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NEWS | Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Gonzi revolution

The latest Gonzi Cabinet is a leaner, younger team made of super ministers and surprise absences. CHARLOT ZAHRA takes a look at the profile of what is really the direct outcome of GonziPN

Office of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has ceded control of the finance Ministry to Tonio Fenech. On the other hand, he has now taken over the responsibility for environment, MEPA and sustainable development from Geroge Pullicino.
Surprisingly, he has also taken over responsibility of the tourism portfolio, as well as local government (from Tonio Borg), defence and Armed Forces (from Tony Abela).
He will be assisted by two new parliamentary secretaries: Mario de Marco, who is responsible for Tourism, and Chris Said, who is responsible from Public Dialogue and Information.
De Marco, who during the last legislature served as Deputy Speaker and vice-chairman of parliamentary committees, will have a tough nut to crack in order to keep up with the legacy left by his father Guido, especially with a portfolio which is not his forte.
Said, 38, a lawyer by profession and former president of the Gozo Football Association (GFA) from 1992 to 2001, has served as Nadur mayor uninterruptedly since April 1999. Speaking during the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on Friday, Gonzi described Said’s role as the public interface with social partners, particularly in such cases as the MEUSAC – which now will take on the role of the Forum Malta fl-Ewropa (FME).

Ministry for Gozo
The 52-year-old Nadur teacher Giovanna Debono retained the Gozo Ministry for the third time, thus becoming the second-longest serving Nationalist Minister after John Dalli. After a stint as Parliamentary Secretary for Social Development between 1994 and 1996, in 1998 Debono was appointed Gozo Minister and has held to the post uninterruptedly for the past 10 years. Therefore the Debono family dynasty, which has been in Parliament uninterruptedly for the past 45 years, has not been interrupted, not even by GonziPN’s cyclone of change nor by the ascent into national politics of the fellow Nadur citizen Chris Said, who had to settle for a portfolio other than that of Gozo.
Speaking during an interview with MaltaToday on 25 March 2007 about her legendary reputation for helping her constituents, Debono said: “I do not help people in return for their vote. Persons who do not even vote in Gozo come to me to talk about their problems. Why should I not take heed of what they say? But I am very clear with everyone who comes to speak to me. If someone asks me for something to which he is entitled by right, I help him. If this is not the case, I tell him that I can’t help him. We have to respect everybody’s dignity.”

Ministry for Communications and National Projects
Austin Gatt, the 54-year-old Valletta lawyer known for his no-holds-barred approach to politics and insistence on performance, has been given the portfolios held by former Ministers Censu Galea (who was not elected to Parliament) and Jesmond Mugliett (who scraped his way through on the Fourth District). These include Civil Aviation, MMA, Freeport Corporation, the ADT and the MCA.
He will also be responsible for Coordination of Urban Development Projects, including Smart City, Grand Harbour and Marsamxett regeneration.
Gatt has held onto the ICT portfolio; however, Industry, Investment Promotion, Privatisation and Government Investments have now been ceded to the Finance Ministry (except for key places like Water Services Corporation, Enemalta Corporation, and Malta Shipyards, which have been retained by Gatt). PBS has also been assigned to the Ministry for Education and Culture.
Moreover, the public registry, the land registry, Civil Registration, ID Cards and Passports, which were previously under former Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg’s portfolio, have now been included under Gatt’s Ministry.

Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs
Architect George Pullicino’s remit has been radically changed, losing environment, MEPA and sustainable development to Gonzi, while maintaining rural development and agriculture.
Despite the fact that he had been only been a minister for one administration, Pullicino, 44, took a lot of flak for government’s decisions on MEPA as the green lobby became more assertive over the past few years.
Pullicino had to take the full political fall-out for decisions taken at a Cabinet level, including the ODZ extension. Just a few days before the election, Gonzi announced his intention to take over MEPA himself.
At the same time, Pullicino gained most of the resources portfolio held by former Minister Ninu Zammit, including the Malta Resources Authority, Climate Change policy and development of alternative energy sources.
Pullicino will also be responsible for oil exploration, science and technology policy, and research and innovation. Moreover, he will be responsible for national parks, afforestation and the countryside, the implementation of the Waste Management Strategy, and the Building Industry Consultative Council, among other things.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tonio Borg, the 51-year-old lawyer from Birkirkara, was not the immediate choice for foreign minister, but the deputy PM had to be assigned this Ministry after the incumbent, Michael Frendo, lost his seat on the 10th District.
His previous term in office as Justice and Home Affairs Minister had been characterised by inaction on various hot fronts, such as immigration, and regulation of fireworks factories, among other things.
One area where Borg has a clear position is female reproductive rights. Borg has been unwavering in his support for the Gift of Life campaign to entrench a ban on abortion in the Constitution, which kicked off in 2005 but was suspended shortly before the March 8 polls.
Tonio Borg inherits a largely uncontroversial ministry from a predecessor who had made a name for himself as a quiet but effective administrator. Among the immediate challenges he will have to face are pressure from other EU member states to recognize (or not, as the case may be) the self-proclaimed independent state of Kosovo.

Ministry of Education and Culture
A teacher by profession, 59-year-old Swieqi politician Dolores Cristina has been assigned the portfolio formerly held by Louis Galea, who lost his seat during the March 8 elections, and the Culture portfolio previously held by outgoing Minister Francis Zammit Dimech, who was elected to Parliament as one of the four extra MPs who were added to the PN’s final tally of 31 in order to obtain one-seat majority in Parliament.
Moreover, Cristina also has PBS under her portfolio, which in the previous Gonzi administration was divided between the Ministry for Industry, Investments and Information Technology and the Ministry for Tourism and Culture.
Cristina is still relatively untested in this field, and it will be a hard act to live up to Galea’s reputation and experience which he built over the past 10 years.
In the previous Gonzi administration, Cristina served as Minister for Family and Social Solidarity, which was generally not a controversial portfolio when compared to the others.
On the controversial issue of rent reform, Cristina pledged to submit rent law proposals to Cabinet by mid-2005 – and since then, a white paper on the subject allegedly presented in December 2007 has not yet been published.
Assisting her will be Clyde Puli, who was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary for Youth and Sport. This is the 38-year-old Qormi MP’s first experience in a ministerial post – until now, he was employed as the Public Relations Officer at the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS), responsible for running Mater Dei Hospital.
Although he is relatively young, his demeanour, unfashionable goatee and insistence on wearing three-piece suits will make it quite difficult for him to connect with the young as the affable Francis Zammit Dimech used to do.

Ministry for Social Policy
John Dalli’s political re-birth was sealed with his appointment as Minister for Social Policy, four years after he was forced to resign as Foreign Affairs Minister on 3 July 2004, following the fabricated report by private investigator Joe Zahra on behalf of Simed about the award of the tender for the Medical Equipment tender for the Mater Dei Hospital.
Eventually, Zahra was sentenced to two years in prison in connection with the fabrication of the report.
It was only on 29 November last year, five months before the general elections, that Dalli was rehabilitated into the Nationalist fold, and appointed Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on matters of Finance and Economy.
This despite the fact that the Auditor-General’s report on the case could not be finalised as Auditor-General Joseph G. Galea’s second five-year term of office had expired.
The 60-year-old Qormi accountant is the most experienced member of the Cabinet, having served between 1990 and 2004 in key ministerial posts including nine years as Minister for Finance.
He is the only Cabinet member to have survived from the 1987 government, in which he served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry.
Dalli’s vast portfolio includes the Family and Social Solidarity portfolio, the Health and Community Care portfolio (previously held by Louis Deguara, who was not re-appointed in the “Gonzi 2 Cabinet”) and the Employment and Industrial Relations portfolio held by Louis Galea.
Assisting him are Joe Cassar as Parliamentary Secretary for Health, and Mario Galea as Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly and Community Care.
Cassar, a psychiatrist specialised in child and adolescent psychiatry, was first co-opted to Parliament on 24 May 2004 following the resignation of Prof. Josef Bonnici on the 11th district, following the latter’s appointment as Malta’s representative on the EU Court of Auditors. The 41-year-old Rabat politician is employed as a consultant psychiatrist at Mount Carmel Hospita.
Galea, the 45-year-old Zejtun politician, by profession a nurse specialised in gerontology, is not new to the political arena (this is his fourth parliamentary term since 1992, when he was elected for the first time). He also served as PN parliamentary group whip during the past legislature.

Ministry for Finance, Economy and Investment
After serving for four years as Parliamentary Secretary for Finance and the Economy under the Office of the Prime Minister, Tonio Fenech has been promoted to Minister and given an extended portfolio.
Among the new portfolios added to the 38-year-old Birkirkara accountant’s Ministry were Lands, the Joint Office and the Notary to Government, which were previously under former Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg.
Also added to Fenech’s “super-Ministry” are Competition Policy, Consumer Protection, the Malta Standards Authority and Intellectual Property, previously under former Competitiveness and Communications Minister Censu Galea.
It also includes Small Business and the Self-Employed and Trade Services, previously under parliamentary secretary for Small Business and the Self-Employed Edwin Vassallo’s portfolio.
Fenech also has under his responsibility Industry, Investment Promotion, Government investments and privatisation, which were previously under Austin Gatt’s portfolio.
Fenech was under the spotlight during the electoral campaign after the Opposition accused him of distributing money under the Good Causes Fund for commercial causes such as Juventus’ visit to Malta last January, and the publication of coffee table publications, among other things.
Assisting him will be Jason Azzopardi, who was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Revenues and Land. This is Azzopardi’s first experience in an administrative post.
The 36-year-old self-important Paola lawyer, who does not shy away from publicity, was first elected to Parliament in 1998. He served as Chairperson for the Foreign and European Affairs Parliamentary Committee and member on the Privileges Parliamentary Committee during the previous legislature.

Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs
After serving as Parliamentary Secretary in the same Ministry for the past five years, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici was promoted to Minister for Justice and Home Affairs after the incumbent, Tonio Borg, was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister in the Gonzi 2 cabinet.
However, the portfolio of the 48-year-old Cospicua politician, who is the son of another former President, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, has been substantially reduced from that held by Borg, as it includes the Courts of Justice, the Attorney-General’s office, Police, Immigration, Airport Security, Correctional Services and Civil Protection, but not the public registry and government property division and local government.
Moreover, Data Protection, which was previously under Austin Gatt’s super-portfolio in the past administration, has also been assigned to the Justice and Home Affairs Ministry.


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