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MaltaToday Survey | Coleiro Preca most popular minister, Anton Refalo weakest link
‘Rate the Minister’ survey continues to be dominated by ministers occupying the social policy or education portfolio.
15 October 2013, 12:00am
Veteran Labour MP and Social Policy Minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca has emerged as the most positively rated minister in Joseph Muscat's cabinet. 61% of all respondents, including 28% of Nationalist voters in last March's election, deemed her performance to be positive.
This emerges from MaltaToday's Rate the Minister survey, which has been held annually in October since 2005. The last minister to surpass the 60% mark was Dolores Cristina, whose performance as social policy minister was judged positively by 62% of respondents in 2009.
Coleiro Preca's strong affirmation in the survey confirms the popularity of social policy ministers in Maltese politics.
In fact, with the exception of Tourism Minister Mario de Marco in 2012 and Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnini in 2010, the Rate the Minister survey has been dominated by ministers occupying the social policy or the education portfolio.
The survey also shows Muscat's rating increasing by nine points over last July, when respondents were also asked to assess his performance as prime minister. But despite the presidential style of the PM, two of his ministers, namely Coleiro Preca and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi, enjoy higher ratings than Joseph Muscat.
Muscat shared the third spot with Tourism Minister Karmenu Vella, just ahead of Education Minister Evarist Bartolo.
Hitting rock bottom is Gozo Minister Anton Refalo, whose performance was deemed positive by just 26% of respondents. A significant 41% were undecided on his performance.
Over the past weeks, the Minister for Gozo faced accusation of impropriety, after a Gozo Channel ship, which had left shore empty was ordered back to pick up a small group of people, which included Refalo. Refalo's performance is judged negatively by 22% of respondents, the highest negative rating received by a minister in the survey.
But the survey suggests that, while Refalo has taken some flak due to the media focus, Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi has not been significantly weakened by accusations of nepotism following the appointment of his wife, Sai Mizzi Liang, as a Malta Enterprise Envoy. In fact Mizzi's performance as minister was deemed positive by 53% of respondents. Mizzi also emerged as the most positively rated minister among switchers - that is, respondents who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013.
Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, also the focus of various accusations of impropriety in the past months, was judged positively by 44% of respondents, behind Transport Minister Joe Mizzi and just above Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.
Mallia also attracted the second-highest negative rating, alongside Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia.
Closely trailing Edward Scicluna are Finance Minister George Vella, Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli and Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia, all of whom surpassed the 40% mark.
Only four ministers, namely Economy Minister Chris Cardona, Vice-Prime Minister Louis Grech, Environment Minister Leo Brincat and Gozo Minister Anton Refalo, failed to surpass the 40% mark.
Surprisingly, Vice-Prime Minister and European Affairs Minister Louis Grech, who took centre stage in the electoral campaign after he replaced Anglu Farrugia as party deputy leader, seems to have lost his sparkle in the past months.
Grech gets the third-lowest positive rating, alongside Economy Minister Chris Cardona, but also the second-lowest negative rating. In fact, the two ministers sharing the foreign affairs portfolio, namely Vella and Grech, are also the least disliked in Muscat's cabinet. But both get lower ratings than ministers occupying bread-and-butter portfolios where they can retain contact with constituents.
Labour veteran Leo Brincat also seems to suffer from this factor, with a considerable 24% having deemed his performance to be "so-so", while only 36% deemed his performance to be positive.
Marie Louise Coleiro Preca: Labour's star minister
Following an election marked by the rise of star candidates transplanted from the PN directly to Muscat's new Labour, it is an authentic Labourite who emerged as the new government's best performing minister.
She managed to overtake the second-place finisher, Konrad Mizzi, by eight points and her leader, Joseph Muscat, by 10.
Moreover, Coleiro Preca also emerged as the most positively rated Labour minister among PN voters, 28% of whom deemed her performance to be positive.
The Social Policy Minister has recently announced the establishment of family resource centres, which will provide a variety of support services in the community. The national strategy to combat poverty will also be finalised by the end of the year.
Konrad Mizzi: still popular despite ethical slip
Despite accusations of nepotism following the direct appointment of his wife, Sai Mizzi Liang, as a Malta Enterprise Envoy, 53% of respondents still assessed Mizzi's performance positively. He also emerged as the most popular minister among switchers, 75% of whom deemed his performance to be positive.
This suggests that Mizzi, who is presiding over the partial privatisation of Enemalta - and the awarding of a tender to a private company which will have a monopoly on Malta's gas supply for 18 years - still enjoys the goodwill of the electorate. It also suggests that the electorate has warmed up to a politician who distinguished himself as Labour's energy guru during the electoral campaign.
Although Mizzi's performance was deemed a negative one by 46% of PN voters, in this category 17% also judged his performance positively.
But Mizzi's positive rating suggests high expectations over Labour's energy plan, which could be a do-or-die issue for the minister.
Joseph Muscat: 51% approve his performance
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is the only cabinet member whose performance was assessed in previous surveys held after the election. The survey suggests that Muscat has managed to recover some of the support he had lost before the summer lull. Over the past months, Muscat took an aggressive stance on the migration issue, which culminated in his decision to "consider" pushing back migrants to Libya. He also repeatedly dismissed widespread criticism over various appointments of Labour activists in key positions.
But despite increased criticism from a more bellicose opposition and other quarters, the number of respondents who assessed Muscat's performance positively increased by nine points.
Significantly, for the first time since April, he managed to surpass the 50% mark, with his performance now deemed to be positive by nearly 51% of respondents.
But the survey also showed the number of respondents judging his performance negatively increasing from 8% to 15%, mainly thanks to increased hostility amongst PN voters.
But the survey also showed that 12% of Labour voters and 36% of switchers judge his performance as "so-so", which indicates an element of dissatisfaction in both categories. Nearly a tenth of switchers also judge his performance negatively. This suggests that the new government already dissatisfies a portion of the voters who switched sides in the last election. In September 2008, Lawrence Gonzi's performance as Prime Minister was deemed a positive one by 41%.
Karmenu Vella: the respected veteran
Veteran Minister Karmenu Vella, who is one of the two present cabinet members to have previously served (in the cabinets presided over by Alfred Sant, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and Dom Mintoff), emerged as the third-most positively rated minister in Muscat's cabinet, enjoying the same positive rating as the Prime Minister.
Vella's performance was also deemed to be positive by 16% of PN voters and 63% of switchers. The Minister has largely avoided controversy and has build on the successes of his predecessor, Mario De Marco, who registered the highest rating, 53%, in the last Rate the Minister survey. This suggests that the electorate views tourism as a strategic sector and values its successes.
Evarist Bartolo: runner-up among PN voters
In his second term as Education Minister, Bartolo got the fourth-highest positive rating. His performance was also deemed to be positive by 22% of PN voters - the second-best result for a Labour minister among this category of voters. The survey coincided with the opening of the scholastic year, a difficult period for education ministers, who have to deal with complaints from parents over logistical issues. Bartolo has so far steered clear of political controversy and has involved parents in a consultation process on school reforms, while launching a co-ed school in Pembroke.
As Minister of Education, Bartolo managed to get a higher rating than his predecessor, Dolores Cristina, whose performance was deemed a positive one by 42% in 2012.
Joe Mizzi: the bendy bus factor
Mizzi's most notable decision so far was his decision to suspend bendy buses from Maltese roads following a number of mysterious fires. He also distinguished himself by embarking on ministerial inspections at a number of bus stops.
But so far there has been little improvement in the public transport system, a concern affecting a minority in a nation of multiple car owners.
Mizzi's down-to-earth approach seems to have been appreciated by a significant part of the electorate. In fact he emerged as the fifth most positively rated minister in the cabinet. He also got a positive rating from nearly 19% of PN voters. Only 14% of respondents described his performance as a negative one.
As Transport Minister, Mizzi is definitely more popular than his predecessor, Austin Gatt, whose performance was only deemed positive by 16% in 2012.
Manuel Mallia: embroiled in controversy
Probably the most controversial member in Muscat's cabinet, Mallia's performance was assessed positively by 44% of respondents, which puts him in sixth place in the ministerial league, far from the relegation pool but quite a distance away from the top positions. Since his first days in office, Mallia has stirred controversy by announcing an amnesty for prisoners to mark Labour's electoral victory. He was also commended for beginning the spot checks which exposed abuses among prison wardens.
But he found himself in the spotlight over the arrest of a wrongly accused man and criticism on the role taken by his chief of staff, Silvio Scerri. He also attracted criticism over his ministerial declaration of assets, which included €495,000 in cash. Not surprisingly, Mallia emerged with the second-highest negative rating among PN voters. Among this category, 60% deemed his performance to be negative.
Edward Scicluna: awaiting his first budget
It seems that a majority of respondents are withholding their judgement on Edward Scicluna until after the presentation of his first budget. The budget he presented in May consisted mainly of measures announced by the previous government. In fact, 29% of respondents were undecided when asked about the performance of this minister. The technocrat-turned-minister is still popular among the switchers, 58% of whom deemed his performance to be positive. Scicluna enjoys a higher trust rating than his predecessor, Tonio Fenech, whose performance was deemed positive by 32% in 2012.
Helena Dalli: not well known
A third of respondents could not access the performance of Dalli as Civil Liberties, Consumer Rights and Social Dialogue Minister. But less than a tenth judged her performance negatively.
The Minister is currently piloting legislation introducing civil unions for same-sex couples, a key promise made by Labour in opposition, which enabled it to win support among liberals and the LGBTI community. But Dalli had to face the resignation of two human rights organisations from the committee drafting this legislation, following the government's decision to consider pushbacks to Libya.
George Vella: least disliked but not most liked
Labour Party stalwart George Vella, who once served as Alfred Sant's deputy leader, emerged from the survey as the least negatively judged minister. In fact only 8% judged his performance as Foreign Minister negatively. But while only 42% judged his performance positively, 31% replied "don't know" when asked to assess him. As Foreign Minister, Vella has largely escaped controversy and his integrity has never been questioned.
Godfrey Farrugia: mixed results
The Health Minister got a positive rating of 41%, which is just one point less than his predecessor, Joe Cassar, whose performance was assessed positively by 42% in 2012. Together with Manuel Mallia, Farrugia registers the second-highest negative rating in the survey, with 21% describing his performance negatively. For the past months the Health Minister has been struggling to keep up with the expectations created by Labour's promise to address shortages of medicines and reduce waiting lists.
Chris Cardona: still to leave his mark
Economy Minister Chris Cardona gets the third-lowest rating in the survey, both among all respondents and among Labour Party voters. While only 12% described his performance negatively, more than 50% were either undecided or described his performance as being "so-so". 46% of the switchers said the same. In the past months, Cardona has issued a number of expressions of interest. Respondents are probably waiting for the conclusion of these initiatives before expressing judgement.
Louis Grech: embattled deputy leader?
Vice-Prime Minister and European Affairs Minister Louis Grech, whose portfolio includes the implementation of Labour's manifesto, emerged as the third-least positively rated minister in the cabinet. This contrasts with his key role in the electoral campaign, when he substituted Anglu Farrugia in a strategic move to neutralise the negative fallout of a TV debate. While Grech is clearly not performing well according to the vast majority of respondents, a third could not express a judgement. Significantly, 18% of Labour voters replied "don't know" when asked to assess Grech's performance. This could also reflect Grech's portfolio as European Affairs Minister, which could be a bit detached from everyday concerns.
In summer the Labour Party strongly denied a story carried by PN organ il-Mument in which it alleged that Deputy PM Grech was set to resign for personal reasons and Manuel Mallia would replace him. Recently Grech was accused by the Opposition of omitting a Brussels bank account of some €140,000 in the ministerial declaration of assets. Former PN Deputy Leader Tonio Borg enjoyed a similar rating of 38% in the 2012 survey.
Brincat: a problem of visibility?
Leo Brincat's portfolio, which includes the environment, sustainable development and climate change, may not be the most relevant in the immediate concerns of voters. He has also been deprived of MEPA and eye-catching landscaping projects, which fall under the infrastructure ministry.
Neither does this portfolio bring Brincat into direct contact with constituents. Brincat's high negative rating amongst PN voters could also reflect his demonization as a relic of the past, due to his participation in old Labour cabinets, even if this has not dented the popularity of fellow survivor Karmenu Vella. Moreover, despite his longstanding role in his party, he only got a positive rating from 62% of PL voters, the second lowest in this category. Brincat also had to face thorny issues like hunting, thus losing points with voters dissatisfied by the government's compromises with the hunting lobby. Brincat has also suffered flak with southern voters, following the government's decision to close the Marsascala park. The park was closed during the summer after the nearby Sant' Antin waste recycling plant developed a fault, raising fears that that the air quality of the park had been compromised.
Anton Refalo: the weakest link
This survey, which is regularly conducted in October, coincided with calls for Refalo's resignation by the Times of Malta over alleged ministerial interference in the operations of Gozo Channel. The Minister described himself as the "sacrificial lamb" in the controversy, which saw an empty Gozo ferry recalled to port to pick up passengers, himself included.
Refalo faced questions on his ministerial declaration of assets, which included an €830,000 loan, though he declared a joint annual income of €45,000.
Amidst these allegations, 61% of PN voters and 29% of the switchers deemed his performance to be negative. Refalo emerged from the survey as the weakest link in the cabinet, with only a quarter of respondents describing his performance positively. His predecessor, Giovanna Debono, was judged positively by 35% of respondents. Among Labour voters, a considerable 36% answered "don't know" about Refalo's performance. Less than half judged his performance positively. The high number of undecided respondents suggests that Refalo still enjoys the benefit of the doubt of a large number.
The survey was held between Monday, 7 October and Thursday, 10 October. A total of 638 respondents were chosen randomly from telephone directories and contacted by telephone. Of these, 400 accepted to participate in the survey. Results were weighted to reflect the age and gender balance of the population, as established in the latest census. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4%.
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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