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NEWS | Sunday, 16 March 2008

Louis Galea: The rise and fall of a Maltese Christian Democrat

James Debono

Elected to every legislature since 1976 and returned to parliament by the electorate in seven consecutive elections, 60-year-old Louis Galea saw his distinguished career abruptly terminated last weekend.
Galea’s stoic reaction to the result, telling a PBS interviewer that he will now dedicate his time to piano lessons, is testimony to the uniqueness of a Christian Democrat politician who manages to combine the sacred and the profane of small island politics.
Throughout his career Galea stood out as a visionary intellectual, a strategist and practical organiser as well as a constituency heavyweight.
A decade marked by allegations of political patronage and the dishing of public contracts to constituents not only earned him a prominent place on the MLP’s billboards but also harmed his leadership ambitions in the Nationalist party where he came a distant third in the leadership contest in 2004.
Yet his administrative qualities and political acumen were never in doubt. Despite his characteristic aloofness from the media, Galea was still a very popular minister. A MaltaToday survey in April 2007 showed him as the second most popular PN Minister after Dolores Cristina.
Yet one year down the line he emerged as the chief casualty of a presidential campaign in which Lawrence Gonzi saved his party’s fortunes by distancing himself from his former ministers and sending a message to voters to choose new faces.
Like all former ministers Galea lost some votes. On the fifth district Galea’s tally dropped by a substantial 438 votes, which lost him his seat to newcomer Franco Debono.
But what ultimately cost him his seat was the obliteration of Galea’s seventh district stronghold, which previously included both Siggiewi and Zebbug.
This time round, in order to get the vote of his Siggiewi constituents Galea was forced to contest the sixth district which also included Qormi, a locality where competition was already strong and where the former minister had never contested before.
Despite his failure to get elected, Galea still left a mark on this electoral campaign by coining the term “repeater class” to denigrate the MLP’s reception class proposal in the early days of the campaign. Ironically the PN’s campaign against the reception class was one of the most effective scaremongering tactics of the campaign.

Galea’s political rise
Galea’s standing in the party comes from his role as one of the architects of the PN’s refoundation in the 1970s when the party re-invented itself as a centre left Christian Democratic party.
Galea’s more left wing orientation was already evident in his student days. In 1968 Galea, together with Henry Frendo, was one of the organisers of the Campaign for Better Housing in a country ravaged by speculation and rising property prices.
As a Peter Serracino Inglott acolyte and a proponent of Italian style Christian democracy, Galea was instrumental in persuading the party to accept the welfare state and other social reforms enacted by Dom Mintoff.
As secretary general of the Nationalist Party from 1977 to 1987, he was instrumental in setting up new party clubs throughout Malta and Gozo: a step taken by Mintoff in the 1950s and 1960s. Under his tenure, the party also founded its youth and women branches, as well as a workers’ secretariat.
Following the 1987 election Galea was appointed Minister for Social Policy. In 1992 he was appointed Minister for Home Affairs and Social Development changing the name of the Corradino prison into that of a “correctional facility”.
As Education Minister after 1998, Galea embarked on a silent revolution of the Maltese educational system. Without alarming parents Galea introduced educational colleges, which are set to scrap the rigid distinction between students attending junior lyceums and those attending area secondary schools. Plans were also under way to reform the 11-plus exam. Galea also had the foresight of introducing a ban on junk food in schools. Galea also presided over the enlargement of MCAST.

Scandal-prone minister
Despite his statesmanlike qualities, Galea has often been rebuked for maintaining a patronage network in his constituency.
Following the 1987 election the Nationalist government established the Auxiliary Workers Training Scheme in order to absorb a number of workers who were illegally employed on the eve of the 1987 election.
Under Louis Galea’s tutelage, a total of Lm4 million was voted into the AWTS for the scheme to rent out dumpers, cranes, bulldozers and other heavy machinery from private contractors.
According to the Auditor General’s report in 1990, the expenditure of Lm4 million at the AWTS had been devoid of normal financial controls.
Most of the machinery was rented out from constituents of Louis Galea’s two electoral districts.
In 1996 the Permanent Commission Against Corruption absolved Galea of any wrongdoing but Dr Tonio Azzopardi, a member of the PCC, presented a minority report in which he expressed doubts about the testimony given by those who rented out machinery to the AWTS.
Galea was also subject to criticism after he was given a building permit in the picturesque Fawwara because he was registered as a part time farmer.
As Minister for Education, Galea was also subject to an inquiry into the alleged embezzlement of public funds at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS).
A report by the Auditor General revealed that the direct orders were issued without the clearance of the Finance Ministry, and 30% were awarded to constituents from Galea’s two electoral districts.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi defended Galea, dismissing the Auditor General’s accusations as “unacceptable”.
Yet none of these allegations dented the minister’s popularity quite as much as the free hand given to PN voters to choose new candidates in the last election. Failing to get elected for the first time since 1976, Galea emerges as arguably the most eminent casualty of the “GonziPN” electoral motif.


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