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OPINION | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Gonzi’s limited options


I remember Lawrence Gonzi as a student. He was more interested in philanthropic work and I never imagined he would end up in politics. He was the chosen and anointed candidate of his predecessor Eddie Fenech Adami. This gave him an edge over Louis Galea and John Dalli during the leadership race, but at the end of the day proved to be his biggest hurdle.
The mistakes Gonzi committed at the commencement of his leadership were detrimental to his overall performance.
When he took over the leadership of the party and automatically became Prime Minister, he had a golden opportunity to reshuffle his cabinet and introduce new blood. His mistake was exacerbated when, day after day, he found all the excuses in the world to defend unpardonable blunders committed by certain members of his cabinet.
There were allegations of irregularities and in many instances major projects cost the taxpayer millions of liri more than the original estimate. One should allow a few thousands of liri of variance, but it is unheard of how a project could end up costing double the original estimate. Instead of conducting enquiries, the Prime Minister appeared very weak in defending the indefensible.
In other instances Gonzi allowed certain ministers and parliamentary secretaries to use insulting language towards their political rivals. Of late he expressed an opinion that he did not agree with certain insulting words uttered by his ministers and parliamentary secretaries, but did not take any concrete action to stall their repetition in the future.
Ministers who did not deliver were kept on in their posts and Gonzi found words of praise for them. This is not the correct way how a government should operate efficiently. The ineptitude of certain ministers has cost us taxpayers millions of liri. Millions have been squandered on unending projects and roads and whenever the Prime Minister is asked to comment he repeats his usual call for patience. The Manwel Dimech bridge is a case in point. The completion date has been ignored and the finishing point is not yet in sight.
Lawrence Gonzi has left himself with limited options. Now it is too late to change his cabinet and he is fighting an election with a lot of dead wood. For a time he was seen flanked by new candidates but some of them are even worse than his ministers. Apart from that, no one has a guaranteed seat in parliament. New candidates have more difficulties in finding their way to the House of Representatives.
Knowing that the country is in election mode, he lightly offered a cabinet reshuffle should his government be re-elected. But his declaration was lukewarm and lacked conviction. He had every opportunity to prune his tree but he preferred to keep the dead wood. Even if his government is re-elected he would have a lot of problems in leaving out certain ministers who attract a good number of votes. For instance: would Gonzi have the guts to leave out Francis Dimech, Austin Gatt, Jesmond Mugliett or Ninu Zammit?
Gonzi cannot lead a government lost in an internal battle. That would be counter-productive for the country. How can a government operate smoothly with spokes in the wheel coming from MPs sitting on the government’s bench? So even this option is a non-starter. John Dalli has never forgiven his leader for dispensing with his ministerial services. How can a government survive with many John Dallis showing persistent dissent?
This leaves Gonzi with only one option: to leave his ministers in place for another five years. Gonzi’s past performance as a Prime Minister does not shed too much positive light on prospective cabinet reshuffles.
A few years ago the PN covered every corner with a huge poster exposing the PN’s team for the election. Backbenchers were portrayed as front liners and ministers were thrown to the back of the poster suggesting that a new Nationalist government would introduce new blood. After the election, when conveniently the electorate was no longer relevant, the then PM was full of smiles exhibiting his old pieces of furniture. The same would happen again if the PN won the next election.
The only route left for Gonzi is to lose the next election, hold onto his post and reform the party. For democracy’s sake, it is high time that the Nationalist Party renews itself. Gonzi can only accomplish this difficult task from the Opposition.
If the Nationalist Party thinks otherwise and changes its leader, in my opinion they would do Lawrence Gonzi a big favour. It is an undeniable fact that a Prime Minister’s job is not a bed of roses. A Prime Minister and a leader of a major political party has to work long and odd hours sacrificing his family. I am sure that, should the PN relieve Lawrence Gonzi from his duties, his family would be the prime winner.

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