is much goodwill in the first days of a new government as the Prime Minister is given a chance to show his mettle.
This honeymoon period is a time to set the priorities, the objectives, the targets, something that he has already done. It is also a time to build bridges with vested interested groups who may have felt short shifted by the previous government. Lawrence Gonzi must take advantage of all the initial good will and benefit of the doubt he inevitably deserves in his first days. These concessions are most likely to be short lived especially if an already difficult economic situation worsens. The next election will be fought on the economic battlefield. He will be well advised to consider appointing a financial technocrat as finance minister. He has this golden opportunity with the casual election opportunity arising from the resignations of both Joe Borg and Eddie Fenech Adami. We have little doubt that no advantage will be taken of these two opportunities, as there will be a reluctance on the part of the candidates to give up their chances to be elected to parliament. The worsening financial situation, the refusal of the former finance minister and the lack of availability of a top-notch finance minister from among his parliamentary colleagues, makes this form of lateral thinking worth considering. His self-appointment shows that from his very first days circumstances are dictating his choices.
This is not a good omen.