Surprise and bafflement have greeted the appointment of Ian Borg to foreign minister as Robert Abela announced his new cabinet.

“I am very surprised. It’s one of the most wonderful ministries to have, don’t get me wrong, but it’s several steps down from what he had,” public policy lecturer George Vital Zammit said yesterday.

The controversial former roads and infrastructure minister's move to the foreign ministry is the appointment that sparked most discussion among the public and political commentators.

“It is much less powerful and historically bestowed upon seasoned politicians who are on their way out of politics and into retirement," Zammit said.

He has a track record of clientelism, environmental destruction and village parochialism, and we now expect him to restore our reputation on the world stage- Karl Schembri

“It could be that Abela wants to curb Ian Borg’s power in his districts, but this will definitely not go down well with Borg’s constituents. There aren’t many favours you can offer constituents when foreign minister."

He speculated that Borg himself may have asked to be given a lower-tier ministry, as unlikely as that may be.

George Vital ZammitGeorge Vital Zammit

Author and former journalist Karl Schembri is also baffled by the appointment, saying that if Abela wanted to kick Borg upstairs it meant he has no vision and no way of controlling him.

If he absolutely had to get him out of the way, he should not have given him such a crucial role for the country, he said.

“Borg’s appointment is a farce. He has a track record of clientelism, environmental destruction and village parochialism, and we now expect him to restore our reputation on the world stage,” Schembri said.

“Borg is arrogant, and I don’t know where he stands on our most pressing foreign issues, like migration,” he added.

“People’s lives may be negatively impacted by his decisions.”

Both analysts see a silver lining in Abela’s appointments.

Karl SchembriKarl Schembri

Zammit said despite leaving some old faces out of cabinet, Labour knows how to foster young talent and has a great track record with young ministers.

“Labour has ministers who are both young and veteran and I have faith in the newly-appointed ministers and parliamentary secretaries, because over the past years such appointments generally yielded beneficial results for the country,” he said.

“Having said that, I think Jonathan Attard’s appointment comes a bit too early in his political career. The justice ministry is one of the toughest bones to chew, and he is still very new to this.

“I was not surprised that Abela left out Edward Zammit Lewis and Carmelo Abela. Maybe he did it because of the controversies they were embroiled in over the past months. I don’t know. But I am genuinely surprised that Alex Muscat was left out.”

Environment-energy merger may be a big step forward

Schembri said Abela’s decision to merge the environment with the energy ministry could be a big step toward a government that truly moves forward on conserving the environment.

“Treating energy and environment as one and the same is an extremely mature, Scandinavian standard level of politics,” he said.

The problem with super-ministries is that if the ministry is too big, priorities become diluted- George Vital Zammit

“But I’m not so sure that will actually happen. That would mean we will rid ourselves of fossil fuels in a few years, and our current pollution trajectory indicates otherwise. Our energy and environment policies are conflicting, and we are well behind on an environmentally friendly energy policy.”

Zammit was also sceptical of how much importance the environment can be truly given.

“Following Abela’s continued pledge to make the environment a priority, I expected him to dedicate an entire ministry just for it, not cram it into another, already large portfolio,” he said.

Miriam Dalli a 'good doer'

“The problem with super-ministries is that if the ministry is too big, priorities become diluted, and I fear that is what might happen with Miriam Dalli’s ministry.”

Zammit said that the truth could also be that Dalli is such a good doer that Abela believes she can deliver on both sectors.

According to Schembri, the Planning Authority should have been assigned to the environment portfolio, because it is the source of environmental destruction.

“Bad planning in this country completely changed the face of Malta and the Planning Authority works very well only for those who want to destroy the environment at the cost of everything.

“So, why is it not under the environment portfolio?” he asked.

“And it has almost been given a ministry exclusively for itself. Why does an authority need a ministry? It should be able to run effectively on its own.”

'Bonnici can't be trusted'

Owen Bonnici could not be trusted as culture minister after repeatedly having Daphne Caruana Galizia’s monument swept clean countless times in the same role, Schembri added.

“Bonnici was very promising in the early Labour years, especially when he was fighting against censorship, but now he lost all credibility to defend freedom of speech.

“I believe we’re in for five years of bland and uninspiring culture.”

Schembri and Zammit were also surprised to see Byron Camilleri re-instated in home affairs, after allowing the controversial prison administration to stay on last year when prisoners were dying or committing suicide.



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