Lawrence Gonzi delivered his first electoral promise last night by reshuffling the Cabinet and ushering in six new faces in the posts of parliamentary secretary.

The Cabinet, which is now leaner with eight ministries, is geared to be more effective by introducing a mix of experience through seasoned politicians and injecting a dose of energy with the younger parliamentarians.

"This is a smaller Cabinet with a strong injection of new people, which in no way undermines the validity of all those who gave their contribution in the previous legislature," Dr Gonzi told The Times, in his first comments after the swearing-in ceremony at the Palace, Valletta.

"My choice does not reflect on their (former ministers) capabilities, but is due to my decision to respond to the wishes of the people to see new faces," he stressed.

Dr Gonzi yesterday spent the entire day deliberating on who should form part of his team to deliver his promise during the electoral campaign.

It was not before 5.30 p.m. that he started calling each MP to his office at the Auberge de Castille, Valletta, to form part of his administration, before he flies to Brussels for the EU summit today.

The ceremony, which lasted until just after 10 p.m., ran smoothly except for two minor hiccups. The first involved a mix-up in the portfolios of Mario de Marco, who is parliamentary secretary for tourism, with that of Chris Said, parliamentary secretary for public dialogue and information.

The second injected a dose of humour to the solemn atmosphere when Mario Galea, parliamentary secretary for the elderly, changed the meaning of his oath by saying "if God helps me (jekk Alla jgħini)", instead of "so help me God (hekk Alla jgħini)".

President Eddie Fenech Adami quickly interjected that God will surely guide Mr Galea in his path. However, Mr Galea had to repeat the oath after the ceremony was over to make doubly sure.

One familiar face, which is back in the Cabinet, is John Dalli who was appointed special consultant to the Prime Minister on economic matters last December.

Mr Dalli, 59, who had resigned from his post as foreign minister three years ago, was given this appointment after he was cleared of the allegations made against him in 2004.

"The presence of John as Minister for Social Policy is very important because I feel he has the necessary expertise for the health sector to face up to the new challenges, while remaining sustainable," he replied.

"Our commitment for the health sector is that it remains free and is of the highest quality.

"We can only succeed if we're capable in finding the modern methods to keep it sustainable.

"I have no doubt that John Dalli, together with Joe Cassar (parliamentary secretary for health) and Mario Galea, form a good team and that the sector will remain one of the best."

Asked if he ever expected to be back in the Cabinet, Mr Dalli replied that this was not a matter of expectations.

"My experience is there and the Prime Minister's assessment was based on this. I'm happy to be able to play a part again. This is an area where I think I can contribute considerably because we need to ensure the long-term viability of these sectors," he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Gonzi has a lot on his plate. Apart from running the country, he has taken the decision to retain two portfolios: Environment and tourism.

"I took on the environment to keep my commitment to handle Mepa, which is the biggest challenge the country has to face.

"It's very difficult to find the right way forward. I also kept tourism, because I feel the environment and tourism depend on one another," he said.

Dr Gonzi did not rule out the possibility that in time there will be further changes.

"However, for the time being I believe I have a team that can implement the electoral programme promised by the Nationalist Party," he said.

Mario de Marco, son of President Emeritus Guido de Marco, is one of the new faces and is looking forward to continuing the good work of his predecessors.

"This is a very important sector for the economy. I hope to have the capabilities to rise to the occasion and I will continue to learn from the experience of others, and speak with all the stakeholders so that the sector can continue to grow," Dr de Marco said.

Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, son of another President Emeritus, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, was entrusted with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Justice, after serving as parliamentary secretary in the same ministry in the previous legislature.

"I have quite a task ahead. There are several challenges, which we plan to take on with the greatest humility and responsibility. I wasn't expecting this much and I am very honoured," he said.

Clyde Puli, 38, was also very satisfied with his portfolio and said it was a role he was looking at delivering with humility and a great determination to do something for the good of the country.

Jason Azzopardi, one of the youngest within the Cabinet at 36, was entrusted with the role of parliamentary secretary for revenues and land, a position he was not expecting.

"I am honoured that the Prime Minister trusted me with this role in a crucial ministry. I am lucky to work with Tonio Fenech, who apart from being a colleague is a man of experience who delivers. I have no doubt we will form a good team to implement the government's vision," he said.

Joseph Cassar spoke about the trials ahead within the health sector.

"We have huge challenges, especially in primary health care, which we need to renovate, while working on electronic medicine and services connected to the hospital. It's a very interesting task and I hope I can serve my country in the best of my abilities," he said.

Meanwhile, Chris Said spoke of his double satisfaction of being elected to Parliament for the first time and with being entrusted with the role of parliamentary secretary.

Present for the swearing-in ceremony were Chief Justice Vincent De Gaetano, Attorney General Silvio Camilleri, and Civil Service head Godwin Grima, as well as the families of the new Cabinet members.

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