Three months have passed since Labour was elected to power after a long period in opposition. Christian Peregin speaks to analysts to see what they are making of the situation.
If you thought a change in Government would bring the economy to a halt and spark street violence, the past 100 days have proven you wrong.
But if you thought Labour was so well-prepared for Government that it would change the country overnight, you were also sorely mistaken.
“It reminds me of an infant starting to walk,” says former editor of The Sunday Times of Malta Laurence Grech.
“They will tumble, fall, and commit mistakes but eventually I hope they will find their feet. The fact they have been out of power for almost 25 years has a bearing on this,” he says.
The Government has certainly given a fresh push to some sectors that were neglected by the previous administration.
Transgender people have been given the right to marry – a move that prompted the Nationalist Party to apologise to people like Joanne Cassar who were insensitively treated by the last Government. Meanwhile, civil unions are in the pipeline, with a Consultative Council already drawing up a law.
Developers are also ecstatic over the reduction in planning fees and the revised Global Residence Scheme that is expected to boost the industry. The Government’s energy plan is also moving rapidly, with 11 bidders already shortlisted for the project.
“Another good point has been the series of meetings with the public being conducted by ministers,” adds Mr Grech, recalling similar initiatives by Nationalist administrations.
However, there has also been a chorus of disapproval over many of the initial decisions taken by the Government – primarily the appointments given to PN dissenters and people who helped the party, as Mr Grech points out.
“People in top positions should be ideologically close to the Government, but I also believe in meritocracy,” says former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio.
He says there have been “many mistakes” on this level, especially in the cultural sector.
Although he is happy with some of the educational reforms under way, Dr Briguglio is not impressed by the “field day” being given to big developers, some of whom have even been seen sitting at press conference tables with ministers.
“I would say Malta Tagħna Lkoll was a problematic slogan. In politics, you always have to take a stand and you always have adversaries,” he says.
Former PN candidate Mark Anthony Sammut says one of the Government’s best moves so far was the push given to reforming the justice system.
However, he thinks the “blatant” rewards being given to people who helped the Labour Party, as well as the seeming disregard of the Code of Ethics for ministers and parliamentary secretaries, have soured the Government’s performance immensely.
“If one of these things happened under the previous Nationalist Government, it would have been massacred,” he says.
He was also disappointed by the removal of most permanent secretaries who are not mean to be sacked with a change in Government.
Mr Sammut believes the Government was strategic in its actions, knowing most of its initial decisions would be long forgotten by the next election.
“The problem is that they have now instilled a culture of payback,” he says.
Political observer Godfrey Grima – who had endorsed Joseph Muscat for Labour leadership – is much happier with the Government’s performance, though he says it is still too early to judge.
He says there have been “hiccups”, such as the controversy surrounding Parliamentary Secretary Franco Mercieca’s waiver from the Code of Ethics and the transfers seen at St Vincent De Paul.
“But I think they were misunderstandings,” he says.
He believes the Government had shown itself to be “cautious” as well as hardworking.
“We have a Prime Minister with a good sense of balance,” he says, downplaying the controversial appointments by highlighting the varied board members chosen for Air Malta.
On the contrary, he says, Dr Muscat is instilling a sense of national unity and is not out for his pound of flesh.
Carmen Sammut, the chairwoman of Labour’s think-tank Ideat, believes the Government is still in its honeymoon period.
While some ministers who had a bit of experience or technical preparation were able to hit the ground running, others suffered.
“There is an element of inexperience. After a quarter of a century, there is now a new generation of people in Cabinet and working around them. I think some of the mistakes can be attributed to this, and hopefully the glitches will be ironed out in the coming months and years.”
She said the case of Mr Mercieca was badly handled, and before that there was the case of Godfrey Farrugia appointing his partner Marlene Farrugia to help him at the Health Ministry.
On the plus side, she is positive about the appointments made at the State broadcaster, PBS, as well as the new thrust given to civil liberties.
She says the Government will find it difficult to please all Labour supporters who had very high expectations but has probably managed to relieve PN supporters since all the pre-electoral scaremongering did not amount to much.
“The moderate majority that is still assessing the situation and will decide when the honeymoon period is over,” she says.
Ten things the jury is still out on:
Changes to Mepa: People have welcomed lower fees and the more efficient issuing of permits, but will this come at a cost to the environment?
Replacement of permanent secretaries: The PN defeat report flagged the civil service as a problem, so perhaps some permanent secretaries should have been replaced. But was the stealth unbecoming, and will the new permanent secretaries be too loyal to the administration?
Big Cabinet: PN’s defeat report also said a small Cabinet was one of the PN Government’s problems, but did Dr Muscat go to the other extreme with such a huge team? Neither is the female complement high, contrary to what had been promised.
Gozo chemotherapy: The Government was initially incoherent on this issue but promises to start providing the service by the end of the year while giving patients free transport from Gozo until then.
Excessive Deficit Procedure: It is unclear who is to blame for Malta’s being placed under the Excessive Deficit Procedure once again. Was this something Labour could have avoided or would it have involved cooking the books?
Revision of Code of Ethics: This was not mentioned in the manifesto and might result in a less ethical behaviour by the Cabinet but it can only be judged once it is presented.
Changes at Public Broadcasting Services: Labour diehards complain that some people are still in their job while others say the difference is already tangible.
Hunting: Claiming to have found a ‘gap’ in EU law which Brussels is unaware of was not a good sign. Nor was making it easier for people to hunt. But police surveillance has also reportedly increased.
Transfers: Many have complained about being victims of political transfers, especially at St Vincent de Paul elderly home. But many of these have already been withdrawn and the outcome remains unclear.
Gozo accessibility: The Government seems to be open to examining all options on Gozo’s accessibility, and managed to get a feasibility study done for free. But some are already fuming at the thought of building a bridge.
Five weird moments:
• Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia cries at press conference as he lamented the fact that he could no longer see his patients.
• Family Minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca disciplines Housing Authority’s CEO in front of the press over a missing soap dish in the shower of a social housing flat.
• Foreign Minister George Vella tells the press they must give in their mobile phones before entering his ministry. The ban is later withdrawn.
• Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi promises to publish the call for expressions of interest and then decides not to, only for it to be leaked later on.
• Parliamentary Secretary for Culture Jose Herrera suggests the holding of three separate Carnivals, becoming the butt of many jokes.
Ten bad moves so far:
President’s speech from the throne: The Government supplied President George Abela with a particularly divisive speech marred with electoral slogans.
Billboard people filling boards: Practically all the people who appeared on the Labour Party’s billboards have been given an appointment and taxpayer-funded salary.
Choosing a partisan Principal Permanent Secretary: The Government chose a former General Workers’ Union strongman instead of a clearly non-partisan chief of the civil service.
Franco Debono as coordinator of Constitutional Convention: The man who controversially brought down the previous Government was appointed to head a Convention that requires the bringing together of both parties.
Jason Micallef replaces David Felice at V18: After doing a good job at making Valletta Europe’s Capital of Culture, architect David Felice was replaced by Labour’s flamboyant and unpopular former general secretary.
Godfrey Farrugia and Marlene Farrugia ministerial duo: After being appointed Health Minister, Godfrey Farrugia appointed his partner as his voluntary aide to share the position. She eventually stepped down.
Franco Mercieca’s breach of the Code of Ethics: After being allowed to continue operating in select cases, Mr Mercieca was working at a private hospital doing routine operations. He eventually agreed to stop.
MPs to be given executive roles: The Government’s proposal to allow MPs – even from the Opposition side – to head public departments has been severely criticised for the way it would blur their role of scrutiny.
Granting an amnesty to prisoners to mark change in Government: A controversial idea that was given poor justification and carried out in an undignified manner with the minister involved hugging prisoners.
Relocation of Monti hawkers: Admitting to having struck a deal with them before the election, the Government decided to move the tacky hawkers to Ordnance Street, next door to Renzo Piano’s project.
Ten good moves so far:
Reintroducing the Global Residence Scheme: Construction and real estate companies have welcomed the quick introduction of this scheme as well as a series of calls for expressions of interests for major developments.
Attracting 19 bidders for gas call for expression of interests: The plan is so far on track and it seems Labour’s energy plan seems rather attractive to bidders.
Removing the time-bar on corruption crimes: Introduced as promised, this law removes the right of corrupt politicians and their accomplices to invoke time-bar as a defence.
Conducting a review of the justice system: The Government appointed a competent team to review the system, propose recommendations and start a consultation process.
Granting transgender people the right to marry: Even the Nationalist Party has praised this move and apologised for its behaviour in the past.
Consultative Council appointed on civil unions: As promised, a council has been set up that is drawing up a law on civil unions and the Government is committed to proposing the law soon.
Starting co-ed State schools: Although just a pilot project for now, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo seems to be taking speedy action to update the educational system, including through co-ed schools.
Public meetings by ministers: Facing the public in the first 100 days, ministers had to give an account of their work and take questions – a move that has shown them to be eager to listen.
Revising Church-State agreement on nullity of marriages: The Prime Minister has prioritised his discussions with the Curia and the Vatican to revise the outdated agreement regarding Church-State relations.
Cracking down on skiving: Various ministers, namely Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, carried out spot checks at departments such as prison, to find civil servants skiving work.